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# Scientists rebuff Harvard ‘alien spacecraft’ theory
‘Oumuamua’ is the first interstellar object known to enter the solar system
A scientific paper led by two researchers at Harvard University made a splash this week by claiming that a cigar-shaped rock zooming through our solar system may have been sent by aliens.
The researchers noted in a pre-print of the article that it was an “exotic scenario,” but that “Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent to the earth vicinity by an alien civilisation.”
Oumuamua, the first interstellar object known to enter our solar system, accelerated faster away from the sun than expected, hence the notion that some kind of artificial sail that runs on sunlight — known as a light sail — may have helped push it through space.
“Currently there is an unexplained phenomena, namely, the excess acceleration of Oumuamua, which we show may be explained by the force of radiation pressure from the sun,” co-author and Harvard astrophysicist Shmuel Bialy told AFP via email.
“However this requires the body to have a very large surface and be very thin, which is not encountered in nature.”
Their suggestion of an alien force at work went viral.
But other astronomy experts aren’t buying it. “Like most scientists, I would love there to be convincing evidence of alien life, but this isn’t it,” said Alan Fitzsimmons, an astrophysicist at Queens University, Belfast.
‘Impossible to guess’
Katie Mack, a well-known astrophysicist, also took issue with the alien hype. “Scientists are perfectly happy to publish an outlandish idea if it has even the tiniest sliver of a chance of not being wrong,” she wrote on Twitter.
Asked if he believed the hypothesis he put forward, Ms. Bialy said: “I wouldn’t say I ‘believe’ it is sent by aliens, as I am a scientist, and not a believer, I rely on evidence to put forward possible physical explanation.”
# No ‘less cash’ two years post note ban
Cash in circulation and ATM withdrawals have only increased, RBI data shows
Thursday, November 8, marks the second anniversary of the demonetisation exercise. It was on the same day in 2016 that Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that Rs. 1,000 and Rs. 500 currency notes would no longer be legal tender. These notes constituted over 86% of the currency in circulation, then.
One of the objectives of demonetisation was to move to a ‘less-cash’ society. However, two years down the line, it appears the objective has not been achieved.
According to Reserve Bank of India (RBI) data, currency in circulation rose to Rs. 19.6 lakh crore as on October 26, 2018, a 9.5% growth from two years ago. The currency in circulation was Rs. 17.9 lakh crore on November 4, 2016, the week before the note ban came into force.
With cash back in the system, ATM withdrawals have picked up. According to RBI data, cash withdrawals from ATMs grew 8% to Rs. 2.75 lakh crore in August 2018 from Rs. 2.54 lakh crore in October 2016. The October figure, which will be released in December, could well be higher, as withdrawals generally increase in the festival season. Cash withdrawals from ATMs fell sharply during the demonetisation exercise, hitting Rs. 1.06 lakh crore in December 2016.
While cash withdrawals have gained pace, addition of ATMs has been slow. In the last two years, about 8,000-odd ATMs had been added. In the three months till August 2018, ATMs expansion has picked up again with about 1,000 ATMs being added every month. There are 2.28 lakh ATMs as of August 2018.
Mobile banking transactions in August 2018 stood at Rs. 2.06 lakh crore, 82% higher than the October 2016 figure of Rs. 1.13 lakh crore.
# Public order: Supreme Court’s ruling
A competent authority under the Preventive Detention Act is entitled to take action to prevent subversion of “public order,” but not in aid of maintenance of “law and order” under ordinary circumstances. Before a contravention of any law could be said to affect “public order,” it must affect the community at large. Cases of assaults on solitary individuals might be said to lead to “disorder,” though not “public disorder.” The former type of cases could be dealt with by the executive under the ordinary criminal law of the land. Handing down this ruling the Supreme Court has ordered that Mr. Pushkar Mukherjea and fifteen others, who were detained by the West Bengal Government under the Preventive Detention Act, be “set at liberty forthwith.”
