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  1. 1. HYPERLINK "" CIVILS 17<br />CURRENT AFFAIRS<br />Huge amber deposit discovery in western India<br />Hundreds of prehistoric insects and other creatures have been discovered in a large haul of amber excavated from a coal mine in western India. An international team of fossil hunters recovered 150kg of the resin from Cambay Shale in Gujarat province, making it one of the largest amber collections on record. The tiny animals became entombed in the fossilised tree resin some 52 million years ago, before the Indian subcontinent crunched into Asia to produce the Himalayan mountain range.<br />Jes Rust, a paleontologist at Bonn University, said the creatures, including ancient bees, spiders, termites, gnats, ants and flies, were in remarkably good condition considering their age. In total, the team has identified more than 700 arthropods, a group of animals that includes insects, crustaceans and arachnids.<br />Well preserved with details<br />“They are so well preserved. It's like having the complete dinosaur, not just the bones. You can see all the surface details on their bodies and wings. It's fantastic,” Rust told the Guardian. The remains of two praying mantises were also found.<br />Insects and other small animals may be trapped in resin flowing down tree bark, or as it covers their dead bodies on the forest floor. The resin hardens into a translucent yellow material that preserves them.<br />The amber is the oldest evidence scientists have of tropical forests in Asia. Tests linked the amber to a family of hardwood trees called dipterocarpaceae, that make up 80 per cent of the forest canopy in South-East Asia.<br />Fossilised wood from these trees was found alongside the amber deposits. Rust said that much of India may have been covered in forests at the time the amber formed.<br />The trapped insects give a revealing snapshot of life in India before it collided with Asia. India was once attached to Africa but separated some 160 million years ago. For the next 100 million years, India's landmass moved towards Asia at around 20 cm a year.<br />India was isolated for so long that it could have evolved unique flora and fauna, but the encased insects suggest this did not happen. Writing in the U.S. journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team describe life forms in the amber closely related to those in Asia and Europe. As India moved towards Asia, the encroaching continental plates may have created an arc of islands that connected the two landmasses like stepping stones long before 50 million years ago, said Rust. This would allow species from India, Asia and Europe to mix.<br />“We think that, before the final collision between India and Asia, some sort of island arc was established. Our findings suggest that the mixing of fauna was already so strong, that it was already happening for several million years,” said Rust. Once species from India had crossed into Asia, they could have spread further, eventually reaching Australia.<br />Michael Engel, curator of entomology at the University of Kansas, said: “What we found indicates that India was not completely isolated, even though the Cambray deposit dates from a time that precedes the slamming of India into Asia. There might have been some linkages.” The team has so far recorded 100 different arthropod species, but Rust said they expect to find more, some of which are likely to be close relatives of animals in Africa and Madagascar.<br />Trade to be focus of Manmohan's Malaysia visit<br />India will look to sign an individual FTA pact with Malaysia Education and welfare of expatriates to be discussed<br />Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived here on Tuesday evening after a three-day visit to Japan as part of a three-nation tour. The main agenda here will remain more or less the same as on the Japan leg. The focus will be on issues such as an economic pact, security and defence cooperation and stepped up two-way investments.<br />On the strategic front, if cooperation with Japan was outlined by a dialogue on civil nuclear cooperation and joint ventures in rare earth minerals, talks with Malaysia will include training of its pilots, upkeep of defence equipment and alliances in the petroleum sector.<br />In both cases, corporates, both from the public and private sectors, are expected to drive the decisions taken by the principals.<br />Of the half a dozen issues on the agenda, the foremost will be the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA). As was the case with Japan, it is not ready for the two Prime Ministers to sign. The CECA, as a single undertaking, will cover goods, investment and services besides other areas of cooperation.<br />India feels that though it is negotiating a Free Trade Agreement covering these subjects with the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), of which Malaysia is a member, it would be beneficial to strike individual pacts too as they go much beyond a pact with a bloc.