Monthly Archives

March 2019

Sc. & Tech.

US didn’t spy on India’s ASAT test: Pentagon:

  The Pentagon has strongly denied the reports that the US spied on India’s anti-satellite missile test by sending a reconnaissance aircraft from its base in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to monitor the development. It, however, said the United States was aware about India’s first test-fire of an anti-satellite missile. “No US assets were spying on India. In fact, the US continues to expand its enduring partnership with India, resulting in enhanced interoperability and stronger economic ties,” US Defense Department spokesperson Lt Col David W Eastburn said. Aircraft Spots, which monitors military air movements, had said that a US Air Force’s reconnaissance aircraft from its base in Diego Garcia went “for a mission in the Bay of Bengal to monitor India’s anti-satellite missile test”. This was interpreted by many that the US spied on Indian ASAT test. “I don’t think that it implies coordination between India and the US,” astronomer Jonathan McDowell from the prestigious Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told PTI on the Aircraft Spots report. “This implies that the US intelligence community were aware of the test in advance because to some extent they’re spying on India,” he alleged. “Everybody spies on their friends as well as their enemies. That’s the way the world works these days. It would be surprising if the US were not detecting or observing the launch site and aware of activities preparing for the test. So one assumes that they knew it was coming,” he claimed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Wednesday announced that India successfully test-fired an anti-satellite missile by shooting down a live satellite, describing it as a rare achievement that puts the country in an exclusive club of space super powers. The test made India the fourth country in the world after the US, Russia and China to acquire the strategic capability to shoot down enemy satellites. 
— PTI

Politics

BJP fields non-Mizo in LS seat, loses 17 leaders

Aizawl: The state’s BJP unit lost its spokesperon and 16 other leaders on Thursday evening because of the party’s choice of Lok Sabha election candidate, Nirupam Chakma.
“Lok Sabha members are representatives of the people. The BJP high command’s decision to field a non-Mizo in the Mizo-dominated state is an insult to the majority community,” Lalrozara, former spokesperson of the saffron party’s Mizoram unit, said. “While we appreciate the development work undertaken by the BJP-led government at the Centre, the party has failed to address the fears of the Christian community,” he added.

Mizoram has always been witness to a schism between the majority Mizo community and minority communities like Chakma and Bru. Last year, just before the Mizoram assembly election, the influential Young Mizo Association had led several other Mizo organizations in demanding that the Chakma Autonomous District Council be scrapped because Chakmas are “outsiders”.

BJP had banked on support from these minority communities to make inroads into the Christian-majority state where it had never won a seat in either the assembly or Lok Sabha election. The saffron party managed to win its first seat in the state, Tuichawng, by fielding former Congress leader from the Chakma community, Buddha Dhan Chakma.

This time, too, BJP hopes to gain ground in the Lok Sabha election with Nirupam, a former Congress leader and the state’s first Chakma minister. The veteran leader is now vice-president of BJP’s Mizoram unit. (TNN)

Politics

PM Modi’s Mission Shakti address didn’t violate model code of conduct: EC

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on the successful test-firing of an anti-satellite missile did not violate the model code of conduct, the Election Commission said on Friday night.

The EC took the decision based on the report of a committee of officers which found that the Prime Minister did not violate the provision of ‘party in power’ in the poll code.

“The committee has, therefore, reached the conclusion that the MCC provision regarding misuse of official mass media … is not attracted in the instant case,” the commission said, citing the report of the committee constituted to look into the case.

Model code of conduct is in place for the April-May parliamentary election and some state polls.

India shot down one of its satellites in space on Wednesday with an anti-satellite missile to demonstrate this complex capability, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced, making it only the fourth country to have used such a weapon after US, China and Russia.

Declaring India has established itself as a global space power after the success of the operation ‘Mission Shakti’, PM Modi said the missile hit a live satellite flying in a Low Earth Orbit after it traversed a distance of almost 300 km from earth within three minutes of its launch.

The announcement was made by the Prime Minister in a broadcast to the nation on television, radio and social media.

Several opposition parties had complained to the Election Commission alleging violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).

PM Modi's Mission Shakti address didn't violate model code of conduct: EC

International, Politics

Modi’s 5 foreign policy mistakes

India looks less equal to China than 5 years ago, the strategic alliance with the US is hobbled by trade, and Pakistan is looking anything but chastened by Balakot.
What has gone wrong? asks Shekhar Gupta.