# Advancing BS-VI emission norms
With the April 2020 deadline, vehicle makers get a wake-up call
What does the Supreme Court order say?
On October 24, the Supreme Court banned the sale and registration of vehicles conforming to Bharat Stage (BS)-IV emission standards across the country, from April 1, 2020, citing “alarming and critical” pollution levels. With this decision, vehicle makers will only be able to sell BS-VI compliant vehicles from April 2020. However, BS-IV vehicles already sold will continue to ply.
When were emission standards introduced?
In India, the first stage of mass emission norms came into force for petrol vehicles in 1991 and for diesel vehicles in 1992. However, it was in 2000 that vehicles — both passenger and commercial — met the Euro-I standards. The BS-II (equivalent to Euro-II standards) norms came into force in 2001 and were implemented in a phased manner. Gradually, BS-III was introduced, paving the way for implementation of BS-IV by April 2017.
What happened to BS-V?
According to an earlier road map by the government, BS-V emission norms were to come into effect by 2020-21, while BS-VI was to be implemented 2024 onwards. However, given the drastic increase in air pollution levels, particularly in the Delhi-NCR region, the government decided to leapfrog BS-V, while also advancing the introduction of BS-VI emission norms to 2020. The implementation of BS-VI norms will bring Indian emission regulations almost on a par with EU regulations.
Who gets impacted, and how?
The Supreme Court order impacts both the industry and consumers. For the industry, the decision brings clarity on the timelines for sale. However, the challenge will be to meet the new target date. The government had earlier proposed a grace period of three months for manufacturers to sell BS-IV compliant passenger vehicles and six months for buses and trucks that may remain unsold with the dealer or manufacturer post April 1, 2020. The industry had also argued in court that since they were allowed to manufacture BS-IV vehicles till March 31, 2020, they should be granted reasonable time to sell that stock. An industry expert pointed out that manufacturers will need to start manufacturing BS-VI complaint vehicles by February 2020, while phasing out BS-IV compliant vehicles. The industry has pointed out that this advancement will lead to shorter time for vehicle-testing and validation.
On the other hand, customers will get access to better technology and hopefully better air. However, BS-VI compliant vehicles will be more expensive. According to research agency ICRA, the price of diesel cars is expected to go up by about Rs. 75,000 compared to an increase of about Rs. 20,000 for petrol cars. The BS-VI fuel is also expected to cost more.
What lies ahead?
For BS-VI compliant vehicles to comply, it will be critical that the fuel of the desired specification be made available across the country before the deadline. While it will be possible for BS-IV compliant cars to run smoothly on BS-VI fuel, BS-VI vehicles will not be able to operate optimally on lower-grade fuels.
# Shape of sanctions
The U.S. waiver on Chabahar and on oil purchases from Iran brings relief, temporarily
The U.S. administration’s decision to grant India and seven other countries waivers on the sanctions it re-imposed on Iran provides some temporary relief to India. While the details of the waivers are yet to be released, the Trump administration has agreed to waive sanctions on the purchase of oil from Iran for about six months, which would help the Modi government tide over until the general elections, without any major oil price shocks. The waivers announced cover Indian investment in Iran’s Chabahar port and the plan to build a railway line from Chabahar to Afghanistan to facilitate trade. The waivers are welcome also as they indicate that despite all the harsh rhetoric on “choking Iran”, the U.S. may have had a rethink on its sanctions, and the costs incurred in pushing around allies and partners such as India, Japan and South Korea to “zero out” oil purchases. This conclusion stems from the fact that both India and China, Iran’s two biggest oil importers, have been extended waivers. This flexibility could be a sign that the U.S. is leaving space for leeway in resuming talks with Iran in the long term.
