Centre plans to remote-map canals
•The Centre plans to link all canals via a geographical information system that would allow them to be remotely mapped. V.K. Vohra, Commissioner (Irrigation) said that 99 projects, identified as a part of the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme, would have canals under satellite scrutiny to ensure that they be completed on time.
•The Central government has earmarked Rs. 77,595 crore to states to complete a range of irrigation projects that have been stuck for decades owing to lack of funds, with the water ministry committed to ensuring that 99 such projects would be completed by 2020. Twenty-three would be completed by 2016-17 and 31 by 2017-18. One of the major reasons for the projects to remain incomplete was inadequate provision of funds by the concerned State governments.
•“Some of these canals could be hundreds of kilometres long and some much smaller,” said Mr. Vohra.
Sri Lanka completes $1 billion port deal with Chinese firm
An integral part of Belt & Road Initiative
•Sri Lanka on Saturday sealed a billion-dollar deal to let a Chinese state firm take over a loss-making port in a move that worries many, including India.
•The long-delayed $1.1 billion sale of a 70% stake in Hambantota port, which straddles the world’s busiest east-west shipping route, was confirmed by Sri Lanka’s Ports Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe.
•The government used tough laws against industrial action to stop workers going on strike this week to oppose the sale to China Merchants Port Holdings.
•India is nervous about China’s infrastructure moves into its traditional sphere of influence. “We have addressed geo-political concerns,” the Minister said at a signing ceremony in Colombo. China has accepted that everything in this agreement will operate under Sri Lankan law.”
•Negotiations over the deal were held up for months amid opposition from trade unions and political parties. The Minister said this week that several countries had raised fears about the sale. India and the United States are known to be concerned that China getting a foothold at the deep-sea port could give it a military naval advantage in the Indian Ocean.
•Samarasinghe said that Hambantota, 240 km south of Colombo, will not be a military base for any country.
•China Merchants built and operates Sri Lanka’s only major deep-sea terminal in Colombo, which can accommodate the world’s largest container carriers.
•Executive vice president Hu Jianhua said the company wanted to make Hambantota the gateway to expanding economies in South Asia and Africa where it has similar port operations.
•“[The] business of Hambantota port will be cross border, across the Indian ocean, stretching to the Far East, to Europe and to the globe,” Mr. Hu said.
•“Sri Lanka will be well positioned to play a strategic role in the one-belt-one-road initiative of the government of the People’s Republic of China,” Mr. Hu said.
•Sri Lanka has signed up to President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy initiative, which aims to strengthen China’s land and sea trade routes.
•India has snubbed Mr. Xi’s plan and skipped a May summit in Beijing that was attended by world leaders. Mr. Samarasinghe said Hambantota will be purely a commercial port, but any routine port calls by foreign navies will be regulated by Sri Lanka as in the case with the Colombo port.
Trump to sign Russia sanctions legislation
•U.S. President Donald Trump plans to sign legislation slapping punitive sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea that the Congress approved this week, the White House has said.
•The legislation bars Mr. Trump from easing or waiving the penalties on Russia unless Congress agrees.
•In its statement, the White House said Mr. Trump “negotiated regarding critical elements” of early drafts of the bill and approved the final draft “based on its responsiveness to his negotiations”.
•The Senate passed the bill, 98-2, two days after the House of Representatives pushed the measure through by a 419-3 margin. Both were veto-proof numbers.
•“President Donald J Trump read early drafts of the bill and negotiated regarding critical elements of it,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.
•“He has now reviewed the final version and, based on its responsiveness to his negotiations, approves the bill and intends to sign it,” Ms. Sanders said without giving a time frame when it would be signed into law. The legislation, could put strain on Mr. Trump’s ability to improve ties with Russia.
A two-in-one solution
Experts call for integrating hepatitis testing and treatment as a component in the national programme for HIV
•Hepatitis C, a disease that closely mimics the deadly HIV infection, has been ignored for long, say medical experts. The chronic liver infection caused by the blood-borne hepatitis C virus (HCV) kills nearly 96,000 people in India annually. This, despite the fact that the availability of a range of new drugs has drastically improved its cure rate to over 95%.
Testing for two
•Experts also point to the threat of HCV co-infection with HIV, given that both diseases have same routes of transmission. “The need of the hour is to integrate HCV testing and treatment as a component in the already existing national programme for HIV,” says Dr. V. Sam Prasad, country manager, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, adding that instead of designing a new programme that may take years, tweaking an existing programme would be simpler and faster. He says just like HIV, that now has a ‘test and treat’ policy as a part of the Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) guidelines, a revised version could add a similar approach for HCV.
•Like HIV, HCV can be transmitted through injectable drug use through the sharing of needles, reuse or inadequate sterilisation of medical equipment such as syringes and needles, and transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products. Though very uncommon, it can also be transmitted sexually and can be passed from an infected mother to her baby.
•According to Dr. A.R. Pazare, head of the medicine department at Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital, the cure rate of HCV was extremely low till about five years ago as there were merely two drugs to treat it. “But now, as many as 30 new drugs are now available. They have become a game changer for the disease,” he says, adding that despite this, the threat of disease continues due to the overlapping modes of transmission with HIV.
•“We should react quicker to curb it. Also, there is extremely low awareness about the disease.”
