4 August Current Affairs – Daily News

4 August Current Affairs – Daily News

CIVIL SNIPPETS

 

Adeeb returns to Maldives, arrested with quiet help from India- Suhasini Haidar #GS2 #IR

 

The dramatic escape of former Maldivian Vice President Ahmed Adeeb in a tugboat to seek asylum in India came to an end on Saturday with him being taken back to Male by the Maldivian police after his arrest on international waters.

 

“We would like to confirm that Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Ghafoor has been arrested and is being transported to Malé under our custody,” the Maldivian police said.

 

However, sources in the Government of India made it clear that Mr. Adeeb had not been deported by

 

India. They said he was merely refused entry to the country since he tried to enter at a non-sanctioned port in Thoothukudi on Thursday.

 

Mr. Adeeb was interrogated by immigration officials but kept on the boat, ‘Virgo 9’, while the Maldivian authorities negotiated with the Indian government for his custody. The former Vice President of Maldives was not permitted to enter India since he was not entering through a designated entry point and did not possess valid documents.

 

Mr. Adeeb was freed by courts in Male last month after his conviction on charges of terrorism and corruption was overruled, but was under a travel ban placed on him after the State prosecutor appealed the order in a corruption and money laundering case.

 

It is understood that the Indian Coast Guard escorted Mr. Adeeb’s tugboat to the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) overnight on Friday and he was then “transferred” to a Maldivian Coast Guard ship, where officials took him into custody on Saturday afternoon.

 

In doing so, New Delhi sought to assist the Ibu Solih government, which it has strengthened ties with, while not taking a stand in the internal politics of the country. The government also wants to avoid being accused of violating the principle of “non-refoulement” or returning a person seeking asylum back to their country where they face any threat to life or freedom.

 

In a statement issued by Mr. Adeeb’s “international legal team” in London on August 2, his lawyers urged India to “consider the application for [asylum] and offer him protection while his claim is under review.”

 

India as a nation can rightly be proud of its history in protecting those fleeing to safety and it would be unconscionable to tarnish that reputation now,” said the statement issued by the “Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers”, adding that India’s actions would set a “dangerous precedent.”

 

Home Ministry’s nod for terror prosecutions peaked in June- Vijaita Singh #GS3 #Security

 

The Union Home Ministry sanctioned prosecution of more than 400 terror suspects in the past three years, with the maximum number granted in June this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An analysis of the Ministry’s sanction of prosecutions under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) between June 2016 and June 2019 shows that on average 11 sanctions were given every month.

 

The sanction is given to file a charge sheet against suspects in terror offences. Under the UAPA, the investigating agency can take up to 180 days after the arrest to file the chargesheet and seek a further extension from the court.

 

Mr. Shah informed the Rajya Sabha on Friday that the nodal counterterrorism agency, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), registered 278 terror cases since its inception in 2008, of which charge sheets were filed in 204 cases. He said 221 persons were convicted and 92 acquitted by the courts in these cases. Of the 204, as many as 131 charge sheets have been filed since June 1, 2014.

 

Parliament cleared the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019, on Friday, allowing individuals to be designated as terrorists. The UAPA, enacted in 1967, was first amended in 2004 and subsequently in 2008, 2013 and now in 2019. The 2004 amendment was to enable the imposition of a ban on organisations for terrorist activities, a provision under which 34 outfits were banned.

 

The proposal for designating an individual as a terrorist would come from intelligence agencies and the entire process would be non-judicial. The designations would be decided by officials of the Ministry of

 

 

Home Affairs (MHA) and the “burden of proof” would be on the government to prove the charges, an official claimed.

 

Opposition parties have raised concerns about the new law saying it could also be used against political opponents and that civil society activists, who speak against the government, may be branded as “terrorists”. Senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram warned the government on Friday that the law was unconstitutional and would likely be struck down by the courts.

 

A senior government official explained that arrests made under all UAPA cases required sanction from the competent authority. Under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) (Recommendation and Sanction of Prosecution) Rules 2008, the competent authority in the Home Ministry or the State government has to give sanction within seven days after being approached by the investigating agency.

 

 

 

 

 

Activists in Assam slam NGT for ‘nod’ to 2,000 MW dam #GS3 #Environment

 

Anti-dam organisations in Assam have slammed the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for virtually paving the way for a mega dam that was left incomplete in 2011. The NGT had earlier this week dismissed petitions seeking reconstitution of a six-member expert committee that they claimed was biased towards environment-threatening big dams.

 

Anti-dam groups said that the dismissal of the pleas was a move by the Centre to resume work on the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydropower Project (LSHP) at Gerukamukh on the Arunachal Pradesh-Assam border.

 

The National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) had started work on the project in 2009 but had to stop after a series of protests by local organisations. The NHPC officials said they have been losing ₹10 crore daily since 2011 because of non-completion of the project that was more than 65% through.

