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ISRO sets the bar high

the Indian Space Research Organisation boosted its reputation further when it
successfully launched a record 104 satellites in one mission from Sriharikota on
Wednesday by relying on its workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket. An
earth observation Cartosat-2 series satellite and two other nano satellites were
the only Indian satellites launched: the remaining were from the United States,
Israel, the UAE, the Netherlands, Kazakhstan and Switzerland. Of the 101 foreign
satellites launched, 96 were from the U.S. and one each from the other five
countries. Till now Russia held the record of launching 37 satellites in a single
mission, in 2014, while the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the
U.S. launched 29 satellites in one go in 2013. Last June, ISRO had come close to
NASAs record by launching 20 satellites in one mission. But ISRO views the
launch not as a mission to set a world record but as an opportunity to make full
use of the capacity of the launch vehicle. The launch is particularly significant as
ISRO now cements its position as a key player in the lucrative commercial space
launch market by providing a cheaper yet highly reliable alternative. At an orbital
altitude of around 500 km, the vehicle takes about 90 minutes to complete one
orbit. Though ISRO had sufficient time to put the satellites into orbit, it
accomplished the task in about 12 minutes. With the focus on ensuring that no
two satellites collided with each other, the satellites were injected in pairs in
opposite directions. Successive pairs of satellites were launched once the vehicle
rotated by a few degrees, thereby changing the separation angle and time of
separation to prevent any collision.

ISRO plans to launch more Cartosat-2 series satellites and even an improved
version. Besides setting the record for the most number of satellites launched in
a single mission, the Indian space agency has launched two nano satellites
weighing less than 10 kg. It is a technology demonstrator for a new class of
satellites called ISRO nano satellites (INS). The main objective of the INS, which
will be launched together with bigger satellites, is to provide a platform on which
payloads up to 5 kg from universities and R&D laboratories, and ISRO itself can
be easily integrated for carrying out scientific research activities. With many
Indian universities already building and launching nano satellites, the availability
of a dedicated nano satellites platform is sure to boost space research in India.

The foul air we breathe

ew international report has drawn attention to the deadly pollutants that pervade
the air that people breathe in India, causing terrible illness and premature death.
The State of Global Air 2017 study, conducted jointly by the Health Effects
Institute and the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, quantifies further
what has been reported for some time now: that the concentration of the most
significant inhalable pollutant, fine particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5
micrometres or less (PM2.5), has been growing in India. The rise in average
annual population-weighted PM2.5 levels indicates that the Centres initiatives to
help States reduce the burning of agricultural biomass and coal in Punjab, Uttar
Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi have failed. The directions of the National
Green Tribunal to Delhi, which were reviewed last year, could not end open
burning of garbage and straw, or curb the urban use of diesel-powered vehicles.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the weighted national PM2.5 level
estimated in the international report rose from 60 micrograms per cubic metre in
1990 (the acceptable limit) to 74 in 2015, with a steady rise since 2011. Weak
policy on pollution is leading to the premature death of an estimated 1.1 million
Indians annually, and the number is growing, in contrast to Chinas record of
reducing such mortality. Several studies show long-term evidence of a steady
deterioration in air quality in many countries, and South Asia, dominated by
India, is today among the worst places to live. Although the central role played
by burning of crop residues in causing pollution is well-known, and the Indian
Agricultural Research Institute proposed steps to convert the waste into useful
products such as enriched fodder, biogas, biofuel, compost and so on, little
progress has been made. Last year, helpless farmers in the northern States who
wanted to quickly switch from rice to wheat burnt the waste in the fields, in some
cases defying local prohibitory orders. The government has no one to blame but
itself, since it has not been able to supply affordable seeder machinery in
sufficient numbers to eliminate the need to remove the straw. In a country
producing about 500 million tonnes of crop residues annually, the issue needs to
be addressed in mission mode. Easy access to cheap solar cookers and biogas
plants will also cut open burning, and help the rural economy. Yet, there is no
reliable distribution mechanism for these. On the health front, it is a matter of
concern that in the most polluted cities, even moderate physical activity could
prove harmful, rather than be beneficial, as new research indicates. Indias clean-
up priorities need to shift gear urgently, covering both farm and city.

Early setback for Mr. Trump

president Donald Trump suffered a big political blow on Monday, barely a month
into office, when his National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned over his
Russia contacts. Mr. Flynn, a close aide of Mr. Trump, admitted that he had
inadvertently briefed Vice-President Mike Pence with incomplete information
about his phone conversation with the Russian ambassador in Washington,
Sergey Kislyak. The allegation is that Mr. Flynn discussed American sanctions on
Russia with Mr. Kislyak in the waning days of the Obama presidency and told him
that Russia should wait till Mr. Trumps inauguration. He later denied speaking of
the sanctions, and based on his brief, Mr. Pence publicly defended him. But after
the media reported that they had sources vouching that Mr. Flynn had discussed
the sanctions with the envoy, it became impossible for the White House to
defend him. Technically, Mr. Flynns calls with the Russian ambassador before he
became part of the government are a breach of an 18th century law, the Logan
Act, that makes it illegal for private individuals to conduct foreign policy. The
context is grave for the Trump administration. There are already allegations that
Moscow interfered in the presidential elections in favour of Mr. Trump and that
the Russians have some compromising personal information about Mr. Trump.
The resignation, however, is unlikely to contain the scandal. It raises even more
questions about administration officials dealings with Russia and the way the
government functions. Mr. Flynn, for example, already faces allegations that he
acted with the knowledge of others in Mr. Trumps transition team, and his past
Russian links are being probed. If the scandal widens, it could derail Mr. Trumps
Russia reset plans. He could have avoided this early embarrassment had he paid
more heed to those who questioned his picks for top jobs in the administration.
Mr. Flynn, who was fired by President Barack Obama in 2014 as head of the
Defence Intelligence Agency, was particularly unpopular in Washington. Mr.
Trumps other picks, be it Attorney General Jeff Sessions who faces allegations of
racism, or Education Secretary Betsy DeVos who needed the Vice-President to
cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate for confirmation, are other cases in point.
Such decisions cannot be unmade now. But Mr. Trump could learn some lessons
from the Flynn episode. He could use better judgment when he chooses his next
NSA. He should set his house in order and formulate a cohesive approach
towards domestic and foreign policy issues, including stating clearly what his
Russia policy is. If not, his administration could well be trapped in crisis mode.

