The Hindu Important Articles 25 November 2018

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The Hindu Important Articles 25 November 2018

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Centre looks abroad for ideas

The Centre is in talks with experts from Germany, Laos, Austria and Egypt, among others, to evolve a Ganga River Basin Management Plan.

Though it already has a preliminary draft from a consortium of seven IITs, it is in the process of soliciting wider consultation from countries that have such river basin management plans.

At a two-day workshop organised by the German Society for International Cooperation, and the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), the Centre discussed the experiences of countries in managing rivers such as the Danube, Rhine, Mekong. “Right now the focus, as far as the Ganga is concerned, is on fixing the sources of pollution. However cleaning is a continuous process…we also need to think of its future,” said Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, director-General, NMCG.

There is already a draft ‘Ganga law’ in the anvil that is meant to ensure the health and ecological viability of the river. This, however, is still being deliberated by various Ministries and, according to officials, is being readied for the approval of the Cabinet before the year ends. “The river basin plan is much more comprehensive,” said Mr. Mishra.

An early draft of the Ganga River Basin Management Plan analysed the river in terms of environmental quality and pollution; water resources management; fluvial geomorphology; ecology and biodiversity; socio-economic and socio-cultural; policy, law and governance and geo-spatial database management. Seven missions were identified for focused interventions: ‘Aviral Dhara’, ‘Nirmal Dhara’, ‘Ecological Restoration’, ‘Geological Safeguarding’, ‘Disaster Management’, ‘Sustainable Agriculture’ and ‘Environmental Knowledge-Building and Sensitisation’.

French NGO seeks probe into Rafale deal

Complaint flags ‘undue advantages, money laundering’
Pressure continues to mount over allegations of corruption in the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France from both within and outside the country.

According to French news portal Mediapart , a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) has approached the National Financial Prosecutor’s office, seeking a probe into the allegations of money laundering and corruption in the deal and the choice of Anil Ambani as the offset partner.

Sherpa, an anti-corruption NGO, lodged the complaint at the end of October with the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office highlighting “potential acts of corruption, granting of undue advantages, influence peddling, complicity of these offences and money laundering,” according to a report on Friday by Mediapart .

‘Serious matter’

The complaint sought an investigation into the circumstances under which 36 combat aircraft were sold by France to India in 2016 and the choice of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as the offset partner which had no “experience in the manufacture of fighter jets” and was registered only “twelve days” before the announcement of the deal in 2015, the news report stated.

“Everything indicates that it is likely to be a very serious matter,” William Bourdon, founder of Sherpa, told Mediapart .

The complaint mentioned that Sherpa have been following the allegations by a former Minister and an anti-corruption lawyer to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Controversy surrounding the Rafale deal has steadily grown over last few months. The Supreme Court has heard arguments in the case and reserved its verdict on whether it merits a court-monitored investigation.

In September 2016, India and France signed a €7.87 billion Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) for 36 Rafale multi-role fighter jets in fly-away condition.

Scientists mull stratospheric barrier to curb warming

Involves spraying sulphate particles above the earth to act as a fence against sunlight
Spraying sun-dimming chemicals high above the earth to slow global warming could be “remarkably inexpensive”, costing about $2.25 billion a year over a 15-year period, according to a study by U.S. scientists.

Some researchers say the geo-engineering technique known as stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI) could limit rising temperatures that are causing climate change.

As yet unproven and hypothetical, it would involve the use of huge hoses, cannons or specially designed aircraft to spray large quantities of sulphate particles into the upper layer of the atmosphere to act as a reflective barrier against sunlight.

Total costs to launch a hypothetical SAI effort 15 years from now would be $3.5 billion, scientists at Harvard University said in a report published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, adding that average annual operating costs would be about $2.25 billion a year over 15 years.

Discounting other methods of deployment because of cost and feasibility, the research assumes a special aircraft can be designed to fly at an altitude of about 20 km and carry a load of 25 tonnes.

15-year wait
After direct input from several aerospace and engine companies, the scientists said they have developed a design that could be suitable and could be ready to be deployed in 15 years, aiming to cut the rate of temperature change in half.

The scientists emphasised that this is merely a hypothetical scenario. “We make no judgment about the desirability of SAI. We simply show that a hypothetical deployment programme commencing 15 years hence, while both highly uncertain and ambitious, would indeed be technically possible from an engineering perspective. It would also be remarkably inexpensive,” the report said.

There are some risks. Scientists have said SAI could cause droughts or extreme weather in other parts of the world, harm crop yields as well as potential public health and governance issues.

It also does not address the issue of rising carbon dioxide emissions, the main greenhouse gas blamed for global warming.

FBI help proved crucial in tracing 26/11 attackers’ boat to Pakistan

Its agent went to Yamaha headquarters in Japan to find out the engine number
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) helped India connect the small boat used by the terrorists in the 26/11 Mumbai attack, to Pakistan.

A retired police officer who supervised the investigations in 2008-09, told The Hindu that the FBI sent one of its agents to the headquarters of Yamaha Motor in Japan to seek help in tracing the person who purchased the engine.

The inflatable boat was abandoned near Badhwar Park along Mumbai’s coastline by the ten LeT men who entered Mumbai with rucksacks containing grenades, RDX, Kalashnikovs, pistols, GPS set, mobile phones, raisins and almonds.