What is more overpowering, fear or love? You should be asking a psychologist.

What a columnist can do is to collect hard facts, sift them from fantasy and propaganda, and provoke an important debate.

Trolling, we take in our stride.

Earlier this month, China delivered a nasty kick in India’s shin by blockingPakistan’s Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar’s designation as a global terrorist by the UN security council.

Not only did China block it for the fourth time, much inspired commentary in Chinese state or party-controlled media held out admonitions for India.

The rudest was a commentator in the Communist Party-owned Global Times who, with pictures of angry BJP workers in the background, accused Narendra Damodardas Modi of exploiting the situation for his election campaign, and concluding with a final insult: China is India’s friend, not a hostage to its nationalism.

With this, China redefined the ‘Wuhan Spirit’ to mean that if my troops aren’t squatting on your territory in the run-up to your elections, I have kept my part of the deal.More from around the web

For the rest, the old rules apply.

Two reactions to this Chinese arrogance stand out for their tone and emphasis.

India has been ridiculously guarded, not daring to even name China and expressing just ‘disappointment’ with ‘a nation’.

The Americans, on the contrary, had no such hesitations.

They named China in a statement enormously more severe than India’s pusillanimous one.

How Modi scored an own goal

The Modi government hasn’t lost its muscularity.

It is just applied more selectively now, though not particularly with an application of mind.

Mr Modi’s India of March 2019, two months to the elections, treats a hostile China with nervous deference, but launches an all-out Swadeshi trade war on Donald Trump’s friendly America.

We suck up to those who harm and humiliate us because we fear them.

We fight on with those who speak for us because we love them.

Here are the five follies of what we might call the ‘Modi Foreign Policy Doctrine’ that got us here.

1. Inability to appreciate that strategic alliances need a big heart

Strategically, America has been, to use a familiar Americanism, a stalwart ally.

Yet, at the top levels of the US administration, beginning with Mr Trump, a wary fatigue has developed about India.

It is tempting to dismiss Mr Trump as a petulant child.

But can you afford to do so? You might laugh at his fixation with Indian duties on Harley Davidson motorbikes, but he can also similarly call your Swadeshinomic approach to trade nutty and insincere.

Slashing prices of imported medications and medical aids is a good moral and political idea.

But must you implement it with sudden price controls and import restraints? The Americans must be bemused to see India declaring war on their Amazon and Walmart while it heartily welcomes Chinese investments in Indian e-commerce and digital financial services.

While the way America has stood by India after Pulwama is creditable, there are strains in the relationship and personal chemistry between Mr Modi and Mr Trump.

A bilateral hasn’t happened since November 2017 and attempts to set one up at the recent G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in November 2018 failed.

Mr Trump isn’t the kind to invest time in photo-ops and platitudes when his favourite peeves are not addressed.

A little ‘give’ on trade wouldn’t hurt India.

Mr Trump isn’t asking for something as difficult as troops in Afghanistan or to not buy those Russian S-400s or to shut the Chabahar port in Iran.

All he wants is a little concession on some tariffs and business as usual on the rest.

Smart leaders pick their fights, especially with friends, carefully.

Mr Modi has erred in opening a Swadeshi trade front with Mr Trump, who also has a domestic political constituency.

2. Miscalculation that unilateral appeasement works with arrogant big powers

See it this way.

India has locked horns on trade with the US, with which it enjoys a $60 billion trade surplus, but is giving unfettered access to China, with which it has an equal, $60 billion deficit.

The idea behind opening up our markets so widely to Chinese goods and investments may have been to give them an economic stake to moderate their strategic policy towards India.

Nothing of the sort has happened.

Two years ago, the Chinese walked into Doklam.

Now, the message from them seems to be, if we are not in Doklam or Chumar again, as you head for elections, send us a thank-you note. Likely on a Chinese phone, network, and operating system.

Just as with America, the Modi government has demanded all ‘give’, with China it is all ‘take’.

3. Obsession with personalised foreign policy

Mr Modi has stature and charisma.

But it doesn’t substitute the preparation and follow-up of professional diplomacy, and the need to refine policies through internal debate and discussion.

Also, individual styles and approaches of other leaders vary.

The Saudi crown prince might love a copious hug and take decisions on the spot, but a Xi Jinping may be irritated or misread it as fawning.

Besides, although the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng, he doesn’t have the personal power in Beijing that a Mohammad bin Salman or Mr Modi does in Riyadh or New Delhi.

