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Showing posts from October 7, 2017

Tokyo dreams — On Japan snap polls (hindu)

Shinzo Abe’s decision to call parliamentary elections early could prove to be a gamble

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has gambled his career by calling snap elections to the Lower House of the Japanese Diet in late-October. The term of the House would have ordinarily lasted another year, but he clearly senses a turn in the popular breeze in his favour. Whether the electorate will vindicate his judgment, however, may well depend on the grit and tenacity of his challenger, Tokyo’s first woman Governor, Yuriko Koike. The former television anchor achieved an unprecedented feat last year by taking the city’s top job, trouncing the official nominee of Mr. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party in a triangular race. Ever since, Ms. Koike, who had served briefly as defence minister during Mr. Abe’s first term in 2006-07, has become accustomed to thriving in a crisis. In a repeat of her growing penchant to take on a male-dominated establishment, Ms. Koike floated a local party earlier this year, which spe…

Back to paper: on using VVPAT in Gujarat polls. (hindu)

A State-wide voter paper trail may silence the EVM’s critics, but is a regressive step

The Election Commission’s decision to deploy the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail system for all the constituencies in the Gujarat Assembly elections is questionable. This will be the first time VVPAT will be used on a State-wide basis. A costly but useful complement to the Electronic Voting Machine, it allows the voter to verify her vote after registering it on the EVM, and the paper trail allows for an audit of the election results by the EC in a select and randomised number of constituencies. The implementation of VVPAT was to have been undertaken by the EC in a phased manner, but this blanket use appears to have been expedited after a series of unwarranted attacks on EVMs by some political parties and scaremongers. The EC had sought to allay concerns and confront allegations of voter fraud by running through the administrative and technological safeguards instituted to keep EVMs and the votin…

Hope in Darjeeling — On end of blockade (.hindu)

The Union and West Bengal governments and the GJM must urgently begin tripartite talks

With a breakthrough ending the 104-day-long blockade in the Darjeeling hills, the Union and West Bengal governments must move forthwith to consolidate the ‘truce’ and address the setback to livelihoods and the local economy suffered over this period. The announcement on ending the bandh came from Bimal Gurung of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which had led the agitation. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s appeal to the protesters and his tentative offer of talks brought about this turnaround, but it is his specific mention of the beleaguered Mr. Gurung, who has been on the run from the West Bengal police, that made the difference. The blockade had severely hit life in the hill districts, and it is clear that local support for the agitation was waning. A section of the GJM, led by Binay Tamang, had shown an inclination to negotiate with the State government. In a move to cash in on the differences wit…

Awestruck: on the Nobel Prize for Physics (.hindu)

The Nobel Prize for Physics is a recognition of a project involving a rare kind of coordination

The 2017 Nobel Prize for physics has been awarded to the LIGO-VIRGO collaboration for their detection of gravitational waves arising from the merger of two black holes. Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of spacetime caused by cataclysmic events in the universe such as colliding black holes or neutron stars. Though extremely violent, when these disturbances reach far-off regions in space and time the signals are weak and require extremely sensitive detectors to sense them. The very first detection of gravitational waves was made in September 2015, a signal of a black hole merger 1.3 billion years ago. In other words, the signals took that long to travel to Earth. Hence the observatory offers a way of looking back in time to unravel mysteries pertaining to the early days of the universe’s existence. Since then, the LIGO-VIRGO collaboration has detected such signals four times. Ju…

Steadying hand: On RBI's monetary statement (.hindu )

By holding policy rates, the RBI shifts focus to the government to give a fillip to growth

The Reserve Bank of India’s Monetary Policy Committee has since inception retained its unwavering focus on its primary remit: the preservation of price stability. It follows then that the central bank’s rate-setting panel opted to leave benchmark interest rates unchanged and retain a neutral stance to achieve the medium-term target of keeping Consumer Price Index inflation close to 4% on a durable basis, while supporting growth. Spelling out the rationale for the decision, the MPC felt that with global crude oil prices having “firmed up further” amid a pick-up in demand and tighter supplies in the wake of OPEC’s production cuts, the threat of upward pressure on accelerating inflation has increased appreciably. Add to this the uncertainty posed by the prospects of weaker-than-anticipated kharif crop output and the impact this may have on food prices, and the concerns agitating policymakers will …

“The U.S has leverage with Pakistan, but not without risks” (hindu)

Joshua T. White is Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. As Senior Advisor & Director for South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council in Barack Obama White House, he was involved with the full range of South Asia policy issues pertaining to India, Pakistan, Afghanistan. He played a key role in advancing the U.S.-India relationship and was instrumental in shaping Mr. Obama’s policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan as well. He shares his views on President Donald Trump’s new South Asia policy and is implications for India, in an interview.

