The HINDU Notes – 14th September 2021 - VISION

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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The HINDU Notes – 14th September 2021


📰 Govt. curbs funding for 10 climate change, child labour NGOs

RBI note says U.S., Australian, European entities to be placed on PRC list for foreign contributions as per Home Ministry

•Five years after it cancelled the registration of international non-governmental organisation (NGO) Greenpeace to receive foreign funds, the government has moved to restrict the funding for a group of ten American, Australian and European NGOs dealing with environmental, climate change and child labour issues.

•An internal Reserve Bank of India note dated July 1, 2021, that was sent to all banks, said the government had specified a number of foreign entities to be placed on the “Prior Reference Category” (PRC list) using the stringent Foreign Contribution Regulation Act 2010, that was tightened in September 2020, making both banks and chartered accountants accountable for any unauthorised funds that come through.

80 agencies on list

•The NGOs, that add to more than 80 international voluntary agencies now on the government’s PRC list, include the European Climate Foundation, three U.S.-based NGOs: the Omidyar Network International, Humanity United and Stardust foundation, two Australia-based NGOs: Walk Free Foundation and Minderoo Foundation, and U.K.-based Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Freedom fund and Laudes foundation, as well as U.K./ U.A.E. based Legatum fund.

•“The RBI has instructed that any fund flow from the (specified) donor agencies to any NGO/Voluntary organisation/ persons in India should be brought to the Ministry of Home Affairs so that the funds are allowed to be credited to the recipients only after clearance/ prior permission from the MHA’s Foreigners Division of the FCRA wing,” the notice sent out recently by a private bank to its branches, which The Hindu obtained a copy of, said.

•The Reserve Bank didn’t respond to a request for a comment, but officials confirmed informally that the note had been sent out, in line with previous such circulars sent to banks warning them of NGOs banned or suspended from acquiring or disbursing foreign funds.

•Significantly all the NGOs on the latest list work on climate change and environmental projects and/or child rights and slavery projects, subjects where the government has been sensitive to international criticism in the past.

•When asked why so many environmental NGOs are on the list, given the government’s stated international commitments on fighting climate change, an official said that despite India’s record in complying with the Paris agreement, “global pressures are intensifying on India to raise the Nationally Determined Contributions”.

•“In order to create noise in the media, several pro-climate NGOs are focusing on advocacy against coal, which is considered a violation of FCRA provisions,” the official added.

•In 2017, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had also objected strongly to the International Labour Organisation’s Global Slavery Index, “questioning the credibility of data” which had ranked India 53rd of 167 countries where “modern slavery” was prevalent, and as the country with highest number of people in forced labour, according to a reply in Parliament. The index is part of the Australian Walk Free Foundation’s annual survey that is used by other NGOs working in the field. Both the Walk Free Foundation, and its founding agency Minderoo Foundation did not respond to emails from The Hindu requesting a response.

•The MHA too declined to comment on the PCR listing, which is not made publicly available, although the government has released numbers of NGOs under the scanner of security agencies.

•According to the MHA’s responses in Parliament, between 2016-2020, the government cancelled the FCRA licenses of more than 6,600 NGOs and suspended those of about 264. Among those who have been put on the PRC list or had to downsize or even shut down their Indian operations due to FCRA action by the government in the last few years are Greenpeace International, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Compassion International, National Endowment for Democracy, U.S. Centre for Disease Control (CDC), Open Society Foundation.

•A UK-based NGO Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has now taken the government to court for suspending its FCRA license, and won temporary relief in the High Court in Delhi in, allowing it to access 25% of its funds, and a final order is expected in October.

📰 India, U.S. to collaborate on reaching green energy targets

U.S. Climate envoy Kerry in Delhi, meets Environment Minister Yadav

•The United States is to collaborate with India to work towards installing 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030.

•“We look forward to partnering with India in bringing finance, technology and other elements needed to achieve it,” said John Kerry, United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, on Monday.

•Currently India's installed power capacity is projected to be 476 GW by 2021-22 and is expected to rise to at least 817 GW by 2030.

•Mr. Kerry is on an official visit to India from September 12-14 and is meeting ministers and industrialists to “raise global climate ambition and speed India’s clean energy transition,” according to a communique from the U.S. State Department.