Mr Xi works with a structured and empowered ‘system’ that functions a lot more effectively than the Modi Cabinet.

It is now evident that Mr Modi’s first charm-filled approach with Mr Xi was counter-productive, and this continued later through Xian, Wuhan and elsewhere.

The misstep of a Republic Day invite to Mr Trump and the failed hugging outreach with Nawaz Sharif showed inadequate homework.

4. The price of predictability

From politics, diplomacy, to warfare, sport and gambling, predictability is a liability.

Mr Modi has made that error.

Foreign leaders know his personalised style, need for publicity, photo-ops, praise, all of which they understand he needs for his domestic audiences.

The Chinese know very well by now that Mr Modi is wary of another intrusion in the months leading to the polls.

The Chinese also would have known that much as Mr Modi might like a little skirmish with Pakistan, which he could quickly end claiming victory, there is no way he could start and end anything with China like that.

Predictability makes it easy for others to guess your responses.

The Chinese have been the first to do this.

The Pakistanis must have taken note of a few things too.

They know Mr Modi is now publicly committed to a quick retaliation in the case of major terror attacks.

It gives them the power of orchestrating a crisis and drawing the world to the subcontinent at will.

All they need is to tell the ISI to unleash another incident.

Great leaders do not allow themselves to be ‘gamed’.

5. Perils of mixing foreign policy with domestic politics

Mr Modi has often used his foreign policy initiatives and summits for domestic image-building.

The Chinese were the first to exploit it.

They knew Indian fears of another intrusion in election season and offered reassurance at Wuhan, but on their terms.

Chinese trade dominance has increased, their view on Arunachal and Pakistan is harder, and India is reduced to protesting meekly on Masood Azhar, without daring to name them.

Do note that since Wuhan, India has not raised the issue of Nuclear Suppliers Group membership with China.

If India’s demand is now the banning of Masood Azhar, it does two things: Diminish India in its bilateral equation with China, and enable it to hyphenate its own India policy with Pakistan.

China, therefore, has India just where it wants, triangulated with Pakistan.

To conclude, this isn’t a foreign policy balance sheet of the five Modi years.

It is a listing of what we see as his most significant flaws and their consequences.

Source:  The Print

Politics

Narendra Modi didn’t seek nod for TV address: Election Commission

A committee is likely to finalise its report by Friday evening on whether any content of the PM’s speech violated the Model Code of Conduct

The Election Commission (EC) on Thursday said a committee of officers was examining the responses received from Doordarshan and All India Radio (AIR) on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on Wednesday, announcing India’s successful demonstration of anti-satellite missile capability.

The committee, which has held two meetings so far, is likely to finalise its report by Friday evening on whether any content of the Prime Minister’s speech violated the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). Based on the findings, the EC will take the final decision.

At a press conference, Deputy Election Commissioner Sandeep Saxena said the Prime Minister’s Office had neither informed, nor sought any permission from, the EC for broadcast of his address. After the issue was raised, the EC set up a committee to look into the matter.

Subsequently, the committee wrote to Doorsarshan and AIR to know about the source of their feed. It is learnt that the state broadcasters had taken the feed from a live broadcast made through private Internet video portal YouTube.ALSO READDelay release of Modi biopic: Opposition to EC

On the issue of the biopic on Mr. Modi, the EC said notice had been sent to the four film producers and the BJP, seeking their comments by Thursday. The EC has also given conditional approval for the government’s decision to review the wages under the MGNREGA from April 1.

Terming the Voter Verification and Identification Programme a great success, the Commission said more than one crore voters had been added to the electoral rolls just in the past five weeks. The total number of voters stands at 90.74 crore, including 1.82 crore from the 18-19 years’ age group. There are 17.50 lakh service voters.

The EC has so far received about 23,000 complaints of MCC violations through the ‘cVIGIL’ mobile application, of which nearly 60% were found to be correct. Further action is being taken in these cases.

Taking cognisance of some tweets claiming that animal fat had been mixed with the indelible ink to be used in the polls, the EC wrote to the Twitter and got them removed. The Delhi Police have registered an FIR on the Commission’s complaint.

“Based on the viewing of a video clip showing a sitting DMK MLA, A. Radhakrishnan of Tiruchendur Assembly Constituency, distributing cash to ladies performing ‘aarti’ at a private event, in the presence of Ms. Kanimozhi, the police have registered a case…on March 28 against the MLA and seven others,” said the EC.