The conviction and after

corruption in high places is a malaise that is easy to diagnose but difficult to


cure. Even in the rare cases they are arraigned before a court, top politicians
often pay their way through legal battles, and spend little or no time in
incarceration. The conviction of AIADMK general secretary V.K. Sasikala in the
disproportionate assets case involving her close friend, former Chief Minister
Jayalalithaa, as the prime accused, is a significant marker in Indias legal and
political history. The charges against Jayalalithaa abated following her death last
December, but Ms. Sasikala had to face the full wrath of the Supreme Court,
which has upheld the trial court order in toto, leaving her to spend four years in
prison. As Justice Amitava Roy wrote in his concurring order, corruption is a vice
of insatiable avarice for self-aggrandisement by the unscrupulous, taking unfair
advantage of their power and authority. While there is no denying that the
judgment has strengthened confidence in the justice delivery system, it is
mystifying that the ruling has come more than eight months after the two-
member Bench concluded hearing arguments in the case. All the more so, since
the basic thrust of the judgment only endorsed the position taken by the trial
court in Bengaluru, which held all the accused in the case guilty. Given that the
Supreme Court had pressed the Karnataka High Court to hear the appeal
expeditiously, there was no justification in such an inordinate delay. Politically,
this could not have come at a worse time for Ms. Sasikala, who was making a
determined bid for power, staking claim to form the government after displacing
one-time loyalist O. Panneerselvam. Governor Ch. Vidyasagar Rao had held off
inviting Ms. Sasikala to form the government despite her demonstrating the
support of a majority of the members of the legislature precisely because he
anticipated such a situation. Now, however, the options before him are a lot
clearer. If the newly elected leader of the AIADMK Legislature Party, Edappadi
Palaniswami, is able to show the support of at least 117 MLAs, he will have to be
sworn in as Chief Minister. Though there are allegations that the MLAs were kept
forcibly at a resort by the Sasikala camp, Mr. Panneerselvam is nowhere close to
splitting the AIADMK legislature party despite the support of the rank and file.
Notwithstanding the legal setback, Ms. Sasikala may be able to trump Mr.
Panneerselvam politically. But her success in keeping the MLAs together may
depend on the Governors next move; whatever that is, Tamil Nadu is destined
for more political churn.

Shining bright

India can do much more to increase solar power capacity and meet its
renewables target

the clearance from the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs for a plan to
double the capacity of solar power installed in dedicated solar parks to 40
gigawatts by 2020, with partial government fiscal assistance, is in line with the
goal of creating a base of 100 gigawatts by 2022. Expansion of solar power
capacity is among the more efficient means to meet the commitment to keep
carbon emissions in check under the Paris Agreement on climate change, and it
can provide the multiplier effect of creating additional employment, with overall
economic dividends. As the International Renewable Energy Agency notes in its
report titled REthinking Energy 2017: Accelerating the global energy
transformation, globally, jobs in solar energy have witnessed the fastest growth
since 2011 among various renewable energy sectors. Asia has harnessed the
potential the most, providing 60% of all renewable energy employment, while
China enjoys the bulk of this with a thriving solar photovoltaic and thermal
manufacturing industry, besides installations. Apart from measures to scale up
generating capacity, India should take a close look at competitive manufacturing
of the full chain of photovoltaics and open training facilities to produce the
human resources the industry will need in the years ahead. Renewables and new
energy storage technologies are on course to overshadow traditional fossil fuel-
based sources of power as the costs decline.

Low-cost financing channels hold the key to quick augmentation of solar


generating capacity. The trend in some emerging economies, including India, has
been a reduction in public financing of renewable energy projects over the last
five years. This has implications for equity in the long run, and electricity
regulators should fix tariffs taking into account the reduction in the levelised cost
of electricity (the average break-even price over a projects lifetime). Yet,
recourse to other funding options, including regulated debt instruments such as
green bonds, would be necessary to achieve early, ambitious targets. Without
realistic purchase prices, utilities could resort to curtailment of renewable power
sources on non-technical considerations, affecting investments. Tamil Nadu, a
solar leader in the country, resorted to curtailments last year, a phenomenon
that has perhaps muted industry interest in its recent 500 MW tender. The
funding mix for renewables, therefore, should give climate financing an
important role. At the Paris UN Climate Change Conference, developed countries
pledged to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 for mitigation, and more in later
years, a promise that needs to be vigorously pursued. Besides promoting phase
two of the solar parks plan, and powering public facilities such as railway stations
and stadia using solar power, the Centre should put in place arrangements that
make it easier for every citizen and small business to adopt rooftop solar. This is
crucial to achieving the overall goal of 100 GW from this plentiful source of
energy by 2022, and to raise the share of renewables in the total energy mix to
40 per cent in the next decade.

