The News Editorial Analysis 18th November 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 18th November 2021

Ex-judge of Punjab HC to monitor U.P. probe

SC also reconstitutes SIT by including three IPS officers

The Supreme Court on Wednesday appointed the former Punjab and Haryana High Court judge, Justice Rakesh Kumar Jain, to monitor a time-bound investigation into the Lakhimpur Kheri murders and violence in order to “ensure transparency, fairness and absolute impartiality” in its outcome.

A Bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli further reconstituted the Special Investigation Team (SIT) by appointing directly recruited IPS officers S.B. Shiradkar, Padmaja Chauhan and Preetinder Singh. The court made it a point to note that Justice Jain “may have no roots in the State of Uttar Pradesh” and the three IPS officers do not hail from the State, though they were from the Uttar Pradesh cadre. So far, the SIT was “predominantly” made of subordinate and middle-level police officers from Lakhimpur Kheri.

Officers ‘hand-picked’

The court said the three senior IPS officers had been hand-picked for the SIT to quell any “lurking suspicion in respect of the fairness and independence of such an investigation”. The overhauling of the SIT was necessary to “preserve the faith and trust of the people in the administration of the criminal justice system”.

The court said that Justice Jain’s appointment was meant to ensure “full and complete justice to the victims of crime”. “While investigating such offences, justice must not only be done but also be seen and perceived to be done,” it underscored.

The SIT should spare no effort to reach the truth, including the use of the latest technology in forensic science, it stressed. On October 3, vehicles, allegedly belonging to a convoy of Union Minister and BJP MP Ajay Kumar Mishra, mowed down farmers and civilians who were holding a rally at Lakhimpur Kheri as part of a protest against the Central farm laws. The incident led to violence. Eight people, four of them farmers, lost their lives that day. Ashish Mishra, the Minister’s son, is a prime accused in one of the two FIRs registered on the incidents.

In its seven-page order, the court described the deaths as a “tragic loss of lives of protesters as well as some other persons”.

Delhi air: bureaucracy’s ‘inertia’ irks SC

Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana on Wednesday reproached the “inertia” of the bureaucracy which waits for the court to pass orders, from stopping vehicles to dousing fires, to clean the polluted air.

Justice Surya Kant, on the Bench, in his turn, noted that people sitting in five-star and seven-star hotels in Delhi could not blame farmers for stubble burning and need to understand their plight.

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud asked if the Government had any “positive steps” in hand that would help immediately clear the smog. The Bench raised doubts about the efficacy of the measures adopted in the National Capital Region.

SC relief for scribe, lawyers in UAPA case

No ‘coercive action’ by Tripura police

A Special Bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, protected two lawyers and a journalist booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) from any “coercive action” by the Tripura police.

The lawyers had led a fact-finding mission and released a report on the “targeted political violence against Muslim minorities in the State” in October and the journalist had tweeted “Tripura is burning”. Advocates Mukesh and Ansarul Haq Ansar and journalist Shyam Meera Singh had petitioned the court to quash the FIR lodged against them and for protection from arrest.

They said the State of Tripura was “monopolising the flow of information and facts emanating from the affected areas by invoking the UAPA against members of civil society, including advocates and journalists, who have made the effort to bring facts in relation to the targeted violence in the public domain”.

The petition, filed through advocate Prashant Bhushan, asked the court to restrict the vague and wide definition given to what amounts to “unlawful activity” under the UAPA. The definition gave a free hand to the State to crush dissent and free speech with the threat of UAPA, it argued.

The Bench, including Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Surya Kant, issued notice to Tripura.

The petitioners said the registration of UAPA cases against them amounted to the “criminalisation of the very act of fact-finding and reporting”.

Anticipatory bail was barred under the UAPA and the possibility of bail was remote.

“The only facts that will come in the public domain are those convenient to the State. If the quest for truth and reporting itself is criminalised then the victim in the process is the idea of justice,” the petition stated.

New Pak. law allows Jadhav to file appeal

Pakistan’s Parliament, in its joint sitting on Wednesday, enacted a law to give Indian death-row prisoner Kulbhushan Jadhav the right to file a review appeal against his conviction by a military court.

Mr. Jadhav, a 51-year-old retired Indian Navy officer, was sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court on charges of espionage and terrorism in April 2017.

ICJ verdict

India approached the International Court of Justice (ICJ). After hearing both sides, The Hague-based ICJ issued a verdict in July 2019, asking Pakistan to give India consular access to Mr. Jadhav and also ensure review of his conviction.

The International Court of Justice (Review and Re-consideration) Bill, 2021 is aimed at fulfilling the obligation under the verdict of the ICJ and was presented by Law Minister Farogh Nasim.

It was passed by the joint sitting of the House through voice vote.

The law allowed Mr. Jadhav to challenge his conviction in the High Court through a review process, which was a requirement of the ICJ verdict.

‘School enrolment fell during pandemic’

Yawning gap between States in access to online education: study

The percentage of rural children who were not enrolled in school doubled during the pandemic, with government schools seeing an increase in enrolment at the expense of private schools, according to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 2021. Over a third of children enrolled in Classes 1 and 2 have never attended school in person.

However, enrolment does not necessarily mean that learning took place. In a survey of over 76,000 households with children aged six to 14, ASER found that while 92% of children had textbooks for their grade, only a third had access to any other learning resources or support. With smartphone availability and access limited, online learning was restricted to a quarter of students, though there were major differences in the experience of students from different States. For instance, 91% of students from Kerala and 80% from Himachal Pradesh had online education, but only 10% from Bihar and 13% from West Bengal.

New generic drug to treat epilepsy in infants

MSN Labs launched generic Vigabatrin powder for oral solution under the brand name Viganext for use in treatment of infantile spasm, a form of epilepsy that affects children. A therapeutic equivalent, the product has been approved by Drugs Controller General of India.. MSN Labs said it had while seeking the approval pointed how Vigabatrin availability in the country was wholly dependent on grey market imports. Imports were severely disrupted during lockdowns.

