Tuesday, 29 November 2016


November 2016 
    November 2016 (पाक्षिक)



Hydro power projects in Himalayan region face flood risk
NEW DELHI November 24, 2016 04:37 IST
Source: The Hindu (A view of the Himalayan glacier).
Paucity of data on the health of the Himalayan glaciers; design should factor higher water flows
Potential hydro power projects in the Himalayan region would need to factor in chances of increased floods from the formation of new lakes and the expansion of existing ones due to melting glaciers, says an analysis of Himalayan glaciers and their possible future impact on livelihoods in States adjoining the region. The results are part of a modelling study by Swiss researchers on the impact of climate change in the Himalayas.
According to the study, 441 hydro power projects spanning India, Nepal, Pakistan and China, that is, 66 per cent of the constructed and the potential projects, are on possible Glacier Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) tracks. This means they could be gorged with extra water from melting glaciers. Almost a third of these projects could experience GLOF discharges well above what these dams account for, says a study.
“If hydro power projects were to be situated close to these glaciers, they would have to account for higher water flows,” said Dr. Markus Stoffel from the University of Geneva, lead scientist with the study. “But that does not mean they cannot be built. It might need extra design or safety features.”
India accounts for 129 of the hydro projects analysed. India’s environment and water resources ministries are engaged in a tiff with the power ministry over the construction of hydro power projects in Uttarakhand. Broadly, they deal with the impact of these projects on the local ecology and on the natural flows of the rivers they are built upon.
Dr. Stoffel said there was a paucity of data regarding the health of the Himalayan glaciers, and depending on their location within the Himalayan range, there were varying rates of glacial melt. The findings come even as researchers note that global warming could cause glaciers to melt rapidly, which is already evident in an increase in the number of glacier-fed lakes in Himachal.
In the Beas basin, six lakes in 1989 increased to 33 in 2011, and in the Parvati Valley catchment area, there was an increase from 12 lakes (in 1989) to 77 lakes (in 2014). Most of the Himachal Pradesh lakes were relatively small or with a capacity of a million cubic metres, and only a few of them had a capacity larger than 10 million cubic metres.
Collaborative research
The Indian Himalayas Climate Adaptation Programme, which coordinated research into the Himalayan glaciers and their potential impact downstream, is set to receive an additional $3.5 million CHF (Swiss Francs; approx. Rs 24 crore) in funding for the next phase of the programme.

Farmers in Uttar Pradesh resort to barter system
Demonetisation and the subsequent cash crunch has forced many farmers and people living in rural areas of Uttar Pradesh to adopt the barter system once again.
“We are using the barter system as we have no cash. Landless farmers are working in our fields in exchange for vegetables and rice,” said Aadesh Rathi, a resident of Bagu- Santoshpur village in Baghpat.
‘Govt. has failed us’
“The government has failed to provide relief in rural areas. Bank branches and post offices here run out of cash very quickly. So we have decided to exchange food items with other people. We farm vegetables such as cauliflower and spinach. We have exchanged vegetables for paddy,” said Ashok Singh, a farmer from Baroli-Basdevpur in Bulandshahr.
“We have lost faith in the government.. Rural areas are totally neglected when it comes to distribution of fresh currency notes. The value of bartering items can be negotiated, but here we are not negotiating as it is not about business but about lives,” said Sunil Tyagi, a farmer from Siyana in Bulandshahr.
Some farmers are bartering seeds. “We are giving farmers seed on credit. Some are giving us vegetables,” said Than Singh, a farmer and a fertiliser dealer from Bulandshahr.
(The writer is a freelance journalist)

Vegetable sellers, small traders adopt e-payment
Unable to do business in the absence of Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 notes, some vegetable vendors and small traders in the city have shifted to cashless forms of transaction with the help of card readers and mobile wallets.
Naresh Kumar, who owns a grocery shop in Greater Kailash, is availing online payment services to keep his business going.
“Our sales dropped after the government scrapped high-value currency notes. People would come with old currency notes, which we don’t accept. So I started accepting payments online. Some customers who order in bulk are finding it easy to pay me online,” said Mr. Kumar.
Sethipandian, a seller of south Indian food in Daryaganj, installed Paytm on his phone a few days after the government announced the demonetisation decision. “After the government announced the decision, the number of customers declined. I then installed Paytm on my phone. I ask my customers to pay through my mobile wallet. My sales are back to normal,” Mr. Sethipandian said.
Benefits galore
Some vegetable vendors in Delhi have also adopted cashless transactions by installing a card reader. “People have less cash on them. Since I installed a card reader, my customers are happy and I am doing good business,” said Ravi.
People facing the cash crunch are also relieved with the gradual acceptance of digital payments by vendors.
Nandini Tomar, a resident of south Delhi said: “It is a major relief that some grocery shops and fruit sellers are accepting payments online. There are long queues outside banks and arranging for cash is a real problem.” — PTI