•Mr. Kerry was speaking at a public function following a bilateral meeting with Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, at the launch of the Climate Action and Finance Mobilization Dialogue (CAFMD). This was one of the main tracks of the U.S.-India Agenda 2030 Partnership that President Biden and Prime Minister Modi announced at the Leaders Summit on Climate in April 2021.

•Mr. Kerry said that Monday’s dialogue would serve as a “powerful avenue” for U.S.-India collaboration and would have three pillars: One would be a “climate action pillar” which would have joint proposals looking at ways in emissions could be reduced in the next decade. The second pillar would be setting out a roadmap to achieving the 450GW in transportation, buildings and industry. The final pillar, or the ''Finance Pillar” would involve collaborating on attracting finance to deploy 450 GW of renewable energy and demonstrate at scale clean energy technologies. Six banks in the U.S., Mr. Kerry said, have already committed to “investing” $4.5 trillion in the next decade towards clean energy.

•Following his meeting, Mr. Yadav tweeted: “CAFMD will provide both countries an opportunity to renew collaborations on climate change while addressing financing aspects and deliver climate finances primarily as grants and concessional finance as envisaged under the Paris Agreement.”

•A key mission of Mr. Kerry is to build global support for ‘Net Zero’, or carbon neutrality, which is when more carbon is sucked out from the atmosphere or prevented from being emitted than what a country emits and is critical to ensuring that the planet doesn’t heat up an additional half a degree by 2100.

•“We have to reach a net zero global standard by 2050. This is not a matter of politics or ideology but one of arithmetic and physics,” said Mr. Kerry.

•A major theme building ahead of the climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, this November is the question of how many nations can commit to a net zero target and by when. A little over 120 countries have committed, with varying degrees of firmness, to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. Five countries have net zero pledges set for after 2050, including Australia and Singapore, which haven’t set a firm target yet.

•The United States has set a target of halving pollution by 2030 from 2005 levels towards the net zero target. President Joe Biden has also committed to phasing out the use of fossil fuel by 2035 for power generation.

•India has so far abstained from committing to a net zero goal but is on a climate pathway that is compatible with keeping global temperatures to below 2C by the end of the century. On the other hand, current commitments by the U.S. and Europe, according to analysts T. Jayaraman and Tejal Kanitkar, see them occupy more than their fair share of the current available carbon budget given their historical emissions.

•India has reportedly installed 100GW of renewable energy and committed to 175GW by 2022, nearly 100GW of which will come from solar power.

•Mr. Kerry also called upon Power minister, R.P. Singh and External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar.

📰 Braving all odds for a trek to Siachen

A team of disabled persons creates history by scaling the world’s highest battlefield

•A team of eight persons with disabilities created a new world record for the “largest number of people with disabilities” to scale the world’s highest battlefield, Siachen Glacier, by scaling up to the Kumar Post at an altitude of 15,632 ft. The team with disabilities was trained and led by CLAW Global, a team of Special Forces veterans who had left the service due to disabilities.

•“The expedition team climbed a total distance of 60 km atop the spine of the Siachen Glacier over a period of five days from September 7 to finally reach Kumar Post on September 11,” said Major Arun Prakash Ambathy (retd) of CLAW Global. The expedition was actively supported throughout by the Army, he said.

•Stating that the team ascended 4,000 ft gradually while scaling the Glacier, Major Ambathy said the route involved crossing several deep crevasses, icy glacial water streams, hard-ice stretches and undulating rocky moraines. “This not only tested the physical endurance and mental stamina, but also the ice-craft skills of the participants, in use of ice axe, crampons, ladder crossing and rope skills,” he said.

•On the challenges faced by the team, Major Ambathy said the extremely rough, rocky and undulating terrain along the moraines of the glacier made the climb particularly challenging for the visually impaired and the leg amputees. “They displayed phenomenal grit despite the challenges,” he said adding that the participants with hand amputation had to constantly work on their balance, managing the rope and work on adaptations for emergency rescue procedures.

