The Hindu Important Articles 07 December 2018

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The Hindu Important Articles 07 December 2018

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Cabinet clears policy to double agri exports

In line with PM’s vision to double farmers’ income: Minister
The Union Cabinet on Thursday approved the Agriculture Export Policy, aimed at increasing India’s exports to $60 billion by 2022 from the current $37 billion, Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu announced.

“We have managed to increase agriculture exports to $37 billion from $30 billion in just one year,” Mr. Prabhu said at a press conference. “With this policy, we aim to increase that to $60 billion by 2022. This is in line with the Prime Minister’s vision of doubling farmers’ income.”

The objectives of the policy are, apart from doubling farmers’ income, to diversify the export basket and destinations, and to boost high- value and value-added exports, with a focus on perishables.

The policy also aims to promote the export of “novel, indigenous, organic, ethnic, traditional and non-traditional” agricultural products, according to a release. The objective also is to provide an institutional mechanism for market access, tackling barriers, and dealing with sanitary and phytosanitary issues.

In order to do this, the Centre will work with th

Tourist bring a ware of trash to beaches
Tourist bring a ware of trash to beaches
e State governments to create State clusters that can focus on particular crops, promote value-added exports, market “Brand India”, attract private investments in production and processing, establish a strong quality regimen, and improve research and development.

Separately, the Cabinet also gave its ‘in-principle’ approval for the strategic sale of the government’s existing 52.63% total paid up equity shareholding in Rural Electrification Corporation to the Power Finance Corporation, along with the transfer of management control.

“In my Budget speech, I had said that where multiple PSUs are operating in the same sector or area, the government was move to consolidate them,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said at the press conference.

Tourists bring a wave of trash to beaches

Bulk of plastic litter is from tourism and fishing, and Gopalpur is the worst hit: study
In addition to air and water pollution, India can now add one more category to its pollution worries: beach pollution. And here, tourism and fishing are the biggest culprits, contributing most of the plastic litter on beaches, according to a study by the National Centre of Coastal Research (NCCR).

The NCCR conducted a qualitative analysis of the litter on six different beaches on the eastern and western coasts. It found that plastic litter from tourism alone accounted for 40%-96% of all beach litter.

At Chennai’s Elliot’s Beach, for instance, plastics left by tourists accounted for 40% of all the litter, while at Gopalpur in Odisha, it was as high as 96%. As for the other four beaches, plastics formed 66% of the overall litter on Fort Kochi Beach, 60% at Karnataka’s Karwar beach, 87% at Visakhapatnam’s R.K. Beach, and 81% at Andaman Island’s Rangachang beach.

After tourism, fishing was the next biggest source of litter. While fishing nets were a major contributor, the processing of fish on the beach also produced a lot of litter.
At Fort Kochi, fishing litter accounted for 22% of the total, followed by Elliot’s Beach at 15%, and Karwar beach at 10%.

Also, the proportion of biomedical litter was high in urban areas, such as Elliot’s Beach and Fort Kochi Beach.

The study looked at tonnes of litter across these six beaches on September 15, 2018, the International Coastal Cleanup Day.

Speaking to The Hindu, M.V. Ramana Murthy, Director, NCCR, said India needed a national marine litter policy to control and manage waste on land and prevent its entry into the marine environment.

Other than the plastic litter dropped by tourists, similar waste from creeks and inlets made its way into the sea in the monsoon, he said.

Pravakar Mishra, an NCCR scientist who worked on the study, said that most of the litter consisted of plastic bottles, cutlery, and thermocol. Experts suggest installation of debris booms and fin deflectors upstream as measures to reduce the quantity of floating solid waste entering coastal waters.

Mr. Murthy and Mr. Mishra said that India needed to start blue-flagging its beaches. The ‘blue flag’ is a globally recognised eco-label awarded to beaches and marinas that adhere to strict environmental and safety norms.

State to get Rs. 3,048-cr flood relief from Centre

Kerala had sought Rs. 4,700 crore
A High Level Committee, headed by Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Thursday approved the additional assistance of Rs. 3048.39 crore to Kerala, Rs. 131.16 crore to Nagaland and Rs. 539.52 crore to Andhra Pradesh, a Home Ministry spokesperson said.

The Kerala government had sought Rs. 4,700 crore as compensation from the Central government for the damage caused by the floods, which was termed as the worst in a century.

