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Current Events 13 April 2016



13th APRIL 2016



It’s official: India set for an ‘above normal’ monsoon

In line with recent predictions by private weather forecasters, India’s official weather forecasting agency too has said the monsoon is likely to be “above normal” and likely to be 106 per cent of the average of 89 cm.

Monsoon rains within 96 per cent and 104 per cent of this average are considered “normal” in the terminology of the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

IMD Director General, Laxman Rathore said some regions would see floods and that the chances of drought — defined as a deficit of 10 per cent or more — were only one per cent this year.

Several reasons underlie the IMD’s optimism. Most importantly, it hinges on a waning El Nino — a global, meteorological phenomenon that’s associated with a warming of the waters of Central Pacific and correlated with droughts in India — and the historical observation that 7 out of 10 years, in the last century, that followed an El Nino saw normal or above normal monsoon rains in India.

The years 2014 and 2015 were among the strongest El Nino years in meteorological history and were blamed for the climatically rare event of successive drought years. Though Pacific temperatures haven’t cooled enough, “El Nino neutral conditions” are expected to set in between June and July.

Another meteorological phenomenon known as a positive Indian Ocean Dipolewhere the western portions of the Indian Ocean are warmer than the east and thereby push rain-bearing clouds over India — is also likely to form during the middle of the monsoon season, according to the IMD.

Finally, a La Nina — or an anti-El Nino — and associated with heavy rains in India was expected to set in around September, too late for the Indian monsoon, but its onset is generally considered enabling for the rains.

The IMD relies on a statistical dataset of temperature and monsoon trends, down to districts and blocks, that goes back over a century to forecast the performance of the summer monsoon.

However, it is also developing a dynamical model — the preferred contemporary approach by meteorological agencies internationally — that relies on supercomputers. They work by simulating the weather at any given day and extrapolating the weather into the future. This model, a work in progress, also indicates that monsoon rainfall is likely to be a munificent 111%, give or take 5%, of the historical average of 89 cm.

Mr. Rathore was also optimistic that the last decade, which has seen several years of drought or near-drought conditions for instance in 2002, 2004, 2009, 2014 and 2015, and termed as a “low epoch” may be drawing to a close.

“There are good days ahead as we are at the end of the curve of depressed rain,” he told the press conference convened to announce the forecast.

Generally, India’s science minister announces the April monsoon forecast every year but didn’t do so this year as per a “change in convention effective this year,” according to a senior official in the Ministry of Earth Sciences, the IMD’s umbrella organisation.


Canada to offer formal apology for 1914 Komagata Maru tragedy

Almost 102 years after Canada turned away more than 376 migrants, mostly Sikhs from India, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will formally apologise on May 18 in the House of Commons for the incident that happened due to “discriminatory laws of the time”.

Mr. Trudeau said that the Komagata Maru’s passengers were seeking refuge and better lives, “like millions of immigrants to Canada since”.

“With so much to contribute to their new home, they chose Canada. And we failed them utterly,” the Prime Minister said, adding that the passengers were refused entry to Canada due to “discriminatory laws of the time”.

The Japanese steamship Komagata Maru, carrying 376 immigrants, mostly Sikhs, from India was denied entry by the Canadian government in May 1914 and was forced to return to India. Two months later, the ship arrived in Calcutta where British soldiers fired upon the disembarking passengers in which 19 people died.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper did apologise for the incident at a public event in British Columbia in 2008, but the Sikh-Canadians were demanding a formal statement in the Parliament.

Mr. Trudeau-led Liberal Party, which has four Sikh ministers in the Cabinet, has promised a formal apology during the election campaign in 2015


Potassium chlorate, beautiful but dangerous

Investigators probing the cause of the fireworks disaster at the Puttingal Devi temple near Kollam, hinted that rival teams possibly used potassium chlorate, a banned explosive. They had also probably sourced the chemical illegally from matchstick factories.

Potassium chlorate was discovered by French chemist Claude Louis Berthollet during the end of the 18th Century. The principal reason for using it in pyrotechnics is for the production of beautiful colours. Despite its inherent risk, the reason it is sometimes used in pyrotechnics is because it is cheap and easily available.

How does it work?

·         According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, potassium chlorate has very powerful oxidising ability. When heated, it decomposes to produce oxygen.

