Art and culture:
Crucible for civilisation(The Hindu Opinion)
A recently published paper has revealed that small tools were used nearly 385,000 years ago at Attirampakkam
- Located close to Madras, it is the site where, in 1863, British geologist and archaeologist Robert Bruce Foote discovered the first Palaeolithic stone tools from India
- Since then, this site has been visited by many investigators, and considerably more knowledge about the civilisation has been obtained.
The generally accepted theory:
Until recently, it was believed that modern human ancestors moved out of Africa and settled in various places where they left their mark by introducing small tools, around 140,000-120,000 years ago.
About the paper:
- The paper named ‘Early Middle Palaeolithic culture in India around 385-172 ka reframes Out of Africa models’, by Akhilesh Kumar, Shanti Pappu and others have been published in the Nature
- The paper has revealed stunning new evidence that small tool — as opposed to larger ones that characterised early human species — were being made at Attirampakkam way before — nearly 385,000 years ago.
- However, it is difficult to comment whether this paper contradict the theory of humans migrating out of Africa
- The research has been also cautious in stating that it does not actually identify who made the smaller tools- it may have been archaic hominins who had figured out that these were more useful than larger tools, or it could have been modern humans who coexisted with the last of the archaic hominins.
Difficulties in the Study:
The study at Attirampakkam is complex because close to this region, there is poor fossil record, owing to the prevailing soil conditions.
Significance of the study:
The paper helps to set the time when the transition from larger hand axes and cleavers, known technically as the Acheulean culture, to smaller tools such as scrapers, used in the Middle Palaeolithic culture, happened.
Additional material from this site is required to understand why the technology transfer happened, and its relevance to understanding Indian and global civilisation.
Society related issues:
Can sanitation reduce stunting?(The Hindu Opinion)
- Impact of sanitation on stunting
- The results of two ambitious new trials published this year show that studying the impact of sanitation on stunting is tricky.
- The trials, which implemented water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) interventions in Bangladesh and Kenyan villages for two years, were an effort to prevent stunting seen in children under two years in developing countries.
- The WASH interventions included replacing poor-quality toilets with improved ones, chlorinating drinking water, and promoting handwashing.
Outcomes of the trials:
- When the trials ended, the researchers found these children were not taller than those who did not receive these interventions.
- The findings are a setback to the hypothesis that improving sanitation can thwart childhood stunting.
- The new trials raise doubts about the link between sanitation and stunting in India too.
The problem of open defecation in India:
- India is the only country today in which over 50% of the rural population still defecates in the open.
- Bangladesh, while close to India in population density, brought down open defecation rates from 42% in 2003 to just 1% in 2016.
- Stunting is a complex problem.
- Children in richer South Asian countries are shorter on average than those in poorer Sub-Saharan African countries, and no intervention so far has closed this gap.
Causes of stunting:
- Prenatal health, breastfeeding and diet, among dozens of factors, have been implicated in stunting.
- Poor sanitation plays a greater role in stunting, because faecal bacteria and parasites deprive the child of nutrition.
- The problem is that most of the data which show that children in households with poor toilets are more likely to be stunted comes from descriptive studies.
Studies in Gambian:
- Studies in Gambian children in the 1990s showed that intestinal inflammation, possibly caused by exposure to faecal germs, is correlated with stunting.
- Among animals, baby mice infected with Escherichia coli, a faecal bacterium, grew slower, and showed signs of such intestinal inflammation when dissected.
- The study also showed that open defecation had a stronger impact on height when population density was higher, as is the case of India and Bangladesh.
Changing people’s sanitation habits:
- India’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) is an example of how difficult it is to change people’s sanitation habits.
- Even though the SBA aims to eliminate open defecation by 2019, data from the 2015-16 National Family Health Survey show the campaign hasn’t changed much since it began.
- Almost halfway through the SBA, open defecation remained quite common in rural India and its distribution across districts looked pretty similar to 2011.
Behavioural change campaigns:
- Behavioral change campaigns need to be initiated to tackle the problem.
- In this background, the Bangladesh study is significant because it did succeed in changing participant behaviour.
- It provides critical information for countries that have already eliminated open defecation.
- They may now want to weigh the merits of sanitation against other interventions like nutrition.
Back to the chessboard?(The Hindu Opinion)
Sri Lanka’s local government election held on February 10 has led to a political crisis in the country, threatening the stability of the present government.
What has happened?
- Sri Lankan President and PM have failed to reach consensus on the future of their coalition government, following the huge defeat their parties suffered in the recent local government elections.