The EC said the maximum seizure of about ₹130 crore, in the form of cash, liquor, drugs and precious metals, had been made in Tamil Nadu. While the overall seizure so far is worth ₹673 crore, Andhra Pradesh stands second with ₹127.85 crore and Uttar Pradesh comes third with ₹119.57 crore seized. The total cash seized across the country is ₹202 crore. (Source: The Hindu)

Development, Politics

Economist Dreze held for trying to host meet, freed

Noted development economist Jean Dreze and his associates, Vivek Kumar Gupta and Anuj Kumar Gupta, were detained by police for about two hours on Thursday just before they were about to host a public meeting in Jharkhand, allegedly without taking permission from the state administration.

The team had organised the meeting to listen to people’s grievances related to social security pensions and delayed allotment of foodgrain. After being released, Dreze said that police had threatened the organiser with legal consequences. 

Renowned Indian development economist Jean Drèze is a Belgian-born social activist who has been influential in the economic policy making of his country. In his years in India since 1979, he has made wide-ranging contributions to development economics and public economics. He has promptly worked on social issues such as hunger, famine, gender inequality, child health and education, and the NREGA.

Jean Drèze as Academician

Born in 1959 in the ancient town of Leuven, Jean currently lives in Ranchi, Jharkhand. His father, Jacques Drèze, is one of the world’s great economic theorists and a celebrated teacher as well. Jean grew up in an atmosphere composed equally of scholarship and service. One of his brothers became a left-wing politician; a second was a professor of marketing; a third is a translator.

He studied Mathematical Economics at the University of Essex in the 1980s and did his PhD (theoretical economics of cost-benefit analysis) at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi.

He has lived in India since 1979 and became an Indian citizen in 2002.

Jean Drèze taught at the London School of Economics in the 1980s and at the Delhi School of Economics. Presently, he is an Honorary Chair Professor of the “Planning and Development Unit” created by the Planning Commission, Government of India, in the Department of Economics, University of Allahabad.

He is also a visiting professor at the Department of Economics, Ranchi University.

He was a member of the National Advisory Council of India in both first and second term.

Dreze is well known for his commitment to social justice, both in India and internationally. Apart from academic work, he has been actively involved in many social movements.

He played a central role in the conception of the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme; helped draft the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (NREGA), and continues to monitor its implementation.

He also contributed to the Right to Information Act and the National Food Security Act of the Government of India.

Jean has written a great deal in English. His columns have been collected in a book called Sense and Solidarity, with the self-deprecatory sub-title, Jholawala Economics for Everyone. The essays cover a wide range of themes; from food security to healthcare to the rights of children to the threat of nuclear war.

_____________________________

On the need for action-oriented research in development policy

A whole new way of looking at poverty and development policy is taking shape in the world of economics. Traditionally understood as meagreness of material resources, there is a growing realisation that poverty also depletes mental resources. Understanding of how poverty impacts behaviour, what the absence of resources does to a person’s mindset can vitaminise the poverty-fighting policy toolkit.

Insights, well-designed qualitative and quantitative data from field surveys enable sounder grasp of human behaviour. If you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from, how that makes you pick or reject an option. It is not enough to go taste the food the poor consume, visit their homes. The idea is to try to feel how being impoverished impacts decision-making and choice.

Say the task at hand is to figure out whether to universalise old-age widow pensions or not. A narrow evaluation of the proposal would measure impact on poverty of the limited version of the programme in use, the administrative costs of expanding it, the vulnerability to leakages, so on and so forth. Field intelligence could help provide the human angle such as what the pensions do to the quality of life of the beneficiaries. Being able to afford small luxuries — a new pair of glasses or treats for the grandchildren — out of the pension money rather than having to depend on their families for the expenses can improve the women’s sense of independence and dignity. The family’s attitude is also likely to become more favourable.

Economist Jean Drèze’s new book, Sense and Solidarity: Jholawala Economics for Everyone, argues for an increased role for action-oriented research in development policy. The book is a compilation of op-eds, published mainly in The Hindu, under 10 broad themes such as Drought and Hunger, Poverty, School Meals, Health Care, Employment Guarantee, and Food Security and the Public Distribution System. He has updated the pieces with introductions, background notes, statistical and bibliographic sources.