•This is the land world record expedition part of “Operation Blue Freedom Triple World Records” being undertaken by CLAW Global. CLAW Global was set up in January 2019 by Major Vivek Jacob (retd), a Para Special Forces officer, who had to hang up his boots following a combat skydive injury after 14 years of service in the Army, with the aim of teaching life skills to adventurers and people with disabilities.

📰 Israeli firm unveils armed robot to patrol borders

Critics fear this marks another dangerous step toward robots making life-or-death decisions

•An Israeli defence contractor on Monday unveiled a remote-controlled armed robot it says can patrol battle zones, track infiltrators and open fire. The unmanned vehicle is the latest addition to the world of drone technology, which is rapidly reshaping the modern battlefield.

•Proponents say such semi-autonomous machines allow armies to protect their soldiers, while critics fear this marks another dangerous step toward robots making life-or-death decisions.

•The four-wheel-drive robot presented Monday was developed by the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries’ “REX MKII.”

•It is operated by an electronic tablet and can be equipped with two machine guns, cameras and sensors, said Rani Avni, deputy head of the company’s autonomous systems division. The robot can gather intelligence for ground troops, carry injured soldiers and supplies in and out of battle, and strike nearby targets.

•It is the most advanced of more than half a dozen unmanned vehicles developed by Aerospace Industries’ subsidiary, ELTA Systems, over the past 15 years.

•The Israeli military is currently using a smaller but similar vehicle called the Jaguar to patrol the border with the Gaza Strip and help enforce a blockade Israel imposed in 2007, after the tiny territory was seized by the Islamic militant group Hamas.

•Gaza is home to 2 million Palestinians who have largely been locked in by the blockade, which is also supported to some extent by Egypt. The border area is the site of frequent protests and occasional attempts by Palestinian militants or desperate laborers to infiltrate into Israel.

•According to the Israeli army’s website, the semi-autonomous Jaguar is equipped with a machine gun and was designed to reduce soldiers’ exposure to the dangers of patrolling the volatile Gaza-Israel border. It is one of many tools, including drones armed with guided missiles, that have given the Israeli military vast technological superiority over Hamas.

•Unmanned ground vehicles are being increasingly used by other armies, including those of the United States, Britain and Russia. Their tasks include logistical support, the removal of mines and firing weapons.

•The tablet can control the vehicle manually. But many of its functions, including its movement and surveillance system, can also run autonomously.

•“With every mission, the device collects more data which it then learns from for future missions,” said Yonni Gedj, an operational expert in the company’s robotics division.

•Critics have raised concerns that robotic weapons could decide on their own, perhaps erroneously, to shoot targets. The company says such capabilities exist but are not being offered to customers.

•“It is possible to make the weapon itself also autonomous, however, it is a decision of the user today,” Mr. Avni said. “The maturity of the system or the user is not there yet.”

•Bonnie Docherty, a senior researcher from the arms division of Human Rights Watch, said such weapons are worrisome because they can’t be trusted to distinguish between combatants and civilians or make proper calls about the harm attacks may do to nearby civilians.

•“Machines cannot understand the value of human life, which in essence undermines human dignity and violates human rights laws,” Docherty said. In a 2012 report, Ms. Docherty, a lecturer at Harvard Law School, called for fully automated weapons to be banned by international law.

•The defense magazine Janes said the development of autonomous ground vehicles has lagged behind autonomous aircraft and boats because moving across land is far more complex than navigating water or air. Unlike the open ocean, vehicles have to deal with “holes in the road” and know exactly how much force to apply to overcome a physical obstacle, the report said.

•The technology in self-driving vehicles also has raised concerns. Electric car manufacturer Tesla, among other companies, has been connected to a series of fatal accidents, including an incident in Arizona in 2018 when a woman was hit by a car driving on autopilot.

•The Israeli drone vehicle is being showcased at this week’s Defense and Security System International arms trade show in London.

📰 Climate change could cause 216 mn to migrate: World Bank

In most optimistic scenario, 44 mn would still be displaced

•Climate change could push more than 200 million people to leave their homes in the next three decades and create migration hot spots unless urgent action is taken to reduce global emissions and bridge the development gap, a World Bank report has found.

