The HINDU Notes – 09th September 2019 - VISION

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Monday, September 09, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 09th September 2019

📰 Chinese trawlers in southern Indian Ocean worry India

The huge increase in numbers in the southern Indian Ocean far from the Chinese coast has raised concerns

•There has been a huge increase in Chinese deep-sea fishing trawlers in the southern Indian Ocean far from the Chinese coast which has raised concerns in the government and the security establishment, according to official sources. This was discussed in the recent coastal security meetings involving Director-General (DG), Shipping, the Navy and other stakeholders.

•“In the last four years, on an average at least 500 Chinese trawlers were present in the region and around 32,250 incidents per year were recorded,” a senior defence source said. The trawlers were, however, not in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) but beyond, the source added. This includes trawlers from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

•Breaking this up further, there were 1,100 occurrences near Somalia and 1,500 occurrences near the Coast of Oman. Occurrences are recordings of the Automatic Identification System (AIS) aboard trawlers and ships recorded when they are activated. So a trawler can be recorded multiple times based on its AIS signature. Chinese trawlers have institutional backing and have processing facilities with them which are sold in the vicinity, the source added on the modalities of the operation.

•While India has good inland fishing, the ocean fishing capacity is way below capacity. There have been recommendations for the need to boost domestic deep-sea fishing. “Our deep-sea fishing is in bits and pieces. We need to boost that,” the source said.

•The maritime movements in the region are tracked at the Navy’s Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) at Gurugram, which is the single-point centre interlinking all the coastal radar chains and other inputs along the coastline. The AIS information comprises name, MMSI number, position, course, speed, last port visited, destination and so on. This information can be picked up through various AIS sensors including coastal AIS chains and satellite based receivers.

•To address this, the National Maritime Domain Awareness initiative aims to integrate fishing, ports, customs so that the database is available to everyone. Currently, the States have their databases. As part of this evolving mechanism, the National Committee for Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security is scheduled to meet this week to discuss the implementation.

•There has been a national effort to install AIS systems on ships under 20m for which a pilot study has been carried out. AIS works through satellite and the ISRO has already delivered 1000 transponders for trails in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.

📰 Moon lander Vikram may not spring back to life, say space experts

They believe that the moon lander may have crash-landed on the lunar surface and the impact shock may have damaged the module beyond repair

•Experts said on Sunday that time was running out for the moon lander Vikram and the possibility of re-establishing communication with it looked “less and less probable”.

•A senior official associated with the mission said, “Progressively... as time goes by... it’s difficult [to establish link].” However, with the “right orientation”, it can still generate power and recharge batteries with solar panels, he said.

•“But it looks less and less probable, progressively,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Not on all fours

•Another top ISRO official said the “hard-landing” of Vikram on the lunar surface had made the task of linking again with it that much difficult as it might not have the “right orientation” and would not have landed on its four legs.

•“Impact shock may have damaged the lander,” he said.

•The lander was designed to execute a soft landing on the lunar surface and to function for one lunar day, which is equivalent to about 14 earth days.

•The location of the Vikram module “proves beyond doubt” that the orbiter is functioning well, space expert Ajay Lele said. “The orbiter is the main element of the mission as it will work for more than a year,” he said.

•He said that with the orbiter working fine, 90-95 per cent of the mission objective had been achieved.

•Former ISRO scientist S Nambi Narayanan said the chances of re-establishing communication looked bleak as the lander may have crash-landed.

NASA salute

•“Space is hard. We commend ISRO’s attempt to land their Chandrayaan2 mission on the Moon’s South Pole,” NASA said in a tweet. “You have inspired us with your journey and look forward to future opportunities to explore our solar system together,” it said.

📰 Trump, Europe and the Iran effect

The Iran crisis reflects the strains between the U.S. and Europe over the U.S. President’s maximalist political approaches

•Last month, the impromptu visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to the G-7 summit caught many leaders, especially the U.S. President, Donald Trump, off guard. Mr. Zarif was in Biarritz, the venue, at France’s behest and though there were no meetings or negotiations with the American delegation, he was able to meet with the French President, Emmanuel Macron, and continue discussions about recent initiatives between the Presidents of Iran and France on the Iranian nuclear issue.