This boat, brought from Pakistan, was transferred to MV Kuber, an Indian fishing trawler that was hijacked in high seas by the LeT squad on November 25. The squad led by their handler were shipped in a vessel Al Hussaini from Karachi, till they entered the Indian waters and spotted Kuber. They pretended they were adrift when the trawler came close. Soon the LeT squad leapt on to the trawler and the fishermen were pushed over to Hussaini. The captain of the trawler Amarchand Solanki was held hostage by the squad was asked to sail towards Mumbai. Nearly 30 hours later, they saw Mumbai coastline from far. Solanki was killed and the squad prepared the inflatable boat on the deck of Kuber that they brought from Karachi. They abandoned the trawler and sailed towards Mumbai with the help of a GPS set. This boat was fitted with a Yamaha engine. Navigating through the fisherman’s colony they entered the city around 8.15 p.m. on November 26, 2008.

The unique number engraved on the engine had been erased by the conspirators. The FBI asked Yamaha’s dealer in the U.S. for help, the official said. The dealer directed them to Yamaha’s office in Japan.

Secret location
“The Yamaha official in Japan told the FBI that it was possible to trace the number even if it had been erased or damaged. They were told about a cavity at the bottom of an encase containing the cylinders, which when opened would have the unique number engraved on the side. The conspirators didn’t know about this number. The FBI shared this information with us and our engineers were able to retrieve the number; the engine was then traced to a Karachi shop,” said the official.

The shop owner in Karachi sold eight such engines to Amjad Khan, a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) financier. Ten LeT men from Pakistan had set off 10 years ago on one of the boats to carry out the attack in Mumbai on November 26. The attack claimed 166 lives, including that of six Americans.
The official said this number was key to connecting the boat to the neighbouring country. The number was part of the evidence handed over to Pakistan. The U.S. authorities put pressure on Pakistan, and raids were conducted, leading to the arrest of seven persons, including Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, the operational commander of the LeT and one of the main conspirators of the 26/11 Mumbai attack.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) of Pakistan charged 27 accused, and 20 were declared proclaimed offenders. The trial is yet to be concluded. “Based on our intelligence, the FIA raided the house of the person who had purchased the engines; we made arrangements for him to depose in a Mumbai court through videoconferencing,” said the official.

‘Key conspirators free’
However, Maharashtra public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told The Hindu that the FIA had arrested only petty people, but the main conspirators — LeT chief Hafiz Saeed and Lakhvi were free.

“Pakistan’s FIA arrested the person who sold the said boat, also arrested the person who financed him. Ajmal Kasab’s (the lone Pakistani terrorist caught alive and later sentenced to death) confession coupled with David Headley’s (an American who conducted surveillance of targets) deposition, the entire plan was hatched by Hafiz Saeed, Lakhvi and Pakistan’s ISI. During one of the training sessions, Kasab was patted on the back by a Pakistani army official,” Mr. Nikam said.

Adding another layer to the evidence, the intelligence official said an IED recovered from a railway station was defused and dumped at the Colaba police station. The FBI had asked for access to the IED.

He added various foreign intelligence agencies wanted their finger in the pie. British intelligence had prepared a dossier on Lashkar’s activities and had come close to arresting Sajid Mir alias Wasi Bhai, (handler of the 26/11 attackers) in 2003 in London as the outfit planned to attack a nuclear installation in Australia.

“They were able to lift fingerprints from the IED and matched it with those of an LeT operative in their database. This also proved vital in linking the attackers to Pakistan. The IED was packed in layers of adhesive tapes. They removed one layer each, and on the first part of the tape they found the fingerprints. Police had dumped them thinking they were mere case property,” said the official.

Headley challenge
He said then Home Minister P. Chidambaram had insisted that a team of IB officials be sent to the U.S. to interrogate Headley. However, U.S. officials were adamant and did not allow the team to meet Headley. “All they got was a visit to the FBI headquarters and a photograph of Headley,” he said. Later, a National Investigation Agency (NIA) interrogated Headley.
India had told Pakistan that the period of conspiracy to commit the terrorist attack was actually between 2005-2008 but FIA only investigated the period between 2007-08.

“Headley deposed in a Chicago court that Pakistan’s ISI and Army were helping the LeT. Headley had an e-mail correspondence with an LeT operative where the latter assured that nothing was going to happen to Saeed and Lakhvi,” Mr. Nikam said.

Doubts over trial in Pak.
He said the trial in Pakistan court would never come to an end and he wouldn’t be surprised if the accused walked free. Pakistan has asked India to send 27 witnesses to depose before the FIA court. “We have offered them to record the statements through video conferencing. We insisted that you [Pakistan] record the evidence given by Headley,” Mr. Nikam said.

Headley was made an approver in 2015 by the Mumbai police in a case against Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal alias Abu Hamza, an alleged LeT operative who was present in the Karachi control room from where the ten terrorists were being directed during the attack. He was deported from Saudi Arabia in 2012. A resident of Mumbai, Ansari was present in the Karachi control room from where handler Wasi Bhai gave directions to the squad when they set out on carnage.

Asked why Headley was made an approver in a Mumbai court in 2015 against another LeT operative Zabiuddin Ansari when he is wanted for the 26/11 attacks, Mr. Nikam said, “It takes a thief to catch another thief. Headley cannot be deported to India as he has entered into plea bargain with the U.S. authorities.”

