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International relations:

Hambantota augury (Indian Express Editorials)

Context

Seven years after the China-built Hambantota Port was inaugurated with great fanfare by the then president of Sri Lanka, MahindaRajapaksa, as a symbol of his country’s rising geopolitical aspirations in Asia, the Sri Lanka government has taken the project to its logical and inevitable, if not the aspirational, conclusion

Augury: a sign of what will happen in the future

What has happened?

Sri Lanka has handed the Hambantota port over to a state-run Chinese company, China Merchants Port Holdings

  • The decision also includes handing over a large tract of land close to the port to Chinese companies for a special economic zone

How the port was financed?

Finances for the port: China’s Exim Bank loaned 85 per cent of the finances for the $ 1.5 billion port, at an interest of 6.5 per cent. The balance was put up by the Sri Lankan government, which borrowed heavily from other sources for it

  • The first phase, which Rajapaksa inaugurated in 2010, one year after winning the war against the LTTE, comprised four berths and buildings and cost about $ 650 million. The repayment amounted to $ 60 million annually

Reason behind current decision

The port, which began operations in November 2011, had to start making money by 2013, in order for Sri Lanka to be able to repay the loan. However, by 2016-end, the government estimated its cumulative losses at $ 3 billion

Lesson to be learnt

Author states that, for the region, though, Hambantota should be a lesson on big ticket infrastructure projects with loans from their patron countries at market rates.

UN to vote on draft nullifyng Jerusalem (The Hindu)

Context

Draft resolution by UNSC

What has happened?

The UN Security Council is considering a draft resolution affirming that any change to the status of Jerusalem has no legal effect and must be reversed, in response to the U.S. decision to recognise the city as Israel’s capital

Draft circulated by which country?

Egypt circulated the draft text on Saturday, and diplomats said the council could vote on the proposed measure as early as on Monday

Backdrop

U.S. President Donald Trump this month announced that he would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv, sparking protests and strong condemnation

What does the draft resolution says?

The draft resolution stresses following,

  • Jerusalem is an issue “to be resolved through negotiations” and expresses “deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem”, without specifically mentioning Mr. Trump’s move
  • Any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded
  • It calls on all countries to refrain from opening embassies in Jerusalem, reflecting concerns that other governments could follow the U.S. lead
  • It demands that all member-states not recognise any actions that are contrary to UN resolutions on the status of the city

Israel’s reaction

Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon “strongly condemned” the draft, dismissing it as an attempt by the Palestinians “to reinvent history”

Palestinian reaction

  • The Palestinians had sought a toughly-worded draft resolution that would have directly called on the U.S. administration to scrap its decision
  • Backed by Muslim countries, the Palestinians are expected to turn to the UN General Assembly to adopt a resolution rejecting the US decision, if, as expected, the measure is vetoed by the United States at the council

U.S. has failed to walk the talk on Pakistan: Hamid Karzai (The Hindu)

Context

PM had hosted an official dinner in Mr Karzai’s honour at Hyderabad House

Karzai’s views

  • India has the right to ask the U.S. questions on [continuing support to Pakistan], and it must think and rethink its policy in view of changes and developments in Afghanistan
  • Calling the U.S. and Pakistan “bedfellows,” Mr. Karzai said Mr. Trump, who announced his new Afghan policy for South Asia in August this year, had failed to back his tough words on Pakistan with action. The policy, which entailed a larger role in development work for India as well as more pressure on Pakistan to act against terrorist safe havens within its borders, was welcomed by New Delhi at the time
  • We have heard these words over the past 16 years, repeatedly from U.S. on terror sanctuaries within Pakistan. But we also see the U.S. talking of Pakistan as an ally, and being protective of Pakistan
  • Now too, they pointed fingers at Pakistan and then within months they gave them another 700 million dollars in appreciation of their fight against terrorism
    • He was referring to the Defense authorisation bill that Mr. Trump signed into law on Thursday, which provides for up to $700 million to be transferred to Pakistan for coalition support
  • He called for a Loya Jirga [meeting of tribal elders] to decide the future course of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, where it still maintains about 10,000 troops. They (U.S.) must negotiate a new compact and terms of engagement for their presence in Afghanistan now. This is why I have been calling for the Loya Jirga to be convened, to re-legitimise the U.S. presence. The more the U.S. opposes this Jirga, the more Afghans will turn away from them