At least 488 people died in Kerala due to the rains and floods this monsoon, which hit 14 districts of the State.

The meeting of the Committee was held to consider the additional Central assistance to Kerala, Nagaland and Andhra Pradesh, which were affected by floods, landslips and Cyclone Titli, respectively.

CMO confirmation

The Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) also confirmed that the additional assistance had been sanctioned for the State.

The relief of Rs. 3,048.39 crore has been sanctioned at a time when the State has estimated the cost of rebuilding at Rs. 30,000 crore.

The Central government decision to deny the assistance offered by the UAE too had come in for criticism. It’s crowd-funding efforts too had failed to elicit a positive response.

The best efforts of the State to mop up funds from various nations failed to take off for want of clearance from the Centre and the contributions to the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund amounting to about Rs. 2,000 crore was reported to be too inadequate to meet the needs.

State memorandum

In case of any natural calamity beyond the coping capacity of a State, the State government submits a detailed memorandum indicating sector-wise details of damage, and the requirement of funds for relief operations of an immediate nature, another official said.

According to existing guidelines, the Central government sends an Inter-Ministerial Central Team (IMCT) for an on-the-spot assessment of damage and additional requirement of funds.

IMCT report

The IMCT report is considered by the subcommittee of the National Executive Committee (SC-NEC) headed by the Union Home Secretary in conformity with the norms, and then by a high-level committee, chaired by the Home Minister for approving the quantum of additional assistance from the National Disaster Response Fund.

Manifesto of tribal rights issued

Charter of demands presented to all parties in Rajasthan for action by next govt.
Tribal groups in Rajasthan have demanded that the next elected government in the State reveal the status of each of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with reference to tribal communities and declare their status targets.

The activists said that no political party had depicted its commitment to work for sustainable development of tribal people.

A manifesto for rights of the tribal population, residing mainly in southern Rajasthan, has demanded that they be recognised as “custodians of ecosystem, nature and traditions” and paid an honorarium for their contribution to preservation of natural resources. Their environment-friendly practices were also highlighted in the charter of demands.

The document was released by the Tribal Development Forum, Vaagdhara, and other institutions working for tribal rights and food security here last week.

Vaagdhara secretary Jayesh Joshi said on Thursday that the manifesto was handed over to the ruling BJP and all Opposition parties for its inclusion in their agenda for the Assembly election.

Sustainable farming

Mr. Joshi said though 70% population in the tribal area depended on agriculture, which was primarily rain-fed, most of the government’s investment towards agriculture was dedicated to the irrigated crop area.

“A sustainable integrated farming system needs to be developed for benefiting small and marginal tribal farmers. Besides, agricultural subsidies should be broadened to promote traditional farming,” he said.

A monitoring mechanism should be dedicated to the SDG index in the tribal village panchayats, blocks and districts, said Mr. Joshi.

Besides, the next government should take serious steps for stopping the migration cycle triggered by lack of education and skills and large family size, which contributed to tribal people’s poverty, forcing them to leave forests and villages.

Rajasthan’s tribal population mainly resides in Udaipur, Sirohi, Dungarpur, Banswara and Pratapgarh districts.

‘Air pollution cause of 1 in 8 deaths’

Study says 26% of global premature death and disease burden by air pollution occurs in India
India, with 18% of the world’s population, has a disproportionately high 26% of the global premature deaths and disease burden due to air pollution. Moreover, one in eight deaths in India was attributable to air pollution in India in 2017, making it a leading risk factor for death.

This is according to the first comprehensive estimates of reduction in life expectancy associated with air pollution in each State, published by the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative, a venture of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, along with experts and stakeholders associated with over 100 Indian institutions.

These research findings published in The Lancet Planetary Health were released on Thursday at the ICMR.

Key findings

The key findings from the paper include the fact that 12.4 lakh deaths in India in 2017 were due to air pollution, which included 6.7 lakh deaths due to outdoor particulate matter air pollution and 4.8 lakh deaths due to household air pollution.

Over half of the deaths due to air pollution were in persons less than 70 years of age. In 2017, 77% population of India was exposed to ambient particulate matter PM2.5 above the recommended limit by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The report states that the highest PM2.5 exposure level was in Delhi, followed by the other north Indian States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana.