Odisha now has a lexicon for rare tribal languages

Move seen as a push to preserve vanishing native languages in State with largest tribal diversity
In what is seen as a significant step to keep vanishing tribal languages in circulation, the Odisha government has come out with lexicons of 21 such languages.

The bilingual tribal dictionaries will be used in multilingual education (MLE) initiated by the State government at the elementary level in tribal-dominated districts.

“The bilingual tribal dictionaries for MLE and trilingual tribal language proficiency modules in all the 21 tribal languages have been formulated by the Special Development Council. Both will help in enhancing proficiency in tribal languages,” said Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, releasing the dictionaries here on Saturday.

Mr. Patnaik said the tribal museum had been upgraded as the Odisha State Tribal Museum.

Unique tribal profile
Odisha has a unique place on the tribal map of India for having the maximum number of Scheduled Tribe communities. The State is home to 62 different tribal communities, including 13 particularly vulnerable tribal groups. These tribes speak 21 languages and 74 dialects. Of the 21 tribal languages, seven have their own scripts. However, Odia is used as the medium of communication in the dictionaries.

“Adoption of more widely spoken competitors, such as Odia, Hindi, English and dominant tribal languages, has hastened the disappearance of rare dialects. Preparation of the dictionaries is a small step towards ensuring that they are preserved and promoted,” said A.B. Ota, director of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute.

He said: “Very few States have attempted preparing dictionaries in all tribal languages. Going forward, it will help everybody, including students, researchers and government officials.”

“Although the dictionaries are not full-fledged, covering small details, we have laid the foundation for more exhaustive research,” said P. Patel, senior tribal language expert at the Special Development Council.

“The trilingual tribal language proficiency module is a radical step to bring government functionaries closer to tribal communities,” said Mr. Ota.

Unite against U.S.: Rouhani

Iran President calls Israel the region’s ‘cancerous tumour’
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged Muslims worldwide on Saturday to unite against the United States and assured Saudis that they were “brothers” who had nothing to fear from Tehran.

U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Tehran in May and has since reimposed crippling unilateral sanctions.

“What the United States wants of (the Middle East) today is enslavement,” Mr. Rouhani told an Islamic unity conference in Tehran.

Instead of “rolling out the red carpet for criminals,” Muslim governments should unite against the U.S. and “the region’s cancerous tumour Israel,” he said.

Mr. Rouhani urged Shiite Iran’s Sunni rival Saudi Arabia to end its dependence on “insulting” U.S. military aid. “We are ready to defend the Saudi people’s interests against terrorism and superpowers with all our might,” he said. “We do no ask $450 billion for it and will not insult you.”

Saying goodbye to UN migration agreement

Recently, the Austrian government decided to withdraw from the new migration pact of the United Nations. The U.S., Hungary, the Czech Republic and, most recently, Australia and Poland, had done the same, and it is not a coincidence that politics in most of these countries is dominated by right-wing leaders.

The UN’s Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migrations is aiming to make migration all over the world safer. “We view some points of the migration pact as very critical, such as the mixing up of seeking protection with labour migration,” said Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. The Chancellor also said Austria’s “sovereign migration policy” is endangered by the pact. Since Mr. Kurz’s government, consisting of his Conservative Party and the far-right Freedom Party, came to power a year ago, several controversial policies have been adapted.

However, many Austrians believe that their country is isolating itself with this decision. “I think it is sad and embarrassing. Austria is already making a lot of negative headlines with this government. But this step is a new peak. Our country now appears to be heading backwards,” said Simone Fischer, 26, a teacher in Vienna. “We are now on the same level with Donald Trump and Viktor Orbán. Isn’t this a disgrace?” she asked.

The UN pact, which is not binding, addresses issues such as how to protect migrants and how to integrate them into new countries or how to return them to their original home countries.

At the moment, many observers are still surprised about Vienna’s decision to leave the pact. The reason is that, in fact, a real political discussion about the issue never took place. During a UN General Assembly meet in 2017, Mr. Kurz, then Austrian Foreign Minister, welcomed the preparation of the pact and said it would secure an “ordered, international approach towards these challenges”. Last July, the finished draft of the pact was sent to Vienna, and, apparently, nobody in the government expressed any criticism.

Far-right blogs and social media warriors close to the Freedom Party have mounted criticism against the pact in recent months. Many of these sites started to spread misinformation, often quoting context-less or wrongly translated passages from the document.

However, even renowned media outlets appear to have adapted the narrative. Earlier this month, Jan Fleischhauer, a conservative columnist with Der Spiegel , wrote an article in which he stated that Germany should not sign the migration pact. Mr. Fleischhauer says that his views are not similar to those of far-right observers. Instead, he points out that even dictators like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad are going to sign the document and that several phrases of the pact are problematic and unrealistic.

Wrong direction

“This step is going towards the wrong direction. More than 100 years ago, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire used to be very multicultural and open-minded. Migration was something normal and people used to speak many different languages. But today, we see this harsh nationalism that is isolating our society more and more. It makes me feel worried,” said Davut Sahingöz, a law student from Innsbruck.

Several Austrian artists and actors have also expressed criticism. “I am an opponent of the current government. I don’t like them,” said actor Cornelius Obonya in a TV discussion. “Many people feel that democracy is going to be at loss and that social agreements are going to be broken.”

The Austrian government pulled out of the UN migration pact which stresses on the safety of migrants, saying the agreement threatens the country’s sovereign migration policy

Time to ease up on marijuana?