- Mr. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) and the Sirisena-led faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), its traditional rival, have been in government together since 2015
- In the February 10 local government polls, the partners in national government contested separately and lost to the newly formed party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), or Sri Lanka People’s Front backed by Mr. Rajapaksa
Background of the Crisis:
- The discord between the President and the Prime Minister has been building up for over a year on a mixture of policy and personal issues.
- The President had alleged that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and his ministers had been mishandling the economy, and had been even engaged in large-scale corruption while preaching clean governance.
- In the backdrop of the escalating cold war between the two leaders was a major policy failure of the government. A massive financial fraud was committed during the central bank’s bond sales in 2015.
- Much of the blame was put on the Prime Minister by the opposition and the media for allowing it to happen and then attempting a cover-up.
- Amidst a public outcry, Mr. Sirisena had appointed a commission last year to investigate the fraud
- The Commission had recommended the prosecution of the bank’s former Governor, his son-in-law and their accomplices.
- This had further deteriorated the relations between the Prime Minister and the President
- It is this conflict that exploded in February 11 soon after the election results showed the newly formed party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), or Sri Lanka People’s Front backed by Mr. Rajapaksa winning comfortably.
Dimensions of the Crisis:
There are two dimensions:
- The pressure from the Rajapaksa camp for the Wickremesinghe government to resign, interpreting the local government election as a referendum on the government as well as a loss of its popular mandate of 2015.
- The government can easily dismiss the pressure. The outcome of the local government election has no direct bearing on the government’s parliamentary majority.Thus, the power within Parliament has not been altered, and it is likely to remain that way unless the ruling coalition breaks up.
- If the President and Prime Minister do not find a framework of reconciliation between them, governance in Sri Lanka will crawl along for two years
- The programme of constitutional and political reform, peace building, inter-ethnic reconciliation and democratic consolidation will enter an extended state of stalemate.
The many conflicts in Syria(The Hindu Opinion)
- The Syrian crisis is escalating with the regime beginning a new phase of the war in Idlib province.
Syrian crisis escalating further:
- The new phase of the war is controlled by rebels and al-Qaeda-linked jihadists; Turkey sending troops across the border to fight the Kurdish rebels; and the U.S. seemingly determined to stay in Syria for a longer term.
- Like the first phase of the civil war, this phase is also multidirectional.
- The regime, backed by Iran and Russia, is fighting against the rebels and jihadists in Idlib, Eastern Ghouta, and some southern enclaves.
- Turkish proxies, backed by the air force, are attacking Kurdish militias in Afrin, a border town.
- The U.S. continues to support the Kurdish militias in several other towns in the border region.
- Turkish and Israeli jets are now carrying out airstrikes in Syria.
- With more powers in the war, finding a solution is becoming more complicated.
War of words over pilgrim visas(The Hindu)
- Islamabad has denied visas to 173 pilgrims who wanted to visit the famous Katasraj temple near Lahore.
Why is it in news?
- A conflict has broken out between India and Pakistan soon after the denial.
- Pakistan is empowered to grant the visas without shifting the blame on its refusal to the applicant country.
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Islamabad issued a statement saying that it was India that refused to clear the pilgrims.
Rouhani visit signals balance in ties(The Hindu)
- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will visit India from February 15 to 17.
- His visit just came after Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran’s biggest rival, made a historic visit.
Purpose of visit:
- His visit will send out a message that India aims for balance in its ties in the neighbourhood.
- Mr. Rouhani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will seek to iron out issues on trade, connectivity, banking and energy.
- Both the sides would review the progress achieved in bilateral relations and also exchange views on regional and international issues of mutual interest.
- India’s oil imports from Iran, which had plummeted to new lows last year, will go up this year, because of “better terms from Iran”, which is anticipating possible new sanctions being imposed by the Trump administration.
Importance of Iran for India:
- Iran is not only important for India’s energy needs but also its only route for access to Central Asia.
- Among the subjects expected to be discussed are the progress of the $500-million Beheshti port project in Chabahar, where India is expected to complete development of berths later this year.
- India is already routing a consignment of 1.1 million tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan through the existing facilities at Chabahar.
- On bilateral trade, the biggest stumbling block is banking channels.
- The two sides are now discussing the possibility of a “rupee-rial mechanism”, in addition to the current channel through UCO Bank for rupee payments.
- However, European banks have refused to support the trade, given the uncertainty over fresh sanctions from the U.S.
- Another issue is the pending negotiations over the Farzad-B gas and oil fields that India has expressed its interest in.
- Iran is likely to seek India’s support at the upcoming meeting of the UN’s Financial Action Task Force, where Tehran is hoping to exit a blacklist on money laundering and terror finance.
