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Today’s important articles/news in various newspapers (23rd August)

Dear aspirants, following are the links of various articles taken from various newspapers. Click the link to read further. To get notification, follow the blog. Thank you

1. Pulling back from the brink

  1. A group of scientists have published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences deliberating on how the planet might move into a high temperature “hothouse earth” pathway from where there would be no return
  2. The paper identifies a threshold beyond which the earth’s systems are no longer able to stabilise at intermediate rises in temperature
  3. The authors point out that technology trends and decisions taken in the next decade or two will determine the path of the earth system over the next hundreds of thousands of years

Delicately balanced system of earth

  1.  The earth and its systems have shifted between alternative states through long-term processes over its geological history
  2. We are living in a precariously equilibrated earth where the temperature is just right for ecosystems to flourish
  3. The Holocene, which began about 12,000 years ago, is the stable epoch during which Homo sapiens settled and developed agriculture and other technological innovations
  4. These led to social and economic transformations, which have brought the world to this juncture
  5. The delicate equilibrium of the biosphere/earth system has to do with processes that amplify or dampen warming

Positive & negative feedback in the atmosphere

  1. The melting of Greenland ice increases open waters that absorb more sunlight and then increase warming and cause further melting. This is a positive feedback
  2. With the increase in carbon dioxide (CO2), chemical-weathering increases and removes CO2 from the atmosphere over geological time — an example of a negative feedback
  3. When positive feedbacks become stronger than the negative ones, the system may change abruptly and get pushed out of equilibrium

Crossing thresholds

  1. A geophysical tipping point is a threshold beyond which a system moves from one stable state to another
  2. This study indicates that crossing a threshold (roughly determined to be about 2º Celsius warmer than pre-industrial times) would lead to the tumbling of a series of tipping points, like a set of dominoes
  3. The destruction of the Amazon forest due to wildfires, the loss of permafrost with warming, the weakening of CO2 absorption by the oceans or the melting of polar ice caps, among many other slow-moving catastrophes, are examples
  4. If many tipping points tumble beyond 2ºC, it would irrevocably disrupt ecosystems and societies and there would be runaway climate change, taking us to a hothouse earth

What can be done?

  1. Technological solutions alone are insufficient. Fundamental shifts in social values and economic mores are essential
  2. The hothouse path could still be avoided and the earth could stabilise at a rise below 2º C through infrastructural, societal and institutional transformations
  3. Incremental changes along with increasing contributions from renewables and improvements in energy efficiencies would not be sufficient
  4. There should instead be major changes in technological innovation, behaviour, values and governance

2. Retrograde move: On Punajb’s proposed law on sacrilege

The Punjab Cabinet has decided to amend the law to make acts of sacrilege against the holy books of major religions punishable with life imprisonment. It approved amendments to the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as well as the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to make sacrilege(violation or misuse of what is regarded as sacred)  of religious texts punishable with life imprisonment.

Issue:

  • The decision of Punjab Cabinet is unprogressive and is filled with undesirable consequences.
  • It may also set off a needless storm of legislation in the rest of India to satisfy to different groups.

Background:

  • In 2016, amendments were passed by the Punjab assembly specifically aimed at curbing acts of sacrilege targeting the Guru Granth Sahib. The Centre had then returned the Bills, saying that protecting the holy book of only one religion would make it discriminatory and anti-secular.
  • The earlier Bill was introduced by the Shiromani Akali Dal government following allegations of desecration of the holy book.
  • The current proposal is a slightly expanded form of amendments passed by the Punjab Assembly in 2016.

Details:

  • The proposal now cleared by the Cabinet aims to also cover the Bible, the Koran and the Bhagvad Gita.
  • The law will introduce a new section (Section 295-AA) in the Indian Penal Code(IPC).
  • Currently, Section 295-A of IPC i.e, ‘blasphemy law’, criminalises “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings”.

Is there a need for a new law?

  • Section 295-A of IPC itself encompasses the provision to protect religious books from damage, insult and sacrilege.
  • While upholding its constitutional validity in 1957, the Supreme Court had clarified that the section “punishes the aggravated form of insult to religion when it is perpetrated with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging religious feelings”.
  • It is true that one limb of any blasphemy law, is aimed at preserving public order; and miscreants can fan disorder and tension by malicious acts such as damaging or desecrating a holy text. This can be invoked to jail someone for three years. Providing for a life term for the same offence in relation to religious texts would be grossly disproportionate.
  • ‘Sacrilege’ itself is a vague term, and would render the section too broad.
  • There is a history of misuse of laws aimed to protect religious sentiments, and those that seek to punish persons who promote enmity between different groups. They have a chilling effect on free speech, and give a handle to anyone claiming to be outraged to pursue provoking prosecutions.