Indian Constitution and Polity:

Divorce as crime: on instant triple talaq (The Hindu Editorial)

Context

Triple Talaq

Author’s contention

Author contends that the Centre’s proposal to make instant triple talaq an offence punishable with three-year imprisonment and a fine is an unnecessary attempt to convert a civil wrong into a criminal act

  • It is well established that criminalising something does not have any deterrent effect on its practice

Backdrop

By a three-two majority, the Supreme Court has already declared, and correctly, that the practice of talaq-e-biddat, or instant divorce of a Muslim woman by uttering the word ‘talaq’ thrice, is illegal and unenforceable. While two judges in the majority said the practice was arbitrary and, therefore, unconstitutional, the third judge ruled that it was illegal because it was contrary to Islamic tenet

Consequence

Its consequence is that the husband’s marital obligations remain, regardless of his intention in pronouncing it

Sufficient provisions already exist

The All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen president, AsaduddinOwaisi, has argued in a letter to the Union Law Minister that

  • There is no need for a fresh criminal provision when existing laws, under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code or provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, already allow the prosecution of a husband for inflicting physical or mental cruelty, emotional and economic abuse, and for deprivation of financial resources

Conclusion

Regardless of whether instant talaq would fall under any of these forms of cruelty or domestic violence, criminalising it risks defeating the objective of preserving the husband’s legal obligations, and the payment of maintenance. The Centre would do well to reconsider its draft and limit its scope to providing relief to women, instead of creating a new offence out of a civil matter

SC push to public access for disabled persons (Indian Express)

Context

The Supreme Court has come out with a series of directions to ensure that public infrastructure is accessible to differently-abled persons and ordered that the June 2019 deadline set by the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 to make all government buildings providing public services made fully accessible to them be strictly adhered to

Bench’s observation

Disposing of a PIL filed by one Rajiv Raturi, a bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan said on Friday,

  • “There cannot be any dispute about the rights of the differently-abled persons, particularly those who have visual impairment with which category we are concerned in the present case, to provide them adequate access to all the facilities on the road as well as convenient access to transport facilities etc. Without these facilities, movement of such persons gets impaired and this can even be treated as infringement of their fundamental rights under Article 19(1)(c) of the Constitution, which is guaranteed to each and every citizen of this country”

What was the PIL all about?

Petition stated that

  • In order to ensure that this right is exercised by visually disabled persons as well, it becomes the duty of the State and public authorities to lay down proper norms in respect of the built environment and public facilities i.e. roads, buildings, public places, transport (air, land and water) carriages etc.
  • The petitioner had sought adequate access to public places, roads and transport facilities for visually impaired persons

Making government buildings accessible

On the question of making 50 per cent of all government buildings of the national capital and state capitals fully accessible by December 2018, the court found that

  • Although the deadline for identifying the buildings was February 28, 2017, a status report dated August 8, 2017 said that only seven states had identified the buildings
  • Bench’s directions:
    • Accordingly, the bench directed the rest of the states to identify the buildings by February 28, 2018 and added that no further time will be granted
    • The bench directed states to identify 10 most important cities or towns and complete the accessibility audit of 50 per cent of government buildings at these places by February 28, 2018, and complete retrofitting work by December 2019. Regarding Central government buildings, the bench said that the work be completed by August next year
    • The court also directed the government to lay down a plan giving dates by which this task would be undertaken and asked it to furnish the same before it within three months
    • The court has listed the matter for directions after three months on receiving the reports in terms of its order

Referring to 2016 Act

The bench referred to provision of the 2016 Act and said it provides for comprehensive accessibility to disabled persons in all modes of transport. The judgement said

  • “Therefore, it becomes the duty of the Union, states as well as Union Territories to ensure that all government buses are disabled friendly in accordance with the harmonized guidelines,