•European leaders, and France in particular, have highlighted the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” plan in regard to Iran being a way with no end. And this was why they had decided to try and keep the nuclear deal going despite Iran’s seizure of tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. The division between the European Union (EU) and the U.S. over Iran has been one of the most pressing security challenges since Mr. Trump decided last year to abandon the deal that was struck in 2015. The European nations want to preserve the deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), even if they seem worried about a growing list of violations by Iran of the deal.

•Iran has deliberately violated its terms by producing more low-enriched uranium than the agreement permits.

Ensuring energy security

•First and foremost, the major reason is that Europe needs to keep the Persian Gulf open to guarantee the flow of oil and ensure its economic security. However, on this issue, France and Germany have refused to join the American plan called “Project Sentinel” to protect ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Second, the Europeans are fearful of getting involved in another war in West Asia which they do not want. The truth is that they do not trust that Mr. Trump will keep his word: that he will not attack Iran.

•Third and last, the Europeans have been trying to find ways for their businesses to work around American sanctions on Iran. France, Germany and the United Kingdom have developed a mechanism to trade with Iran legally using a trading system known as INSTEX, short for Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges. It has been designed to permit countries to trade with Iran without the use of American dollars, so as to avoid the U.S. financial system. For many European companies, the risk of facing sanctions because of trade with Iran outweighs any gain from trading with the Islamic Republic and more specifically the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which is targeted by the U.S. as a terrorist organisation.

No appetite for war

•The Iran crisis and the debate it has fuelled reflects the strains between the U.S. and Europe over the maximalist political approaches of the U.S. President. But it also shows the wariness of America’s allies about the war-mongering intentions of Mr. Trump’s hawkish advisers to provoke a war with Iran no matter what the consequences are for the rest of the world. As such, the G-7 summit was not a success, especially with the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, trying to make a move against the EU on the JCPOA with the need to keep Mr. Trump on his side for an eventual trade deal following Brexit. Let us not forgot that relations between Iran and the U.K. are not as rosy as one might think. Iran’s recent seizure of a U.K.-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz has thrust the relationship between London and Tehran into deep turmoil. This comes at a sensitive time when the Europeans are trying to salvage the Iranian nuclear deal.

Regional politics

•As can be seen, no European country wants to trigger a military confrontation with Iran, one which would draw in other regional states and non-state actors. Despite the drone war between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia and the Lebanon Hezbollah and Israel which risks drawing in Iran in a new war in West Asia, European powers could play a major role in ending U.S.-led economic warfare against Iran and building a more effective diplomatic process in West Asia.

•However, the reality is that at this time the situation is at a deadlock. It appears that the Trump administration will need to make its own calculations, without the advice of its partners, in light of the costly setbacks that some of its recent policies have experienced in the region.

•As for the Iranian government, the most immediate priority for containing public unrest and preventing social instability inside the country is to ask for help from France and Germany in finding a way out of the current economic crash dive. But ultimately, Iran will need to show some signs of flexibility that could possibly lead to a situation where some of the arrangements arrived at in the nuclear deal are enlarged and applied to other key issues; these could include a mutually acceptable range for Iran’s missile forces as well as Iran’s clandestine military adventures with the help of the IRGC in countries such as Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

•Consequently, if it is true that the Islamic Republic still does not possess nuclear weapons and its conventional capabilities are still no match for those of the U.S., it is also clear that Iran has hybrid warfare capabilities and an expanded network of proxies and allies in the region which gives it a sharpened capacity to practise its hegemony in West Asia.

📰 Throttled at the grass roots

Local governments remain hamstrung and ineffective — mere agents to do the bidding of higher level governments

•Democratic decentralisation is barely alive in India. Over 25 years after the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments (they mandated the establishment of panchayats and municipalities as elected local governments) devolved a range of powers and responsibilities and made them accountable to the people for their implementation, very little and actual progress has been made in this direction. Local governments remain hamstrung and ineffective; mere agents to do the bidding of higher level governments. Democracy has not been enhanced in spite of about 32 lakh peoples’ representatives being elected to them every five years, with great expectation and fanfare.