How is President Trump’s regional strategy for South Asia different from President Obama’s?

In sustaining the U.S troops, he did the right and sensible thing. Obama White House examined the risk of drawdown and the outcomes looked ugly. Withdrawal would have been unwise. Significant scaling up would also have been unwise. That is the lesson from the surge (in the number of U.S troops earlier). We could…

Pakistan should see the blowback from supporting terror: Afghan Minister (.hindu)

The Afghan Foreign Minister on how Donald Trump’s new regional strategy hinges on Pakistan’s cooperation, and why India needs to step up involvement

Welcoming the Trump administration’s new Afghanistan policy, Afghanistan Foreign Minister and former Chairman of the High Council of Peace, Salahuddin Rabbani, says it is time for a regional approach to ending the conflict in Afghanistan. In an interview to The Hindu while on a visit to New Delhi to attend the Strategic Partnership Council meet between India and Afghanistan, Mr. Rabbani indicated that it is not just important for Pakistan to tackle terror, and development assistance from India to continue, but for Russia, Iran and China to be part of the solution too. Excerpts:

Your visit marks the first high-level meeting between India and Afghanistan since U.S. President Donald Trump announced his South Asia policy for Afghanistan, which your government has welcomed. What are your hopes from it?
We have welcomed it for several reasons.…

That feeling of being a migrant is a universal one: Mohsin Hamid (hindu)

The novelist explains how his books, including ‘Exit West’ that is shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, originate from personal crises.

“In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her.” Thus begins Mohsin Hamid’s novel Exit West, which has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. (The winner will be announced on October 17.) The consuming, magical story is of Nadia and Saeed who face up to the collapse of the world as they knew it, and their journeys to find a better life. Sometimes terrifying and at other times tinged with humour, Exit West was identified by the Booker judges, along with five others, as being innovative while addressing important issues of the time. Hamid’s previous novels were equally timely: Moth Smoke dealt with the complexities and contradictions of life in Lahore, while The Reluctant Fundamentalist told the story of a Pakistani banker’s disillus…

Tri-service integration or consolidation? (.hindu)

Recent comments from the armed forces raise disturbing questions

While India aspires to jointmanship among the three services, statements over the last few weeks point disturbingly to renewed inter-service rivalry to protect their turf. Last week, addressing the 14th Subroto Mukerjee seminar organised by the Centre for Air Power Studies and the Indian Air Force, Vice Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal S.B. Deo, said jointmanship was also about optimal utilisation of resources. “Ours is a growing country, our budget is limited. We cannot afford duplicating capabilities,” he said. “We cannot have an Air Force with the Army, an Air Force with the Navy and another Air Force.”

His comments are significant against the backdrop of the government sanctioning six AH-64 Apache helicopters for the Army, something the service has been seeking for a while. At the same time the Navy is expanding its fighter strength though the carriers to operate them would accommodate less.

Army’s supremacy?
In turn…

Does India need a bullet train? (.hindu )

This is a wasteful project which only serves to deliver an illusory feel-good perception among the wealthy

D. Raghunandan

The Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train is a vanity project which has little or no justification on the grounds of economic viability or public service. Even the vanity angle — looking to position India among the ranks of developed countries — is a huge overreach. Only a handful of high-income countries with specific demographics have high-speed rail (HSR), while many have failed in their efforts, others have abandoned it after studying it. The main problem is viability, given the huge costs involved.

