Gist of The Hindu: August 2014

Gist of The Hindu: August 2014

Telangana birth-pangs

By getting a resolution rejecting the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill for creating Telangana passed by the State Assembly just before the deadline set by President Pranab Mukherjee to consider the Bill ended on Thursday, Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy did what little he could to protect what he saw as his political constituency: those standing for a united Andhra Pradesh in the Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra regions. Neither the delay nor the ultimate rejection of the Telangana Bill by the Assembly will have any bearing on the creation of the new State if the Centre stands firm on its decision on Telangana. The Chief Minister, in raising legal and technical objections to the Bill, might have managed to convey the opposition of large sections of the people in Seemandhra to the division of Andhra Pradesh, but the manner in which the proceedings of the House were conducted from the day the Bill was introduced till the day it was rejected reflects badly on his government and the democratic traditions of the legislature. Speaker Nadendla Manohar, who too is politically opposed to Telangana, put the Chief Minister’s contentious resolution to a voice vote amid noisy scenes, and declared the motion carried in a matter of two minutes. It was obvious from the regional representation in the House that those opposed to the Bill constituted a majority. The Bill presented a chance to address the concerns raised by the proposal to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh. Instead, the time was used for political posturing and the reiteration of known positions by both sides. Pro-Telangana members, on their part, did not press for a division amid the din, perhaps because they did not want to expose their lack of numbers. The voice vote was, in effect, the only mode of expression of the views of the legislature. Now that the onus is on the Centre to shepherd the Bill through Parliament, the Congress must eschew any temptation to use this issue as part of any electoral strategy before the Lok Sabha polls. With the national leadership of the party backing the creation of Telangana, and the State unit divided on geographical lines, making this a campaign issue is anyway fraught with risks. No political consensus on the Bill is possible at this late stage, but the Centre can bring in amendments to the Bill to incorporate the concerns of other parties and representatives of Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra. As the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party is necessary in the Rajya Sabha, the Congress will have to keep the Bill open for amendments. The State legislature was robbed of a free, reasoned debate on the issue, but hopefully Parliament will consider all aspects of the Bill before bringing Telangana into being.

Keeping people and tigers safe

As conservation of wild species becomes more successful, higher levels of human-wildlife conflict are being reported in many parts of the country. The outcome of such encounters is a distressing number of human lives lost, and the tragic elimination of the wild creatures involved in the attacks. The ‘man-eating tiger’ incident in Dodabetta in the Nilgiris, which ended in the gunning down of the cat, brings to the fore the dilemma of ensuring a safe distance between wild animals and people. Evidently, there are no easy answers to this question, not just in India but in several other countries that have well-protected wildlife.

Two strategies often adopted to prevent conflict rely on modification of human and animal behaviour. Farmers are encouraged to switch to cash crops to avoid attracting elephants, while forest departments provide access to water within protected areas to stop animals from moving out. Wild creatures in turn learn to avoid places rendered inaccessible through trench-digging and building of fences. Yet, these are by no means fail-safe interventions. It is necessary to identify areas for intensive protection, and encourage forest-dwelling communities to move out — of course, with sufficient attention devoted to their rehabilitation at a new location. Removal of problem animals often becomes unavoidable if there are human casualties and there is a prospect of more people being killed. It would appear ironic, but conservation advice in such circumstances is usually to swiftly eliminate the lone animal, such as the Dodabetta tiger, rather than attempt slow capture and risk negative public attitudes to tigers as a whole. Unfortunately, it is not easy to identify the individual tiger or leopard, and the conflict may continue even after one animal is shot dead. In Chikmagalur district, for instance, 17 leopards had to be shot in 1995 before the problem of attacks on people stopped. Research evidence supports a strategy that relies on ‘spatial separation’ of people and animals as a more rewarding means of conflict reduction. If isolated villages and free ranging cattle are moved out of the small land area that makes up India’s protected forests, the risk of an encounter with fierce creatures can be brought down. The problem today is that successfully managed national parks and sanctuaries are witnessing a rise in tiger and leopard numbers, leading to the dispersal of old and injured animals towards habitations on the periphery and even beyond. Future conservation strategies would have to rely on well-administered wildlife sanctuaries, and equally on a voluntary resettlement programme for forest communities.

‘U.S. spied on 2009 climate summit’

The U.S. government spied on delegates at the high-profile UN climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009, a document obtained by some media houses via whistle-blower Edward Snowden has revealed. The talks were spied on to get critical prior information on the host country and others’ negotiating positions even as U.S. President Barack Obama flew in to sign a deal with them.