However, the fact that the waivers are temporary, and contingent on further reductions in oil trade with Iran, means that for now India will need to continue to find alternatives to its offtake from Iran. The alternative rupee-rial mechanism, which was operationalised in 2012 during the last round of sanctions, depends on increasing Iranian demand for Indian goods to balance India’s annual purchases of about $10 billion, which hasn’t fructified yet. The European Union, Russia and China have also been working on a “special payment mechanism” to circumvent sanctions. But they have yet to launch it, limiting India’s options. Moreover, despite the waivers from the U.S., India will still face the impact of the U.S. sanctions, both on oil and on its investment in Chabahar, as very few international companies may be willing to undertake contracts. Above all, by seeking the waivers, instead of sticking to its earlier line that it accepted only UN and not “unilateral” sanctions, India has lost its moral leverage. Unlike China, it chose to reduce its oil intake from Iran, and entered into negotiations for alternative fuel supplies from Iran’s rivals in the Gulf. This could, in turn, impact Delhi-Tehran ties in the long run. Meanwhile, India will have to keep engaging the U.S. in order to secure further waivers, both in this case and for CAATSA-related U.S. sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea. As a result, by securing the waiver the government has not exactly dodged the figurative bullet, but merely outpaced it. It will need to keep outrunning that bullet for the foreseeable future.
# Back in DC
By taking the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats can try to frame national agenda
The Democratic Party made a comeback in Tuesday’s midterm elections after spending two years in the political darkness, when it seized control of the House of Representatives. Yet, predictions of a “blue wave”, as a backlash to the racially charged, polarising campaign led by President Donald Trump, failed to materialise. The Democrats secured control of the 435-member lower chamber of Congress, flipping at least 26 seats from their Republican incumbents. This outcome, which will likely give the Trump administration pause for thought on the policy agenda for the remainder of its tenure, ends one-party rule in Washington. Yet, Mr. Trump hailed the results as a “tremendous success”, alluding to the fact that Republicans gained at least two seats in the Senate, giving them a clear majority in the 100-seat upper chamber. Results among the 36 gubernatorial races favoured Democrats: although Mr. Trump’s support paid off in some swing States crucial to his 2020 re-election campaign, including Florida, Iowa and Ohio, his party failed to hold on to power in Wisconsin and Michigan. Democrats flipped seven States out of Republican control. While the 2018 midterm election results tracked the typical historical pattern of the party controlling the White House facing setbacks on Capitol Hill, the voter split appeared to reflect the legacy of Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign. Republicans polled well in small towns and rural areas, while Democrats fared well in urban and suburban districts across the country. The Grand Old Party scored well in Senate races in Texas, Indiana, North Dakota and Missouri.
Does this mean that the bitter polarisation, racial hatred and culture wars that buoyed Mr. Trump’s prospects in 2016 have become entrenched in American society? Perhaps, but what the Democratic sweep of the House implies is that the constitutionally mandated system of checks and balances will be actively in force from January 2019. This could come in the form of House subpoenas to the White House, impediments to the progress of the additional tax cut proposals of the White House, or even putting the brakes on hardline stances impacting trade policies. Democrats under the likely leadership of Representative Nancy Pelosi may be tempted to lead the charge on inquiries into some of the Trump Organization’s murkier business dealings, or the Robert Mueller-led investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. But for now the Democrats are unlikely to go as far as attempting to impeach Mr. Trump. And rightly so, for a sober assessment of the midterm election mandate would focus on jobs, healthcare, and immigration, issues that matter most to the common American. If bipartisanship, and not belligerence, emerges between the two sides, that might then afford some space to discuss concerns about the functioning of the U.S. democratic machine, including campaign finance laws, redistricting and voter suppression.
# Always a world citizen
Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay’s writings point to different facets of her interest in the people of Asia and Africa
Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay has long been recognised in India as the person chiefly responsible, after Independence, for the revival of the country’s variegated crafts traditions and for drawing critical attention to ‘tribal art’. She is generally viewed as an authority on Indian handicrafts, but Chattopadhyay played no less a role in nurturing craftspersons and shaping the cultural institutions that in independent India would be charged with promoting dance, drama, theatre crafts, music, puppetry, pottery and textiles.
