The News Editorial Analysis 30th November 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 30th November 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 30th November 2021

Parliament clears Farm Laws Repeal Bill without a debate

The Farm Laws Repeal Bill, 2021 was passed by both Houses of Parliament on Monday without debate amid protests by Opposition MPs on being denied a debate.

On the first day of the winter session, as expected, the Government had listed the Farm Laws Repeal Bill, 2021 for taking back the three contentious farm laws — Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 — but it was not clear that any debate would be allowed before the repeal.

Opposition leaders had expressed apprehension even before the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) meetings of both Houses that the Government would want to clear the Bill without discussion. No consensus on a discussion was reached in the BAC meeting.

In the Lok Sabha, which was adjourned till 12 noon after it convened due to ongoing protests by the Opposition on farm Bill related issues, the Repeal Bill was taken up as soon as the House reconvened.

Opposition MPs from the DMK and the Trinamool were in the Well when Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar stood to introduce the Bill, demanding that discussion be allowed. Congress MPs were in their seats but they too raised the demand for a discussion.

Speaker Om Birla said unless the House was in order he would not allow a discussion.

“I will allow the discussion only when the House is in order,” he repeatedly said and asked Mr. Tomar to proceed first with introducing and then taking up the Bill for consideration and passing.

Leader of the Congress Legislature Party in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Choudhary intervened stating that in the past, six Acts had been repealed since 2014, and discussion had been allowed for the same and that this Bill too should come up for debate.

“The word here is consideration and passing, and we ask that the bill be taken up for consideration by the House before passing,” he said.

Speaker Om Birla, however, said no discussion could take place with parliamentarians crowding the Well of the House.

“This is not the way one can debate bills,” he said. The Bill was then passed by voice vote and the House adjourned till 2 p.m.

In Rajya Sabha, after two adjournments in the first half of the day, the House met at 2 p.m. to repeal the laws.

The opposition parties again protested as the government moved the bill, without offering a debate on the issue.

Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge was given a brief opportunity to speak on the issue. Mr Kharge said everyone in the house welcomed the repeal of the bills and congratulated the government for the belated wisdom on withdrawing the bills. But the minute he started talking about the deaths 750 farmers in the year long agitation, Deputy Chairman Harivansh who was in chair, told him that his time was up.

“The farmers still continue to sit in protest. Many of their demands still remain unmet. We also need to debate the events of Lakhimpur Kheri,” Mr. Kharge said.

As the Bill was passed without debate, opposition MPs rose in protest. TMC MPs Nadimul Haque and Dola Sen walked into the well of the house. As soon as Ms. Sen approached the chair, Parliament security officials trooped in.

Speaking outside Parliament, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said, “The manner in which the government passed the Farm Laws Repeal Bill, 2021 proves that the government was wrong and was scared of a discussion.”

Senior Congress leaders pointed out that at least 17 acts repealed by the current government from 2014 onwards had been repealed after due discussion, and this exception of no debate therefore indicated the government’s pusillanimity in discussing issues related to farmers in the Houses of Parliament.

Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Pralhad Joshi, however, said that since Prime Minister Modi had already stated that the Bills were being repealed acknowledging the wishes of a certain section of farmers and the opposition, there was little need for debate.

“What is your intention? Prime Minister in his large heartedness agreed that the Bills be repealed, why are you delaying it? The intention of the government was clear that we wanted to clear the Bill in both Houses, so what exactly is the Opposition’s intentions in creating a din?” he said.

Omicron variant poses very high global risk, says WHO

The heavily mutated Omicron coronavirus variant is likely to spread internationally and poses a very high risk of infection surges that could have “severe consequences” in some places, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday. No Omicron-linked deaths had yet been reported, though further research was needed to assess its potential to escape protection against immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections, it added.

In anticipation of increased case numbers as the variant, first reported last week in South Africa, spreads, the UN agency urged its 194 member states to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups and ensure plans were in place to maintain health services.

“Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” it said.

“The overall global risk related to the new variant … is assessed as very high.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, sounded the alarm at the start of an assembly of Health Ministers that is expected to launch negotiations on an international agreement on preventing future pandemics.

“The emergence of the highly mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is,” Mr. Tedros said.

“Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics: our current system disincentivises countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores.”

The accord, expected by May 2024, would cover issues such as sharing of data and genome sequences of emerging viruses, and of any potential vaccines derived from research. Omicron was first reported on November 24 from South Africa, where infections have risen steeply.

It has since spread to more than a dozen countries, many of which have imposed travel restrictions to try to seal themselves off. Japan on Monday joined Israel in saying it would close its borders to foreigners.

The WHO reiterated that, pending further advice, countries should use a “risk-based approach to adjust international travel measures in a timely manner”, while acknowledging that a rise in coronavirus cases might lead to higher morbidity and mortality rates.

“The impact on vulnerable populations would be substantial, particularly in countries with low vaccination coverage,” the agency said.

In vaccinated persons, meanwhile, “COVID-19 cases and infections are expected … albeit in a small and predictable proportion”.

Overall, there were “considerable uncertainties in the magnitude of immune escape potential of Omicron”, and more data was expected in coming weeks.

Meanwhile, China said on Monday that it agreed in principle with proposals to strengthen compliance and sharing of information under amendments to the WHO’s International Health Regulations of 2005.

“China agrees in principle with the ideas of further strengthening compliance, financing, sharing and information management in the IHR amendment process,” Shen Hongbing, vice commissioner of China’s National Administration of Disease Prevention and Control, told a WHO ministerial assembly.

“China reiterates that the IHR remains and will remain the most critical legal document in global health governance for the present and near future.”

Regulation, not ban: on cryptocurrencies

Eight years after the RBI issued its first advisory cautioning holders of virtual currencies about the potential financial and security risks, and two years after drafting a Bill to ban cryptocurrencies, the Government is set to introduce legislation that would, if passed, officially proscribe such currencies. Its concerns appear to be the risks associated with cryptocurrencies, including their potential use for money-laundering and financing of illegal activities. The risks investors and consumers face in dealing with these so-called currencies, given that they are neither ‘a store of value nor are they a medium of exchange’, and the ostensible threat they pose to financial stability, are also key factors. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in a video address to the Sydney Dialogue earlier this month said: “It is important that all democratic nations work together on this [cryptocurrency] and ensure it does not end up in wrong hands.” The Centre and the RBI’s deep disquiet with cryptocurrencies notwithstanding, there has been an exponential jump in investment in virtual currencies, especially after the Supreme Court last year struck down an RBI notification barring financial entities from facilitating customer transactions related to virtual currencies. Industry estimates now peg cryptocurrency holdings in India at about ₹40,000 crore, held by about 15 million investors, and advertising trends show an upsurge in ads promoting brands associated with investment in virtual currencies.

That the ground has shifted since an Inter-Ministerial Committee set up to study the issues related to virtual currencies first proposed the ban in 2019 is beyond doubt. From the emphatic assertion in that panel’s report that “no country across the world treats virtual currencies as legal tender” to a situation where earlier this year El Salvador — admittedly a small and heavily indebted nation — officially declared ‘bitcoin’ as legal tender, much has changed in the adoption of private virtual currencies worldwide. The pandemic has accentuated the global embrace of all things digital and investment in the technologies enabling cryptocurrencies including blockchain, appear to be no different. Canada, Japan and Thailand permit the use of virtual currencies as a payment method, with some jurisdictions regulating them as a digital asset, and others as a commodity. Canada and the U.S. closely monitor virtual currency activity to ensure they do not run afoul of laws on financial crimes, with the former also earning tax revenue on transactions. All things given, India should eschew the temptation to join China in proscribing virtual currencies and instead aim to tightly regulate their trading through monitored exchanges and earn revenue. Simultaneously, it should expedite the RBI’s pilot of the Central Bank Digital Currency so as to offer an alternative to cryptocurrencies.

