The HINDU Notes – 11th September 2019 - VISION

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 11th September 2019

πŸ“° India should not have joined U.S. ban, says Iran

‘Trade, Chabahar port work hit’

•India’s decision to shut down oil imports from Iran due to sanctions imposed by the United States is also hurting India-Iran bilateral trade and India’s future in Chabahar port, said Iranian Ambassador to India Ali Chegeni.

•In the first public comments about the government’s decision to fall in line with U.S. sanctions and “zero out” oil purchases after May 2 this year, the Ambassador said India had “fought hard for its independence” and should not have given in to “unilateral sanctions” from the U.S.

•“It is now official that India has stopped importing oil from Iran because of what it says is its own national interest,” Mr. Chegeni told members of the Indian Association of Foreign Affairs Correspondents on Monday.

•“If there are no oil payments due from India, how we can buy from India? This is India’s sovereign decision, but others have chosen differently,” he added, referring to China, Russia, and Turkey, who have kept up their energy engagement with Iran.

•Of greater possible concern for New Delhi was the Iranian Ambassador’s outlook for the Chabahar port, where India’s construction of the Shahid Beheshti terminal since 2016 is a key component of its trade and connectivity routes to Afghanistan and Central Asia, circumventing Pakistan. 

•Despite the U.S. sanctions waiver for Chabahar, Mr. Chegeni said that India’s development work had been “very slow”, and that trade to Afghanistan was “much lower” than it should be.

•He also said that in view of the delay over India’s plans to build a railway line connecting Chabahar port to the Afghan border at Zahedan, the Iranian government had decided to complete the railroad through its own resources by 2021. In addition, Iran is now discussing an LNG pipeline to China along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as India is not expected to retain its prior interest in LNG imports from Iran.

•“If India wants energy security, it should prefer Iran as a dependable supplier,” said Mr. Chegeni. “We love the Indian people. But we cannot force somebody to love us. The Government of India has to decide according to its national interest. Just as the Chinese have,” he added.

πŸ“° Two new species of ginger discovered from Nagaland

Southeast Asia is a centre of diversity for the genus; several species have been found in northeast India

•Scientists from the Botanical Survey of India (BSI) have discovered two new species of Zingiber, commonly referred to as ginger, from Nagaland. While Zingiber perenense has been discovered from the Peren district of Nagaland, Zingiber dimapurense was found in the Dimapur district of the State.

•Details of both discoveries were published in two peer-reviewed journals earlier this year. Of the two species, Zingiber dimapurense is taller in size, with leafy shoots measuring 90-120 cm high, whereas the leafy shoots of Zingiber perenense reach up to 70 cm in height.

•For Zingiber dimapurense, the lip of the flower (modified corolla) is white in colour, with dense dark- purplish red blotches. Its pollen is a creamy-white and ovato-ellipsoidal, whereas the fruit is an oblong 4.5 cm-5.5 cm long capsule. In the case of Zingiber perenense, which was discovered about 50 km from where the other species was found, the lip of the flower is white with purplish-red streaks throughout, and the pollen is ellipsoidal.

Specimens collected

•The type specimens of Zingiber perenense were collected in September 2017, when botanists were working on the ‘State flora of Nagaland’ in the Peren district. “The plant was found growing in moist shady places on the bank of a small steam in the hilly terrain forest of the Tesen village under the Peren subdivision,” the publication authored by four botanists said.

•The specimen of Zingiber dimapurense was collected in October 2016 from the Hekese village forest under the Medziphema subdivision. Some rhizomes of this plant collected along with field data were planted in the Botanical Survey of India’s Eastern Regional Centre garden in Shillong, where itself they began flowering in June 2018.

Centre of diversity

•According to Dilip Kumar Roy, who has contributed to both the publications, the genus Zingiber has 141 species distributed throughout Asia, Australia and the South Pacific, with its centre of diversity in Southeast Asia. “More than 20 species have been found in northeastern India. Over the past few years, more than half a dozen species have been discovered from different States of northeast India only,” Dr. Roy said.

•Previous discoveries of Zingiber include Hedychium chingmeianum from the Tuensang district of Nagaland, Caulokaempferia dinabandhuensis from the Ukhrul district in Manipur in 2017, and Zingiber bipinianum from Meghalaya in 2015.

