The HINDU Notes – 14th June 2019 - VISION

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Friday, June 14, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 14th June 2019

📰 U.S. open to talks on GSP with India, says Pompeo

•U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo hinted that it was possible to reinstate the Generalised System of Preferences, a scheme for preferential access to certain goods markets in the U.S., for India. The administration official is expected to discuss this and other issues during his New Delhi visit later this month.

📰 PM to chair NITI Aayog meeting

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi will chair the fifth meeting of the Governing Council of the NITI Aayog on Saturday.

•The key issues that will be discussed are rainwater harvesting, the drought situation and relief measures, the aspirational districts programme, transforming agriculture and security issues with a focus on the Left Wing Extremism-affected districts, an official release said.

•As for transforming agriculture, the Governing Council will discuss the need for structural reforms with a special emphasis on the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Act and the Essential Commodities Act.

•Besides the Chief Ministers, the meeting will be attended by Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Raj Nath Singh, Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, and Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar as ex-officio members.

📰 Modi, Xi agree to speed up boundary talks

•He said both leaders agreed that the approach to the border issue should be “constructive”, keeping in mind the ties between both sides in the coming years.

•Mr. Xi highlighted the need for regional cooperation and connectivity and singled out the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor as an example for expanding the India-China ties, which had entered a “new phase” after the Wuhan informal summit.

•Mr. Xi stressed that the two sides should adhere to the basic judgment that China and India are the opportunities for development and do not pose a threat to each other. “They must persist in deepening mutual trust, focusing on cooperation, and accepting differences, so that China-India relations become a more positive asset and positive energy for promoting the development of the two countries,” he said. Mr. Modi also held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. Mr. Putin invited Mr. Modi to take part in the Vladivostok Forum in September. The Foreign Secretary said the issue of the S400 missile system was not discussed, though he indicated that defence issues figured at the talks.

📰 Union HRD Minister stresses on importance of creating Sanskrit-speaking villages

HRD Minister moots Sanskrit villages

•HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ on Thursday said that at least two Sanskrit-speaking villages must be developed near the central institutes promoting and preserving the language. The Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, the Lal Bahadur Shastri Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth in Delhi and the Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth in Tirupati are the three central institutes promoting the language.

📰 Punjab to roll out health cover scheme from July

•The Punjab government will launch its flagship universal health insurance scheme ‘Sarbat Sehat Bima Yojana’ from July. The scheme will provide an annual health cover of Rs. 5 lakh per family and around 43.18 lakh families will be covered under it. Besides all government hospitals, 364 private hospitals in Punjab have been empanelled for treatment, State Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said.

📰 Vayu to give Gujarat a miss

Coastal airports closed, operations in ports halted

•The deadly cyclonic storm Vayu that brought life to a standstill in coastal Saurashtra and threatened to cause extensive damage in Gujarat upon its landfall has changed course.

•The authorities are, however, not taking any chances. They are continuing with all the precautionary measures as light rains accompanied by strong winds lashed Saurashtra coast since Thursday morning.

•For the next two days, heavy to very heavy rains are likely from Veraval to Dwarka. Places such as Dwarka, Junagarh, Naliya and Rajkot will see heavy rains along with high velocity winds. High waves inundated low lying areas in coastal towns like Porbandar, Veraval and Mangrol.

•“Cyclone Vayu’s effect will be seen in the coastal regions, as there will be heavy wind speed and heavy rain as well,” Manorama Mohanty of the Met Department said.

•The “very severe cyclonic storm” moved north-northwestwards in the night over the Arabian Sea and lay centred around 110 kilometres from the coast.

•“The cyclone is very likely to move north-northwestwards for some time and then northwestwards skirting the Saurashtra coast, affecting Gir Somnath, Diu, Junagarh, Porbandar and Devbhoomi Dwarka with wind speed 90-100 kmph gusting to 110 kmph during the next 12 hours,” the IMD said in a release issued late on Thursday evening.

