9 PM Current Affairs Brief – 18th November, 2017

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An absurd canvas: on Padmavati 

An absurd canvas: on Padmavati


  • The group formed against the screening of Padmavati, a big-budget period drama, is growing more violent and absurd by the day.
  • It is done to raise anxiety about the film’s scheduled release on December 1st.

The coalition

  • Uttar Pradesh state government has joined hands with the Karni Sena, a self-styled Rajput organization that uses vigilante methods to uphold its notion of caste honour
  • Lucknow has written to the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry requesting that the Central Board of Film Certification be alerted of the “public sentiment” about distortion of “facts” in the film.
  • The release of Padmavati , could disrupt law and order in the State, especially with the administration’s energies focussed on the municipal elections in end-November, the U.P. government has said.

What is it endorsing?

  • As the Supreme Court observed in S. Rangarajan vs. Jagjivan Ram, a mere threat to public order cannot be a ground to suppress freedom of expression.
  • Such statements by Government, on the question of “historical facts” in connection with a film based on a work of fiction, make them appear as endorsing random groups.
  • Over in Rajasthan, a Minister, Kiran Maheshwari, has intemperately railed against the film. And the Karni Sena, which vandalised the sets on location in Rajasthan earlier this year and also blocked entry into the Chittorgarh fort where the story is set.
  • Artists especially Deepika Padukone, its lead actor have been receiving death threats to the life and well-being of those associated with Padmavati, especially.
  • Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the film’s director who is known for his lush sets and high emotion, has been at pains to give an assurance that he has not distorted history.

The story behind Padmavati

  • The story of Padmavati draws from a 16th century Sufi poem, ‘Padmavat’, and has over the centuries been retold across north India, and that there is no historical record of Padmavati’s existence.
  • The firmness on demanding accuracy in period dramas is acts as an infringement on creativity. Fictionalizing the past has been an ancient way of understanding it, from K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam to Oliver Stone’s JFK.
  • The anxieties that are driving the Karni Sena and members of the Sangh Parivar are evidently different.
  • The narration according to them is that, Alauddin Khilji, the Delhi Sultan who wages war in the story to try to win the beautiful Padmavati, could be humanised obviously disturbs the Hindutva narrative about ‘evil invaders’.
  • The visuals of the heroine singing and dancing evidently militate against the latter-day patriarchal telling of Padmavati’s story, in which she is dutifully bounded by notions of purity and honour. In this, it is not just that the film is fuelling such worries: the film is being used to heighten such anxieties and consolidate a regressive and intolerant world view.
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A beginning, an end 

A beginning, an end


  • Zimbabwe’s governing party moved to expel President Robert Mugabe from its ranks.
  • Generals who assert their political influence rarely step back and should the coup in Zimbabwe fail to lead on to a genuine democratic transition, it could intensify authoritarianism and internal violence.

What is the impact on India?

  • For India, the stakes are modest.
  • Bilateral trade between India and Zimbabwe hovers around only $250 million.
  • There are estimated to be less than 1,000 Indian citizens in Zimbabwe, along with some 10,000 people of ethnic-Gujarati origin.

Why India needs to be pay attention?

  • There are good strategic reasons for India to follow events closely:
  • India has begun investing seriously in Africa over the past decade, hoping to retain its historic influence in the face of a growing Chinese presence.
  • Throughout Africa, China has been the principal beneficiary of authoritarianism and corruption.
  • Thus, India can work to facilitate a good outcome, by throwing its weight behind South Africa-led mediation efforts, and persuading Western governments.

Bilateral trade between India and Zimbabwe:

  • Statistics: Bilateral trade between India and Zimbabwe totaled US$ 222.31 million in 2014-15. Indian exports to Zimbabwe stood at $222.19 million, while imports stood at $120,000.
  • Public sector firm: Indian public sector firms such as Indian Railway Construction Company (IRCON), Rail India Technical & Economic Services (RITES), Water and Power Consultancy Services (WAPCOS) and Telecommunications India Ltd. (TCIL) are active in Zimbabwe.
  • Agriculture: Irrigation supply pumps and irrigation equipment to Zimbabwe.
  • Health: Indian pharmaceutical firms have a strong presence in the Zimbabwean market and Indian-made medicines are commonly found in the country.
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India, France to enhance counter-terror ties (The Hindu)

India, France to enhance counter-terror ties (The Hindu)


  • India and France have taken upon the task to enhance counter- terror cooperation, and asked the international community to oppose those financing, sheltering and providing safe havens to terrorists.

The meet

  • It was announced by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj after her talks with her French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, during which key bilateral, regional and international issues were discussed.

