1. ‘Operation Olivia’ to the rescue of Olive Ridleys
The Coast Guard helps enforce laws to protect turtles as they arrive to nest in Odisha
Every year, the Indian Coast Guard’s “Operation Olivia”, initiated in the early 1980s, helps protect Olive Ridley turtles as they congregate along the Odisha coast for breeding and nesting from November to December.
“For optimal results, round-the-clock surveillance is conducted from November till May utilising Coast Guard assets such as fast patrol vessels, air cushion vessels, interceptor craft and Dornier aircraft to enforce laws near the rookeries,” a Coast Guard officer said. “From November 2020 to May 2021, the Coast Guard devoted 225 ship days and 388 aircraft hours to protect 3.49 lakh turtles that laid eggs along the Odisha coast.”
The Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) is listed as vulnerable under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red list. All five species of sea turtles found in India are included in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and in the Appendix I of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prohibits trade in turtle products by signatory countries. Odisha has also formulated laws for protecting Olive Ridley turtles, and the Orissa Marine Fisheries Act empowers the Coast Guard as one of its enforcement agencies.
“Studies have found three main factors that damage Olive Ridley turtles and their eggs — heavy predation of eggs by dogs and wild animals, indiscriminate fishing with trawlers and gill nets, and beach soil erosion,” the officer said.
Dense fishing activity along the coasts of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal, especially ocean-going trawlers, mechanised fishing boats and gill-netters pose a severe threat to turtles.
Coordination of efforts is done at various levels, the officer explained, including enforcing the use of turtle excluder devices (TED) by trawlers in the waters adjoining nesting areas; prohibiting the use of gill nets on turtle approaches to the shore; and curtailing turtle poaching.
The Olive Ridley has one of the most extraordinary nesting habits in the natural world, including mass nesting called arribadas. The 480-km-long Odisha coast has three arribada beaches at Gahirmatha, the mouth of the Devi river, and in Rushikulya, where about 1 lakh nests are found annually.
More recently, a new mass nesting site has been discovered on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, with more than 5,000 nests reported in a season, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries.
“Sea turtles generally return to their natal beach, or where they were born, to lay eggs as adults,” the Coast Guard officer explained. Mating occurs in the offshore waters of the breeding grounds and females then come ashore to nest, usually several times during a season. They crawl ashore, dig a flask-shaped nest about 1.5 to 2 feet deep, and lay 100 to 150 eggs in each clutch. Hatchlings emerge from their nests together in seven to 10 weeks.
“Between the arrival of the mother and the hatchlings’ retreat to the sea, they go through various challenges. It is estimated that only one in a thousand survive to adulthood,” the officer added.
Olive Ridley Turtles
- Features of Olive Ridley Turtles:
- The Olive ridley turtles are the smallest and most abundant of all sea turtles found in the world.
- These turtles are carnivores and get their name from their olive colored carapace.
- Protection Status:
- Wildlife Protection Act, 1972: Scheduled 1
- IUCN Red List: Vulnerable
- CITES: Appendix I
- They are found in warm waters of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans.
- The Odisha’s Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary is known as the world’s largest rookery (colony of breeding animals) of sea turtles.
- Arribada (Mass Nesting):
- They are best known for their unique mass nesting called Arribada, where thousands of females come together on the same beach to lay eggs.
- They lay their eggs over a period of five to seven days in conical nests about one and a half feet deep which they dig with their hind flippers.
- Marine pollution and waste
- Human Consumption: They are extensively poached for their meat, shell and leather, and eggs.
- Plastic Garbage: An ever-increasing debris of plastics, fishing nets, discarded nets, polythene and other garbage dumped by tourists and fishing workers.
- Fishing Trawlers: Overexploitation of marine resources by use of trawlers often violates the rule to not fish 20 kilometres within a marine sanctuary.
- There were injury marks on many dead turtles indicating they could have been trapped under trawls or gill nets.
|Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary Gahirmatha is the mass nesting spot in Indian Ocean region and the only turtle sanctuary in Odisha.It is the world’s largest nesting beach of Olive Ridley Sea Turtles.Gahirmatha was declared a turtle sanctuary in 1997 by the Odisha government after considering its ecological importance and as part of efforts to save the sea turtles.Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary is one of the three parts of the Bhitarkanika National Park. The other two includes the area of Bhitarkanika National Park and the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary.|
2. ‘Monoclonal antibody treatment beneficial’
But the timing is key, say doctors
Monoclonal antibody treatment is now seen as a relatively effective and safer alternative in treating COVID-19 patients, with doctors stating that, as with any other drug, timing is very important for the administration of the therapy.
