The HINDU Notes – 02nd September 2019 - VISION

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Monday, September 02, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 02nd September 2019

πŸ“° Mamallapuram to host Narendra Modi-Xi Jinping meeting in October

It is the second informal summit

•The historic coastal town of Mamallapuram on the scenic East Coast Road in Tamil Nadu is expected to be the venue for the second India-China informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, scheduled in October this year.

•Mr. Modi will host Mr. Xi for two days — October 11 and 13 — in Mamallapuram, informed sources in the government said. Arrangements are being supervised at the highest levels of the Central and State governments.

•During the summit, besides holding talks, the leaders are likely to make a visit to the ancient monuments in the coastal town. The monuments there have been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the first informal summit in Wuhan, the leaders had made a visit to the Hubei provincial museum.

•A Chinese delegation is also to be apprised of the arrangements prior to Mr. Jinping’s visit.

•A meeting with senior officials of the Union External Affairs Ministry and the Tamil Nadu government was held in Chennai recently.

•The first informal summit between both the leaders was held in Wuhan in China during April 27-28 last year, “to exchange views on overarching issues of bilateral and global importance, and to elaborate their respective visions and priorities for national development in the context of the current and future international situation,” according to the Union External Affairs Ministry.

•Mamallapuram also hosted the Defence Expo 2018 or known as Defexpo, the Union Defence Ministry’s annual event with international participation. Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the event last year. An official said this was the first time in the recent times that an event of historical importance with diplomatic ties was being held in Tamil Nadu.

πŸ“° NRIs to get Aadhaar sans 180-day wait in 3 months

Sources privy to the development said that a notification in this regard has to be issued by the IT ministry

•The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has said its systems will be ready within three months to offer the facility of issuing Aadhaar cards to NRIs with Indian passports without the mandatory 180 days waiting period, as announced in the Budget.

•UIDAI systems are being readied for the facility and necessary legal measures are to be notified soon, UIDAI CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandey told PTI.

•UIDAI systems will be tuned to offer the facility within three month’s time, he said.

•“We are working to make the appropriate technological changes and we will provide an appointment facility where people outside the country also can apply for a time slot and specify the place they would like to go to get their Aadhaar soon as they come to India they can, very conveniently, go and get their Aadhaar made,” Pandey said.

•In her Budget speech on July 5, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said: “I propose to consider issuing Aadhaar card for Non-Resident Indians with Indian Passports after their arrival in India, without waiting for 180 days.”

•Meanwhile, the UIDAI — which has made operational two more Aadhaar Seva Kendras (ASKs) in Bhopal and Chennai after the fourth centre in Hisar was launched recently — is confident of meeting its target of opening 114 such centres across the country in the coming months.

•The UIDAI is setting up Aadhaar Seva Kendras — similar to the concept of Passport Seva Kendras — covering 53 cities across the country at an estimated project cost of ₹300-400 crore.

•These Aadhaar centres, meant to facilitate enrolment, updation and other activities, are UIDAI’s own and operate in addition to thousands of centres currently being run by banks and post offices, as well as in government premises (offering similar Aadhaar services).

•As ASKs have more capacity, more requests for enrolment and updation can be processed on a daily basis compared to other centres. Besides, the new ASK model entails an online appointment management system to allow people to book a slot as per their convenience.

•The online appointment booking facility is already available at UIDAI’s website.

πŸ“° India, Pak. to hold talks on Kartarpur Corridor on Sept. 4

Meeting comes days after technical discussion on infrastructure

•India and Pakistan will hold a round of talks on the Kartarpur corridor project on September 4, sources confirmed on Sunday. The meeting comes days after both sides held a technical discussion on the progress of infrastructure work.

•“We proposed a slot between September 3 and 5, and they [Pakistan] agreed to meet on September 5,” a source said, adding that India had sent a note verbaleon August 28, asking for the third round of talks on the project that is expected to be operational on time for Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary celebrations in the first week of November.

•The coming round is significant as it will be the first such talks between two sides since New Delhi ended the special status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5. Despite the tension in the relations with Pakistan, India has said it wishes the work on the project would continue unhindered by other issues. Pakistan, too, has said it remains committed to the project. On August 31, Union Home Minister Amit Shah declared on social media that India remained focused on completing the remaining work on time for the festivities. “I also reiterate the commitment of the Modi government to complete the work on Kartarpur Sahib Corridor within the time frame,” he said in a message. Once completed, the project will be first such initiative between the two countries.