Life elsewhere

The discovery of seven exoplanets makes the search for extraterrestrial life more
exciting

the quest to find life outside the solar system got a big boost with the discovery
of seven Earth-size extra-solar planets, or exoplanets, orbiting a dwarf star about
40 light years away. Unlike earlier discoveries of exoplanets, all seven planets
could possibly have liquid water a key to life as we know it on Earth with
three planets having the greatest chance. This is by far the largest collection of
Earth-like planets in the habitable Goldilocks zone of a star neither too close
nor too far from a star, which raises the possibility of liquid water being present
on the surface. Only Earth has liquid water in the solar system. Less than a year
after scientists announced the discovery of three planets orbiting the dwarf star,
the team found four more through intense searches using several ground-based
telescopes, including a 20-day continuous monitoring using the U.S. National
Aeronautics and Space Administrations Spitzer Space Telescope. Since the dwarf
star is much cooler than the Sun, the dimming of light each time a planet passes
or transits before the star could be easily recorded from Earth unlike in cases
when planets transit a Sun-like bright star. Since the initial discovery of three
planets was made using the Chile-based Transiting Planets and Planetesimals
Small Telescope, the exoplanet system is called TRAPPIST-1. Unlike in the case of
our solar system, the planets have apparently formed far away from the star and
gradually migrated towards it; they share a similar formation history with the
Galilean moons, which migrated towards Jupiter after formation. Another major
difference in comparison with the solar system is the tight packing of the seven
planets around the star. The closest planet in the TRAPPIST-1 system takes just
1.5 days to complete an orbit and the farthest one takes 20 days; the orbital
period of the planets is also similar to the Galilean moons.

With a fair possibility of liquid water being present on at least three planets, the
focus is now on deciphering the climate and chemical composition of their
atmosphere. As a first measure, scientists are keen to know if the planets are
Earth-like, by ruling out the presence of hydrogen gas enveloping them. Mass
estimates already suggest that the inner six planets might have a rocky
composition, while the one with a low density may have a volatile composition
due to the presence of an ice layer or atmosphere. The composition of the
atmosphere can be identified by measuring the wavelength characteristics of
light. Since the TRAPPIST-1 system is close by and the star is cool enough, it
would be easier to decipher the various critical features of the planets. If there is
life on these planets, we would know this in about 10 years. The search for
extraterrestrial life has just become more focussed.

Campus chill

There must be action against those behind the violence at Delhis Ramjas
College

aVery uneasy calm was restored to the Delhi Universitys North campus by
Thursday, with anxiety still gripping colleges and hostels after two days of
violence. Trouble started on Tuesday when members of the Akhil Bharatiya
Vidyarthi Parishad, the student organisation linked to the BJP, stormed Ramjas
College to disrupt a seminar titled Cultures of Protest organised by its English
department and the literary society. They focussed attention on the participation
of Umar Khalid, a student leader from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) who had
been controversially booked for sedition last year in a particularly fraught
ideological stand-off between the establishment and the left-leaning JNU. They
forced the cancellation of not just his session at Ramjas College but also what
remained of the two-day event. A day later, as a protest against the incident was
organised on the DU campus, ABVP members again arrived at the gates of
Ramjas College to prevent students from participating in the march. In no time,
clashes erupted, with students of the college alleging violence by the ABVP
members and a hands-off response from the Delhi Police. Student politics in DU
has often been edgy, but this weeks events mark a dark and worrying turn.
Fearing trouble, many students associated with the anti-ABVP protest who live
around the campus left to stay elsewhere. Students are mobilising to demand
that the first information report make a distinction between those who disrupted
the seminar and those rallying in its defence. But the most grave consequence is
the message that is being sent out about the possibility of free debate.
Umar Khalid was to have spoken in a session on Unveiling the state: Regions in
conflict the war in Adivasi areas, reportedly based on his research on Bastar.
It was part of a programme cleared by the college authorities. If they are so
quickly intimidated into cancelling the seminar, if the police do not rally
sufficiently to protect debate on the campus, the signal goes out that students
and faculty are on their own in defending the right to free debate. The Ramjas
College incident also comes a year after the events at JNU when the ABVP led the
Sanghs charge against what they deemed to be anti-national. Then too an
impression was created that the police were too easily led to heed the ABVPs
agenda; the reverberations of that episode are still being felt. Universities are
arenas for intellectual evolution, they are meant to be spaces where discussion
and debate push boundaries, where students learn not only the art of
provocation but also the argumentative skills to defend and oppose such
provocation. Certainly, there are necessary curbs such as a bar on speech that
incites violence and hate. But when a students organisation uses violence to
have a seminar cancelled, and when the authorities succumb so easily, Indian
academia stands diminished.

A significant victory

The BJPs facile win in the Maharashtra civic polls marks the continuation of a
trend

there could not have been a clearer mandate in the 2017 civic polls in
Maharashtra. Except for Thane, where the Shiv Sena managed a comfortable
victory, and Mumbai, where it squeaked ahead of the BJP by two seats, the BJP
won every city corporation easily. Of the 1,268 municipal seats, the party won
628, more than tripling its 2012 tally. There could not be a better affirmation of
support for the party in power at the State as well as its Chief Minister, who
staked his political reputation on the polls. Besides fielding competitive
candidates in places where the party had a strong base, the BJPs strategy to
woo viable contestants from other parties in places where it was weak yielded
strong returns. The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party were reduced to
minor players in most of the corporations. In Mumbai, the Shiv Sena has, for the
first time since it came to power nearly 25 years ago, seen a close competitor in
the BJP; there is now a chance that the mayor could be elected from outside the
Sena. While the Marathi-dominated areas of the city helped the regionalist party
consolidate support, its reduced win ratio, of only 37% of the seats contested as
opposed to over 50% in previous civic polls, suggests that it can no longer count
Mumbai as an undisputed stronghold. The politics of regional identity and
patronage may have helped the Sena become the single largest party in Indias
richest municipal corporation. But its reduced win ratio is a reflection of its
dismal performance in ensuring civic works, with sanitation, infrastructure, public
health and education in poor shape in the city.
The BJP will be content with its strong performance, which has followed civic poll
victories in Chandigarh and Madhya Pradesh and in some Legislative Council
elections in Uttar Pradesh. This may not reflect a popular endorsement of the
demonetisation move, as its supporters argue, but at the very least it suggests
that notebandi is highly unlikely to hurt the BJPs prospects in the ongoing
Assembly elections. It is impossible to not contrast the BJPs success with the
performance of the Congress in the recent civic polls. Clearly, the BJP has
become the central pole of Indian politics, a position the Congress occupied for a
long time. This is not only due to the BJP-run Central governments record. The
party has an able corps of regional leaders, Devendra Fadnavis and Shivraj Singh
Chouhan among them, which allows for it to compete effectively at the regional
level. The Congress, on the other hand, seems lacking not just in a strategy to
regain national relevance but also in its ability to revive itself regionally due to
the absence of a cache of regional leaders.