Transfer as punishment

The judiciary’s flawed collegium system bares its inherent weaknesses yet again

The most obvious aspect of the functioning of the collegium system of judicial appointments and transfers is its opaqueness. Decisions that have no explanation, or can only be explained in terms of one’s own perception about the functioning of the judge affected by it, have become quite common. In the latest instance, Chief Justice of the Madras High Court Sanjib Banerjee has been abruptly transferred to head the Meghalaya High Court, the second such instance of the head of a court with a sanctioned complement of 75 judges being asked to take over a court with a strength of four. In September 2019, Justice Vijaya K. Tahilramani resigned after being shifted from Madras to the Meghalaya High Court at a time when she was the country’s senior-most Chief Justice. That one High Court is as important and prestigious as another is not in dispute. And equally acceptable is the premise that the Chief Justice of India is justly empowered to transfer the head of any High Court in the interest of the “better administration of justice”. However, it is not clear why a senior puisne judge in another High Court and due for elevation could not be accommodated there. High Court Chief Justices also play an important role in identifying judicial talent for appointments and streamlining administrative functions. It would be reasonable to expect that a serving Chief Justice is given a tenure long enough in a High Court to discharge these functions effectively. If a Chief Justice is not in line for an elevation to the Supreme Court, a legitimate question arises whether there was sufficient reason to transfer the incumbent.

In Justice Banerjee’s case, the transfer has come within 10 months of his assuming office, raising the question whether he was being punished for some obscure reason. In the absence of any assigned reason, or even a known circumstance, there is bound to be speculation on whether his transfer has anything to do with his stern approach and stinging oral observations while seeking accountability from the Government and other institutions. The Memorandum of Procedure for judicial appointments and transfers says a proposal to transfer a High Court judge can only be initiated by the CJI, “whose opinion in this regard is determinative”. In addition, the views of “one or more knowledgeable Supreme Court judges” are taken. These views are considered by the five-member Collegium. This system was put in place as a safeguard against arbitrary transfers at the instance of the executive. However, recent developments suggest that it may not be enough to dispel the impression that a transfer is not exactly based on administrative needs or related to performance. Why any concern relating to a Chief Justice’s style of functioning or conduct should not have been quietly resolved by the CJI without resort to a drastic step such as transfer is not clear. Yet again, the flawed collegium system and its weaknesses are under adverse scrutiny.

End the blame game

Concerted efforts are needed for a long-term solution to Delhi’s pollution crisis

A familiar sequence of events unfolds in the National Capital Region before the advent of winter. The monsoon retreats, dries the air and the wind drops. The pollution from construction, industry, road transport, hitherto being masked through the year, becomes more visible. However, the period also coincides with a unique practice in northern India where farmers in Punjab, Haryana and eastern Uttar Pradesh, in a bid to hurriedly clear their fields of rice straw to make space for wheat, set fire to the chaff. This long-standing practice is now facing criticism because of its emerging link to Delhi’s noxious air quality. The stubble smoke carries over into Delhi through long-range wind transport. Finally, the third element during the season is Deepavali and the bursting of crackers. The season is also marked by more social gatherings such as weddings or related celebrations that again see a demand for crackers. While there is an official ban on crackers, except so-called ‘green crackers’ that are not widely available, the additional smoke from all of these add to the bad air, spiking air quality meters into the ‘very poor’ and ‘severe’ categories. This provokes a public outcry and concerns from the Supreme Court of India and a harried response from the Government that pushes for restrictions on free movement and construction. Invariably, the weather improves and all is forgiven.

The recurrent tragedy of addressing the problem of air pollution in Delhi is that it invariably descends into a blame game. The Centre blames the Delhi government, because it belongs to a different political dispensation, which in turn quite conveniently blames farmers in Punjab. What is never addressed head-on is that the air pollution crisis is not a problem that can be solved overnight. The lockdown last year provided compelling evidence that taking vehicles off the road and a cessation in industrial and construction activity led to clearer skies. Source apportionment studies by various institutions have shown that the contribution of stubble burning varies significantly, from as low as 4% on some days in October-November to as much as 40%. But the running of power plants and construction are also necessary activities that cannot be shut at a moment’s notice. The move to ban the entry of trucks too is not any more effective than waiting for the wind to blow over, and has consequences for the economy. The way forward is to view winter air pollution as a natural disaster and target root causes. Road dust is the dominant source of particulate matter and the most significant impediment to clean air, and unfortunately the least amenable to an easy fix. The emphasis must be on concerted and consistent efforts, and not annual blame games.

Reading the forecast from China’s sixth plenum

It is evident that the Chinese leadership is determined to withstand pressure on it to alter its attitude and policies

The Sixth Plenary Session or Plenum of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) which concluded on November 11, 2021, proved to be a true curtain-raiser for next year’s 20th National Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. The communiqué issued after the Plenum is specially significant, in as much for what it states as for what it portends.

Providing insights

The contents of the resolution adopted at the Plenum have a special significance, as it is only the third ‘historical resolution’ passed by the Party in the 100 years of its existence. Among the concrete outcomes of the Plenum that need mentioning is the decision to convene the 20th Party Congress in 2022, but the Plenum will be remembered more for providing an insight into the evolving shape of the CPC as it completes 100 years of its existence.

In keeping with the kind of hyperbole normally associated with any CPC Plenum, the communiqué states that the 20th Congress would be held at an important time when the Party had ‘embarked upon a new journey to build a modern socialist country and realize the Party’s Second Centenary Goal’. Another claim made is that the Party had fundamentally transformed the future of the Chinese people who had been freed from oppression and subjugation and become the ‘masters of the country’. Furthermore, that this development had a profound influence on the course of world history. Adding to the paean of praise regarding the Party’s rule, the Plenum observed that ‘it had pioneered a unique Chinese modern path to modernization and created a new model of human advancement, launching a new journey to build a modern socialist country in all respects’. The communiqué highlights Chinese President Xi Jinping’s core position on the Central Committee and in the Party, and his role in leading the Chinese people on a new journey to realise the Second Centenary Goal.

Elevating Xi as helmsman

Interpreting the contents of the ‘historical resolution’, what appears most significant is the elevation of Xi Jinping to the position of helmsman, thus bringing him on a par with Mao Zedong, and ahead of Deng Xiaoping. Xi Jinping’s ‘Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ now appears to rank alongside Mao Zedong Thought, and eclipses ‘Deng Xiaoping Theory’. It clearly sends into oblivion both Jiang Zemin’s ‘Theory of Three Represents’ and Hu Jintao’s ‘Scientific Outlook on Development’.

The Plenum document affirms that Xi Jinping Thought contains a series of original ideas, revolving around the major questions of our time; what kind of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics should be upheld and developed; what kind of Marxist Party should be developed; as well as how the Party should go about achieving these tasks. It reiterates time and again, that the Party had established Xi Jinping’s core position on the Party Central Committee and in the Party, and that this reflects the common will of the Party, the armed forces and the Chinese people.