•The second part of the Groundswell report published on Monday examined how the impacts of slow-onset climate change, such as water scarcity, decreasing crop productivity and rising sea levels, could lead to millions of what it describes as “climate migrants” by 2050 under three different scenarios with varying degrees of climate action and development.

•Under the most pessimistic scenario, with a high level of emissions and unequal development, the report forecasts up to 216 million people moving within their own countries across the six regions analysed. Those regions are Latin America; North Africa; Sub-Saharan Africa; Eastern Europe and Central Asia; South Asia; and East Asia and the Pacific.

•In the most climate-friendly scenario, with a low level of emissions and inclusive, sustainable development, the world could still see 44 million people being forced to leave their homes.

•The findings “reaffirm the potency of climate to induce migration within countries,” said Viviane Wei Chen Clement, a senior climate change specialist at the World Bank and one of the report’s authors.

Most vulnerable region

•In the worst-case scenario, Sub-Saharan Africa — the most vulnerable region due to desertification, fragile coastlines and the population’s dependence on agriculture — would see the most migrants, with up to 86 million people moving within national borders.

•North Africa, however, is predicted to have the largest proportion of climate migrants, with 19 million people moving, equivalent to roughly 9% of its population, due mainly to increased water scarcity in northeastern Tunisia, northwestern Algeria, western and southern Morocco, and the central Atlas foothills, the report said.

•In South Asia, Bangladesh is particularly affected by flooding and crop failures, accounting for almost half of the predicted climate migrants, with 19.9 million people, including an increasing number of women, moving by 2050 under the pessimistic scenario.

•“This is our humanitarian reality right now and we are concerned this is going to be even worse, where vulnerability is more acute,” said Prof. Maarten van Aalst, director of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, who wasn’t involved with the report.

•Many scientists say the world is no longer on track to the worst-case scenario for emissions. But even under a more moderate scenario, Mr. van Aalst said many impacts are occurring faster than expected, “including the extremes we are experiencing, as well as potential implications for migration and displacement.”

📰 Returning to school 17 months later

The post-COVID-19 situation is complex and the ‘where we left it’ approach will not do for any stage of school education

•As children return to the classroom after an unprecedentedly long gap, many among their teachers realise that teaching will be tougher. And there are others who assume that it will be business as usual. In fact, they have already started teaching from the point ‘where we left it’, meaning where they were in their online classes. Teachers who stick to the syllabus no matter what happens in the outside world, like to identify themselves as teachers of this or that subject. They see their role purely in terms of the knowledge they enable children to acquire. They view the purpose of education in terms of success in examinations and, consequently, in life. With a sense of purpose so firmly held in their minds, such teachers stay clear of the personal life of children, especially its emotional aspect. We can understand how such teachers define learning — in terms of the prescribed syllabus as articulated in the textbook. There is no harm in acknowledging that teachers of this sort form the majority in the profession.

•Though in a minority, there are other teachers who realise that education is more than about completing the syllabus to prepare children to face examinations. These teachers know that their success as teachers depends on how they relate to children, no matter what subject they teach. For this reason, they worry about their children’s emotional well-being. When a child is not feeling well, such teachers ask what is wrong. They recognise individual differences and engage with children as persons with specific habits of mind and behaviour. For such teachers, the world outside the school matters because it makes an impact on children, their spirit and enthusiasm for what they are being taught in the classroom. For teachers of this kind, the long gap caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic in their daily routine interaction with children has made it problematic to resume teaching. They know that 17 months without teaching in a physical classroom has made a strange impact on themselves as well as on the children they teach.

Gap impact

•Several obvious reasons can be cited. One that has been widely discussed comes under a poorly conceptualised title: ‘learning loss’. If small children cannot read at the level they had attained before the pandemic struck, this can hardly be described as a loss. The terminology of loss and gain seems natural in our times, but it is unsuitable for discussing children and their development at school. When they are small, children do not easily retain for long what they had picked up unless it is put to daily use. This is just as true of the facility in reading as in intellectual capacities to comprehend, analyse and judge. However, the facility once acquired returns when its need is created again — under circumstances that are not threatening. And that is where our systemic conditions pose a problem.