•Nripemo Odyou, another scientist with the BSI, who also contributed to both the new discoveries in 2019, said that the high diversity of ginger species in northeast India reveals that the climate is conducive for the growth and diversity of the genus.

More studies required

•“Most species of ginger have medicinal values. More studies are required to ascertain the medicinal properties of the newly discovered species,” Dr. Odoyu said.

•The rhizome of Zingiber officinale (common ginger) is used as a spice in kitchens across Asia, and also for its medicinal value. Botanists said that other wild species of Zingiber may have immense horticultural importance.

πŸ“° Facing up to reality

Given its achievements, ISRO should not hide setbacks with the cellophane of national pride

•The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has witnessed many trials and tribulations. In his book, My Odyssey: Memoirs of the Man Behind the ‘Mangalyaan’ Mission, Chairman of ISRO (2009-2014) K. Radhakrishnan recounts a difficult moment before a crucial press conference. This was after a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) rocket carrying a very expensive GSAT-4 plummeted into the Bay of Bengal in 2010. He writes, “A teary-eyed Dr. Rangan [his senior colleague] came up and hugged me... This being a failure, I decided to face the media alone.”

•ISRO has also faced ridicule over the years. A founding scientist at ISRO, R. Aravamudan, writes in his memoir about the reaction of his children after India finally placed a satellite in orbit using the Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV): “My little sons were thrilled. In their school the SLV had been dubbed as the Sea Loving Vehicle. And now their father’s organisation had been vindicated.” The SLV’s cousin, the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV), quickly earned its own epithet, says Nambi Narayanan, the embattled ISRO scientist, in his book: “The vehicle was so aerodynamically jinxed that every time it was test launched it plunged into the sea. It came to be known as Always Sea Loving Vehicle.”

Changing the narrative

•In all these accounts, there is no mention of ISRO facing budgetary cuts or opprobrium over the descending trajectories of its satellites. That is why the spectacle that unfurled last week, after India’s failure to soft-land the Vikram lander on the moon, raises the troubling question of why ISRO feels the need to airbrush setbacks by retrospectively altering the narrative. Less than 24 hours after ISRO Chairman K. Sivan made it apparent that the Vikram lander had ceased to touch down on predicted lines, Vikram went from being the heart of the mission to being only 5% of the mission’s objectives. “We have already done 90%-95% of the technology demonstration,” Mr. Sivan said.

•ISRO provides four reasons on its website for what made the Chandrayaan-2 mission “special”: This would be the first space mission to conduct a soft landing on the moon’s south pole, the first Indian expedition to attempt a landing on lunar surface using home-grown technology, the first Indian mission to explore lunar terrain with home-grown technology, and would make India only the fourth country to soft land on the moon.

•Chandrayaan-2 was initially conceived as a collaborative mission between India and Russia. India was to make the orbiter spacecraft and launch (by GSLV) and Russia was to provide the lander and rover. Russia then said that it would only provide the lander. Later Russia pulled out of the mission and India ultimately decided to design a lander and rover on its own. This delayed the Chandrayaan-2 mission by nearly four years and advanced India’s Mars mission. Therefore, it’s hard to understand how such an iconic module that shows India’s ability to design a space vehicle suddenly became only 5% of the overall mission objective. Remember, it was Vikram’s camera that sent “beautiful images of earth” as viewed from space on August 4.

•With its ‘special sauce’ missing, Chandrayaan-2 is now in the league of its predecessor Chandrayaan-1, launched in 2008, which included a lunar orbiter and a moon impact probe that crash-landed on the lunar equatorial surface. The key difference is that Chandrayaan-2, propelled by the GSLV MkIII rocket, went all the way into a lunar orbit. This proved that ISRO had mastered the nuances of the cryogenic engine, which allows rockets capable of carrying heavier payloads to be designed. This is going to be what truly propels India into the league of space powers.

•It is puzzling then that Prime Minister Narendra Modi opted to view this sensitive failure-prone segment of the launch, the liftoff, far away from Sriharikota, but chose to be with the scientists only at the landing, the 5% tail end of the mission.