The three farm laws were never a solution

The recent announcement by the Prime Minister that the Union Government would seek to repeal the three Farm Laws in the winter session of Parliament has prompted diverse reactions. On November 29, the first day in Parliament, the Farm Laws Repeal Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha without discussion. These laws are the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act (ECA), 2020. Regardless of how this specific step is viewed and the motivations attributed to it, the prolonged protests by farmers and extended impasse offer a rare teachable moment for policy making for Indian agriculture. Centre-State agri-relations

Crucially, the APMC Bypass Act mandated that States can only regulate, via their respective APMCs, designated physical premises called the ‘market yards’. Via this Act, the Centre essentially wrested control of market areas outside these yards, now called ‘trade areas’, from the States. The dominant popular narrative was that the Centre was doing what the States had failed to do, i.e., free agricultural trade from the clutches of the APMCs, an idea that finds support in the Economic Survey 2014-15.

Yet, perversely, the APMC Bypass Act particularly hurt States that had the most deregulated systems. A State that had no APMC Act, for example, suddenly found that all deregulated areas within the State would now come under the Centre’s regulatory ambit and control, subjecting private players hitherto operating freely in a deregulated environment to the regulations of a whimsical Centre. Further, by absolving private players from adhering to any State law in agricultural marketing, it effectively nullified the power of States to shape the nature and functioning of agricultural markets.

Such transfer of regulatory authority from the States to the Centre might in principle be justified if there was systematic evidence to suggest that the Centre was better informed and better equipped to regulate agricultural markets. Here, the Centre’s own actions following the three laws do not inspire confidence. For example, barely weeks after the ECA was amended, the Centre imposed restrictions on stocking, in October 2020 for onions and July 2021 for a range of pulses, apparently undermining the purported spirit of the reformed ECA it championed.

A launch window for India as a space start-up hub

The great space race of the 20th century was kicked off by the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957. It was a competition between the world’s great powers, a test of their ideologies, which proved to be a synecdoche of the entire Cold War between the capitalist United States and the socialist Soviet Union. The space race is on again, but this time, private players are on the power field to take the next leap for mankind and democratise space usage to build commercial value. This has huge implications for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the space sector in India and is a promising venture for global investors. Last year, according to a report, the Government of India created a new organisation known as IN-SPACe (Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre) which is a “single window nodal agency” established to boost the commercialisation of Indian space activities. A supplement to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the agency promotes the entry of the Non-Government Private Entities (NGPEs) in the Indian space sector. The agency will also felicitate a swift on-boarding of private players in the sector through encouraging policies in a friendly regulatory environment and by creating synergies through already existing necessary facilities, the report says.

Today, the space economy is a $440 billion global sector, with India having less than 2% share in the sector. This is despite the fact that India is a leading space-faring country with end-to-end capabilities to make satellites, develop augmented launch vehicles and deploy inter-planetary missions. While total early-stage investments in space technologies in FY21 were $68 billion, India was on the fourth place with investments in about 110 firms, totalling not more than $2 billion.

Currently, many of the private entities are involved in equipment and frame manufacturing, with either outsourced specifications or leased licences. However, to create value, Indian space private companies need to generate their intellectual property for an independent product or service (e.g. satellite-based broadband) with ISRO neither being their sole or largest customer nor providing them IP and ensuring buy-backs (which was how most suppliers in the Indian space ecosystem were born over the last three decades). This will help open the door to global markets.

Mature space agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States, China’s China National Space Administration (CNSA), and Russia’s Roscosmos (Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities) seek support from private players such as Boeing, SpaceX and Blue Origin for complex operations beyond manufacturing support, such as sending crew and supplies to the International Space Station. These companies have revolutionised the space sector by reducing costs and turnaround time with innovation and advanced technology. For such purposes, NASA and the CNSA award a part of their annual budget to private players. Until 2018, SpaceX was a part of 30 missions of NASA, getting over $12 billion under contract.

