The HINDU Notes – 14th February 2020 - VISION

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Friday, February 14, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 14th February 2020

πŸ“° Experts’ meet to discuss restoration of Sun temple

Archaeologists, engineers to review safety of 800-year-old structure in Konark

•A plan to restore and preserve the nearly 800-year-old Konark Sun temple in Odisha would be drawn up soon, after a two-day conference of experts at the end of the month, Union Culture Minister Prahlad Singh Patel said.

•The 13th century temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, had been filled with sand and sealed by the British authorities in 1903 to stabilise the structure, an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) official said.

•A scientific study was carried out by the Roorkee-based Central Building Research Institute from 2013 till 2018 to ascertain the temple’s structural stability as well as the status of the filled-in sand, the official said.

Structure stable

•The official said the study found that the sand filled in over 100 years ago had settled, leading to a gap of about 17 feet.

•The official, however, added that the structure was found to be stable.

•The ASI was in the process of removing the scaffolding erected for the study, the official said, adding that all the scaffolding would be taken down by the end of the month. Among the potential choices before the government would be to fill in more sand or to remove all the sand and put in place alternate support, sources in the Ministry of Culture said.

Taking stock

•Mr. Patel had visited the Sun Temple on January 24 to review the preservation plans, a Culture Ministry statement had said.

•Speaking to The Hindu , the Minister said the conference of experts, including archaeologists, engineers and other experts, would be held in Odisha on February 28 and 29 to take a call on the future restoration plan.

•“A decision will be taken after the conference,” Mr. Patel said.

πŸ“° Publish criminal history of candidates, SC orders parties

The judgment is applicable to organisations both at the Central and State levels

•The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered political parties to publish the entire criminal history of their candidates for the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections along with the reasons that goaded them to field suspected criminals over decent people.

•The information should be published in a local and a national newspaper as well as the parties’ social media handles. It should mandatorily be published either within 48 hours of the selection of candidates or less than two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations, whichever is earlier.

•A Bench led by Justice Rohinton F. Nariman, in the judgment, ordered political parties to submit compliance reports with the Election Commission of India within 72 hours or risk contempt of court action.

•The judgment is applicable to parties both at the Central and State levels.

•The judgment by the Bench, also comprising Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, signified the court’s alarm at the unimpeded rise of criminals, often facing heinous charges like rape and murder, encroaching into the country’s political and electoral realms.

Detailed information

•The published information on the criminal antecedents of a candidate should be detailed and include the nature of the offences, charges framed against him, the court concerned and the case number.

•A political party should explain to the public through its published material how the “qualifications or achievements or merit” of a candidate, charged with a crime, impressed it enough to cast aside the smear of his criminal background.

πŸ“° ‘Time running out to reduce greenhouse gas emissions’

The ‘Future of Earth, 2020’ report enlists five key global risks

•Five global risks that have the potential to impact and amplify one another in ways that may cascade to create global systemic crisis, have been listed by “The Future of Earth, 2020”, which was released here on Thursday by the South Asia Future Earth Regional Office, Divecha Centre for Climate Change, Indian Institute of Science.

•The report, released by K. Kasturirangan, former Chairman, ISRO, lists failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation; extreme weather events; major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse; food crises; and water crises, as the five global risks.

•As many as 222 leading scientists from 52 countries conducted the survey by Future Earth, an international sustainability research network. The Bengaluru launch was among similar parallel ones across other parts of the world scheduled between February 13 and 21.

•The report was prepared with the aim of reducing carbon footprint and halting global warming below 2 degree Celsius by 2050.

•Offering examples of how the interrelation of risk factors play a role, scientists say extreme heat waves can accelerate global warming by releasing large amounts of stored carbon from affected ecosystems, and at the same time intensify water crises and/ or food scarcity. The loss of biodiversity also weakens the capacity of natural and agricultural systems to cope with climate extremes, increasing our vulnerability to food crises, they point out.

Politics, biodiversity and climate change

•Among the chapters in the report is one on climate, focusing on ‘dialing down the heat’.

•Lead author Diana Liverman, School of Geography and Development, University of Arizona, points out that over the last 18 months, major assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the US National Climate Assessment, and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, have all argued that time is running out to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

•“This has inspired declarations of a climate crisis or climate emergency by the leaders of more than 700 cities, States and governments. Yet, during 2019, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached more than 415 ppm, and the five years from 2014 to 2018 were the warmest recorded over land and ocean since 1880,” read the report.