Conclusion:

As prior permission of the Central or State government is needed to prosecute someone under such sections, a consequential amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure will be required. There is a case to read down Section 295-A and Section 153-A of the IPC that give scope to prosecute people in the name of protecting the feelings of a section of society. There is no case whatsoever to enhance jail terms.

3. In search of greatness

Scientific achievement will only happen in a culture which celebrates great art, philosophy, sports.

The Fields Medal:

  • The Fields Medal, popularly seen as the equivalent of a Nobel Prize, is awarded once in four years to two-four mathematicians below the age of 40.
  • No Indian has yet won it although it was also in 2014 that for the first time an Indian-origin Canadian-American mathematician, Manjul Bhargava, was awarded.
  • In the recently announced prize for 2018, an Australian mathematician of Indian origin, Akshay Venkatesh, was awarded.

Unpleasant questions:

  • Though it is a matter of pride that the two winners are of Indian origin, the question it raises is “has the country contributed anything to their growth as mathematicians?” Would Prof. Bhargava and Prof. Venkatesh have produced the work that won these prizes if they had studied and worked in India?
  • This problem is not unique to mathematics. It is the same case with respect to the Nobel Prizes in science. Indian-origin scientists have won the Nobel in physics, chemistry and medicine, but post-Independence, work done in India has not led to a science Nobel.

What really is the problem?

  • If Indians studying and working abroad can have a great impact, then obviously the problem has to do with our systems of education and research.
  • While it is true that being abroad brings greater visibility to one’s work, it is also the case that for a country which claims to have the third largest scientific manpower in the world, our creative contribution to science has been way below par.
  • This is a paradox considering the many brilliant scientists who work in Indian institutions, including the universities.

The contrast:

  • We can look at other fields in which we have produced world beaters. Chess and badminton are paradigmatic examples of how a whole generation of youngsters not only took to these sports, but under intense, and many time brutal, competition succeeded in coming to the top. These are not isolated cases; there is a systematic creation of groups of individuals who are reaching the pinnacle in these sports.
  • Similarly, we have global leaders in music, arts and literature. It is surprising that we have managed to be so original, creative and productive in the global domain in fields which have had very little support either from the government or the corporate sector.
  • Having invested all our energy in science education right from early schooling, we have only managed to produce collective mediocrity in these fields year after year.

Reasons for mediocrity

  • The revolution in chess and badminton was possible through great personal sacrifices of the players and their families. In many cases, securing even minimal funds from government or the private sector was difficult and the perseverance of parents, as well as the hard work of the children and the coaches, made this revolution possible.
  • The training for science begins from a state-sponsored and socially sanctioned education system right from primary school. At every step there are numerous scholarships, cash awards and incentives given to students to excel in these subjects.
  • Although achieving greatness in science is not like that in sports or music, it is nevertheless important to understand why our contribution in science does not match this enormous cultural capital in addition to significant funding invested in science.
  • There are three reasons that contribute to this culture of mediocrity.
  1. Nature of school education
  2. State of science administration
  3. The cultural response to the idea of excellence

What is the problem?

  • While all over the world, children are becoming more independent in terms of their intellectual practices, students in India are becoming more and more like little soldiers marching from one class to another tuition.
  • Right from their homes to their schools, it is the unending process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.
  • Science education is not egalitarian and is designed to keep people out rather than embrace diversity and multiplicity of background, language and talents. This is done in the name of merit, and yet it is precisely this merit that we lack on the global stage.
  • Funding agencies like the Department of Science and Technology and a host of others which disburse hundreds of crores of rupees for research in science are not held accountable to the results of that funding.
  • Many projects worth crores end up with some minor publications.
  • Worse, that personal contacts and networks are still important in securing funds and other incentives in science in India today.
  • Great science will only arise in a culture which celebrates great music, art, literature, philosophy, sports and so on. But, countless artists and musicians struggle to survive in spite of creating great work. There is no monthly salary, provident fund and pension for some of the greatest artists, performers, writers and others, yet they continue to produce work of greater quality than the average academic institutions in India.

Way forward:

  • Great work in any domain is not produced in isolation. Greatness is deeply cultural and arises from a particular attitude and not subject competence alone.
  • For great work to be possible in science, the larger society has to produce great work in art, literature, humanities and so on. But we have produced a science ecosystem which does not seem to understand this, nor recognise how this bias has only contributed to mediocre science.
  • Our education system must stop reducing the notions of competence and merit only to that of science, thereby denying the greatness inherent in so many other domains.

The myopic vision of science, the hegemony of science education and the unprofessional cult of Indian science administration must discontinue in order to win Fields medal or Nobel prizes in science for our country.