India currently stands on the cusp of building a space ecosystem and with ISRO being the guiding body, India can now evolve as a space start-up hub for the world. The sector is in the embryonic stage where the possibilities are limitless with a scope to build a feasible business model. Already 350 plus start-ups such as AgniKul Cosmos, Skyroot Technologies, Dhruva Space and Pixxel have established firm grounds for home-grown technologies with a practical unit of economics. However, to continue the growth engine, investors need to look up to the sector as the next “new-age” boom and ISRO needs to turn into an enabler from being a supporter. To ensure that the sky is not the limit, investor confidence needs to be pumped up and for the same, clear laws need to be defined.

The many challenges before trade unions

The repeal of the three farm laws has set in motion expectations, if not talks, about the possible revival of other agitations, such as the one against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and the repeal of the contentious Labour Codes passed in 2019-20. Trade unions have intensified their agitation against the Codes in the wake of the government’s decision to repeal the farm laws. The Central Trade Unions (CTUs) have criticised the Codes on three principal grounds. The Labour Codes were passed with little debate and discussion as the Opposition parties had staged a boycott in the Lok Sabha then. Trade unions, including the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), criticised the Central government for not holding adequate consultations with them on the Codes contrary to the government’s claims. The absence of effective dialogue contradicts the International Labour Organization treaty, the Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards) Convention of 1976 (C.144), which India had ratified in February 1978. The Labour Codes contain many clauses that deprive labourers of hard-won labour rights. The CTUs are divided thanks to their political affiliations. Out of the 12 major CTUs, 10 have been jointly spearheading agitations calling for the repeal of all four Codes while the BMS has been conducting its own limited agitation: it is fine with the Wage and Social Security Codes but demands “review” of the Industrial Relations and the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Codes. Again, thousands of enterprise-based unions lacking political consciousness do not always support the CTUs’ agitations. The claimed strikes resulted in symbolic acts of nominal consultations with the CTUs by the United Progressive Alliance or National Democratic Alliance governments. The reform mandate was always alive.

Second, though the CTUs for long succeeded in blocking labour law reforms at the national level, substantial reforms of laws and inspections have happened at the regional level. Further, with the sly support of the government, employers have been able to achieve labour flexibility (the rampant contractualisation of the workforce) denied to them by formal laws. Hence, the Labour Codes matter less even if they are repealed.

Third, though there are around 400 million unorganised and informal workers, they are scattered and not organised in a consolidated manner to mount significant political opposition and demand labour market securities. More informality thanks to labour reforms will further hurt unions’ agitational power.

Fourth, unlike farmers, the industrial workers cannot organise longer and larger strikes as they would lose their jobs and wages. The presence of the huge army of underemployed or unemployed and informal workers weakens their bargaining power. At best, they can organise short protests. In short, their strikes do not hurt either the economy or the government. The failures of the Railway strike of 1974 and the Bombay textile workers’ strike of 1982-83 haunt the labour movement.

Fifth, a larger labour reforms agenda comprising privatisation, flexible labour markets, etc. are supported and even pushed by global financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Many countries are witnessing labour reforms. Unions are fighting in essence against the neoliberal order for which they require intellectual sinews.

Sixth, the four Codes were scrutinised by the PSC. It is another matter that the Codes did not reflect several of the PSC’s recommendations or included clauses not mentioned in the draft Bills sent to the PSC. These procedural deficiencies may not be perceived as stark as those related to the farm laws. Finally, the ‘hurt’ government and the powerful reform-lobbying interest groups would ensure that there would not be more rollbacks, including of the Codes.