The message from the Sixth Plenum is loud and clear. Collective leadership of the kind favoured by Deng Xiaoping, and to which his two immediate successors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao largely adhered, has come to an end. The limits placed on leadership terms by Deng Xiaoping, viz., two terms, have been given the go by. Mr. Xi appears set to continue without any restrictions being placed on the number of years he can remain in office. Ideological rigidity will, and has already, replaced the limited flexibility that was seen during the period under Deng and his two immediate successors — though Deng himself had faltered on this count following the Tiananmen Square incident.

For the West to ponder over

By temperament, Mr. Xi appears unlikely to follow the Great Helmsman Mao’s example and embark on hazardous exploits such as (Mao’s) Great Leap Forward. Notwithstanding this, having been crowned as the unchallenged leader and further fortified by the fact that there were no term limits, it could provoke erratic behaviour. This is particularly likely in the event of fresh problems arising in China, including for instance, a persistent economic downturn after almost three decades of continuous growth. The events of June 2020, when China carried out an unprovoked act of aggression against India in Ladakh, may not, however, be a proper example of this, but it should serve as a timely reminder of what can happen. Hence, the situation is fraught with many possibilities.

This should not mean that going forward, China is likely to act more erratically than hitherto, a view held by many leaders across the world, specially those in the West. The absence of ideological flexibility or need for pragmatism, need not necessarily translate into China becoming more impulsive or irrational. Over centralisation of power can, no doubt, result in new fragilities, but the current policy followed by the West of ‘strategic confrontation and economic decoupling’ may not yield the kind of results they seek. The Chinese economy may not be performing as well today as it has been wont to in the past three decades, but an erroneous belief that support for the leadership of the CPC rests solely on economic success would be a mirage, which the West seems to harbour. An economic downturn in China could create problems, but it would be foolhardy to believe that the rule of the Communist oligarchy in China rests solely on this narrow or brittle plank.

Wider support base for CPC

Reading between the lines of the communiqué issued after the recent Plenum, it is evident that the leadership in China is determined to go to any extent to withstand pressure on it to alter its attitude and policies. The rest of the world may also need to come to terms with the claim — however bizarre it may seem — made by the Communist oligarchy in China that it governs with the consent of the majority. The CPC has probably a wider support base than most governments headed by dictators who have seized power through various means, and also possibly more than many ruling parties in quite a few democracies. The reasons for this are both historical and ideological, and the more the West carries on a rant against the Chinese leadership, the more the Chinese people are likely to be reminded of their humiliation in the past at the hands of the West. This only bolsters grass-root support for the Communist Party leadership.

Given all this, it may not be too far wrong to think that the Chinese leadership believes in effect that it has in place an alternate type of representative government, though one that is very different from that practised in democracies. Data collected by various sources also indicate that a lack of liberalised policies has not undermined faith in the Beijing government among ordinary Chinese citizens. This is something that the rest of the world needs to ponder over. Consequently, the West may be making a grave mistake in believing that a mere lack of political freedoms — as understood in democracies — automatically translates into opposition to the leadership.

Strategy for India

For India, and its policy planners, these issues are hardly academic. With India being increasingly drawn into an anti-China phalanx led by the United States, the question uppermost should be whether some changes in policy need to be effected, given that Mr. Xi’s current rule over China appears to be carved in stone. How best to deal with China’s idiosyncrasies under Mr. Xi, involves opening a debate on whether to effect a change in strategy or continue with the present policy of confrontation based to a large extent on western attitudes and beliefs.

An additional problem for India is that across large parts of Asia, most countries faced with a choice between China and India, may be inclined to side with Beijing due to various exigencies. With the exception of Pakistan and Cambodia (which are near-client states of China), none of the others have any particular affection for China, but are compelled by circumstances to lean more towards China than India (which might otherwise have been their natural choice). In the circumstances, India could well take a hard look — given that Mr. Xi’s rule in China is likely to continue for not merely another five years, but for much longer — as to whether it should devise a different strategy to subserve India’s best interests.

M.K. Narayanan is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau, a former National Security Adviser and a former Governor of West Bengal

More a private sector primer than health-care pathway

A new NITI Aayog report defies accepted logic that universal health coverage entails a strong role for the Government

The central government’s flagship health insurance scheme, the Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY), aims to extend hospitalisation cover of up to ₹5 lakh per family per annum to a poor and vulnerable population of nearly 50 crore people. Apart from AB-PMJAY and State-level government health insurance schemes, small segments of the Indian population are covered under social health insurance schemes and private health insurance. Covering the left out segment of the population, commonly termed the ‘missing middle’ sandwiched between the poor and the affluent, has been discussed by the Government recently. Towards this, NITI Aayog recently published a road map document entitled “Health Insurance for India’s Missing Middle”. However, to say the least, the report confounds all hopes and expectations of a credible pathway to universal health coverage (UHC) for India.

The report proposes voluntary, contributory health insurance dispensed mainly by private commercial health insurers as the prime instrument for extending health insurance to the ‘missing middle’. Government subsidies, if any at all, will be reserved for the very poor within the ‘missing middle’ and only at a later stage of development of voluntary contributory insurance. This is a major swerve from the vision espoused by the high-level expert group on UHC a decade ago, which was sceptical about such a health insurance model as the instrument of UHC and advocated a largely tax-financed health system albeit with private sector participation.

In-patient care

Those with even a rudimentary understanding of health policy would know that no country has ever achieved UHC by relying predominantly on private sources of financing health care. Evidence shows that in developing countries such as India, with a gargantuan informal sector, contributory health insurance is not the best way forward and can be replete with problems. But even when we look at international precedents of contributory social health insurance models, some very important traits stand out, for example, significant levels of government subsidy to schemes; not-for-profit mode of operation; and some important guarantees for health. The NITI report sweepingly ignores these fundamental precepts.

For hospitalisation insurance, the report proposes a model similar to the Arogya Sanjeevani scheme, albeit with lower projected premiums of around ₹4,000-₹6,000 per family per annum (for a sum insured of ₹5 lakh for a family of five). There would be a standard benefit package for all, and the insured sum will be between ₹5,00,000 and ₹10,00,000. Insurance will be dispensed largely by commercial insurers who would compete among themselves.

