📰 THE HINDU – CURRENT NOTE 15 February
💡 India’s air pollution rivals China’s as world’s deadliest, shows study
- A new study of global air pollution by the Health Effects Institute shows India’s rapidly worsening air pollution is causing about 1.1 million people to die prematurely each year and is now surpassing China’s as the deadliest in the world.
- The number of premature deaths in China caused by dangerous air particles, known as PM2.5, has stabilised globally in recent years but has risen sharply in India. India has registered an alarming increase of nearly 50% in premature deaths from particulate matter between 1990 and 2015, the report says.
- The confluence of rapid industrialisation, population growth and an ageing populace in India that is more susceptible to air pollution. Pollution levels are worsening in India as it tries to industrialise, but the idea that policy-making should be led by government is lacking.
- As air pollution worsened in parts of the world, including South Asia, it improved in the U.S. and Europe, the report said.
- Environmental regulations in the U.S. and actions by the European Commission have led to substantial progress in reducing fine particulate pollution since 1990, the report said. The U.S. has experienced a reduction of about 27% in the average annual exposure to fine particulate matter, with smaller declines in Europe.
- The health effects of the ultrafine particles are still being studied and the full effects are only beginning to be understood. These studies are hard to do, and isolating the effects of air pollution is hard.
- A fraction of the width of a human hair, these particles can be released from vehicles, particularly those with diesel engines, and by industry, as well as from natural sources like dust. They enter the bloodstream through the lungs, worsening cardiac disease and increasing the risk of stroke and heart failure, in addition to causing severe respiratory problems, like asthma and pneumonia.
- Deaths caused by air pollution grew to 4.2 million in 2015 from 3.5 million in 1990, the rate of increase of about 20% was slower than the rate of the population rise during that time. That is because of improved healthcare in many parts of the world, as well as public policy initiatives undertaken in the U.S., Europe and other regions that reduced emissions from industrialization.
- China also offers an encouraging sign. Premature deaths from particulate matter each year have stabilised at around 1.1 million since 2005, the report said. Still, that is an increase of 17% since 1990, when it was a little more than 9,45,000.
- Weak environmental regulation in India leaves India’s citizens with few alternatives other than to petition the courts to take action to protect the public’s health. But the courts often lack the power or mechanisms to enforce their actions.
💡 ‘Thubber’ for use in soft, stretchable electronics
- Scientists have developed soft, stretchable machines and electronics, a novel rubber material with high thermal conductivity and elasticity.
- Applications could extend to industries like athletic wear and sports medicine — think of lighted clothing for runners and heated garments for injury therapy. Advanced manufacturing, energy, and transportation are other areas where stretchable electronic material could have an impact, researchers said.
- Until now, high power devices have had to be affixed to rigid, inflexible mounts that were the only technology able to dissipate heat efficiently. Now stretchable mounts for LED lights or computer processors that enable high performance without overheating in applications that demand flexibility, such as light-up fabrics and iPads that fold into your wallet can be created.
- The material, nicknamed ‘thubber’, is an electrically insulating composite that exhibits an unprecedented combination of metal-like thermal conductivity, elasticity similar to soft, biological tissue, and can stretch over six times its initial length.
- The key ingredient in “thubber” is a suspension of non-toxic, liquid metal micro-droplets. The liquid state allows the metal to deform with the surrounding rubber at room temperature.
💡 Trade unions oppose changes to Factories Act
- The central trade unions, in a meeting with Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya, have opposed the Centre’s proposed change to empower states to increase threshold limit for coverage of factories under the Factories Act, 1948.
- A joint memorandum submitted by 12 central trade unions to the Labour Minister strongly object to the amendment proposed to the definition of ‘factory’ giving powers to State Governments to increase the threshold limits of workers up to 20 and 40 in the case of establishments working with and without the aid of power respectively.
- The unions demanded covering all manufacturing firms under the Factories Act. The present Factories Act, 1948 applies to establishments with 10 or more workers, if the premise is using power, and to establishments with 20 or more workers, without power connection.