In the wake of these realities, unions must come up either with agitational strategies to hurt the electoral image and prospects of the government and economy and/or exploit the possibility of legally challenging the Codes as has been done in case of gig workers. The delay in implementing the Codes thanks to adverse economic conditions or possibly due to political factors can be a short-term consolation, if any.

Boosting green hydrogen

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced that India would aim for net-zero carbon emissions by 2070. The announcement was given credence by the country’s solar achievements since 2015. India is the only major economy whose policies and actions are on track to limit global average temperature rise below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, as envisioned in the Paris Agreement.

India has a head start

As of now, 75% of India’s energy demand is met by coal and oil, including imports. This is expected to increase. Therefore, the synergy between renewable energy and green hydrogen must be tapped to tackle the dependence on fossil fuel and take greater advantage of India’s solar capacity. Hydrogen — green hydrogen, in particular — is a crucial weapon in India’s arsenal to fight climate change as it improves the long-term energy storage capabilities of renewable energy. The simplest element in the periodic table is also the most promising solution to decarbonise sectors like cement, steel, and refineries. “Hydrogen can provide the lowest-cost decarbonization solution for over a fifth of final energy demand by mid-century — contributing a cumulated reduction of 80Gt of CO2 — and is thus an essential solution to reach the 1.5°C climate scenario,” read a recent statement from the Hydrogen Council. Several major economies which are adopting legislation to reduce carbon emissions are also catalysing global efforts towards transitions to green hydrogen.

A low-carbon source of energy is required to generate hydrogen through electrolysis – the splitting of a water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen produced is coded with a colour, depending on the method of its production. While hydrogen generated through renewable energy sources is green, it is blue when the carbon generated from the process is captured and stored without dispersing it in the atmosphere. When the carbon is not captured, the generated hydrogen is labelled grey.

Nearly 70% of the investments required to produce green hydrogen through electrolysis goes into generating renewable energy. With India’s solar capacity increasing nearly 3,000 times in less than a decade, the cost of solar energy has reached a low of ₹2 per kWh. This gives India a unique head start in scaling up the use of green hydrogen.

India can reduce its carbon emissions and make a dent in its annual import bills by developing a value chain for hydrogen from its production to its diverse applications, including production technologies, storage, transport and distribution, infrastructure (ports, refuelling stations), vehicular applications, and electricity/gas grid.


Government funding and long-term policies that attract private investments within the standards and a progressive compliance framework are essential to boost green hydrogen. Hydrogen’s cross-sectoral capabilities should be exploited according to each sector’s cost and ease of adoption. A few key sectors with low transition costs, such as refineries, fertilizers and natural gas, should be mandated to use hydrogen to bring down costs as part of near-term goals. New demand from steel, cement and road mobility should be mandated as part of medium-term goals. Heavy-duty vehicles should receive State and Central incentives. Shipping, aviation, energy storage and solutions towards power intermittency should be mandated to use green hydrogen in the long run.

Enforcing time-bound mid- and long-term policies would inspire the private sector to invest more in green hydrogen and give the boost it requires in its nascent stages. India’s current grey hydrogen production is six million tonnes per annum, which is around 8.5% of global annual production. India should replace this with green hydrogen and reduce dependence on imported ammonia. It should aim to produce 4-6 million tonnes of green hydrogen per annum by the end of the decade and export at least 2 million tonnes per annum. India has already taken the first step with the Indian Oil Corporation floating a global tender to set up two green hydrogen generations units at the Mathura and Panipat refineries.

At present, more than 30 countries have hydrogen road maps and over 200 large-scale hydrogen projects across the value chain. If all the projects come to fruition, total investments will reach $300 billion in spending by 2030. Governments worldwide have committed to more than $70 billion in public funding, according to Hydrogen Council, to develop a hydrogen economy. With its abundant and cheap solar energy, India has the upper hand to tap into these investments and lead global efforts in transitioning to green hydrogen.