Adding law to injury (Indian Express)

Context

New law criminalising triple talaq may not be in best interests of Muslim women. Solution lies elsewhere

Unanswered questions

The court order declaring triple talaq as unconstitutional left many questions unanswered like,

  • What if, the judicial pronouncement notwithstanding, a Muslim husband goes ahead and utters the dreaded words “talaq-talaq-talaq”?
  • Where does an aggrieved wife turn to for justice?
  • Would such an utterance count as a single talaq as enjoined in the Quran? Or,
  • had the court verdict rendered these words meaningless, incapable of hurting or harming the wife? Or,
  • are these words absolutely irrevocable and the wife becomes strictly prohibited (haraam) to her husband the moment these words are uttered, as the ulema insist?
  • If triple talaq is declared illegal what will be a legally valid form of talaq (divorce)?

Criminalising triple talaq

It is in this backdrop that government is planning to bring in on a legislation that will criminalise triple talaq

Reactions

Factions of progressive Muslim community are divided over this new development. Some are calling it as a “necessary deterrent”, while some other have denounced it as “a vicious ploy of the BJP government to criminalise Muslim men”

Pro-criminalisation camp: No one gives triple talaq, no one gets hurt, no one goes to jail

  • The pro-criminalisation progressives maintain that the prime intent behind enacting a stringent law is not to punish the offender but to act as a deterrent
  • The prospect of three years in jail is necessary, they argue, to warn the Muslim husband that the sword he had so far held over his wife’s head will henceforth hang over his own

Against criminalisation

Those opposed to criminalisation are opposed to the idea “in principle”

  • They argues that since marriage is a civil contract, the procedures to be followed on its breakdown should also be of civil nature only
  • They favour “civil redress mechanisms and restorative justice to ensure that Muslim women are able to negotiate for their rights both within and outside of the marriage”

Draconian provisions

The draconian provisions of the proposed bill make it unacceptable to accept criminalisation of Triple talaq for several reasons

  • The harsh punishment defies the doctrine of proportionality
  • Irrespective of the government’s intent three years in prison of the convicted husband will end up penalising the already aggrieved wife and children too. He will be fed, clothed and housed by the jail authorities. But minus his income, who will pay for the needs of his wife and children?
  • The draconian punishment cannot but aggravate the already acute insecurity and alienation of the Indian Muslim community — its womenfolk included — under the current regime
  • Given the widely acknowledged anti-Muslim bias in a section of the Indian police, where is the guarantee that the new law will not be deployed as yet another potent weapon against Muslim men?

Doctrine of proportionality

In criminal law, the principle of proportional justice is used to describe the idea that the punishment of a certain crime should be in proportion to the severity of the crime itself

What should a victim do then?

All things considered, what would be in the best interests of justice to Muslim women is to invoke a secular law that already exists:

  • Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA), 2005

Definition of domestic violence

  • Under the Act, the wide-ranging definition of domestic violence includes any act that “harms, or injures, or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, mental or physical, of an aggrieved person”
  • It protects women against “abuse”, whether physical, sexual, verbal, emotional or economic

Empowering provisions of PWDVA

  • The PWDVA was conceived as a law that ensures speedy relief — ideally within three months — to an aggrieved woman: Right to stay in the marital home, protection against violence, right to maintenance etc. What’s more, she is provided the free services of a government-appointed “protection officer”. This saves her lawyer’s fees for which she often has no money
  • The real beauty of the PWDVA lies in the fact that while civil in nature, it has a reasonably stringent penal provision built into it. Compliance with the magistrate’s order will ensure speedy relief for the wife and children. For the husband, too, it will mean saving on lawyer’s fees and avoiding the stigma of jail. Non-compliance with the magistrate’s orders will mean imprisonment of up to one year, or fine up to Rs 20,000, or both (Section 31 of the Act)

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Economy:

The crisis of globalisation (The Hindu)

Context

Today’s so-called crisis of  globalization is nothing more than a new variable of the old battle between protectionism and free trade. On the one hand it is the tribalists while on the other it is the globalists. On one side there are the anti-Amazon, pro-retailers, losers of a global challenge, while on the other, there are the pro-Amazon, e-commerce winners.