Ageing with dignity

We may be a young nation, but we need to gear up to meet the needs of the
elderly

ile Indias celebrated demographic dividend has for decades underpinned its
rapid economic progress, a countervailing force may offset some of the gains
from having a relatively young population: rapid ageing at the top end of the
scale. This is a cause of deep concern for policymakers as India already has the
worlds second largest population of the elderly, defined as those above 60 years
of age. As this 104-million-strong cohort continues to expand at an accelerating
pace, it will generate enormous socio-economic pressures as the demand for
healthcare services and tailored accommodation spikes to historically
unprecedented levels. It is projected that approximately 20% of Indians will be
elderly by 2050, marking a dramatic jump from the current 8%. However, thus
far, efforts to develop a regime of health and social care that is attuned to the
shifting needs of the population have been insufficient. While more mature
economies have created multiple models for elder care, such as universal or
widely accessible health insurance, networks of nursing homes, and palliative
care specialisations, it is hard to find such systemic developments in India.
Experts also caution that as the proportional size of the elderly population
expands, there is likely to be a shift in the disease patterns from communicable
to non-communicable, which itself calls for re-gearing the health-care system
toward preventive, promotive, curative and rehabilitative aspects of health.

Advocacy and information campaigns may be necessary to redirect social


attitudes toward ageing, which often do not help the elderly enjoy a life of
stability and dignity. As highlighted in Uncertain Twilight, a four-part series in
The Hindu on the welfare of senior citizens, the ground realities faced by the
elderly include abandonment by their families, destitution and homelessness,
inability to access quality health care, low levels of institutional support, and the
loneliness and depression associated with separation from their families. On the
one hand, the traditional arrangements for the elderly in an Indian family revolve
around care provided by their children. According to the National Sample Survey
Organisations 2004 survey, nearly 3% of persons aged above 60 lived alone.
The number of elderly living with their spouses was only 9.3%, and those living
with their children accounted for 35.6%. However, as many among the younger
generation within the workforce are left with less time, energy and willingness to
care for their parents, or simply emigrate abroad and are unable to do so, senior
citizens are increasingly having to turn to other arrangements. In the private
sector, an estimated demand for 300,000 senior housing units, valued at over $1
billion, has led to a variety of retirement communities emerging across the
country, in addition to innovations in healthcare delivery for this group. Yet the
poor among the elderly still very much depend on the government to think
creatively and come up with the resources and institutions to support their
needs.

Corrections & Clarifications: A sentence in the Editorial previously, read: It is


projected that approximately 20% of Indians will be elderly by 2050, marking a
dramatic jump from the current 6%. The current percentage of elderly population
is 8.

A battle lost?

T.R. Zeliangs exit as Nagaland CM must not scotch the promise of a womens
quota

going against the status quo to take a progressive decision is always a difficult
endeavour in politics or in government. Such decisions yield enthusiastic support
from those in favour of change; at the same time, they invite strong responses
from reactionary sections. The right thing to do for any politician seeking to
embark on change is to not give in to resistance after making the decision. T.R.
Zeliang, who recently stepped down as the Chief Minister of Nagaland, had taken
the bold decision to conduct long-pending urban local body elections on February
1 with 33% reservation for women in accordance with the 74th Amendment to
the Constitution. The move, predictably, resulted in strong opposition from tribal
groups who sought to use the issue of Naga autonomy as a ploy to resist it. Mr.
Zeliang should have stuck to his governments order and sought more public
acceptance by rallying the many in favour in particular, Naga women who
would have finally got their constitutionally mandated stake in local governance.
Instead, he chose to take a U-turn and termed the implementation of the
decision as null and void, emboldening tribal organisations to demand his
resignation. Following a series of agitations by two tribal groups, the Joint
Coordination Committee and the Nagaland Tribes Action Committee, Mr. Zeliang
finally resigned, but not before some drama was played out in the ruling Naga
Peoples Front.

It was clear that Mr. Zeliang was being pressured to resign not just by status
quoists among tribal groups but also by his rivals in the NPF. Some legislators
were seeking the return of the former Chief Minister and MP, Neiphiu Rio, who
had been suspended from the party last year on grounds of anti-party
activities. Immediately, in what is now becoming a routine act in Indian politics
following any intra-ruling party intrigue, the legislators were taken to a resort in
Kaziranga and confined there to prevent defections. Fearing a split, Mr. Zeliang
resigned, and the partys senior leader and supremo Shurhozelie Liezietsu was
nominated as the 11th Chief Minister of the State by 42 of the 49 NPF legislators.
Just before Mr. Liezietsu was sworn in on Wednesday the agitation was called off
by the tribal organisations, signalling an end to this round of turmoil. But the
NPF-led coalition under the leadership of Mr. Liezietsu has its task cut out. It has
to clearly assert its authority as the ruling establishment in the State. It must
also focus its energies on the Naga peace process, which remains unresolved
despite the reported signing of an accord between the Centre and insurgent
groups in 2015.

The Saeed test

Why we shouldnt read too much into Pakistans action against the LeT chief, yet

the flurry of actions by the Pakistan government on Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz


Saeed gives the impression of movement on an issue that has been a point of
contention between India and Pakistan. For the past two weeks, Saeed, who is on
the UN Security Councils terror list, has been under preventive detention and
house arrest, along with four other members of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, an avatar
of the LeT. All five are on the export control list for travel. A few days ago the
authorities put Saeed on its Anti-Terrorism Act list as well, and on Tuesday
followed that up by revoking weapon licences issued to Saeed and others.
Although details have not been shared, Pakistani officials said they have placed
restrictions on the functioning and funding of Saeeds JuD and its charity arm,
the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation. In addition, Pakistans military gave Saeeds
detention its full backing by calling it a policy decision in the national interest,
while Pakistans Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told an international audience at
the Munich Security Conference that Saeed was a security threat to Pakistan. It
would seem that even the Indian government has given the action against Saeed
a half thumbs-up, with the Ministry of External Affairs calling it a logical first
step.