IIT team tracks brown carbon’s effect on atmospheric warming
High levels of the aerosol found in Kanpur due to biomass burning
The effect of biomass burning in increasing atmospheric aerosols and in turn atmospheric warming through light absorption has been highlighted in a study by a team of researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur.
While the role of black carbon produced by biomass burning in increasing atmospheric warming has already been well established, this study highlights the lesser-known role of brown carbon.
Compared with earlier studies carried out in the U.S, absorption of light of 365 nanometre wavelength was found to be five times higher in Kanpur, which has a high biomass burning area. Also, brown carbon accounts for about 30 per cent of light absorption in Kanpur. The results were published on November 24 in the journal Scientific Reports.
“What is seen in Kanpur can be generalised for the entire Indo-Gangetic Plain because the sources of aerosol remain the same throughout the region,” says P.M. Shamjad from the Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Kanpur, and the first author of the paper.

In search of a new red corridor

image source: umble in the jungle: “The Maoists are seeking to use tribal angst to build a political presence.” The Naxalite Special Division of the Tamil Nadu Police during a combing operation in a hamlet near the Erumad police station, which borders the Wayanad forests of Kerala.
In the tri-junction of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu enveloped by forests, Maoists scout for new recruits and a home. Srinivasan Ramani reports
There can’t be a more picturesque spot than where the three States of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu meet — in the Muthanga forest reserve, adjoining the Bandipur and Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary, all part of the Nilgiris bioreserve. Here, spotted deer, herds of elephants and bisons have made their home. As has the tiger, an elusive animal to spot; camera traps have identified 86 of them in the reserve and the adjoining forests. As elusive but seemingly omnipresent are a group of foot soldiers of the Peoples’ Liberation Guerrilla Army of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), whose movements amidst the thick vegetation are confirmed by the tribals, the original human inhabitants of the region, and the police who are chasing this new phantom in the tri-junction.
As many as three dozen or more “absconding” Maoists are roaming the jungles, separated into three dalams named after the three rivers, Kabini, Nadukani and Bhavani in the area, say police officers of Gudalur, Tamil Nadu and Wayanad, Kerala. They have reportedly been entering the tribal villages that abut the dense forests regularly. These villages are inhabited by the Kattunayakan community that depends primarily on selling forest produce for a living; the Paniya and Adhiya communities who have traditionally been agricultural workers and with a history of labour exploitation; and the relatively better-off Kurichiya and Kuruma agrarian tribal communities.
Encounters and ‘encounters’
After months of a cat-and-mouse game in the tri-junction, the Kerala Police’s anti-Naxalite Thunderbolts force reported a major exchange of fire with Maoists in the Kuralai region of the Nilambur forests in Malappuram district on Thursday. Two Maoist cadre — Kuppu Devaraj from Karnataka and Ajitha alias Kaveri — were said to be killed in what was the first “encounter” of its kind in Kerala.
Before the “encounter”, sightings of Maoists were scattered across the region: the latest were in Agali in the forests of northern Palakkad district, in the Paattakarimbu tribal colony in Malappuram district, in Thirunelly in northern Wayanad among others. Nilambur-like “encounters” are rare. But for the major incident, which occurred nearly a week after this reporter’s visit to Wayanad and Malappuram, that itself followed a firing incident close to the nearby Mundakadavu colony in October, the last serious exchange of fire was in Kunhome forest nearly two years ago.
The arrest of Maoist leader Roopesh and his wife Shyna in Coimbatore in May 2015 was a setback to the rebels in the region. Roopesh is believed to have been associated with the Kabini dalam. Since his arrest, say police officers, the Maoist journal Kaatu Thee (Forest Fire) has not been published or circulated in the region. His position is believed to have been taken by another native of Malappuram who goes by the alias ‘Soman’ and is said to belong to the Nadukani dalam (which publishes the periodical, Chenkaadu (Red Forest).
The Kattunayakan dwellers of Paattakarimbu village confirmed the visits by Soman to their village, the most recent one sometime in October 2016. The womenfolk tell us that the colony dwellers are relatively educated (with many of them finishing high school) but are unskilled and dependent on the forest. There is a lack of an organised market for their produce and the dwellers are keen on better implementation of promised welfare schemes (the Integrated Tribal Development Projects, various State welfare schemes).
Kochu Ravi, who was roughed up by the Maoists for allegedly talking to the police about their visits.  | Photo Credit: Dinesh Krishnan