4. Curbing open urination is next step

  • Under new norms, cities and towns wanting to be declared ODF+ (Open Defecation Free Plus) must also be free of public urination and not just open defecation.
  • This is the first time that the Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) is officially including the elimination of open urination in its agenda.
  • The rural division of SBM had previously said preventing public urination was not on their agenda.
  • The Mission is focussed on infrastructure and regulatory changes, on the assumption that this will lead to behaviour change.
  • Cities are different from rural areas.
  • In the case of urban areas, the problem is not one of usage, but of availability.In cities, if toilets are available, accessible and clean, people will automatically use them rather than using the road.

Sustainability is key

  • The ODF+ and ODF++ protocols, which were released by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs last week, are the next step for the SBM-U and aim to ensure sustainability in sanitation outcomes.

The original ODF protocol, issued in March 2016, said,

  • A city/ward is notified as ODF city/ward if, at any point of the day, not a single person is found defecating in the open.
  • So far, 2,741 cities have been certified as ODF, based mostly on third-party verification of toilet construction.
  • The new ODF+ protocol, issued last week, says that a city, ward or work circle could be declared ODF+ if, at any point of the day, not a single person is found defecating and/or urinating in the open, and all community and public toilets are functional and well-maintained.”
  • The ODF++ protocol adds the condition that faecal sludge/septage and sewage is safely managed and treated, with no discharging and/or dumping of untreated faecal sludge/septage and sewage in drains, water bodies or open areas.
  • Urination has always been implied as part of the ODF agenda. That’s why there is a subsidy for urinals, not just toilets.

5. Tilting at windmills

  1. Donald Trump’s trade war ignores the complexity of world supply chains and glosses over issues within the U.S. industry
  2. In his simplistic world-view, slapping tariffs on the U.S.’s main trading partners — Canada, China, the European Union, and Mexico — will reduce U.S. trade deficits, bring back well-paying manufacturing jobs, and make America great again
  3. These changes, rather than globalisation, are responsible for the stagnation of average U.S. wages in real terms for almost 40 years

Fewer companies due to oligopoly

  1. Recently, Apple became the first company to have a $1 trillion valuation
  2. Today just 30 companies reap half of all profits produced by all publicly traded companies
  3. Half of all the gains registered by Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was delivered by just five companies: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, and Alphabet, the parent company of Google

What does this mean for workers?

  1. The greater concentration of capital allows the giant oligopolies to raise prices which takes more of a worker’s pay cheque
  2. Fewer companies mean workers have less choice of employers and so have less bargaining power
  3. Anti-poaching and mandatory arbitration arrangements further weaken labour’s hand
  4. The focus on short-term profits leads firms to use their capital to buy back shares, driving up share prices to benefit shareholders and top managers who have an increasing percentage of their compensation in company shares

Comparing the US & Germany

  1. Between 2002 and 2008, when the U.S. lost one-third of its manufacturing jobs, Germany lost a mere 11%
  2. This was because most German firms are privately owned and rather than buying back shares they invested their capital in boosting their productivity
  3. German firms include worker representatives on their corporate boards, invest in apprenticeship programmes, and in relevant research and development projects
  4. During the recession of 2008-09, instead of dismissing employees outright, German firms reduced work hours and helped retrain workers
  5. They thus have a deep pool of skilled labour

Impact of low skilling

  1. When computers and numerically controlled machines are progressively inducted into production, constant upgrading of labour skills is vital to preserve well-paying jobs
  2. Washington has made no systematic effort to upgrade skills
  3. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, constantly emphasises that his company has shifted production to China not because labour is cheaper there but because it has a much wider pool of skilled labour than does the U.S.

Lesson for India

  1. India also needs to focus on skill development more rather than only focusing on startups and ease of doing business as the industry is run mostly by the labourers and not the managers and top-level management
  2. Lessons can be taken from Germany to avoid a USA like situation in India

6. People police

  1. A criminal justice system can hope to succeed in delivering peace and order only in a “majority defenders of law” situation
  2. That is when most of the citizens obey the law voluntarily
  3. It is the responsibility of the police to facilitate the achievement of this objective

Role of police

  1. The police can be called as “citizens in uniform”
  2. They need to work in close collaboration with the community and focus on crime prevention
  3. It makes citizens partners in crime prevention and is the best bet for creating a majority-defenders-of-law situation

Policing in India

  1. India inherited a militaristic and repressive police force from the British
  2. The British in 1861 built a militaristic and repressive police in India to defend their predatory rule
  3. It has, by and large, persisted with the colonial crime-fighting model

Why no changes?

The system’s persistence can be attributed to:

  • a resource crunch,
  • vested interests,
  • an indifferent academia not challenging the efficacy of police practices
  • the glamourisation of tough cops

Failure of government strategy

  1. Faced with rising crimes, street violence and subversive actions, the central government initiated the modernisation of the police force scheme in the 1970s
  2. It invested in the crime-fighting strategy — motorised patrolling, quick reactions to calls for help and reactive investigation
  3. This apparently led to an uninterrupted trend of an increase in crime and street violence in India
  4. The ever-increasing fear of crime is reflected in gated communities and the booming private security industry

What needs to be done?