As observers of Pakistan know, the action against Saeed is not a new step or
even the most serious measure taken against him over the past two decades.
Since 2001 he has been in and out of detention at least five times, and released
by the courts on a number of occasions. Besides, unlike in 2008 and 2009 when
he was detained for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks case, this time there has been no
First Information Report registered, or any specific reason given. If Pakistan were
indeed serious about the UN list, these actions should have been carried out in
2008, when Saeed and the JuD were put on the list. It is more than likely that
Pakistans action is actually timed for the Financial Action Task Forces officials
meeting in Paris this week where a report on Pakistans terror funding record is
being presented. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may even be attempting
to show good faith to both U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister
Narendra Modi by the action, even as he faces domestic pressure to act against
terrorists in the wake of a slew of bombings recently in Pakistan, including at the
Sehwan shrine in Sindh. It is too early to fully assess what the action against
Saeed means, and what signal Pakistan may be sending to India. For New Delhi,
steps towards a resumption of bilateral dialogue may be more purposeful than
simply gauging which way the wind is blowing.

Necessary limit

Price control for cardiac stents is inevitable to promote access to treatments

capping the prices of medical stents, which are used to treat coronary artery
disease, by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) is an extreme
regulatory measure necessitated by the market failure that afflicts the overall
delivery of health care in India. Rising costs have led to impoverishment of
families and litigation demanding regulation. Given the overall dominance of
private, commercial, for-profit health institutions, and the asymmetry confronting
citizens, correctives to bring about a balance are inevitable. Two important
pointers to the need for cost regulation are available from research published in
The Lancet in December 2015: nearly two-thirds of the high out-of-pocket
expenditure on health incurred by Indians went towards drugs; even the meagre
research data available showed that there was irrational use of medical
technologies, including cardiac stents and knee implants. Regulated prices can,
therefore, be expected to make stents more accessible to patients who really
need them, helping them avoid using up the weak insurance cover available,
while also reducing the incentive for unethical hospitals to use them needlessly.
It is worth recalling that there are over 60 million diagnosed diabetics in the
country, and the average age at which the first heart attack strikes Indians is 50,
a decade earlier than people in developed nations. At appropriate prices, and
with a health system that pools the cost among all citizens, it would be possible
to provide access to stents and other treatments for all.

Health-care providers often demand market-determined pricing of medical


technologies on the ground that newer ones will not be available under a
regulated regime. In the case of cardiac stents, this argument does not hold
water since stakeholder consultations held by the NPPA in January revealed that
there are huge unethical markups in the supply chain. It would serve the cause
of medical innovation if costing is transparent, and a system of risk pooling is
introduced to help patients get expensive treatment without high out-of-pocket
spending. It was estimated five years ago by the Planning Commissions expert
group on universal health coverage that raising spending on public procurement
of medicines to 0.5% of GDP (from 0.1%) would provide all essential medicines to
everyone. What is necessary, then, is for a two-pronged approach to improve
access to medicines and technology. The Centre should monitor expenditures
jointly in partnership with the community, use regulation where needed, and
raise public spending on health. Several developing countries have moved ahead
on this path. Well-considered price control is a positive step, but more needs to
be done. The latest measure provides an opportunity to expand the availability of
stents, and by extension angioplasty procedures, in the public health system.
District hospitals should offer cardiac treatments uniformly. This should be a
priority programme to be completed in not more than five years.

Seoul-searching

The Samsung heirs arrest marks the widening sprawl of South Koreas political
scandal

As the heir to the Samsung empire finds himself in the midst of a storm, South
Koreans are bracing themselves for another high-profile controversy, this time
involving the countrys largest conglomerate. Fridays arrest of Lee Jae-yong is in
connection with the same influence-peddling controversy where Parliament
voted overwhelmingly in December 2016 to impeach the countrys first woman
President, Park Geun-hye. The constitutional court has another few months to
dispose of the impeachment petition over a scandal that saw hundreds of
thousands of people take to the streets towards the end of 2016. South Korea
has barely recovered from the blow from the recall of Samsungs fire-prone
Galaxy Note 7. The company is one of the countrys largest, and its fortunes
have a direct bearing on the national economy. Prosecutors now accuse Mr. Lee
of paying about $37 million to organisations run by the Presidents close
confidante. In return, it is alleged, Samsung secured government support to
clinch a questionable merger of two affiliates in the conglomerate. Mr. Lees
recent arrest follows new evidence presented on the disputed contributions. Last
month, a pre-trial warrant sought by the prosecution was rejected, as the court
saw little ground for his detention in the absence of sufficient evidence to
substantiate the bribery charge. While Mr. Lee has admitted to making the
grants, he denies any accusations of bribery.

The overall stakes in the prospects of Samsung could not be greater, given that
the entity is one of the countrys largest employers; its revenues amount to a
substantial chunk of South Koreas gross domestic product. The impact of the
current development would also be of some concern given the global climate of
uncertainty from protectionism. At the same time, legal proceedings under way
involving some of South Koreas electronics giants are evidence of the unhealthy
nexus between corporations and officialdom coming under systematic scrutiny.
This is a reassuring sign for the long-term image of any brand, as well as for
South Korean politics and governance. The notion that giant firms that contribute
to economic growth and overall prosperity are too big to fail, or be prosecuted, is
said to influence the large number of pardons granted in South Korea. Several
top captains of industry have been let off, at times even without serving jail
terms. The fallacy of carrying that logic to an extreme seems to be giving way to
a recognition of the need for transparency and democratic accountability in the
governance culture of firms, something South Korea has struggled to achieve
over the years. In its absence, mitigating economic and social inequalities would
merely remain empty objectives. Citizens of one of Asias largest economies
deserve a better deal, as they themselves made clear through recent rounds of
protest. It is time for some serious introspection in Seoul.