Indian doctors are hoping to take advantage of the more favourable way the West is looking at medical cannabis
As the head of the Department of Surgical Disciplines at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, Anurag Srivastava sees pain every day. One of the patients, he recounts, who was a cancer patient, was perennially depressed from the chemotherapy and associated medication. Dr. Srivastava then made an unusual suggestion to the woman’s family. Because it was also the festival of Shivratri, he suggested: “Give her some bhaang. ” (This is an edible form of marijuana commonly available in north India.) The next day, when he met her, the woman seemed far more “joyful” and more responsive and optimistic about her treatment, he recalls.

Sounding it out

Dr. Srivastava’s suggestion was not a prescription or endorsement of marijuana — the possession of which is still illegal in India in most forms — but a response to an amplifying chorus among doctors, patient groups and scientists for a more liberal regime in India regarding research into marijuana for medical purposes.

“There is no permanent damage seen on the body… as in the case of alcohol or tobacco… you just laugh or cry a lot at worst,” he said at a recent conference in the capital to explore the challenges around medical marijuana in India. “Tobacco is not a native plant… but cannabis (the formal botanical name of the plant) is native to India and known for thousands of years. Let’s support it.”

Says Prasanna Namboodiri, a senior High Court advocate, “The bar under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, requiring cannabis to be delivered by cultivators to the State government is a major impediment to the cultivation of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes.”

With several States in the United States, and Canada this year, permitting the use of the marijuana for medical as well as recreational use, there is a loosening of the taboo associated with the plant. Indian doctors and researchers are hoping to take advantage of this. This is because science, in the last decade, has paid serious attention to other chemical compounds in the plant. Traditionally, marijuana has been associated with tetrahydrocannabinol — one of about 100 compounds present in the plant and responsible for the mind-altering (psycho-activity) as well addictive properties of the plant.

Now, cannabidiol (CBD), which is non-addictive and non-psychotic and may alleviate pain, is among the emerging stars.

Exploration in the West

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three cannabinoids as drugs. In 2018, ‘the agency approved Epidiolex (CBD) oral solution for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare, severe forms of epilepsy. This drug is derived from marijuana. The FDA has also approved the laboratory-produced cannabinoids, dronabinol and nabilone, to treat nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy in people who have already taken other medicines to treat these symptoms without good results’.

While these new compounds reportedly reduce seizures in epilepsy and alleviate nausea, there is very limited clinical trial data to suggest that cannabinoids can fundamentally cure disease.

The Alberta College of Family Physicians, Canada, in a report on the evidence available on the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids, says: “For most conditions (for example, anxiety), cannabinoid evidence is sparse (at best), low quality and non-convincing. Dronabinol/nabilone improve control of nausea/vomiting post chemotherapy for 1 in 3 users over placebo. Nabiximols likely improve multiple sclerosis spasticity ≥30% for ~1 in 10 users over placebo. Patients’ preference for cannabinoids exceeds cannabinoids effectiveness”

A collection of articles about cannabis, in Nature, in 2015 revealed a plethora of potential scientific investigations that Indian researchers say they did not want to be left behind on.

A start in India

India is likely to kick off its own studies on medical marijuana. Led by the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research-Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (CSIR-IIIM) and the Tata Memorial Centre (TMC), Mumbai, researchers will test whether strains of marijuana grown at the CSIR-IIIM campus in Jammu could be effective in the treatment of breast cancer and sickle-cell anaemia as well as be “bio-equivalent” (similar in make-up and effect) to marijuana-derived drugs already approved by the U.S. FDA.

“There are two aspects. One, it is unforgivable that when pain-relieving medications based on cannabinoids exist elsewhere, it cannot be given to Indian patients affordably. And two, we have all the raw material and the scientific know-how to conduct our own medical investigations,” says Ram Vishwakarma, Director, CSIR-IIIM.

[email protected]

The bar under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 is a major impediment to the cultivation of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes.”

Prasanna Namboodiri,

Senior High Court advocate

The artist in the public sphere

In being compelled to continually comment on society and politics through their art, artists like T.M. Krishna are true to their calling as responsible public intellectuals
It is a truism that our actions are determined by what we believe ourselves to be, by our self-understandings. Each of us carries a picture of what we are, a model of ourselves that guides us through the world, shapes our motivations and makes us behave one way rather than another. If so, what are the dominant self-understandings of artists in our times, particularly in relationship to state and politics?

Not long ago, in strongly traditional, hierarchy-ridden societies, even great artists saw themselves as beholden to their rulers. Deference and submission were crucial ingredients in their mental make-up; after all, a ruler was the primary source of patronage. Today, two very different self-understandings of artists are dominant.

Two kinds of self-understanding

Most modern artists see themselves as producers of cultural or aesthetic values which, by using imagination and thought in their chosen medium, they embody in their work. Since this complex process takes place largely in the study, the studio or the aangan , some artists see themselves as intensely private beings playing little role in public, except while performing or exhibiting their work. Deeply inclined to mind their own business, they may even develop a cultivated indifference to public issues. Yet, as creators of aesthetic values, they are also their custodians. So, when these values are threatened by the practices of the state or by oppressive social forces, even they, unless living in fear, don’t stay quiet. Therefore, in relation to society and politics, they are watchdogs. The great, quietly conservative, Upanishad-influenced poet T.S. Eliot said succinctly that “we should be vigilantly watching the conduct of politicians and economists for the purpose of criticising and warning, when the decisions of politicians and economists are likely to have cultural consequences”. When cultural values are adversely affected, artists must go public, Eliot said.