 

The work remained stalled as protests have not allowed transportation of turbines and other construction materials to the site in north-eastern Assam.

 

The Centre had formed a six-member panel to study the project and give a report. Three of the members, who are from Assam, dissuaded construction in an earthquake-prone area. The three other members endorsed the project. Following this, the Centre formed another panel with members from the government. This committee’s legality was thus challenged.

 

 

 

 

 

Odisha attempts to improve work participation under MGNREGS- Satyasundar Barik #GS2 #Governance

 

 

In light of drought-like conditions in many districts of western Odisha and distress migration of labourers appearing imminent, the government is trying to improve the average number of days of employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) — from 38 to 65 days.

 

The government has decided to mobilise all active job-card holders to form informal groups, which will be called ‘Shramik Sangh’. There will be one such group for every 50 beneficiaries in each revenue village.

 

The move is aimed at ensuring job for each active card holder through close coordination with government officials at the block level. One member in each group will be assigned as a ‘mate’ and will be responsible for providing jobs to others in the sangh.

 

With a mandate to arrest migration and ensure effective convergence for sustainable livelihood development… we must relook at strategy for implementation [of MGNREGS]. We need to focus on active job-card holders and provide them at minimum average 70 days of wage employment.

 

The government has also announced that it will include card holders in welfare schemes and skill upgradation schemes; and extend insurance coverage and other economic benefits to them.

 

While the entitlement of employment is 100-150 days, the government is now focusing only on 70 days. The scheme says whoever demands unskilled work will be provided. There cannot be a selective target. There is also no strategy to end late payment of wages. Delay in payment is one of the key factors in people distancing themselves from MGNREGS

 

 

 

 

 

Modernization of armed forces among Modi government’s priorities #GS3 #Defence

 

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Saturday that the government’s priority is to modernise the armed forces and meet all their needs only through indigenisation. There is a need to promote indigenous production to increase defence capability and preparedness.

 

Defence equipment would be imported only if the situation demanded that it was important and was not being manufactured in the country. Speaking at the golden jubilee celebrations of defence PSU Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), he said the defence sector would play a key role in making the country a USD 5 trillion economy through Foreign Direct Investment and offset investment in manufacturing.

 

The government, he said, would like to bring defence exports to a respectable level by 2025, for which BDL needed to play an important role. On issues like terrorism, he said the country has been successful in making the world understand that nothing short of zero tolerance was acceptable.

 

 

The defence minister said the work of organisations like DRDO,ISRO and BDL had enhanced India’s respect the world over. Singh appreciated the stellar role played by BDL in the country’s defence production capabilities and assured the PSU full support from the government.

 

 

 

 

 

Odisha delta site is 3,600 years old- Satyasundar Barik #GS1 #Geography

 

The Archaeological Survey of India, which had discovered ancient artefacts and grain during excavations at Bharati Huda in Jallarpur village in Odisha’s Cuttack district last year, said a rural settlement had thrived at the site about 3600 years ago.

 

This excavation confirmed that a separate ethnic group that was using non-black-and-red ware might have existed during the early chalcolithic cultural horizon and a new class of ethnic group might have come into contact with the rural settlers at Bharati Huda during mature phase of chalcolithic culture.

 

The IUAC report says the charcoal samples found in Layer three of the excavation dated backed to 1072 BCE, Layer 4 to 1099 BCE, Layer 5 to 1269 BCE and Layer 7 to 1404 BCE. Radiocarbon ages were calibrated using Oxcal software and median ages are utilized in this report. Scientific study of two more layers could push the age back by another 100 years.

 

On the basis of this evidence, we believe the antiquity of Sun worship dated back to 1099 BCE in the Prachi valley. Devotees from different parts of Odisha as well as the neighbouring States congregated at Chandrabhaga on the shore of the Bay of Bengal on the occasion of Magha Saptami to pay homage to Sun God.

 

The world famous Sun temple of Konark, located some 30 kilometres from the excavation, was built in the 13th century CE. The tradition of Sun worship seems to have evolved with human settlements in the region.

 

The excavated remains indicate existence of Chalcolithic culture in the valley as attested by the presence of mud structural remains, large quantity of potsherds, ground and polished stone tools, bone tools, beads of semi-precious stones, terracotta objects, huge quantity of faunal remains and carbonized grains.

 

The site has cultural similarity with Golabai Sasan, Suabarei and other excavated and explored sites in the Mahanadi delta and partial similarity with the chalcolithic sites of middle Mahanadi valley and sites of central and eastern India.

 

According to the archaeologist, the inhabitants practised agriculture and animal husbandry as attested by the findings of domesticated variety of rice and jute and evidence of domesticated cattle among the faunal remains as well as terracotta bull figurine.