It is clear how this model is a little different from commercial private insurance, except for somewhat lower premiums. These low premiums are achieved by reducing administrative costs of insurers through an array of measures, including private use of government infrastructure, and possibly by switching to low-powered modes of physician payments.

Most importantly, low premiums are not achieved on account of government subsidies or regulation. One can see how this model is vulnerable to nearly every vice that characterises conventional private insurance.

For instance, consider countries such as Switzerland. Despite relying predominantly on private insurers and a competitive model of insurance, certain important checks and balances exist: benefits are etched in legislation; basic insurance is mandatory and not-for-profit; cream-skimming and risk-discrimination are prohibited. Such checks and balances are a long shot in the Indian scenario, neither have they been discussed in the NITI report.

The report suggests enrolment in groups as a means to counter adverse selection. The prevailing per capita expenditure on hospital care is used to reflect affordability of hospital insurance, and thereby, a possible willingness to pay for insurance.

Both these notions are likely to be far-fetched in practice, and the model is likely to be characterised by widespread adverse selection notwithstanding. It is important to remember that even free-of-cost government health insurance for the poor has little penetration in the country, despite a nearly two decade-long legacy. The possible destiny of contributory private health insurance with modestly lower premiums, for a target group that is not significantly well-off, is obvious.

Out-patient care

An even more untenable case has been made with respect to out-patient department (OPD) care insurance coverage, which includes doctor consultations, diagnostics, medicines, etc. The report rightly acknowledges that OPD expenses comprise the largest share of out-of-pocket expenditure on health care, and concomitantly have a greater role in impoverishment of families due to health-care expenses. The report proposes an OPD insurance with an insured sum of ₹5,000 per family per annum, and again uses average per capita OPD spending to justify the ability to pay. However, the OPD insurance is envisaged on a subscription basis, which means that insured families would need to pay nearly the entire insured sum in advance to obtain the benefits. This is the last thing one would equate with UHC.

Clearly, this route is unlikely to result in any significant reduction of out-of-pocket expenditure on OPD care, which beats the whole purpose of providing insurance. Any cost savings or benefits that accrue would be due to using low-powered physician payment modes and a more integrated and coordinated pathway of care. However, their contribution is likely to be nominal and at least be partly offset by the administrative costs involved in insurance. Individuals are likely to be largely indifferent to such an OPD insurance scheme, particularly if it restricts choice of health-care providers.

Wrong disposition

The NITI report defies the universally accepted logic that UHC invariably entails a strong and overarching role for the Government in health care, particularly in developing countries. Rather than plot a pathway for UHC in India, the report is more about expanding the footprints and penetration of the private health insurance sector.

Further, the report looks to attain the elusive UHC with few or no fiscal implications for the Government, which is an absurd idea by any stretch of the imagination. Such a disposition is highly dismaying in the aftermath of COVID-19. The National Health Policy 2017 envisaged increasing public health spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2025. Let us not contradict ourselves so early and at this crucial juncture of an unprecedented pandemic.

Dr. Soham D. Bhaduri is a physician, health policy expert, and chief editor of ‘The Indian Practitioner’

Wide fault lines within the Global Climate Risk Index

Effective methods to manage climate change are needed

The address by Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley at the 26th United Nations Conference of Parties, or COP-26, in Glasgow, Scotland, attracted global attention with her remark that failure to provide critical adaptation finance as well as measuring the extent of loss caused by climate change with respect to “lives and livelihoods” was immoral. This has again brought the complexity in measuring climate risk to the forefront.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), under the aegis of the United Nations, defines climate risk as the likelihood of unfavourable impacts occurring as a result of severe climate events interacting with vulnerable environmental, social, economic, political or cultural conditions. Quantitatively, it is the product of the probability of a climate event occurring and its adverse consequences.

Recent discussions around climate risk assessment and management have been based on the “Global Climate Risk Index” (GCRI), published annually by GermanWatch, a non-profit organisation. The latest version of the GCRI, published in January 2021, ranked 180 countries based on the impact of extreme weather events and associated socio-economic data from 2000-2019. According to the publishing agency, the rankings are meant to forewarn countries about the possibility of more frequent and/or severe climate-related events in the future. This index uses historical data to provide insights on exposure to extreme events. It cannot be used for linear forecasts about future climate impact. There are deep fault lines in the methodology and interpretation of the country rankings. Recommendations based on this index should be generated with caution.

First, the GCRI ranks countries based on four key indicators: number of deaths; number of deaths per 1,00,000 inhabitants; sum of losses in Purchasing Power Parity (in U.S. dollars); and losses per unit of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Of these indicators, two are absolute while the other two are relative. However, the GCRI report does not provide a rationale for the selection of these macro indicators.

Second, the index suffers from exclusion errors and selection bias. Composite indicators are better constructed using micro indicators instead of macro indicators, which measure loss because isolating the effect of the loss of elements on GDP is fraught with errors. Instead, a number of key micro indicators such as the total number of people injured, loss of livestock, loss of public and private infrastructure, crop loss and others are better candidates for assessing the composite loss resulting from climate change events. Third, the index accounts for information on weather-related events like storms, floods, temperature extremes and mass movements. However, it omits geological incidents like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or tsunamis, which may be potentially triggered by climate change and can have economic and humanitarian impact.

Fourth, the ranking under the GCRI is done based on data collected by Munich Re’s NatCatService, which is not validated at the ground-level. The data gaps particularly with regard to economic losses are based on experience, the prevailing intellectual property of MunichRe and the market value of elements at risk that are at best approximate values of economic losses.

Delays in action and response

Any discussion on measurement and management of climate risk is incomplete without accounting for issues of uncertainty, scale and delays between action and response to climate change. Therefore, climate change can at best be managed within a comprehensive risk assessment framework, which uses climate information to better cope with the impact of climate change.

In this context, India’s latest module on the National Disaster Management Information System (NDMIS) captures damages and losses caused by disasters and monitors the targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. The NDMIS captures details on parameters like death, injury, affected population by categories as well as economic losses in social and infrastructure sectors due to weather and geological events on a daily basis. The data captured by the NDMIS includes all major climatic events.

Deploying effective approaches and principles to foster collaboration among climate risk information users and providers, along with enabling the implementation of effective management actions, will allow India to leapfrog on the targets envisaged in the Sendai Framework.