Even as leaders tap into discontent, there won’t be any promised return to the past

The opening of trade walls has accelerated industrial evolution in such a way that workers have had to learn to adapt to almost every generation.

Accelerated Evolution?

The difference, today, is that the evolution didn’t happen within a lifetime, but a few times within that lifetime. This is why the Indian farmer, who initially moved to the city to work in a call centre, had to reinvent himself as an Uber driver and is now worried about driverless cars — all within one lifetime.

Cause of discontent

Technological innovations are what accelerate the rhythm of change.

It is the transformation of technology that affects society, not whatever that technology delivers (news, electricity, TV series)

Living in the past

And this is why in the United States and the United Kingdom and in some parts of Europe, so many 50-somethings, unemployed, disgruntled voters who found it hard to reinvent themselves ended up voting for someone who promised to bring back an impossible past — a greater America, a more British Britain, whatever that may mean.

Too many evolutionary shifts

  • Up until 20 to 30 years ago, you could reach your pension age before a new radical evolution in the job market, which created its winners and losers
  • Today, the challenge is that evolutionary shifts happen not just once before reaching pensionable age, but often.
  • This is what causes globalisation’s discontent

Silicon valley out of reach

Blue collar workers from the mid-West cannot move to Silicon Valley; it’s a totally different skill set, and only few can manage it.

A sort of revenge

  • S. President Donald Trump’s and Brexit’s victories can be seen as a sort of “revenge of the losers”
  • The victims of the system described above decided to vote for someone who promised to protect them

But Little has been done

Little has been done by Mr. Trump or British Prime Minister Theresa May to help those workers. And little is being done. Their standards of living have not improved. Or have certainly not returned to previous levels. Nor is there any policy in motion indicating that the previous levels will return.

No Jobs for the unskilled

There won’t be any promised return to the past. Which doesn’t mean the economy will not thrive. It just won’t bring back the same old jobs to the unskilled.

The US tax reform

For example, the latest U.S. tax reform promises to lower corporate taxes, rehashing the ancient myth job, the “trickle down” theory, will not impact the lower middle classes who voted for Mr. Trump

Global Impact

How will this impact free trade globally? U.S. manufacturing is down to 11.7% of U.S. GDP (2016), while farming agriculture is only 1% (2015)

America produces services such as Amazon, Google and Facebook; these are the richest corporations. Their expansion is thriving globally. And so is the expansion of other multinational corporations.

Conclusion

Even though the discontent of globalisation is a leftover of the crisis of 2008, today we don’t see that it will really impact globalisation seriously. At least, so far, we don’t see the results of this desire to raise barriers. Globalisation is here to stay.

Bank insecurities (Indian Express Editorials)

Context

Banking regulator should continue to handle bank failures, instead of the Resolution Corporation

FRDI bill

  • It is not often that the prime minister and the Union finance minister have to step in to publicly assuage retail depositors, and that too when there is no perceptible threat of any banks, public or private, being shuttered
  • Such an intervention by top government leaders has come in the wake of a controversial provision in the Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance (FRDI) Bill, which seeks to put in place a framework for resolution plans of firms which are in trouble in the financial sector — what the Insolvency Law enacted well over an year ago aims to do for manufacturing companies.

Cause of concern

What has sparked concern is Clause 52 of the Bill which empowers the Resolution Corporation to, for instance, change some of the rights and obligations of shareholders and creditors to recapitalise a financial firm, including banks, to minimise the cost to the exchequer or the taxpayer in the event of its failure.

Aping the west?

This is an approach which has been adopted in the West after the 2008 financial crisis when many governments had to bail out banks at huge fiscal cost. The wisdom of such an approach in a bank-dominated system such as India is questionable.

Bank Dominated System in India

Bank deposits still dominate financial savings unlike the more mature economies in the West where savings portfolios are far more diversified.