 

 

 

 

India protests over UN chief’s report #GS2 #IR

 

 

India has strongly expressed its disappointment over UN chief Antonio Guterres for including in a recent

 

report situations in India that are neither armed conflicts nor a threat to international security, and said

 

such attempts to expand mandate in a selective manner to certain situations only politicises the agenda.

 

In the “Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict”, released on Tuesday, Mr. Guterres said children continued to be affected by incidents of violence between armed groups and the government “particularly in Jammu and Kashmir and in the context of the Naxalite insurgency”.

 

India was mentioned under a section of the report titled “Situations not on the agenda of the Security Council or other situations”.

 

In spite of the clear mandate by the Council, we are disappointed that the Report of the Secretary-General includes situations which are not armed conflicts or of threat to maintenance of international peace and security,” she said.

 

“Such attempt to expand mandate in a selective manner to certain situations only politicises and instrumentalises the agenda, obfuscating and diverting attention from the real threats to international peace and security.”

 

The report noted that the U.N. had received reports of child recruitment and use in Jammu and Kashmir.

 

In addition, reports of the systematic recruitment of children by Naxalites continued to be received.

 

Mr. Guterres, however, welcomed the measures taken by the Indian government to ensure protection to children.

 

Ms. Tripathi said India was cognizant of the urgency to act now to protect today’s child victims to prevent tomorrow’s armed conflicts and New Delhi remained a committed partner of the U.N. in this endeavour.

 

Leading human rights organisations also criticised Mr. Guterres for omitting countries responsible for grave violations against children in armed conflict in his new list of shame, saying the process for determining the perpetrators had become increasingly politicised.

 

Ms. Tripathi stressed that as the scale and severity of grave violations perpetrated against children remained on the rise, it was clear that there were significant challenges to effective implementation of this mandate.

 

Grave violations continued to be perpetrated by a range of actors in complex situations of armed conflicts. Terrorist networks and other non-state actors continued to exploit children for their own

 

 

nefarious ends. In some situations the nexus between the state machineries and the non-state actors had posed complex challenges, she said.

 

“The impunity of all such actors must be ended through resolute action by governments from whose territory such entities operate.”

 

Ms. Tripathi also underscored that the international forces operating in areas of armed conflict must ensure full compliance with international humanitarian law and relevant human rights law in all their responses.

 

 

 

 

Centre decides to prepare National Population Register for pan-India NRC #GS2 #Governance

 

The government has decided to prepare a National Population Register (NPR) by September 2020 to lay the foundation for rolling out a citizens’ register across the country.

 

The NPR will be a list of usual residents of the country. Once the NPR is completed and published, it is expected to be the basis for preparing the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC), a pan-India version of Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC).

 

For the purpose of the NPR, a usual resident is defined as a person who has resided in a local area for past six months or more or a person who intends to reside in that area for the next six months or more.

 

In pursuance of sub-rule(4) of rule 3 of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, the Central government hereby decides to prepare and update the Population Register…

 

And the field work for house-to-house enumeration throughout the country except Assam for collection of information relating to all persons who are usually residing within the jurisdiction of local registrar shall be undertaken between the first day of April 2020 to 30th September 2020.

 

It is being prepared at the local (village and sub-town), sub-district, district, state and national levels under provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. It is mandatory for every usual resident of India to register in the NPR.

 

 

 

RCEP should address causes of high trade imbalances: India to China #GS3 #Economy

 

 

India has told China that the proposed mega free trade agreement RCEP should address the causes of high trade imbalances among the member countries.

 

In his meeting, the secretary “emphasised on the importance of an RCEP agreement that would duly address the causes of existing trade imbalances. RCEP bloc comprises 10 ASEAN group members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam), and their trade partners India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

 

India has registered a trade deficit in 2018-19 with as many as 11 RCEP member countries – including China, South Korea and Australia – out of the grouping of 16 nations that are negotiating a mega trade pact since November 2012. In 2018-19, India’s trade deficit with China stood at $50.2 billion.

 

“India’s concerns regarding market access and other issues leading to imbalanced trade between some of the partner countries was specifically flagged during the meetings,” the ministry said.

 

India has sought greater market access from China for its products like sugar, rice and pharmaceuticals to narrow the high trade deficit. He also pushed for greater market access to other items such as milk and milk products, pomegranate, soybean meal, and okra.

 

Besides, he asked for easing of the business visa regime by China for Indians.

 

With Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Trade and Industry of Singapore, Wadhawan requested to support the operationalisation of the mutual recognition agreement on nursing as agreed in the 2nd CECA, a kind of free trade agreement, review and work towards speedy progress on the 3rd CECA review.

 

 

 

 

 

SEBI voices concern over related party transactions #GS3 #Economy

 

Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) expressed concern over related party transactions, a method “frequently” employed by corporates for diversion of funds. The capital markets regulator also said another means of such diversion was extension of loans.