Omicron risks spark calls for booster doses

Experts divided on extra protection for few over ensuring universal immunisation

With the emergence of Omicron and its virulence yet uncertain, concerns have emerged about whether a third dose of COVID vaccines should be administered in India.

The United States and the United Kingdom have approved booster doses for all adults, six months after the completion of their second dose. In the UK, however it is restricted to those 40 and above, or those with a clinical conditions that supress their natural immunity.

“With Omicron, the Government of India must, without any delay, make it possible for all senior citizens and those with co-morbidities irrespective of age, to get a third or ‘booster’ dose of the relevant vaccine. In fact the Government should enable, encourage and assist them in getting that on a war-footing. Not doing that would be a policy folly of the first magnitude,” Gopalkrishna Gandhi, 76, former Governor of West Bengal He added that all the studies on booster doses so far were specific to mRNA vaccines. Since none of these are being administered in India, it would be prudent to conduct those studies, arrive at a reasonable lower bound of vaccine efficacy beyond which a third dose would be necessary, if at all, and then proceed, Dr Lahariya said.

“At this stage when only 30% of Indians are fully inoculated and half of those above 45 still weren’t vaccinated, it’s unreasonable to demand a third dose for otherwise healthy senior citizens,” he told The Hindu. “All evidence shows the vaccines are extremely effective against severe disease and hospitalisation. Transmission can only be addressed by COVID appropriate behaviour. In Europe and the U.S., the bulk of hospitalisation is among the unvaccinated,” he pointed out.

He said that it wouldn’t be imprudent of the Indian government, if it had surplus stock, to divert vaccines to Africa which has vaccinated less than a quarter of its population. “The pandemic can end only when most of the world is fully vaccinated and not a small set of people getting multiple doses,” Dr .Lahariya said.

This category of immunity, also called T cell immunity, results from the body learning to destroy the coronavirus after having being taught to do so from either a vaccination or a previous infection and is considered more long lasting than the protection conferred from neutralising antibodies which are produced within weeks of an inoculation or infection.

Vaccination: adverse events less than 0.01%, Centre tells SC

The Government has told the Supreme Court that COVID-19 vaccination is voluntary and serious or severe effects of inoculation, including death, account for less than 0.01%.

“The percentage of such effect having serious/severe [including deaths] in case of both Covaxin and Covishield is less than 0.01%. This again is in the caveat that any such severe/serious effect including death cannot be attributed to vaccination.”

The Health Ministry said 2,116 serious and severe AEFI cases have been reported from 1,19,38,44,741 doses administered till November 24.

Vaccination is encouraged for one’s own good and in public health, it said.

“An individual’s ill health has a direct effect on society,” it submitted in a 58-page affidavit before a Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao on Monday.

The very proof that the vaccination is not mandatory is evident from the fact that no benefits or services are attached to it.

The Government said it is transparent about vaccination data.

“Post-vaccination adverse data is already in the public domain,” the Ministry said.

“A report of rapid review and analysis completed for 495 [463 Covishield and 32 Covaxin] cases has been submitted. Another report of 1,356 cases [1,236 Covishield, 118 Covaxin and two Sputnik] serious and severe AEFI cases [including 495 cases already analysed] has been presented to the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 [EGVAC].The rapid review and analysis of balance cases is under way and will be completed soon,” the Centre told the court.

The Centre said any death or hospitalisation following vaccination cannot be automatically assumed to be due to vaccination.

“Here, causality assessments help to understand whether the ‘Adverse Event Following Immunisation’ was caused directly due to vaccine, and are conducted at State and national level for the investigated cases.”

It said data relating to clinical trial, approval by the DCGI and vaccination data “required to be and can be released as per law is already available in the public domain”. The minutes of meetings and committee deliberations to the extent permissible are already out, it said.

Dr. Jacob Puliyel, a former member of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, wants the court to direct the Government, its bodies and the two domestic vaccine manufacturers — Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech — to transparently reveal clinical trial and vaccination data, including the recording and reporting of adverse events.