<br />From developing defence ties with a memorandum of understanding in 1993, Malaysia and India have come a long way. Soon after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, navies of both countries undertook joint-patrolling of the highly vulnerable Malacca Straits along with Indonesia and Singapore. India is now participating in the Cooperative Mechanism on the Straits of Malacca and Singapore for enhancement of navigational safety and environmental protection.<br />Cross visits by service chiefs have led to the deployment of an Indian Air Force training team to train Malaysian pilots on Sukhoi- 30SKM.<br />Education and welfare of expatriates are the other major issues that will be discussed. The first joint venture medical college has started, with the Manipal Academy of Higher Education as the Indian partner. The Salem-based Vinayaka Missions University is in the process of setting up the Penang International Dental College.<br />CEOs of Indian companies, who have entered into tie-ups or are exploring the prospects, are here in full strength for the first-ever meeting of the India-Malaysia CEOs Forum, which was mooted during Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammed Najib's visit to India in January.<br />The CEOs attending the meeting include Ashok Nayak of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, R.S. Butola of ONGC Videsh, Preetha Reddy of Apollo Hospitals, Malvinder Mohan Singh of Fortis Healthcare, Mohan Tiwari from IRCON, A.M. Naik of Larsen & Toubro and Biocon CMD Kiran Majumdar Shaw.<br />FM hints at gradual exit from stimulus measures<br />Buoyed by the tremendous success of Coal India IPO, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday asserted that with the disinvestment process on track and overall recovery in the economy, India was poised to grow at 9 per cent.<br />Asserting that India was all set to post economic growth of 8.25 to 8.75 per cent this fiscal, Mr. Mukherjee told the Economic Editors Conference here that the recovery was also broad-based across industry, services and agriculture.<br />Clearly happy over the massive response to Coal India IPO that had been oversubscribed 15 times, the Finance Minister said the Indian economy was gaining momentum from the pre-crisis era that began in 2008. “The economy will certainly grow at 8.25-8.75 per cent this fiscal as the economy was gaining momentum. Our intent now is for gradual exit from the stimulus measures,'' he remarked.<br />He said fiscal consolidation was needed, but it should be calculated and exit should be country-specific. India's gross domestic product had expanded by 8.8 per cent in the first quarter of this fiscal, led by a robust 12.4 per cent expansion in the manufacturing sector.<br />The economy had expanded by just 6 per cent in the corresponding period of last fiscal.<br />“In the short-term, it is reasonable to expect that the economy will go back to the robust growth path of around 9 per cent average that it was on before the global crisis slowed it down in 2008,'' Mr. Mukherjee said. He said there had been a revival in investment and private consumption demand, though the recovery was yet to attain the pre-2008 momentum. Secondly, exports had also recorded an impressive growth since November-December 2009. Stating that high prices still remained an area of concern as food inflation was still hovering at around 15.5 per cent, Mr. Mukherjee said there was a limit to which money supply could be curbed to rein in demand.<br />“High inflation has affected family budgets. Prices of food items like vegetables, rice, wheat and pulses remain a big concern. The government had taken measures both from supply and demand sides to control high inflation. On the supply side, the Reserve Bank India has taken measures to curtail excess liquidity,'' he said.<br />“We can't create liquidity crisis. Sometimes you cannot control the prices, but mitigate the adverse impact on affected people. We are providing food at subsidised prices. The RBI has taken suitable measures,'' he said.<br />At the same time, he said the overall annual inflation, as opposed to price rise in food prices, had come down to 8.6 per cent in September after remaining in double-digits till June 2010. “I do feel the annualised inflation will come down to 6 per cent. The fiscal deficit target of 5.5 per cent for this fiscal will be met,'' he remarked.<br />“It is often said that reforms in India are slow reflecting the democratic sanction process — but, nevertheless, sure as it has larger backing. Going forward, I believe the Indian economy would take its rightful place in the global economic order,'' he stated.<br />China gets an ashram near Beijing<br />On Monday, the People’s Republic of China got its first ashram.<br />Located a two-hour drive away from here and nestled amid the industrial suburbs of this fast-expanding metropolis, the 165-acre retreat for yoga and meditation was opened by Sri Sri Ravishankar’s Art of Living foundation. Billing itself as the first authentic Indian retreat in a country where spirituality is on the rise, the ashram will offer a range of courses.<br />“There is a yearning for spiritual thought in today’s China, and this centre will provide people [with] a path to have cleaner, calmer and happier lives,” Sri Sri Ravishankar told The Hindu.