Guilty until

The wrongful arrest of two men in the 2005 Delhi blasts case must invite
introspection

A Delhi courts acquittal of two persons accused of involvement in the 2005


serial blasts in the city, thereby bringing an end to their long incarceration,
brings to light another instance of unconscionable miscarriage of justice in this
country. Additional Sessions Judge Reetesh Singh acquitted the two men
Mohammad Hussain Fazli and Mohammad Rafiq Shah of all charges, while
saying it found no evidence to link the third accused, Tariq Ahmed Dar, to the
blasts, though it convicted him for being a member of a terrorist organisation. At
one level, the judgment is a reassuring affirmation of the independence at the
lower rungs of the Indian judiciary. But it must invite, visibly, a response from the
state to inquire into and address the processes that keep investigating agencies
and prosecutors so determinedly on false trails. The frightening monotony with
which Indian agencies have been failing to professionally investigate terrorism
cases, and are accused of framing innocents, should jolt the system. The court
said the prosecution had miserably failed to prove its case regarding who
carried out the October 29, 2005 bomb blasts, that killed 67 and injured more
than 200 people. It noted that the prosecution failed to establish a link between
Dar and the other two Kashmiris accused. The explosions, in a bazaar outside the
New Delhi railway station, in a bus, and in the Sarojini Nagar market, came just
before Deepavali.

This is not the first time that investigation into a terror case has fallen flat in a
court of law; nor is it the only instance of the Indian security agencies being
accused of framing innocents. The judgment is a telling commentary on Indias
faulty counter-terror posture, one that demands a holistic overhaul. There is a
long list of terror attacks in which the security establishment failed to carry out a
scientific probe and ended up framing innocent persons. The Malegaon blast of
2006, the attack on Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad in 2007, the Samjhauta Express
attack of 2007 have all seen the investigating agencies flailing to find the guilty.
Such incompetence has grave implications for Indias preparedness to avert
terrorist strikes. It is from credible clues gathered during investigations into an
attack that agencies pick up the trail to active terror groups, sleeper cells, and so
on. Moreover, this incompetence often swallows the lives of innocent persons. In
this case, Mohammad Rafiq Shah was just another college student in Srinagar
when he was detained in 2005, while Mohammad Hussain Fazli was a struggling
carpet-maker. It is difficult to imagine what could be done to compensate them
for their long, unjust incarceration. Or to begin to get to the bottom of the terror
attack that took 67 lives. A reform of the investigation processes should,
however, frame the states response to the verdict.

Marred by violence

The attempt to scupper the confidence vote in the Tamil Nadu Assembly is
inexcusable

Grace and poise in the face of imminent defeat is a rare political virtue. Even so,
the behaviour of the MLAs of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam during the
confidence vote moved by Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami in the Tamil
Nadu Assembly marks an abysmal low. When it became clear that Mr.
Palaniswami would carry the confidence vote, DMK members resorted to violence
to stall the proceedings citing one excuse or another. They tore up papers, broke
furniture, smashed microphones and took over the Speakers chair. After
adjourning the House to see if he could restore a measure of calm, Speaker P.
Dhanapal ordered the eviction of the DMK members. Members of the Congress,
an ally of the DMK, walked out in protest. Those left in their seats were only the
two factions of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, one led by Chief
Minister Palaniswami and the other by former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam.
Admittedly, this is hardly the ideal situation in which to hold a trust vote.
However, the fact that Mr. Palaniswami won the vote 122 to 11, getting four
votes more than what constitutes an absolute majority in the 234-member
legislature, has lent his victory the political legitimacy he sorely needed at this
juncture. True, some of the MLAs voted for the motion fearing disqualification,
but this is no argument for the vote to have been conducted by secret ballot.
Governor Ch. Vidyasagar Rao, after due consideration, had quite correctly not
taken to the idea of a composite floor test, a course which might have given
protection to members from disqualification on ground of defection. Mr.
Palaniswami was sworn in on the basis of signed letters of support from AIADMK
MLAs, and he did not lose time in convening the House for the motion of
confidence. If there were procedural irregularities during the trust vote, these
were largely on account of the actions of DMK members.
The Leader of the Opposition, M.K. Stalin of the DMK, might have his reasons to
feel aggrieved by the turn of events, but the proper forum for him to approach is
not the Raj Bhavan or the court, but the legislature. If he believes that the
AIADMK members, who were confined in a beach resort by the party leadership
for the better part of two weeks, need more time to make an informed choice in
the confidence vote, he can move a no-confidence motion against the
government after giving due notice. But the suggestion that AIADMK members
have statutory protection from disqualification under the Tenth Schedule of the
Constitution is irrational. Mr. Stalin cannot look for political short cuts by
condoning violence in the Assembly and questioning the legitimacy of a
government enjoying, to the extent it can be institutionally ascertained, the
support of a majority of the elected members of the House. Mr. Stalins time may
well come, but he needs to show more patience than he did last Saturday.