Alternatively, when general conditions necessary for the functioning of all cultural institutions are undermined and norms of minimal decency are violated, the outraged artist must confront the state — simply as an ordinary, decent human being. An obvious example is Rabindranath Tagore, who, after the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre, returned his knighthood. Remember how artists took to the street when in 1989, theatre activist Safdar Hashmi was bludgeoned to death by political goons? George Orwell put this point well: “When an artist engages in politics (joins the resistance, fights fascists) he does so as a human being, but not as an artist.” The implication is that when artists eventually throw themselves into political struggle, they discard their social persona and return to basic humanity. When elementary moral sense is consistently violated, they join hands with others to fight it without insisting on their exclusivity or difference.

Pure artist, pure citizen, or both

This first largely apolitical self-understanding developed in pre-democratic societies with little political liberty, where popular participation in political decision-making was virtually absent. Without a proper public sphere, an attitude of indifference to state and politics was built into the self-understanding of artists. However, a new kind of artist with a second, very different self-understanding emerged in democracies where citizens entered a newly constituted public domain with views on the whole society. Such artists do not separate their social persona as artists and their political persona as citizens. They are always artist-citizens, acting sometimes as pure artists, sometimes as pure citizens, and often as both. They belong to a newly evolved social category, the public intellectual who, as the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre famously put it, necessarily “fails to mind his own business”. Artists feel responsible not only for what happens in their own field but for just about everything in the world and try to fulfil this responsibility by constant social and political engagement. Inextricably linked with the public domain, they feel incomplete without it, and enter it to express themselves in the language they know best: the language of art.

And without always intending to do so, they enlighten their public. The greater an artist, the deeper her insights, the more she is expected to see further than most others, enable people to understand what left to themselves they do not. Doing so through their work and example becomes an important part of their self-definition. They begin to hope that, mediated by public opinion, art may bring about a change in civil society and state institutions. So, by gentle instruction or dialogic exchange, artists seek to mould public opinion too. They see themselves simultaneously as sophisticated pedagogues or co-participants in the production of a shared culture.

It is absurd to expect artists such as T.M. Krishna to be servile to the state or be indifferent to wrongdoing in society and politics. They simultaneously embody both kinds of self-understanding. Though their art demands that they be intensely private and get massive swathes of time to themselves, they speak out in public on moral decay, social injustice or political impropriety, as decent human beings. Equally, as public intellectuals, as artist-citizens, they feel compelled to continually comment on society and politics through their art. They protest. They criticise the government of the day. They oppose social oppression. To be sure, acting on both self-understandings is not every artist’s cup of tea. One’s childhood and temperament strongly determines one’s attitude to persistent public engagement. Nor is it an artist’s moral obligation to express politically. But it cannot be anyone’s contention today that the primary duty of the artist is to mind her own business, to confine herself to ‘non-political’ art. In doing what he does, Mr. Krishna is not being an ideologue nor showing a narrow political bias. He is being true to his calling as a responsible artist.

We have no time to stand and stare

In reducing leisure as a part of the work/leisure binary, we run to make space for leisure by working more and more
Even as the world accumulates ‘devices’ of leisure — resorts, clubs, package tours, entertainment parks, restaurants, computer games, etc. — people feel that they have less time for leisure. This is inevitable, because of the way we understand leisure.

Despite its roots in the Latin ‘licêre’, which means ‘be permitted’, leisure is understood as the withdrawal from activities and work rather than a permission to do things. In short, the term, as it is constructed today, is basically part of the work/leisure binary. This is problematic. Once leisure becomes the other of work, it can only run after work, trying desperately to catch up and largely failing to do so. Because, even if it is celebrated, it remains impossible: leisure ends up being either that empty space where one does not really act (work) or that mirage one is always working to reach. In the latter sense, which predominates, the only way to obtain leisure is to work more in order to work less one day. So, the more leisure one wants, the harder one works.

The fisherman and businessman

In Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity , Hartmut Rosa begins with an illuminating story: A rich businessman, who is on vacation, passes a fisherman sitting on a flat seaside beach and fishing with an old fishing rod. The businessman finds the fisherman stupid or incomprehensible. He suggests that the fisherman should fish further out at sea. What for, asks the fisherman. Then you will catch more fish, the businessman replies. What for, asks the fisherman again. Then you will earn more and buy better equipment. What for? Then you can catch even more fish. What for? Then you can sell more and buy a boat. What for? Then you can make more money and buy a fleet of boats to do the fishing for you. What for? Well, replies the businessman. Then you can fish at your leisure. But I am already doing that, answers the fisherman.

Rosa rightly points out that the story appears a bit naïve and is not actually circular: “The fisherman has to fish because that is how he makes his living and has no alternative. The rich entrepreneur, on the other hand, can fish, although he can also do a thousand other things. The expansion of our horizon of possibility is thus an essential element of the promise of technology.” If, however, we see this reading of the story as signifying a difference between a world in which there is no leisure and no work and a world in which there is leisure and work, then we might look at the matter in a different way.