Grave concern

  • Grave concerns were expressed on growing terrorism and the need to fight terrorism together is the need of the hour.
  • India and France appealed to all countries to oppose those financing, sheltering and providing safe havens to terrorists.
  • On maritime security, the two sides discussed growing cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.
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India’s heritage city races to save icons from polluted ruin 

India’s heritage city races to save icons from polluted ruin 


  • Traffic choked the centuries-old stone archway into Ahmedabad’s historic quarter as conservation experts warns Ahmedabad, one of the world’s most polluted cities, facing a huge task defending its newly won UNESCO status as its fragile cultural icon decay under neglect, traffic and trash.

What happened?

  • The 600-year-old enclave was named India’s first ‘World Heritage City’ in July despite few warnings from UNESCO’s own experts that it lacked a convincing plan for protecting its ancient citadels, mosques and tombs.
  • Ahmedabad hosts the towering Bhadra fort, the legendary stone latticework of the 16th-century Sidi Saiyyed mosque, and countless relics fusing the unique Hindu and Muslim architectural styles of its conquerors.
  • Authorities hope the global recognition from the UN’s cultural body will restore community pride in the crumbling, garbage-strewn old city.

Hope of the moment

  • Residents of Ahmedabad hoped that he UNESCO listing would bring standards in her dilapidated neighbourhood into line with newer areas beyond the old city’s walls.
  • The chronic air pollution, crushing traffic and chaotic urban sprawl has resulted into as experts say are also rapidly eroding its cultural capital.
  • The relentless congestion tears apart roads and fouls the air with fumes, streaking stone-carved monuments with black exhaust stains.
  • Long-flouted laws banning construction near heritage sites have also hampered efforts to save Ahmedabad’s treasures from ruin.
  • Ornate homes have been torn down and replaced by garish structures “totally incongruous” with history. The heritage listing would give teeth to those safeguarding Ahmedabad’s architectural heritage.

What are the challenges?

  • The long-neglected quarters, sealed off from the outside world by intricate alleys, are well beyond restoration.
  • Many traditional ‘pols’, clusters of settlements identified by UNESCO as bearing “enormous” historical value are all but abandoned, the iconic wooden homes collapsing from neglect.
  • Ahmedabad’s conservation committee has three years to document close to 3,000 buildings of heritage value to strict UNESCO standards which is a monumental task for Ghosh’s small team.
  • UNESCO could revoke or downgrade Ahmedabad’s listing to “heritage in danger” should the deadline be missed and the committee fail to show it has slowed the decline and destruction of the old city.
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The superbugs of Hyderabad 

The superbugs of Hyderabad


  • The Kazipally well, a temporary containment facility for toxic effluents from a dozen pharmaceutical companies, is not leak-proof. A natural rivulet takes the fluid in the well to the nearby Gandigudem lake, where harming mostly farmers and some pharma industry workers raise fish to sell.

What is happening?

  • Deep inside the Kazipally industrial area of Hyderabad, the capital of Telangana, is an open well into which empties a thin stream ‘Industrial Effluent’.
  • The effluent gets transferred to Patancheru Enviro Tech Limited (PETL), an effluent treatment plant, where it gets be treated and released into Hyderabad’s Musi river.
  • On October 3 this year, when heavy rains lashed Hyderabad, it flooded, poisoning around 2.3 lakh fish in the lake.
  • Environmental pollution is happening since the pharmaceutical industry took root in the city in the 1970s, threatening agriculture, aquaculture and the health of Hyderabadis. But new research in the last few years shows this pollution to be a threat of a larger, more terrifying scale.

A whole new species of danger

  • The Kazipally well, along with ditches, lakes and rivers around the pharmaceutical cluster, receives large doses of antibiotics, along with the traditionally monitored pollutants. When these antibiotics come in contact with pathogenic bacteria (which cause disease in humans), the latter learn to resist the former, making human infections by these pathogens extremely hard to treat.
  • Antibiotic resistance is arguably the biggest threat to global health in the 21st century.
  • A big driver of resistance is the overuse of these drugs. When people take antibiotics they don’t need, for a viral flu, but resistance genes don’t come out of nowhere – some of them have existed for decades in soil and water, helping environmental bacteria fight natural antibiotics.

Forced evolution

  • Studies in Hyderabad’s pharmaceutical cluster now show that the large doses of man-made antibiotics in pollution hotspots like Kazipally force these environmental bacteria to evolve by boosting the numbers of resistance genes.
  • Hyderabad’s pharmaceutical industry has responded to the science linking antibiotic pollution with resistance by questioning the motives of the researchers.