•The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter carries eight instruments on board to photograph the moon in much better detail than previous missions. While the focus over the last few days has been on Vikram, there’s no information yet on what these sophisticated instruments have discovered so far. Soon after the Vikram debacle, ISRO announced that the mission life of the orbiter had now dramatically increased to seven years from the projected one or two years. As these are futuristic projections, it would be premature to assume that 100% of the orbiter’s stated objectives have been met, especially because ISRO doesn’t specify how it attributes weightage to different aspects of Chandrayaan-2. While every screw is critical to the success of a space mission, it doesn’t follow that each of them carries equal weight to determining the overall success of the mission.

A rarified club

•It is in the nature of organisations everywhere, particularly when their projects involve significant public money, to spin news in the light of bad press. However, in spite of its delayed launch, Chandrayaan-2 has never had to face negative publicity. Even before the GSLV embarked on its journey, it was already drilled into our minds that our expectations should be low. We were informed, for instance, that the success rate of moon-lander missions historically was only about 46%. We were told that the odds of failure were high, but that India would join the rarefied club of nations that had achieved this feat — the U.S., Russia and China — if it tasted success. It needs to be underlined that India for decades has been part of a rarefied space club that consists of only a handful of countries capable of launching home-made satellite aboard home-grown rockets. Therefore the only real ‘pressure’ that ISRO faced with Chandrayaan-2 was to conform to social media-fuelled national pride.

•ISRO’s founding Chairman Vikram Sarabhai had once said, “We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight... We must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.” While that may be a dated quote, the operative word is ‘competing’.

•ISRO’s successes are built on the altar of multiple failures improved over five decades. It still has a long way to go — from successfully grooming a private sector industry capable of providing many more jobs to ensuring that it maintains its meritocratic work, culture and ability to hire talented engineers who can be invested in its work. While getting the world to share in its success is important, ISRO only needs to explain its setbacks, not hide them with the cellophane of national pride.

πŸ“° The larger picture about inclusive programming

India is in a unique position to scale up ‘same language subtitling’, improving both media access and reading literacy

•The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) recently mandated captioning for TV programming in order to make it accessible to the Deaf or Hard of Hearing population. The decision comes nearly four decades after the United States first implemented captioning for the same purpose. India’s phase-wise implementation plan requires all 800 plus channels to start this on at least one programme a week, beginning August 15, 2019, Independence Day. By 2020, 10% of all programming must have captions; the figure is to grow by 10% every year, covering up to 50% of all programming by 2025.

The wellspring

•The policy impetus for this decision is rooted in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 which made “sub-titles” on TV a right. The major challenge for the Ministry now is to ensure compliance by all channels, state and private, as set in the time table.

•Captioning on TV for the aurally-challenged is not new. Many countries have followed the U.S.’s lead. Still, India’s foray into TV captioning is significant for two reasons. It is one of the first major countries in the Global South to embrace captioning for media access, Brazil being the other one. But India is the first country where the importance of captioning, or Same Language Subtitling (SLS) has been established for mass reading literacy.

Key goals

•At a time when countries are searching for scalable and evidence-based solutions to achieve their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), SLS in India, if implemented as mandated, is poised to make a massive contribution to SDG-4 on quality education; this is because quality education, foundationally, depends on good reading skills.

•India has a billion TV viewers. The average Indian watches TV for 3 hours and 46 minutes every day, according to the latest FICCI–EY Media & Entertainment report (2019). Film (24%) and general entertainment (53%) are the dominant genres. All of this content is now required to have SLS, in all languages.

•Scientific evidence suggests that SLS on TV would serve three goals: daily and automatic reading literacy practice for one billion viewers, including 500 million weak-readers who would benefit the most; Indian language improvement for one billion viewers, and, finally, media access for 65 million aurally challenged people.

•All English channels in India have been implementing SLS for film and general entertainment content for over a decade. A fascinating study that compared ‘dubbing’ with ‘subtitling’ countries of English content on TV found that the population in the latter group has better English language proficiency. English channels in India added SLS on their own to help the Indian ear grasp unfamiliar English accents, causing a rise in viewership. Importantly, the English SLS experience establishes that it is not difficult for the entertainment industry to implement SLS system-wide, if it so desires.