Failed and struggling projects
Japan’s pioneering Shinkansen, which connects Tokyo to Osaka, passes through the biggest industrial and commercial centres, caters to almost 50% of Japan’s population, and carries more than 150 million passengers annually. South Korea’s Seoul-Busan HSR caters to almost 70% of the population, yet struggles with viability. France’s fabled Paris…

Kazuo Ishiguro: An artist of the world (.hindu)

The surprise winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature is an abundantly deserving one

By awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature to British-Japanese novelist Kazuo Ishiguro this year, the Swedish Academy has pulled itself back to more classical criteria in deciding who makes the cut. While announcing the name, it strove to make this evident, even at the risk of reducing an appraisal of a great writer such as Ishiguro to a trite high school essay. “If you mix Jane Austen and Franz Kafka then you have Kazuo Ishiguro in a nutshell, but you have to add a little bit of Marcel Proust into the mix,” said Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Academy. “Then you stir, but not too much, then you have his writings.” The Academy perhaps tried too hard given the criticism, and the awardee’s snub, that came its way last year when the prize went to American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan; it had clearly been trying to push the envelope in capturing newer forms of narrative-telling, after bringing t…

Law, faith, unreason: on eradicating superstition from society (.hindu)

Banning ‘evil’ practices by law is not enough: social reform must be more broad-based

Mere legislation is not enough to eradicate superstition from society, but laws do have the utility value of curbing the prevalence of inhuman rituals and practices. Seen in this light, the proposed Karnataka law targeting black magic and inhuman practices may be regarded as social reform. The Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill, 2017 has been approved by the State Cabinet and is likely to be introduced soon in the Assembly. It is not accurate to characterise this as just an ‘anti-superstition bill’, as what it seeks to prohibit are actions that offend human dignity, result in the exploitation of gullible and vulnerable people or cause harm to them. Organising macabre rituals, offering magical cures and threatening people, under peril of incurring divine or supernatural displeasure, are covered by this law, even though these can be treated as offences …

Rajasthan government announces farm loan waivers, but doubts remain (downtoearth)

Farmers’ protest in Rajasthan has come to an end as the state government has announced loan waivers after multiple rounds of discussion with farmers’ representatives. This was announced in a press conference by the Rajasthan agriculture minister Prabhulal Saini. “We have agreed to waive loans up to Rs 50,000 for farmers. A high level team of specialists will talk to stakeholders in other states and chart out the process of loan waiver and its impact in Rajasthan,” he was quoted as saying in media reports. 

The decision was made after an 11-hour-long meeting involving ministers Prabhulal Saini, Ajay Kilak, Pushpendra Singh and Rampratap along with state BJP President Ashok Parnami with a 11 member farmers’ delegation including former CPI(M) MLAs Amraram and Pemaram and leaders Harphool Singh, Gursharan Singh, Sheopat Ram, Narayan Dudui, Lalchand Bhadu and Chagganlal.

Following the loan waiver announcement, the farmers ended the “mahapadav” (sit-in) which began on September 1. Protests…

Agricultural biotechnologies necessary to defeat hunger, poverty in Asia-Pacific (downtoearth)

As climate change threatens food production worldwide, smallholder farmers need improved access to agricultural biotechnologies to ensure nutrition security and fight poverty in poorer regions of the world, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Monday.

According to the FAO, family farmers produce about 80 per cent of the world’s food and due to the variety of food grown by them, contribute significantly to food security. Last year during an international symposium, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said, “We cannot lose sight that biotechnologies, knowledge and innovation must be available, accessible and applicable to family farmers, including small holders.”

Continuing in the same vein, the United Nations food agency is now urging Asia-Pacific countries to consider both low-tech and high-tech solutions present in the biotechnology toolbox. The agency is also urging countries to consider biofertilisers or biopesticides in crops and trees, artificial inseminat…

Improved heat tolerance and drought resistance help pearl millet fight climate (downtoearth)

As higher global temperatures can affect the nutritional quality of crops and affect their productivity, it is time we develop grains that can withstand the negative effects of climate change.

Pearl millet seems to be the solution for a future when temperatures will soar. Decoding and sequencing the pearl millet grain by a team comprising 65 scientists from across 30 research institutions have proved its adaptive capacity and increasing tolerance to drought. This research has
been published in the journal, Nature Biotechnology.

Research coordinated by the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics, India, BGI-Shenzhen, China and the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development used the latest innovations in DNA sequencing and analysis to identify new genetic tools like molecular markers related to drought and heat tolerance, as well as other important traits like better nutrition profile and pest resistance.

This will help farmers grow the crop bet…

These Nobel laureates discovered how genes control your body clock (downtoearth)

When you travel across different time zones, you get jet lagged. Working in rotational shifts leads to sleep loss and fatigue. These are linked to disruption to your body clock. Three US scientists—Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young—who have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, have discovered molecular mechanisms that control our body clock. They did extensive research on how plants, humans and animals adapt their biological clock to synchronise with day and night cycle to control their daily life.