“There is increasing evidence globally and from India about the association of air pollution with premature death and disease burden. The findings in this paper are based on all available data on air pollution that were analysed using the standardised methods of the Global Burden of Disease Study. This comprehensive effort over several years has for the first time produced what we believe are robust estimates of the health impact of outdoor and household air pollution in every State of India,” said the first author of the study, Prof. Balakrishnan, director, Department of Environmental Health Engineering, Ramachandra Institute of Higher Education and Research, Chennai.

Further, the study states that the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), attributable to air pollution in India in 2017 for major non-communicable diseases were at least as high as those attributable to tobacco use.

Life expectancy

“The average life expectancy in India would have been 1.7 years higher if the air pollution level were less than the minimal level causing health loss, with the highest increases in the northern States of Rajasthan (2.5 years), Uttar Pradesh (2.2 years) and Haryana (2.1 years),” the study says, recommending that variations between the States in the exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution should be taken into account while planning policies to reduce this exposure and its health impact.

“The massive adverse impact of air pollution on health is being increasingly better recognised,” Prof. Randeep Guleria, Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), in a release said, “What is now also becoming understood is that air pollution is a year-round phenomenon, particularly in north India, which causes health impacts far beyond respiratory illnesses.”

China sounds optimistic on U.S. trade deal

China said on Thursday that it would “immediately” implement measures agreed under a trade truce with the U.S., and was confident that it could reach a deal within 90 days.

The Commerce Ministry’s remarks came days after U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed to give negotiators 90 days to resolve their trade spat.

Bilateral consensus

“China will immediately implement the consensus both sides already reached on agricultural products, energy, autos and other specific items,” said Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng.

The two sides will also discuss intellectual property protection, market access and balanced trade, and “work hard to reach a consensus”, said Mr. Gao.

Still on the last chance saloon

The Katowice climate meet must ensure that today’s children don’t inherit a planet heading to a catastrophe
The world is in deep trouble. Average global temperatures have crossed a degree Celsius above preindustrial levels and such concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (410 ppm) has never been seen by humans before. The 24th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Katowice, Poland (December 3-14) is meant to take forward steps to address this threat of climate change.

Not so straightforward

The purpose of the meeting is to set guidelines, or agree on a rulebook, to implement pledges that were made by various countries at the Paris Climate Conference in 2015. In the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), planned ahead of the Paris COP-21, each country described the actions it would take and the levels to which greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would be reduced (mitigation). Many of them also described what they would do to improve their capacity to live in a warmer world (adaptation), and the extent to which these goals required support in the form of finance or technology transfer. Given that the Paris Agreement (PA) was ratified rapidly and went into force within a year (in November 2016), one would think agreeing on how to implement something that everyone wanted would be straightforward. Not so fast, say a few countries.

At Paris, the global community agreed to try to limit warming to 1.5° C above preindustrial levels since the effects can be dire beyond that. For instance, small island nations already face devastating effects with the rise of mean sea levels due to climate change.

The current conference at Katowice comes soon after a special publication by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the 1.5 Degree Report, according to which what we need are far-reaching, speedy transformative changes in our societies in order to stay below 1.5° C. Calling for an immediate and drastic drop in GHG emissions through technology and lifestyles and a focus on mitigation and adaptation, the report was an “all hands on deck” alarm.

Stumbling on the rules

When all nations agree on how to gather, count and report on their emissions and the process is standardised, the implementation of the PA becomes more grounded. There was reportedly some progress on these processes at the intermediate meeting held in preparation for the Katowice COP. But there also has to be a general agreement on how to estimate adaptation. This is more complicated and varied and is still being developed.

There has been little, if any, progress on finance, technology transfer and capacity development. Article 9 of the PA calls for financial support from developed countries that is significantly derived from public funds, which “should represent a progression beyond previous efforts”. This was expected to result in at least $100 billion per year to address needs and priorities of developing countries for mitigation and adaptation.

Article 9.5 requires developed countries to communicate their levels of support, including pledges of additional finance. Even a rough estimate of financial needs for implementing all the NDCs puts it at $4.4 trillion, according to a 2016 briefing paper from Germanwatch. The Climate Funds Update of 2018 notes that multilateral funds pledged until 2017 are less than $30 billion, of which around $20 billion has been deposited and about $4 billion disbursed. Even according to the recent Summary Report of the Standing Committee on Finance under the UNFCCC, the total finance flows were around $38 billion in 2016, and much of this has been through multilateral funds. Global finance flows are estimated to be close to $700 billion, but this includes renewable energy investment and other cross-border flows. The 2018 Oxfam Climate Finance Shadow report estimates that net new finance amounts to only $16-21 billion.