- India hopes to see Pakistan put on a “grey-list” at the meeting.
- India has called for a comprehensive political settlement and reconciliation in Iraq at the International Conference for Reconstruction of Iraq in Kuwait, where major world powers are meeting to chalk out a plan of recovery for the country.
India called for an end to global terrorism:
- India will play its part in the reconstruction, and called for an end to global terrorism.
- India supports the important role assigned to private sector investors in the rebuilding of the terrorist-affected areas in Iraq.
- India is willing to play a substantive role in major projects in petrochemicals, health, education, infrastructure and other sectors.
- India will also look at any specific requests for rehabilitation projects and essential supplies like medicines, equipment, etc., as required for internally displaced persons as part of our assistance programme.
- Since the outbreak of the war in 2003, India had frequently responded to the humanitarian needs in Iraq.
- India contributed in several ways, including providing $10 million in aid towards the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq (IRFFI) for investments, reconstruction and development in Iraq.
Recently, U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened retaliatory action against two major Asian trading partners.
What has happened?
- President Trump had recently received two Commerce Department reports concerning alleged Chinese subsidies for steel and aluminium exports-materials that are vital for industries from construction to autos
- Trump has accused China of decimating American steel, aluminium industries via subsidies
- He has warned of sanctions against China. He has threatened to impose fresh tariffs on imports from China
- Further, he has also vowed to revise or scrap a free trade deal with South Korea.
Experts believe any U.S. sanctions would prompt China to respond with sanctions of its own, raising the spectre of a trade war between the world’s two largest economies.
Don’t disrupt global economy, China warns(The Hindu)
China has warned that U.S. trade sanctions will hit the world economy
What has happened?
- Recently, President Donald Trump threatened to impose fresh tariffs on imports from China.
- China has warned that any sign of unilateralism or protectionism will worsen global trade and will hurt the recovering momentum of the world economy
The United States intelligence chief has said that he expected increased tensions between India and Pakistan.
- U.S Intelligence Chief warned that terror groups supported by Pakistan will continue to attack inside India
- The remark was made during the hearing on ‘Worldwide Threat Assessment’ of the US intelligence community.
- The remark has come days after a group of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists attacked the Army’s Sunjuwan camp in Jammu on February 10
- U.S Intelligence Chief further commented that Pakistan will continue to threaten the U.S. interests by deploying new nuclear weapons capabilities, maintaining its ties to militants, restricting counter- terrorism cooperation, and drawing closer to China
- He also added the Pakistan’s actions will run counter to U.S. goals in the region
Indian Constitution and Polity:
- Recently, the Supreme Court passed orders for installation of CCTV cameras in courts.
- On March 28, 2017, the Supreme Court directed that CCTV cameras should be installed in courts and important locations of court complexes in at least two districts in every State and Union Territory.
- The monitor of these cameras should be placed in the chamber of the district and session judge concerned.
- The apex court had, in its order, made it clear that footage from the cameras would not be made available to the public under the Right to Information Act or without the permission of the High Court concerned.
- The court had also considered the issue of CCTV cameras in tribunals where open hearing takes place like courts.
- It was further directed that cameras may be installed in subordinate courts in a phased manner.
Rationale behind this decision:
- The Supreme Court recently clarified that its orders is meant solely for security purposes and not to record proceedings, which anyway were open to the public.
- For security and administration of justice
“Substantial work” done by government:
- The Supreme Court on Wednesday observed that “substantial work” had been done by the government in this regard.
- The court asked the Union Law Ministry to take a call on whether CCTV cameras should be installed in central quasi judicial authorities within four weeks.
Prasar Bharati, Centre on collision course(The Hindu)
- The Prasar Bharati Board on Thursday will discuss a proposal of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to appoint an IAS officer as a board member, giving it a larger say in the working of the autonomous public service broadcaster.
- Surya Prakash, who was recently reappointed Prasar Bharati Chairperson, is likely to red-flag the appointment as it is in contravention of two clauses of the Prasar Bharati Act.
- The member (personnel) is responsible for all the personnel and administrative matters concerning the public service broadcaster.
Purpose of this decision:
- To have a better control over the autonomous body.
Against the Act:
- Clause 4(1) of the Act says the Chairman and all the members of the board are to be appointed by the President on the recommendation of a committee consisting of the Vice-President, the Chairman of the Press Council of India and a nominee of the President.
- Clause 6(2) says the member (personnel) “shall be whole-time member”.
- Clause 6(7) says whole-time members shall be the employees of the corporation.
What is the controversy?
- It is not under the board’s jurisdiction to make such a suggestion to the government when there is an Act that clearly lays down the method to make such an appointment.