·         The oxygen so produced fuels the flame of the lit firework, thereby increasing the temperature of the firework even further.

·         The extra heat generated excites the electrons in the colour-producing chemicals added in the firework mixture and thus produces beautiful colours.

·         The oxidising property of potassium chlorate is also its biggest disadvantage when used in fireworks. It has an inherent property to become very reactive, especially when mixed with sulphur; the potassium chlorate-sulphur mixture becomes dangerously sensitive to friction and may spontaneously ignite.

·         Hence, potassium chlorate is banned for use in fireworks.

Limited use

·         Despite the risks, potassium chlorate is relatively safe when used in tiny amounts. It is used along with sand and red phosphorus in caps for use in toy guns. When the cap is struck by a metal head of the gun, friction is generated that ignites the red phosphorus. The heat generated by the burning red phosphorus triggers the decomposition of the potassium chlorate. The oxygen released by potassium chlorate further assists the burning of the red phosphorus. The end result is the sound.

·         The same principle is used in safety matches. Matchstick head contains tiny amount of potassium chlorate, antimony sulphide and powdered glass. When matchsticks are struck, the friction generated ignites the red phosphorus.


Assamese welcome spring with Bihu tunes and dhol

Rongali Bihu or Bohag bihu, the biggest festival of Assam celebrated by all communities to welcome the spring season, began with men and women in traditional Muga silk (golden silk) attires dancing to the rhythm of Bihu tunes and beatings of the bihu dhol (traditional drum) across the State.

The first day of the festivities, being the last day of the outgoing Assamese calendar year, was observed as Garu Bihu (for cattle).

Manuh Bihu (for man) is observed to mark the beginning of the new Assamese calendar year. On this day, the traditional gamocha woven on handlooms is offered as bihuwan to one's near and dear and also to guests.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton, on a visit to India presently, also watched the traditional dancing during a Bihu festival.


Gurgaon will now be called Gurugram

The Haryana Government decided to rename Gurgaon as Gurugram and its neighbouing district Mewat as Nuh.

Announcing the decision, an official spokesman said Haryana was a historic land mentioned in the Bhagwat Gita and Gurgaon had been a great centre of learning, where Guru Dronacharya used to provide education to the Pandavas and Kauras.

The town derived its name from Guru Dronacharya; the village was given as “gurudakshina” to him by his students, the Pandavas, and hence it came to be known as Gurugram. This name in course of time got distorted to Gurgaon. Therefore, the people of the area had been long demanding that Gurgaon be renamed as Gurugram.

The spokesperson said that Mewat, in fact is a geographical and cultural unit and not a town. It is spread beyond Haryana in the adjoining States of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. The headquarters of Mewat district is at Nuh town. The people of the area and the elected representatives had been demanding the name change of Mewat to Nuh. He said Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has approved the proposal to change the names.

However, the proposal would now be forwarded to the Government of India for its approval and come into force only after a Gazette Notification.

The renaming, however, evoked mixed reactions. While Deputy Commissioner T.L. Satyaprakash said it would not hamper the administrative work, some felt that it would entail unwarranted expenses and the city had already made a place for itself in the global map as Gurgaon.


Two Indian generics makers end battle to copy drugs

Two Indian drugmakers said they had given up a battle to copy drugs developed by Bristol Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca, blaming a lack of government support for inexpensive generics and pressure from Big Pharma.

Both companies, BDR Pharma and Lee Pharma, had been seeking so-called compulsory licenses that override patents and allow generics firms in India to launch cheap copies of medicines manufactured by big Western drugmakers.

But now the two mid-sized generics players say their efforts have been thwarted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's target to boost foreign investment in India and the resulting emphasis on protecting intellectual property, which is getting in the way of the government's promise to provide cheap drugs for the poor.

The debate over inexpensive drugs is hugely emotive in India, home to 1.2 billion people, a third of whom live in extreme poverty, or on an income below $ 2 a day. It grabbed fresh headlines last month after a U.S. business lobby group said New Delhi assured it that compulsory licenses would no longer be issued for commercial purposes.

India's commerce ministry, however, said there was no change to its policy, although campaigners and watchdogs including India's National Human Rights Commission said they were worried about what looked like a shift in direction.