•Both sides had agreed to make the corridor free of visa requirements to facilitate the visit of pilgrims from India and other parts of the world. The second round of talks was held on July 14; thereafter the tension increased because of the situation in Kashmir.

•The celebrations started in the first week of August when a ‘Nagar Kirtan’ procession reached Amritsar from Nankana Sahib in Pakistan. It was historic as it was the first time such a religious procession reached India from across the border since the Partition of 1947.

πŸ“° Redesigning medical education

In addition to raising the standards of medical professionals, the system should innovate

•Despite tremendous changes in health systems over the last century, medical education curricula has remained mostly outdated. The key elements that define today’s global health systems include ageing populations; demand for quality, equity and dignity; transition from communicable to non-communicable diseases and from episodic illnesses to lifelong ailments; double burden of disease in some countries; and disruptive advances in medical knowledge, IT, and biotechnology.

•Medical education is the bedrock on which the needs of ‘human resources for health’, one of the major building blocks of any health system, are met. Today’s health professionals are required to have knowledge, skills, and professionalism to provide safe, effective, efficient, timely, and affordable care to people. They are required to: be proficient in handling disruptive technologies, understand the economics of healthcare, have the skills to work in and handle large and diverse teams, be ethical, demonstrate empathy, and be abreast of rapid developments in medicine.

•Today’s medical education should be able to groom such professionals to face medicine of the 21st century. In addition to raising the standards of medical professionals, the system should innovate to meet the growing shortage of health professionals to serve ageing populations with lifestyle and lifetime ailments.

Required reforms

•First, there is a pressing need to revisit the existing guidelines for setting up medical schools and according permission for the right number of seats. Methods of education across fields are undergoing changes on account of advances in e-learning methods and tools, including remote learning, virtual classrooms, digital dissections, and simulation systems for imparting skills. Extending teaching privileges to practising physicians and allowing e-learning tools will address the shortage of quality teachers across the system. Together, these reforms could double the existing medical seats without compromising on the quality of teaching.

•There are ongoing innovations in medical education to prepare professionals for the complex and rapidly changing healthcare system. In fact, The Lancet report, ‘Health Professionals for a new century: transforming health education to strengthen health systems in an interdependent world’ (2010) outlines key recommendations to transform health professional education. According to a study by Densen P. (2011), “it is estimated that the doubling time of medical knowledge in 1950 was 50 years; in 1980, 7 years; and in 2010, 3.5 years. In 2020 it is projected to be 0.2 years — just 73 days.”

•At this pace of change, a student can be prepared to process information that is readily available than to know past knowledge. Periodic re-certification based on continuing learning systems may become essential to keep up with the fast pace of change. Virtual learning tools eliminate the need for didactic classrooms. Dynamic curricula designed around specific health systems will become more relevant than the systems designed for the classical hospital-based care. Since health professionals work in teams, inter-professional combined learning methods are being introduced. Even the concept of the teaching hospital is changing from a single, large hospital to a network of hospitals and community health centres.

For a more responsive system

•The Medical Council of India has been mired in controversies, resulting in deterioration in the quality of education. Also, its policies and strategies were delinked from the rapid changes happening in health systems within India and globally. By monopolising control over every aspect of medical education, it bred the culture of deep-rooted corruption. However, if MCI splits its functions into four well-defined areas, and stipulates fixed and rotating terms to key people, it could enable the creation of a more responsive system.