The summit saw the coming together of more than 90 heads of state and delegates from more than 180 countries to hammer out a binding global deal on climate change, but the talks collapsed. A political agreement, The Copenhagen Accord, worked out by the U.S., taking the lead to negotiate with four other BASIC countries — Brazil, India, China and South Africa — could not be adopted by consensus as a UN agreement. The document, an internal U.S. National Security Agency text, reads: “Analysts here at NSA, as well as our Second Party partners, will continue to provide policymakers with unique, timely, and valuable insights into key countries’ preparations and goals for the conference, as well as deliberations within countries on climate change policies and negotiating strategies.”

It goes on to record, “A late November report detailed China’s efforts to coordinate its position with India and ensure that the two leaders of the developing world are working towards the same outcome. Another report provided advance details of the Danish proposal and their efforts to launch a “rescue plan” to save COP-15.” The Danish hosts prepared an alternative agreement that they intended to float at the annual summit. This after talks for a new deal floundered through the year under immense global scrutiny and civil society pressure to stitch up an ‘ambitious climate deal’. An early sketch of the elements of this draft was floated by Denmark in a round of informal meetings — referred to in the climate negotiations jargon as the pre-COP — some weeks before the summit, but delegates were not allowed to take back copies of the documents. Delegates from the select countries did take notes as time permitted. The media reported on these elements days before the summit got off the ground.

But the NSA document reveals that the U.S. administration had got early access to the entire document which helped it keep ahead of other countries at the negotiations during the fortnight of talks. The NSA document, authored days ahead of the talks, said, “While the outcome of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference remains uncertain, signals intelligence will undoubtedly play a significant role in keeping our negotiators as well-informed as possible throughout the 2-week event.”

For days the rumours of the ‘Danish document’ floated at the Copenhagen talks, with many countries expressing anger and anguish at the opaque and covert operations of the hosts along with geopolitically-powerful countries. The climate talks are meant to be driven by consensus and transparency, but mistrust brewed fast and led to the ultimate crash of the negotiations in 2009. This despite the U.S. being able to stitch together a non-binding political agreement with a very low ambition — something that suited its interests. Over subsequent years, the U.S. got many elements of the political deal embedded in the UN climate negotiations while the distrust got embedded in the talks trenchantly.

No South China Sea air zone, China assures ASEAN countries

China has rejected reports suggesting it was planning to set up an air defence zone over the disputed South China Sea, saying it was “yet to feel any air security threat” from its Southeast Asian neighbours.

In November, China established its first Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over parts of the East China Sea, amid an increasingly tense stand-off with Japan over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands. An ADIZ is a defined area in international airspace within which countries monitor and track aircraft heading towards their territory.

The setting up of the ADIZ heightened tensions with Japan, as it overlapped with Japan’s zone and included the disputed islands. China at the time defended the move, pointing out that Japan had established its own ADIZ in 1969. After a Japanese newspaper reported last week that China was considering setting up a second such zone over the South China Sea – a move that would be certain to worry the half a dozen or so countries that have competing claims over the sea’s waters and islands – the Chinese Foreign Ministry was quick to deny the report, and also, at the same time, accuse Tokyo of attempting to fan tensions.

“In a general view, the Chinese side has yet to feel any air security threat from the ASEAN countries and is optimistic about its relations with the neighbouring countries and the general situation in the South China Sea region”, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said in a statement.

He blamed “right-wing forces of Japan” for “repeatedly clamor[ing]” about the alleged plan of China to set up ADIZ over the South China Sea”. “We sternly warned these forces not to mislead public opinions with rumors and play up tensions for their own selfish benefit,” he said.

China-Japan relations have soured over the past year over the disputed islands, and issues relating to wartime history and the Japanese occupation of China during the Second World War. China was especially angered by a visit by the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine - a memorial for Japanese who died during the war that also enshrines 14 Class-A war criminals – which was the first by a Japanese leader in seven years. The rising tensions with Japan have coincided with an apparent diplomatic outreach by China to other Asian countries, ostensibly aimed at attempting to isolate Tokyo. China’s ties have warmed with South Korea, which was also angered by Mr. Abe’s Yasukuni visit.