Veenu Singh is a Research Officer and Tanvi Bramhe is an Economic Officer at the Development Monitoring and Evaluation Office (DMEO), NITI Aayog

The first clear picture of Mars

America’s Mariner 9 yesterday radioed back its clearest pictures of the surface of Mars since going to orbit three days ago. “We are delighted,” scientist Dr. Bruce Murray said as screens at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory here displayed the wavy contour lines of the south polar icecap. The pictures followed a series of virtually blank shots taken as Mariner approached Mars and went into orbit, with the surface almost totally obscured by a great dust storm. The latest picture clearly showed the unique, complex formation of the pole. Dr. Murray said that the pictures resulted from a decision to swing the cameras around slightly and focus on the south pole from a different angle, while experimenting with various coloured filters. The pole had shown up in one picture taken during the first orbit. It is covered with frozen carbon dioxide and one picture appeared to show a cleft in the ice dividing the polar cap into two. “What is exciting to us is that we are going to get a complete map of the frost,” Dr. Murray said. This would be compared with the pictures of the polar icecap taken by the Mariner 6 and 7 fly-by missions in August 1969, which showed the cap at about its full winter extent, and indicated the mechanics of the seasonal changes.

India refutes allegations on ‘weakening’ Glasgow pact

The News Editorial Analysis 18th November 2021

“Merely read out a ‘consensus’ statement on the final day of the COP conference’

Rebutting allegations that it had weakened the Glasgow climate pact by having the final text of the agreement read that coal would be “phased down” instead of “phased out,” Indian officials said it had merely read out a ‘consensus’ statement agreed to by all countries on the final day of the COP conference.

India, the U.S. and China are three of the largest fossil fuel emitters in the world though India and China are far more dependent on coal than the U.S.

“‘Phase down’ [the term] came from U.S. and China joint statement and we tried to find a consensus. The Chair asked us to introduce the text and that is why we did,” said senior officials, who did not want to be named, adding that the blame on India was ‘unfair’.

COP President and Cabinet Minister in the U.K. Alok Sharma has said the change of text by India and China had left him “deeply frustrated”. “We are on the way to consigning coal to history. This is an agreement we can build on. But in the case of China and India, they will have to explain to climate-vulnerable countries why they did what they did,” Mr. Sharma told The Guardian.

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, at the conclusion of the COP 26 on November 13, told reporters: “Did I appreciate we had to adjust one thing tonight in a very unusual way? No. But if we hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have a deal. I’ll take ‘phase it down’ and take the fight into next year.”

“Fossil fuel includes natural gas which much of the developed world is dependent on, so why single out coal? They are just trying to make it hard for those dependent on coal while they themselves are using other fossil fuels,” an official said on Wednesday.

The sources also clarified that India has not yet decided on when it would update its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and clarified that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Panchamrit or five-fold declarations were only “targets for India”, not its commitment to the United Nations.

At the World Leaders Summit on Nov 2, Mr. Modi said India would be net zero by 2070, that India’s non-fossil energy capacity will reach 500 GW by 2030; it will meet 50% of its energy requirements with renewable energy by 2030; it will reduce its projected carbon emissions by a billion tonnes by 2030 and reduce the carbon intensity of its economy to less than 45%.

“Prime Ministers speech was not linked to NDCs, they were national goals. He spoke in non-technical jargon,” an official said.

India to hold first 2+2 with Russia on December 6

Pacts on defence, science and technology, trade expected

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh are likely to hold their first “2+2” format talks with their Russian counterparts Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Shoygu, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi for the annual summit on December 6, as well as the inter-governmental joint commission meeting, sources confirmed here.

Officials said the India-U.S. 2+2 meeting, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that was earlier to be held in Washington in November, may be put off to January, owing to scheduling difficulties including the winter session of Parliament that ends on December 23.

The 2+2 format agreed to during a Modi-Putin phone conversation in April is particularly significant, given that India conducts joint foreign and defence ministerial only with its closest ‘Quad’ partners — the U.S., Japan and Australia.

According to an expert, conversely, Russia thus far has the 2+2 format for “problem solving” with countries such as Japan, France and earlier with the U.S. The 2+2 is also expected to look further afield in building India’s ties with Central Asia and Russia’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific, the sources said. Newly appointed Ambassador Pavan Kapoor will join the consultations.

According to officials privy to the planning of the intensive India-Russia exchanges, a number of agreements on defence, science and technology and trade are expected to be announced during Mr. Putin’s visit. The most closely watched will be defence agreements that could be launched, given considerable heat in Washington already over India’s purchase of the $5.43-billion S-400 air defence system, and the debate over placing U.S. sanctions for its delivery this month.

Outgoing Ambassador to Russia Venkatesh Varma had told Tass news agency earlier this month that orders for additional Sukhoi (Su30-MKI), MiG 29 jets and 400 more T-90 tanks are in the works.

He pointed out that a “fundamental change” in the defence relationship since 2018 has taken bilateral contracts from $2-3 billion per year to $9-10 billion, making Russia India’s “top defence partner”.

Two major defence deals awaiting conclusion are the AK-203 assault rifles and the Igla-S very short range air defence systems. However, the deal for Ka-226T light utility helicopters, announced by the two leaders earlier, is unlikely to see conclusion, one official said. India and Russia are expected to sign the Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Support Agreement and a Navy-to-Navy cooperation MoU.

Pune Film Festival to be held in Dec.

After undergoing postponements owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pune International Film Festival (PIFF), Maharashtra’s official film festival, is finally set to be held in its physical form from December 2 to December 9, 2021.

The 19th edition of the popular film festival was earlier scheduled to be held in March this year (instead of its traditional commencement date in January), but had to be called off again in the wake of the second wave of the pandemic, which hit Pune district hard.

The film fest was then held in an online format in March, with only a select few films available for viewing.

Filmmakers, distributors, film festival organisers and cinephiles heaved a sigh of relief after the Maharashtra Government finally gave the green signal for the reopening of cinema halls, theatres and auditoriums on October 22 this year.

“Now that the State Government has given the permission to open cinema halls, the PIFF can finally be held in its physical format with proper appreciation by the public. Audiences will get an opportunity to watch over 150 curated national and international films,” said PIFF Director and filmmaker, Dr. Jabbar Patel.

Maldives rejects ‘India out’ campaign

India has always been the Maldives’ closest ally and trusted neighbour, Govt. says

The Government of Maldives on Wednesday said it “strongly rejects attempts to spread false information” criticising its ties with India, its “closest ally and trusted neighbour”.

A statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said allegations that bilateral cooperation between the Governments of Maldives and India undermines the national security and sovereignty of Maldives are “misguided” and “unsubstantiated”.

Solih’s policy

The statement comes amid an ongoing social media campaign in the Maldives called ‘#Indiaout’. Maldivians critical of the Ibrahim Mohamed Solih administration’s ‘India first’ policy in international relations, have in the past vehemently opposed “any Indian military presence”, and the opening of an Indian consulate in its southern Addu atoll.

However, according to the Maldivian Foreign Ministry, the anti-India sentiments are not widely prevalent in the Indian Ocean archipelago.

“The Government firmly believes that these views are not the sentiments of the general public, but rather that of a small group of individuals with the objective of tarnishing the country’s long-standing cordial ties with India,” the Ministry statement said.

“The cooperation and support provided by the Government of India, specifically on issues of maritime security, is aimed at strengthening the strategic partnership between the two countries and to ensure the safety and stability of the Indian Ocean region,” it said.

‘Direct benefits’

It also added that Indian support in areas such as search and rescue capabilities, casualty evacuation, coastal surveillance, and maritime reconnaissance, “directly benefit” the Maldivian people.

Further, the Maldives observed that addressing threats of trans-border terrorism, piracy, narco-trafficking, climate change, cyber security and human trafficking, requires the support and cooperation of all regional and international partners.

“No one country alone can address these issues on its own,” the statement added.

India’s response

The Ministry’s response appeared to reiterate President Solih’s own position in regard to his government’s ties with New Delhi. In an interview to The Hindu in January this year, Mr. Solih said the Maldives makes no apology for its close ties with India.

Meanwhile, India’s recently appointed High Commissioner to the Maldives Munu Mahawar presented his credentials to President Solih on Wednesday. “The President and the High Commissioner expressed their desire for further cooperation and assistance in all efforts towards the mutual benefit of both nations,” a statement from the President’s office said.

80 per cent Indian employees run out of salary before month ends: Survey

While 34 per cent run out of money by the middle of the month, only 13 per cent are able to save a decent amount from their pay cheques.

Highlighting a financial situation many of us can easily relate to, a recent EY-Refyne survey found that 80 per cent of employees exhaust their salary before the month ends, while 34 per cent run out of money by the middle of the month. And, only 13 per cent are able to save a decent amount from their pay cheques. 

“The ever-increasing cost of living, fear of missing out lifestyle spending, poor financial planning and vicious debt cycles are increasingly making it difficult for employees to sustain cash flow during the month with their salaries,” said the report titled Earned Wage Access in India: The final frontier of employee wellbeing, released on Wednesday.  

The survey was based on responses from 3,010 salaried Indians. The study says only 38 per cent feel in control of their financial wellbeing. Interestingly, financial stress is not restricted to the low-income groups.

Around 60 per cent of the respondents earning more than Rs 1 lakh a month reported that their monthly pay cheques are inadequate to cover all their expenses. The report also noted that employees earning less than Rs 15,000 per month are six times more likely to fall into the debt-trap than the high-income group employees. 

75  per cent say salary not enough

Nearly 75 per cent said they are unable to meet all their expenses with their salary, forcing many of them to look at alternative finance options during emergencies and to cover unplanned expenses

Australian, Indian PMs in Bengaluru Tech Summit tango

Modi to address Sydney Dialogue today; Oz plans mission in B’luru

The three-day Bengaluru Tech Summit (BTS) 2021 opened on Wednesday with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing plans to set up an Australian consulate in Bengaluru and a Centre of Excellence for Critical and Emerging Technology Policy, even as the event is set to tango with its counterpart event, ‘Sydney Dialogue’, Down Under on Thursday, which PM Narendra Modi will address virtually.

“I’m pleased to let you know that Australia is seeking to establish a new Consulate General in Bengaluru. This city is the world’s fastest growing tech hub, and of course, we want to be part of it. It is home to a third of India’s unicorn companies,” Morrison said through a video address at the inaugural session of the 24th edition of BTS, inaugurated by Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson, Vision Group on Biotechnology, said that she believed having an Australian consulate was an opportunity to leverage the India-Australia partnership as “Australia is an innovative country with software and biotech opportunities. All consulates help Bengaluru because it starts increasing the interaction between two countries. The Irish consulate Science Gallery Bengaluru has come and so have many Irish companies in software.”

Kris Gopalakrishnan, Chairman, Vision Group on Information Technology, said Morrison’s announcement is another signal of Bengaluru’s global importance. He also believed there is an opportunity to work together in areas of education, research, innovation, trade, and hi-tech. 

With consulate in B’luru, people needn’t visit Chennai for Oz visa

“We as well as they (Australia) have strengths, we especially have strength in people. This (consulate) will facilitate more businesses to look at Australia and investments to come from Australia to India,” Kris Gopalakrishnan said, expressing fascination for Australia’s expertise in agriculture and biotech, and believed there was scope for collaborations especially in biotech, which Karnataka was the capital of. EV Ramana Reddy, Additional Chief Secretary, Department of Electronics, IT, Bt and S&T, said at present, anyone who wants to go to Australia has to go to Chennai and get visa from there.

A consulate in Bengaluru will facilitate this here. “One direct flight to any city and visa in the same place will ease the travel to the country,” he said. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the proposed Consulate-General will focus on deepening Australia’s ties to India’s vibrant innovators, technologists and entrepreneurs.

“This (consulate) will promote engagement with India’s southern states and our outreach to Australia’s diaspora and alumni communities,” it said. The plans to set up an Australian consulate in Bengaluru ride on a range of collaborations between India and Australia, and aim to better utilise opportunities of mutual investment benefits with Karnataka.

Focus on agri too, urges venkaiah
Delivering the inaugural address at the Bengaluru Tech Summit 2021, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu stressed the need to push technology to develop the farm sector. “The summit should focus more on agriculture, which is the basic structure of the country and the globe, and is facing challenges.” he said, addressing global technology developers. 

How the Pallavas administered land

The Hirahadagalli plates of Siva Skanda Varman from 338 CE in Prakrit language and Brahmi script is one of the oldest sets of records and throws light on the administrative setup.