The court had in August expressed apprehensions whether a judicial order in the case to publish data on clinical trials of COVID vaccines and post-vaccination side-effects would feed vaccine hesitancy amid the pandemic. It had however asked the Government to file its response to the petition.

The earliest rock-cut monuments in India

The Barabar hills in Bihar’s Gaya district contains a unique group of man-made rock-cut caves (3rd century BCE) of great historical value and architectural and sculptural significance. At least three caves of the hill were surely excavated by Piyadasi i.e., King Asoka (r. c. 268–232 BCE) of the Maurya Empire. The caves of Sudama and Visvamitra were created in the 12th regnal year of Asoka, and the Karna Chaupar was made in his 19th regnal year. But the Lomas Rishi cave remained unfinished and hence also contains no edict of Asoka. However, the ground plan of the Sudama and Lomas Rishi caves are nearly identical, and therefore, many scholars consider the latter one to be also excavated during the Asokan period, probably sometime in the last 20 years of his reign. Further, in the nearby Nagarjuni hill, Asoka’s grandson, Dasaratha (r. 232-224 BCE), had also excavated three caves on the occasion of his accession to the throne at Magadha (Patna), with each one bearing his edict. These three caves are known as the Gopika, Vadathi and Vapiya.

All the caves of the Barabar and Nagarjuni hills were donated as dwellings to Ajivika ascetics. It was an ancient Indian religion that however completely vanished after the 14th century. The religion was founded by Goshala Maskariputta, who was known to be a contemporary of Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism, and Gautama, the Buddha of Buddhism. Though nothing is known about the religious practices of the Ajivikas, K R Norman, an expert on Pali literature and the Asoka edicts, has said that these ascetics had worshipped the elephant. In this context, I take liberty to add that the name of one hill, naaga-arjuni, points to the divine White Elephant; for, the naaga means an ‘elephant’ (and also a ‘serpent’), and arjuna means ‘white colour’. In fact, the Barabar hilltop, divided into halves, appears like a pair of elephants that face each other while leaning onto the ground. The same natural feature, in my opinion, would invariably explain the name, baraabar, which means ‘on par with one another’.

The Lomas Rishi cave remained unfinished most likely because of certain technical problems like the appearance of large cracks in the granite stone while the excavation was still in progress. The interior of all the caves, including one side of the Lomas Rishi, have been finely polished, a typical feature that is well-known as the hallmark of Mauryan art, as seen in Asoka pillars topped with the capital basements that bear animal figures like the elephant, bull, lion and perhaps also a horse. Visitors to the cave have remarked that the finely polished interior stone surface reflects every figure and form in front of it, almost like a mirror.

Of all the rock-cut structures, the Lomas Rishi cave stands apart, mainly because of the dwaara-torana (doorway embellishment), which has been carved with refined figures in relief. The motif of makara (crocodile) has been carved prominently on either end of the torana. These makaras appear almost like crocodiles with just a suggestion of a horn on the snout and with a reptilian tail having spines. Further, a row of 10 elephants are shown paying their homage to the stupa. The overall shape of the entrance is usually described as like the horseshoe, but more aptly as the gaja-prista-aakara (in the shape of an elephant’s back). The arch is single-pointed with the lock knob at the top centre; a row of beams are carved as support below the arch, and many crisscross strips are also carved to suggest a window in between the arch and the panel with figures. Such architectural features clearly reflect the wooden buildings that were in vogue during the time of Asoka, and even perhaps earlier.

In India, the Barabar caves are the first known examples of rock-cut cave structures and led to the making of many similar monuments all across the country at a later period. The dwaara-torana of the Lomas Rishi cave later on evolved into various types of makaras—comprising parts of a crocodile, fish and elephant—and also the makara-torana that is around various iconographic representations of many divinities of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.

