The HINDU Notes – 01st August 2019 - VISION

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Thursday, August 01, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 01st August 2019

📰 Cabinet approves increasing strength of Supreme Court judges from 31 to 34

The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1956 was last amended in 2009.

•Against the backdrop of rising cases in the Supreme Court, the Union Cabinet on July 31 approved increasing the number of judges in the top court from the present 31 to 34, including the Chief Justice of India, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said.

•At present, the sanctioned strength of the apex court is 31.

•Once the bill to increase the number of judges gets parliamentary nod, the number of judges would go up to 34, including the CJI, the Minister told reporters after the Cabinet meeting.

•At present, the Supreme Court is working with its full sanctioned strength of 31.

•The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1956 was last amended in 2009 to increase the judges’ strength from 25 to 30 (excluding the CJI).

•The decision of the Cabinet came days after Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to increase the number of judges in the top court.

•According to a written reply by the Law Ministry to a Rajya Sabha question on July 11, 59,331 cases are pending in the top court.

•Due to paucity of judges, the required number of Constitution Benches to decide important cases involving questions of law were not being formed, the CJI said. “You would recall that way back in 1988, about three decades ago, the judge strength of the SC was increased from 18 to 26, and then again after two decades in 2009, it was increased to 31, including the CJI, to expedite disposal of cases to keep pace with the rate of institution,” he wrote.

•“I request you to kindly consider, on top priority, to augment the judge-strength in the SC appropriately so that it can function more efficiently and effectively as it will go a long way to attain the ultimate goal of rendering timely justice to the litigant public,” Justice Gogoi wrote.

•The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1956 originally provided for a maximum of 10 judges (excluding the CJI). This number was increased to 13 by the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Act, 1960, and to 17 in 1977.

•The working strength of the Supreme court was, however, restricted to 15 judges by the Cabinet (excluding the chief Justice of India) till the end of 1979. But the restriction was withdrawn at the request of the Chief Justice of India.

•In 1986, the strength of the top court was increased to 25, excluding the CJI. Subsequently, the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Act, 2009 further augmented the strength of the court from 25 to 30.

📰 Bill for 10% quota to J&K economically weaker sections approved

•The Cabinet on Wednesday approved a bill to provide up to 10% reservation to Jammu and Kashmir’s economically weaker sections in jobs and educational institutions.

•The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Second Amendment) Bill, 2019, an official statement said.

•The approval “would pave the way of extending the benefit of reservation of up to 10% for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in educational institutions and public employment alongside existing reservations”, it said.

•The Bill is expected to be tabled in Parliament soon as the proposed legislation could not be brought before the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly which has been dissolved. The State is under the President’s rule.

•The 10% quota Bill to economically weaker sections was introduced through the 103rd Constitution Amendment in January. This will be in addition to such reservation available in the Central government jobs, it said.

📰 U.S. Fed cuts interest rate for first time since 2008

It is now 2-2.25%, 25 basis points lower

•The U.S. Federal Reserve cut its key interest rate Wednesday for the first time in a decade to try to counter threats ranging from uncertainties caused by President Donald Trump’s trade wars to chronically low inflation and a dim global outlook.

•Stocks tumbled soon after the Fed issued its statement at 2 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which had been nearly flat before the announcement, sank about 300 points an hour later just as Chairman Jerome Powell was holding a news conference. Investors seemed disappointed that Powell said the Fed doesn’t envision a long series of rate cuts to follow Wednesday’s. But later in his news conference, he seemed to shift his message to leave open the possibility that the Fed would cut rates again. Stocks then pared their losses.

•The central bank reduced its benchmark rate which affects many loans for households and businesses by a quarter-point to a range of 2% to 2.25%. It’s the first rate cut since December 2008 during the depths of the Great Recession, when the Fed slashed its rate to a record low near zero and kept it there until 2015. The economy is far healthier now despite risks to what’s become the longest expansion on record.

•In addition to its rate cut, the Fed also said it would stop shrinking its enormous bond portfolio in August, two months earlier than planned. This step is intended to avoid putting upward pressure on long-term borrowing rates. The Fed had aggressively bought Treasury and mortgage bonds after the financial crisis to drive down long-term rates but had been gradually shrinking its balance sheet as the economy strengthened.