Monoclonal antibody drugs fight disease by enlisting natural immune system functions.
If given within 72 hours of the appearance of symptoms, it is proven to show good results and could be the way forward in tackling the SARS-CoV-2 virus, doctors note. Monoclonal antibodies have previously been used to treat infections such as Ebola and HIV.
“Monoclonal antibody treatment isn’t a one-size-fits-all therapy. It is to be given only to mild COVID-19 patients who are not requiring oxygen, and there is high risk of progression or hospitalisation due to existing comorbidities,” warns Akshay Budhraja, senior pulmonologist, Aakash Healthcare.
Outwitting the virus
“Antibodies for COVID target specific proteins and destroy them before they initiate inflammation, which causes worsening of symptoms like breathlessness, blood clotting and severe pneumonia. In simple words, antibody response, which takes 7-10 days after infection, gives the virus the window period to attack the body. This window period is covered by injecting monoclonal antibodies, which help in reducing the symptoms and disease progression,” said Dr. Budhraja.
In the national capital, the therapy was successfully used in two patients recently — a 36-year-old healthcare worker and an 80-year-old male at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. According to the doctors here, both patients showed improvement within 12 hours of administering the treatment.
Treating physician Pooja Khosla, senior consultant, Department of Medicine, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, said that the two patients were administered REGCov2 (Casirivimab and Imdevimab), designed to produce resistance against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
“Monoclonal antibody treatment could prove to be a game changer in times to come if used at the appropriate time. It can be given up to 10 days from the beginning of the symptoms and is not for low oxygen level patients. This awareness about early identification of the high risk category in our population and timely therapy with monoclonal antibody as day care treatment may reduce the burden of cost on the healthcare sector,” Dr. Khosla said.
The doctor added that monoclonal antibody therapy cost ₹60,000-70,000 and significantly reduced hospital stay.
“The key principle while using the therapy was that it should be given at the right time to the high risk group,” she said.
3. PLA campaign highlights LAC actions
Ahead of CPC centenary, soldiers to present China’s flag ‘raised on Pangong Lake’ during nationwide tour
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has begun a domestic campaign ahead of the ruling Communist Party’s July 1 centenary in which it is highlighting last year’s actions of its border defence troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), specifically in Pangong Lake, as part of a broader push to underline the military’s firm support to President Xi Jinping.
Under the campaign, two groups of eight “youth role models”, a mix of military and students, are visiting colleges and universities across China. The group is being organised by the Central Military Commission’s Political Work Department and the Party’s Youth League. The group includes “elite and skilled” PLA soldiers, including some stationed in units along the LAC, along with “anti-epidemic pioneers, elite female coastguards and scientists dedicated to polar region research”, the military said.
As part of the campaign, the soldiers are presenting China’s national flag “once raised on Pangong Lake”, a key site of tensions in 2020, at various military units and educational institutions as they tour the country.
The aim is “to learn and internalise the spirit of President Xi’s important speech delivered during his recent visit to Tsinghua University and to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China,” the PLA said. Mr. Xi had, in his speech, “encouraged young people to rise up to the mission of national rejuvenation”.
The campaign appears aimed at delivering a two-fold message targeted more at a domestic audience than abroad: to declare the military’s unequivocal support to Mr. Xi, and to also send a message of patriotism ahead of the July 1 anniversary. The PLA is unique among militaries in serving, first and foremost, a political party and not a state, and political education is a key part of military training in China.
The PLA’s actions during the LAC tensions of 2020 appear to be figuring prominently in the campaign. Four service members of “the border defence troops in the Karakoram went to visit several military or civilian units to share their stories of guarding the border and defending the motherland,” PLA spokesperson and Senior Colonel Tan Kefei said at his monthly briefing last month, announcing the campaign.
An “emphasis of combat readiness” was part of the message. “One group of the role models went to the coastal regions in southeast China, and the other group went to the Gobi Desert in northwest China, where they boarded fighting vehicles and warships, visited squads and border sentry posts,” he said. “They went to combat positions and training grounds, where they joined the service members in training and guard duty, providing professional knowledge counselling and skill training to soldiers. The Karakoram border defence troops presented the Chinese national flag once raised on the Pangong Lake to the National Flag Guards, a way of conveying their enthusiasm for defending the motherland.”
