The HINDU Notes – 18th October 2019 - VISION

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Friday, October 18, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 18th October 2019

📰 Legislative Council abolished in J&K

Legislative Council abolished in J&K
70-year institution comes to an end.

•Once dominating the news for setting debates and settling sticky discourses for 70 years, the Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Council, the upper house of the Assembly, was abolished on Thursday as per Section 57 of the J&K Reorganisation Bill, 2019, which reduced the State to the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh.

•A spokesman of the General Administration Department (GAD) said all the staff members of the Council shall report to the GAD by October 22. There are 116 employees working with the Council since the first Constituent Assembly came into being in 1957. 

•“The Council has discussed and passed sticky Bills like the land to tiller law, resettlement Bill and autonomy resolution. It became a vibrant platform to discuss the Delhi agreement of 1952 and the Delhi-Srinagar accord of 1975,” a senior employee of the Council said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

•The Council, which had a strength of 36 members, also used to be a part of the electoral college for the Rajya Sabha elections. 

•The Secretary of the Council has been directed to transfer all records pertaining to the Council Secretariat, including related legislative business, to the Department of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs.

•The tenure of all 22 current Members of Legislative Council (MLCs) has also come to an end.

•An official said the vehicles purchased for the council from time to time are being transferred to the State Motor Garages. "The building along with furniture and electronic gadgets will go to the Director, Estates," the official said.

•The Secretary, Council, has been directed to transfer all records pertaining to the Council Secretariat, including related legislative business to the Department of Law, Justice Parliamentary Affairs for record.

•J&K Reorganisation Bill 2019 was passed by the parliament in the first week of August. J&K and Ladakh will be a UT from November 1.

📰 Britain clinches Brexit deal with EU

Britain clinches Brexit deal with EU
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urges U.K. lawmakers to ratify it in a special session on Saturday.

•Britain secured a Brexit deal with the European Union on Thursday, more than three years after Britons voted to leave the bloc, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson must still win a knife-edge vote in Parliament to get the agreement approved.

•“Where there is a will there is a deal — we have one!” European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said in a tweet a few hours before the start of an EU summit in Brussels. 

Talks to begin 

•At a news conference with Mr. Johnson, Mr. Juncker said the deal meant there would be no need for a further delay to Britain’s departure, and negotiations on the future relationship between Britain and the EU would begin as soon as the deal was approved by the U.K. and European Parliaments. 

•“Now is the moment for us to get Brexit done and then together to work on building our future partnership, which I think can be incredibly positive both for the U.K. and for the EU,” Mr. Johnson said, praising Mr. Juncker and the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, for their efforts. 

•Later in the day, the EU endorsed the deal. European Council president Donald Tusk said, “It looks like we are very close to the final stretch.”

•Mr. Johnson must now secure approval for the agreement in an extraordinary session of Parliament on Saturday, which would pave the way for an orderly departure on October 31. But getting the votes is uncertain.

•The Northern Irish party that Mr. Johnson needs to help ratify any agreement, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has refused to support it, saying it is not in Northern Ireland’s interests.

•The head of the main Opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said he was “unhappy” with the agreement and would vote against it. Labour has said it wants any deal to be subject to a public vote, but has not indicated whether it will back any move for a second referendum on Saturday. 

•Negotiators worked frantically this week to agree to a compromise on the question of the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland. 

Backdoor conundrum 

•The conundrum was how to prevent the frontier becoming a backdoor into the EU’s single market without erecting checkpoints that could undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of conflict in the province.

•The agreement will keep Northern Ireland in the U.K. customs area, but tariffs will apply to goods crossing from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland if they are headed to Ireland and into the bloc’s single market.

•The agreement scraps the “backstop”, a mechanism envisaged earlier to prevent a hard border being introduced on the island of Ireland, and would have bound Britain to some EU rules.

•However, the DUP, which supports Mr. Johnson’s government, said the new text was not acceptable — a step that could spur hardline Brexiteers in his Conservative party to oppose ratification.

📰 TB cases see decrease in India

TB cases see decrease in India
Number of patients fall by almost 50,000 over past year, says WHO report

•The tuberculosis incidence rate in India has decreased by almost 50,000 patients over the past one year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)-2019 edition of the Global Tuberculosis (TB) Report released on Thursday.

•The report notes that in 2017, India had 27.4 lakh TB patients which came down to 26.9 lakh in 2018. Incidence per 1,00,000 population has decreased from 204 in 2017 to 199 in 2018. The number of patients being tested for rifampicin resistance has increased from 32% in 2017 to 46% in 2018. And the treatment success rate has increased to 81% for new and relapse cases (drug sensitive) in 2017, which was 69% in 2016.