Shredded moments of leisure

Some Indian English writers have done so. These authors have noted or shown in their fiction how Indians tend to have, or have had, a different notion of leisure. I agree and disagree with some of these portrayals. Indians, or at least Indians on the fringes of capitalism, did not have a different notion of leisure. They simply did not have separate areas for work and leisure. They could walk a colleague into their drawing room for a chat and make him the ‘uncle’ of their kids, but also let their children run about in their working spaces. (This was not a solely Indian phenomenon, by the way.) To some extent, this is still the case in smaller places, but it is dying out.

But what happens to this space — the mythical fisherman’s space, where there is neither leisure nor work and there is both leisure and work — once we return to it after we have computers and iPhones that can enable us to take work home, as is widely prophesied and celebrated? Do we then return to something like the mythical fisherman’s world?

The answer is no. By bringing work home, you do not get more leisure. Actually, the work/leisure binary gets refracted into even smaller bits. So instead of five days of work and two days of leisure, or eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep and eight hours of (presumably) leisure, you have a crazy quilt of chopped-up work/leisure. Your time is divided into smaller bits of work/leisure, where work essentially takes over. This chopping up of time also seems to make time speed up, leaving you with less time. The mythical fisherman remains impossible. Leisure has become a hectic movement away from work, and one works desperately in order to have these shredded moments of leisure.

If one returns to the lost meaning of the Latin etymology, then, actually, we have moved further away from this significance of leisure. The interpretation of work and leisure not only leaves us running to make space for leisure by working more, it also makes it impossible to experience time and place in the sense in which that mythical fisherman did — because he had neither leisure nor work, and he had both at the same time. What he could do was concentrate on time, space and his activity which was neither work nor leisure. This gave him more time.

British austerity inflicting misery: U.N. poverty expert

Use of food banks almost doubled between 2013 and 2017.
The British government’s policies of austerity are directly linked to a rise in poverty in the United Kingdom, a United Nations expert said in a scathing report after a two-week fact-finding mission to the country’s poorest districts.

Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights, concluded that efforts by the Conservative government to pare state spending were “entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery in one of the richest countries in the world,” his team said in a statement about his preliminary findings. Since 2010, the Conservative government has announced more than £30 billion (nearly $40 billion) in cuts to welfare payments, housing subsidies and social services, and the British leadership is in “a state of denial” about the devastation its policies have wrought, he said.

Children affected

Although overall poverty levels have remained fairly constant under the Conservative government, most measures show that poverty has risen among children and working families.

The use of food banks almost doubled between 2013 and 2017. Families that receive benefits are now more than $2,600 worse off every year, according to an analysis by the Child Poverty Action Group, an advocacy group. The British government strongly criticised Mr. Alston’s report, citing a measure — contested by some poverty researchers — that suggests poverty has in fact fallen during its tenure.

“We completely disagree with this analysis,” the Department for Work and Pensions, which has overseen the welfare changes, said in an emailed statement. “With this government’s changes, household incomes have never been higher, income inequality has fallen, the number of children living in workless households is at a record low and there are now 1 million fewer people living in absolute poverty compared with 2010.”

The release of the report coincided with a crucial stage in negotiations for a British withdrawal from the EU, and Mr. Alston warned that Brexit “poses particular risks for people in poverty, but the government appears to be treating this as an afterthought.” The departure of Britain from the EU will almost certainly put pressure on the British economy and cause additional problems for the poor, especially for young people, because living costs would likely rise and money from Brussels would dry up, according to a joint assessment by seven leading children’s charities.

The rapporteur was particularly scathing of bungled efforts to streamline the way welfare payments are made to individual recipients after delays in a shift to a new system, known as Universal Credit, led thousands of people to fall into poverty.

“The introduction of Universal Credit and significant reductions in the amount of and eligibility for important forms of support have undermined the capacity of benefits to loosen the grip of poverty,” Mr. Alston’s statement said.

A dying disease, but leprosy colonies still face stigma, shortage of funds

Reduced govt. attention has made life difficult for 2 lakh people living there
When she was a young girl, Rinki Nargame dreamt of studying science and becoming a nurse. After all, she had had enough practice nursing her own father and grandparents, treating injuries and tying bandages, from childhood. That dream died in Class 8.

“All the other students would point to me as the girl from the Kusht Ashram [or leprosy colony]. No one wanted to eat with me or come near me because they were scared they would get the disease. It was just too much. I could not study. I dropped out,” she says.
Reduced govt. attention has made life difficult for 2 lakh people living there
When she was a young girl, Rinki Nargame dreamt of studying science and becoming a nurse. After all, she had had enough practice nursing her own father and grandparents, treating injuries and tying bandages, from childhood. That dream died in Class 8.

“All the other students would point to me as the girl from the Kusht Ashram [or leprosy colony]. No one wanted to eat with me or come near me because they were scared they would get the disease. It was just too much. I could not study. I dropped out,” she says.
Anjana Bai Ingle is 45 years old, but easily looks a decade older with deformed hands, feet and eyes, due to late diagnosis and treatment. She was abandoned by her own family, and now counts the community at the Sai Ram Avtar Kusht Seva Samiti at Babulpura, Indore as her family. “I need bandages for my hands and eyes, but the government clinic keeps running out of them, so I have to buy them. Where will I get money to buy them?” she asks.

Aadhaar ordeal
She is eligible for a monthly disability pension of ₹300, which is regularly deposited in her bank account. Since the arrival of Aadhaar, however, bank officials demand fingerprint verification to withdraw the pension amount. She holds up her clawed hand with its misshapen fingers. “Every time they reject me, I feel angry. I feel sad,” she says.