However, as Chattopadhyay’s Inner Recesses Outer Spaces: Memoirs makes clear, she was also a principal figure in the nationalist movement, destined for high office following Independence. Though she had enormous respect for Gandhi, she also displayed, whenever the occasion demanded, a spirit of defiance to his pronouncements. Chattopadhyay was one of the founders of the Congress Socialist Party but in the aftermath of Partition, she felt disillusioned, and disavowed the political life. She was one of the earliest proponents of women’s rights in India, even as she anticipated some of the critiques that are now familiar of ‘white feminism’, just as she zeroed in on the necessity of arguing for what we may call a feminism on the ground.
I would add another critical dimension to Chattopadhyay’s life. Though the term ‘Global South’ is nowhere to be found in her writings, it is incipient in her work. Chattopadhyay’s international travels commenced from around the late 1920s. She attended the International Alliance of Women in Berlin in 1929, only to become aware of how race and national boundaries might become obstacles to the solidarity of women. At the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom meeting at Prague, she was brought to an awareness of the work of Jane Addams and the Hull House. At the International Session of the League against Imperialism in Frankfurt, she found a platform to discuss the common problems of subjugated people.
All of this transpired within the space of less than a year; yet Chattopadhyay continued to forge such networks over the course of three decades, facilitating India’s emergence as one of the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement and the crafting of the Bandung Declaration of 1955 which was a clarion call for a fundamental reordering of the world order. However, if her invisible hand can be discerned in India’s attempts to create a third space in the political global arena when the Cold War was pushing every country to declare its loyalty to either camp, it was her abiding interest in creating solidarity among the colonised people which makes her an especially inspirational figure.
One of the most deleterious consequences of colonialism was that, among colonised people, even the memories of their cultural, economic, and social exchanges with each other were eviscerated over a period of time. The West became the reference point for all intellectual exchanges; today, the situation remains substantially unaltered. The educated among Asians, Africans and the Arabs know something of their own culture and of the West but almost nothing of each other.
Conviction in the dignity of all people
Chattopadhyay’s writings on Asia, Africa and the Global South in the 1940s point to different facets of her interest in the people of Asia and Africa and their histories. ‘The Struggle of Viet Nam against French Imperialism’ (1947, Modern Review) shows her grasp over the history of colonialism in Vietnam. Chattopadhyay was never seduced by the idea that the European Left stood for progressive policies with respect to the question of empire, and her piece is clear in its critique of the failure of the Left in France to ally itself with Vietnamese nationalists agitating for independence. But she was equally unsparing towards the Japanese. ‘The Awakening of Asia’ (1947, At the Crossroads) warns against Japan’s attempts to position itself as the vanguard of pan-Asianism.
Chattopadhyay’s work throughout offers a display of her wit, panache, and insurgent spirit. In the three decades following Independence, she continued not only to represent India as an emissary but also offered a prescient articulation of the idea of the Global South. Her book,In War-torn Chi na (1942), relays her experience of China as it struggled against Japanese aggression. I suspect that had she been alive today, she would have been sensitive to the achievements of Chinese civilisation and understood the motive force of humiliation in history, yet she would have been critical of the self-aggrandisement that has characterised Chinese conduct in Asia and Africa. Chattopadhyay seems to be one of those rare persons of whom one can use the designation ‘world citizen’ without having to sneer. It is her unshakeable conviction in the dignity of all people that impresses the most.
Vinay Lal is Professor of History at UCLA
# The party of Hinduism?
Liberals hoping that Rahul Gandhi’s Congress would rescue them from Hindutva may be in for a rude awakening
The stage is all set for Assembly elections in five States — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana. Described as a ‘semi-final’ for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, they offer a foretaste of the electoral strategies likely to be on view next year. Though State and national elections often have their own specific dynamic, some useful inferences may be drawn from the campaigns of the national parties, especially the Congress.