πŸ“° A flawed process that pleased none

Even the Bengali-origin Assamese included under NRC can be deemed ‘illegal immigrants’ later
•Fear and disquiet have gripped nearly two million residents of Assam, and their loved ones, after their names failed to show up in the final updated list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). But the unremitting tragedy of the Bengali-origin people of Assam is that even those whose names appear on the list have no assurance that they will not be deemed ‘illegal immigrants’ sometime in the future. They are a people for whom there is still no closure, no prospect of permanent security and dignity of citizenship.
•Anxieties about land, culture and migration have, over decades, created entrenched fissures in the social and political life of Assam. People on all sides of these bitter divides had hoped that the conclusion of the six-year-long process of updating the 1951 citizen’s register in Assam would resolve finally this long-festering dispute. But despite the immeasurable toll of human suffering that the process extracted from millions of very impoverished people, it is evident that it has resolved nothing.
•For supporters of the Assam agitation, it is an article of faith that millions of immigrants from Bangladesh have continued to ‘illegally penetrate’ the porous border which Assam shares with Bangladesh, and that these immigrants will submerge their culture and language and edge them out of their lands and forests. Estimates of the numbers of these ‘illegal immigrants’ that their leaders have tossed around range from five to 10 million. The final figure of less than two million has sorely disappointed, and enraged, them.
BJP’s core agenda
•For the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) establishment in both Assam and at the Centre, expelling ‘infiltrators’ from Bangladesh has been as integral to their core agenda as abrogating Article 370 and building the Ram Temple. But in their definition, it is only Bengali-origin Assamese Muslim immigrants who constitute a threat to the Indian nation; Bengali Hindus are not infiltrators but ‘refugees’ for whom India is their ‘natural home’. We do not yet have an official break-up of the 1.9 million people excluded from the NRC, but indications are that more than half of these are Hindu.
•Assamese sub-nationalism was never communal: its supporters are agnostic whether Bengalis are Hindu or Muslim. For the BJP, on the other hand, disenfranchising or deporting Bengali Hindus would be political suicide, sacrificing its core constituency. Therefore, BJP leaders in Assam and Delhi are today disingenuously rejecting the process their own government drove as ‘biased’. The only way in which the NRC could work for them would be if they could pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, giving citizenship to undocumented immigrants if they are Hindu, but not if they are Muslim.
•The Bengali-origin Assamese, on the other hand, have long maintained that the estimates of illegal immigration are grossly exaggerated, and that most Bengali-origin people in Assam are descendants of people who came in legally when this was one country, and that since the cut-off date of 1971, illegal immigration has been small. The relatively low final tally, even after a highly flawed process which was entirely loaded against them, seems to vindicate their stand. But this is cold comfort and assures them no security, because demands are being raised for re-verification, especially in districts with a high Muslim population.
•It is also important to observe that the flawed process of NRC was monitored and, indeed driven, by the Supreme Court of India, in ways that did little to defend the constitutional rights of the residents of Assam. The burden of proof was shifted to the residents to prove that they were citizens, based on documents such as those linked to birth, schooling and land ownership which impoverished and unlettered rural residents anywhere would find hard to muster. Even when residents succeeded in producing these documents, they were often rejected for small discrepancies, such as in the English-language spelling of Bengali names or in the age even though it is well-known that most rural people do not know their dates of birth. Many of them do not have legal land records. And in the middle of the NRC process, an arbitrary category was introduced of the ‘indigenous’ Assamese, who were treated much more leniently even when they could not produce the required documents.
What the future holds
•What does the future hold for the Bengali-origin people of Assam? Those excluded from the NRC will have the option of appealing to Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs). This is a frightening prospect for them, because the FTs have operated in openly hostile and arbitrary ways. The presiding officers of FTs are often lawyers with no judicial experience and appointed with no security of tenure by the State government, follow no due process, and are reportedly driven by informal targets to maximise the numbers of persons who they deem to be ‘foreigners’.
•There is also the enormous workload that the appeals will engender. There are today 100 FTs. An average case in one FT might take one year or longer to dispose. I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation that even if there are 1,000 FTs which decide one case every working day, it would take more than six years for them to decide 19 lakh cases. Given their actual rate of disposal, it could take three or four times this period.
•Even more worrisome is that it is not just people whose names have been excluded from the NRC whose cases will be considered by the FTs. Disappointed by the smaller numbers of Bengali Muslims in the final list, the State government has already indicated that it will continue to verify even those whose names have been included, and if it believes that they could be foreigners, it would refer them as well to the FTs.
Citizenship without rights
•The biggest question relates to what would be the fate of the people who, at the end of this process, are declared ‘illegal immigrants’. There is no question of Bangladesh accepting them: the Indian government is not even negotiating this with Dhaka. The Assam agitation was clear in its demand of ‘detection, deletion (from electoral rolls) and deportation’. Home Minister Amit Shah declared in Parliament that he would deport illegal immigrants from every square inch of Indian land. How would this be accomplished? Would these millions be pushed forcefully into Bangladesh? Or would they be locked in massive detention centres? If yes, for how long? The realistic probability is that, in the end, they would be allowed to live in India, but stripped of all citizenship rights. They would be a ‘marked people’, powerless and susceptible to social violence and intense state scrutiny.
•Think then of the demand — and the promise by Mr. Shah — of extending the NRC to all of India. Think of this being done with amendments to the citizenship law which accepts all undocumented immigrants as Indians except those who are Muslim. Think of throwing sections of Indian Muslims into the vortex of human suffering caused by the NRC and FT processes. This would mean the destruction of the secular Constitution of India, an end to India as we know it, a country which belongs equally to people of every faith.