Smoke on the water

Weak official response to the pollution of Bengalurus wetlands threatens public


health

the extraordinary sight of a lake in Bengaluru on fire, with a massive plume of


smoke that could be seen from afar, is a warning sign that urban environments
are crashing under the weight of official indifference. If wetlands are the kidneys
of the cities, as scientists like to describe them, Karnatakas capital city has
entered a phase of chronic failure. No longer the city of lakes and famed
gardens, it has lost an estimated 79% of water bodies and 80% of its tree cover
from the baseline year of 1973. Successive governments in the State have
ignored the rampant encroachment of lake beds and catchment areas for
commercial exploitation, and the pollution caused by sewage, industrial effluents
and garbage, which contributed to the blaze on Bellandur lake. The neglect is
deliberate, since some of the finest urban ecologists in the city have been
warning that government inaction is turning Bengaluru into an unliveable mess.
It is time the State government took note of the several expert recommendations
that have been made, including those of the Centre for Ecological Sciences of the
Indian Institute of Science. The priority, clearly, is to end pollution outfalls into
the water bodies, which will help revive them to an acceptable state of health.
Identifying all surviving wetlands and demarcating them using digital and
physical mapping will help communities monitor encroachments, while removal
of land-grabbers and restoration of interconnecting channels is crucial to avoid
future flooding events.

Loss of natural wetlands is an ongoing catastrophe in India. A decade ago, when


the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History released a conservation
atlas for all States using space applications, it reported the tragic fact that 38%
of wetlands had already been lost nationally; and shockingly, in some districts
only 12% survived. The Centre has since issued rules for conservation and
management, and chosen 115 water bodies in 24 States for protection support,
but this is obviously too little. Moreover, research studies show that the
concentration of heavy metals in such sites is leading to bioaccumulation, thus
entering the plants and animals that ultimately form part of peoples food. It
should worry not just Bengalurus residents, for instance, that soil scientists have
found higher levels of cadmium in green vegetables grown using water from
Bellandur. More broadly, the collapse of environmental management because of
multiple, disjointed agencies achieving little collectively and legal protections
remaining unimplemented pose a serious threat to public health. Every city
needs a single lake protection authority. Indias worsening air quality is now well
documented, and most of its wetlands are severely polluted. Citizens must assert
themselves to stop this perilous course.

Champions league

India and Australia now pick up the thread of their keen cricket rivalry

Celebrated rivalries in cricket revolve, in the popular mind, around the Ashes or
contests involving India and Pakistan. Both duels have the weight of history and
are replete with anecdotes. But as Steve Smiths men play and train under the
Mumbai sun in their build-up to the four-match Test series at Pune, Bengaluru,
Ranchi and Dharamsala, it is time to acknowledge the particular intensity that
marks games involving India and Australia. It is a rivalry inferior to none, the
folklore further amplified by riveting contests, especially in India. Be it at
Kolkatas Eden Gardens in 2001 when V.V.S. Laxmans 281 helped India stage
one of crickets most remarkable fight-backs, or at Chennais Chepauk back in
1986, when India and Australia played out only the second tie in cricketing
history since 1877, the contests have ticked all the boxes: mighty individual
performances, oscillating fortunes and a fifth-day cracker. When rival skippers
Virat Kohli and Smith walk out for the toss at Punes Maharashtra Cricket
Association Stadium on February 23, they will take this legacy forward. Helmed
by young men Kohli is 28, Smith 27 both the Indian and Australian teams
are emerging from the struggles of transition; this series is their big chance at
asserting greatness.

India at home is a daunting opposition, the Final Frontier for Australia as Steve
Waugh called it. The home team is in fine form, with emphatic victories against
visiting teams over the last year, South Africa, New Zealand, England and
Bangladesh. In its last 19 Tests, both home and away, India has remained
undefeated, winning 15 of them. It is a validation of the squads evolution
underpinned by the consistency of its two leading players, Kohli and off-spinner
R. Ashwin, and augmented with others rising to the opportunity when its come
as Karun Nair did with his unbeaten 303 in the Chennai Test against England
last December. A resolute captain and a calm coach, in Anil Kumble, have
astutely guided the team. The odds favour India, and so does history. When
Australia last toured India in 2012-13, it lost all four Tests. This season too, on
balance, India appears to hold the aces. Australia may come in with a 3-0
triumph in home Tests against Pakistan, but before that while hosting South
Africa it emerged second-best, and lost three Tests in Sri Lanka. The last of these
has evoked concern about the teams adaptability to subcontinental conditions.
Much will hinge on Smith, his aggressive opener David Warner and left-arm fast
bowler Mitchell Starc, while Nathan Lyon is expected to shepherd an under-
cooked spin unit. In 1986, Allan Border arrived with a bunch that was written off;
yet they left with one tie and a drawn series. As history shows, surprise is the
second skin of tussles involving India and Australia.

The bumps ahead

Assessing inflation risk in the time of spiking prices and damp consumer
sentiment

For an economy that relies on public investment and private consumption to


revive private investment and growth, the last round of official statistics on
prices and industrial activity signal testing times ahead. First, industrial output
plummeted by 0.4% in December 2016, led by a 2% decline in manufacturing
(just five of 22 industries registered positive growth) and a 6.8% decline in
consumer goods. Now, wholesale prices have risen at the fastest pace in two and
a half years this January, at 5.25%. This is particularly noteworthy since the pace
of price rise at the consumer level slowed to 3.2% in the same month. By
contrast, consumer prices had risen fractionally faster (3.4%) than wholesale
prices (3.39%) in December. This divergence in wholesale prices and the prices
consumers pay is unlikely to last long with the former expected to stay firm for
a few months to come, the latter will eventually catch up. The Reserve Bank of
India may no longer track wholesale prices for monetary policy purposes, and
food prices are not a problem thanks to a normal monsoon, at least for now. But
as RBI Governor Urjit Patel pointed out, consumer prices of non-food articles and
fuel have been hard to contain since September 2016. Such sticky core inflation
is driving the latest wholesale price surge with fuel and power rising a sharp
18.14%, manufactured products growing by almost 4% (thanks not to demand
but upward commodity prices) and minerals by 1%.