- The Centre has proposed an enabling provision that lets State governments decide the threshold over which a unit will be considered a factory for the purpose of the law.
- The unions also opposed another proposal allowing entrepreneurs to set up a factory without getting a licence. The Centre had said that registration on a web portal would be enough.
- The central trade union said, In the name of online registration, the process of self-certification coupled with deemed approval and the removal of licensing will result in freeing the employer of any regulatory control. This will endanger the health and safety of workers and society at large.
- The Labour Ministry officials remained tight-lipped on its earlier proposal to create a new Bill for factories with less than 40 workers, proposed as the Small Factories Bill, 2015. The unions requested the Centre to circulate the draft Bill to amend the Factories Act, 1948. The Labour Ministry circulated a note to the unions stating the proposed changes to the Act instead of a copy of the draft Bill.
💡 Trusted Trump aide Flynn resigns as NSA
- Michael Flynn, a former military general who helped to shape President Donald Trump’s foreign policy views, resigned as the National Security Adviser on Monday. Mr. Flynn, in his resignation letter, admitted to giving incomplete information to the Vice-President on his phone calls with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. while he was the NSA-designate.
- S. intelligence agencies wiretapped the incoming NSA’s conversations with the Ambassador, and the episodic media leaks of its content and follow-up actions claimed his scalp. Hours before Mr. Flynn resigned, media reports emerged that the Justice Department had warned the White House that the NSA could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
💡 India to join Moscow meet on Afghanistan
India is among six nations participating in a conference on Afghanistan’s future in Moscow on Wednesday, two months after Russia hosted a similar conference with only China and Pakistan. After India and particularly Afghanistan objected to being cut out of the discussion, Moscow agreed to expand its ambit, announcing a six-nation conference of Russia, India, Iran, Pakistan, China and Afghanistan.
India’s Point of Views:
- The issue of exclusion was raised by Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar during his talks with the Russian delegation at the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar in early December last year.
- India has always believed in close and constructive cooperation for peace, stability, security and development in Afghanistan. To this end diplomats are actively participate in several bilateral and multilateral consultations, Indian decision to join the consultations despite not being included in the earlier round on December 27.
- To begin with, India is increasingly uncomfortable with Russia’s overtures to Pakistan on defence issues. Significantly, Russia did not join the U.S., U.K. and France in sponsoring a resolution against Jaish chief Masood Azhar at the U.N. sanctions committee last month, a resolution which China then put a hold on.
- Russia has been seen as favouring a softer line on the Taliban as a counter to the spread of Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan; Russia and China have also been coordinating to demand the delisting of senior Taliban leaders designated as terrorists by the U.N. sanctions committee.
💡 No need to stand if National Anthem is part of film, clarifies Supreme Court
There is no need to be on your feet inside a cinema hall when the National Anthem is featured as a part of a film, documentary or a newsreel. The Supreme Court issued this second clarification on its November 30 order, directing all to mandatorily stand up when the National Anthem is sung or played in a cinema theatre.
- A bench comprising Justice Dipak Misra and Justice R. Banumathi clarified that when the National Anthem is sung or played in the storyline of a feature film or as part of the newsreel or documentary, apart from what has been stated in the order dated 30.11.2016, the audience need not stand.
- On December 9 last year, the Supreme Court first modified its November 30 order by exempting physically challenged or handicapped persons from standing up when the National Anthem is played before film screenings.
- On November 30, the court had ordered cinema halls to mandatorily play the anthem and had directed all those present there to stand up to show respect. The court said the practice would instill a feeling of committed patriotism and nationalism.
- It also ordered cinema halls to display the national flag on the screen when the anthem was played. The playing of the anthem in cinema halls, it said, was to be conceived as an opportunity for the public to express their “love for the motherland”.
- The petition, which referred to the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act of 1971, claimed that the “National Anthem is sung in various circumstances which are not permissible and can never be countenanced in law”.