Sarang Gaidhane, who comes from the same colony and also heads the state branch of the Association of Persons Affected by Leprosy, explains that the government has provided alternate methods of verification for disabled people, but that policy has not yet drifted down to ground-level officials. “Every month, for pension and ration, so many of our people have to struggle,” he says.

It is this kind of discrimination that keeps the colonies functional, even as actual leprosy patients in them grow fewer in number. Young people inter-marry within the colonies, treating it as a part of their identity. When S-ILF provided funds to start a ready-made garment production unit in her colony, it provided an escape route for Ms. Nargame and five of her neighbours. “Earlier, I used to work in a bottle factory, but other workers would not even eat with us. Here, it is safer,” she says.

Still, she recognises that the future lies in the outside world. “My grandparents were thrown out of their families and came here when the colony was settled. Their only option was begging,” she says. “My father was diagnosed early, so he has less deformity and works as an electrician, with some begging on the side. Now, I am able to run this business. For my daughter, my dream is that she will be able to study as much as she wants without facing any of the taunting that I heard.”

(This reporter travelled to Indore with the support of the Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation.)

NCCS: Mass bathing during Kumbh Mela alters bacterial load, diversity

Skin and faecal microbiota increased 2.3-fold and 2.9-fold respectively during the event
Bacterial populations in the river undergo huge loss in diversity but a steep increase in bacterial load when millions of people bathe at designated bathing sites during Kumbh Mela, a team of researchers has found. The loss in microbial diversity was nearly 37.5% while the increase in bacterial load was about 130-fold during the event.

The team led by Dr. Avinash Sharma from the National Centre for Cell Science, Pune, found that bacteria belonging to certain phyla reduced significantly while the prevalence of bacteria belonging to phylum Firmicutes (known to be also associated with human skin, stools and many infectious pathogens) was nearly 95%. The study was carried out in 2015 at five bathing sites in the Godavari River in Nashik and the results were published in the journal Microbial Ecology. Samples were collected prior to and during the Mela allowing the scientists to compare the spatiotemporal changes to water quality and bacterial communities.

Infectious diseases

Besides changes in bacterial diversity and load, the study found an increase in infectious diseases and drug-resistant microbes in the river water samples collected during the Mela. There were elevated levels of genes related to Helicobacter pylori, Salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus. Elevated levels of drug-resistant genes include antifolate resistance, beta-lactam resistance and vancomycin resistance, to name a few.

The water samples collected during the Kumbh Mela had much higher total dissolved solids and total suspended solids. The biological and chemical oxygen demand increased due to higher release of organic particles during the Mela compared with before the Mela. As a result, there was “substantial reduction” in the concentration of dissolved oxygen. “The substantial decrease in dissolved oxygen while the COD and BOD increased could be due to increased bacterial load in the water,” says Dr. Sharma.

While richness of bacterial species was higher upstream, at the bathing sites, the diversity dropped, and the bacterial community was dominated by few phyla. In all, 25 bacterial phyla were recorded and seven phyla (including Firmicutes) contributed to about 99% of the total bacterial diversity before the event. During the event, the diversity dropped by 37.5% and the diversity was restricted to just three phyla. The Fermicutes were the most abundant with over 90% at all the five bathing sites.

Bacterial load

Though the diversity reduced, the bacterial load increased 130-fold in samples collected during the event. Skin and faecal microbiota increased 2.3-fold and 2.9-fold respectively during the gathering. “By comparing the water samples collected before and during the event, we found a huge increase in infectious disease and antimicrobial-resistant genes during the Mela. These genes could pose a serious threat to public health,” he says.

Compared with skin microbiota, the faecal microbiota is predominant at one sampling site. “This site is located upstream and is a remote location and not a major bathing site. Because of this, open defecation might be more prevalent. This is my guess. We are yet to do any scientific study to ascertain the cause,” Dr. Sharma says.

New bacterium

During the same study, the researchers discovered a new bacterium, which they named Corynebacterium godavarianum, that showed resistance to antibiotics like amoxycillin, augmentin, cefpodoxime and clindamycin. The discovery was published in the journal International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.

Awareness needed

“Our study highlights the need to create awareness among pilgrims to avoid open defecation and maintain personal hygiene to reduce the amount of microbes that get introduced into the river. A closed system for bathing prior to taking a dip in the river should be put in place to reduce contamination of human-associated skin bacteria,” says Kunal Jani from NCCS and first author of the paper.

Besides taking a dip in the river, pilgrims also drink the holy water. “Drinking this water containing infectious disease genes and antimicrobial-resistant genes could pose serious health issues. It might be preferable to drink the holy water much upstream where fewer people bathe,” he suggests.

Why is Facebook caught in a crisis?

What are the problems?

Facebook has faced a set of festering and interconnected problems, many of which have come to a boil over the last two years, starting around the time of the U.S. presidential election. These were described in a New York Times investigation, the results of which were published about 10 days ago. The crises stem from several sources, most notably Russian operatives interested in influencing the outcome of the 2016 election through information warfare, controversies over Facebook’s internal response to the Russian campaign and the consequent tensions between Facebook’s cybersecurity chief Alex Stamos and others, especially its CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.

How did the company respond?