πŸ“° Russia to train four Indian astronauts for Gaganyaan

New Delhi taking Moscow’s help for the maiden mission to space Gaganyaan

•India and Russia are stepping up cooperation in the space sector with Moscow extending help in 4-5 critical areas of India’s ambitious manned mission to space, Gaganyaan. This includes training of Indian astronauts at Russian facilities beginning later this year, sources at the Indian Embassy in Moscow said.

•“There are certain critical aspects India and Russia are cooperating. In some instances we are taking their help because they have huge experience in human space flight. There are some cases where Russia is helping us adapt their technology to Indian requirements. So it will essentially be an Indian spacecraft and this of course reduces time and the margins of error,” an embassy source told The Hindu.

•Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on August 15, 2018 that an Indian will go to space by the 75th Independence Day, Indian Space Research Research Organisation (ISRO) has outlined a road map to put a three-man crew in a low earth orbit for 5-7 days by December 2021 by an indigenous GSLV Mk-III launch vehicle from a third launch pad under construction at Sriharikota.

•Stating that the programme is on track and the process of astronaut selection will begin shortly, the source said that “towards the end of the year, by November or so we will have four Indian astronauts who will come here.”

•“They will go through a 15-month training at the end of which further selection will be made. There will be further 6-8 months advanced training in India prior to the actual launch by end 2021,” the source stated.

•Observing that the difference between space launches and human launches is that “space launches tend to aim for the optimum, human launches aim for perfection,” the source added that India sees Russia as a “reliable, long-term partner” with great experience in human space flight over the last 50 years.

•“A special ISRO unit will be established in the embassy in Moscow to facilitate increased cooperation between India and Russia in view of the Gaganyaan programme,” the source added.

•Space cooperation will be reviewed at the highest level during the summit meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin later this week in Vladivostok.

•The Gaganyaan programme is expected to cost under ₹10,000 crore and there will be two unmanned missions prior to the manned mission to validate the technologies.

•ISRO Chairman Dr. K. Sivan had stated earlier that they began work on the manned mission in 2004 and many of the critical technologies required have already been validated through various tests.

πŸ“° Banking on the banks for expansion

The government accepts that the economy needs more growth but could end up paying for its inaction.

•In 2005, a Nobel laureate in economics claimed that the “… problem of depression-prevention has been solved”. He was exulting over an innovation in economic theory according to which fiscal policy, associated with profligacy, had no role whatsoever. Just a few years later, following the North Atlantic financial crisis, the U.S. fiscal deficit had to be raised three-fold, he responded, “I guess everyone is a Keynesian in the foxhole”, implying that in the face of an impending crisis it is alright to rely on fiscal policy after all. A similar pragmatism is absent from economic policymaking in India today.

•By meeting industrialists for policy inputs so soon after the Budget for the year had been presented and then, via a press conference held a few weeks later rolling back some of the tax proposals in it, the government revealed its anxiety about the state of the economy. This is only to be expected of a party that came to power promising to transform it. Far from having significantly improved the performance of the economy in its first term in office it has been presiding over an economy in which growth has been declining for close to two-and-a-half years by now. So what did the Finance Minister offer in her press conference? And can we expect it be game-changing?

•Three sets of announcements pertain to concessions impacting upon the automobile sector, proposals for the banking sector and a change in a practice of the Income-Tax Department. Of the first it may be said that addressing the problems of any one sector when several are equally stressed is not fair governance. There have been reports of severe stress in the packaged foods industry for instance and we have long been aware that the agricultural sector has been troubled after demonetisation.

•Of the revision of the procedure adopted for issuing an IT notice, it can be said that it does address the issue of tax terrorism, but only a thorough social audit of the processes adopted by the tax authorities can establish whether it would be sufficient to ensure that honest firms are not be hounded and that the government receives all the revenue due to it. Industrialists are under pressure to not speak out against high-handedness, and the compulsory retirement of income tax personnel for malpractice recently point to not everything being well within that department. That leaves us with the proposals for the banking sector. Of these it can be said right away that some of them are quite sound; but if the government’s intention was to reverse the slowing of growth they are unlikely to make much of a difference.