There have also been charges of double counting and counting of development aid levelled against developed countries. According to a recent discussion paper from the Ministry of Finance, Government of India, what is required is credible, accurate and verifiable numbers on the climate flows expected from developed countries. Such reliable flow will encourage and persuade all countries that commitments made will be fulfilled. The inability to have any agreement between developing and rich countries ensures that the fights on finance and technology will intensify in Poland, especially in the second week. These are very likely to impede progress on the rulebook.

The ethical foundations of the climate change fights on the global stage are based largely on the occupation of atmospheric carbon space by rich countries, leaving little room for growth by the latecomers, which are poor nations. Countries with average income exceeding $15,000 typically have the capacity and finance and technology to reduce their emissions dramatically. They must also alter their lifestyles considerably, which is required for the transformational change that the 1.5 Degree Report calls for.

Trying to change what was agreed at Paris, as has been insisted upon by the U.S., for instance, is tantamount to renegotiating the PA, according to emerging economies and poor countries.

As extreme events are on the rise, the separate stream referred to as “loss and damage” needs attention. This is a provision for support to poor countries experiencing economic and non-economic losses and destruction from climate change events. There has not been much progress on this issue by the task force set up to advance it. This is an important topic to be discussed at Katowice.

Timelines and taking stock

The implementation of the activities for the PA formally begins in 2020 and concludes in 2030. We are currently in the Doha Amendment period, or the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol, which has not been ratified. In a couple of years after the start of the PA implementation, we will have a stocktaking — reviewing progress and deciding on more stringent targets for the future. This renewed commitment towards the future means that countries have to trust each other, which would mean that fulfilling obligations is a foundation of future ambition and action.

While the U.S. and its current policies are much to blame for the situation, other developed countries are not doing that much better. Australia and France have had political turmoil due to their climate policies even while experiencing severe weather events. Protests on fuel charge hikes have rocked France. Europe is still heavily reliant on coal and European Union emissions were stable in 2014-2016. The U.K. has been relying on fuel from fracking and many have remarked that the advances in California under the leadership of Governor Jerry Brown are superficial and do not address fundamental issues.

Today’s children are inheriting from their parents and grandparents an earth that is out of control and heading to be 3-4º C warmer by the end of the century. Perpetual growth is not viable for any species. Business-as-usual policies with high consumption by the rich are driving the destruction of ecosystems and the mass extinction of species. The “sixth extinction”, massive destruction of species on earth, as it has been named by Paul Ehrlich, Elizabeth Kolbert and others, is ongoing and where this will take us is beyond the scope of our imagination.

Is social media polarising society?

Today we find ourselves to be more rigid versions of our former selves
Think about it: 1.49 billion people on average log onto Facebook daily; every second, on average, around 6,000 tweets are tweeted on Twitter; and since its inception, over 40 billion photographs have been posted on Instagram. We live in a world where we aren’t only consumers of information but creators as well, which gives us a misplaced sense of control. It is misplaced because we live today on social media in filter bubbles and echo chambers, and our experiences are dictated by algorithms. As we approach the end of the second decade of this century, social media and the Internet have drifted from their promise of closing distances and exposing us to the views of those who existed beyond our personal networks. Instead, we find ourselves to be more rigid versions of our former selves.

Living in echo chambers

In the 1950s, a series of psychological experiments called the Asch Conformity Experiments was carried out by the social psychologist Solomon Asch, to determine the extent to which a person’s opinion is influenced by a group. Asch found through a series of trials that an individual was willing to go to the extent of giving a wrong answer just to conform to the majority view. The respondents gave wrong answers either because they did not want to be ridiculed or thought of as “peculiar”, or because they believed that the group was better informed than them. Although means of communication and engagement have evolved since the 1950s, the human instinct to fit in hasn’t changed. To some extent this also explains the impact of fake news online, which is said to contribute to a polarised society.

Fake news is an industry today and finds great resonance with people. Its rise corresponds with a growing distrust in the mainstream media. Fake news has now even slipped into traditional media outlets and is often circulated by prominent individuals. This has contributed to the echo chamber phenomenon. People seek “informed” opinions through filters only from people they trust and look for news that confirms their world view. This results in people cultivating rigid opinions of issues that they would have probably been more willing to discuss in the past.