The PLA spokesperson referred to the campaign highlighting a message to promote what he called the “Karakoram spirit”, that was “characterised by devotion to border defence, hard work, selfless dedication and tenacity”.
The LAC tensions, which began in late April and early May 2020, culminated in a clash on June 15, 2020 in the Galwan Valley, which marked the worst violence along the border since 1967. Both sides have since disengaged in Galwan Valley and on the north and south banks of Pangong Lake, but talks have remained stalled in other areas, including Depsang, Demchok, Gogra and Hot Springs. Indian officials have said the disengagement process remains partially completed and the de-induction process of troops still deployed in forward areas near the LAC, a key measure to restore normalcy, is yet to take place more than a year after the tensions began.
4. G7 leaders take on China, plan to stop new pandemics
They pledge huge infrastructure investment to counter BRI
The G7 on Saturday unveiled U.S.-led plans to counter China in infrastructure funding for poorer nations, and a new accord to prevent future pandemics, as the elite group sought to showcase Western unity at its first in-person summit since 2019.
Promising to “collectively catalyse” hundreds of billions of infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries, the G7 leaders said they would offer a “values-driven, high-standard and transparent” partnership.
Their “Build Back Better World” (B3W) project is aimed at competing with China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road infrastructure (BRI) initiative, which has been widely criticised for saddling countries with unmanageable debt but has included even G7 member Italy since launching in 2013.
The White House said President Joe Biden and fellow leaders addressed “strategic competition” with Beijing on the second day of their three-day summit in Carbis Bay, southwest England.
Meanwhile, Britain hailed G7 agreement on the “Carbis Bay Declaration”— a series of commitments to curb future pandemics after COVID-19 wrecked economies and killed millions around the world.
The collective steps include slashing the time taken to develop and license vaccines, treatments and diagnostics for any future disease to under 100 days, while reinforcing global surveillance networks.
The G7 — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.S. — will formally publish the pact on Sunday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called it an “important initiative”. “We can’t sit back and say that China will do it but it’s the G7’s ambition to have a positive agenda for a number of countries in the world which are still lagging behind… I welcome it,” she said.
Group of Seven (G-7)
- It is an intergovernmental organisation that was formed in 1975.
- The bloc meets annually to discuss issues of common interest like global economic governance, international security and energy policy.
- The G-7 does not have a formal constitution or a fixed headquarters. The decisions taken by leaders during annual summits are non-binding.
- G-7 is a bloc of industrialized democracies i.e. France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Japan, the United States, and Canada.
- The G7 was known as the ‘G8’ for several years after the original seven were joined by Russia in 1997.
- The Group returned to being called G7 after Russia was expelled as a member in 2014 following the latter’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine
- Summit Participation:
- Summits are held annually and hosted on a rotation basis by the group’s members.
- The groundwork for the summit, including matters to be discussed and follow-up meetings, is done by the “sherpas”, who are generally personal representatives or members of diplomatic staff such as ambassadors.
- The leaders of important international organizations like European Union, IMF, World Bank and the United Nations are also invited.
- Challenges and Concerns:
- Internally the G7 has a number of disagreements, e.g. clash of the USA with other members over taxes on imports and action on climate change.
- The organisation has also been criticised for not reflecting the current state of global politics or economics.
- Not Representative:
- There are no G7 members from Africa, Latin America or the southern hemisphere.
- It is also facing a challenge from fast-growing emerging economies, like India and Brazil are not members of the G7.
- However, G-20 was formed in 1999, in response to a felt need to bring more countries on board to address global economic concerns.
- India and G-7
- Previous Participation:
- The participation of India at the 45th summit in Biarritz, France, in August 2019 is a reflection of deepening strategic partnership and recognition of India as a major economic power.
- India was also invited for the 2020 summit hosted by the USA which could not take place due to the pandemic.
- Previously India had attended the G-8 summit (it became G-7 from G-8 with the expulsion of Russia in 2014) five times between 2005 and 2009.
- Important Platform for Deliberations:
- India’s ability to safeguard its core sovereign concerns such as trade, Kashmir issue and India’s relations with Russia and Iran can be discussed with G7 members.
- Taking on Global Stage:
- India raised issues on climate change and at meetings which signaled India’s growing willingness to lead on issues that are points of contention for countries like China and the USA.
- Significance of India at G7:
- As current president of Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) and G20 president in 2023, India will play a key role driving in multilateral cooperation helping to build back better around the world.