Action research is not a collection of principles, theories and methods as academic research tends to be. It supports an action, or a change, while at the same time producing new knowledge. Active cooperation between the researchers and the participants is involved in this relatively new approach. Action and academic research shares a mostly tense relationship. Action researchers see academic researchers as occupants of ivory towers.

Drèze’s argument about the inadequacies of statistical analyses and academic approaches cannot be quarrelled with. The world has grown pessimistic about economics for its over-reliance on mathematics, its failure to predict the global financial meltdown and its inability to draw the world economy out of the economic slowdown. The feel of the field gathered from his own trips far and wide, from the hills of Chamba district to the forests of Kalahandi and the dusty plains of Bihar in the book’s essays make for great reading.

Drèze’s findings from the ground leave readers less confident of imposing our assumptions about poverty and humans on policy and economics. To economists suffering from insufficient understanding of society and human life, Drèze recommends copious doses of literature (although he does also caution against getting carried away by fiction or personal experiences). The works he regards helpful in developing empathy include Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s classic novel Pather Panchali, Dalit autobiographies of Daya Pawar, Laxman Gaikwad, Om Prakash Valmiki and Shantabai Kamble.

In ‘The Bullet Train Syndrome’, he questions the pro-rich institutional bias of the Indian Railways based on his own extensive travel on its networks. “If you have money, the Indian Railways is great fun, bullet or no bullet,” he writes. “But the lesser mortal who travels without reservation is exactly where she was 35 years ago.” The book succeeds in reminding us that poverty and privilege both are inherited at birth more often than earned. “The privileged tend to believe that they deserve or have earned what they have. But the chief determinant of privilege is chance,” he writes of the accident of birth. And that often the system works to perpetuate those inequalities.

In ‘Glucose for the Lok Sabha?’, he traces the clamour from Parliamentarians and ministers for replacing cooked midday meals in primary schools with biscuits to the corporate lobby. The plea for doing away with cooked midday meals for schoolkids was first made by the Biscuit Manufacturers Association through a letter signed by a senior executive at Parle Products, the biggest manufacturer of glucose biscuits.

Drèze’s differences with academic research are deep and go beyond approach and methodology. Why is carrying a corporate briefcase innately more respectable than carrying a jhola, he asks. Jholawalas — the student volunteers, like-minded scholars, field investigators, driven by passion, not money — has become a term of abuse in India’s corporate-sponsored media, he writes.

Undeniably, corporate influence is growing. But his attack on policy and the media seem sweeping; his suspicion of intent and sense of hurt excessive. Didn’t action research play a role in the schemes he has championed: the rights-based and legislation-backed social security schemes, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and the Right to Food or the National Food Security Act? They too are not free of leakages and infirmities, as Drèze concedes and makes clear he would like to see the defects addressed.

Even if readers disagree with the book, it is valuable because through it Drèze hopes to start a dialogue between economists and jholawalas for greater mutual learning.

Sense and Solidarity: Jholawala Economics for Everyone; Jean Drèze, Permanent Black, ₹795.

International

US studying India anti-satellite weapons test, warns of space debris

Acting US defence secretary Patrick Shanahan warned any nations contemplating anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons tests like the one India carried out on Wednesday that they risk making a “mess” in space because of debris fields they can leave behind.

Speaking to reporters in Florida during a visit to the US military’s Southern Command, Shanahan said the United States was still studying the outcome of a missile India said it launched at one of its own satellites.

“My message would be: We all live in space, let’s not make it a mess. Space should be a place where we can conduct business. Space is a place where people should have the freedom to operate,” Shanahan said.

Experts say that anti-satellite weapons that shatter their targets pose a space hazard by creating a cloud of fragments that can collide with other objects, potentially setting off a chain reaction of projectiles through Earth orbit.

India’s foreign ministry played down any risk of debris from its missile test on Wednesday, saying the impact occurred in low-Earth orbit and that the remnants would “decay and fall back on to the Earth within weeks.”

In Washington, a senior U.S. military official told lawmakers that the United States was tracking about 270 objects from India’s test, a number that would likely grow as the fragments spread out.

Lieutenant General David Thompson, vice commander of US Air Force Space Command, added the International Space Station was not at risk at this point.

First Published: HT,  Mar 28, 2019 

Politics

PM Modi’s televised address to be examined: EC after complaints by opposition

The Election Commission will examine if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s televised address on the launch of anti-satellite missile violates the model code of conduct, the poll body said in a statement on Wednesday evening.