The Nobel laureates used fruit flies to discover a gene that controls this body clock. They also found out how this gene controls the clock by producing a protein which "accumulates in the cell during the night and degrades during the day". As Circadian rhythm or the body clock helps regulate eating habits, blood pressure and body temperature, a mismatch between internal clock and external environment affects a person's well-being; just like disr…

Conflict and climate change lead to a rise in global hunger ( downtoearth)

Last year about 11 per cent of the total human population (approximately 850 million people on the planet) suffered from daily hunger, according to a recent United Nations report on the state of food security and nutrition in the world.

This is a tragedy no matter how you look at it. The numbers show a 4.5 per cent increase — or 38 million more hungry people — from the previous year. This rise in hunger is especially significant because it is the first rise in global hunger we have seen in more than a decade.

Though global hunger was at 14 per cent of the world’s population in 2005, each year since then, between 2005 and 2016, the number of hungry people on the planet dropped. Development officials were cautiously optimistic that we were on our way to eradicating hunger.

Conflict and climate change are the culprits behind this year’s rise in numbers.

According to the United Nations, food security worsened across major parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Western Asia. For …

Spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria linked to effluents from sewage treatment plants (downtoearth)

A new study by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi shows how improper waste management opens the route for the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria as well as resistant genes in the environment. Antibiotic resistance (ABR) has become a global public health threat, as antibiotics used to treat diseases, including common infections, are increasingly becoming ineffective. Misuse and overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals, especially for animal production, exacerbates this issue and contributes to the spread of ABR in humans through contact, food and environment.

Recognising the role of treated and untreated discharges from sewage treatment plants (STPs) in proliferation of antibiotic resistance (ABR), the study, published in the journal Chemosphere, screened raw influent and treated effluent samples from 12 STPs in Delhi and found high levels of β-lactam-resistant bacteria and genes, particularly carbapenem and extended spectrum β-lactam (ESBL)-resistant ba…

Scientists identify bacterium that could be source of antibiotics (downtoearth)

Scientists have identified a new bacterium from a lime quarry in Karnataka, which shows promise of becoming a source of antibiotics.

Named Allostreptomyces indica YIM 75704T, the bacterium belonged to Streptomycetaceae, a family of bacteria whose members have attracted attention in recent years for producing various natural products of considerable commercially valuable. They are predominantly found in soil and decaying vegetation. Most of them produce chains of spores and some are noted for their distinct ‘earthy’ odor that results from production of a volatile metabolite called geosmin.

“Preliminary studies have indicated that the bacterium could be used to produce antibiotics for several diseases including malaria. More studies, however, need to be conducted before any final conclusion can be reached,” Syed Dastager, scientist at the National Collection of Industrial Microorganism and leader of the team, told India Science Wire. NCIM is part of Pune-based National Chemical Laborat…

Lifestyle diseases, change in nutrition consumption pattern making urban India unhealthy (downtoearth)

For years, India has been struggling to deal with the double burden of undernutrition and obesity. India has peculiar nutritional status where undernutrition and overnutrition coexist among urban population. While undernutrition has given rise to vitamin deficiencies, anaemia and stunted growth, overnutrition is the reason behind the rise of non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, hypertension and diabetes mellitus, among urban population.

The National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB) has been keeping a track of India’s nutritional status. To understand the current nutritional status of urban population in India, a study was conducted between 2015 and 2016 and the report was released on September 26, 2017.

Rajasthan, Kerala, Gujarat, New Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry have the highest obesity rates in the country with 44 per cent of adult women and 33 per cent of men being obese. New Delhi, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala lead in hypertension rate with 31.1 per cent…

Can India-EU strategic partnership focus on climate change, clean energy? (downtoearth)

The 14th EU-India Summit concluded in New Delhi today (October 6). The main agenda of the summit was strengthening trade and investment ties. While the EU was represented by Donald Tusk, President of the European Council and Jean Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, India was represented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Three pacts were signed: one between European Investment bank and International Solar Alliance; second on Bangalore metro rail project and third on mobility of Indian and European researchers. Discussions on migration, refugees and stepping up maritime security were held among other issues. They called for a free trade agreement between India and the EU.

The EU-India strategic partnership was launched in 2004 and the joint action plan (JAP) was developed in 2005. With the initiation of negotiations on Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA), the nature of this bilateral relation seems to have moved towards being trade-based. Other issues, in…