•The Fed’s action Wednesday was approved 8-2 vote, with two dissents- Esther George, president of the Fed’s Kansas City regional bank, and Eric Rosengren, head of the Boston Fed, wanted to keep rates unchanged. It was the first time there have been as many as two dissents since December 2017 and suggested that Powell may face opposition if he seeks further rate cuts this year.

📰 ‘India and U.S. very close to resolving all trade issues’

‘Market access, the bone of contention, close to settlement’

•India and the U.S. are “very close” to resolving all their trade-related differences, with Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal planning to meet the U.S. Trade Representative in the coming month, a senior Commerce Ministry official told The Hindu.

•The focus now for the two countries is to “calm the heightened tempers” since almost all issues have been resolved, the official added. The core area of disagreement, market access, is also close to being resolved, he said.

•“All the issues that have happened, on aluminium, steel, retaliatory tariffs by us, are all done now,” the official said on the condition of anonymity. “The focus now is to look ahead and to calm the heightened tempers on both sides. The officials from our side and their side have been meeting regularly, and we are very close to seeing an agreement coming into place.”

•The key bone of contention between India and the U.S. is market access, the official explained, adding that this was at the bottom of most of the tensions between the two countries over the last year or so.

•“The market access issue will also be resolved soon, when the [Commerce] Minister meets the U.S. Trade Representative either late next month [August] or early the month after that,” the official said. The Indian government is demanding greater market access in the U.S. for dairy products, medical devices, and information and communication technology (ICT) services, he added.

•The U.S. government, on the other hand, is demanding increased market access on a wider range of products.

•India had in mid-June imposed retaliatory tariffs on 29 items imported from the U.S., including walnuts, apples, and some pulses, a year after it had initially threatened to do so. The threat of retaliation by India had come following U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision in March 2018 to impose higher import tariffs on aluminium and steel, including that originating in India.

•Soon after, the U.S. also announced that it would be reviewing India’s eligibility for duty-free imports under the US Generalised System of Preferences (GSP). India repeatedly held talks with the U.S. at various levels to convince them to grant India an exemption from the steel and aluminium import duty hike, and also to further extend the GSP to India.

•However, this was to no avail. The U.S. refused to grant India an exemption from the import duty hike and also earlier this year withdrew India’s GSP status.

•“The meeting between the Minister and the USTR will close this issue and once again increase the engagement between the two countries,” the official said.

📰 Fortifying the Africa outreach

There is a disconnect between India’s developmental assistance to and economic engagement with the continent

•This week two important Indian dignitaries began their respective visits to Africa. President Ram Nath Kovind commenced his seven-day state visit to Benin, Gambia and Guinea-Conakry (July 28 to August 3) and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh arrived in Maputo on a three-day visit (July 28 to July 30) to Mozambique. The simultaneity of the two visits may be a coincidence, but it also indicates enhanced priority to Africa. This should be welcomed.

Economic links

•During the past five years, Indian leaders have paid 29 visits to African countries. Forty-one African leaders participated in the last India-Africa Forum Summit in 2015, where India agreed to provide concessional credit worth $10 billion during the next five years. By 2017, India had cumulatively extended 152 Lines of Credit worth $8 billion to 44 African countries. India has also unilaterally provided free access to its market for the exports of 33 least developed African countries. These sizeable efforts are also noteworthy for being countercyclical: India escalated its commitments to Africa in an era of low-commodity prices when most other partners, including China, have scaled back theirs.

•India has substantive economic engagement with Africa. Its trade with Africa totalled $63.3 billion in 2018-19. India was ranked the third largest trading partner of Africa having edged past the United States during the year. The figures for Indians’ investments (estimated at $50 billion) and Indian diaspora (approximately three million) are a bit imprecise but are also substantive when put in the continental perspective. Although these statistics are impressive, they are well below the potential for India-African economic synergy and are often dwarfed by the corresponding Chinese data.

•There seems to be a conspicuous disconnect between Indian developmental assistance to and India’s economic engagement with Africa. The time has now come to integrate these two axes for a more comprehensive and sustainable engagement. It would also facilitate aided pilot projects being scaled up seamlessly into commercially viable joint ventures.

•Any objective cost-benefit analysis of India’s development assistance to Africa is unlikely to impress. From the demand to remove the statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Ghana to the travails of Indian investors in Africa, from occasional demonisation of the long-standing Indian community to the non-recognition of Indian academic degrees, India’s large developmental footprint in Africa does not produce commensurate empathy. India’s aid being unconditional, the recipients often take it as an entitlement.