An important conundrum is whether the Congress can emerge as a meaningful alternative to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its Hindu majoritarian politics. On the evidence of its campaign so far, especially in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the party appears to have chosen the path of least resistance. Given that these two States also happen to be among those where the BJP’s Hindutva dimension is in full bloom, they presented the Congress with a good opportunity to test its political counter to the divisive agenda of its adversary. The combination of high anti-incumbency and a two-way contest with the BJP meant that the Congress could have taken the ideological battle to the Sangh Parivar.
Wooing the upper castes
But the Congress did nothing of the sort. It steered clear of the BJP’s majoritarian depredations, and opted to woo the same upper castes that constitute the BJP’s core vote base. It has embraced what has come to be known as ‘soft Hindutva’. In Madhya Pradesh, for instance, the Congress has promised to build cow shelters in every village if voted to power — this in a State where desperate farmers were fired upon by the administration. In Kerala, its State unit has played along with so-called religious sentiment, opposing the entry of women (between the ages of 10-50) in Sabarimala instead of standing by the constitutional principle of equality.
In Rajasthan, too, the Congress’s game plan is to retrieve the upper caste vote from the BJP. Hindutva politics has queered the pitch in such a way that today no party can specifically woo the savarna voter without pandering to communal sentiment. In effect, this means not confronting the infusion of religion into the heart of democratic politics. Conversely, challenging it would require two things from a party: certain ideological non-negotiables, among which, in the case of the Congress, would be the Nehruvian legacy of secularism and a politics of caste rooted in the principle of social justice.
Given the cynicism that has become commonplace in public discourse, it is fashionable to scoff at any expectation of principles in politics. But it is delusional to imagine that the very realpolitik that unleashed the genie of communal hatred on national politics will also be able — now that its disruptions are coming home to roost — to put that genie back into the constitutional bottle. In fact, the most troubling takeaway from the Congress’s approach to these Assembly polls is that even an outright victory for a Congress-led alliance in 2019, however improbable it may seem at present, may not really signify a defeat of communal forces.
The clearest indication yet that the Congress cannot be expected to counter the normalisation of Hindu majoritarianism came during party president Rahul Gandhi’s campaign tour in Madhya Pradesh, where he stated that the “Congress was a party of Hinduism”. He prefaced it by saying that it was “not a party of Hindutva” but the fact that he felt compelled to paint the Congress in Hindu colours marks a clear shift in the party’s overt political line.
For some time now, there has been a debate on the Congress’s use of ‘soft Hindutva’ as a counter to the BJP’s presumably ‘hard’ Hindutva. Mr. Gandhi’s supporters have argued that what has been labelled as ‘soft Hindutva’ is nothing but a free and open expression of his personal faith as a devout Hindu. Even if this were true, his temple visits, which rarely seem to take place without a photo-op, the recent emergence of vermilion on his forehead, his pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar, and his coming out as a Shiv bhakt, are all gestures saturated with political significance.
They could either be read as a smart political response to the widespread ‘Hinduisation’ of the socio-political sphere, or as an admission of defeat to Hindutva forces, for this is exactly what they seek — an India where Hindu identity would be the starting point of any mobilisation for political power.
Last month, a Rajasthan Minister was booked for violating the Representation of the People Act after he gave a speech asking all Hindus to vote for the BJP. Mr. Gandhi has never verbalised such a plea with regard to his own party. But can we truly characterise his description of the Congress as a “party of Hinduism”, or his embodiment of Hindu symbolism on the campaign trail, as actions in keeping with either the spirit of the Representation of the People Act or the secularism the Constitution speaks of?
There are other aspects of this symbolism-driven ‘soft Hindutva’ that are as troubling: an overriding anxiety not to be seen as sympathetic to Muslims; and a low key yet consistent messaging that underscores Mr. Gandhi’s position at the apex of the caste hierarchy as a “ janeu -wearing Hindu”. The phrase, used by a Congress spokesperson after Mr. Gandhi’s visit to the Somnath temple last year, was invoked by a BJP leader recently in the context of yet another temple visit by Mr. Gandhi, when he asked, “What kind of janeu-dhari are you? What is your gotra ?” The focus on Mr. Gandhi’s caste pedigree once again reveals how temple politics is never without its attendant caste politics.