“The matter related to the address of Prime Minister to the Nation on electronic media today afternoon has been brought to the notice of the ECI. The Commission has directed a committee of officers to examine the matter immediately in the light of Model Code of Conduct,” the Election Commission statement said after PM Modi’s announcement triggered howls of protest from the opposition parties.

The model code is designed to ensure that the party in power does not get an unfair advantage in campaigning and influencing voters. The code is routinely invoked to prevent the political executive from promising financial grants, large projects or making ad-hoc government appointments.

Election Commission sources had initially indicated that the government did not need to take permission to make security-related announcements. But the Commission appeared to take a closer look at the speech after opposition parties closed ranks. CPM’s Sitaram Yechury was among the first to lodge a formal complaint against PM Modi’s address, underlining that the announcement comes in the midst of the ongoing election campaign where the PM is a candidate.

“This is clearly a violation of the model code of conduct,” Yechury said. He asked the Election Commission to spell out how it could have “permitted the achievements of Indian scientists to be politically-coloured during the course of the general elections”.

By then, Yechury’s rival back in Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had already taken a sharp swipe at PM Modi, describing his address to the nation as a “limitless drama” and announcing that she will file a formal complaint with the Election Commission.

“There is no great urgency in conducting and announcing the mission now by a government past its expiry date. It seems a desperate oxygen to save the imminent sinking of the BJP boat. We are lodging a complaint with the Election Commission,” she tweeted.

The Bengal CM, however, congratulated the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) scientists, who she said, “really deserve it (credit)”.

The Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati also urged the Election Commission to take note of the matter.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had tweeted about his address to the nation to deliver an “important message” about 15 minutes after the anti-satellite missile was launched from Odisha’s Balasore at 11.16 am.

During his 10-minute address, he spoke about the successful test that had propelled India in the elite space club that comprised the US, Russia and China. “In the journey of every nation there are moments that bring utmost pride and have a historic impact on generations to come. One such moment is today,” said the PM.

Mission Shakti, which was led by the DRDO, was aimed at strengthening India’s overall security, he said in his address that comes a fortnight before the start of the general election.

First Published: Mar 27, 2019 21:51 HT

Environment

‘Coal is on the way out’: study finds fossil fuel now pricier than solar or wind

Around three-quarters of US coal production is now more expensive than solar and wind energy in providing electricity to American households, according to a new study.

“Even without major policy shift we will continue to see coal retire pretty rapidly,” said Mike O’Boyle, the co-author of the report for Energy Innovation, a renewables analysis firm. “Our analysis shows that we can move a lot faster to replace coal with wind and solar. The fact that so much coal could be retired right now shows we are off the pace.”

The study’s authors used public financial filings and data from the EnergyInformation Agency (EIA) to work out the cost of energy from coal plants compared with wind and solar options within a 35-mile radius. They found that 211 gigawatts of current US coal capacity, 74% of the coal fleet, is providing electricity that’s more expensive than wind or solar.

Most US coal plants are contaminating groundwater with toxins, analysis finds

By 2025 the picture becomes even clearer, with nearly the entire US coal system out-competed on cost by wind and solar, even when factoring in the construction of new wind turbines and solar panels.

“We’ve seen we are at the ‘coal crossover’ point in many parts of the country but this is actually more widespread than previously thought,” O’Boyle said. “There is a huge potential for wind and solar to replace coal, while saving people money.”

Coal plants have suffered due to rising maintenance costs, including requirements to install pollution controls. Meanwhile, the cost of solar and wind has plummeted as the technology has improved. Cheap and abundant natural gas, as well as the growth of renewables, has hit coal demand, with the EIA reporting in January that half of all US coalmines have shut down over the past decade.

“Coal is on its way out,” said Curtis Morgan, the chief executive of Vistra Energy, a major Texas-based coal plant owner. “More and more plants are being retired.”

Data released last week highlighted the rise of renewables, with electricity generation from clean sources doubling since 2008. The bulk of renewable energy comes from hydro and wind, with solar playing a more minor, albeit growing, role.

Renewables now account for around 17% of US electricity generation, with coal’s share declining. However, the power of coal’s incumbency, bolstered by a sympathetic Trump administration, means it isn’t on track to be eliminated in the US as it is in the UK and Germany.