To remain in shelters

•“We have been informed about diversion in the path of the very severe cyclone... We are continuing to be in alert mode and all the steps that have been initiated will stay in force,” Chief Minister Vijay Rupani told media persons on Thursday evening. He said more than 2.5 lakh people who were shifted from low lying areas will stay in shelters on Thursday and will be sent back home on Friday, depending upon the situation.

Modi speaks to CM

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Mr. Rupani and took stock of the situation in his home State, after reaching Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan for the SCO Summit, a government release said.

•Some large refineries owned by Reliance Industries and Nayara Energy were put on alert. Operations at ports in Kandla and elsewhere were halted. All ports hoisted signal 9, indicating warning for a cyclonic storm.

•More than 30 National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) teams were deployed in all 10 coastal districts in Saurashtra. Since all the airports in Kutch and Saurashtra have been asked to stop their operations completely, flights to these destinations from the Ahmedabad airport stand cancelled.

•According to private weather broadcaster Skymet, Vayu would encounter an anti-cyclone over North Arabian Sea after crossing the Gujarat coast. As a result, the system might become stagnant near Karachi coast.

•There are chances that cyclone Vayu will not make a landfall and weaken in the sea itself.

📰 Centre reduces contribution rate for ESI

Trade unions set to protest against the decision

•Starting July 1, both employer’s and employee’s contribution under the Employees’ State Insurance (ESI) Act, which gives insured workers medical benefits among other facilities, would be reduced, the Centre said on Thursday.

•The total contribution towards ESI was reduced from 6.5% of an employee’s wages to 4%, with the employer’s share cut to 3.25%, from 4.75%, and the employee’s contribution lowered to 0.75% of wages, from 1.75%, the government announced.

•“This would benefit 3.6 crore employees and 12.85 lakh employers,” the Labour and Employment Ministry said in a statement. “The reduced rate of contribution will bring about a substantial relief to workers under the ESI scheme and bring more and more workforce into the formal sector,” it added.

•The financial liability on employers would also be reduced, leading to improved viability of the establishments, increased ease of doing business and likely improved compliance with the Act, the government said, adding that the current rates had been in place since January 1, 1997.

•However, a member of the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation’s Standing Committee and a representative of the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, V. Radhakrishnan, said the reduction in contribution rates was a reason for concern.

•“BMS has a strong protest against this,” said Mr. Radhakrishnan. “The ESIC is an autonomous body and these rates have not been discussed. If the government proposes even lower rates in the next Board meeting of the ESIC, we will oppose it. We want to increase the benefits given to employees, not reduce the contribution so much,” he added.

•An official of the Labour and Employment Ministry, however, dismissed the criticism as mere “apprehensions”.

📰 India to have its own space station: ISRO

The detailed project report on setting up a space station will be submitted to the government after the Gaganyaan mission.

•India plans to have its own space station, and modalities for it will be worked out after the first manned mission, Gaganyaan, scheduled for August 2022, K. Sivan, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), said on Thursday.

•“We want to have a separate space station. We will launch a small module for microgravity experiments... that is our ambition,” he said, addressing the media. A detailed report would be submitted to the government after the Gaganyaan mission.

•Dr. Sivan said the proposed space station is envisaged to weigh 20 tonnes and serve as a facility where astronauts can stay for 15-20 days, and it would be placed in an orbit 400 km above earth. The time frame for launch is 5-7 years after Gaganyaan, he added.

•The ISRO would also join the international space community for a manned mission to moon and beyond, Dr. Sivan said.

Gaganyaan on track

•Speaking on the progress of Gaganyaan, Jitendra Singh, Minster of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, said the project was on track to be realised by the 75th Independence Day or even earlier.

•“Cost approved by the Union Cabinet just before the Model Code of Conduct came into force was ₹10,000 crore,” Dr. Singh said. 