Caught in the crossfire
Narayanan (name changed) and another villager, Kochu Ravi, returned from the forest at our behest and told us that they are aware of various government schemes but they are poorly implemented in the village. This is the reason why Maoists visit them, says Narayanan. “They want to get recruits from among us while the police want us to inform them about their visits. The police do not allow us to go alone to the forest for collecting the produce; we have to go as a group. The Maoists sometimes make us sit and listen to their views. This hampers our work. Then there are the wild elephants that can attack us if we are not careful. This Maoist-police business is making life very difficult for us,” he says.
In fact, Ravi, an Ezhava who married into a tribal family and settled down in Paattakarimbu, has already been named in Chenkaadu as a suspected police informer and was roughed up by the Maoists for allegedly talking to the police about their visits.
“The Maoists are very persuasive. Soman is the one who talks to us in Malayalam. He explained our problems and told us not to vote in elections. The Maoists, when they visit our colony at odd hours, treat us respectfully. Women are always talked to only in the presence of women cadre. And they try to explain issues patiently,” concedes Narayanan. “But I want to ask the Maoists, how different are you from any other political party? You seek power too. There is no difference except that you carry guns. We want to be left alone. We know how to get things done even if they are difficult”.
The theme of harassment — being caught in a battle between the “absconding Maoists” and the wary security forces (the police and the Thunderbolts) is a repeated complaint by Kurichiya villagers in the Kunhome forest near Mananthavady in Wayanad.
The Kurichiya hamlet called Chappa has a settlement of about four families living off farms that grow bananas, pepper, paddy among a variety of crops and are on the edge of the forest. In December 2014, security forces engaged in combing operations in the village found the guerrillas in a natural meadow in the forest. After firing some shots, the Maoists fled deeper into the jungle, and that was the last they were seen, says Gopi, a Chappa resident.
Since the incident though, a slew of welfare measures were implemented — a better road from the towns leading up to the village, grant of milch cows to the families and ease of access (albeit done haphazardly) for children to nearby schools, among others.
Some of the villagers welcome the welfare measures, but others say that there are new inconveniences. “The Maoists stopped coming after the firing incident. But we are still not free to go to the forest or to even harvest our own crop in the fields in the night. My brother is constantly interrogated because he had given the Maoists food and provisions,” says Gopi’s brother. “Tribals like us do not refuse anyone food and beverage if they come to us. Besides, when they come to us with guns, we do not have a choice. This does not mean we support Maoists. Yes, the Maoist visits here in the past may have helped us get the attention of the government and some development work, but the repeated questioning by security forces and restrictions on our movement is harassment,” he adds angrily.
Policing the tri-junction
Wayanad Superintendent of Police (SP) K. Karthik says that the inconvenience is a price to pay for security operations against the Maoists in the area but asserts that the police treat the tribals with respect and care — avoiding raids on houses, for example.
SP Karthik belongs to the 2011 batch of the Indian Police Service and has been posted in Wayanad for about a year. The SPs in Chamarajanagar district in Karnataka and the Nilgiris district in Tamil Nadu that abut the tri-junction with Wayanad are also from the same batch. Having batchmates as SPs has strengthened the already regular coordination between the police forces of the three States, says Karthik. “2013-14 was when the activities of the Maoists peaked — when resorts were attacked, policemen and forest officials were threatened. But since 2015, these have slowed down,” he says, adding, “the Maoists are more active through their front organisations such as Porattam and Revolutionary Democratic Front.”
Only two days before the interview, an activist of the radical Porattum group was arrested on the way to a press meet and charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act with being a Maoist sympathiser and advocating violence against the state.
Tribal activists say that police actions on activist groups have been in a manner that does not distinguish between anti-state actors and other “democratic” dissidents. Sreejith, a local area committee member of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), says that Wayanad has been in the throes of agrarian distress for years, the most affected being the Paniya and Adhiya tribals. The Maoist presence in the area is a subtext to these tribal issues of unemployment, he says, adding that they have not helped the cause of tribal welfare.
Tapping into the distress
The Maoists have also sought to prevent resort expansion in the forested areas and have issued threats against quarrying — a major issue that is not being taken seriously by the government, say forest officials. But these actions have resulted in environmental activists being branded as Maoists. “Maoists believe and engage in mindless violence. But sometimes, they offer a strong opposition and obstacle against illegal anti-environmental activity in the forests here,” says a forest official who did not want to be named.