Last year, both President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang visited ASEAN countries. A year after Chinese vessels had run-ins with ships from both Vietnam and the Philippines near contested South China Sea islands, tensions with both countries have subsided. China recently signed an agreement for joint exploration with Vietnam.
Mr. Hong said China and ASEAN countries were “working together to implement the declaration on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea in a comprehensive and effective way to safeguard peace and stability in the region”.

He also hit out at the Japanese media report about the ADIZ as being “of ulterior motive and simply aimed to shift international attention from and cover up the plot to change Japan’s pacifist constitution and expand its military power.”

U.S. warns Sri Lanka on pace of reconciliation

Voicing frustration over the pace of reconciliation in Sri Lanka five years after the end of the war, a visiting official from the United States on Saturday warned that the patience of the international community was wearing thin.

Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal said deterioration in human rights, transparency and governance was taking a toll on democracy in Sri Lanka. “We reiterated our commitment to Sri Lanka but conveyed our concerns to senior government officials about the insufficient progress in addressing justice, reconciliation, and accountability,” Ms. Biswal said at a press conference here. Ms. Biswal, who arrived in Colombo on Friday, met top government officials, politicians in the ruling coalition and the Opposition – including Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran – and civil society representatives. On Saturday, she travelled to Jaffna, and held meetings with civil society representatives there. Amid growing speculation on a strong U.S.-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka, she said: “We are concerned about the worsening situation with respect to human rights, including continued attacks against religious minorities, as well as the weakening of the rule of law and an increase in the levels of corruption and impunity.”

Only about a week ago did the Northern Provincial Council pass a resolution calling for an international inquiry into the alleged war crimes. Asked if the U.S.-resolution was likely to push for an international probe, Ms. Biswal — who maintained that it was too early to comment on how it would be worded — said the U.S. always had a strong desire to have a Sri Lanka-led reconciliation process, but the international community was frustrated and sceptical of the pace of the government’s progress in this regard.

Australia claims substantial progress on reef protection

Australia said that it had made substantial progress on the U.N. request for better protection of the Great Barrier Reef and the world heritage site should not be listed among “in danger”.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said there was genuine improvement in key reef indicators in regards to dugongs, turtles, seagrass and coral.

“Early indications are that these are important and well received developments internationally,” he was quoted as saying by The Age newspaper.

“It is a permanent task for every Australian government to protect and maintain the reef; nobody can ever rest on that. But there should be no way the reef can and should be considered ‘in danger’.”

The World Heritage Committee had threatened to put the reef on a list of world heritage sites considered “in danger” after Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority approved dumping of dredging spoil inside the marine park.

In a progress report to the U.N. World Heritage Committee, the federal and Queensland governments have said the natural values the reef was protected for are still largely intact, although in parts — such as inshore areas south of Cooktown — they are declining.

Australian Coral Reef Society president Peter Mumby referred to concerns raised in past that the reef was in the worst shape since monitoring began and said the progress report played down industrial development threats.

He said development already on the table would add 14 million tonnes a year of damaging sediment to reef waters.

“We have real concerns over developments that have not been addressed,” he said.

University of Queensland coral reef ecologist Selina Ward said the Abbot Point decision was dangerous because the best modelling showed dumped sediment would drift to outer areas, hurting coral and seagrass.

The progress report said extreme weather events and climate change were the biggest threats to the reef. It also pointed to nutrient and sediment run-off from land clearing and agriculture, and associated crown-of-thorns outbreaks.

It said pollution from other sources, including port development and dredging, “is minor but may be highly significant locally and over short time periods”.

Caught off guard by taper

The recent announcement by the U.S. Federal Reserve of a further reduction in its monthly bond-buying programme by $10 billion, to $65 billion, seems to have caught emerging market economies off-guard. This is quite in contrast to their equanimous reaction in December when the stimulus-reduction programme was launched. This is attributed to the fact that the announcement of January 29 completely ignored the concerns of emerging- market countries.

Many of them were under pressure even earlier and the announcement, without acknowledging the volatility that it had already caused, offered no respite to a number of countries, from Argentina to South Africa. Their currencies weakened, in some cases precipitously. Their stock markets fell in conjunction and bond markets reacted violently. Threatened with a possible choking of easy money, investors started selling emerging market stocks and currencies to invest in the developed countries that offer better risk-adjusted returns at this juncture. Predictably, many central banks of developing countries hiked interest rates to stabilise their currencies, but with mixed results. India has shown greater resilience this time compared to many other similarly placed economies, and even in relation to its record last September when the news of a possible tapering sent global markets into a tizzy. Improved macroeconomic fundamentals and the RBI’s determination to check inflation have boosted investor confidence.