Fossil fuels continue to receive staunch institutional support, too. A recent report released by a coalition of environmental groups found that 33 global banks have provided $1.9tn in finance to coal, oil and gas companies since the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

In sobering figures released last week, the EIA predicted that US carbon dioxide emissions from energy will remain similar to current levels until 2050, with coal consumption dropping but then leveling off beyond 2020.

Such a scenario, disputed by other experts who argue the transition to renewables will be more rapid, would be compatible with disastrous climate change, causing vast areas of the US coastline to be inundated, the spread of deadly heatwaves, growth of destructive wildfires and food and water insecurity.

US judge halts hundreds of drilling projects in groundbreaking climate change ruling

The Trump administration has largely ignored scientists’ warnings over these dangers, instead pushing ahead with an “energy dominance” mantra whereby enormous tracts of federal land and waters are opened up for oil and gas drilling.

International

China destroys thousands of maps showing Arunachal as part of India: Report

Nearly 30,000 world maps showing Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India and Taiwan as a separate country were destroyed by customs authorities in a northeastern Chinese city last week.

Reports said it was the largest such exercise in recent years and was carried out to protect China’s “territorial integrity”. The maps were in English and manufactured by a company in a Chinese province called, Anhui.

Arunachal Pradesh is claimed by Beijing as a part of China and depicted on its official maps as a part of south Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

Beijing also considers Taiwan, a self-governing democracy, as a breakaway province to be eventually unified.

Acting on a tip off, customs officials of Qingdao city in Shandong province raided an office and seized more than 800 boxes containing 28,908 world maps.

“A total of 803 boxes of the 28,908 wrong maps were seized and destroyed, the largest amount to be disposed of in recent years,” the province’s Natural Resources ministry said at a press conference, quoted by the news website Dazhongwang Qingdao reported.

The documents were taken to a secret location and shredded. “The maps were produced by a company in East China’s Anhui Province and were on the way to being exported to an unspecified foreign country,” the nationalistic tabloid, Global Times reported.

“The problematic maps failed to show the correct territory of China and omitted south Tibet and the island of Taiwan, the Qingdao government found after an examination of the maps,” the report added.

Relevant authorities have carried out checks on the domestic map market more than 100 times and have discovered and destroyed over 10,000 incorrect maps, preventing the sale in domestic and overseas markets.

“Maps reflected national sovereignty and were a political statement”, Ma Wei, from the Natural Resources ministry’s geographical information centre, was quoted as saying.

“What China did in the map market was absolutely legitimate and necessary, because sovereignty and territorial integrity are the most important things to a country. Both Taiwan and south Tibet are parts of China’s territory which is sacred and inviolable based on the international law,” Liu Wenzong from the department of International Law of China Foreign Affairs University told the Global Times.

“If the wrong maps were circulated inside the country and abroad, it would have caused great harm to China’s territorial integrity in the long run,” noted Liu.

Beijing opposes visit of Indian leaders to Arunachal Pradesh and is very sensitive to the depiction of Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India. .

In April, 2017, China renamed six places in Arunachal Pradesh in an apparent retaliation against the Dalai Lama’s visit to India’s easternmost state, with experts saying the move is aimed at reaffirming Beijing’s “territorial sovereignty” on the region.

Changing the names was a “legitimate” action done in line with Chinese law, the foreign ministry had then said, adding it supported Beijing’s territorial claim.

The ministry said: “To issue these names, it is actually carried out in accordance with our regulations about the names of localities and it is a legitimate action by the Chinese government,” adding: “These names reflect from another side that China’s territorial claim over South Tibet is supported by clear evidence in terms of history, culture and administration.”

Last February, China had criticised Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s visit to the Indian state. “China’s position on the China-India boundary question is consistent and clear-cut. The Chinese government has never recognised the so-called ‘Arunachal Pradesh’ and is firmly opposed to the Indian leader’s visit to the East Section of the China-India boundary,” Hua Chunying, foreign ministry spokesperson said.

Beijing has increased pressure in recent months on international firms and airlines to refer to Taiwan as a part of China on websites as part of its effort to assert its authority over Taiwan.

Last July, India’s national carrier Air India changed the name of Taiwan to Chinese Taipei on its website after China raised concerns about Taiwan being described as a separate region by various airlines worldwide. Air India was among 40 international airlines to do so.

Also, last year, the US clothing company GAP had to apologise for selling T-shirts with a map of China which didn’t show Taiwan. The international hotel chain Marriott had its Chinese website briefly blocked for listing the Tibet Autonomous Region, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as separate countries in a questionnaire for customers in 2018

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