Apart from targeting poorer tribals, the Maoists had also identified a Sri Lankan Tamil resettlement colony near Mananthavady for possible recruits. Babu (name changed) works in the Kambamala tea estate and is a second-generation refugee whose parents migrated here after resettlement in the late 1970s. He says that the Maoists frequented the colony seeking recruits as the condition of the workers here is very poor.
Residents in the colony complain that they have poor employment opportunities beyond temporary and limited permanent jobs within the estate. The lack of a (Scheduled Caste) certificate for many residents in the colony is the major reason, they argue. As “refugees”, their plight is no less than other marginalised caste groups, they say.
Older residents in the colony are less pessimistic, having come to the area with nothing during resettlement and painstakingly built their lives in the estate. But those among the younger generation are desperate for better lives and for permanent jobs, not tied only to the estate. They are wary of talking about the Maoist visits.
The latest of those visits, says a resident, was during the Assembly elections in May when the Maoists asked them to boycott polls. Some deny having seen them at all. But others open up about their views on the Maoists, saying that the latter understood their plight and communicated well with them with some cadre (including women) speaking to them in Tamil.
In chaste Tamil, Mala (name changed), a young mother, speaks up. “The women cadre looked nice in that green uniform and the long gun. When I first saw them, I rushed to meet and greet the women. Some among the Maoists spoke our language and listened to us as we told them about our distress. No one else does that here,” she says.
It is clear that the Maoists are striving hard to move beyond a protean presence in the region, even if it is limited only to about three dozen armed guerrillas moving around the forests in the States’ tri-junction. With tribal livelihoods lagging behind other sections of society, the Maoists perceive a potential support base that could inform them about police operations and also provide foot soldiers for the cause.
Nipping it in the bud
Across the border, SP Murali Rambha, based in Ooty, says the Maoists in the area call themselves as part of the “Western Ghats Special Zonal Committee” and are led by a Tamil-speaking leader named Kuppuswami. Other senior cadre in the area include Vikram Gowda and Sundari from Karnataka and Kalidas from Tamil Nadu.
Rambha argues that the Maoist movement in the tri-junction was at a preliminary stage with their aims limited to attracting new recruits and establishing a presence in the forests. But he adds that the Tamil Nadu Police is regularly tracking sightings at villages close to the State border (such as Paattakarimbu) and engaged in frequent combing and patrol operations along with the anti-Naxalite Special Task Force. “We are empowered to arrest anyone even if they are not formally Maoists but propagate Maoist views or sympathise with them,” he says.
Rambha adds that the police is treating “left-wing extremism” as being more than just a law and order problem. Bringing his experience as a block development officer in undivided Andhra Pradesh during the peak years of the People’s War Group to play, he is coordinating with the revenue department to ensure that the development schemes in the villages are properly implemented.
Since the merger of two major Naxalite groups in 2004 into the CPI(Maoist), the radical communist organisation has built a presence in areas where the Indian state is weakest in its presence — the tribal-dominated belts of central India. A decade of “civil war” has reduced the Maoists to a military and guerrilla force from its heyday in Telangana and north Andhra Pradesh as a radical political organisation. A series of military and leadership setbacks has perhaps forced the Maoists to seek new areas to build its influence.
The tri-junction area between the three States of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu has been identified by the Maoists as one such area where a coordinated military effort by the Indian state would be difficult. Wayanad had seen Naxalite action in the late 1960s, when police camps were attacked, but that movement petered out early. The only major Naxalite group in Kerala, the Central Reorganisation Committee (CRC) led by K. Venu, had withered away too. The Naxalites of the present generation, the Maoists, claim in their pamphlets that they have been present in the area for the past three and a half years; the movement received a fillip after the merger of the CRC offshoot Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Naxalbari with the CPI(Maoist).
Tribals here in the southern States are relatively better off than those in central India, but with Wayanad barely recovering from a prolonged agrarian crisis, the Maoists are seeking to use tribal angst to build a political presence. But as the Kurichiya farmer Gopi says, “We have lots of problems and many issues. The Maoists tell us many things about our problems and issues with the government, but in the end only the government can help us.”
With E.M. Manoj and Dinesh Krishnan