Implicit Trust and Faith

  • That’s because of the implicit trust and faith in the sovereign, though legally the insurance cover on deposits is capped at Rs 1 lakh
  • Over the last few decades, the banking regulator has done well — the proof of which is that there has not been any major run on any bank in the last several years even when the financials of many of them were weak.

Difference in resolution of a Company and a Bank

  • There is also a major difference between the resolution of a manufacturing firm — such as a steel or automobile company and a bank — with the risk of a financial contagion and stability and the collateral damage to the broader economy
  • Banking is inherently a leveraged business and these financial intermediaries, even highly capitalised banks, will not be able to stay afloat if most depositors were to scramble to withdraw.

What all this means

  • All this means that the sensible course to pursue would be to exclude deposits in banks from the purview of these provisions and to explicitly mandate the RBI to handle all cases of resolution in the banking sector, leaving the proposed Resolution Corporation to handle all other financial sector firms.
  • We have already seen a number of co-operative banks, which are under the purview of state governments, going bust. This is hardly the time to cause another shock — especially when the government is engaged with the task of putting state-owned banks, weighed down by bad loans, back on track

Conclusion

It might be better if the government focuses more on governance in the banks it owns.

Ministry may face fund crunch for UDAN (The Hindu) 

Context

Regarding UDAN Scheme

News

With more routes set to be operational under UDAN, the Civil Aviation ministry is likely to face paucity of funds in providing viability gap funding (VGF) to participating airlines

What is VGF?

The main constraint in India’s infrastructure sector is the lack of source for finance. More than the overall difficulty of securing funds, some projects may not be financially viable though they are economically justified and necessary. This is the nature of several infrastructural projects which are long term and development oriented.

  • For the successful completion of such projects, the government has designed Viability Gap Funding (VGF). Viability Gap Finance means a grant to support projects that are economically justified but not financially viable.
  • The scheme is designed as a Plan Scheme to be administered by the Ministry of Finance and amount in the budget are made on a year-to- year basis.
  • Such a grant under VGF is provided as a capital subsidy to attract the private sector players to participate in PPP projects that are otherwise financially unviable. Projects may not be commercially viable because of long gestation period and small revenue flows in future.
  • The VGF scheme was launched in 2004 to support projects that comes under Public Private Partnerships

Backdrop

To connect unserved and under-served aerodromes as well as make flying more affordable, the Ministry unveiled UdeDeshkaAamNaagrik (UDAN) and 128 routes were awarded in the first round of bidding

Insufficient amount

As participating airlines are extended VGF, the Ministry feels that the amount that will be available towards it may not be sufficient once more players start operating UDAN flights

Pare stake in PSBs to 33%: CII to govt (The Hindu)

Context

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) urged the Centre to dilute its majority stake in public sector banks (PSBs), from the current threshold of 52% ownership to 33% over the next three years, to complement its ₹2.11 lakh-crore recapitalisation plan for these banks.

Stake in SBI

The Centre could retain a larger share in the State Bank of India to meet priority sector needs and even maintain majority voting rights in other PSBs by diluting its stake through non-voting shares, the industry chamber recommended.

Stakes in other PSBs

  • The minimum government stake in PSBs had been relaxed to 52% from 58%, but the actual holdings in many of these banks is more than 80%
  • Just four banks have a government stake of 58% each as of March this year, the CII noted. “New accounting standards will also be applicable for banks from April 1, 2018.

Increase provisioning requirements

This is likely to increase provisioning requirements on bad loans by as much as 30%, further adding to these banks’ capital requirements,” the CII pointed out, suggesting the Centre could immediately initiate public issues to dilute its stake to 52% in the public sector banks.

Reviving bank growth

The bank recapitalisation programme may revive bank credit growth over the next couple of years and lift the economy from the overhang of NPAs (non-performing assets)

CII Suggestions

  • CII had suggested the Centre set up a holding company for its banking stakes and distance itself from day-to-day management of the PSBs
  • The holding company could be empowered to raise resources and monitor banks’ performance, it said.

What India’s student exodus means (The Hindu)

Context

Indian consumers may be tightening their belts on many counts. But one item of expense on which they’re certainly not skimping is their children’s education.