A rise in oil prices beyond $65 a barrel would be a cause for concern, as Finance
Minister Arun Jaitley has said in his recent Budget, even if there is a belief that
higher shale gas output will check a further spike. This poses a risk to the
Centres fiscal arithmetic as well as Indias growth hopes. Higher oil price-led
inflation will bring back into focus the high excise duties on petroleum products
that have boosted the Centres tax kitty over the past couple of years. Those
duties were raised when prices were low to protect consumers from an upward
price shock, the government had argued. Cutting those duties will upset revenue
calculations, but leaving them untouched will impose its own costs. The RBI has
cited transitory effects of demonetisation on inflation and output as the
rationale to hold interest rates and shift from an accommodative monetary
stance to neutral. It is unlikely to ease its stance unless it sees executive action
against inflation risks. Secondly, consumer sentiment that held up during the
November 8 to December 30 demonetisation period has been declining since
January, as per CMIE data. If inflation spikes in the coming months, it could
further crimp consumer spending, with obvious consequences for the investment
cycle and job creation.

Change of guard

But will the AIADMK leadership give Tamil Nadus new Chief Minister a free hand?

inaction as well as inaction, Governor Ch. Vidyasagar Rao stuck to the


constitutional options available to him as he grappled with the rapid twists and
turns in the political developments in Tamil Nadu over the last two weeks. There
may be some things he could have done differently, but he called the big
decisions right. Now, no one disputes that he did the right thing by waiting for
the Supreme Court verdict in the disproportionate wealth case against V.K.
Sasikala. He also didnt waste too much time before swearing in Edappadi K.
Palaniswami as Chief Minister once he was elected leader of the All India Anna
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Legislature Party following the judgment. To have
allowed Ms. Sasikala to become Chief Minister at a time when the judgment was
imminent or to have given outgoing Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam more time
to muster support in the State Assembly would have been serious lapses on the
Governors part. He did well to ignore the curious advice of Attorney General
Mukul Rohatgi, who advocated a composite floor test. Leaving aside whether or
not this suggestion reflected the desire of the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership
at the Centre, which seemed favourably disposed to Mr. Panneerselvam, it would
have resulted in splitting the AIADMK down the middle and plunging the State
into political instability. There are precedents for a composite floor test, but these
were conducted in truly extraordinary circumstances and when specifically
mandated by the judiciary. The situation in Tamil Nadu did not warrant such a
course.

By backing Mr. Palaniswami, the Sasikala camp may have succeeded in


preventing further erosion of support among the public for the AIADMK, which
seemed in danger of imploding at one time. The new Chief Minister belongs to
the dominant Gounder community and enjoys a support base independent of the
Sasikala clan. Unlike Mr. Panneerselvam, who was something of a diehard
Sasikala loyalist before he switched sides, Mr. Palaniswami is known to keep his
own counsel. But given the peculiar situation he finds himself in, he will probably
have no choice but to carry along the members of the Sasikala clan. Particularly,
he will have to work in close coordination with T.T.V. Dinakaran, Ms. Sasikalas
nephew, who will now run the party in her absence as the recently nominated
deputy general secretary. It will be no surprise if Mr. Dinakaran, who was
removed from the AIADMK in 2011 by Jayalalithaa for interfering with
government administration, attempts to influence the affairs of the State
government. Mr. Palaniswami will have to deal with such pressures, perhaps even
rise above them, in the interests of Tamil Nadu. Many in the AIADMK have been
tainted by corruption charges, and the onus is on him to replace those memories
in the public mind with more immediate concerns of growth and development.
He will have to save the AIADMK from itself.

Massacre in Sehwan

The shrine attack is a reminder that Pakistan needs a composite plan against
terror

the horrific suicide attack at a Sufi shrine in Sehwan in Pakistans Sindh province
that killed at least 80 people, underscores fears about the Islamic State gaining
strength in the country. A suicide bomber blew himself up at the shrine of Lal
Shahbaz Qalandar, among the most venerated of Sufi saints. People of all faiths
in the subcontinent have flocked here over the centuries, making it a prominent
symbol of syncretism, and thereby a particularly potent target for the IS. The
terrorist group, which had announced its Pakistan branch more than two years
ago, has claimed a string of attacks in recent months, mostly on minority Muslim
sects. Initially, Pakistani authorities had denied that the IS has any organisational
presence in the country. However, attacks such as this, which the IS promptly
took responsibility for, suggest otherwise. In Iraq and Syria the IS has
methodically targeted Shias, Alawis, Kurds and Yazidis. In Pakistan and
Afghanistan, Shias, Hazaras and Sufis are being attacked. Pakistan, particularly,
has a rich Sufi tradition, a mystical and generally moderate form of Islam that is
loathed by fundamentalists. In 2010, Lahores Data Darbar shrine had been
brutally attacked. In June last year, the popular Sufi singer, Amjad Sabri, was
shot dead in Karachi. Three months ago, a Sufi shrine in Balochistan was bombed
by the IS, killing 45 people. The attack at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar
came when it was full of devotees, to cause maximum harm.

The IS is clearly following a strategy that was successful in mobilising fighters


and gaining publicity in Iraq and Syria. The highly planned, well-publicised
attacks on Shias in these countries helped the IS whip up Sunni sectarian
sentiment and win recruits. There is still no evidence that the Pakistani branch of
the group is directed by the IS core in Mosul or Raqqah. But IS fighters in eastern
Afghanistan, where the group has established a province of the Caliphate, and
those in Pakistan seem to have aligned themselves with local terror groups for
organisational support. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a ferociously anti-Shia group, and
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban, are two such
groups that reportedly have a tactical alliance with the IS. Most of the major
recent suicide attacks in Pakistan were carried out by these three groups. This
indicates a dangerous trend. After the massacre in an army school in Peshawar in
2014 that left more than 140 dead, the security forces had finally turned against
the Pakistani Taliban and dismantled parts of their terror network. But such
operations did little to minimise the threat Pakistan faces from terrorism as such.
If the Pakistan Taliban are on the back foot, others are coming forward with a
more vicious, sectarian worldview and firepower. Tragedies such as Thursdays
are a reminder that Pakistan needs a more comprehensive action plan against
terrorism.