The ground report

•Devolution, envisioned by the Constitution, is not mere delegation. It implies that precisely defined governance functions are formally assigned by law to local governments, backed by adequate transfer of a basket of financial grants and tax handles, and they are given staff so that they have the necessary wherewithal to carry out their responsibilities. Above all, local governments are to report primarily to their voters, and not so much to higher level departments.

•Yet, none of this has happened, by a long shot. Where did we go wrong? Was the system designed to fail?

•The Constitution mandates that panchayats and municipalities shall be elected every five years and enjoins States to devolve functions and responsibilities to them through law. This is regarded as a design weakness, but on closer look, is not one. Given diverse habitation patterns, political and social history, it makes sense to mandate States to assign functions to local governments. A study for the Fourteenth Finance Commission by the Centre for Policy Research, shows that all States have formally devolved powers with respect to five core functions of water supply, sanitation, roads and communication, streetlight provision and the management of community assets to the gram panchayats.

Key issues

•The constraint lies in the design of funding streams that transfer money to local governments. First, the volume of money set apart for them is inadequate to meet their basic requirements. Second, much of the money given is inflexible; even in the case of untied grants mandated by the Union and State Finance Commissions, their use is constrained through the imposition of several conditions. Third, there is little investment in enabling and strengthening local governments to raise their own taxes and user charges.

•The last nail in the devolution coffin is that local governments do not have the staff to perform even basic tasks. Furthermore, as most staff are hired by higher level departments and placed with local governments on deputation, they do not feel responsible to the latter; they function as part of a vertically integrated departmental system.

•If these structural problems were not bad enough, in violation of the constitutional mandate of five yearly elections to local governments, States have often postponed them. In 2005, when the Gujarat government postponed the Ahmedabad corporation elections, a Supreme Court constitutional bench held that under no circumstances can such postponements be allowed. Subsequently, the Supreme Court rejected other alibis for election postponement, such as delays in determining the seat reservation matrix, or fresh delimitation of local government boundaries. Yet, in Tamil Nadu, panchayat elections have not been held for over two years now, resulting in the State losing finance commission grants from the Union government.

Downside of centralisation

•Successive Union governments have made a big noise about local involvement in a host of centrally designed programmes, but this does not constitute devolution. Indeed, the current Union government has further centralised service delivery by using technology, and panchayats are nothing more than front offices for several Union government programmes. The beaming of homilies over the radio to captive audiences of local government representatives does nothing to strengthen local governments.

•Union programme design for cities is inimical to decentralisation. The ‘Smart City’ programme does not devolve its funds to the municipalities; States have been forced to constitute ‘special purpose vehicles’ to ring fence these grants lest they are tainted by mixing them up with municipality budgets. There cannot be a greater travesty of devolution.

•Sadly, except for a few champions of decentralisation in politics and civil society, people do not distinguish the level of government that is tasked with the responsibility of delivering local services. Therefore, there is no outrage when the local government is shortchanged; citizens may even welcome it.

On corruption

•Are local governments as corrupt as they are alleged to be? Doubtless, criminal elements and contractors are attracted to local government elections, tempted by the large sums of money now flowing to them. They win elections through bribing voters and striking deals with different groups. Furthermore, higher officers posted at the behest of Members of Legislative Assemblies, often on payment of bribes, extract bribes from local governments for plan clearances, approving estimates and payments. Thus, a market chain of corruption operates, involving a partnership between elected representatives and officials at all levels. Yet, there is no evidence to show that corruption has increased due to decentralisation. Decentralised corruption tends to get exposed faster than national or State-level corruption. People erroneously perceive higher corruption at the local level, simply because it is more visible.