•In another chapter, ‘Populism versus grassroots movements’ author Richard Calland, University of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership, and Associate Professor of Public Law, University of Cape Town, said “right-wing populism, a breed of politics that exploits people’s fears during times of economic decline and growing inequality, and that focuses on nationalist tendencies to clamp down on borders and reject immigrants,” is on the rise around the world. This, he argues, often leads to a denial of climate change facts or impacts.

•Humans have now “significantly altered” 75% of our planet’s land area; about a quarter of species in assessed plant and animal groups are threatened, writes Cornelia Krug, Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Switzerland, lead author of ‘The unravelling web of life’, in the chapter on biodiversity, pointing out that in 2018, the world’s last male northern white rhino died in his Kenyan enclosure, while the Brazillian blue parrot, Spix’s Macaw, was declared extinct in the wild. “Reversing the trends of loss of life on this planet will require some new ways of thinking about conservation,” the author says.

•On food, lead author Jiaguo Qi, Center for Global Change and Earth Observations, Michigan State University, USA, speaks about ‘rethinking global security’. “Strains on food production are expected to increase, as a result of various forces including climate change, biodiversity loss, and a global population on the rise,” the author says.

Tracking false news

•False news travels six times faster and can reach up to 100 times more people, says the ‘Our future on earth’ report on the role of media.

•Lead author Owen Gaffney, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Stockholm Resilience Centre, in ‘Industrializing disinformation’, says the flow of information in the world is changing, as today, around half of the planet’s 7.6 billion people are online, deeply influenced by social media, search engines and e-commerce algorithms.

•“These digital platforms tend to favour the spread of information designed to engage with emotion over reason, can cause the propagation of “fake news”, and can lead to social harms like an erosion of trust in vaccines,” the author says.

Environmental health and education

•Dr. Kasturirangan, who released the report, said the National Education Policy will address the question of environmental health and education at the school level."Children in the last four years of secondary education will have a reasonable grounding to be sensitive towards the environment. Without it no government rules and policies can be helpful," he told reporters on the sidelines of the launch.

πŸ“° Cloud over trade talks as U.S. official puts off trip

Hopes fade for deal during President Trump’s visit to India

•U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer has put off his trip to India this week, at least two official sources said, amid signs that the India-U.S. trade talks have hit a rough patch just ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit.

•According to the sources, who are aware of the negotiations, no reason has been given for the change of plans in the USTR’s visit, that was expected on Thursday, but that there is still a considerable chance that he would visit as a part of Mr. Trump’s entourage to finalise a trade package or a “mini-trade deal” with his counterpart, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, on items that the two sides have been negotiating for more than two years now.

‘Missed opportunity’

•The two chief negotiators have been speaking on the phone quite regularly, the sources added.

•“If [President Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi] fail to bring even a modest agreement forward, it will be a missed opportunity to make progress that can benefit both countries and strengthen economic ties,” said Nisha Biswal, President of the U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC) at the U.S. Chambers of Commerce. She was speaking at an interview during a visit to India this week.

•However, Ms. Biswal said she remained “optimistic” that a “limited trade deal” would be finalised as part of the visit. Mr. Trump and his wife Melania are travelling to Delhi and Ahmedabad on February 24 and 25 , and are expected to visit Agra as well.

πŸ“° USTR takes India off developing country list

Amends lists of developing, least-developed countries eligible for preferential treatment with respect to CVD investigation

•The U.S. government has changed an administrative rule making it easier for it to impose countervailing duties (CVDs) on goods from India and certain other countries.

•The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has published a notice, amending lists of developing and least-developed countries that are eligible for preferential treatment with respect to CVD investigations.

Country classification

•To harmonise U.S. law with the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM) Agreement, the USTR had, in 1998, come up with lists of countries classified as per their level of development. These lists were used to determine whether they were potentially subject to U.S. countervailing duties. The 1998 rule is now “obsolete” as per the USTR notice.

•Countries not given special consideration have lower levels of protection against a CVD investigation.

•A CVD investigation must be terminated if the offending subsidy is de minimis (too small to warrant concern) or if import volumes are negligible.

•The de minimis thresholds and import volume allowance are more relaxed for developing and least-developed countries.