South Indian history is generally identified as a combination of accounts from the Chera, Chola and Pandya dynasties. It was only after the advent of archaeological and epigraphic studies that the Pallavas got their due recognition and their contributions towards the overall development of Tamil Nadu was brought to light. The very term ‘Pallava’ went through several debates over its origin and meaning. Finally, academicians accepted it to be of Sanskrit origin, meaning an indigenous tender creeper (Bryonia grandis). With available sources, we can conclude their active existence between the 3rd–9th century CE. Several copper plates and inscriptions help us understand the polity and governance under their rule. Extending from the south of today’s Andhra till the northern banks of River Kaveri, their rule was a forerunner to that of the mighty Cholas.

A few old inscriptions help us define the territorial extent of their rule in the early stages. The Maidavolu inscription (305 CE) identifies their rule quite close to the Krishna river basins. On the western side, it seems to have extended till today’s Bellary district in Karnataka. From around the 4th–5th century CE, this demarcation seems to shift focus to a Kanchipuram-centric rule. The copper plates issued by the Pallava kings during different times help us understand the societal setup and the nature of governance to a great extent. The Hirahadagalli plates of Siva Skanda Varman from 338 CE in Prakrit language and Brahmi script is one of the oldest sets of records and throws light on the administrative setup that was prevailing. The copper plate records donation of a village to a certain Gola Sarman, a Brahmin belonging to Atreya gotram. The meticulous detailing of the order certainly draws our attention. The administrative hierarchy is clearly listed and includes designations such as Rajakumara (the viceroy), Senapati (army commander), Rashtrika (governor) and Desadhikrita (regional administrative officer). The names of these officers are clearly mentioned. This is followed by local officers and the list of designations include gramabhojaka (beneficiaries of local revenue), vallava (confidential officers), go-valla (officer in charge of cattle), amatya (interim officers trained in warfare and medical practice), aranyadhikrita (officer in charge of forest tracts), ghumike (division commanders), tutika (agents) and neyika (leaders of platoons). The king in his capacity declares that this gift is done “for increase of ourselves and of our family in respect of our good deeds, length of life, strength and fame as also victory and prosperity”.

The designations are so well demarcated that it gives us a general idea about the administrative hierarchy and the distribution of power down a clear structure. Gifting of a village to an individual in a particular division demands that a list of officials involved in various departments are informed. This is similar to transfer of power over land ownership. Moreover in this case, it is given as a gift by the king and hence made tax-free. To ensure that all the bureaucrats are well informed about it and there is no doubt anytime in the future, the document puts it all in black and white.

Let us now take a look at a similar land gift record from the times of Nandi Varma Pallava, whose rule extended between 731–795 CE. The set of copper plate records grant of Tandantottam, a village in the Chola heartland, to a group of 213 Brahmins where the place is divided into 244 shares to be distributed among them. While a few shares are given to officials concerned with the village’s administration, major beneficiaries are listed as scholars qualified in various texts. Unlike the earlier grant that records the importance of protecting dharma, quotes dharma sastras and has a long list of officials, this plate enlists the terms and conditions to be followed by the beneficiaries.

The norms include prohibition on altering the edges of an individual’s share of land. It further describes the conditions to construct and maintain a head of water that sources the life-giving liquid for cultivation from a canal adjacent to the river. Here again stringent rules to ensure no disturbance is made to the existing water head are enlisted. But notable changes are seen here wherein several professional duties collected from various artisans, other conveyance fees and taxes of different kinds were collected by the scholars who were not liable to pay any of these to the king as earlier. In other words the Brahmins were entitled to collect and use them.

Oil merchants owning mills, weavers who owned looms, people with private wells and potters were all taxed. A certain charge was paid during registration of marriages too. Toddy drawing, brokerage, cattle rearing, salt making, selling areca nuts, grains and pulses were other professions that were taxed.

The two copper plates and the grants that are etched on them are clean indicators of societal changes between the early and the last phase of Pallava rule. Gifting land or villages was considered a part of the king’s duty to the Brahmins. While the earlier plate speaks about a piece of land to an individual and his successors, Nandi Varman’s record speaks about a complete settlement being gifted along with rights to enjoy the tax duties collected from people practising other professions. While quotes from dharma sastras are seen in detail in the first, the second one does not consider it important. These donations seem to have been popularised and accepted by the society as standard norms. The list of officials discussed in the first plate is missing in the second, which enlists various different tax policies that seem to have again evolved over years.

Development of society causes changes on the social, cultural and economic fronts. A more efficient administration policy could be framed considering these lessons from history.

Jurisdiction extension gives no extra power to agency: BSF ADG YB Khurania

Khurania said that the BSF would continue to function in the 50 km jurisdiction in the same way as it had functioned in the earlier jurisdiction.

Reacting to the objection raised by West Bengal government to extending the BSF’s jurisdiction from 15 to 50 km from the Bangladesh border, the ADG of the paramilitary force, YB Khurania, said the agency has limited powers and no authority to intervene in the state’s law and order affairs. He also said the allegation that BSF personnel harassed women in the name of searching was very unfortunate.

“We don’t interfere in the state’s law and order affairs. We don’t have the power to file FIRs. We focus on smuggling and infiltration. We maintain a good relation with the state police and exchange information with them. The notification (increasing jurisdiction) doesn’t give additional power to the BSF,” he said.

Khurania said that the BSF would continue to function in the 50 km jurisdiction in the same way as it had functioned in the earlier jurisdiction.

Refuting the TMC government’s allegation of women being harassed by the BSF personnel, Khurania said, “This (claim) is unfortunate and baseless. We have more than 4,000 women staff and soldiers. CCTVs are installed at all entry points of the border area.”

Jharkhand engineer uses algae in water to extract bio-fuel and it is cheaper than petrol

At a small fuel station in Ranchi, people buy fuel for their vehicles that is made not from imported crude oil but from microalgae found in the ponds in Jharkhand.

At a small fuel station in Ranchi, people buy fuel for their vehicles that is made not from imported crude oil but from microalgae found in the ponds in Jharkhand. Not just environment-friendly, this fuel comes much cheaper too – Rs 78 per litre compared to Rs 92 per litre for diesel.

The bio-fuel is the brainchild of 42-year-old engineering graduate Vishal Prasad Gupta who now plans to manufacture it on a large scale once MoUs are signed with the Ranchi Municipal Corporation for taking microalgae out from the water bodies.

According to Gupta, not only is the bio-fuel far less polluting than petrol/diesel, removing the microalgae from the water bodies will also help clean them. Due to the presence of microalgae, normal pH value of water bodies remains around 8-9, making them alkaline, he said. 