Social media sites are more than willing to play abettors. Twitter, for example, will routinely prompt you to follow people who hold a viewpoint that is similar to yours. Social media creates and services needs, which could be the narcissistic impulses encouraged by Instagram or the strengthening of deep-rooted biases on Twitter and Facebook.

Not open to diverse opinions

A study carried out by Aalto University, Finland, this year on increasing polarisation on social media found that factors like user homophily (users in a social system tend to bond more with ones who are similar to them than to ones who are dissimilar) and algorithmic filtering have created this cycle of enforcing and reinforcing belief systems and ensuring that we don’t open our minds to diverse opinions. The study suggests that algorithms must be created to identify trigger topics and find diverse opinions that might otherwise be kept out.

While the democratisation of discourse that social media has brought about is undeniable and most welcome, we are getting trapped in narrower world views that are seeping into not only voter behaviour but everyday personal interactions. This is something we must be alarmed about. Log in or log out, the world is a far more opinionated place today but it need not be a rigid one.

A relationship under stress

Post-Khashoggi, how long can Saudi Arabia retain leverage over the U.S.?
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has reportedly concluded that Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, personally ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. The murder of the Saudi dissident journalist at the Kingdom’s Istanbul consulate on October 2 has already triggered a global outrage against MBS, as the Crown Prince is known. But U.S. President Donald Trump seems unfazed by both the findings of his spy agency as well as the mounting global outcry. He called the CIA assessment “very premature”, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S.’s “historic commitment” to Saudi Arabia is “absolutely vital to America’s security” and its “interests in the Middle East”.

Thinking like realists

This is a popular argument in Washington. Realists would say the relationship with Saudi Arabia is so vital for American national interests that the U.S. should overlook certain aspects of Saudi behaviour. The Trump administration repeats this argument to justify its lack of action against Riyadh in the wake of the murder of Khashoggi. But does Saudi Arabia actually have such leverage over America?

The Saudi-U.S. partnership can be dated back to the 1945 meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Saudi King Abdulaziz ibn Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia and father of current monarch Salman bin Abdulaziz. In the meeting, held on board the USS Quincy in the Suez Canal, both leaders came to a two-way agreement: the U.S. would support and provide military training for Saudi Arabia, while the Kingdom would provide oil and political backing in return. This alliance made sense for both countries during the Cold War. The Saudis were anxious about communist expansion into the Arab/Muslim world. Half of Yemen fell into the hands of Marxists in 1967, and in 1978 communists took power in Afghanistan. And the U.S. wanted uninterrupted flow of oil for its own economic expansion and the post-war reconstruction of Europe. It also wanted a political ally in West Asia.

But the conditions that laid the foundation of this partnership have changed. The Soviet Union fell apart almost three decades ago. America’s dependency on Saudi Arabia for oil has also decreased over the years. True, Saudi Arabia remains a major supplier of oil to the U.S. But it doesn’t have the leverage over the American economy as it had in 1973 when Arab countries imposed an embargo on mostly Western nations in protest against their support for Israel during the Yom Kippur War with Egypt. The U.S. is now one of the top three crude producers, along with Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Other arguments in favour of stronger partnership cite the massive Saudi investments in the U.S., both treasury securities and private businesses. But Saudi Arabia acts in its interest, not with the goal of helping the U.S. economy. If it sells its U.S. assets, that would also hurt the Saudi economy badly. After all, from economic diversification at home to security guarantees, Saudi Arabia needs the U.S. more than the other way around, which offers Washington room for strategic manoeuvre.

While the strategic potential of the partnership has been shrinking, the U.S. has come under greater scrutiny, especially in the post-9/11 world, for its support for Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabi kingdom that stands opposed to everything the U.S. preaches on global stages — from democracy and respecting human rights to religious freedom and independent media. It was this broad context that allowed former U.S. President Barack Obama to take a different approach towards Saudi Arabia. He retained the fundamental elements of the partnership, including trade and economic ties, arms sales and security guarantees, while refusing to act in Syria on the Saudis’ behalf and moving further ahead to strike a nuclear deal with Iran. He even asked the Saudis and the Iranians to share West Asia and institute a “Cold Peace” in the region.