<br />This is his first visit to China. On Monday, he interacted with religious leaders as well as officials of the Communist Party, who had given sanction for the project. The centre will accommodate 160 students at a time. The teachers, who are from all over China, had undergone training in India.<br />On Sunday, the centre held a ceremony with dance performances and lectures. It was attended by around 500 people. The organisers said they could have received a greater audience “of more than 3,000,” but doing so would have required a special permission from the local authorities.<br />Interaction<br />Most of the questions from the Chinese audience in an interaction with Sri Sri Ravishankar on Sunday revolved round how people could deal with the stress of modern life and preserving family values in a society that is being increasingly influenced by Western ideas.<br />Among those who attended was Man Hu, a middle-aged entrepreneur from Shanghai, who runs a manufacturing plant. “Like everyone else in today’s China, I am under great stress and looking for a way to manage by life in a better way and find some purpose,” she said.<br />Those connected with the project said they were surprised by the positive response from the authorities, who are usually careful about allowing foreign institutions, particularly those with spiritual leanings, to spread their word in China.<br />On Monday, Sri Sri Ravishankar met with Chen Haosu, a former vice-minister in the Propaganda Department and the president of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), which invited him to China. “India and China are naturally close, in culture, family values, music and dance,” he told Mr. Chen. “The East has a lot to offer to the world to counter the stress and ills of society that the West is facing.”<br />“Great expectations”<br />Mr. Chen said he had “great expectations” of the visit. “We hope this will bring happiness to people. Chinese people have an enthusiasm and passion for Indian culture. In the past 30 years, we have seen fast development of the Chinese economy. Now, people will also require more spiritual activities.”<br />Sri Sri Ravishankar said the centre would look to engage with the Chinese civil society, and even involve itself, as it has in the United States, Canada and Germany where it has centres, in environmental campaigns such as tree-planting drives. It is also in talks with the local police here to involve itself in a drug rehabilitation programme.<br />As Sri Sri Ravishankar left Monday’s meeting with Chinese officials, he was surprised by a gift he did not quite expect, and one that was at odds with the message of peace he was looking to bring to China — a bamboo panel with engravings from Sun Tzu’s Art of War.<br />CURRENT AFFAIRS FROM BL<br />Power Ministry against duty on imported gear<br />The Power Ministry is against the imposition of any duty on imported power equipment at least till March 2012, when the 11th Five-Year Plan period concludes.<br />The Power Minister, Mr Sushilkumar Shinde, said on Tuesday that his Ministry hopes to add about 65,000 MW of generation capacity during the entire five-year period, as against a target of 78,577 MW.<br />“In the 11th Plan, whatever orders (for equipment) have been placed, none will be scrapped. No duty will be imposed,” he said on the sidelines of the Economic Editors' Conference here.<br />Equipment contracts for well over 40,000 MW of upcoming power capacity are estimated to have been placed with Chinese vendors, none of whom plan to set up a manufacturing base in the country. Currently, equipment imports attract zero levies under the Centre's Mega Power Policy for thermal projects of 1,000 MW and above.<br />Domestic manufacturers, led by State-owned Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) and Larsen and Toubro (L&T), have backed a recommendation made by a panel headed by a Planning Commission Member, Mr Arun Maira, that an estimated 14 per cent duty differential faced by domestic firms be bridged for mega and ultra-mega power projects.<br />India likely to import 20 mt of LPG in five years<br />India is expected to import nearly 20 million tonnes (mt) of LPG, in the next five years. While domestic production will stabilise at around 10 mt a year, imports — now at 2.5 mt annually — will significantly increase in the coming years.<br />According to Mr Subir Roy Chaudhary, Chairman and Managing Director of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation, India will import 4.8 mt of LPG in 2011-12, 4.5 mt in 2012-13, 4.6 mt in 2013-14 and 5.5 mt in 2014-15.<br />“To meet the growing demand, the only option we have is to increase imports. At present, there are few facilities. Infrastructure development for LPG imports is risky. But, having said that, oil companies are building facilities to meet growing import needs,” he said.<br />HPCL is commissioning facilities at New Mangalore and Kandla and has floated tenders for importing additional LPG.<br />Its Rs 370-crore LPG storage facility in Visakhapatnam, with a capacity of 60,000 tonnes, has been operational for three years.