Shocking findings

  • In 2005, Cecilia de Pedro, a student of environmental sciences at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, began testing the effects of industrial waste water on a tiny transparent crustacean, the water flea using samples from PETL’s plant.
  • Pedro found out how poisonous the treated discharge from PETL was to the flea, no one was surprised. De Pedro’s findings intrigued D.G. Joakim Larsson, an eco-toxicologist at the same university. He wanted to find out if the culprits were pharmaceuticals.
  • So Larsson and team decided to jump in and tested this treated output for 59 pharmaceuticals. The findings were a bombshell.
  • The team found 11 drugs in high quantities, of which six were antibiotics. But the real surprise was the quantity of antibiotics found.
  • PETL was dumping ciprofloxacin at a rate of 31,000 micrograms per litre. It was more than the concentration of ciprofloxacin in the blood of people who were being treated with the drug. It was enough to kill aquatic species such as algae.
  • In the next few years, Larsson collaborated with other researchers to publish a series of papers analysing data from Hyderabad. But merely finding antibiotics along with resistant bacteria doesn’t prove that the former caused the latter. So, the researchers did another study, comparing lakes in Kazipally with the Himayath Sagar and Osman Sagar lakes of Hyderabad, both far from the pharma industry and unlikely to be as polluted.
  • For good measure, they sampled two unpolluted Swedish lakes too. The analysis was telling. Neither the Indian nor Swedish controls had resistant bacteria in numbers as high as the lakes in the pharma cluster.
  • The microbes in the Kazipally lake had integrons and plasmids, which are bits of genetic material that let resistance genes hop from one bug to another. When lake bacteria were mixed in the lab with the Escherichia coli bacterium (some strains of which can cause diarrhoeal disease in humans), the genes jumped across with alacrity, turning the E. coli multidrug resistant.

Rebuttals and loopholes

  • In May this year, the BDMA published a rebuttal which, challenging the idea that pharmaceutical pollution causes resistance.
  • For the study, Dayananda Siddavattam, a professor at the University of Hyderabad, collected water and soil samples from near the facilities of companies like Aurobindo Pharma, Hetero Drugs and Virchow Laboratories. He then cultured bacteria from them, and tested for resistance against ten antibiotics. For comparison, he carried out the same exercise in the Nallagandla lake 50 km away from these companies.
  • The report says that there was no difference in the numbers of antibiotic-resistance bacteria near the companies and away from them.
  • In general, evidence that antibiotic pollution leads to resistance is strong enough to take action, said Sumanth Gandra, a researcher who studies the problem at New Delhi’s Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy.

Cleaner, but not clean enough

  • The government began a number of initiatives, especially to control liquid pollution.
  • Around 86 of the 220 bulk drug makers in Hyderabad today have zero liquid discharge facilities, which means that they recycle all the liquid effluent. The only waste they generate is solid, which is incinerated or buried in landfills.
  • Meanwhile, PETL has spruced up too. Today, it does not dump its discharge into the local Isakavagu creek, shipping it instead in an 18 km pipeline to a domestic sewage treatment plant near the Musi river.
  • The discharge gets mixed with treated sewage and diluted before being released into the Musi. The quality of effluent that comes to PETL today is more tightly controlled too, as pharma companies pre-treat it.
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‘First industry built PSLV by 2020’ 

‘First industry built PSLV by 2020’ 


The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is preparing to hand over the entire gamut of launch vehicle manufacture to domestic industry by 2020.


  • Till now, public and private industries have only supplied devices, components and sub-systems for ISRO’s launch vehicles, including the PSLV and the GSLV.
  • ISRO already has a partnership with private industry to produce satellites.
  • The IRNSS-1H communication satellite aboard the ill-fated PSLV C-39 was the first to be produced by a consortium of six companies.
  • ISRO had a partnership with about 500 domestic industries for the supply of various components and devices.
  • About 80% of the cost of launch vehicles and 40% of satellites are handled by these industries.
  • ISRO had tightened tolerance to error following the failure of the PSLV –C39 mission.
  • Reusable launch vehicles promise to bring down launch cost but pose a problem for industry due to lower demand.
  • ISRO stress on need for industry to reduce the manufacturing and material cost without compromising on quality to bring down the launch cost.

About ISRO:

  • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is the space agency of India headquartered in the city of Bengaluru.
  • Its vision is to “harness space technology for national development while pursuing space science research and planetary exploration.
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Beyond Piketty: on income inequality 

Beyond Piketty: on income inequality 


  • With state elections being just a stone throw away, debate on the Indian economy has become increasingly focused.
  • It has been demonstrated that rising income inequality is a by-product of growth in the developed world.

Poverty and inequality:

  • It is plausible that poverty reduction slowed in 2016-17 because of deceleration of income growth.
  • And huge shocks of demonetisation and the GST to the informal sector have aggravated income inequality.
  • In sum, regardless of the longer-term outlook and presumed but dubious benefits of the policy shocks, the distress of large segments of the Indian population was avoidable.


  • Both demonetisation and GST, are guaranteed to yield long-term benefits, regardless of large-scale hardships, loss of livelihoods, closure of small and medium enterprises and slowdown of agriculture.
  • But critics reject these claims lock, stock and barrel.
  • Lack of robust evidence is as much a problem for the official proponents of these policies as it is for the critics.
  • Hence the debate continues unchanged with frequent aggressive incidences.
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