‘Truth sometimes needs fiction’
Kiran Doshi, shortlisted for The Hindu Prize, talks about his Bombay-centric, Jinnah-centric novel and about the people the gods choose to destroy
iran Doshi, author of Jinnah Often Came to Our House , is a retired diplomat. While with the Indian Foreign Service, he was often required to tackle India’s relations with Pakistan. He describes it as an ‘exciting but frustrating’ task. What strikes you about the author, a lifelong student of history, is that his eye is sharp but also benign. He looks upon the sub-continent’s story in cycles — as ironies of our times. Excerpts from an email interview:
Congratulations and best wishes for The Hindu Prize nomination. How do you feel ?
Pleased... and honoured, for The Hindu is — it has always been — the best. And thank you for your good wishes.
You have a novel with the name Jinnah in the title — is it a personal choice or a political statement?
Both really. As a student of history, I have often wondered why relations between India and Pakistan, now almost 70 years old, have always been so terrible, often bloody, and almost impossible to improve. The reasons for that are not, I have long felt, what either country says they are. Those are only sideshows or symptoms. (Even Kashmir is just a symptom.) The real reasons have much deeper roots. They go back a long time before 1947.
How so?
It is not always easy to decide when the history of any phenomenon began, especially when we talk about India and Pakistan, which are intertwined like no other two nations in history. In the case of the essentially hostile nature of Indo-Pak relations, however, I could decide almost as soon as I started to write the book, that its modern phase began shortly after the partition of Bengal — with Jinnah, ironically the brightest rising star in the Indian National Congress at the time, taking a wrong turn in pursuit of his political ambitions.
As for the personal side, my wife is a Muslim, a doctor from Christian Medical College, Vellore. By definition, therefore, half my relatives are Muslim. (Here let me add a politically incorrect statement: Indo-Pak questions cannot be entirely divorced from the larger question of Hindu-Muslim relations in the sub-continent.) My wife’s mother ran a charitable hospital in Bombay. More importantly, her maternal grandfather was a barrister, a contemporary and friend of Jinnah in his nationalist days. Family lore has it that Jinnah often went to their house.
Is that why the title?
Yes. Incidentally, many of the stories from that lore find mention in the book — in different garbs though. For in main, Jinnah... is a work of fiction.
Then why is Jinnah ... a novel and not a biography?
The short answer to the question, as given in the Acknowledgements, is: ‘Truth is so hard to tell, it sometimes needs fiction to make it plausible.’ I hasten to add that the book was not intended to be, and is not, just a ‘biography’ of Jinnah, nor only an account of the freedom struggle and its terrible twin, the struggle for a separate homeland for the Muslims of India.
It is a lament (through the fictional part of the novel) for the millions of lives lost or twisted tragically out of shape because of a Shakespearean flaw in Jinnah’s character, exploited to the hilt by the British. Of course, it is also a trip down memory lane — to a Bombay that is gone forever, the Bombay-meri-jaan .
What kind of research went into the book — for the detailing? It is so alive!
I had to do a good bit of research while writing the book, but much less than what I would have needed to do had the novel been set in another time and place. You see, all my life I have been a student of the history of modern India. I also know Bombay well, having studied there and lived there for long stretches at different times in my life. Then there is the family lore.
I wrote the novel largely from memory. The research was either to get simple information (e.g. when was Ramadan in the year 1904?) or to double-check facts I already knew, but was no longer sure of (e.g. Did Ruttie go with Jinnah to Nagpur in 1920?), or to ascertain crucial details (e.g, Was Jinnah in Karachi in January 1948?).
I think one reason the narration seems ‘so alive’ is because right from the start of the novel, I made a conscious effort not ‘to think ahead’. That is to say, not to write about something that had not happened.
But in historical fiction you know the future...
Perhaps what helped me are: a) conscious effort, b) the intricate interweaving of the fictional with the historical, so that ‘the end’ of the novel consisted, in effect, of multiple endings, both fictional as well as non-fictional, c) revision, revision, revision, d) writing between the lines, and e) an excellent editor.
How did you select the events for this narrative?
The novel is both Bombay-centric as well as Jinnah-centric. It skips events and individuals, however important those might have been otherwise, that had little to do with Bombay and Jinnah, and dwells on events in which Jinnah was involved.
What did the writing show you?
A curious thing that sometimes happens when you are writing a book is that the pen takes over. I mean, you find yourself writing things you had not planned to write. I did get to know a few things in the course of writing Jinnah.... For instance, of what really happened — and who really did what — in the twin struggles (for freedom and partition), I also discovered that those whom the gods wish to destroy first turn madly religious.
Amandeep Sandhu is working
on a novel and a non-fiction book on Punjab. His novelRoll of Honour was
short-listed for The Hindu Prize 2013.