However, given that growth rates are still sluggish and given the possibility of fiscal slippages, India will continue to faces challenges. Over-reliance on short-term flows to bridge balance of payments has been the bane of external sector management, and at times like this the policy shortcomings stand exposed.

There are two broad lessons to be drawn from the taper and the reactions to it. RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan has pointed out that policy coordination among countries has been a casualty. In the immediate post-crisis period, emerging economies helped boost global demand through well-coordinated fiscal stimulus programmes. A complete synchronisation of monetary and fiscal policies might not be possible in practice but certain seminal policy measures such as the U.S. taper do require wider consultation and coordination among countries. This has been the consensus view at several forums — including the G-20 and IMF-World Bank meetings. Second, it needs to be noted that U.S. monetary policy is framed with reference to the U.S. economy. The gradual withdrawal of the stimulus is dependent on the U.S. economy reaching some well defined milestones such as reduction in unemployment. The ongoing taper signals a stronger U.S. economy, and that should be good news for India and other emerging economies — at least in the long run.

C.N.R. Rao, Sachin conferred Bharat Ratna

Renowned scientist C.N.R. Rao and former cricketer Sachin Tendulkar were on Tuesday conferred the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award of the country for exceptional contribution in any field of human endeavour.
The award was presented by President Pranab Mukherjee at a brief ceremony in the historic Durbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Mr. Tendulkar is the first sportsperson and sitting Rajya Sabha member to receive the prestigious award.

Prof. Rao, Chairperson of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, dedicated the award to his mother and students. Mr. Tendulkar dedicated the feat to his mother and “all the mothers who sacrificed their wishes for their children.”

“It is the biggest honour for me. I will continue to bat for my country. Even though my cricket has stopped, I will try my best to give people of India a reason to smile,” he said after the function.

Mr. Tendulkar, dressed in a dark outfit, was accompanied by his wife, Anjali, and daughter, Sara.

Rashtrapati Bhavan staff had a harrowing time controlling the guests, most of whom wanted to shake hands with the cricketer, who retired from active cricket last year, and take his autograph.

Even security personnel were seen jostling for a glimpse of the cricketer, and many of them managed to take his autograph as well.

Prof. Rao, who has 1,400 papers and 45 books to his credit, said: “It is fantastic. It is more important than anything. Nothing comparable to India honouring me.” He hoped that he would be able to accomplish “something important” in the coming years.

Prof. Rao, who is the third scientist to receive the Bharat Ratna after Nobel laureate C.V. Raman and former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, said that while India was doing reasonably well in science, other countries were doing better. South Korea and China were spending more on research.

Prof. Rao’s contributions have been recognised by most major scientific academies across the world by way of memberships and fellowships, and numerous national and international awards.

Both Prof. Rao and Mr. Tendulkar have received the Padma Vibhushan earlier. The two join the club of 41 eminent personalities who have been honoured with Bharat Ratna since it was instituted in 1954. Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and a host of Ministers were among those present at the function.

UN delegation meets with armed groups in Mali

The U.N. Security Council met on Monday with representatives of armed Tuareg groups active in northern Mali as part of an effort to accelerate peace talks with the government, though participants said disagreements on conditions for the talks had not been resolved.

Tuareg rebels launched a rebellion in northern Mali in early 2012 that gave way to a military coup, allowing them to take control of the country’s north. However, al-Qaeda-linked Islamic extremists later took over much of the north, prompting France to launch a military intervention in early 2013.

Though Mali held successful presidential and legislative elections last year, security in the north remains precarious, and the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad in particular maintains a strong presence in and around the northern city of Kidal.

Despite the efforts of various mediators, negotiations between the armed groups in the north and the government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita have stalled. Last month, Tuareg rebels withdrew from negotiations set to take place in Algeria after concluding that their push for greater autonomy would not be addressed. Authorities in Bamako are emphasizing a decentralization process that would bolster the Bamako-based government’s presence throughout the country.

One of the chief goals of the Security Council visit, which ended on Monday, was to accelerate peace talks with all groups in northern Mali.

The visiting U.N. delegation also met with local authorities and received briefings on the work of the country’s U.N. peacekeeping mission. On Sunday France’s U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud said the mission would reach its full operational capacity in July, one year after it took over peacekeeping activities.

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