•A Gaganyaan National Advisory Council has been created with members from different institutions and industries to oversee and advise on the mission. Selection of 2-3 crew members for Gaganyaan would be done in six months, Dr. Singh said and added that they would then undergo training for 1-1.5 years after that.

•The initial phase of training would be in India and the advanced stage would be done abroad as the requisite facilities did not exist here and the project was on a short timeline, Dr. Sivan said.

•A GSLV Mk-III launch vehicle would be used to launch the Gaganyaan. Prior to that, two unmanned missions would be undertaken, one in December next year and the second, six months after that. The Gagayaan mission aims to send a 2-3 person crew to space for a period of seven days. The spacecraft would be placed in a low earth orbit of 300-400 km.

•ISRO had already signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Indian Air Force for selection and training of pilots for the manned mission. Talks were underway with the Navy and Coast Guard for the recovery of the crew module once it lands in water after re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere, Dr. Sivan said.

•After Chandrayaan-2, ISRO has set its sights on two interplanetary missions. Mission Aditya-L1 is scheduled for next year to study the Sun’s corona, which effects climate on earth, and another mission to study Venus in 2-3 years. 

📰 In Arunachal, the golden cat wears new colours

Scientists have found that its coat comes in six types: cinnamon, golden, gray, melanistic, ocelot and tightly rosetted

•Golden is no longer the only colour the elusive Asiatic golden cat can be associated with. Its coat comes in five other shades in Arunachal Pradesh, scientists have discovered.

•The Asiatic golden cat (Catopuma temminckii) is listed as near threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species. It is found across eastern Nepal through north-eastern India to Indonesia.

•Bhutan and China were known to have two morphs of the golden cat — one the colour of cinnamon and the other with markings similar to the ocelot, a small wild cat found in the Americas.

•Indian scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), an international conservation charity, and University College London (UCL) have discovered six colour morphs of the golden cat in Dibang Valley of Arunachal Pradesh. The findings have contributed to an evolutionary puzzle because no other place on earth has so many colours of wild cats of the same species.

•The study, published in the June edition of Ecology, the Ecological Society of America’s journal, aims to uncover a “greater understanding of human-wildlife interactions” in the region. “But we ended up discovering a group of entirely different-looking animals on camera traps with an inkling they were of the same species,” said Sahil Nijhawan, who led the field study for two years with local collaborators Iho Mitapo and Jibi Pulu from the Idu Mishmi tribe.

•Mr. Nijhawan is an India-based scholar and British Academy Fellow at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology and UCL.

•The Idu Mishmis, he said, were aware of the different shades of the golden cat. The community believes that the cat, particularly its melanistic (dark pigmentation as opposed to albinism) morph, possesses great powers and thus observe a strict taboo on hunting the cat.

•Within the six colour morphs recorded, an entirely new colour morph was also found in one of the community-owned forests. The “tightly-rosetted” morph named after the leopard-like rosettes on the coat, now sits alongside cinnamon, melanistic, gray, golden, and ocelot types.

Camouflage benefits

•ZSL scientists believe that the wide variation displayed in the cat’s coats provides them with several ecological benefits such as occupying different habitats at different elevations — from wet tropical lowland forests to alpine scrubs — and providing camouflage while preying on pheasants and rabbits.

•“Colour morphs are thought to arise from random genetic mutations and take hold in the population through natural selection. In this region, scientists suspect that the phenomenon is driven by competition with other big cats such as tigers and clouded leopards. Being melanistic in the misty mountains during nocturnal hunts, for example, may mean they are better concealed from their prey; making them more efficient predators,” the ZSL said.

•Mr. Nijhawan said: “We now know Dibang Valley hosts the world’s most diverse range of colour morphs of a wild cat species ever reported in one site, but we are only just starting to understand this rare ecological phenomenon. We need more studies that shed light on such unique adaptations and the benefits they provide to species, especially in a world where they must adapt quickly.”