The stealth superbug, decoded
A team of scientists in Bengaluru is behind the genome sequencing of Candida auris, a fungus that has caused disease outbreaks in five continents this year
On November 4, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a leading public health institute in Atlanta, U.S., reported 13 cases of infection by the deadly fungus Candida auris in several parts of the country. Apart from the U.S., outbreaks have been reported this year in eight countries across four continents — India, Pakistan, South Korea, Kuwait, South Africa, Colombia, Venezuela and United Kingdom.
A paper by scientists from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru has shown that many cases of Candida auris have been misdiagnosed in the country. In 2015, a team led by Utpal Tatu, professor of biochemistry, IISc, completed the genotype sequencing of Candida auris, widely considered an emerging superbug fungus as it does not respond to conventional antifungal drugs. The genome data were submitted to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. and is now considered as the reference genome across the globe.
India, an epicentre
Candidiasis is a fungal infection caused by Candida species, often seen in patients whose immune system is compromised, such as AIDS patients or in case of transplants, malignancies and the use of catheters. Most of the infections are hospital-acquired, especially in ICU settings.
The first case reported was in Japan in an external ear canal infection in a patient in 2009. Since then, most cases have been invasive in nature and India has one of the highest number of infections caused by this superbug, says PhD student Sharanya Chatterjee, a member of the IISc team who studied isolates of Candida from a private hospital in Bengaluru. She found that in many cases, the fungus had been misidentified with another Candida species, Candida haemulonii.
Dr. Tatu’s team was among the first to report the high rate of misdiagnosis of Candida auris. “Current diagnostic procedures to detect fungal infections cannot detect Candida auris, which is resistant to common antifungal treatment. In several patients, by the time we had made the correct diagnosis, it was too late,” says Ms. Chatterjee.
The team of scientists has developed a diagnostic tool to detect Candida auris using polymerase chain reactions. “The rise of more virulent forms is connected to the indiscriminate use of antibiotics,” says Dr. Tatu, adding, “The strain found in the United States was resistant to even the third class of antifungal treatment.”
Highly resistant fungus
One reason for the high resistance to existing drugs is that this species has a higher number of drug efflux pumps compared to other species, says Ms. Chatterjee. Drug efflux pumps are proteins that prevent other drugs from crossing the cell membrane. The IISc team’s research was published in the September 2015 issue of BMC Genomics.
Sudarshan Ballal, director, Manipal Hospitals, which provided the isolates for the study, says the research highlighted the need for clinical-academic collaboration. “We have been able to dissect a fungus found commonly in hospitals and study it at the genome level. Some fungi look alike at macroscopic level, but their genotype could be very different, sort of like twins,” he says, adding, “If you know it is Candida auris from day one, you could start off with treatment which it is sensitive to.” Dr. Ballal agrees with Dr. Tatu about indiscriminate use of antibiotics as a possible cause: “Killing all kinds of bacteria gives space for fungi to grow.”
Dr. Tatu and his team of researchers feel that it is high time officials took note of the situation. “It is very difficult to establish how many cases have been misdiagnosed in India as very little study has been done on this, and since most patients who acquire Candida are already quite ill, a delayed diagnosis could be fatal,” he says.
Echoing Dr. Ballal, Dr. Tatu says the emergence of superbugs is a small example of the lacunae between academic research that studies the current disease scenario and current clinical practices, and shows the need for greater collaboration between the two. Apart from Candida auris, Dr. Tatu’s team is also studying numerous other infections, their evolutionary origins, diagnosis and treatment, with a view to filling this gap.