- The proposal seeks to bypass the office of Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu and if such a resolution is cleared, it will denigrate his position.
The Supreme Court may hear a plea to direct the Union government to adopt the “two-child” policy norm in family planning.
About the Petition:
- The public interest litigation petition has been filed by activist Anupam Bajpai
- The petition calls for incentives for couples who follow the “two-child” policy norm and punishment by withdrawal of government “facilities and concessions” for those who violate the norm
- The petition has asked the court to direct the Central government to “motivate the people of this country” to follow the two-child policy norm
The concern over rising population:
- According to the petition, the growing population has put immense pressure on natural resources.
- This has led to several problems which include land degradation, dangerous levels of pollution, global warming and the depletion of ground and surface water.
Mind the perimeter: On J&K terror attacks(The Hindu Editorial)
- The number of casualties in the terror attack on the Sunjuwan Army base in Jammu has risen to seven after clearing operations.
The terror attack:
- The garrison of the 36 Brigade of Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry was attacked by a small group of heavily armed terrorists that managed to enter the residential quarters of soldiers.
- While three terrorists were killed, six soldiers and a civilian lost their lives.
- The Sunjuwan attack exposes the vulnerabilities in perimeter security and the scant progress made in improving the security protocol since the attack on the Pathankot Air Force station in January 2016.
- In the aftermath of Pathankot, a committee undertook a security audit of all military bases across the country.
- It identified sensitive installations and recommended measures to fortify them.
- The Defence Ministry sanctioned Rs. 1,487 crore to strengthen sensitive military installations across the country as per the recommendations of a 2016 audit.
- Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, has also directed the Army to complete its implementation by the end of the year.
- It must be borne in mind that a successful attack does not necessarily mean that the soldier on the ground is careless in performing his duties.
- Many bases along the border are located in tough terrain, and are in close proximity to civilian dwellings, demanding care from the soldier to avoid civilian casualties in crossfire while adhering to the standard operating procedures.
₹11,500 crore fraud rocks state-run PNB(The Hindu)
- State-run lender Punjab National Bank (PNB) reported unauthorised transactions worth ₹11,500 crore in one of its branches in south Mumbai.
- The Enforcement Directorate has registered a money laundering case in the matter.
- It involves Mumbai-based billionaire diamond merchant Nirav Modi.
- A case has been registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation against him and his business associates as well as a serving PNB official and a retired deputy manager of the bank.
- The bank’s stock plunged almost 10% through the day and its market capitalisation eroded by nearly ₹3,900 crore by the end of trading on the Bombay Stock Exchange.
Booked under Prevention of Corruption Act:
- All the accused have been booked for cheating and criminal conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code along with criminal misconduct by a public servant under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The ratings illusion(The Hindu Opinion)
- Modern day credit rating agencies were first established after the financial crisis of 1837 in the U.S.
- Such agencies were then needed to rate the ability of a merchant to pay his debts, consolidating such data in ledgers; soon enough, such ratings were being applied to equity stocks.
- By the 1920s, the big three of the ratings world (including Fitch, Standard & Poor’s) had been incorporated.
- The passage of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1933 helped formulate the separation of the securities business from banking.
- Soon enough, by the 1960s, such ratings had spread over to commercial paper and bank deposits, along with expansion into rating the global bond market (including sovereign bonds).
Loopholes in credit ranking agency:
- Despite vital role in the global financial world, rating agencies fail to inspire confidence, with allegations of improper and inaccurate ratings occurring frequently.
- The National Commission on the Causes of Financial and Economic Crisis in the United States (2011) held the failure of rating agencies to be essential mechanism in the wheels of financial destruction.
- Moody’s has been fined across various geographies for non-adherence to standard rating protocols.
- Such rating agencies can have a global impact, affecting the fiscal fortunes of nations, due to flight of capital.
- Nations perhaps give too much importance to the achievement on such ratings, despite their structural flaws.
- India must utilise indigenous rating agncies, to help clean house in corporate sector.
- To safeguard investors, SEBI can explore reforms so that credit rating agencies do not provide non-rating advisory services to their clients, even at the cost of reduced profits.
- A fixed operating fee model may also be explored, thereby eliminating incentives to be the “lowest-bidder” with compromised quality.
- Outstanding ratings and sudden downgrades need to be subjected to greater supervision.
- Akin to auditors, corporates should be pushed to change rating agencies on a regular basis.
- The “issuer-pays” model needs to change to an “investor-pays” model, with fees being standardised by the market regulator.
- At the governmental level, our fiscal decisions should be marked by a push towards developing an economy with full employment and innovation, instead of seeking to chase down ratings quarter by quarter.