•The report provides a comprehensive and up-to-date assessment of the TB epidemic and progress in the response at global, regional and country levels for India.

Disease trends

•It also features data on disease trends and the response to the epidemic in 202 countries and territories. “This includes trends in TB incidence and mortality, data on case detection and treatment results for TB, multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB), TB/HIV, TB prevention, universal health coverage as well as financing,” noted the report.

•According to experts, TB remains the top infectious killer in the world claiming over 4,000 lives a day. This report presents progress towards targets set at the first-ever United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on TB in 2018, that brought together heads of state, as well as the targets of the WHO End TB Strategy and Sustainable Development Goals.

Covering all cases

•Meanwhile, the India TB-Report 2019 notes that India is closest ever to covering all TB cases through the online notification system (NIKSHAY). “With the aim of universal access to free diagnostics and treatment services, state-of-the-art diagnostic tests and quality assured drugs have been extended to all patients seeking TB care,” notes the India report.

•In India, of the estimated 2.69 million TB cases emerging in 2018, 2.15 million were reported to the Government of India — leaving a gap of 5,40,000 patients who are going unreported.

📰 Army gets precision ammunition

Purchase and induction were expedited after Balakot air strikes.

•After the Balakot air strikes in February, the Army fast-tracked procurement of 155-mm Excalibur precision-guided ammunition from the U.S., and it has recently been inducted. The ammunition gives the artillery guns extended range and the ability to hit targets with very high accuracy, sources said.

•“The need for precision-guided munitions was always felt. The 155-mm Excalibur ammunition has recently arrived from the U.S. It can be fired over extended ranges,” an Army source said.

•The proposal and acquisition were fast-tracked, thanks to the delegation of financial powers to the Service Headquarters and of emergency powers to the Vice-Chiefs of the Service Headquarters, the source said.

•The ammunition will be used in all 155-mm artillery guns with the Army, the sources said. The Excalibur projectile is developed by Raytheon and BAE Systems Bofors. According to information on Raytheon’s website, the Excalibur provides accurate “first-round effects” at all ranges in all weather conditions and “extends the reach of .39-calibre artillery to 40 km and .52-calibre artillery to more than 50 km”.

•After a gap of three decades, the Army inducted its first modern artillery guns in November last year: M-777 Ultra Light Howitzers (ULHs) from the U.S. and K9 Vajra-T self-propelled guns from South Korea. The Army has the older battle- proven Bofors 155-mm guns in service, and is inducting the 155-mm Dhanush towed gun.

📰 The secondary monsoon: On rainfall behaviour

There is little understanding of the behaviour of the Indian Ocean and monsoon impact

•India’s most torrential monsoon in a quarter century officially ended on Wednesday. This has been the most delayed withdrawal of the monsoon since 1961 but both the quantity and the timing have had no effect on the onset of the northeast monsoon, which officially commenced on Thursday. The NE monsoon rains contribute about 20% of India’s annual rainfall and span October-December. While the southwest monsoon has been obsessively studied for centuries and there are well established correlations — for instance, temperatures in the Central Pacific, or land surface air temperature in north-western Europe — between them as well as the quantity and distribution of monsoon rainfall, no such determining parameters exist for the NE monsoon. At best, meteorologists have now progressed to giving a broad outlook of how the rains could pan out over the next few months. This year, however, is particularly significant. Monsoon rains in south India have been 15% above normal. In Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where the Central Water Commission monitors over 30 reservoirs, their water levels were 44.2 billion cubic metres, or 84% of their total live capacity, and much higher than the 10-year average of 66%. This means that excessive rains in the coming months could contribute to the saga of urban inundation.

•Among the signatures of global warming is intense rainfall being concentrated over short spells and pockets and long periods of drought. The El Niño phenomenon, which has been linked to the abnormal warming of the equatorial waters off the central and eastern Pacific, has been connected with the failure of the southwest monsoon. However, researchers over the years have noted that this had an opposite effect on the NE monsoon leading to more voluminous showers in the winter and particularly over South India. This summer, the IMD, along with other meteorological agencies around the world, bet that monsoon rains would be on the lower side due to the possible emergence of an El Niño. Even after the threat of El Niño had waned, it didn’t indicate that rains would be torrential in August and September. Conditions in the Indian Ocean turned favourable and led to the excessive monsoon activity this year. This shows that there is a paucity in understanding the behaviour of the Indian Ocean and its influence on the monsoons. India is moving to a system where dynamical models that run on powerful computers will become the mainstay of monsoon forecasting. However these too are heavily reliant on the behaviour of the Pacific Ocean and El Niño-related swings. India needs to step up research to improve the performance of these models. With climate change set to inescapably alter the ocean temperatures around the Indian neighbourhood, giving more importance to understanding the vagaries of the NE monsoon ought to be among India’s key prongs to adapting to climate change.