India first issued a compulsory license for a medicine in 2012, allowing Natco Pharma to sell a copy of German drugmaker Bayer's cancer drug Nexavar at a tenth of the original price. The move was criticized by large multinationals.

But BDR's application to copy Bristol Myers' cancer drug dasatinib, with an aim to sell it at about $122 for a month's course versus the original price of about $2,491, was rejected in 2013.

Lee Pharma was rejected in January this year after a second review of its application seeking to make a cheaper form of AstraZeneca's type 2 diabetes drug saxagliptin. The patent controller said Lee did not make a strong enough case.


‘Gwadar port to be operational by 2017’

A multi-million dollar port being developed by China in Pakistan is set to be at “full operation” by the end of 2016, a Chinese official said, part of Beijing’s ambitious economic plans in the region.

Gwadar port will see roughly one million tonnes of cargo going through it by 2017, said Zhang Baozhong, chairman of the Chinese public company in charge of the development.

Gwadar, in Balochistan province, forms what officials call the “heart” of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a grand $46 billion project giving Beijing greater access to West Asia, Africa and Europe through Pakistan. The port was built in 2007 with technical help from Beijing as well as financial assistance of about $248 million. Exports will at first focus on the local fishing industry said Mr. Zhang, with a modern processing plant planned for later.


Pak.’s Kalash minority fights for identity

Pakistan’s smallest religious minority, the Kalash, speak their own language and celebrate their gods through music, dance and alcohol, which they brew themselves in Chitral’s plunging verdant valleys.

Here, the sexes mingle easily, marriage can be sealed with a dance, and women are free to move on to new loves — it is a far cry from life in much of the rest of the country, where many adhere to a strict Islamic code forbidding such behaviour.

Yet, the Kalash, who number just 3,000, fear their unique culture will not endure: increasingly their youth are converting to Islam, prompting activists to campaign to preserve the traditions of this ancient, diminishing tribe.

Their fight to get the Kalash on to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List began in 2008, but eight years on remains mired in sluggish bureaucracy.


Huge rise in child bombers

The number of children used by Nigeria’s Boko Haram to stage suicide bombings has risen more than 10-fold in one of the most “horrific” aspects of the Islamist insurgency, the United Nations said.

Experts said the group, which has been weakened by a multinational military offensive, is now trying to spread terror by using children for attacks in crowded markets, mosques and even camps for people fleeing Boko Haram violence. This has had disastrous consequences for children, especially girls, who had survived captivity and sexual violence by Boko Haram, said a report by UN children’s agency UNICEF.

“Let us be clear: these children are victims, not perpetrators,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF regional director. “Deceiving children and forcing them to carry out deadly acts has been one of the most horrific aspects of the violence in Nigeria and in neighbouring countries,” he said.

The report was released two years after Boko Haram kidnapped 276 teenagers from Chibok in northern Nigeria. A total of 219 students are still missing.

An estimated 20,000 people have been killed since Boko Haram launched its campaign of violence in 2009 in northeastern part of the country. More than 2.6 million people have fled their homes since, but some of the internally displaced have recently begun returning after the Nigerian military captured swathes of territory back from the insurgents. But UNICEF underscored that the repercussions were devastating for children caught up in the conflict.

It said nearly 1.3 million children have been displaced, about 1,800 schools are closed – either damaged, looted, burned down or used as shelter by displaced people and more than 5,000 children reported either as unaccompanied or separated from their parents.


Goldman in $5 bn settlement

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has agreed to pay $5.06 billion to settle claims that it misled mortgage bond investors during the financial crisis, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

The settlement, which Goldman disclosed in January, stems from the firm's conduct in its packaging, securitisation, marketing and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities between 2007 and 2009, the Justice Department said. Investors suffered billions of dollars in losses from the securities bought during the period, the department said.

The settlement comprises a $2.385 billion civil penalty and $1.8 billion in other relief, including funds for homeowners whose mortgages exceed the value of their property, as well as distressed borrowers.

Goldman also agreed to a statement of facts issued by the Justice Department that describes how the firm made false and mis-leading statements to potential investors.

For example, Goldman received information showing that significant percentages in certain groups of mortgage loans which it had reviewed did not conform to representations the company had made to investors about the groups of loans to be securitized, the Justice Department said.

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