•To curb these tendencies, first, gram sabhas and wards committees in urban areas have to be revitalised. The constitutional definition of a gram sabha is that it is an association of voters. Because of our erroneous belief that the word ‘sabha’ means ‘meeting’, we try to regulate how grama sabha meetings are held and pretend that we are strengthening democracy. Cosmetic reforms of the gram sabha by videography of their meetings, does little for democracy. Consultations with the grama sabha could be organised through smaller discussions where everybody can really participate. Even new systems of Short Message Services, or social media groups could be used for facilitating discussions between members of a grama sabha.

•Second, local government organisational structures have to be strengthened. Panchayats are burdened with a huge amount of work that other departments thrust on them, without being compensated for the extra administrative costs. Local governments must be enabled to hold State departments accountable and to provide quality, corruption free service to them, through service-level agreements.

•Third, we cannot have accountable GPs, without local taxation. Local governments are reluctant to collect property taxes and user charges fully. They are happy to implement top-down programmes because they know that if they collect taxes, their voters will never forgive them for misusing their funds. The connection between tax payment and higher accountability is well known, but we wish to ignore these lessons.

•India’s efforts in decentralisation represent one of the largest experiments in deepening democracy. Decentralisation is always a messy form of democracy, but it is far better than the operation of criminal politicians at the higher level who appropriate huge sums of tax-payer money, without any of us having a clue. We can keep track of corrupt local government representatives; at the higher level, we will never know the extent of dirty deals that happen.

•We have given ourselves a reasonably robust democratic structure for local governance over the last two decades and more. It is for us to give life to this structure, through the practice of a robust democratic culture. Be warned; if we do not tell our higher level governments to get off our backs so that we can better govern ourselves, they will not. It is as important to tell higher level governments to stay away as it is for us to hold our local governments to account.

📰 So close, yet so far: On Chandrayaan 2 lander debacle

Chandrayaan 2 might have failed in an objective, but the mission itself is not a failure

•The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) came tantalisingly close to creating history in the early hours of September 7 when the robotic lander Vikram followed the predetermined descent trajectory and came just within 2 km of the lunar surface before contact was lost. While it is unfortunate that the lander failed to safely touchdown, it is apt to remember that ISRO was attempting powered landing for the first time. To put it in perspective, there have been 38 attempts so far by other countries to land a rover on the moon and have succeeded only a little more than half the time. This April, Israel’s Beresheet lunar lander crashed to the lunar surface. But early January this year, China’s Chang’e-4 touched down on the lunar far side and deployed the Yutu-2 rover to explore the South Pole-Aitken basin. In Vikram, the velocity was successfully reduced from about 6,000 km per hour at the start of the descent at 35 km altitude to a few metres per second before communication snapped. That strongly indicates that powered landing went as per plan till about 2 km altitude from the lunar surface.

•While the powered landing of Vikram and exploration of the moon’s surface for 14 earth days by the Pragyan rover were one of the main objectives of Chandrayaan 2, it is wrong to think that the mission itself has failed. On the contrary, 90-95% of the mission objectives have already been “accomplished”. The orbiter is safe in the intended orbit around the moon. And with the “precise launch and mission management”, its life span will extend to almost seven years. Carrying eight of the 13 payloads, the orbiter will spend the next nearly seven years making high-resolution maps of the lunar surface, mapping the minerals, understanding the moon’s evolution, and most importantly looking for water molecules in the polar regions. Some of the impact craters in the South Pole are permanently shadowed from sunlight and could be ideal candidate sites to harbour water. Water on the moon would, in principle, be used for life support and manufacturing rocket fuel. With the U.S. wanting to send astronauts to the South Pole by 2024, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), in particular, will be keen on data from the Chandrayaan 2 orbiter. The ISRO’s Moon Impact Probe and NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper on board Chandrayaan 1 had already provided evidence of the presence of water in the thin atmosphere of the moon, on the surface and below. A NASA study last year found regions, within 20° of each pole in general and within 10° in particular, showed signs of water. The Chandrayaan 2 orbiter will now possibly reconfirm the presence of water on the moon.

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