•India was, until February 10, on the developing country list and therefore eligible for these more relaxed standards. It has now been taken off of that list.

•The new lists consist of 36 developing countries and 44 least developed countries.

•The USTR used the following criteria to determine whether a country was eligible for the 2% de minimis standard: (1) Per capita Gross National Income or GNI (2) share of world trade (3) other factors such as Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) membership or application for membership, EU membership, and Group of Twenty (G20) membership.

•India, along with Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam were taken off the list since they each have at least a 0.5% share of the global trade, despite having less than $12, 375 GNI (the World Bank threshold separating high income countries from others). India was taken off the list also because — like Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa — it is part of the G20. “Given the global economic significance of the G20, and the collective economic weight of its membership (which accounts for large shares of global economic output and trade), G20 membership indicates that a country is developed,” the USTR notice said.

Not linked to Trump visit

•U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly complained about the WTO’s classification of developing countries.

•Mr. Trump is due to visit India on February 24 and 25 and the U.S. and India are trying to finalise a trade package before the U.S. President’s arrival. The timing of the USTR announcement is not linked to the visit, a former trade official told The Hindu.

•“The timing is mostly coincidental and mostly related to dynamics at the WTO on developing country treatment,” the official said.

πŸ“° Soon, a panel to address fiscal policy issues

To be set up by the Fifteenth Finance Commission, it will present consolidated fiscal debt road map

•The Fifteenth Finance Commission will soon set up a panel to address issues related to fiscal policy for both the Centre and the States, and present a road map for the same, Commission’s Chairman N.K. Singh said.

•Mr. Singh added the Commission had also constituted a group on defence and internal security, whose mandate will be ‘to examine whether a separate mechanism for funding of defence and internal security ought to be set up, and if so, how such a mechanism could be operationalised.’ This group will be chaired by Mr. Singh with A.N. Jha, Member, Fifteenth Finance Commission as well as Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Secretary, Ministry of Defence and Secretary (Expenditure), Ministry of Finance as members.

•On the fiscal committee, the Chairman said, “I proposed to constitute a broad-based committee which will address some of the issues on fiscal policy, particularly in relation to the debt and the deficit of the States as well as the Central government... there is a need to have a fiscal road map that covers the Centre and the State government.”

•The panel will be headed by Mr. Singh and have representation from the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the Reserve Bank of India, the Ministry of Finance , the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) panel and some of the States.

Robust legal framework

•Mr. Singh, however, added that there wasn’t a need for a new legal framework as the FRBM already gives a robust legal framework, “except for the fact the States need to align their own FRBM with the new FRBM enacted by the Union Government with the amendments to the earlier one in 2018. Also, we need to ensure there is strict compliance on the issues of off-Budget borrowing, contingent liabilities...”

•He said the principal terms of reference (ToR) of the fiscal committee will enhance the ability of the Finance Commission to address its ToR relating to giving a consolidated fiscal debt road map for the general government.

•On Thursday, the Advisory Council to the 15th Finance Commission held its sixth meeting, at which many suggestions were given concerning the GST, he said, adding that generally, it was felt the room for improvement in GST was significant.

•“They all realise the future of revenue policy is basically tied to GST. So, quite some time was spent on this. They also wanted a more systematic dialogue between the Finance Commission and the GST Council since we are also very much stakeholders.”

πŸ“° Towards a new world order

Effective safety nets; free education and healthcare; and high taxes on the rich need to form part of the system

•The World Economic Forum (WEF), held at Davos last month, has become a Mecca for all forms of new capitalism. It started in 1971 with the noble objective of improving the state of the world, but now serves as a platform for world leaders, billionaires, professionals at the top of the business pyramid, senior government ministerial delegations, and others, who gather to change the world. This is the 49th year of the congregation, which now resembles an ice circus. The messages from Davos drift like snowflakes, on the agendas of the developed world.

•If you tear aside the screen that covers all the events at the conference, you could be staring at some of the world’s most complex and intractable problems, with no end in sight. All the issues can be condensed into just one, relating to survival of the planet itself.

•Social inequalities and the grim problems of stark and continuing poverty are at the epicentre of the new world. The latest Oxfam Report presented at Davos points out that 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than 4.6 billion people. The emergence of billionaires and oligarchs in different parts of the world coincides with increased poverty among the already poor people, especially children. These realities make observers question the tenability of stakeholder capitalism as a concept.