•These conditions encourage teachers to be impatient and short-tempered. It is not easy for people who have never worked in a school in our country to grasp the nature of the stress teachers chronically face and absorb. It is so general that it cannot be attributed to any one source, such as a principal or parents. The pressure to perform is a factor of the ethos and the ethos does not distinguish between smaller and older children. From the day a child enters school, he or she comes under this pressure. A minority of teachers realise that it is unsuitable for growth in the primary years, but these teachers have little influence on others. The wider social culture and government norms relentlessly push the child from the first month at school towards higher levels of performance.

•One suspects that this pressure will shape the classrooms most children return to after the COVID-19 gap. Many among them will find it difficult to join in at a higher level of efficiency in solving problems in math or language than they can feel comfortable with. This will be seen as a sign of weakness and the usual remedies will be applied to suppress such signs. The remedies endemic to our system are increased drill, coached collective answer-parroting and harder preparation for tests. Each one of these remedies will be counter-productive for the child’s development when classes resume and regain the dreaded full steam.

•Among teachers I have placed in the second category above, i.e., those who try to relate to children individually and not just teach them, there will be some who can reasonably guess the kind of psychological problems children might be facing as a result of the long COVID-19 closure of schools. The total withdrawal of a space so intimately linked to childhood must necessarily have been hard to endure for a lot of children. These would include children who might not have greatly enjoyed their daily chores at school and the curriculum, as well as many children who might have taken online in their stride, despite the relentless stress it brought them.

Impact of the online mode

•Digital learning is known to bring with it certain addictive behaviours that may persist at school and take new and disturbing mutations. When children return to school, they may well feel off-balance, experiencing the uncanny sense of deprivation that hits the mind after an ordeal is over. For teachers to assume that such children will simply carry on with the remaining syllabus will be quite wrong, although this will not become obvious till later.

•Online teaching had extremely limited reach in most regions, and even more limited value for its receivers. The idea that teaching simply switched to online mode was little more than a myth. That there was nothing else that could have been done was another myth. Why schools were the absolutely last priority for reopening, lower than shopping malls, says something about the importance attached to education. In several other countries, every attempt was made to help schools function, after periodic closure. Nor were primary teachers in other countries given other duties, at airports and vaccination centres. Why mid-day meals were stopped along with teaching is hard to explain. Nor is it possible to calculate the loss incurred by hunger. No estimate has yet been made of the number of children who have left school altogether.

•Now that schools have at last reopened, the educationally better off States, for example, in the South, need to recognise two new priorities. Both concern aspects of children’s psychological comfort generally ignored in our system. If given some attention, it will enhance both children’s and teachers’ readjustment after the long gap they have endured without each others’ company.

Space for these priorities

•The first of these two priorities is a space for the arts: music, painting, theatre and dance. Aesthetic experience has great healing powers, especially when it is not too focused on performance or ceremonial purpose. If State governments and private schools can devote resources and time to this otherwise marginalised area, they will make the resumption of routine life at school more nourishing. The other priority for school resumption is the reorganisation of this year’s curriculum. The ‘where we left it’ approach will not do for any stage of school education. A linear syllabus coverage approach does not serve children well even in normal times. The post-COVID-19 situation is far too complex to respond to the wooden pedagogy stuck to the chapters of the prescribed textbook. A team of subject-specialists and teachers must sit together to look at the syllabus designed for every grade level and deliberate on ways to reorganise it for this unusual academic session.

📰 COVID-19, kidney injury and need for a vaccine shot

A Mayo Clinic study into the body’s immune response to the virus supports the need for widespread vaccination

•As of early September 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus has affected over 200 million people and led to 4.4 million deaths worldwide. In India alone, 3,30,00,000 COVID-19 cases and 4,42,000 COVID-19 related deaths have been reported to date. While most infections are mild with respiratory symptoms, a severe form of the disease is seen in older adults and people with chronic heart, kidney and lung diseases, diabetes or other conditions that render the immune system weak. COVID-19 damages many organs including the lungs, heart and kidneys.