 

Related party transactions are being frequently used for diversion of funds by corporates. Another instance is extension of loans of companies to related parties. The list is endless. This really bothers the regulator”.

 

Speaking at the Financial Market Conclave organised by CII here, he said these practices should be discontinued in the interest of listed companies, promoters and related parties. Singh said fraudulent related party transactions were being used for “siphoning of funds”.

 

Singh said that regarding corporate governance, there had been a decline of trust for which SEBI had already initiated steps. Serious corporate governance issues witnessed a line arrise causing a number of company failures.

 

 

Corporate governance is aimed at keeping the trust of various stakeholders. Learning from the global financial crisis, this was far from satisfactory”, Singh said. There had also been instances of non-disclosure of valuation reports, he said adding that the companies resorted to complex structures to hide risk for siphoning of funds

 

.In this context, he said SEBI was enhancing monitoring of compliances along with the stock exchanges. SEBI had prescribed standard operating procedures (SOP)for dealing with non-compliances, which can lead to freezing of shareholding of promoters and suspension of trading in stocks”, he said.

 

Singh said “the regulators can go upto a point. It was incumbent upon the managements for sticking to compliance and key management… professionals should show a strong independence of mind to stand up to any wrongdoings”

 

 

 

What are the guidelines on migrant camps?- Vijaita Singh #GS2 #IR

 

The story so far: On Wednesday, the Delhi Police told the Supreme Court that nearly 500 illegal Bangladeshi migrants have been deported from the capital in the past 28 months. Last month, the Minister of State for Home, Nityanand Rai, informed the Lok Sabha that State governments have been instructed from time to time to set up detention centres.

 

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has also drawn up a manual for States and Union Territories. At present, there are six detention centres in Assam, the highest among the States. At least 10 more are set to come up before the final publication of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) on August 31.

 

What are detention centres?

 

Detention centres are set up to house illegal immigrants or foreigners who have completed their jail sentence but their deportation process to the country concerned has not been initiated or completed. It is also set up to accommodate foreign convicts in criminal cases who have completed their jail terms and await deportation.

 

According to the MHA, these holding camps are also “to restrict the movement of foreigners staying back illegally and thereby ensure that they are physically available at all times for expeditious repatriation or deportation”.

 

What does the Home Ministry manual say?

 

The MHA framed a ‘Model Detention Centre/Holding Centre/Camp Manual’, which was circulated to all States and Union Territories on January 9. Mr. Nityanand Rai informed the Lok Sabha on July 2 that State governments have been instructed from time to time (2009, 2012, 2014 and 2018), to set up detention centres.

 

 

Under Section 3(2)(c) of The Foreigners Act, 1946, the Central Government has the powers to deport foreign nationals staying illegally in the country. These powers have also been entrusted to State governments under Article 258(1) of the Constitution and under Article 239(1) for administrators of Union Territories.

 

Some centres already exist in some States and Union Territories. The intention is to standardise the camps, and the States and Union Territories have been asked to implement the orders.

 

What triggered the move?

 

On September 20, 2018 activist Harsh Mander filed a petition in the Supreme Court to highlight the plight of families languishing in six detention centres in Assam; members of the families who were declared foreigners were put in camps separated from each other.

 

The top court sent a notice to the Centre and Assam government seeking their response. In the petition, Mr. Mander compared the situation of these families with the family separation policy imposed on illegal immigrants in the U.S. by the Trump administration.

 

The petition itself was based on a report submitted by Mr. Mander when he, as Minorities Monitor for the National Human Rights Commission, had visited detention centres in Assam from January 22-24 in 2018.

 

The first major finding of the mission led by Mr. Mander was that the “State does not make any distinction, for all practical purposes, between detention centres and jails; and thus between detainees and ordinary inmates”. It found there was no clear legal regime governing the rights and entitlements of detainees.

 

The report said, “Consequently, the jail authorities appear to apply the Assam Jail Manual to them, but deny them even the benefits, like parole, waged work etc., that the inmates get under the jail rules.” It was in this context that the Home Ministry framed the guidelines for detention centres across the country; a manual for jail inmates was drafted in 2016.

 

The State government officials had also informed the mission that they were not aware of any “specific guidelines or instructions from the Central or State government to guide the treatment and rights of the detainees.”

 

The detention centres are therefore de facto, if not de jure, administered under the Assam Jail Manual, and the detainees are treated in some ways as convicted prisoners, and in other ways are deprived even of the rights of convicted prisoners, it was found.

 

It was in the context of this petition that on November 5, 2018, the Centre informed the Supreme Court that it was framing new guidelines for keeping foreign nationals in detention centres across the country.

 

What are some of the guidelines?