Back to square one

But President Trump has reversed this approach and rebuilt the administration’s West Asia policy, making Saudi Arabia its centrepiece. The twin objectives of the Trump policy are to ensure Israel’s security and roll back Iranian influence. It’s this tilt that is now stopping him from moving against the Saudis. The administration has already declared what its Iran policy is. It has already pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. And the Americans need Saudi support in their effort to isolate and weaken Iran, something Israel too has been demanding for years. But this is not a larger national security argument, nor is it a realistic one. When the fundamentals of a partnership get weakened and the region undergoes major changes, how long can the U.S. allow its Iran obsession to dictate its policies towards West Asia?

From the realpolitik point, even if the U.S. wants to limit Iranian influence, Saudi Arabia under MBS is not helping the cause. It lost the Syria war. Its intervention in Yemen drove the Houthis further into Iran’s embrace. The Qatar blockade has divided the Arab world (Qatar has now quit OPEC as well). The detention of the Lebanese Prime Minister last year has played Lebanese politics into the hands of Hezbollah, the Iran ally.

Mr. Trump, wary of not disrupting his West Asia policy, may stay the course on Saudi Arabia for now. But the growing criticisms of the partnership on Capitol Hill can’t be ignored. The Senate has already voted with a huge majority to move forward legislation to end the U.S. involvement in the Yemen war. Republican Senator Bob Corker accused the White House of “moonlighting as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince”. Rand Paul, another Republican Senator, says it’s time for America to stand up and tell Saudi Arabia, “enough”. These are not isolated moral outbursts; they suggest changing undercurrents. There is a growing realisation in Washington that the Saudi pillar of its West Asia policy is getting weak. Mr. Trump, driven by his own notional obsessions, might overlook it. But future American Presidents can’t. They may have to start from where Mr. Obama stopped.

Quick retreat

The French government rolls back a planned fuel tax hike, but the protests are widening
French President Emmanuel Macron’s reforms programme could be at risk of losing steam in the wake of weeks of violent countrywide protests triggered by a proposed increase in the fuel tax. Paradoxically, as head of the centrist La République En Marche party, he had swept to power on a pledge of modernising the economy and restoring popular trust in politicians. Public anger against the fuel tax has escalated into a broad-based opposition to the government’s overall policies. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe initially said the duty hike would be deferred for six months. But on Wednesday the government cancelled the tax proposal altogether, arguing that a levy that was meant to induce motorists to go green was not worth the price if it undermined social cohesion. Mr. Philippe has also suggested that the introduction of additional safety checks on cars due to take effect next year could be delayed. The U-turn on measures to reduce CO2 emissions suggested that the government was on the back foot. The government has also said that it was open to reinstating the wealth tax, which was revised last year to narrow its scope. The measure was intended to improve the investment climate and boost growth and employment. But the accompanying flat tax rate on capital gains and dividends, besides limits on trade unions to negotiate wages, only served to reinforce Mr. Macron’s image as a President of the rich.

The yellow-vest protests have shone the light on France’s tax system, its rates said to be the highest in the European Union, and buttressed the demand for improvements in the standard of living. The government is committed to increasing the minimum wage from next year but could now face pressure for further concessions on social welfare. Conversely, Paris would also be constrained to demonstrate compliance with EU rules that set an annual fiscal deficit target of below 3% of GDP on member-states. Adherence to common norms would especially be on Brussels’s radar after the recent stand-off involving the Italian government. A concern linked to the withdrawal of the tax increase is the rise in France’s carbon emissions. The mass protests have, unwittingly, pitted the majority who would have been hit by the higher levy against the imperative to meet the Paris climate agreement targets. Mr. Macron, who has fashioned himself as a champion of the green cause, can realise the mission to combat global warming only by rallying his people. His ability to regain lost ground will determine the prospects of warding off the populist threat in the 2019 European Parliament elections. His handling of the challenges at home will crucially define his ambitions on the EU stage.

Shielding witnesses

A robust witness protection scheme will strengthen the criminal justice system
The witness protection programme is at last in place. Pending legislation by Parliament, the Supreme Court has asked States to implement a scheme framed by the Centre to protect witnesses in criminal trials from threat, intimidation and undue influence. Given the abysmal rate of convictions in the country, it is inexcusable that it took so long. The need to protect witnesses has been emphasised by Law Commission reports and court judgments for years. Witnesses turning hostile is a major reason for most acquittals. In the current system, there is little incentive for witnesses to turn up in court and testify against criminals. Besides threats to their lives, they experience hostility and harassment while attending courts. The tardy judicial process seldom takes into account the distance they have travelled or the time they have lost in attending court, only to be told they have to return another day. As Justice A.K. Sikri points out, the condition of witnesses in the Indian legal system is “pathetic”, as it takes them for granted. It is gratifying that the court has played a proactive role in getting the Centre and the States to come up with a concrete proposal. The Centre deserves credit for coming forward to suggest that its draft witness protection scheme be introduced by judicial mandate instead of waiting for formal legislation.