Commonly seen complication

•Kidney injury as a complication of COVID-19 is more commonly seen in hospitalised patients. While the reported prevalence of kidney injury was 7% in a study of 2,650 patients admitted to a large hospital in southern India, a recent large study in the United States reported kidney injury in as many as 46% of 3,993 hospitalised patients, of whom 19% required dialysis. Patients with COVID-19 kidney injury also have increased duration of hospitalisation, with increased health-care costs. Unfortunately, there are many more deaths in those who have acute kidney injury.

•Understanding the microscopic changes in kidneys after infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus is important and has been the focus of extensive research. Researchers, especially pathologists, across the globe have been unified in their observations of COVID-19 kidney injury — i.e., acute tubular injury (injury of the transporting channels in the kidney) is the hallmark of kidney pathology. Thrombi or blood clots, as seen in the lungs and heart, may also be seen in the kidney. Inflammation (influx of white blood cells) in the kidney has also been described by researchers. The kidney injury is more commonly seen in kidneys that already have chronic injury, such as that seen in diabetes or severe blood vessel diseases.

•The exact process in which the SARS-CoV-2 virus brings on the kidney injury has been studied to varying detail by different centres. The first question asked is: does the virus directly damage the kidney? Many centres across the globe have used a very special microscope called the electron microscope to look for evidence of virus in the kidney. The initial studies that emerged from China and the United States seemed to identify structures within kidney cells that looked like viral particles. This seemed to be logical, given that the kidney has a high concentration of ACE2, which is the key protein structure on a cell that the SARS-CoV-2 virus attaches to. This step is critical for the virus to enter the cell. However, as more research was done, it became clear that what was once thought to be viral particles in cells were, in fact, increased numbers of vesicles (structures in the cell that are used in sending important signals) and were mere viral mimics. Even specific staining techniques to detect very small amounts of viral proteins failed to show virus in the kidneys. All of this suggested that direct viral injury was not the main method of kidney injury. If not, then how was the SARS-CoV-2 virus injuring the kidney?

Changes after infection

•The main focus of our own research was to understand how SARS-CoV-2 causes kidney injury and how the proteins and genes change in kidneys after COVID-19 infection. This study from Mayo Clinic, recently published in The Mayo Clinic Proceedings , points to a strong immune response (immune response is the way the body fights against substances it sees as foreign or harmful) in the kidneys. The immune response was seen in all parts of the kidney tissue, including the small blood vessels and in the glomerulus (filtering unit of the kidney). This was mostly seen in those with severe cases of COVID-19. We were able to show two pathways of immune response to the kidneys; Innate immunity, which is the non-specific response you are born with, to fight harmful organisms. In COVID-19 kidneys, we found a rich infiltrate of white blood cells (called macrophages) in the kidneys. Adaptive immune response, which is the body’s acquired immune response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, was evident by an increase in specific type of immune (T cells) in the kidney tissue. This was shown using state-of-the-art techniques, including transcriptomic, proteomics and mass-cytometry.

Like sepsis-associated injury

•Several experts in the field had been suggesting that the kidney injury in severe COVID-19 behaves similar to kidney injury from sepsis, which is the body’s extreme response to an infection. In our study, we were able to compare the findings in COVID-19 kidney injury with kidneys from individuals with known sepsis, and indeed, found that the immune response in the two were very similar. This finding perhaps emphasises the need to manage COVID-19 patients in the same way as patients with sepsis. The observations from our tissue proteins analysis and ultrastructural analysis points also to mitochondria, (which is the powerhouse of the cell) bearing the final insult of the SARS-CoV-2. While this finding is unique to COVID-19 kidney injury, it lends important insight into potential treatment strategies that could be used in managing COVID-19.

Key takeaways

•In conclusion, this Mayo Clinic study is important in that it emphasises a few important facts. First, there is a great need for researchers to capitalise on the patient specimens collected during the pandemic and gather and store data for current and future use. Data archived for future studies will potentially provide valuable information in the event of another pandemic. Second, it will allow the study of COVID-19 associated tissue injury in different populations. Third, by using state-of-the-art technology tools, we were able to analyse the body’s immune response to the virus, and how this response might be injuring kidneys. Taken together, the severe kidney injury seen in COVID-19 further supports the need for widespread vaccination to protect everyone from this viral infection.