 

 

There are 39 points in the manual. The manual says that States require “no specific approval” from the Home Ministry to set up “detention centres /holding centres/ camps”. It lays down that centres should be set up outside the jail premises and their numbers and size should be decided by the States keeping in view the actual number of foreigners to be housed as well as the progress in deportation proceedings.

 

The manual says: “On completion of the sentence of the foreigner, the jail authorities concerned may hand over the foreign national to the authority in charge of the detention centre.” There should also be a provision to facilitate the stay of such foreigners in “metro” cities during the waiting period between their interview with the embassy concerned and issuance of travel documents.

 

The MHA has said the detention centres should be designed for inmates to maintain standards of living in consonance with “human dignity”. Well-lit, airy rooms adhering to basic hygiene standards and equipped with electricity, water and communication facilities are to be provided at the centre.

 

Other than CCTVs and round-the-clock security personnel, the manual adds, the centre’s boundary wall should be at least 10 feet high and ringed with barbed wires with strict access control measures. There should also be a periodic security audit by the appropriate authorities.

 

The order says that detention centres should also have open spaces for detainees to move around and segregated accommodation for men and women. “It should be ensured that members of the same family are not separated and all family members are housed in same detention centre.” Mr. Mander’s report had highlighted how men, women and boys above six years lodged in detention centres in Assam were separated from members of their families.

 

It says: “Many had not met their spouse for several years, several never once since their detention, since women and men were housed in different jails, and they were never given parole or permission to meet.”

 

The MHA manual has addressed these concerns saying no restrictions shall be imposed to meet family members. It also asks States to pay special attention to the needs of women, nursing mothers, transgenders and open a crèche in the camp. The manual says, “Children lodged in [a] detention centre may be provided educational facilities by admitting them in local schools.”

 

How many detention centres are there?

 

Assam has six detention centres, the highest among the States. At least 10 more are to come up in the wake of the final publication of the NRC by August 31.

 

The NRC is being updated as per directions of the Supreme Court to segregate Indian citizens living in Assam from those who had illegally entered the State after March 25, 1971. Nearly 41 lakh people were excluded from the final draft. Of these, 36 lakh have filed claims against the exclusion.

 

Since 1985, when Foreigners Tribunals (FTs) were first set up in Assam, till February 28 this year, as many as 63,959 persons were declared foreigners through ex-parte proceedings. The Assam government informed the State Assembly last week that 1,145 people declared foreigners by 100 FTs

 

 

across the State were lodged in detention centres till July 9 this year. Of them, 335 people who have spent more than three years in these centres were to be released following a Supreme Court order.

 

The Central government had informed the Supreme Court in February that of thousands of persons declared foreigners by the FTs in Assam, only 162 could be deported to Bangladesh. In 2016 and 2017, 39 Bangladeshi nationals were deported from detention camps in Assam, according to what the MHA informed Parliament in January 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

Is cutting interest rates enough to stimulate the economy?- K. Bharat Kumar #GS3 #Economy

 

The story so far: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) lowered the repo rate to 5.75% in the Monetary Policy Review in June. This was a level last seen nine years ago. Despite three rate cuts aggregating to 75 basis points in this cycle beginning February, economic growth has failed to pick up and, in fact, has been slowing down even more.

 

There is clamour for another big cut from the RBI in the upcoming monetary policy announcement this week. This is because the transmission of the earlier cuts by banks to borrowers has been poor. By the RBI’s own assessment, only 21 basis points have been passed on to borrowers by banks in this cycle.

 

What are the repo and reverse repo rates?

 

The RBI uses the repo rate to influence the interest rate structure in the economy and to manage inflation. Technically, the repo rate is the rate at which commercial banks would borrow from the RBI, and the reverse repo is the rate of interest they would earn when they deposit funds with the central bank.

 

What is the stand worldwide as far as governments are concerned on cutting rates?

 

The traditional argument is that the lower the interest rate, the better for businesses as it brings down the cost of capital, making investments more attractive. Any government would love this as the country would then draw higher investments leading to higher growth and more job creation. Governments abhor higher interest rates as, theoretically, these push up project costs and keep investors away.

 

A case in point is U.S. President George H.W. Bush’s election loss in 1992 to Bill Clinton. The former President actually pointed fingers at Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan as the reason for the defeat. The argument was that had Mr. Greenspan lowered rates, it would have made the economic recovery that the U.S. was going through more visible and hence (purportedly) leading to a re-election of Mr. Bush.

 

 

One view on this tug-of-war is that the government of the day typically has a relatively short-term view when it comes to growth but that as an institution, a central bank has the long-term view where low inflation would eventually lead to high growth scenarios.

 

In this context, nothing comes more quickly to mind than the tussle between P. Chidambaram as Finance Minister and Duvvuri Subbarao as RBI Governor. Despite the best attempts of the government to get the RBI to cut rates, and thus stoke growth, Mr. Subbarao insisted on higher rates in order to keep money supply and inflation low.