- Previous Participation:
5. Meet Bharitalasuchus tapani, a carnivorous reptile that lived 240 million years ago
The Indian fossil specimen was not studied earlier because it was not as complete as the specimens found in other countries
In the mid 20th century, researchers from the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, carried out extensive studies on rocks of the Yerrapalli Formation in what is now Telangana, uncovering several fossils. By studying some of these specimens stored at the Institute, an international team has now thrown light on a carnivorous reptile that lived 240 million years ago.
This reptile belongs to a genus and species previously unknown to science. They named it Bharitalasuchus tapani. In the Telugu language, Bhari means huge, Tala means head, and Suchus is the name of the Egyptian crocodile-headed deity. The species is named after paleontologist Tapan Roy Chowdhury in honour of his contribution to Indian vertebrate paleontology and especially his extensive work on the Yerrapalli Formation tetrapod fauna.
Further studies revealed that the reptile belonged to a family of extinct reptiles named Erythrosuchidae. “A precise identification had not been possible earlier because the family was not known from other examples in India. It was neglected because the fossil specimen was not as complete as those of other erythrosuchids from other countries. Also, because the few palaeontologists with expertise in the family had not examined the fossil or carried out the detailed comparative work needed,” explains David Gower from the Natural History Museum London, in an email to The Hindu. He is one of the authors of the paper recently published in Ameghiniana.
The team notes that Bharitalasuchus tapani were robust animals with big heads and large teeth, and these probably predated other smaller reptiles. They were approximately the size of an adult male lion and might have been the largest predators in their ecosystems.
“The first Erythrosuchidae remains were discovered in South Africa in 1905 and more were found in China and Russia. The South African one is about 245 million years old, while the ones from China and Russia are around 240 million years old. So the Indian one is one of the youngest fossil records we have of an erythrosuchid,” explains the first author Martin D. Ezcurra from the Argentinian Museum of Natural Sciences in Buenos Aires.
He adds: “It was surprising to find tooth marks in the first trunk vertebra of Bharitalasuchus, indicating that a smaller animal took a bite probably after the death of the specimen. This is a nice example of evidence of biological interaction that occurred 240 million years ago.” One of the authors Saswati Bandyopadhyay from the Indian Statistical Institute adds: “Apart from this erythrosuchid reptile, the fossil assemblage of the Yerrapalli Formation includes many other extinct creatures such as ceratodontid lungfish, rhynchosaur and allokotosaurian.”
She adds that future exploration and excavation in this unit are important in findingnew fossils. “Unfortunately, deforestation, mining, agricultural expansion, urbanisation are gradually destroying the fossiliferous localities of India, and the Yerrapalli Formation of the Pranhita-Godavari Basin is not an exception,” she concludes.
6. A molecular view of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus
How scientists make out the difference between variants of a virus
Our happy memories of school often include chemistry practicals – test tubes and Bunsen burners. Chemistry is the study of the properties of molecules. Everything is made of molecules. The simple chemicals that were learnt in school, such as hydrochloric acid (which has two atoms, one hydrogen; one chlorine), are dwarfed by the complexities of biological chemistry. A protein molecule can have thousands of atoms.
With increasing knowledge of chemical principles, it has been possible to move from the ‘test tube’ to theoretical studies of molecules, their structure and their interactions. Just as there are games that let you simulate the landing of an aircraft on your computer screen, one can simulate the interactions between complex biological molecules with reasonable accuracy. Whether in simulating flight, or a molecule, mathematical methods are being linked to fundamental laws of physics. After all a protein is only a linear chain of linked amino acids (of which there are 20, each made up of between 10 and 27 atoms), neatly folded into a unique shape. Amino acids vary in their charge (positive, negative, neutral) or stickiness. Some regions of the chain of amino acids are buried in the core of the molecule. Others are on the surface. Surface amino acids determine interactions between proteins – important for assembling a structure, for binding to receptors, to antibodies and so on.
Back in the real world, many of us have anxiously followed the progress of the covid-19 pandemic, looking for signs of it slowing down. We have learnt new jargon, got accustomed to scary images of a ball-like virus particle studded with “spikes”. Now, we are confronted with new and worrying variants, each of which is described either with a geographical moniker, or with a WHO classification (Greek alphabets alpha, beta, etc.) or more accurately, with a code such as E484K, D614G. The numbers take us back to our linear chain of amino acids in a protein, which in this case is the spike protein on the surface of the virus. The spike protein initiates infection – it is attracted to and binds to a receptor molecule that lies on the surface of cells in your lung and other tissues. This protein molecule is a chain of 1,273 amino acids, and three individual molecules lock together to form the familiar ‘spike’ shape. The 484 is the position in the chain. It lies within the crucial motif that binds to the host receptor E is shorthand for Glutamate, an amino acid with a negative charge, which is now mutated to K (Lysine) – an amino acid with a positive charge. This mutation is found in the Beta and Gamma variants.