•But India is neither a rich country nor has its hands been tainted by a history of slavery, colonisation and the exploitation of Africa. In fact, it is a developing country with similar domestic challenges of poverty, infrastructure deficit and underdevelopment. India’s funds committed and seats in our prestigious academic institutions offered to Africa are at the expense of the tax-paying Indians. India’s aid to Africa should be reciprocated by acknowledgement and quid pro quo in terms of goodwill (beyond the easy-flowing official rhetoric), and institutional preference. India cannot simply be a cash cow for Africa, particularly when its own economy is slowing down.

Steps forward

•We need to ask ourselves these: for all the development billions spent, how many mega-projects did Indian companies get and how many natural resources does India have access to in Africa? We should reorient our developmental profile to be more economically productive.

•To this end, a number of steps can be considered: First, we need to take direct control of our development programme instead of handing our funds to intermediaries such as the African Union, the African Development Bank Group and the Techno-Economic Approach for Africa-India Movement (TEAM 9), whose priorities are often different from India’s. To make an impact, our aid should be disbursed bilaterally and aligned with national priorities of the recipient state, which should be a substantial stakeholder and co-investor in schemes and projects from initiation to operation.

•Second, India’s development assistance should prefer the countries with its substantial interests, both existing and potential. For instance, Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Ghana, Angola and Algeria are India’s top six trading partners in Africa, accounting for nearly two-thirds of its trade and half its exports to the continent; yet, they do not figure commensurately in India’s developmental pecking order. India’s own needs for raw materials, commodities and markets should be factored in its aid calculus. Third, we ought to prefer aiding countries which are willing to help us — from access to their natural resources to using our generics. Fourth, the aided project selected should be compatible with local requirements. They should be cost-effective, scalable, future ready and commercially replicable. Fifth, for greater transparency, India should prefer its public sector to implement the aid projects. Sixth, the Indian Head of Mission in the recipient African state must be an integral part of the aid stream including project selection, co-ordination and implementation. Apart from empowering our diplomacy, this would ensure better harmonisation between our aid and economic objectives.

•Finally, the aforementioned should not distract us from our duty to provide the needed humanitarian assistance to Africa: to be rendered promptly and with sensitivity, but without noise.

📰 Beyond talaq: On Muslim divorce bill

India needs a non-sectarian, gender-neutral law that addresses desertion of spouses

•Both Houses of Parliament have passed a Bill making instant triple talaq a criminal offence, amidst persistent doubts whether it ought to be treated as a crime or just a civil case. It is true that the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019, is a diluted version of the Bill as it was originally conceived. Earlier, it did not specify who could set the law in motion. Now the offence is cognisable only if the affected wife, or one related to her by blood or marriage, files a police complaint. A man arrested under this law may get bail, after the Magistrate grants a hearing to the wife. Thirdly, the offence is compoundable, that is, the parties may arrive at a compromise. The government says its main objective is to give effect to the Supreme Court’s 2017 verdict declaring instant triple talaq illegal. It claims that despite the court ruling, several instances have been reported. Making it an offence, the government says, will deter further resort to triple talaq, and provide redress for women in the form of a subsistence allowance and custody of children, besides getting the erring husband arrested. However, the core question regarding the necessity to criminalise the practice of talaq-e-biddat has not been convincingly answered.

•In the light of the Supreme Court ruling on its validity, there is really no need to declare instant triple talaq a criminal offence. The practice has no approval in Islamic tenets, and is indeed considered abhorrent. Secondly, once it has been declared illegal, pronouncing talaq obviously does not have the effect of “instantaneous and irrevocable divorce” as this Bill claims in its definition of ‘talaq’. The provisions that allow a woman to claim a subsistence allowance from the man and seek custody of her children can be implemented in the event of the husband abandoning her, even without the man’s arrest. If triple talaq, in any form, is void, how the questions of children’s custody and subsistence allowance arise while the marriage subsists, is not clear. And then, there is the practical question of how a man can provide a subsistence allowance while he is imprisoned. It has been argued by the Bill’s proponents that dowry harassment and cruelty towards wives are treated as criminal offences even while the marriage subsists. It is a patently wrong comparison, as those acts involve violence and cruelty and are rightly treated as criminal offences. The same cannot be said of a man invoking a prohibited form of divorce. The BJP projects the passage of the Bill as a historic milestone in the quest for gender justice. Such a claim will be valid only if there is a non-sectarian law that addresses abandonment and desertion of spouses as a common problem instead of focusing on a practice, which is no more legally valid, among Muslims.