 

In his book, Who Moved My Interest Rate?: Leading the Reserve Bank of India Through Five Turbulent Years, the former RBI Governor makes this very point: that to experience sustained high growth, a low-inflation scenario is a pre-requisite.

 

This view is supported by a paper, ‘Reconsidering Monetary Policy: An Empirical Examination of the Relationship Between Interest Rates and Nominal GDP Growth in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Japan’, published in 2018 in the journal Ecological Economics. The authors, Kang-Soek Lee and Richard A. Werner, found that nominal interest rates are consistently positively correlated with growth.

 

A central bank also keeps an eye on the fiscal deficit maintained by the government. A high fiscal deficit usually makes it difficult for the central bank to rein in inflation, hence causing it to be hawkish and raising interest rates. The late economist and former RBI Deputy Governor Subir Gokarn’s was a voice that was constantly egging the government of the day to keep the deficit under control.

 

Why aren’t Indian commercial banks passing on the RBI’s rate cuts to consumers quicker?

 

Deposits from the public form a chunk of funds that commercial banks use to lend to borrowers. Deposit rates have remained high; only last week, the State Bank of India lowered its rates citing improved liquidity. If deposit rates remain high, then the cost of funds for a bank remains high no matter where the RBI pegs its repo rate.

 

Deposit rates have remained high for two reasons. One, competing interest rates in the government’s small savings schemes have remained high — even after a cut in late June, the Public Provident Fund and the National Savings Certificate yield 7.9%. Compare this with the 6.8% or so that one would get at SBI, the nation’s largest bank.

 

The other reason that deposit rates have remained high is the liquidity crunch triggered by the sudden inability of the non-banking finance company IL&FS to pay back loans since last September. The RBI intervened to infuse liquidity soon after but these interventions were not enough.

 

However, the liquidity position has improved in the last two months following consistent market operations by the RBI under its new Governor Shaktikanta Das. This is reflected in the falling yields on government securities. The environment is, thus, conducive for banks to pass on the benefit of lower interest rates to borrowers.

 

Will lower rates spur economic growth?

 

Capital is one of the three main factors of production, which are critical to the growth of a commercial entity, the other two being land and labour. But capital is only a necessary, not sufficient, condition. Land, unless allocated by the local government, is too costly for investors seeking to set up shop.

 

On labour, even if adequate hands are available for a job, the skill quotient is still low. Training graduates to be job-ready is a form of tax that companies pay. Also to be taken into account is the market environment and demand. If end users are seeing lesser money in hand than earlier, demand will certainly be impacted.

 

Therefore, in an environment where the other factors of production are not favourable for an investor, low interest rates by themselves may not prove attractive enough. Any revival of economic activity will be contingent on joint efforts by the government on the fiscal front to stimulate demand, and the RBI, to keep interest rates low.

 

A rate cut in the upcoming monetary policy announcement this week has to be backed with some positive measures from the government. To hope that a rate cut will suffice to re-ignite economic activity would be naive.

 

 

 

 

Why is India pulled to deep-sea mining? Aswathi Pacha #GS3 #SnT #Environment

 

The story so far: India’s ambitious ‘Deep Ocean Mission’ is all set to be launched this year. Dr. Madhavan Rajeevan, Secretary, Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, announced on July 27 that the ₹8,000-crore plan to explore deep ocean minerals will start from October.

 

He said, “We finally have the in-principle approval to go ahead with the mission. Now expenditure plans will be drawn up and circulated [to various institutions affiliated to the Ministry] for executing programmes and we hope to launch by October 31.”

 

What will be mined from the deep ocean?

 

One of the main aims of the mission is to explore and extract polymetallic nodules. These are small potato-like rounded accretions composed of minerals such as manganese, nickel, cobalt, copper and iron hydroxide.

 

They lie scattered on the Indian Ocean floor at depths of about 6,000 m and the size can vary from a few millimetres to centimetres. These metals can be extracted and used in electronic devices, smartphones, batteries and even for solar panels.

 

Where will the team mine?

 

 

The International Seabed Authority (ISA), an autonomous international organisation established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, allots the ‘area’ for deep-sea mining. India was the first country to receive the status of a ‘Pioneer Investor ‘ in 1987 and was given an area of about 1.5 lakh sq km in the Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB) for nodule exploration.

 

In 2002, India signed a contract with the ISA and after complete resource analysis of the seabed 50% was surrendered and the country retained an area of 75,000 sq km.

 

According to a release from the Ministry of Earth Sciences, the estimated polymetallic nodule resource potential in this area is 380 million tonnes (MT), containing 4.7 MT of nickel, 4.29 MT of copper, 0.55 MT of cobalt and 92.59 MT of manganese. Further studies have helped narrow the mining area to 18,000 sq km which will be the ‘First Generation Mine-site’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which are the other countries that are in the race to mine the deep sea?