Effect of mutations
Notice that the mutation has replaced a negatively charged Glutamate with a positively charged Lysine. Will this bode well for us humans? Available data from the field suggest that infectivity of this particular variant of the virus seems to be enhanced. It also appears to make this variant less recognisable to some antibodies generated against the virus.
The Delta variant, much in the news, has a E484Q mutation, Q standing for Glutamine – which is not very different from Glutamate (E), but is neutral in charge and polar. The second mutation is L452R, which also lies within the receptor-binding motif of spike. L is Leucine, an uncharged, ’sticky’ amino acid and R the positively charged Arginine.
An important point to be made here is that the numerous variants of concern do not just have the one or two amino acid changes in the receptor-binding domain of the spike protein described above. The Alpha variant first seen in the U.K. has a total of 23 mutations. Nine of these are in other parts of the spike protein, some more are in other constituents of the virus, and are not well understood.
It is apparent that changes of this sort – a replacement or two in a macromolecule – can be modeled in a computational environment quite efficiently and with reasonable confidence. Such modelling would give us quick approximations of what to expect whenever a new variant of a viral protein arises. Going further, modelling could help design and refine drug molecules that would bind tightly to a target protein. For example, the coronavirus has an enzyme, a protease that trims the spike protein to its correct size before a new virus particle is assembled. A drug molecule that would bind tightly to this enzyme would inhibit the trimming action and curtail the growth of the virus. Molecular modelling allows you to try out thousands of potential candidates for narrowing down to a few best-fit candidates that could then be tested in real laboratory experiments.
7. Bitcoin push
How does El Salvador plan to use the cryptocurrency as legal tender and what are the risks involved?
The story so far: On June 9, El Salvador became the first sovereign nation to make a cryptocurrency legal tender. The law pushed by its 39-year-old President, Nayib Bukele, passed with 62 out of 84 votes. It mandates that Bitcoin should now be accepted as a valid payment by all establishments, except those that do not have the technical wherewithal to do so. This puts the digital currency that does not answer to any government monetary policies on the same footing as the country’s primary currency, the United States dollar.
Why is the U.S. dollar the currency in El Salvador?
El Salvador fully ‘dollarised’ its economy in 2001. Countries adopt the U.S. dollar as their official currency for several reasons, such as when their local currencies fail (for example, Zimbabwe, which saw inflation in multimillion percentages), or to take advantage of the stability that it offers and attract investments. One of the downsides is that the economies of ‘dollarised’ countries get linked to the monetary policies of the Federal Reserve in Washington. The U.S. central bank could set rates that may benefit the U.S. economy but end up hurting economies that use the same currency.
What is the rationale for using Bitcoin?
The Bill that Mr. Bukele proposed said that “Central banks are increasingly taking actions that may cause harm to the economic stability of El Salvador” and that Bitcoin was being adopted “in order to mitigate the negative impact from central banks”. The country’s economy is also heavily reliant on remittances from El Salvadoreans working abroad. According to World Bank data, remittances made up almost $6 billion in 2019, which was about 20% of the country’s GDP — one of the highest ratios in the world. By enabling the transfer of money via Bitcoins, Mr. Bukele says El Salvadoreans will save on transaction fees of banks and agencies.
Politically, the current government in El Salvador and the Joe Biden administration in the United States are at odds. Recently, some of President Bukele’s right-hand men found mention in a U.S. State Department list of corrupt officials in central America. The United States’s international aid agency is also moving money away from the Bukele government after it voted to remove all members of the Supreme Court.
How does Bitcoin work?
Bitcoin is the first and biggest of decentralised cryptocurrencies, which are online payment systems that are increasingly becoming mainstream. Etherium, Tether, and Binance Coin are some of the many others that have emerged after Bitcoin. Cryptocurrencies are built on the back of blockchain technology, a system of distributed, cryptographically-secured account keeping. In this system, the users keep a tab on every digital ‘coin’ and transaction rather than a banking system with a governing body at its centre.
Why are governments wary?