•Studies in India are at the global forefront of advancing SLS for reading literacy, having proven in several TV pilots that: SLS causes automatic and inescapable reading engagement even among very weak readers who can barely decode a few letters; regular exposure to SLS leads to measurable reading skill improvement, and improved reading skills result in much higher rates of newspaper and other forms of reading. With frequent exposure to SLS over three to five years on content that people watch in any case, most weak readers can become functional and even good readers.

•Inspired by the Indian experience, there is an active campaign in the United Kingdom to Turn-On-The-Subtitles (TOTS) by default in children’s programming. Ironically, while India plans to follow in the footsteps of the U.S. and the U.K. to get started on captioning for media access, the U.K. is drawing on SLS work in India for reading literacy. India is in a unique position to scale up SLS on TV for both goals: media access and reading literacy.

•The cost of SLS is negligible for new content when incorporated in the production process itself. To institutionalise SLS on TV, broadcast policy could, therefore, simply mandate it for all new content produced and telecast after a set date.

•For more than a decade, the Annual Status of Education Reports (ASER) have found that, nationally, half the rural children in standard 5 cannot read standard 2-level text. Despite all the system-level inputs on quality education, this outcome measure has stubbornly resisted any noteworthy improvement. If India is to achieve its commitment to SDG 4 on quality education, we need solutions, backed by evidence, and the collective power of the government, civil society, academia and the industry to implement them.

Other platforms

•The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has taken the most important step toward mainstreaming TV captioning. Now, together with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, policy needs to mandate SLS on all digital Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms. Although translation subtitling is commonplace on OTT platforms and they offer SLS in English, none of them has SLS in the Indian languages, such as Hindi subtitles for Hindi content and so on. This is simply because policy does not yet require SLS on OTT.

•Civil society has shown how SLS can be implemented cost-effectively. Academia has provided strong evidence that SLS works remarkably well to achieve the multiple goals of media access, reading literacy and language learning. The entertainment industry must play its part by turning on SLS for audio-visual content in all Indian languages. SLS is a right. Let us do the right thing.

πŸ“° Factoring in safety: on stronger worker safety law

Major industrial accidents point to the need for a stronger worker safety law

•India’s record in promoting occupational and industrial safety remains weak even with years of robust economic growth. Making work environments safer is a low priority, although the productivity benefits of such investments have always been clear. The consequences are frequently seen in the form of a large number of fatalities and injuries, but in a market that has a steady supply of labour, policymakers tend to ignore the wider impact of such losses. It will be no surprise, therefore, if the deaths of four people, including a senior officer, in a fire at the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation gas facility in Navi Mumbai, or the tragedy that killed nearly two dozen people at a firecracker factory in Batala, Punjab are quickly forgotten. Such incidents make it imperative that the Central government abandon its reductionist approach to the challenge, and engage in serious reform. There is not much evidence, however, of progressive moves. The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2019, introduced in the Lok Sabha in July to combine 13 existing laws relating to mines, factories, dock workers, building and construction, transport workers, inter-State migrant labour and so on, pays little attention to the sector-specific requirements of workers. One of its major shortcomings is that formation of safety committees and appointment of safety officers, the latter in the case of establishments with 500 workers, is left to the discretion of State governments. Evidently, the narrow stipulation on safety officers confines it to a small fraction of industries. On the other hand, the Factories Act currently mandates appointment of a bipartite committee in units that employ hazardous processes or substances, with exemptions being the exception. This provision clearly requires retention in the new Code.

•A safe work environment is a basic right, and India’s recent decades of high growth should have ushered in a framework of guarantees. Unfortunately, successive governments have not felt it necessary to ratify many fundamental conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO) covering organised and unorganised sector workers’ safety, including the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981. Those ILO instruments cover several areas of activity that the NDA government’s occupational safety Code now seeks to amalgamate, but without the systemic reform that is necessary to empower workers. It is essential, therefore, that the new Code go back to the drawing board for careful scrutiny by experienced parliamentarians, aided by fresh inputs from employees, employers and experts. Industries that use hazardous processes and chemicals deserve particular attention, and the Code must have clear definitions, specifying limits of exposure for workers. Compromising on safety can lead to extreme consequences that go beyond factories, and leave something that is etched in the nation’s memory as in the case of the Bhopal gas disaster.

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