  1. There is an urgent need to embrace a hybrid of the community-oriented and crime-fighting policing strategies and to reinforce it with crime-mapping and trend analysis
  2. This will keep the majority on the side of the law as well as deal effectively with career criminals and psychopaths
  3. It will also be an optimum utilisation of scarce resources

Way forward

  1. With 356 million people in the 10-24 years age group, a proactive police engaging an interconnected, volatile and youthful population through community policing programmes is perhaps the only hope for enduring peace and lasting order

7. Finmin to PSB CEOs: check NPA frauds or face action

  • In a stern warning to bankers, the finance ministry has asked chief executives of public sector banks (PSBs) to check all NPA accounts exceeding Rupees 50 crore for fraud, else face criminal conspiracy charges, according to official sources.
  • This missive comes in the light of arrest of Bhushan Steel’s erstwhile promoter Neeraj Singal by the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) for alleged siphoning of funds.
  • The sources said that bankers could be held accountable under Section 120B of Indian Penal Code if they fail to report fraud in an account which is later unearthed by investigating agencies.

‘Criminal proceedings’

  • If the investigating agencies find diversion of funds in those defaulting accounts, bankers may be liable to face criminal proceedings, the sources said, adding that this advisory is like an extra precaution to keep bankers from getting into legal tangles.
  • More than a dozen companies undergoing bankruptcy resolution are being reviewed by banks and investigating agencies for fraudulent activities, including diversion of funds.
  • Indian banks are facing mounting non-performing assets or bad loans, especially at PSBs, which have reached more than 8 lakh crore rupees.
  • In addition, several banking frauds have been unearthed, including the Rupees 14,000-crore scam at PNB, carried out allegedly by diamond jeweller Nirav Modi and his associates.
  • A senior government official confirmed the development and said that some discrepancies had been pointed out in the case of a steel-maker and a real estate firm among 10-12 companies.

There were some inputs and lenders have been asked to provide transaction details of last five years. If required, banks will also undertake forensic audit.

Associate firms involved

  • Similar modus operandi has been used by other promoters also, there had been intelligence inputs on associate companies being used for similar transactions.
  • SFIO is also looking into the books of companies which are currently undergoing debt resolution adding that this had been done on the basis of specific inputs provided by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs.
  • During the resolution process, the extensive audit of bankrupt companies has thrown up financial irregularities in several cases.
  • In June 2017, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had identified 12 stressed accounts, each having more than Rupees 5,000 crore of outstanding loans and accounting for 25% of the total non-performing assets (NPAs) of banks for immediate referral under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC).
  • In August, RBI had sent a list of 28 more firms to lenders for resolution by December 2017. These accounts also have some firms from the second list and those where later banks filed cases in NCLT (National Company Law Tribunal).
  • The NCLT benches handle banks’ bad debt resolution under the IBC.
  • Banks have to undertake a two-year transaction audit when they start the resolution process through IBC.
  • In case there are any issues or specific information, banks also conduct a forensic audit.
  • In August 2017, the SFIO was given powers to arrest people for company law violations.
  • SFIO is a multidisciplinary organisation having experts for prosecution of white-collar crimes and frauds under company law.

8. ‘State can stop voluntary retirement of doctors’

  • The State can stop government doctors from taking voluntary retirement in public interest, the Supreme Court has ruled.
  • The fundamental right to retire is not above the right to save lives in a country where government hospitals cater to the poorest, a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and S. Abdul Nazeer said in its judgment.
  • The concept of public interest can also be invoked by the government when voluntary retirement sought by an employee will be against public interest.

Scarcity of doctors

  • The court said public health was suffering from a scarcity of doctors. Qualified doctors did not join the public service, and even if they did so, they chose voluntary retirement and went into lucrative private practice.
  • It said the poor could not be put in peril by a paucity of specialists in government hospitals. The State governments had an obligation “to make an endeavour under Article 47 to look after the provisions for health and nutrition.
  • The doctors, as citizens, had certain fundamental duties under Article 51(A) towards their fellow citizens. The right to practise a profession under Article 19(1)(g) was subject to the interest of the general public, the court said.
  • The ruling is based on an appeal by the Uttar Pradesh government against the Allahabad High Court’s decision to allow Dr. Achal Singh, who was working as Joint Director, Medical, Health and Family Welfare, in Lucknow, to voluntarily retire with effect from March 31, 2017.
  • Though the High Court allowed Ms. Singh to retire, it rued the way government doctors were seeking voluntary retirement almost every day in the State.
  • The High Court said the government healthcare sector needed senior doctors as they were “absolutely necessary to run the medical services which are part and parcel of the right to life itself.”

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