📰 Thailand in talks with India to buy BrahMos cruise missiles

The two navies are working closely in the areas of disaster risk management, maritime security safety, information sharing and interoperability

•In possibly the first sale of BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles to another country, Thailand is in talks with India for their purchase, official sources said. A few other countries have also expressed interest in BrahMos but nothing has fructified yet.

•“Negotiations are on. It may not happen this year, but most likely next year,” diplomatic sources said. While Thailand expressed interest in the missiles some time back, discussions picked pace after the visit of Royal Thai Navy Chief Admiral Ruddit to India in December last year.

•As part of the expanding defence cooperation between the two countries, Thailand has made a request for repair and refurbishing their Dornier maritime patrol aircraft. “A joint team of Indian Navy, Bharat Electronics Limited and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited visited Thailand in mid-June to discuss the issue,” a defence source said.

•In addition, Thailand Navy is looking to increase its capabilities and planning to induct more ships, defence sources said. In line with that, Indian Navy is exploring opportunities wherein India could help in ship design and has even “offered ship construction at the various defence public sector undertaking shipyards.” “The Indian Navy’s foreign cooperation initiatives include highlighting the capability of various Defence Public Sector Undertakings and Indian defence industry to friendly foreign navies,” the defence source stated.

•Discussions are on to integrate Thailand into India’s coastal surveillance radar chain network which sources is “likely to be finalised by year end.” Several littoral states including Maldives and Seychelles have already been integrated into it.

Trilateral exercise

•The inaugural India, Thailand and Singapore trilateral naval exercise announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his address at Shangri-La dialogue in June 2018 is scheduled to be held later this year. Finalising the exercise got delayed and it got a push during the visit of Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba to Thailand in April.

•“India will host the first edition of the exercise in September this year,” diplomatic sources said adding Singapore will host the second edition and Thailand the third. The Initial Planning Conference to discuss the modalities of the exercise was held in May and the Final Planning Conference to finalise the details is scheduled to be held in August, officials said. Malaysia has also evinced interest in joining the exercise.

•The two navies already conduct a Coordinated Patrol (CORPAT) and a new bilateral exercise is also in the works apart from the trilateral. As members of the Indian Ocean rim association (IORA) and Indian Ocean Naval symposium (IONS), navies of India and Thailand are working closely in the areas of disaster risk management, maritime security safety, information sharing and interoperability.

📰 Rajya Sabha passes Motor Vehicle Bill; stricter penalities for traffic violations

Legislation seeks to improve road safety through increase in penalities; aims to streamline licensing and permit process

•Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari on Wednesday asserted in the Rajya Sabha that the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill, 2019 did not in anyway infringe on the rights of State governments. The Rajya Sabha cleared the Bill.

•The legislation seeks to improve road safety through multifold increase in penalities for traffic violations. It also aims to streamline the licensing and road permit process. It has already been passed in the Lok Sabha, but the government has introduced two new amendments and it will need to return to the Lower House again.

Maximum accidents

•Introducing the Bill, Mr. Gadkari said maximum road accidents in the world occurred in India. He said five lakh road accidents take place in the country, in which there were 1.5 lakh deaths and 65% of them were youth.

•He lauded the Tamil Nadu government as road accidents were down by 29% in the State. He said the Centre would emulate the Tamil Nadu model across the country. Mr Gadkari told the House that the Bill was not a political one and should be cleared.

Opposition’s charge

•The Opposition criticised the Bill on two issues — increased privatisation of the transport sector, from registering of vehicles by auto dealers to driving schools, and infringement of rights of States.

•The Minister clarified that there was no plan to shut down any of the State transport corporations. Seventeen lakh passenger buses were running in the country of which only 1.70 lakh were State-run buses.

•“We do not have any plan to take over the State’s rights in anyway,” Mr. Gadkari asserted. He said road engineering was far more responsible for accidents not drivers alone.

Road safety

•Earlier joining the debate, B.K. Hariprasad, Congress MP from Karnataka, said that out of the 92 clauses in the Bill, only five speak of road safety. “I admit that there is corruption in the Regional Transport Offices but you are handing it over to the dealers. The issue of tax collection should be with the government and not with private bodies,” he said.