 

Apart from the CIOB, polymetallic nodules have been identified from the central Pacific Ocean. It is known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone.

 

According to the ISA’s website, it has entered into 15-year contracts for exploration for polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulphides and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts in the deep seabed with 29 contractors. Later it was extended for five more years till 2022. China, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Russia and also some small islands such as the Cook Islands, Kiribati have joined the race for deep

 

 

sea mining. Most of the countries have tested their technologies in shallow waters and are yet to start deep-sea extraction.

 

When will India start mining?

 

India’s mining site is at about a depth of 5,500 metres, where there is a high pressure and extremely low temperature. Explains Dr. G.A. Ramadass, head of the Deep Sea Technologies Group, National Institute of Ocean Technology, Chennai, “We have developed and demonstrated the mining technology with artificial nodules at 500 metres depth.

 

We have also deployed Remotely Operated Vehicle and In-situ Soil Tester in the depth of 6,000 metres and have a thorough understanding of the mining area at the Central Indian Ocean Basin.” He adds,

 

The mining machine newly developed for 6000 metres depth was able to move about 900 metres and will be deployed soon at 5,500 metres. We hope to test it in October this year. Weather conditions and availability of ships also play a role. More tests are being conducted to understand how to bring the nodules up to the surface. A riser system comprising an umbilical cable or electromechanical cable and a hose is being developed.”

 

What will be the environmental impact?

 

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), these deep remote locations can be home to unique species that have adapted themselves to conditions such as poor oxygen and sunlight, high pressure and extremely low temperatures.

 

Such mining expeditions can make them go extinct even before they are known to science. The deep sea’s biodiversity and ecology remain poorly understood, making it difficult to assess the environmental impact and frame adequate guidelines.

 

Dr. Ramadass adds that though strict guidelines have been framed, they are only exploration guidelines.

 

A new set of exploitation guidelines are being worked out and discussions are on with the ISA.

 

Environmentalists are also worried about the sediment plumes that will be generated as the suspended particles can rise to the surface harming the filter feeders in the upper ocean layers. Additional concerns have been raised about the noise and light pollution from the mining vehicles and oil spills from the operating vessels.

 

Is deep sea mining economically viable?

 

The latest estimate from the ISA says it will be commercially viable only if about three million tonnes are mined per year. More studies are being carried out to understand how the technology can be scaled up and used efficiently.

 

Tigers in India face lurking threat from virus- Aswathi Pacha #GS3 #Environment

 

 

The Prime Minister’s announcement that tiger numbers have increased in the country may be good news. But the loss of habitat, a decline of prey and poaching continues to be a threat to tigers’ survival.

 

Along with these, a potential virus — Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) — that can be transmitted from CDV-infected dogs living in and around wildlife sanctuaries has started to raise concern among wildlife biologists.

 

Canine distemper is a contagious and serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems of puppies and dogs.

 

A recent study published in Threatened Taxa notes that 86% of the tested dogs around Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan carried CDV antibodies in their bloodstream.

 

This means that the dogs are either currently infected or have been infected sometime in their life and have overcome the disease. This finding points out that there is an increased risk of disease transfer from the dogs to tigers and leopards that live in the park.

 

Last year, over 20 lions from the Gir forest succumbed to the viral infection and now a guideline has been prepared by the National Tiger Conservation Authority to prevent the spillover of the disease to wild animals.

 

The main aim should be to vaccinate the free-ranging and domestic dogs in the area around national parks. A lot of NGOs have started started animal birth control programmes. They need more support from the government.

 

The disease needs to be recognised and more targeted studies need to be initiated to collect baseline data on CDV from wherever they are reported from in wild carnivores. Understanding the role of domestic animals as contributors to a local CDV reservoir is imperative precursor in considering control measures.”

 

The study was done from July to August 2015 when the team visited villages (in a 4 km radius) around the Ranthambhore National Park and collected blood samples from over 100 dogs. The results showed that 86% of the studied dogs had CDV antibodies in their blood. These dogs wander into the forest along with the humans, and there have been cases where leopard have hunted these dogs.

 

Studies from Russia and Africa have shown that small, isolated wildlife populations are more susceptible and when the virus transmits from one species to another the disease manifestation is worse,” adds Dr. Borah.

 

The easy way out is prevention. Managing any disease in a wildlife population is extremely difficult. Most dogs are free ranging and not owned by any particular person in the village. The government should take the initiative to vaccinate the dogs around wildlife sanctuaries in the country. This would be a good time to vaccinate against rabies as well. It is an investment that requires time and effort but

 

 

increasing herd immunity will reduce chances of disease spillover to wildlife. She was a researcher with the World Wide Fund for Nature-India when the work was done and is now a consultant for Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bengaluru.