•The ugliest face of this capitalism was visible during the 2007-2008 economic crisis, first in the U.S. and thereafter across the European Union. At that time, it appeared as if the global economy was on the verge of collapse.

•One of the chief characteristics of economic development is the intensification of energy use. There is an unprecedented concentration of high energy density in all economic development strategies. The bulk of the energy continues to be generated from non-renewable sources. The developed world’s, and China’s, central objective is to capture energy-generating resources from across continents and put them to use to push GDP growth to greater heights. In the process, sustainability is becoming a casualty.

•How do we define energy? In physics, energy is defined as ‘work done’ or, in other words, the force that moves all objects. It is important to understand the philosophical implications of one of the great laws of physics — the Laws of Thermodynamics. The first law states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it merely changes form and is always conserved. The second law states that when ‘work is done’, only a part of the energy is consumed, the balance is lost. The lost part is called ‘entropy’ and it is proven that entropy always maximises. This whole phenomenon also leaves behind inert material as waste. The higher the use of energy, the larger the amount of waste generated. Entropy, like time, is always unidirectional, it only goes forward.

Excess consumption

•Egregious consumption of energy by the developed world has been accompanied by the disposal of residual products (‘e-waste’) on the shores of many African and Asian countries. As a result, the poor in the developing world are, unwittingly, drawn and exposed to toxic, hazardous materials like lead, cadmium and arsenic. Hence, the ‘globalisation’ phenomenon has turned out to be nothing other than exploitation of the developing world, with most countries being treated as a source of cheap labour and critical raw material.

•Most, if not all, transactions are based on the arbitrage between price and value difference, from which only the ‘middleman’ gains, not the primary producer. Countries in the developed world, and China, are ferociously using up finite raw materials without care or concern for the welfare of present and future generations. Certainly, there has been significant technological progress which has brought about revolution in the fields of healthcare and communications, but there is also a dark side to this. High expenses and Intellectual Property Rights load the system further in favour of the rich. To demonstrate how deep the rot is, one can look at the pernicious plan to set up a carbon credit system. Under this, countries with high energy consumption trends can simply offset their consumption patterns by purchasing carbon credits, the unutilised carbon footprint, from poor developing countries.

•To sum up, these are tough issues and solutions are not easily available. We will, however, do well to probe and understand the ‘Nordic Economic Model’, which pertains to the remarkable achievements of the Scandinavian countries comprising Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, and allied territories. The total population of the Nordic countries is estimated at almost 27 million people. These nations are among the richest in the world when measured in terms of GDP per capita. They also have large public sector enterprises; extensive and generous universal welfare systems; high levels of taxation; and considerable state involvement in promoting and upholding welfare states. UN reports also indicate that the Nordic countries are the happiest countries in the world. The U.S., in contrast, is in 19th place.

•Taking the Nordic model as a template, there are some ingredients that could be part of a new ‘enlightened global order’. These should include — effective welfare safety nets for all; corruption-free governance; a fundamental right to tuition-free education, including higher education; and a fundamental right to good medical care. This also has to involve shutting of tax havens. In Nordic countries, personal and corporate income tax rates are very high, especially on the very rich. If a just, new world order is to arise, taxes everywhere should go up.

Holding companies responsible

•When it comes to the corporate sector, there are some new perspectives. In traditional business accounting, ‘bottom line’ refers to the financial year’s profit or loss earned or incurred by the company on pure financial parameters. However, following vigorous debates, a new format has emerged under which a company’s performance is measured through four ‘Ps’. The first is ‘P’ for ‘profit’. The second ‘P’ is for people — how the company’s actions impact not only employees, but society as a whole. The third ‘P’ is for planet — are the company’s actions and plans sensitive to the environment? The four ‘P’ is for purpose, which means the companies and individuals must develop a larger purpose than ‘business as usual’. They must ask: what is the larger purpose of the company, apart from generating profits? Using big data and text analytics, a company’s performance can be measured in terms of all the four ‘P’s and a corporate entity can be thus held accountable. Market capitalisation need not be the only way to mea
sure the value of a company.

•I recognise that much work is yet to be done to uplift the global economic order, but the important point is that new tools are now emerging. What is required is a global consensus and the will to make the planet more sustainable, so that all individuals can live with justice and equality, ensuring that not a single child is hungry or seriously unwell because of poverty or lack of affordable medical help.