PNB warns peers about LoU fraud(The Hindu)
- Reeling from a ₹11,500-crore fraud, Punjab National Bank reached out to alert other lenders to the perpetrators’ modus operandi, while at the same time apportioning a share of the blame to its competitors’ overseas branches.
What has happened?
- Recently, PNB found that the SWIFT system had been misused by a junior-level branch officials, who had fraudulently issued letters of undertaking (LoUs) on behalf of some companies for availing buyer’s credit from overseas branches of Indian banks.
- The SWIFT network and identification codes are most commonly used for international wire transfers.
- In one instance, LoUs were opened in favour of overseas branches of Indian banks for import of pearls for a period of one year, for which as per RBI norms, the total time period allowed is 90 days from the date of shipment.
- India has initiated a review of the anti-dumping duty on flat base steel wheels from China.
- India had in 2013 imposed duty up to $613 per tonne on import of the product from China for five years.
- As per the World Trade Organisation, if a company exports a product at a price lower than the price it normally charges on its own home market, it is said to be “dumping” the product.
The review investigation:
- The Directorate General of Anti-dumping and allied Duties (DGAD) has initiated the review investigation.
- The move comes in the backdrop of India’s huge trade deficit with China ($51.1 billion in FY’17).
- The Authority (DGAD) has considered the period of October, 2016 to September, 2017 as the period of investigation.
- It seeks to examine whether the expiry of such duty is likely to lead to continuation or recurrence of dumping and injury to the domestic (Indian) industry.
Centre targets industry to save power(The Hindu)
- The Centre, through its company Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), is planning to replicate its success in the LED space in the commercial sector by creating a market for low-cost, energy-efficient motors.
Rationale behind this decision:
- A large chunk of energy consumption goes to industry.
- About 30-34% of the total energy consumption goes to the industrial sector, which is a substantial amount. And out of that, about 70% is electrical energy consumption.
- Most of this electricity consumption is due to the use of motor-driven systems.
- To address the efficiency issues in the entire system.
- EESL had so far been able to create motors in the capacity range of 1.1 KW to 22KW that are 30% cheaper and result in an average of 15% lower electricity usage.
- The EESL motors are of the IE-3 level, which save between 7% to 23% of electricity compared with the current industry standard, depending on the application
- The present practice is based on using non-IE motors
- About 99% of the motors being used are IE-1 or non-IE.
Phase wise plans:
- Phase 1 of the nation-wide programme, would seek to replace 1.2 lakh motors of the capacity of 1.1-22 KW, which would save 175 million units of electricity.
- In the second phase, , two lakh motors would be replaced, including those of a capacity higher than 22 KW.
- There are in total about 11 million motors that can be replaced, which works out to about 15 billion units of electricity being saved.
- This can lead to 6,000 MW of capacity reduction. But 11 million cannot be done overnight.
DVC to start exporting power to Bangladesh(The Hindu)
Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) would soon begin exporting power to Bangladesh.
- DVC would soon begin exporting power to Bangladesh on the basis of a bid it had won, for supplying 300 MW
- It has won the bid through its power trading partner NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam Ltd.
- This is the first time that DVC had won a global tender for cross-border power supply
- DVC would supply power to Bangladesh from January 2020 to May 2033.
- The short-term supply would commence from June 2018 and end in December 2019.
- The line would be commissioned in June 2018
- The power would be evacuated through the 500 MW HVDC transmission line through Baharampur in West Bengal and Behrammara in Bangladesh.
- DVC has an installed capacity of 7,237.2 MW
- DVC supplies power to six States (Karnataka, Kerala, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh), apart from its two holding States (West Bengal and Jharkhand).
- A new loan agreement for water sector is set to benefit the desert areas in Rajasthan through restructuring of Indira Gandhi Canal and formulation of flood management systems for the Ravi, Beas, Sutlej and Ghaggar rivers.
- The agreement has been signed with New Development Bank.
- The release of 1,000 crore as first instalment of a loan worth 3,300 crore, was signed.
- The loan amount of second phase will be released in April, followed by the release of subsequent instalments to match the project’s implementation.
Utilization of the loan amount:
- Utilization of the loan amount would facilitate:
- usage of rainwater and floodwaters of the four rivers coming from Punjab,
- stopping the flow of excess water towards the India-Pakistan border,
- restructuring and repairing of Indira Gandhi Canal and its distributaries will help solve the problems of loss of water and water-locking in the agricultural fields, and
- ensure the supply of irrigation water to the farmers at the tail-ends of the Indira Gandhi Canal Project.