British novelist E M Forster worked as private secretary of Tukojirao III, the Maharaja of Dewas in Madhya Pradesh, and seems to have either read about the Barabar caves or even visited them. He had introduced the caves in his novel, A Passage to India (1924), but under the fictional name of Marabar caves, where a significant event in the novel takes place. The incident in the movie (1984) of the same name, as far as I know, was filmed at Savandurga and the Ramadevarabetta caves near Ramnagar in Karnataka, but not at the Barabar caves.

Climate change boosted Australia bushfire risk by at least 30%

Scientists have published the first assessment quantifying the role of climate change in the recent Australian bushfires.

Global warming boosted the risk of the hot, dry weather that’s likely to cause bushfires by at least 30%, they say.

But the study suggests the figure is likely to be much greater.

It says that if global temperatures rise by 2C, as seems likely, such conditions would occur at least four times more often.

The analysis has been carried out by the World Weather Attribution consortium.

Co-author Geert Jan van Oldenborgh of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute in De Bilt, The Netherlands, told the BBC even the study’s very conservative estimates were troubling.

“Last year the fire prevention system in Australia, which is extremely well prepared for bushfires, was straining. It was at the limits of what it could handle, with volunteers working for weeks on end,” said Prof van Oldenborgh.

“As the world warms, these events will become more likely and more common. And it’s not something that we are ready for.”

The News Editorial Analysis 30th November 2021

Drought and record temperatures contributed to dramatic burning across the continent

During the 2019-2020 fire season in Australia, record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought fuelled a series of massive bushfires across the country.

At least 33 people were killed and more than 11 million hectares (110,000 sq km or 27.2 million acres) of bush, forest and parks across Australia burned.

Although it makes sense that human-induced global warming is likely to have led to more bushfires, assigning a figure to that increased risk is complex.

That is because other factors not directly related to climate change may also play a significant role. These include increased water use making the land drier, urban heating effects or unknown local factors.

Nevertheless, Prof Jan van Oldenborgh and 17 fellow climate scientists from six countries gave it their best shot. “It was by far the most complex study we have undertaken,” he told the BBC.

Endangered rhinos shifted Indian express

The State government has decided to rehabilitate one-horned rhinos in West Bengal by preparing new natural habitats for the endangered species in two parks. One of the habitats is situated close to Gorumara and the other at Patlakhawa in Cooch Behar. A team from the Centre had visited the places identified by the state Forest department and expressed their satisfaction.

Though they are yet to give the final nod in this regard, Forest department officials believe that they would get the permission soon to shift the animals to their new homes. “The main purpose of the move is to ensure that one-horned rhinos are kept in a better environment. This will also help in promoting tourism in north Bengal. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has laid great stress in promoting tourism in north Bengal, besides other places. The two new places where the one-horned rhinos would be shifted would be one of the main attractions for tourists,” said state Forest Minister Binay Barman.

The Buxa Tiger Reserve was also initially identified as a place where the rhinos could be shifted to. West Bengal has the second-highest population of the species in the country after Assam with the number growing to 255 in 2017. A survey conducted by the forest department in January 2015 found that Jaldapara National Park in the state has nearly 200 of these endangered animals and the Gorumara National Park has 50, an increase from 186 at Jaldapara and 46 at Gorumara in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

The increase in the population, however, comes with its share of problems. An official of the forest department said: “The total number of rhinos has increased to a stage wherein the existing habitat is no longer enough. Rhinos need large grazing spaces to survive, which is why we are shifting 50-one horned rhinos to new spaces.”

Officials added that the state government is also working closely with the Asian Rhino Specialist Group (ARSG) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“ARSG stressed on the need for having a diverse gene pool. The problem with small concentrated populations of large mammals like rhinos is that if the gene pool isn’t varied they are susceptible to diseases, which could wipe out the entire population at one go. A very famous case is that of the cheetahs in Africa, where the gene pool is almost similar to that of inbred mice,” said the official.


The News Editorial Analysis 29th November 2021

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