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November 2, 2017

Speed up trial of politicians, says SC

  • The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the government to frame a central scheme for setting up special courts across the country to exclusively try criminal cases involving ‘political persons.’
  • In a determined effort to cleanse politics of criminality and corruption, the apex court said it takes years, probably decades, to complete the trial against a politician.
  • Countering the Centre’s argument that setting up such courts would depend on the availability of funds with the States, the apex court said “the problem can be resolved by having a central scheme for setting up of courts exclusively to deal with criminal cases involving political persons on the lines of the fast track courts…”

Mass bathing in Ganga aggravates anti-microbial resistance woes

  • Mass-bathing in the Ganga during pilgrimages may be contributing to anti-microbial resistance (AMR), says a government-commissioned report on the threat from AMR. Such resistance —previously acknowledged to be widespread in India — is said to be the reason for certain key antibiotics becoming ineffective against diseases, including tuberculosis.
  • Some years ago, researchers from the Newcastle University in the United Kingdom and the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi sampled water and sediments at seven sites along the Ganga in different seasons.
  • In 2014, they reported in the peer-reviewed Environmental Science and Technology that levels of resistance genes that lead to “superbugs” were found to be about 60 times greater during the pilgrimage months of May and June than at other times of the year. The researchers had then said preventing the spread of resistance-genes that promote life-threatening bacteria could be achieved by improving waste management at key pilgrimage sites. The report of the Ganga as a reservoir for AMR genes sits alongside a 2016 study by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research — still not made public — that portions of the the river had “anti-bacterial” properties.
  • The government report —— Scoping Report on Antimicrobial Resistance in India — made public on Wednesday cites this study too along with a compilation of all scientific studies done in India on the threat from AMR, causes and sources that aggravate it.
  • Resistance to the broad-spectrum antibiotics fluoroquinolones and third generation cephalosporin was more than 70% in Acinetobacter baumannii, Escherichia coli, and Klebsiella pneumoniae, and more than 50% in Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
  • In 2014, India was the highest consumer of antibiotics, followed by China and the United States. However, the per-capita consumption of antibiotics in India was much lower than in several other high-income countries.
  • Other than ‘cultural factors’ such as bathing in the Ganga, the drivers of AMR included excessive use of antibiotics in the livestock industry and unchecked discharge of effluents by the pharmaceutical industry. However, in spite of the challenge, too little work had been done so far to understand it. “This mapping exercise indicates that AMR research studies in India were of limited scope in all areas, ” the researchers noted.

Bullet train route making losses: RTI

  • As the Narendra Modi government proceeds with the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project, an RTI query has revealed that over 40% of seats on all trains on this sector go vacant, causing huge losses to Western Railway.
  • According to Right to Information replies received by Mumbai activist Anil Galgali, just in the past one quarter, the Western Railway’s losses on this sector stood at nearly Rs. 30 crore, or around Rs. 10 crore per month.

Nirmala flags Indian Ocean issues

  • Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday expressed concern at the increased militarisation in the Indian Ocean and the extra-regional nations setting up a “near permanent presence” in the region, in an apparent reference to the expanding Chinese presence in the region.
  • She was addressing the first Goa Maritime Conclave of Navy Chiefs of Indian Ocean littoral states hosted by the Indian Navy at the Naval War College in Goa.The GMC is intended to be held every year and aims to “bring together like-minded countries to evolve collective responses to challenges in the maritime domain.”

Maritime challenges

  • Ms. Sitharaman said that land-based disputes and riparian issues which are predominantly a legacy of colonial rule are a key cause for conflict.
  • In the last few years, China has set up or acquired stakes in a series of infrastructure facilities in the region and has recently opened its first overseas military base at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.The Chinese Navy has also maintained a steady presence of warships and submarines in the Indian Ocean under the garb of anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
  • To counter this, the Indian Navy has now put in place a new concept of ‘mission based deployment’ to maintain round the clock surveillance on India’s vital areas of interest across the length and breadth of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

UN says carbon emissions gap could affect climate target

  • The UN Environment Emissions Gap Report 2017 warns that a big carbon emissions gap exists between the levels that can be achieved in 2030 with present climate commitments, and what needs to be done using set pathways to limit increases in global average temperature to less than 2° Celsius or a more ambitious 1.5° C by the year 2100.
  • The report says full implementation of the unconditional Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and comparable action afterwards “could result in a temperature increase of about 3.2° C by 2100 relative to pre-industrial levels”, while full implementation of conditional NDCs would marginally lower that projection by about 0.2°C.
  • The breaching of the safe limits that is possible even with current climate commitments — the NDCs that form the core of the Paris Agreement — indicates that governments will need to deliver much stronger pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions when they are revised in 2020, said the report released ahead of the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in Bonn, commencing on November 6.
  • Fossil fuels and cement production account for about 70% of greenhouse gases, the report noted. The alarming number and intensity of extreme weather events in 2017, such as hurricanes, droughts and floods, add to the urgency of early action, it said.

Several green options

  • The report reveals a large gap between targeted 2030 emission levels and those consistent with least expensive pathways to the 2°C and 1.5°C goals. The 2°C emissions gap for the full implementation of both the conditional and unconditional NDCs for 2030 is 11 to 13.5 gigatonne CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e). The gap in the case of the more ambitious 1.5°C target is 16 to 19 GtCO2e. Should the U.S. follow through with its threat to leave the Paris Agreement in 2020, the picture could become bleak.
  • The Paris accord pledges only a third of what is needed to avoid climate catastrophe, and adopting new technologies in key sectors, at investments of under $100 per tonne of emissions, could cut them by up to 36 gigatonnes per year by 2030, which is more than sufficient to bridge the current gap.
  • A large part of the potential to close the emissions gap lies in solar and wind energy, efficient appliances and passenger cars, afforestation and stopping deforestation. These six factors hold a total potential of up to 22 GtCO2e per annum, the report says. Strong action on plugging other greenhouse gases, such as hydrofluorocarbons, through the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, and other short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon, could contribute.
  • CO2 emissions have remained stable since 2014, driven in part by renewable energy, notably in China and India.This has raised hopes that emissions have peaked. But, the report warns that other greenhouse gases, such as methane, are still rising, and a global growth spurt could send CO2 emissions upward.

Climbing Australia’s giant red rock Uluru to be banned

  • Climbing the world’s largest monolith Uluru was banned on Wednesday amid concerns it was becoming a “theme park”, undermining the giant red rock’s deep cultural significance.
  • Scrambling up the symbol of the Outback, also known as Ayers Rock, is seen by many tourists as a must-do on their visit to Australia.
  • But they do so against the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners, the Anangu, to whom the site is sacred.

Scientists mine ‘star scar’ in France

  • Rochechouart, population 3,800, and its medieval castle are built on top of an astrobleme.
  • An astrobleme — which literally means ‘star scar’ — is the name given to traces left by a major meteorite impact.