📰 Vital additions to empirical research

Despite limitations, the use of randomised control trials has led to a paradigm shift in development policy evaluation

•If Rip Van Winkle was an academic economist and woke up from a two-decade long sleep this week, he would be baffled by the news of the Nobel Prize in Economics this year awarded to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer for pioneering the use of randomised control trials (RCTs) in development economics. Back in the late 1990s, this was not a well-known concept, let alone a widely practised research method. Moreover, research in economics was still largely theoretical although the shift in a more empirical direction had already started.

•It is true that the concept of randomised experiments is well-known in medical trials, and the idea itself goes back to the statistician Ronald Fisher back in the 1930s. RCTs use the following insight: you select two groups that are similar and then randomly select one to receive the treatment (a drug, or a policy) being tested and then compare the outcome of this group (called the treatment group) with that of the other group (called the control group). If the difference is statistically significant, then that is attributed to the treatment. Using this method in economics has altered our views about what policies work and what do not.

•Michael Kremer was visiting Kenya where he spent a year teaching school students in the late 1980s as part of a small educational NGO, and came up with the idea of applying RCTs in the development context somewhat accidentally, or shall we say, randomly. In deciding whether a rural school should prioritise building more classrooms or giving out new textbooks and uniforms, he suggested that the non-governmental organisation (NGO) phase these interventions randomly to study their impact. Over the next two decades, together with Mr. Banerjee, Ms. Duflo and many of their colleagues in the academic and policy world, this method now has become one of the main tools used in empirical work in development economics and in related fields. It has also led to a paradigm shift in development policy evaluation — the World Bank, and many governments and large NGOs now insist on randomised control methods wherever feasible.

Real-life worth

•The key innovation here is not coming up with the idea of randomisation but applying it in real life with programmes and interventions that directly affect the lives of the poor. From testing drugs to placing government programmes as well as those carried out by NGOs on a randomised basis across villages, households, and organisations, takes quite a leap of imagination. The reason it caught on in academic research in economics is because with greater computing power and large data-sets that were available, empirical work was in ascendance and yet, given the nature of data that is collected in usual surveys, it is hard to establish the effect of any programme on any outcome in a rigorous way. The key worry is, the programme or intervention may have been tried out in areas where something else was going on and so we could be picking up a spurious correlation. RCTs solve this problem by placing the programme in a randomised way.

•RCTs, however, can mostly be applied to study problems at the micro-level where the implementation of an individual programme can be done in a randomised way that allows for a statistically satisfactory evaluation of the programme’s impact. To the extent RCTs are not feasible, which is often the case with more large-scale macro-level questions, one has to rely on other, more roundabout methods to overcome the problem of causal inference.

•This immediately points to both the strength and weaknesses of RCTs: when feasible, they are a great tool to use, but for many questions of great interest in development economics such as broad macro-level issues or the more long-run aspects of development and institutional change, they are not feasible. As with any new method that attracts young researchers and research funding, there are grounds to worry that this will push out important research that uses other methods, including theory and empirical work that does not use RCTs.

Looking beyond evaluation

•However, the tension is not always so stark. A new generation of RCTs are going beyond programme evaluation and asking how individuals react to change in prices, contracts, and new information in the context of specific markets such as land or credit. Here the experiments are often informed by theory. For example, a recent RCT offered different terms of sharecropping contracts in a randomised way to find out the effect of higher crop-shares on agricultural productivity in the context of tenancy. The evidence suggested significant productivity gains, confirming the importance of incentives.

•Interestingly the study confirms the findings of earlier studies like the one on ‘Operation Barga’, the tenancy reform programme carried out in West Bengal by the Left Front government in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which shifted crop-share up. In that study, which happens to be by Mr. Banerjee, me and Paul Gertler in the pre-RCT days, there was no way of fully controlling for all other factors that had changed contemporaneously, such as empowering panchayats. This is an example of how RCTs can be potentially applied to a broader set of issues going beyond programme evaluation.

•Moreover, one key limitation of RCTs is they can establish what works, but cannot say much about what could have worked better or whether it could work in a very different environment. This is a general problem of empirical work not unique to RCTs and once again, the solution is not to abandon RCTs but see how they can be combined with theoretical models to simulate the effect of alternative policies or what could happen in a very different environment. As with any new method, while there is always some displacement of existing methods there are also potential synergies that harness the strengths of both.