Sprucing up our universities will bring in foreign learners and also help stem dollar outflows

The latest Value of Education report from HSBC, after surveying the aspirations of 8,481 parents across 15 countries, reiterates that Indian parents continue to pull out all stops when it comes to their offspring’s education.

Greener pastures abroad: Value of Education report from HSBC

  • The 2017 report found that Indian parents spent a hefty $18,909 (about ₹12.3 lakh) towards their children’s school and college education in tuition fees, books and transport
  • About 83% of them engaged private tutors and 94% were keen to fund a post-graduate degree.
  • But most importantly, both for undergraduate and postgraduate courses for their wards, a majority of Indian parents — a good 55% — were eyeing varsities overseas

Much higher average

  • This is much higher than the global average of 41%.
  • This is despite expecting to pay through their nose for this luxury. Indian parents estimated the cost of a foreign undergraduate degree at $42,625 and a post-graduate degree at $41,590, taking their outlay to about ₹55 lakh.

Reasons for sending their wards abroad

Quizzed about the reasons for sending their wards abroad, (globally) the parents surveyed diplomatically said that a shot at learning foreign languages, gaining international work experience and exposure to new ideas were the main motivations.

Reasons for Indian parents

But what remains unsaid for Indian parents is the widespread belief that the quality of foreign educational institutions, their faculty and research opportunities, are vastly superior to what is on offer at home.

Question raised

No doubt, HSBC’s findings are based on a limited sample of parents — probably from the more affluent sections of society. But macro-level data reiterates the trend (or is it a fad?).

India a Torch bearer

  • Data from global agencies tell us that this trend of young people heading abroad to pursue college education, is the strongest in Asia.
  • But lately, India has emerged as the torch-bearer of this trend.
  • The total number of Indian students pursuing college education abroad has vaulted from 62,350 to 2.55 lakh between 2000 and 2016, data from UNESCO-UIS showed
  • That’s a moderate growth of 6% annually
  • But student migration from India has gathered steam in the last three years, even as that from other origin countries slowed.

Rising numbers

  • Between 2013 and 2016, there was a 24% jump in the number (stock) of Indian students studying abroad
  • This growth outpaced that for China (which saw a 12% expansion), South Korea (5% decline), Saudi Arabia (16% increase), Germany (2% decline) and France (6% increase)
  • These countries have traditionally been the biggest contributors to the international tertiary student pool.

International college Students second highest from India

  • Globally, India now accounts for the second largest population of international college students (2.5 lakh) after China (8 lakh).
  • With its outbound student growth rates beating China’s lately, it is no wonder that many foreign varsities have been raising the pitch for their marketing blitzkrieg (though not student aid) in India.

One-way street

Growth rates apart, the other unusual facet of student migration from India is that it is largely a one-way street

Inbound and Outbound students ratio

China

Data from HSBC showed that, while China had more than 8 lakh students lodged in varsities abroad in 2016, it had also half as many international students lodged at its own campuses.

Malaysia

In Malaysia, inbound students pursuing college were neck-and-neck with outbound ones.

Singapore

Singapore has managed to attract more than twice the number of college students it sends overseas

But in India: a one way stampede?

  • But in India, the number of students lodged abroad is at more than four times the inbound numbers.
  • Data from Open Doors 2017 on Indian students in the USA starkly highlighted this one-way stampede
  • In the five years to 2016-17, the number of Indian youth pursuing the American dream at colleges there shot up from 1 lakh to 1.86 lakh, but the number of American students studying in India fell from 4,600 to about 4,100.

Dollar drain

The rising global mobility of Indian students is a welcome trend in some respects.

A welcome trend

It enhances job prospects and encourages cross-pollination of ideas for the students who make the cut

Economic Downsides

But the trend has economic downsides too. If the hordes of bright students who head offshore for their higher studies decide to settle there permanently, the brain drain cannot be very good for India’s demographic dividend story.