💡 SC is looking at triple talaq, not Uniform Civil Code: CJI
- The Supreme Court on 14 Feb. clarified that it will decide on whether triple talaq and polygamy are violations of Muslim women’s rights and will have nothing to do with the requirement of a Uniform Civil Code.
- A Bench led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar said the issue of Uniform Civil Code was “completely different” and had nothing to do with the issue at hand. The Bench said it would hear debates on the “legal” aspects of the practices of triple talaq, ‘nikah halala’ and polygamy among Muslims and would not deal with the question whether divorce under Muslim law needed to be supervised by courts as it fell under the legislative domain.
- The court also made it clear to the parties that it would not deal with the factual aspects of the particular case and would rather decide the legal issue. The Supreme Court said the question whether divorce under Muslim Personal Law needed to be supervised by either courts or by a court-supervised institutional arbitration fell under the legislative domain.
- The Centre had earlier opposed the practice of triple talaq, ‘nikah halala’ and polygamy among Muslims and favoured a relook on grounds of gender equality and secularism. Responding to a batch of petitions, including the one filed by Shayara Bano, challenging the validity of such practices among Muslims, the Centre first dealt with the right of gender equality under the Constitution.
💡 Weather officials to study possible emergence of El Nino
- Scientists from the India Meteorological Department, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and the Ministry of Earth Sciences are expected to meet in Pune later this week to analyse a range of forecasts from international climate models – and their own –that suggest waters are likely to warm and change wind patterns enough to El Nino-like conditions.
- El Nino refers to an anomalous heating up of the waters in the central-eastern regions of the equatorial Pacific and implies a consistent, average rise in temperature of 0.5 degree Celsius above normal. Historically that translates to the monsoon drying up over India six out of 10 years.
- In the normal course of events, the Pacific waters ought to have been in the converse cool, La Nina mode and only begin a warming trend late after India’s summer monsoon period of June-September. However these trends are expected to begin around March and – the part that’s still contentious – have an El Nino during the latter half of the monsoon.
💡 IAF inducts indigenous early warning system
- The IAF has formally inducted the first indigenously built Airborne Early Warning and Control System Netra developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation at the Aero India exhibition on Tuesday.
- These airborne warning systems, capable of long range surveillance, are huge force multipliers. Netra is based on Embraer aircraft and three systems are to be developed. First of these, handed over by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa, is in the Initial Operational Configuration.
- It is expected to achieve Final Operational Configuration (FOC) by June. By that time, the second system would also be ready.
💡 Make in India: Parrikar talks tough
- Speaking at Aero India 2017 exhibition Defence Minister said, Foreign companies wishing to partner Indian firms and set up facilities in India have to get clearance from their respective governments in the backdrop of the dramatic policy turnaround by the Donald Trump administration on U.S. companies shifting production abroad.
- It’s an important clarification from the government which intends to throw open several big ticket deals under the ‘Make in India’ drive. “In the Strategic Partnership model, one of the requirements is for the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) to get its government’s approval,” Mr. Parrikar said.
- The indigenous Kaveri jet engine project which was shut down after repeated time and cost overruns will get a new lease of life. “Kaveri is being revived. DRDO is in discussions with Safran as part of offsets under the Rafale jet deal.
Foreign Players Plans:
- The policy unveiled by President Trump to bring back manufacturing jobs to America has raised concerns on the fate of the soon-to-be-launched multi-billion fighter aircraft deals in which U.S. defence majors Boeing and Lockheed Martin are vigorously pitching their products.
- While Lockheed has offered its F-16 for the single engine jet deal, Boeing has offered its F-18 Super Hornet in response to the Navy’s Request For Information (RFI) for 57 carrier-based aircraft. Both have offered to set up assembly facilities in India with extensive technology transfer.
- Swedish defence major SAAB has offered its Gripen fighter but it flies with a U.S.-built engine in addition to some other components. While company officials say they do not foresee any issues, the concerns are yet to be fully addressed.