In its minutiae the scheme appears workable, but its efficacy will be confirmed only with the passage of time. It broadly classifies witnesses in need of protection into three types based on the threat assessment. A witness protection order will be passed by a competent authority. The scheme is to be funded by budgetary support from State governments and donations. This is at variance with the Law Commission’s recommendation in 2006 that the Centre and the States share the cost equally. Basic features such as in camera trial, proximate physical protection and anonymising of testimony and references to witnesses in the records are not difficult to implement. The real test will be the advanced forms of identity protection: giving witnesses a new identity, address and even ‘parentage’, with matching documents. All this needs to be done without undermining their professional and property rights and educational qualifications. The introduction of the scheme marks a leap forward. Until now, there have been ad hoc steps such as those outlined for concealing the identity of witnesses in anti-terrorism and child-centric laws. A few dedicated courtrooms for vulnerable witnesses, mostly child victims, are also functional. However, expanding such facilities and implementing a comprehensive and credible witness protection programme will pose logistical and financial challenges. It will be well worth the effort, as the scheme could help strengthen India’s tottering criminal justice system.

Voices of dissent

With senior leaders quitting the Akali Dal and the AAP in disarray, the Congress is the biggest political beneficiary in Punjab
While both Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, senior leaders of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), cited deteriorating health as the reason for their resignation from the party, the developments indicate an internal crisis in the SAD. There are murmurs that these resignations are in fact protests against the autocratic leadership style of former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s son and president of the party, Sukhbir Singh Badal (in photo).

Problems for the Badals began with the fallout of the tabling of the report of the Justice Ranjit Singh Commission, set up to investigate the sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib in October 2015, as well as the killing of two people during a firing against peaceful protesters in Behbal Kalan. Added to this was unhappiness over the fact that former Akal Takht jathedar Gurbachan Singh granted pardon in 2015 to the controversial chief of Dera Sacha Sauda, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, against whom the Sikh clergy had passed an edict for his allegedly blasphemous act of imitating Guru Gobind Singh in 2007. Singh was later sentenced to jail in connection with allegations of rape.

Resentment against the domination of Sukhbir Singh Badal and Bikramjit Majithia, president of the youth wing of SAD, has been growing with senior leaders feeling sidelined in the party. Mr. Parkash Badal’s decision to adopt the tag of a “Punjabi party” for SAD instead of a Sikh party may have helped in the short run but has not gone down well with the party’s supporters. The SAD could have been inclusive, safeguarding the rights of Punjab without giving up its moorings in Sikh values. The senior Mr. Badal’s unconditional support to the Bharatiya Janata Party has also not been viewed positively by party supporters.

Mr. Badal has also played the Hindu-Sikh card and spoken about threat to law and order in the State whenever he has been in trouble. This time, not only have Hindu groups backed protests against the sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib, but even the SAD’s ally, the BJP, realising the increasing resentment against the Badals, has suitably distanced itself from the issue.

The Badals appear to be in serious trouble with dissent increasing within the party. Old-timers in the SAD who stood behind the older Mr. Badal have sensed the anger amongst the Sikhs, and are not likely to kowtow anymore to the Badal family. With the Aam Aadmi Party in disarray and the SAD in trouble, the Congress is the biggest political beneficiary. This also means that in the long run, there may be room for a new political outfit that could take up key issues pertaining to Punjab as well as the Sikh community.

The writer is a New Delhi-based policy analyst associated with O.P. Jindal Global University

Geometrical deadlock in Paris

American and North Viet 4 Namese delegates to the Paris Peace talks to-day [December 6] appeared to be deadlocked on what, at first sight, seems to be a ridiculous problem: the shape of the negotiating table in the enlarged talks. The Americans want the table to be rectangular, reflecting the “your side — our side” concept, with the U.S. and Saigon teams on one side and Hanoi and the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) on the other. The North Viet Namese insist that the table be square, with a delegation on each side, since they say, the conference is four-sided. But diplomatic subtlety that has drafted an unconditional bombing halt formula bristling with conditions, should be able to propose a round table as a common denominator between the square and the rectangle, observers said.