<br />Bharat Petroleum Corporation, likewise, is almost ready with a Rs 300-crore import facility in JNPT, expected to be functional next year.<br />“We are also undergoing a feasibility study for another import facility at Ennore, likely to be completed by 2012-13 and costing around Rs 200-300 crore,” said Mr R.M. Gupta, Executive Director (LPG).<br />Demand up<br />Demand for LPG in the country has grown by 10 per cent during the first half of the year. Of the 10 mt produced by refiners every year, the private sector contributes to around 2 mt.<br />“The public sector refiners are well coordinated in LPG marketing. We share bottling and storage facilities,” said Ms Nishi Vasudeva, Executive Director – LPG SBU, HPCL.<br />“The main focus of LPG distribution will remain domestic use. We have such a large area to cover and it is not easily replaceable by any other fuel option,” she said.<br />The implementation of the Rajiv Gandhi LPG Vitrak Yojana is also expected to boost demand.<br />The project aims to cover 75 per cent of the population by 2015. At present, with more than 12 crore domestic connections, LPG distribution covers 50 crore, almost half of India's population.<br />Consumption pattern<br />Of the total consumption, domestic cooking fuel accounts for 76 per cent, with restaurants and automobiles making up the balance. Compressed natural gas, which is less expensive and more widely available, is the preferred auto fuel.<br />Greening India's development<br />“I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question — such as what do you mean by mass or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, can you read? — not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language.” — C. P. Snow<br />In his celebrated “Two Cultures” lecture delivered in 1959, British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow sought to bridge the divide between two sections of the community — the larger, power-wielding section, schooled in humanities, that made the decisions and the not-so-large section of scientists which had struggled to make its voice heard in public decision-making. Propagating the need to recognise science as a force in public discourse in the post-War world, Lord Snow, as he later became, equated an educated person's lack of familiarity with the laws of thermodynamics with ignorance of any of Shakespeare's works.<br />The schism of society into two cultures has come to visit us again, albeit in the new and more potent form of the environment vs. development debate. It was, therefore, appropriate that the eleventh ISRO Satish Dhawan Memorial Lecture delivered by the Minister for Environment and Forests, Mr Jairam Ramesh, on {+.}September 28 this year, dwelt on the growing conflict between growth at a fast clip and the danger to the country's environmental and ecological integrity. The topical importance of the talk cannot be overemphasised. With large-scale mining projects frozen in their tracks due to environmental violations, the emergence of strong local public opinion against dislocation of populations and the compensation packages offered, and the outcry of the green intelligentsia over such projects, in general, the environment-development debate can no longer be taken lightly.<br />NEITHER ‘YES' NOR ‘NO'<br />Mr Ramesh identifies rightly that the core of the debate today is not between according a business-as-usual, unqualified “yes” to projects having a significant environmental impact, and an abominable “no” to all projects, irrespective of their nature and magnitude of impact on the environment. The days of the unqualified “yes” sayers (read gung-ho economists) and of the “no” sayers (the dyed-in-the-wool activists) can be said to be almost over, though one may find such fringe elements rearing their heads now and then. The current trend is one of “yes, but” — that is to allow development with appropriate environmental safeguards. The trend should sit well with the growth lobby and hopefully with the green crusaders, too.<br />When we talk of projects, we are not confined to those that involve felling of trees, laying bare the land or ones that pollute watercourses or the air, but include many others that may have a palpably adverse impact on local livelihoods and cultures and those whose impact on the environment may not be proximate but distant, as in the case of genetically-modified varieties of crops, vegetables or even animals.<br />In such cases, saying “no” is often as difficult as saying “yes”. As we saw in the case of GM brinjal, we may end up saying “no, but”, that is “no” right now, and “but” later as more experimentation is done and knowledge gathered to enable prescription of suitable safeguards. That is, in the present state of our knowledge, we are not in a position to lay down the safeguards, let alone monitor compliance with them.<br />Though satisfying in theory, the “yes, but” approach bristles with difficulties when put into practice. For one thing, there would still be any number of cases where a definitive ‘no' would need to be sounded ab initio.<br />