Growing Foreign Exchange Remittances

  • A more immediate problem than the brain drain though, is the dollar drain. As more Indian parents pack off their children right from undergraduation, foreign exchange remittances towards their support are growing by leaps and bounds.
  • In 2016-17, Indians spent $3.7 billion towards ‘maintenance of close relatives’ and ‘studies abroad’, with these two items accounting for 45% of all outward remittances under the RBI’s Liberalised Remittance Scheme

Outflows grown exponentially

More worryingly for a country that runs a perpetual trade deficit, these outflows have grown thirteenfold since FY12, from $279 million

Conclusion

Upgrading the quality of domestic educational institutions is therefore a must-solve problem for India’s policymakers. It can staunch the brain drain, attract more international students onshore and thus help keep the balance of payments in check

Science and Technology:

Zealous frog fathers guard eggs against cannibals (The Hindu)

Context

Bush frogs breeding in bamboo stems don’t mind pulling off an all-nighter on protection duty

What

Male white-spotted bush frogs zealously watch over their eggs for 37 days, leaving only once tiny froglets emerge

Why the protection?

If the adults lower their guard even for a day, other males ‘cannibalise’ the eggs, scientists say.

Breeding Pattern

The observations of the bush frogs’ parental care and novel records of cannibalism, published on December 14 in Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology(a journal dedicated to animal behaviour), add details to a breeding pattern that scientists first recorded in 2014: that of the white-spotted bush frog Raorchesteschalazodes (rediscovered in 2011 after 125 years and found only in the Western Ghats’ Agastya Hills in Kerala and Tamil Nadu) breeding inside hollow bamboo stems.

How was it observed

Inserting an endoscope into these bamboo stems, herpetologist Seshadri K.S., who is with the National University of Singapore, observed the breeding behaviour of the critically endangered bush frogs in Tamil Nadu’s KalakkadMundanthurai Tiger Reserve for his recent work.

Loud alarm calls

The males both attended to the eggs by sitting on them [possibly to keep them hydrated], and physically guarded them by standing between the eggs and the entry hole, scaring away intruders by producing loud alarm calls and even lunging at themThe frogs deterred katydids (a kind of cricket) and even cockroaches this way.

First known instance of cannibalism in tree frogs

  • However, when these protective fathers were removed from their egg clutches, Mr.Seshadri found that a majority (more than 70%) of the eggs perished: some were eaten by ants or infected by fungi.
  • However, the main reason was that other male bush frogs entered the stem and ate unattended eggs.
  • This is the first known instance of cannibalism among tree frogs of the Rhacophoridae family.

Why the cannibalism?

  • This could be because eggs are a source of nutrition
  • But it could be a territorial display which also frees up available nesting sites.
  • Egg-laying sites within bamboo stems are highly prized because ideal cavities (which have to be cracked open by other animals) are few.

A measured leap: on planetary system (The Hindu Editorial)

Context

Scientists have announced the discovery of two new exoplanets,   Kepler-90i and Kepler-80g. Exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system, are routinely being discovered, with the number of those that have already been found now standing at 3,567.

Why this is significant

But this announcement by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the U.S. is particularly significant

Another Star besides the sun that has eight planets orbiting it

First, with the discovery of the planet Kepler 90i, orbiting the star Kepler 90, we now know of another star besides the Sun that has eight planets orbiting it.

Discovery with the help of Neural Networks

Second, Christopher Shallue, a software engineer at Google, and Andrew Vanderburg, of the University of Texas, Austin, have discovered it using a deep learning neural network — an artificial intelligence tool that mimics the workings of a human brain

How they did it

  • They “trained” their computer to analyse light readings made by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, which are archived and made available for anyone to use.
  • The duo’s network was made to learn to identify true signals using 15,000 previously vetted signals
  • They then studied the weaker signals recorded from 670 star systems that had multiple known planets orbiting them, finally coming up with this discovery
  • The network also identified another Earth-sized exoplanet, Kepler 80g, orbiting the star Kepler 80
  • This is a very stable system in which Kepler 80g and four of its neighbours are locked together in a so-called resonant chain.

Kepler Space Telescope

During its mission from 2009 to 2013, the Kepler Space Telescope surveyed nearly 200,000 stars, with 35,000 possible planet signals.