Put simply, it gives the lie to Mr. Gandhi’s self-serving distinction between Hindutva and Hinduism, a distinction that is also becoming increasingly popular among an influential section of Indian liberals who, much like Mr. Gandhi, seem to have suddenly woken up to their Hindu identity in the last four years. For these ‘proud Hindus’, one of whom has recently penned a bestselling book on why he is one, the classical secularist position that one’s religion is a private matter and not an instrument to garner social or political capital is, of course, past its sell-by date.
The distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva — which only matters because of the political uses of religion —rests on two premises. First, that Hinduism is inclusive and progressive, while Hindutva is exclusionary and regressive; second, that Hinduism is individualistic and preaches tolerance, whereas Hindutva is a supremacist ideology that deploys angry mobs to subjugate other religious communities.
On Sangh Parivar’s page
While this is, no doubt, an interesting distinction, it is even more interesting that no Hindutva ideologue has ever expressed any discomfort with this definition of Hinduism that categorically rejects Hindutva. If anything, representatives of the Sangh Parivar have been pleased with the transformation of the Congress president into a tilak-wearing, temple-hopping ‘Hindu politician’.
The Congress becoming more ‘Hindu’ is but another sign of savarna consolidation, a movement of which Hindutva is the flag-bearer. Mr. Gandhi’s version of non-threatening Hinduism and the Parivar’s aggressive Hindutva are in complete agreement on one issue: caste. They both want to be the party of choice for the upper castes, and so long as this remains the case, the Congress cannot be expected to operationalise in its politics the principle of equality. In other words, liberals and other good-hearted people hoping that Mr. Gandhi and the Congress would rescue them from Hindutva may be in for a rude awakening. As is well known, god doesn’t help those who don’t help themselves.
# Trump claims ‘tremendous success’ despite GOP losses
It was a big win despite pressure from a nasty and hostile media, says President
U.S. President Donald on Wednesday claimed victory in the midterm congressional elections despite his Republican Party losing control in the House of Representatives to the Democrats.
“Those that worked with me in this incredible Midterm Election, embracing certain policies and principles, did very well. Those that did not, say goodbye!” he tweeted.
“Yesterday was such a very Big Win, and all under the pressure of a Nasty and Hostile Media!” he added. “Tremendous success tonight. Thank you to all!” he said in another tweet.
The Democrats have won at least 220 seats in the 435-member House, capturing 27 seats from the Republicans. The GOP, however, maintained their control over the Senate. They control at least 51 seats in the 100-member chamber.
In terms of governorships, the parties have split wins in key States. Democrats, who have added seven governorships to their side, won three key States that President Trump carried in the 2016 elections — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Florida and Ohio went to the Republicans. These States, like Michigan and Wisconsin, are expected to be crucial for the 2020 presidential election. Losing the widely watched Florida Governor Race came as a big blow to the Democrats who had pinned their hopes on a progressive candidate — the African-American Mayor of Tallahasee, Andrew Gillum — winning against lawyer Ron DeSantis, an admirer of the President.
Mr. Trump made two trips to Florida in the last week before elections to campaign for Mr. DeSantis, lending his political clout to the race, a strategy that clearly paid off there.
Close in Georgia
The fight was still on in Georgia, where Stacey Abrams, potentially the country’s first African-American Governor, had not conceded to Republican candidate Brian Kemp. While 100% of the precincts have had their votes tallied, Ms. Abrams’s campaign is banking on postal ballots. If both candidates get less than 50% of the vote, they will enter a run-off on December 4.
The gubernatorial race in Florida has been mired in voting rights controversies as Democrats have accused the Republicans of voter suppression and called for Mr. Kemp to resign as Secretary of State, vested with organisational powers over the election.
A federal judge last month had ordered that election officials stop rejecting absentee ballots on grounds of signature mismatches. On Sunday, Mr. Kemp’s office accused Democrats of hacking into the online voter registration system, a charge denied by Democrats.