Due to their core nature that shuns centralised control, governments globally have been wary of cryptocurrencies. A report from the U.S. Library of Congress notes that most countries have warned their citizens against investing in cryptocurrencies, let alone allowing transactions in them. Some have tried to use the technology to create government-sanctioned digital currencies. China, a hub of cryptocurrency activity, has issued a digital Yuan on blockchain while it cracks down on other cryptocurrencies. The Bank of England has also proposed a digital Sterling.
However, many countries, including India, have allowed the treatment of cryptocurrencies as commodities, resulting in a rising tide of investment in them. After its introduction in 2009, Bitcoin saw its biggest gain in value last year, having started 2020 at $7,200 per coin and touching $65,000 in April of 2021, before falling to $30,000 in May.
Cryptocurrencies as commodities are highly volatile, a recent example being the massive swings in the values of Bitcoin and Dogecoin, based merely on the tweets of cryptocurrency ‘evangelist’ Elon Musk.
Another problem is the increasing energy use associated with cryptocurrencies. The ‘mining’ of Bitcoin, where individuals or companies set up powerful systems to support the blockchain network, for which they are rewarded in the currency, consumes “about the same amount of energy annually as the Netherlands did in 2019”, says a Reuters report citing data from the University of Cambridge and the International Energy Agency. “Bitcoin production is estimated to generate between 22 and 22.9 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year, or between the levels produced by Jordan and Sri Lanka,” says the report.
How is El Salvador mitigating the risks?
According to Mr. Bukele, the government will protect citizens from the volatility of Bitcoin prices by guaranteeing quick convertibility to dollars. If a shopkeeper does not want to hold the Bitcoin which they now have to accept from customers, the government will purchase it through a $150-million trust created at the country’s development bank.
As for the carbon footprint, Mr. Bukele says he has asked the State-owned geothermal electric company, LaGeo, to connect renewable energy from the country’s volcanoes to bitcoin mining facilities.
8. Reviving the spirit of multilateralism
The G7 countries seek to overcome internal differences and strengthen their economic and geopolitical bond to face multiple challenges from fighting COVID-19 to tackling the rise of China
Formed in 1975 in the aftermath of the 1973 Oil Crisis, the G7 then collectively produced 70% of the world’s GDP, a number that has dropped to 40% now
The G7 became the G8 with Russia’s admission into the group in 1998. But it reverted to the G7 in 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea
Over the years, the group has taken up a host of issues ranging from economic growth to environmental issues and terrorism. The latest summit seeks to address global health challenges
As the leaders of seven nations — the U.S., Germany, the U.K., France, Canada, Japan and Italy — meet in Cornwall in south-west England, they would be marking the 47th edition of the “Group of seven” summit. Besides the international milieu in which this summit is being conducted — the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — its significance lies also in who is not attending the summit: former U.S. President Donald Trump.
The G7 prides itself as a group of nations that steadfastly promote liberal democracy and enjoy economic prosperity, which they seek to institutionalise through multilateral cooperation. When Mr. Trump was at the helm in the U.S., his transactional approach to international relations showed disdain for multilateralism, evidenced in particular in the way he pulled the U.S out of the Paris Accord, and openly complained about the summit itself being “outdated”. The current President of the U.S., Joe Biden has sought to reorient his country’s policy towards multilateralism, which includes closer coordination with traditional allies in the Global North and this sets the stage for a renewed emphasis of purpose for the G7 as they meet in Cornwall.
Already, the Finance Ministers of the G7, who had met on June 4-5 in the run-up to the summit, had agreed to backing a minimum global tax rate of 15% for multinational corporations, thereby setting the stage for MNCs to pay a fairer share of taxes in jurisdictions where they make money and profits, rather than playing governments in a race where they will compete on who will tax them the least and allowing MNCs to take advantage of “tax havens”. Even considering the fact that the tax rate of 15% is low according to some critics (Mr. Biden had himself proposed 21%), this move will herald corrective steps that could benefit both large and medium economies. The U.S. in particular is desperate to shore up its revenues as its government announced big spending plans to tide over the economic crisis wrought by the pandemic. The Biden administration has hinted that it could gain nearly $500 billion in tax revenue over a decade if the global minimum tax idea comes to pass.
More steps remain for this to become reality — the G7 countries would have to convince other nations in the broader G20, which includes China, India, Russia and South Africa. According to the U.K.-based Tax Justice Network, India suffers an annual loss of $10 billion due to lax tax laws on MNCs globally and countries such as India should also agree to this deal, but getting a sign-in from others such as Ireland, which benefits from lower taxes on MNCs, will not be easy. Even within the U.S., where President Biden’s power to get legislation passed rests on a razor-thin majority at the Senate and House of Representatives of Congress, the going would not be easy as the Republican Party is loath to taxing corporations.