Facebook’s response was problematic externally, too. At Congressional hearings and elsewhere in Washington, Facebook was criticised for using its political connections to skirt responsibility for its slow and inadequate response to the Russian threat and to deflect blame on to other technology companies. Other problems included Facebook’s response to the (then) candidate Donald Trump’s Facebook post about a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., which was shared over 15,000 times. Ms. Sandberg and Mr. Zuckerberg delegated the handling of this, and ultimately a decision to avoid conservative backlash was part of what went into leaving the post online. The New York Times reported that in October 2017, Facebook had increased its engagement with Definers Public Affairs, a Washington-based PR firm, and adopted a strategy to push positive content about itself and negative content about its competitors. Eventually, Definers looked into the financing activities of billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who is also frequently the target of anti-Semitic and right-wing groups. Definers circulated a paper this summer, pointing the finger at Mr. Soros as the backer of the anti-Facebook lobby. But by then matters had gotten worse. In March this year, an investigation by The Observer and The New York Times revealed that information from tens of millions of accounts was used by Cambridge Analytica (or researchers it partnered with), a company that worked with the Trump campaign, without explicit user consent. Facebook faced fines, lawsuits and questioning by lawmakers in Washington, London and Brussels.

Who is to blame?

Since there were several problems or crises, there is no one cause. However, if each of these issues is looked at as a symptom, a corporate culture of “delay, deny, deflect,” as The New York Times headlined it, could be to blame. For instance, more than a year passed from when Mr. Stamos, Facebook’s security head, discovered suspicious Russian activity to when the Facebook Board heard about it. Yet Ms. Sandberg’s focus after the Board met was, reportedly, that Mr. Stamos had told the Board that the problem was not contained. “You threw us under the bus!” Ms. Sandberg is reported to have told Mr. Stamos.

How does it affect users?

Facebook can count just under a third of humanity or 2.3 billion people among its users. Its success is predicated on monetising data that users, knowingly or unwittingly, share with the platform. Issues that impact the security of that data impact the privacy of a large chunk of humanity. If the platform is misused for disinformation campaigns, it can impact the democratic process in countries, and if harnessed to target specific individuals, it can quickly make them vulnerable to abuse and attacks, given the speed with which information spreads and how effectively opinions are reinforced in echo chambers.

What lies in store?

It is unclear what lies ahead. Facebook’s business model is centred on charging advertisers for the ability to target ads at specific groups of its users. Facebook is likely to change behaviour as a response to greater regulation (and Mr. Zuckerberg has said he is open to it) or users leaving the platform or sharing less data on it. However, in either case, given the size of the firm and the giddying success it has experienced, there will probably be considerable inertia and quick changes are unlikely to follow.

What is tiger relocation all about?

What is it?
At a time when the killing of tigress Avni in Maharashtra has triggered massive outrage, the death of a tiger in Odisha has sparked fears among forest officials and experts over the fate of the first interState translocation of tigers in the country. On November 15, the death of a male tiger was reported from the Satkosia Tiger Reserve. Forest Department officials ruled out poaching and the post-mortem report said a wound infested with maggots on the left side of its neck led to septicaemia, causing death. However, the fact that a young tiger died within five months of being translocated from Madhya Pradesh has raised more questions than answers.

How did it come about?
With decades of efforts at conservation bearing fruit, India has 70% of the tiger population in the world. The count increased from 1,411 during 2006 to 1,706 during 2010 and 2,226 during 2014, according to census figures. Experts and tiger biologists say many tiger reserves in the country are dealing with the problem of plenty. Tigers are territorial animals, and there are reports of the wild cat straying from the reserves, a few travelling hundreds of kilometres in search of food. In the past, tigers have been relocated within the reserves of a State. The translocation of tigers from the reserve of Madhya Pradesh to Satsokia was, however, far more ambitious. The project involved the Forest Departments of both States and needed the approval of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and scientists of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).

Why does it matter?
The translocation ran into trouble within weeks of the animals being brought to Odisha. As part of the exercise, first the male tiger was brought to Satkosia from the Kanha Tiger Reserve, and within 10 days, a female tiger was brought from the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. Within days of the tigers being brought to Satkosia, villagers living on the fringes of the reserve started protesting. They burnt property of the Forest Department and attacked officials. More trouble broke out in September with the death of a woman, allegedly mauled by the tigress, though the post mortem did not establish it. In October, another person was killed, and the tigress was held responsible. In the first week of November, the tigress was tranquillised and shifted to an enclosure at Raigoda, where it was first kept after being brought from Madhya Pradesh.

The tranquillisation of the tigress, and the death of the male tiger, will set back the translocation exercise. Experts blame the Forest Department for not sensitising the people in advance before the tigers were brought to the reserve. Questions have also been raised about the monitoring of these translocated tigers after they were released in the wild.

What lies ahead?
Though the developments have raised questions over the fate of the ambitious project, the translocation of tigers from Madhya Pradesh to Odisha has not been shelved. NTCA officials who are taking stock of the situation at the Satkosia Tiger Reserve have said they are not rushing through any decision.

What is still an advantage for the project is the good prey base and forest cover at the Satkosia Tiger Reserve. The plan was to introduce three pairs of tigers at Satkosia from the tiger reserves of Madhya Pradesh gradually. The fate of the first inter-State relocation of tigers will have a bearing on future inter-State restocking and tiger augmentation projects in other parts of the country.

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