H5N8 expands its reach

Health Ministry issues advisory despite the low risk this bird flu strain poses
India has reported an outbreak of a highly contagious bird flu virus in Karnataka, the Paris-based World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said on Friday, citing a report from the Indian Agriculture Ministry.
The virus, H5N8, spreads through direct contact with secretions from infected birds, their feed, etc. So far there are no reported cases of H5N8 affecting people. The virus is caused by Type “A” influenza and is a subtype of the H5N1 virus. With nearly 50 ducks dying of the virus last month at Delhi zoo, the State government had issued a health advisory asking people to not consume uncooked chicken or eggs.
In the latest case, in Karnataka, the H5N8 virus was confirmed among birds in the village of Itagi, in Hosapete taluk; all 1,593 of the birds at risk from the disease died or were culled, according to the report posted by the OIE.
No details were given on the type of birds or location involved.
The H5N8 bird flu strain has been found in several countries in Europe and West Asia in recent weeks, leading some states to order poultry flocks to be kept indoors.
The same virus had previously affected livestock in Haryana, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala.
Precautionary steps
Earlier this week, Minister of State for Health Faggan Singh Kulaste had informed the Rajya Sabha that poultry birds in Bellary, Karnataka, had tested positive for H5N8.
“Based on current knowledge, the public health risk to human population is considered low for avian influenza subtype H5N8,” he said.
Mr. Kulaste added that as a matter of caution, the Union Health Ministry has issued an advisory to the States and Union Territories to minimise bird-human interface, ensure that those handling sick or dead birds use personal protective equipment, and also keep them under surveillance.

Demystifying Science
What are Yamanaka genes?
They are the four essential genes that can reprogramme the cells in our body and, in principle, be used to regenerate old cells or grow new organs. Collectively known as OSKM (for the initials of the genes, Oct4 , Sox2 , Klf4 and Myc ), these Yamanaka genes are named after Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2012, along with Sir John B. Gurdon for pioneering a technique to use these genes for reprogramming cells. In the years since, it’s been found that while necessary, the genes are not very efficient at reversing cell-ageing. Worse, they may also induce a particular type of tumour (known as teratoma) that makes cell reprogramming incompatible with its potential clinical use. This week, however, another set of scientists have found a ‘stress factor,’ a pro-inflammatory molecule called interleukin-6 (IL6), that may be responsible for reducing the efficiency of the OSKM genes. If this can be better understood, the Yamanaka genes may finally result in practical therapy.