Shipbuilding in India.

On account of shortage of tonnage due to the scarcity of ships during war new shipbuilding enterprise has been carried out in many parts of India. Three has been great shipbuilding activity in Chittagong and different parts of Burma. As a result at present there are lying in the port of Calcutta some twentysix brigs which are intended to take the place of coasting steamers. They are being used for carrying timber from Burma and have actually brought large cargoes of teak to Calcutta. These vessels remind one of olden days of sailing ships in the Hooghly. One of the new brigs, “Gunputee”, is owned by a local Marwari. She was built at Moulmein and is about 126 feet in length with a gross tonnage of 305. This is the first enterprise of Marwaris in shipbuilding. Other vessels are owned by merchants in Moulmein, Akyab, Rangoon, Maldive, and Nicobar islands. These vessels are all under the command of Nacodas or native masters of sailing vessels.

Shipbuilding in India

On account of shortage of tonnage due to the scarcity of ships during war new shipbuilding enterprise has been carried out in many parts of India. Three has been great shipbuilding activity in Chittagong and different parts of Burma. As a result at present there are lying in the port of Calcutta some twentysix brigs which are intended to take the place of coasting steamers. They are being used for carrying timber from Burma and have actually brought large cargoes of teak to Calcutta. These vessels remind one of olden days of sailing ships in the Hooghly. One of the new brigs, “Gunputee”, is owned by a local Marwari. She was built at Moulmein and is about 126 feet in length with a gross tonnage of 305. This is the first enterprise of Marwaris in shipbuilding. Other vessels are owned by merchants in Moulmein, Akyab, Rangoon, Maldive, and Nicobar islands. These vessels are all under the command of Nacodas or native masters of sailing vessels.

CAD may fall to 2.2%, thanks to oil slide

Current account deficit was expected to be 2.8% for FY19 when global crude was above $80 a barrel
The ongoing fall in the price of crude oil has made the government rethink its projections for the current account deficit (CAD) for the year, a senior Finance Ministry official said.

Where it was earlier expecting a CAD of 2.8% of GDP, it has now revised its estimate down to 2.2%, he said, adding that if oil prices maintain this trajectory, CAD could fall below 2% next year.

Easing pressure

Analysts and experts have been expressing worry over the effect of rising oil prices on CAD, which is the difference between the inflow and outflow of foreign currency. Being a major oil importer, rising oil prices meant more foreign exchange leaving the country. But some of this pressure has eased with oil prices falling over the last two months and the rupee strengthening against the dollar.

“When global oil prices were over $80 a barrel, it looked like India’s current account deficit for 2018-19 would come to 2.8% of GDP,” the official said, not wanting to be named as the Finance Ministry is in its quarantine period before the Interim Budget.

“However, with the sharp fall in recent weeks, the current trajectory suggests a deficit of around 2.2% of GDP for this financial year.”

“If oil prices remain at current levels into next financial year, the full year impact of lower oil prices would bring the current account deficit well below 2% of GDP in 2019-20,” the official added.

The CAD was 1.9% of GDP in the financial year 2017-18 and 0.6% in the year before that. It stood at 2.4% in the first quarter of this financial year.

Oil price increased 17.7% in two months from $72.4 per barrel on August 1 to a historical high of $85.2 per barrel on October 4. Prices fell drastically thereafter to as low as $58.6 per barrel on November 30.

Virus used to speed up computers

Scientists have successfully used a virus to engineer a better type of memory in computers.

The research, published in the journal Applied Nano Materials , found that a key way to develop faster computers is to reduce the millisecond time delays using the virus M13 bacteriophage. These delays usually come from the transfer and storage of information between a traditional RAM chip and a hard drive.

A RAM chip is fast but expensive and volatile, meaning it needs power supply to retain information, said researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design. Phase-change memory can be as fast as a RAM chip and can contain even more storage capacity than a hard drive.

The new technology uses a material that can reversibly switch between amorphous and crystalline states. A binary-type material, for example, gallium antimonide, could be used to make a better version of phase-change memory. However, the use of this material can increase power consumption and it can undergo material separation at around 347°C.

The researchers showed that by using the M13 bacteriophage — a low-temperature construction memory can be achieved.

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