Nancy Pelosi, currently the House Minority Leader, is likely to become the Speaker of the House, though she does not enjoy support throughout her party and there is speculation that she may make room for another, perhaps younger, candidate.
Pelosi for Speaker?
Ms. Pelosi got some unexpected support from Mr. Trump, who has been a critic in the past. “In all fairness, Nancy Pelosi deserves to be chosen Speaker of the House by the Democrats. If they give her a hard time, perhaps we will add some Republican votes,” he said on Wednesday morning on Twitter.
Going forward, Mr. Trump will have to recalibrate his path through a presidency in which he has thus far not hesitated to barrel ahead with policies and executive orders on immigration and the border, health care and taxes.
The Democrats, who will now chair powerful House committees, can regulate, investigate and issue subpoenas. They will likely ask to see Mr. Trump’s tax returns and investigate any ties he may have to Russia. If there are grounds for it, the House may also seek to impeach the President.
# Proposed Ganga bill bans ports, jetties
Centre’s efforts have been on cleaning the river, while neglecting steps to ensure its natural flow: activists
The government has banned the construction of jetties, ports or “permanent hydraulic structures” in the Ganga, unless permitted by the National Ganga Rejuvenation Authority, according to a proposed ‘Ganga Act’, viewed by The Hindu .
The legislation, formally called the National River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Conservation and Management) Bill, 2018, proposes to create a management structure that will supervise the health of the 2,500-kilometre long Ganga which, the draft Bill defines, as ‘India’s national river.’
In winter session
The Bill is now being circulated for comments among several Ministries, and proposed to be tabled in Parliament during the winter session, according to sources.
The Bill lays down a host of restrictions to ensure the “uninterrupted, ecological flow” of the river. Currently, a host of dams in the upper stretches of the river lead to the river’s flow being obstructed, say several activists and researchers, and persistent campaigns — notably led by the late G.D. Agrawal — led to the government finally recognising the need for proposed and existing hydropower projects to change their design plans to ensure minimum flows all through the year.
The legislation looms even as the government is developing a National Waterways Project-1 (River Ganga) from Haldia to Varanasi (1,390 km), with the technical and financial assistance of the World Bank, at an estimated cost of Rs. 5,369 crore. Food and beverage giant PepsiCo has dispatched 16 containers from Haldia containing packaged food and assorted goods, and — in a ceremony to be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi — they are expected to dock in Varanasi on November 12, according to a statement from the Union Shipping Ministry. This is the first container movement aboard an inland vessel in independent India, according to that Ministry.
The waterways project involves creating permanent and movable terminals that require dredging and frequent de-silting to ensure that minimum river depths — for the smooth movement of the vessels — are maintained. However, the proposed legislation specifies that “unauthorised” activities that cause “…obstruction or discontinuity of water in the River Ganga…due to engineered diversion of water or stoppage of water…could be liable to a prison term of 3 years or fines upto Rs. 50 crore, or both.”
Activists say that while the government’s efforts have been largely on cleaning the Ganga — namely, by installing sewage plants in riverine cities such as Allahabad and Varanasi and Kanpur — but neglecting to take steps to ensure the river’s natural flow is maintained through the stretch. “The government’s draft does not keep the interest of the Ganga as prime focus. The intent seems to be to maintain a flow, whereas we have been insisting on achieving natural flow,” said Mallika Bhanot of the Uttarakhand-based NGO Ganga Ahwaan. The NGO was associated with G.D. Agrawal, and his call for a ban on hydropower projects on the Ganga.
# West Bengal to observe ‘Rosogolla Day’ on Nov. 14
Day marks first anniversary of GI tag for popular sweetmeat
The West Bengal government has decided to observe ‘Rosogolla Day’ on November 14, to commemorate the first anniversary of the State’s famous sweet getting Geographical Indication (GI) tag as ‘Bengal’s Rosogolla’, an official said on Wednesday.