Deep learning and Neural Networks

  • Deep learning and neural networks have been used in other applications successfully, as in the AlphaGo AI player of the Go game
  • This is not also the first time that automation has been used in identifying exoplanets
  • After the initial years of their discovery, when the number of known exoplanets grew, the need for automating the initial vetting process became clear

Robovetter Program

  • The preprint of the Shallue-Vanderburg’s paper, to be published in The Astronomical Journal, mentions the Robotvetter program, the first attempt at automating the process of rejecting false positives in the signal
  • The preprint describes the careful process of doing away with the false positives and systemic blips before coming up with the true signals — in this case, the two signals corresponding to Kepler 90i and Kepler 80g
  • It also indicates the caveats and failure modes in the model where it needs to be improved before it can be used to function independently

Conclusion

Here, then, is the takeaway — good science not only solves problems but also can take a hard look at itself, at where and how it can improve. This is a leap for humankind, a measured leap.

Nanoparticles may help detect cancer early: study (Indian Express)

Context

Using light-emitting nanoparticles, scientists, including those of Indian-origin, have developed a highly effective method to detect tiny tumours and track their spread, potentially leading to earlier cancer detection.

Better than MRI

The study, published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, showed that the new method is better than magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other cancer surveillance technologies.

Identifying Small Cancerous lesions a major problem

The ability to spot early tumours that are starting to spread remains a major challenge in cancer diagnosis and treatment, as most imaging methods fail to detect small cancerous lesions.

The Nanoprobes

  • However, the study shows that tiny tumours in mice can be detected with the injection of nanoprobes, which are microscopic optical devices, that emit short-wave infrared light as they travel through the bloodstream – even tracking tiny tumours in multiple organs.
  • The nanoprobes were significantly faster than MRIs at detecting the minute spread of tiny lesions and tumours in the adrenal glands and bones in mice.
  • Cancer cells can lodge in different niches in the body, and the probe follows the spreading cells wherever they go

Potential Uses

  • The technology could be used to detect and track the 100 -plus types of cancer, and could be available within five years
  • Real-time surveillance of lesions in multiple organs should lead to more accurate pre- and post-therapy monitoring of cancer.
  • You can potentially determine the stage of the cancer and then figure out whatÂ’s the right approach for a particular patient

Environment:

Lone great white pelican a visual treat (The Hindu)

Context

Mingled with the thousands of winged guests is the lone great white pelican (Pelecanusonocrotalus) at Asia’s largest freshwater lake, Kolleru Lake, offering a rare visual treat to bird watchers

Great White Pelican

  • The feathered guest has been found spending the days with the grey pelicans and painted storks at the Atapaka Bird Sanctuary in the Kolleru Lake in Krishna district, earning its prey in the water body
  • Physically, the white pelican which is also known as rosy pelican is almost double the size of the grey pelican
  • According to sanctuary officials, the single bird has been avoiding staying on the iron bunds erected in the sanctuary and hides behind the local bushes when visitors approach it on the boat

Expert view

  1. Gracious, an authority on the Kolleru Lake said,
  • The sighting of the white pelican is very rare in the Kolleru Lake. We have documented the white pelican in 2008 and 2013. In 2013, a pair of white pelicans was sighted at the sanctuary which is very rare in the wetlands in South India

Great White Pelican

Kollerulake

Kolleru forms the largest shallow fresh water lake in Asia

  • The lake is fed directly by water from the seasonal Budameru and Tammileru streams, and is connected to the Krishna and Godavari systems by over 68 inflowing drains and channels
  • Kolleru Lake is located between the delta of Godavari and Krishna Rivers and functions as a natural flood balancing reservoir between these two deltas
  • The lake supports about 63 species of fishes, fresh water turtles and other amphibians, apart from being a habitat for many migratory birds that forms Kolleru Bird Sanctuary
  • The lake was notified as a wildlife sanctuary in November 1999 under India’s Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, and designated a wetland of international importance in November 2002 under the international Ramsar Convention
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