Gupta claimed the bio-fuel gives more mileage, is renewable and reduces air pollution. He is manufacturing the bio-fuel at a small plant set up on the outskirts of Ranchi after obtaining approval from Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. 

Gupta claims the microalgae-based fuel can be used in any EM590 diesel engine manufactured these days in India. “Compared to other bio-fuels, it can be prepared within the shortest period of 20 days. I am selling 2,000-2,500 litres every day at my pump,” he said.

Gupta has been given a go-ahead by the Petroleum Conservation Research Association and has been appreciated by Tata Motors, which said the bio-diesel has increased the efficiency of its vehicles without causing any harm to the engine. Dalmia Bharat Cement is also using it in its equipment.

The State Urban Development Authority believes if Gupta’s claims are true, it will bring a revolution in 
the country. 

Television subscribers can soon opt for pay-per-view: TRAI

TRAI chairman PD Vaghela also mentioned TRAI is committed to ensure ease of doing business for the telecom and broadcast sector.

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Wednesday said it is working towards creating time-bound solutions and reforms in its policies so that Indian consumers can access global offerings such as pay-per-view and pay-per-programme in time.

While addressing the 10th edition of the Big Picture Summit organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), TRAI chairman PD Vaghela also mentioned TRAI is committed to ensure ease of doing business for the telecom and broadcast sector.

“The regulator is working towards creating time-bound solutions and reforms in policies and hopes Indian consumers can access global offerings such as pay-per-view and pay-per-programme in time,” said Vaghela.

Pay-per-view is a business model in which viewers can purchase a ticket in order to watch any video content. The model is quite successful abroad, but in India it is yet to be adopted. 

Vaghela also thanked television broadcasters as they had done a great service by keeping people entertained during the pandemic. He pointed out that around 46 per cent of the population had taken to watching TV all seven days of the week at the peak of the lockdown.

“TRAI’s main motto is to create a level-playing field for all stakeholders… and ensure balance between broadcasters and distribution operators. The fact that our tariffs in broadcasting are among the lowest in the world exemplifies that Trai interventions have helped the consumers,” said Vaghela.

After record low, monarch butterflies return to California

There is a ray of hope for the vanishing orange-and-black Western monarch butterflies

There is a ray of hope for the vanishing orange-and-black Western monarch butterflies.

The number wintering along California’s central coast is bouncing back after the population, whose presence is often a good indicator of ecosystem health, reached an all-time low last year. Experts pin their decline on climate change, habitat destruction and lack of food due to drought.

An annual winter count last year by the Xerces Society recorded fewer than 2,000 butterflies, a massive decline from the tens of thousands tallied in recent years and the millions that clustered in trees from Northern California’s Mendocino County to Baja California, Mexico, in the south in the 1980s. Now, their roosting sites are concentrated mostly on California’s central coast.

This year’s official count started Saturday and will last three weeks but already an unofficial count by researchers and volunteers shows there are over 50,000 monarchs at overwintering sites, said Sarina Jepsen, director of Endangered Species at Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

“This is certainly not a recovery but we’re really optimistic and just really glad that there are monarchs here and that gives us a bit of time to work toward recovery of the Western monarch migration,” Jepsen said.

Western monarch butterflies head south from the Pacific Northwest to California each winter, returning to the same places and even the same trees, where they cluster. The monarchs generally arrive in California at the beginning of November and spread across the country once warmer weather arrives in March.

The Western monarch butterfly population has declined by more than 99% since the 1980s.

On the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, another monarch population travels from southern Canada and the northeastern United States across thousands of miles to spend the winter in western Mexico. Scientists estimate the monarch population in the eastern U.S. has fallen about 80% since the mid-1990s.

Whether the population of monarchs that fly to Mexico from the eastern side of the country has rebounded is not yet known. Results of an annual county by experts with the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico won’t be released until next year.

Monarchs from across the West migrate annually to about 100 wintering sites dotting central California’s Pacific coast. One of the best-known wintering places is the Monarch Grove Sanctuary, a city-owned site in the coastal city of Pacific Grove, where last year no monarch butterflies showed up.

The city 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of San Francisco has worked for years to help the declining population of monarch. Known as “Butterfly Town, USA,” the city celebrates the orange-and-black butterfly with windowpane patterns in its wings with a parade every October. Messing with a monarch is a crime that carries a $1,000 fine.

“I don’t recall having such a bad year before and I thought they were done. They were gone. They’re not going to ever come back and sure enough, this year, boom, they landed,” said Moe Ammar, president of Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce.

This year a preliminary count showed more than 13,000 monarchs have arrived at the site in Monterey County, clustering together on pine, cypress and eucalyptus trees and sparking hope among the grove’s volunteers and visitors that the struggling insects can bounce back.

Scientists don’t know why the population increased this year but Jepsen said it is likely a combination of factors, including better conditions on their breeding grounds.

“Climatic factors could have influenced the population. We could have gotten an influx of monarchs from the eastern U.S., which occasionally can happen, but it’s not known for sure why the population is what it is this year,” Jepsen said.

Scientists say the monarch population had sharply dropped because of the destruction of their milkweed habitat along their migratory route as housing expands into their territory and use of pesticides and herbicides increases.

Along with farming, climate change is one of the main drivers of the monarch’s threatened extinction, disrupting an annual 3,000-mile (4,828-kilometer) migration synced to springtime and the blossoming of wildflowers.

“California has been in a drought for several years now, and they need nectar sources in order to be able to fill their bellies and be active and survive,” said Stephanie Turcotte Edenholm, a Pacific Grove Natural History Museum docent who offers guided tours of the sanctuary. “If we don’t have nectar sources and we don’t have the water that’s providing that, then that is an issue.”

Monarch butterflies lack state and federal legal protection to keep their habitat from being destroyed or degraded. Last year, they were denied federal protection but the insects are now among the candidates for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Novavax files for EU COVID-19 vaccine approval

The jab, if approved, would be the fifth authorised for use within the EU – the other four are made by BioNTech-Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

The vaccine’s assessment, which goes under the brand name Nuvaxovid, would be carried out “under an accelerated timeline”, the European Medicines Agency said.

An opinion on the marketing authorisation could be issued within weeks “if the data submitted are sufficiently robust and complete to show the efficacy, safety and quality of the vaccine”, the medicines watchdog said.

“If EMA concludes that the benefits of Nuvaxovid outweigh its risks in protecting against COVID-19, it will recommend granting a conditional marketing authorisation,” it said.


The News Editorial Analysis 17th November 2021

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