Yet, for the G7 to have made a global minimum tax a possibility was a “multilateral” breakthrough of sorts for cooperation among these nations. Despite its collectively large economies and a commitment to liberal democratic values, the G7 is no longer the behemoth that it was. Formed in 1975 in the aftermath of the 1973 Oil Crisis, the G7 then collectively produced 70% of the world’s GDP, a number that has dropped to 40%, as the Economist points out. The larger G20 has become a more relevant multilateral body due to the inclusion of economies such as Brazil, China, India and South Africa but the ability of the G7 summit to set the tone for cooperation on global issues has not diminished.
When the G7 summits begun in the mid-1970s, the heads of states sought to resolve economic differences related to exchange rate policy, growth, inflation, energy policy among others and this set the stage for multilateral trade arrangements and negotiations with the European Union and Japan assuming greater responsibilities on multilateral issues along with the U.S. Interestingly, the consensus among these nations, especially in the 1990s, to promote policies for the ease of flow of multinational capital and a concomitant reduction in expansive welfarism by the states, set the tone for the “tax competition” among states which went on to benefit MNCs.
As the summits progressed, the emphasis on economic issues remained salient and endured, but the heads of States began to prioritise other matters as well, especially after the end of the Cold War — the environment, debt relief for developing countries, and the strains on globalisation. Terrorism also became a key agenda for discussion and action. The G7 also became the G8 with Russia’s admission into the group in 1998, despite its limited national wealth compared to the other countries. The G8 reverted to the G7 again in 2014, following Russia’s expulsion after its annexation of Crimea.
The Cornwall summit includes invitees in heads of state from outside the G7 as well — Australia, South Korea and India with Prime Minister Narendra Modi set to attend it remotely. The presence of these three countries is seen as a nod to the recognition of their discontent with the influence of China, which persists with what the West believes is an anachronistic single party regime but is also an economic superpower. In the summit, G7 leaders unveiled the Build Back Better World project, which pledges hundreds of billions of infrastructure investment in low- and middle-income countries based on “values-driven, high-standard and transparent” partnerships. It is seen as a counterweight against China’s multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.
While U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sought to hail the traditional trans-Atlantic ties with the U.S. and a revival of their mutual role in setting the multilateral tone for G7 and beyond, the Brexit issue has cast a shadow over their ties.
Mr. Biden, unlike Mr. Trump, had steadfastly opposed Brexit and his advisers have raised concerns over the Britain’s dispute with the EU over Northern Ireland Mr. Johnson might be pressed to make concessions to address such concerns.
More significantly though, the G7’s declaration on global health in which they commit to resources to quickly develop and license vaccines, medicines and diagnostics for future diseases is an important step that recognises the havoc that COVID-19 has wrought across the world and the need to prepare for future epidemics.
Mr. Johnson has said he wishes for the entire world to be vaccinated by 2022, but has not specified details as to how this can be achieved. If the summit manages to agree to substantially extend vaccine availability for low-income countries, that would be a great achievement.
After all, the disparity in vaccine availability with the U.S. and EU cornering vaccines far more than what their populations need while other countries, India and those in Africa, are hampered by shortages, is a consequence of the autarkic turn during the Trump period.
If the G7 seeks to revive its multilateral emphasis in the spirit of globalisation, addressing the vaccine disparity will truly take it forward from the dregs of Trumpism.
9. ‘Revised subsidies to spur EV demand’
Electric 2-wheeler makers term increased support under Centre’s FAME II scheme as ‘game changer’
Electric two-wheeler makers on Saturday termed as “a phenomenal move” the government’s decision to increase subsidy for such vehicles by 50% under the FAME II scheme saying it would be a game changer in the adoption of eco-friendly vehicles.
The Centre had on Friday made a partial modification of the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles in India Phase II , including increasing the demand incentive for electric two-wheelers to ₹15,000 per KWh from an earlier uniform subsidy of ₹10,000 per KWh for all EVs, including plug-in hybrids and strong hybrids except buses.
In the latest modification, the department of heavy industries also capped incentives for electric two-wheelers at 40% of the cost of vehicle, up from 20% earlier.