Infusion without reforms

•Most significant among the measures related to banking is the infusion of capital upto ₹70,000 crore into the public sector banks. This is expected to contribute to a potential ₹5 lakh crore expansion of credit. With this the government has frontloaded a provision already announced in the Budget. This transfer is now going to be made right away. This is a major step in the direction of taking the banking sector to a more solid foundation. There is also a proposal to ensure that loan decisions taken by bankers are treated as economic decisions and not as instances of corruption when a loan goes awry.

•Public sector banking has been hobbled by the colonial attitude that India’s public servants cannot be trusted, leading to a continuous surveillance that is not conducive to their exercising initiative in lending. At the same time, the present non-performing assets crisis points to the role of political pressure on banks in the past. Without addressing both these issues we can never transit to a strong banking sector. So the capital for the long term infusion should have been accompanied by governance reforms that both enforce honest behaviour and ring-fence the public banker from political pressure.

Policy rate cuts

•Finally, there was the announcement that public sector banks will pass on more of the policy rate cuts that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has effected in several rounds by now. The government’s frustration at this not having happened is easily imagined but is the proposal for a near automatic adjustment sound by itself? It is tantamount to the lending rate of banks being determined by the RBI’s actions. There is after all the risk premium that banks tack on to their prime lending rate, which itself depends on factors other than the policy rate. Overall, the move towards having commercial bank rates move in tandem with the repo rate by fiat is not advisable. The decision should be left to the banks.

•Let us, however, assume for a moment that lending rates are set to be lowered whatever be the mechanism. Will this revive the economy? It is apparent from the Finance Minister’s press conference that the government thinks this will happen. Generally, the potency of monetary policy in reversing sluggishness in the economy is considered to be weak. The belief among economists is that while a rise in the rate of interest can hold back a decision to invest by raising the cost of finance, an interest rate reduction can do little in the absence of an urge among investors to commit capital. A lack of understanding of the factors governing investment is evident in the suggestion often seen in the press that the government must ‘revive animal spirits’ in the economy. Animal spirits were originally imagined as the spontaneous urge to either undertake investment or hold back from it. The expectation of future profits is the key element here for potential investors. The government can have a role only if it can affect long-term profit expectations. Certainly not by lowering interest rates.

Focus on private investment

•Presently, we are witnessing an interesting strategic interaction. The government accepts that the economy needs more growth but insists that this can only come via private investment and the private sector awaits an improvement in growth before deciding whether to invest. It is not clear whether the basis of the government’s insistence on private investment alone is ideological or based on fiscal considerations. Whatever it may be, it is clear that if it does not get proactive now, it could be left waiting for a private investment that may not be forthcoming.

•Our experience of the five years of very high growth over 2003-08, when the economy grew at its fastest ever, tells us that three factors had played a role in it. These were unusually high rates of agricultural growth, record levels of public investment and buoyant exports. The package announced by the Finance Minister on August 23 did not relate to any of these. Of course, exports depend to an equal extent on factors beyond India’s control but the government could have addressed the other two factors. Notably, it had nothing for the rural sector which clearly needs attention. For a start an expansion of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, with attention paid to building assets that most strongly impact agricultural output, may be considered. As for public investment, it is the elephant in the North Block. The government is reluctant to step it up, harping on fiscal space, but fiscal space is for a smart government to make up. Instead this one shrunk the space for public investment by introducing an income scheme exclusively meant for farmers just before the elections and then expanding it soon after it returned to power. It was a case of rewarding political support rather than attending to the needs of an economy known to be slowing. When in the foxhole you imagine that you are on a mountain top, you end up paying for your fancy.

πŸ“° All you want to know about Employees’ Pension Scheme

Scheme can help employees get guaranteed pension throughout retired life

•How do I secure a regular monthly income after retirement? That’s a vexing financial problem that most Indians of our generation face, after the phasing out of guaranteed pension from the Government. But one guaranteed option that remains and usually flies under the radar, is the Employees’ Pension Scheme 1995. This scheme can help employees with long years of service receive a modest but guaranteed pension throughout their retired life.