•CPI(M) member Elamaram Kareem said the Bill was a step in the direction to encroach on State governments’ powers. RJD MP Manoj Jha also made a similar point saying that the Bill dishonoured the idea of federalism. DMK MP M. Shanmugam said road accidents could not be reduced by amending the Motor Vehicle Act. “Will road accidents reduce by empowering auto dealers to register vehicles? Will accidents come down by privatising State road transport corporations? Will allowing aggregators like Ola and Uber curb accidents,” he asked.

•Sushil Kumar Gupta of the AAP said the only entities to benefit from the Motor Vehicles Bill, 2019 would be the insurance companies. “A person severely injured in an accident is given only six months window for applying for compensation. This is inhumane,” he said.

📰 Start-ups, SMEs write to govt. on equalisation levy

Tax adding to cost burden, they say

•Domestic SMEs and start-ups have written to Revenue Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey complaining about the equalisation levy they have to pay to foreign companies doing business in India, resulting in increased costs as well as lost revenue for the government.

•The start-up sector, represented by LocalCircles, held a meeting with Mr. Pandey on July 16 and discussed several aspects of direct and indirect taxation affecting the sector.

•Among the issues discussed was the equalisation levy that SMEs and startups have to pay to foreign companies sending invoices from abroad for services rendered within India.

•“Many foreign companies operating in India despite having sizeable sales and marketing activities and revenues in India, continue to invoice Indian start-ups and SMEs from their overseas office,” the letter submitted to Mr. Pandey, following the meeting, said.

•“As a result, Indian start-ups and SMEs are required to deposit 6% equalisation levy on behalf of these foreign companies which leads to additional compliance and cost burden on the start-ups and SMEs,” they said in the letter.

•The equalisation levy, introduced in 2016, is a direct tax on payments made by residents to non-resident companies for online advertisement, provision of digital and advertising space or any other facility or service for online advertisement.

•The complaint by the SMEs and start-ups is that many companies, despite doing business in India, were sending invoices from abroad, thereby making their clients pay the equalisation levy.

•“Since this is a levy, they [SMEs and startups] are unable to claim Input Tax Credit for this cost incurred,” the letter added. The letter also pointed out that, not only was this increasing the compliance costs for small companies, it was also losing the government tax revenue since these companies were not providing invoices from within India.

•In order to rectify this, the start-ups have requested the government to mandate that “any global corporation having sales and marketing operations in India must be required to invoice their customers in India from a registered entity in India.”

•Their suggestion is that if a global corporation has one million citizens of India registered with them or has 100 paying customers (businesses or citizens) or annual revenues of over ₹10 crore from customers in India, then they must be required to invoice all Indian customers from their India entity.

📰 Transforming livelihoods through farm ponds

They can be an effective tool for rainwater harvesting

•With an increased variability of monsoons and rapidly depleting groundwater tables, large parts of India are reeling under water stress. A number of peninsular regions like Bundelkhand, Vidarbha and Marathwada have been facing recurring drought-like situations. Given the enormity of the crisis, at a recent NITI Aayog meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi explicated the need to implement innovative water management measures, stressing particularly the importance of rainwater harvesting both at the household and community levels. Here, one intervention that has been tried out in various States, and perhaps needs to be taken up on a bigger scale, is the construction of farm ponds.

•Farm ponds can be cost-effective structures that transform rural livelihoods. They can help enhance water control, contribute to agriculture intensification and boost farm incomes. However, this is possible only if they act as rainwater harvesting structures and not as intermediate storage points for an increased extraction of groundwater or diversion of canal water. The latter will cause greater groundwater depletion and inequitable water distribution.

•In a recent study on farm ponds in Jharkhand and West Bengal, we found that they aided in superior water control through the harvesting not just of rainfall but also of surface run-off and subsurface flows. Some of them functioned exclusively as recharge points, contributing to groundwater replenishment. They also helped in providing supplemental irrigation in the kharif season and an enhanced irrigation coverage in rabi. The yield of paddy, the most important crop in kharif, stabilised, thus contributing to greater food security.

