SEVENTY years of independence, in normal circumstances, should call for celebrations across the nation. Unfortunately these are not normal times. For once we hoped that even this government, hard wired to proclaim its nonexistent ‘achievements’ in strident tones accompanied by incessant jingoist chest thumping, would have considered shedding a few tears for the children of Gorakhpur who did not live to see their country celebrate its 70th year after independence.
THE March for Science took place on August 9 in more than 30 cities and towns in the country, involving thousands of scientists, researchers, teachers and students. These protests took place in the context of slashing funds for scientific research and education, and the promotion, with State support, of unscientific, bogus and obscurantist ideas in public life. The demands of the march were for a greater share of the GDP for science, technological research and education, and to promote scientific temper in the country, a constitutional obligation under Article 51 A.
THE current BJP led government spares no effort to seek new avenues that have the potential to contribute to the profits of private enterprises. To promote such efforts a recurring policy thrust has been on privatisation of public services. Virtually all public services – energy and water supply, transport, roads and infrastructure, education, and healthcare – are being privatised. While the government argues that private providers will bring in new investments and provide services more efficiently, there is no evidence that this ever happens.
AFTER WannaCry and (Not)Petya ransomware hitting global high profile organisations, there is a much greater awareness of the risks from cyber weapons. Both these ransomware used EternalBlue, the stolen NSA exploit of a Windows vulnerability. The call for a Geneva Convention for controlling cyber weapons – a cyber Geneva Convention – has therefore grown, with Microsoft, Deutsch Telekom and other big corporations now backing the call.
MUNICIPAL solid waste (MSW) has become a massive problem in India’s cities and towns and poses huge problems for public health, the environment and urban living conditions in general. About 170,000 tonnes of MSW are generated per day in the over 8,000 urban centres in the country. Most municipal bodies focus their work and funds on collection and transportation of these wastes, but little effort is put into their proper treatment and disposal.
STEPHEN Hawking had warned a few years back that Artificial Intelligence (AI) could spell the end of human race, a threat echoed by Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, Bill Gates, and many others. This is the apocalyptic vision that the robots we create, may decide we are an obsolete model deserving “retirement”. The truth, a more banal one, is that, are we letting machine algorithms take over what were human decisions earlier, decision making of the governments, the businesses and even ours.
A RECENT paper on a genome wide study of the South Asian population (A genetic chronology for the Indian Subcontinent points to heavily sex-biased dispersals: BMC Evolutionary Biology, March 2017) strikingly confirms the work of historians, archaeologists and historical linguists. Data shows that there were indeed significant migrations from Eurasian steppes into South Asia, starting from 3,500 years ago. The South Asian population – current Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, and Sri Lankan population – have a significant central Asian component in their genetic make-up.
INDIA recently announced a goal to produce and sell only electric cars (presumably including two and three wheelers) by 2030, chiefly aiming to reduce the petroleum import bill and running cost of vehicles, while simultaneously reducing air pollution with attendant health benefits and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
US President Donald Trump made the shocking, but not unexpected, announcement last week that the US is pulling out of the Paris Agreement (PA) on climate change. 195 countries had endorsed PA last December and 147 nations have since ratified it.
The history of US betrayals of international climate agreements has thus repeated itself, the first time as tragedy, when President George W Bush walked out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 soon after being elected, and now as farce.