•All organised sector employees in India who are enrolled with the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) automatically become members of the Employees’ Pension Scheme (EPS) as well. Once you enrol in the EPF, your employer deducts 12% of your basic pay plus dearness allowance every month towards your retirement corpus, with your employer making a matching contribution.

•While your 12% contribution goes entirely into the EPF account which gives you a lump sum on retirement, 8.33% of your employer’s contribution goes into the EPS to fund your pension payouts post-retirement. The government also adds 1.16% of your pay to the EPS kitty every month.

•However, both the employer’s and the government’s EPS contribution on your behalf are subject to a pay cap. The maximum pay on which the EPS used to accept employers’ contributions used to be ₹6,500 per month until September 2014. In a sweeping amendment to the EPS rules in September 2014, this pay cap was revised upwards to ₹15,000 per month. This effectively means that whatever your pay, the money flowing into the EPS kitty every month on your behalf is capped at ₹1,250 per month (8.33% of ₹15,000).

•The September 2014 amendment made another critical change as well. It decreed that new employees who enrolled with the EPFO from that month, who earned a basic pay plus DA of over ₹15,000 per month, would not be eligible for EPS benefits. So if you’ve joined the workforce only in the last five years, you are likely to be enrolled only in the EPF and not EPS. This may change after a recent Supreme Court ruling as we’ll see later in this article.


•Under the EPF, the government credits interest at a specified rate on your accumulated balance at the end of each financial year. At the time of retirement, your maturity amount from the EPF will be equal to the contributions made by you and your employer plus the annual interest earned. In contrast, there is no annual interest credit to your EPS account. If you have been a regular contributor, the government simply promises to pay a fixed monthly pension to you after retirement.

•Pension payouts under EPS are only available for employees who have put in a minimum 10 years of service with an organisation that offers EPF benefits (doesn’t matter if you’ve jumped jobs). If you choose to quit all employment without completing 10 years of service, you are not eligible to receive any pension and you can apply to withdraw your accumulated EPS contributions.

•When you switch jobs and transfer your EPF account from one organisation to another, your old organisation is expected to provide a Scheme Certificate detailing your length of service, pay, non-contributing period and so on.

•The PF Commissioner records this information over the years to compute your final pension payout. Don’t worry if your online accounts statement from the EPFO does not reflect your EPS balance; it only needs to capture your service details for you to get pension benefits.

What you get

•Under the EPS, the government promises to pay you a monthly pension calculated using a specified formula from the age of 58 until your death. Though you can opt for early pension from the age of 50, this requires a steep sacrifice on the amount of monthly pension. The monthly pension payable to you is calculated based on the formula — pensionable salary multiplied by pensionable service divided by 70.

•Pensionable salary, for the purpose of this calculation, is your monthly basic pay plus DA averaged over the last 60 months of your service. (This was 12 months before the September 2014 amendment). The pensionable salary is, however, subject to a ₹15,000 per month cap. Pensionable service is the number of years you have been employed until you retire, with the number capped at 35 years. For determining it, periods of over six months are rounded off to one year and those less than six months are ignored. To illustrate, if your basic pay plus DA averaged ₹40,000 a month in the 60 months before retirement and you retire at 58 after working for a total of 20 years and five months, your monthly pension will amount to ₹4,285 per month (₹15,000*20/70).

Court ruling

•As you can gauge from the above example, the monthly cap on pensionable salary leads to a very modest pension payout from the scheme. In October 2018, the Kerala High Court, in response to a petition, struck down the amendments to the EPS made in September 2014. This judgment was upheld by the Supreme Court in April 2019.

•This judgment is expected to affect subscribers in three ways. One, employees who joined service after September 2014 and are now contributing to EPF alone, may become eligible for EPS benefits that were so far barred to them. Two, if the salary cap of ₹15,000 on EPS contributions and pensionable salary goes, employees may be able to bump up their pension by asking their employer to contribute a higher sum to the EPS, rather than EPF. Three, they may also get a higher pension because the pensionable salary will then be based on the last 12 months’ average pay rather than the last 60 months.

•While all this is good news for employees, they mustn’t count their chickens before they hatch.

•The SC ruling is yet to be given effect as the EPFO is unsure how it can implement them. As things stand, the fund may be unable to meet a sudden spike in pension demands from many of its subscribers. The EPFO is reportedly planning to seek a review of this decision.