 

Ms. Sidhu says there were only a few CDV suspected cases in India when she started her work in 2015, and so was considered not important. But with the CDV confirmed deaths of lions in Gir, more attention has been drawn to the disease. She hopes more studies are conducted to get countywide data on the disease prevalence so that necessary prevention guidelines can be laid out.

 

 

 

 

 

A step closer to oral administration of kala-azar drug- R. Prasad #GS3 #SnT

 

By encapsulating an antifungal drug in polymer nanofibres, researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Hyderabad have been able to achieve controlled and sustained release of the drug for up to 10 days. As a result, no fungal growth was seen up to seven days when the drug (Amphotericin B) was encapsulated in the polymer. The encapsulated drug can also be used for treating kala-azar.

 

Most importantly, the antifungal activity against Candida albicans was observed when the encapsulated drug was compressed to form oral tablets. This would mean that oral administration of the drug might become possible if initial results achieved in the lab can be replicated in animal and human clinical trials.

 

Currently, oral administration of the drug has major challenges — high toxicity, reduced bioavailability in the body due to poor solubility in water and high cost.

 

Researchers from IIT Hyderabad led by Chandra S. Sharma and Saptarshi Majumdar from the Department of Chemical Engineering produced nanofibres containing the drug by electrospinning the drug–gelatine polymer solution.

 

The gelatine polymer is extremely water-loving (hydrophilic) and so is not stable. To increase the stability and allow the drug to be released in a controlled and sustained manner, the researchers used a commercially available crosslinker.

 

The drug is found on the surface of the gelatine nanofibres but remains encapsulated when compressed into tablets,” says Prof. Majumdar.

 

The cross-linked polymer matrix allows the drug to diffuse slowly when the polymer degrades. We have controlled the diffusion rate so it is released over a period of 10 days,” says Prof. Sharma. Only in vitro studies have been carried to test the stability of the tablet and controlled release. The results of the study were published in the journal Nano-Structures & Nano-Objects.

 

Since the main goal was to study if the drug can be administered orally, the researchers tested the stability of the tablet for eight hours at extremely acidic condition (1.5 pH). The stomach has acidic pH and the polymer should be stable for up to four hours. After eight hours at low pH, the tablets were kept

 

 

for 10 days in an alkaline medium of 7.4 pH. “The tablets were stable for eight hours at low pH. The polymer matrix showed signatures of degradation after the sixth day but was stable for 10 days,” says Mrunalini K. Gaydhane from IIT Hyderabad and one of the first authors of the paper.

 

The researchers found that each day 10% of the drug was released from the polymer through diffusion.

 

The drug was completely released from the polymer matrix at the end of the 10th day.

 

“We had used mice fibroblast cells for testing toxicity of the drug. There was negligible toxicity to cells even at the end of five days. In fact, the cells continued to multiply,” says Gaydhane.

 

Only 20 mg of the drug in 500 mg of polymer was used for making the table used for testing. “Our next target is to achieve the same drug release profile with dosages used for therapeutic purposes,” Prof. Sharma says.

 

The chemical crosslinker used in the study is highly toxic. In order to reduce toxicity, the researchers exposed the gelatine polymer to saturated vapour of the crosslinker for just six-eight minutes. In the conventional process, crosslinking takes 24 hours to complete. “Reducing the time taken to cross-link reduces toxicity. But we are now looking at increasing the stability of the polymer matrix without using any crosslinker,” Prof. Majumdar says.

 

 

 

 

 

Canadian iceberg hunter follows ‘white gold’ in the Atlantic #GS3 #Environment

 

It’s midday and Edward Kean, a Canadian fisherman who now scours the North Atlantic for icebergs that have broken off from Greenland’s glaciers, is positively beaming. Every morning at dawn, Mr. Kean sails out with three other crew members to hunt what has become his own personal white gold: icebergs.

 

For more than 20 years, he has hauled in the mighty ice giants and then sold the water for a handsome profit to local companies, which then bottle it, mix it into alcoholic products or use it to make cosmetics.

 

Business has soared in tandem with the warming of the planet, especially quick in the Arctic, meaning that more and more icebergs find their way south. Arriving at the foot of the massive wall of floating ice in Bonavista Bay, which opens into the Atlantic, he shoulders a rifle and blasts away in the hopes that some of it will break off.

 

Armed with a pole and net, they laboriously wrap up the precious fragments, each one weighing a tonne or two, and fasten them to a hook at the end of a crane on the fishing boat’s deck, which winches them aboard.

 

Mr. Kean then hacks the blocks up with an axe and puts the pieces into containers to melt over the coming days. In the high season, from May to July, the crew can gather 8,00,000 litres of water, which they then sell to local merchants for a dollar a litre. Those businesses in turn market the iceberg products as made from some of the purest water money can buy.

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