Different varieties of rosogollas would be showcased in the stalls of the ‘Mishti Hub’ (sweetmeat hub), set up in one part of the Eco Park in New Town area here, HIDCO Chairman Debasish Sen said.
The Eco Park is managed by the West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation (HIDCO), a State PSU.
“We are celebrating the first anniversary of Bengal’s Rosogolla getting the GI tag at the ‘Mishti hub’ in association with sweetmeat maker associations,” said Mr. Sen, an additional chief secretary rank officer.
The ‘Mishti hub’, opened on July 5, is the only one of its kind in the State — where renowned sweetmeat makers, including some of the traditional ones, share a roof.
‘History of rosogolla’
Mr. Sen said there would also be discussion on the history of rosogolla, a ball-shaped cottage cheese dumpling dipped in a light syrup of sugar.
On November 14 last year, West Bengal had received the GI tag for ‘Bengal’s Rosogolla’.
The GI tag is a sign that identifies a product as originating from a particular place.
# China ropes in India as digital economy partner
As part of Beijing’s drive to cyber-connect with Eurasia
In tune with its rise as an Internet giant, China is roping in India as a niche digital partner, as part of Beijing’s drive to cyber-connect with Eurasia — its new frontier for trade and investments.
At a conference on defining common international standards for two-dimensional (2D) barcodes — the gateways for linking genuine buyers and sellers, as well as making digital payments by scanning QR codes — Chinese officials said that India is already on board in this global exercise.
Last November Zheng Chao, Executive Director of the Global Unified Two-Dimensional Code Registration Management Centre (UTC), based in Beijing, signed a “strategic cooperation” agreement on 2D coding with his Indian counterpart. As a result, UTC (India) was formed.
“In China, there has been a growing awareness of India’s strengths in the pharmaceutical sector and other areas. But the challenge is how to find genuine buyers and sellers. That is where 2D codes become important to solve the problem by eliminating fraudulent buyers and sellers online,” says Tian Furong, Director of the India Universal Two-dimensional code registration centre.
She points out that so far, only exports of Indian pharmaceuticals and cotton are being funneled through the 2D coding route, though other items are likely to be added in the future.
Analysts say that China appears more inclined to source pharmaceuticals and agro-products from India.
# U.S. exempts Chabahar port work from sanctions
Relief to India, which has a pact with Iran and Afghanistan to develop the project
Activities related to the development of the Chabahar port in Iran will be exempt from U.S. sanctions that kicked in on Monday, following the 180-day cool-off period after the U.S. withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA or the ‘Iran Deal’) in May.
This waiver will bring some measure of relief to India which had been discussing a sanctions exemption for Chabahar, having signed an agreement with Iran and Afghanistan in May 2016 for the port’s development.
India has committed $500 million to the project and $2 billion to build a railway line from Chabahar to Hajigaj in Afghanistan.
Construction of railway
“After extensive consideration, the secretary has provided for an exception from the imposition of certain sanctions under the Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act of 2012 (IFCA) with respect to the development of Chabahar port and the construction of an associated railway and for the shipment of non-sanctionable goods through the port for Afghanistan’s use, as well as Afghanistan’s continued imports of Iranian petroleum products,” a State Department spokesperson said on background.
The IFCA was one of the laws under which sanctions on Iran were imposed by former U.S. President Barack Obama, with implications for non-U.S. companies working with Iran in various sectors, including shipping, shipbuilding, energy and insurance.
Representatives of India, Afghanistan and Iran met a little more than two weeks ago in New Delhi, despite looming U.S. sanctions, to discuss operationalisation of the port, which is seen as key to connecting India and Afghanistan to Iran and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan.
The spokesperson said U.S. President Donald Trump’s South Asia strategy was focussed on economic growth for Afghanistan and a “close partnership” with India, and the U.S. seeks to maintain a close relationship with both countries as they pursue a “policy of maximum pressure” against Iran.
India was, on Monday, among eight countries that received a temporary waiver on U.S. sanctions with regard to Iranian oil imports.
The Hindu has reached out to the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC, for a reaction