📰 SEBI directs rating agencies to disclose probability of default

It is part of enhanced disclosure norms for rating agencies

•Credit rating agencies will now have to disclose the probability of default for the instruments they rate and also clearly state the sensitive factors that could impact the credit worthiness of the entity.

•Further, rating agencies will have to adopt a standardised terminology to disclose liquidity indicators like liquid investments, access to credit and cash flows among other factors while rating an instrument.

•These are part of the enhanced disclosure guidelines introduced by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) for credit rating agencies (CRA).

•This assumes significance as the current calendar year has seen a record number of downgrades amidst a fall in the corresponding number of upgrades when compared to the previous calendar year.

•“In order to enable investors to discern the performance of a CRA vis-à-vis a standardised PD (probability of default) benchmark scale, CRAs, in consultation with SEBI, shall prepare and disclose standardised and uniform PD benchmarks for each rating category on their website, for one-year, two-year and three-year cumulative default rates, both for short-run and long-run,” stated the SEBI circular.

•Further, such uniform and standardised PD benchmarks will have to be disclosed on the website of each CRA on a consolidated basis for all financial instruments rated by a CRA by December 31.

•Meanwhile, continuing its attempts to bring uniformity in terms of disclosures, the capital market watchdog has mandated standardised terminology — superior, strong, adequate, stretched and poor — to describe the liquidity indicators.

•The regulator has also directed CRAs to devise a model to track sharp deviations in the bond spreads of debt instruments when compared to their benchmarks as such deviations have to be treated as a material event.

•In terms of disclosure of factors to which rating is sensitive and have the potential to impact credit worthiness of the issuer, the CRA has been directed to have a specific section on ‘Rating Sensitivities’ in the press release which will explain the broad level of operating and financial performance levels that could trigger a rating change — upward or downward.

📰 Faint glimmer: On revival in industrial activity

The tentative revival in industrial activity must be built on through prudent policy support

•Industrial activity in the new financial year appears to have started on a healthier note than the trend witnessed in the last quarter of the previous fiscal, the government’s latest quick estimates show. Industrial output rose 3.4% in April, buoyed by a generally broad-based revival that saw electricity, mining and even manufacturing post faster growth compared to the listless performance witnessed in the January-March period. In fact, manufacturing output growth, which had decelerated sharply from the pace of 8.2% in October to a revised level of less than 0.1% in March, rebounded to a four-month high of 2.8%. A look at the use-based classification reveals that all six segments were in positive territory, with only infrastructure and construction goods marking a slowdown from both the earlier year and March levels and providing cause for some concern. Hearteningly, capital goods, a sector that serves as a closely tracked proxy for business spending intentions, posted a 2.5% expansion, snapping three straight months of contraction. To be sure, the growth even in this key area trails the pace of 9.8% that was reported in April 2018 by a wide margin, and it would be premature to celebrate the single reading until a more abiding trend emerges in the coming months. It would be interesting to see what growth-supportive policy measures Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman unveils in the newly elected government’s and her own maiden budget.

•This week’s other data release from the government was, however, less reassuring, revealing as it did an acceleration in retail inflation to a seven-month high. Price gains measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) quickened to 3.05% in May, from April’s 2.99%, as prices of vegetables and pulses jumped by 23% and 10% respectively in urban areas, contributing to a bump-up in food inflation. The Reserve Bank of India had last week flagged the risks to the inflation trajectory from factors including spikes in vegetable prices and international fuel prices and marginally raised its CPI inflation projection for the fiscal first half to a 3% to 3.1% range. While the inflation reading remains below the RBI’s inflation threshold of 4%, policymakers would need to keep a close watch on price trends, especially as global energy prices continue to remain volatile amid heightened geopolitical tensions in West Asia and uncertainty on the demand outlook owing to the ongoing China-U.S. trade spat. And while the monsoon is forecast to be normal this year, the actual rainfall and its spatial distribution will have a significant bearing on agricultural output and food prices. A fiscally prudent budget, with incentives to support the nascent industrial recovery, would surely tick several boxes at one go.