•If we step outside the academic world, there is a whole set of issues regarding the use of RCTs and how they can form the basis of evidence-based policy. There is the concern that funding by large donor or private philanthropic organisations may influence the policy agenda in certain directions. Also, imposing a test of purity that the only form of evidence that counts is that generated by RCTs may lead us to ignore many other forms of useful evidence, and that may be potentially dangerous. Finally, there is the critique that given the political environment within which policymaking and programme implementation happens, it is unrealistic to expect anything more than marginal gains from improving the design of anti-poverty programmes.

Where it scores

•These concerns cannot be dismissed. However, where the RCT revolution deserves credit even in the context of these criticisms is creating a consensus that evidence is important in the context of policy — which pushes us to be aware of both what we know and what we do not know — and to quantity and compare the costs and benefits of alternative programmes.

•This may be the most important impact of RCTs in the public domain, especially in the context of India where policy formulation and implementation is often done in a highly centralised fashion and carried out without looking at the evidence or trying to test the waters and generate some evidence, as has been the case with how demonetisation was carried out and how the Goods and Services Tax was implemented. As much as medicine should not be prescribed without diagnosis, policies should not be implemented without evidence and to the extent RCTs have brought the spotlight on this, more power to them on this count.

📰 Greening the powerhouses

Climate change is still not integral to the planning of Indian cities and towns, despite the risks it poses

•Can cities, which generate over 80% of the world’s GDP, be the driving force for mitigation of climate change as national governments fail to provide leadership? At a recent summit of mayors held in Copenhagen under the C40 Cities initiative, Al Gore, the former U.S. Vice-President and climate campaigner, said cities really have no choice, since too many national governments have come under the influence of special interests, and are no longer willing to lead.

•The mayors at the summit were keen, because their cities represent an estimated 70% of global carbon dioxide emissions. They also realise that nearly 90% of urban areas are at high risk from extreme climate events such as storms, because they are situated along coastlines. These cities are home to millions, many of them poor and ill-equipped to handle floods; many also endure cycles of drought and heat waves.

•Indisputably, urbanisation will remain a strong trend this century. Annually, about 70 million people will be drawn to cities and towns for the next three decades, according to the special report on global warming of 1.5°C issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year. This means mayors of cities worldwide, and State governments in India, must prepare for difficult times with action plans for urban centres.

An opportunity for India

•This is a greenfield opportunity for policymakers, since much of the infrastructure in India remains to be built, unlike cities in the developed world. All planning must therefore be climate-centric. In Copenhagen, mayors from Toronto and Berlin spoke about expensive plans to retrofit buildings for energy efficiency and shift their transport infrastructure to greener options. Montreal is shifting city logistics to electric vehicles, keeping large trucks confined to centralised terminals. India does not have to repeat the cycle and can leapfrog the era of dirty fuels.

•Rome’s Mayor Virginia Raggi has an aggressive plan to ban diesel emissions, encourage sustainable shared mobility including biking and walking, and pursue a green new deal. China’s Hangzhou already has the largest public bicycle-sharing system and is moving to a smart bus service. Hong Kong is ready to harvest super typhoons in new drainage tunnels that will reuse rainwater and grow biodiversity. Singapore will put a price on carbon. Novo Nordisk, a healthcare company, wants to partner with mayors on its Cities Changing Diabetes programme to “bend the curve” on the public health challenge through better facilities for biking, walking and urban mobility.

•India’s fast-expanding cities and towns need such far-sighted measures. But today, climate change is not integral to their planning, despite the risk to residents and economic assets. It will take innovation, technology and financing to adapt to drought, floods and heat islands.

•At the C40 summit, Kolkata bagged an award for green mobility, and Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal informed the delegates that the national capital was cutting emissions by inducting 1,000 electric buses, planting trees on a massive scale, and eliminating the use of dangerous industrial chemicals. Delhi is also setting up a task force for clean air. These must be the priorities for all cities. Determined policies can restore the power of the commons: through inclusive and green urban spaces, sustainable mobility, protected water sources and a reduction of waste — all of which will sharply reduce carbon emissions in a growing economy.

Moving to a new trajectory

•It is almost four years since India signed the Paris Agreement, a period during which the Environment Ministry should have helped States come up with city-level action plans, since the country lacks empowered mayors. In 2020, the Paris framework will enter its active phase of implementation, and fast-growing countries will be expected to demonstrate their efforts at greening their economies. This is an opportunity, and not a threat. India’s urbanisation should move to a trajectory of low emissions, reflected in urban governance that incentivises eco-friendly design. It should be friendly to people, and rely on the right technology, materials and energy systems.