πŸ“° A new ethics for a sustainable planet

Viewing the transnational challenge of climate change through the narrow lens of nationalism will only spell disaster

•Brazil’s Amazon forests are ablaze with dozens of fires, most of them set intentionally by loggers and others seeking greater access to forest land. How long the fires can continue is unclear. But at this scale, they are paving the way for a global climate catastrophe. While European leaders and civil society in many places are organising protests to oppose policies that encourage the fires, the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has stated that they are an internal matter and that they were actually started by the very non-governmental organisations who are now shouting “fire”.

•The American President Donald Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement stating that it is against the national interests of the U.S. Across the Atlantic, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a vocal critic of European integration, has spoken from both sides of his mouth on climate change, receiving funding from climate science denial groups while saying that he would lobby the U.S. to take climate change more seriously.

•Meanwhile, many cities in Europe and elsewhere have seen high temperatures never before experienced. Heat waves have also accelerated melting of glaciers in Greenland at a rate that was not anticipated by scientific models until much later this century.

•The burning of the world’s largest forest reserves, the withdrawal of the world’s leading polluter from a major international treaty and the U.K.’s isolationist policies may appear to be the triumph of nationalist ideology. But these actions have consequences that far transcend national boundaries and impact all creatures that share life on the planet.

•While energy and transport are mainly responsible for the accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere, changes in land use patterns too have made significant contributions. Deforestation, industrial agricultural systems and desertification are major drivers of climate change. Agriculture, forestry and other land use activities accounted for a little less than a quarter (23%) of the total net anthropogenic emissions of GHGs between 2007-2016.

•The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently brought out a special report on Climate Change and Land that covers desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. Very wide in its scope, the report makes it clear that unless land is managed in a sustainable manner, the diminishing chance that humanity will survive climate change will become smaller still.

Land management

•Land is part and parcel of people’s lives. It provides food, water, livelihoods, biodiversity and a range of other benefits from its ecosystems. Land use is indeed interlocked with several aspects of life on earth. For example, decades of poor land management in the agricultural system are coming back to haunt us. Soils have become depleted with heavy use of chemicals, farms have few or no friendly insects, monoculture has led to a reduction in the use of indigenous crop varieties with useful characteristics, groundwater is depleted and polluted farm runoffs are contributing to contaminated water bodies while destroying biodiversity. We have created a system that no longer supports agricultural households, and the stresses have led to farmer suicides.

•Managing land better for farming would entail implementing more sustainable agricultural practices. It would mean, for instance, reducing chemical input drastically, and taking the practice of food production closer to natural methods of agroecology, as these would reduce emissions and enhance resilience to warming. The report calls for avoiding conversion of grassland to cropland, bringing in equitable management of water in agriculture, crop diversification, agroforestry and investment in local and indigenous seed varieties that can withstand higher temperatures. It also recommends practices that increase soil carbon and reduce salinisation.

•Establishing sustainable food systems means reducing food waste, which is estimated to be a quarter of the food produced. It also necessitates eating locally grown food and cutting meat consumption. Alongside these changes, it is important to put an end to deforestation, while conserving mangroves, peatland and other wetlands.

•To make these significant changes and reduce inequality and poverty, land use policy should incorporate better access to markets for small and marginal farmers, empower women farmers, expand agricultural services and strengthen land tenure systems. Sustainable land management can reduce multiple stressors on ecosystems and societies. It will also help societies adapt better to warmer climates and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Fresh template needed

•In thinking about how to address the transnational challenges of climate change and land, the narrow lens of nationalism is no longer serving us. We need a new planetary ethics that supports alternative systems for the future, for a sustainable earth. It is one that cultivates the growth of ecological sensibilities, supports pluralism, enhances quality of life, shifts values away from consumerism and creates new identities and cultures that transcend conventional boundaries.

•A plea for such values is not new, and there have been successful civil society movements that have transcended borders, for example, La Via Campesina, The Transition Network, and Ecoregionalism. More recently, Fridays for Future and Fossil Fuel Divestment are part of such evolving sensibilities. How we move forward with these successes to create a sense of solidarity across boundaries, instead of building fortress worlds, will contribute to the path we build.

•In the Great Transition Initiative, Paul Raskin has said that seeing our place as part of the web of life, instead of at its centre, requires a Copernican shift in world views. Just as Copernicus changed the perception of the earth from the centre of the universe to being one among many planets, so too will our sensibilities have to shift. If we fail to see our place as being part of the planet, we may well go down with it.