Retention of water

•Farm ponds retained water for 8-10 months of the year; thus farmers could enhance cropping intensity and crop diversification within and across seasons. The area used to cultivate vegetables and other commercial crops also increased. Further, figures indicated that the ponds were also a financially viable proposition, with a fairly high Internal Rate of Return, of about 19%, over 15 years.

•However, in parts of peninsular India, the idea of a farm pond as an in-siturainwater harvesting structure has taken a complete U-turn. Here, some of them are benefiting farmers at an individual level, but not contributing to water conservation and recharge. They are being used as intermediate storage points, accelerating groundwater depletion and increasing evaporation losses as the groundwater is brought to the surface and stored in relatively shallow structures.

Need for inlet, outlet provisions

•In Maharashtra, the State government is promoting farm ponds under a flagship programme that aims to dig over one lakh structures by offering a subsidy of up to ₹50,000 per farmer. However, most of them are being constructed without inlet and outlet provisions and their walls are raised above the ground level by only a few feet. They cannot arrest the excess run-off as there is no inlet, and therefore they cannot be used effectively for rainwater harvesting. Further, farmers line them at the bottom with plastic, restricting seepage and converting the ponds into intermediate storage points.

•Such farm ponds have an adverse impact on the water tables and accelerate water loss. The usual practice here is to lift water from a dug well and/or a borewell, store it in the pond and then draw it once again to irrigate the fields, often using micro-irrigation. While offering secure irrigation facility, this intensifies competition for extraction of groundwater from the aquifer, which is a common pool resource.

•In such cases, in the command area of the irrigation project, farmers fill up their farm ponds first when the canal is in rotation and then take it from the pond to the field. This can impede circulation of water.

•During canal rotation, the aquifer will get recharged because of the return flow of water coming from the irrigated fields. This return flow benefits all, as most of the farmers access water though wells in this command. But if canals fill up the farm ponds first, it restricts their benefits only to the pond owners and, in the long term, reduces the overall return flow at the system level.

•Overall, farm ponds can act as effective harvesting structures and also yield healthy financial returns. But if they are promoted merely for on-farm storage of groundwater and canal water, they could accelerate, rather than reduce, the water crisis in the countryside.

📰 Logged out: On protecting Amazon rainforest

Brazil must recognise that the Amazon rainforest is a universal treasure

•It is a matter of global concern that deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil is increasing rapidly since January, when Jair Bolsonaro took office as President. Satellite images show that about 4,200 sq km of forests have been destroyed up to July 24 under the new government. While most nations tend to view their land and forests through the narrow prism of short-term economic gain, climate science data show that they play a larger environmental role. The Amazon basin, spread across millions of hectares in multiple countries, hosts massive sinks of sequestered carbon, and the forests are a key factor in regulating monsoon systems. The rainforests harbour rich biodiversity and about 400 known indigenous groups whose presence has prevented commercial interests from overrunning the lands. Much of the Amazon has survived, despite relentless pressure to convert forests into farmlands, pastures and gold mines, and to build roads. That fragile legacy is now imperilled, as Mr. Bolsonaro has spoken in favour of “reasonable” exploitation of these lands. Although the forest code has not been changed, his comments have emboldened illegal expansion into forests. Armed gold-hunting gangs have reached tribal areas and the leader of one tribe has been murdered in Amapa in an incursion. These are depressing developments, and the Brazilian leader’s criticism of satellite data and denial of the violence are not convincing at all.

•As the custodian of forests in about 5 million sq km of Amazon land, Brazil has everything to gain by engaging with the international community on meeting the opportunity cost of leaving the Amazon undisturbed. Mr. Bolsonaro lost a valuable opportunity to seek higher funding for forest protection by refusing to host the annual convention of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change this year, but he has been wise not to exit the Paris Agreement. Abandoning that pact would jeopardise Brazil’s access to the important European Union market. Globally, there is tremendous momentum to save the Amazon forests. Brazil must welcome initiatives such as the billion-dollar Amazon Fund backed by Norway and Germany, which has been operating for over a decade, instead of trying to shut them down. Remedial funding, accounting for the value of environmental services, is the most productive approach, because forest removal has not helped agriculture everywhere due to soil and other factors. One estimate by the World Bank some years ago noted that 15 million hectares had been abandoned due to degradation. Brazil’s President must recognise that rainforests are universal treasures, and the rights of indigenous communities to their lands are inalienable. The international community must use diplomacy to convince Mr. Bolsonaro that no other formulation is acceptable.