“The revision in the FAME (II) policy, increasing the subsidy by 50% per KWh, is a phenomenal move,” Ather Energy CEO and Co-founder Tarun Mehta said in a statement. “Sales of electric two-wheelers have grown despite the pandemic and with this additional subsidy, we expect electric two-wheeler sales to disrupt the market, and clock 6 million-plus units by 2025,” he added.
The government’s continued support to drive adoption of EVs, with a keen focus on locally built electric two-wheelers will make India the manufacturing hub of EVs, Mr. Mehta added.
Lower sticker price
Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles (SMEV) Director General Sohinder Gill said, “It’s an important and an admirable decision taken by the government, a move that will bring down the prices of electric two-wheelers nearer to the IC (internal combustion engine) vehicles and remove one of the biggest blocks, of the high sticker price of electric two-wheelers.” A ‘city speed electric scooter’ with a range of 100 km/charge will now cost less than ₹60,000 and a high-speed scooter with a range of 80 km will come nearer to the price tag of ₹1 lakh, he added.
“Together with the other important factors like extremely low running cost, low maintenance and zero emission, such price levels will surely spur a substantial demand for electric two-wheelers,” Mr. Gill said.
“We believe the time has come for mass adoption of electric two-wheelers and such initiatives coupled with a mass awareness campaign by the government and easy terms financing by public sector banks will bring us closer to the target of 30% of the two-wheeler market becoming electric in five years,” the SMEV DG added.
- Government of India notified FAME India Scheme [Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles in India] for implementation with effect from 1st April 2015, with the objective to support hybrid/electric vehicles market development and Manufacturing eco-system.
All about FAME
The FAME India Scheme is aimed at incentivising all vehicle segments i.e. 2 Wheeler, 3 Wheeler Auto, Passenger 4 Wheeler Vehicle, Light Commercial Vehicles and Buses. The scheme covers Hybrid & Electric technologies like Mild Hybrid, Strong Hybrid, Plug in Hybrid & Battery Electric Vehicles.
- Monitoring Authority : Department of Heavy Industries
- Fame India Scheme has four focus Areas.
- Technology development
- Demand Creation
- Pilot Projects
- Charging Infrastructure
- Target: National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) has set a huge target to deploy 48 lakh 2W EVs and 15 lakh 4W EVs by 2020
Analysis of focus areas
- Technology development: There are two types of technology related with FAME : Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) and Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs)
Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs)
- India has a scarcity of lithium and will have to rely on expensive imports to sustain a growing BEV industry as the lithium is the best battery technology and delivers high energy and high power.
- Current battery technology is not mature enough to allow BEVs to compete with fossil fuel-based vehicles. As the energy efficiency capacity of BEVs is 100 times less than petrol and diesel vehicle, it provides low range per charge.
- Another technical deficiency of BEVs is that their speed and acceleration is lower than conventional fuel-based vehicles because of the low power capacity of batteries.
Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs)
An HEV has a conventional internal combustion engine propulsion system plus an electric propulsion system consisting of a battery and a motor. This makes HEVs heavy and expensive. Therefore as per the current technology it can only be used in light commercial vehicle.
Steps Under FAME for technological development
- Under the FAME-India scheme, a nodal body, the DHI-DST Inter-Ministerial Technology Advisory Group (IM-TAG) on Electric Mobility has been set up.
- A few long-term projects are already underway under the auto-cess funded R&D programme.
- A collaborative approach between the industry and academia is envisaged, which would include government-funded as well as PPP projects.
- Incentive, in the form of discount, are provided under FAME. The discount amount is about one-third of the difference between the price of an EV and a comparable petrol vehicle.
- The phase 1 of FAME PROVIDED incentive to private vehicles.
- The phase 2 of FAME will provide incentive for public transport in 10 cities. The outlay of ₹10,000 crore has been made for three years till 2022 for FAME 2 scheme. The centre has sanctioned ₹8,596 crore for incentives, of which ₹1,000 crore has been earmarked for setting up charging stations for electric vehicles in India. The government will offer incentives for electric buses, three-wheelers and four-wheelers to be used for commercial purposes. Plug-in hybrid vehicles and those with a sizeable lithium-ion battery and electric motor will also be included in the scheme and fiscal support offered depending on the size of the battery.
Steps taken by Government
- The government has to set up additional power generation infrastructure in order to make EVs more attractive.
- Upcoming smart grids in India can play a significant role in improving the charging infrastructure. Smart grids can help in optimising electricity needs at peaking demand hours for utility purpose and for BEV charging. For example Bosch has set up one such infrastructure in Germany with Mobile connectivity to provide information.