China: In the shadow of eight dragons

With growth slowing, will the country continue on the path of debt-fuelled growth or pursue painful structural reform?
“The biggest problem in China’s economy is that the growth is unstable, imbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable.” — Former Premier Wen Jiabao, March 2007
China’s economic achievements are unparalleled in economic history. The country has achieved a 10 per cent annual growth rate over the last 35 years, quadrupled per capita real GDP and lifted more than 600 million people from poverty. The per capita income currently is $8,300 and in purchasing power parity terms, it is close to $14,200.
The one lingering issue is whether growth has been driven by ever-rising inputs of cheap labour and capital or by that elixir of growth, which economists term as “total factor productivity growth.” China’s productivity growth has been falling, especially post the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, when the government had embarked on a massive stimulus and avoided structural reform. With growth slowing in China, the question now is - will China continue on its path of debt-fueled growth or pursue a much-needed but painful structural reform.
Debt build-up
The eight dragons identified in the accompanying chart are potential triggers for a crisis in China. The first dragon is over-investment. The world has been impressed with the infrastructure investments and the rapid transformation of physical infrastructure in China during the last two decades. However, a recent study by the Said Business School (2016) argues that cost overruns and misdirected infrastructure investments account for at least one-third of the massive debt build-up that will likely engender economic and financial fragility.
The second dragon is total debt to GDP. It is worth noting that between 2006 and 2015, the corporate debt has zoomed from $3.4 trillion to $17.8 trillion - a five-fold increase in 9 years. While state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in China have accounted for bulk of the debt taken, private property developers have also borrowed heavily. More importantly, a research conducted by the Bank for International Settlements indicates that the gap of the credit to GDP ratio gap vis-a-vis its long-term trend China is now at 30.1 per cent, more than three times the normal deviation and is a robust early warning indicator of banking crisis.
The third dragon is the inefficiency of the SOEs. There are about 150,000 SOEs with aggregate assets of about RMB 100 trillion ($15 trillion), whose return on assets was only 2.4 per cent compared to 6.4 per cent in the U.S. More importantly, even the largest SOEs are actually loss-making, if the the cost of subsidies that they received are fully accounted for. The fourth dragon is represented by the non-performing loans of the banking sector. Charlene Chu of Autonomous Research estimates that by the end of this year, almost 22 per cent of all loans outstanding will be non-performing, although the official non performing loans as a per cent of total loans is only 1.75 per cent as of March 2016.
The fifth dragon is the shadow credit products estimated at RMB 40 trillion ($6 trillion). These are high risk products that offer yields of 11-14 per cent compared to 6 per cent on loans and 3-4 per cent on bonds. Almost 50 per cent of the shadow credit products are of low quality and are risky.
The shadow credit products account for 8 per cent of banks’ assets concentrated in listed banks (outside of the big four) and unlisted banks and the aggregate exposure is several times their capital.
Increasing dependence on the inter-bank market for mobilising deposits could become a source of transmission of stress in case this market freezes up. In other words, banks must raise retail deposits as dependence on wholesale markets could turn risky. The U.S. experience reveals that only decisive action by the Fed, to force banks to conduct stress tests, disclose it publicly and raise capital, saved the banking system from the brink and ultimately the U.S. economy.
It is hard to imagine a similar speed of response in China in the event of a crisis.
The sixth dragon is the overvalued currency and net capital outflows. In the post global financial crisis period, the current account surplus of China has significantly declined, the overvalued currency led to fears of abrupt devaluation prompting capital outflows. In 2015, the net capital outflows came to $673 billion - about 6.2 per cent of GDP. As per International Institute of Finance (IIF) data, net capital outflows in 2016 till September was $320 billion. Despite capital controls, there has been substantial net capital outflows. As per BIS data, the RMB is overvalued by about 20 per cent. Goldman Sachs strategists are predicting a 12-month Yuan U.S. dollar rate of 7.30. The rate currently hovers around 6.92. While China lacks some of the pre-conditions such as open capital account and deep and liquid financial markets necessary to be a part of the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR), the inherent tension between the aspirations to internationalise the currency and at the same time to have tight controls domestically will add another layer of uncertainty to the value of its currency.
The seventh dragon is rebalancing. When Premier Wen Jiabao made the comment in 2010, investment and private consumption as a share of GDP were 40 per cent and 38.3 per cent respectively. By 2015, investment increased to 45 per cent of GDP and private consumption was 38.2 per cent of GDP. So rebalancing is still awaited.
The eighth dragon is demographics, the old age dependency which is measured as the ratio of the population that is 65 years or above to the working age population (15-64 years) will increase from 0.13 currently to 0.47 by 2050.
Full-blown crisis
From a political economy perspective, Xi Jinping, the current President, has been recently anointed as “Core” leader and is leaning more toward eradication of corruption domestically, geopolitical adventurism and new-found regional assertiveness of China as against its earlier claim of peaceful rise. Our view is that since the Communist Party has targeted doubling the GDP and GDP per capita by 2020 compared to 2010 levels, it will not settle for low-growth and painful structural reform in the short-term. The significance of 2020 is it also coincides with the 100-year anniversary celebrations of the Chinese Communist Party.
While several international organisations such as IMF and BIS have warned of the dangerous levels of debt in China, we expect a full-blown crisis in the next 18-24 months triggered by busted banks, corporate defaults or a sharp devaluation of the currency to stem massive net capital outflows.
U.S trade sanctions on China could be the ultimate tipping point. A large Yuan devaluation will result in a sudden stop of capital flows to emerging markets and global risk-aversion will rise. As regards its impact on India, a negative feedback loop will likely arise between a falling stock market and a depreciating rupee, with distinct overshooting possibilities. However, there may be an opportunity for India to embark on serious reform now, especially cleaning up the banking sector of non-performing assets and revving up the corporate investment cycle to be better prepared to withstand the heat from those eight fiery dragons that are emerging as a credible threat to China’s sustained economic growth and stability.
Sivaprakasam Sivakumar is MD, Argonaut Global Capital LLC, U.S. and Himadri Bhattacharya is Senior Advisor, RisKontroller Global