•Approximately 12 million people in India are chronically infected with hepatitis C. Globally, 2.3 million people living HIV are co-infected with HCV of which nearly 1.3 million are injectable drug users. While India lacks data on co-infections, rough estimates state that 60,000 people with HIV also have HCV.“It is highly impossible that these estimates are accurate,” says Dr. Prasad, adding that the disease often presents no symptoms and hence is diagnosed very late. “In most cases, liver cirrhosis or fibrosis sets in by then,” he says, adding that 20% of the patients are unaware of their status.
•A 2010 article published in the Indian Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseasescited the results of a study carried out in the Department of Microbiology, Nair Hospital, Mumbai to track the co-infections of HIV with hepatitis B virus (HBV) and HCV. Of the 540 HIV seropositive patients, 90 (16.7%) were positive for HBV and 7 (1.3%) were positive for HCV antibodies. While heterosexual high-risk behaviour was observed in 435 (80.6%) patients, 15 (2.8%) patients had a history of blood transfusion. Two patients (0.4%) who were intravenous drug users were positive for HIV, HBV and HCV. The article lay emphasis on the necessity of integrating HIV and HBV/HCV care into the National AIDS Control Programme and commence interventions and treatment guidelines for patients with HIV and HBV/HCV co-infection.
•A study published last year in The Lancet too stated that not only are people with HIV at much higher risk of HCV infection, groups such as people who inject drugs have an extremely high prevalence of HCV infection — over 80%. “There is a need to scale-up routine testing to diagnose HCV infection in HIV programmes worldwide, especially among high-risk groups, as the first step towards accessing the new, highly curative HCV treatments,” said an official of the World Health Organization, which had commissioned the study.Living independently, the Thoreau way
The 19th century writer was an archetype of what humans could aspire to be if we had the conviction to live life on our own terms
•On July 4, 1845, a 27-year-old Henry David Thoreau moved into a cabin near a lake called Walden Pond in Massachusetts, north-eastern United States. His goal, he wrote later, was “to live deliberately, to [con]front only the essential facts of life”. We learn of these and other words that speak of Thoreau’s intentions from the writings he left behind. His journals tracked his life from October 1837 to November 1861, eventually filling up 47 manuscript volumes.
•The most famous of his books was Walden; or, Life in the Woods , an assemblage of sustained thinking about life in a rural setting, deeply felt psychological insights amidst everyday life and some sharp criticisms of the society around him. All of these are sketched out in an artful prose that is extraordinary in its attention to the sensuousness and specificities of reality. As a book that has survived generations, Walden lives on in the cathedrals of American literary consciousness as a sort of moonlt gargoyle, tucked away, sitting vigil over modernity and its discontents.
200th birth anniversary
•In July 2017, as the politics of neo-nationalisms and hyper-patriotisms froths manically, America has begun to celebrate Thoreau’s bicentennial birth anniversary. For many, this is a moment of discovery. His words reveal — and not just to Americans — that it is possible to be a loving son or daughter of a nation, to be in thrall of its wilds and rivers and in admiration of its collective intelligence and spirit, and yet deny the strictures of convenient patriotisms. They also discover that more than his efforts to critique a society, it was his willingness to declare himself independent from social expectations, to live unburdened by convention, which made him a secular saint.
•Today, Thoreau is known far and wide across America. But this knowledge is hazy and is almost reluctantly remembered, much in the manner one remembers a long-forgotten cat that returns every now and then to mew in the attic of American intellectual life.
•Reading him in the month of his 200th birth anniversary, one can see what has attracted generations of readers and thinkers towards him. Thoreau emerges in our eyes as an archetype of independent thinking, a way to be free if only we had the strength and conviction to live life on our own terms.
•Schools with progressive curricula now teach their students excerpts from Walden . Whether high schoolers see in his life a quest for authentic living or merely self-indulgence is hard to tell. Over the past 200 years, however, not everybody has been welcoming of Thoreau or his influence. In early 20th century, the great jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes offered his curmudgeonly assessment that Thoreau was “[a] nullifier of civilization, who insisted on nibbling his asparagus at the wrong end”. In the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy, who wasn’t averse to seeing windmills for dragons, got a textbook of American literature proscribed from government-funded libraries because it contained Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience. The children, the Senator presumably feared, might learn to defy family, society and government in the name of their conscience. Today, it is fashionable in many quarters to indict Thoreau as a humourless misanthrope whose mother supposedly did his laundry!
•Few took Thoreau’s fierce commitments with an unyielding earnestness as much as Mahatma Gandhi did. As per Gandhi, Thoreau’s ‘civil disobedience’ “contained the essence of his political philosophy” A few decades later, Martin Luther King Jr. summarised Thoreau’s ideas on civil disobedience even more succinctly: “The basic aim was to refuse to cooperate with an evil system.”
•These history-changing admirers and students of his words notwithstanding, Thoreau’s loci of investigation, the site of transformative possibilities, remained the individual. Society, unlike for his contemporary Karl Marx, mattered to Thoreau only insofar as it could be used as a tool to aid the individual’s fullness of being. To this end, Thoreau’s life was dedicated towards improving his own mind and morals.
•He did so by the studying an astonishing variety of books, through an investigation of nature around him, and by understanding his own ethical commitments. All three aspects took inspiration from the religious literatures of the East, particularly India. Thanks to his neighbour and friend, the great writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau discovered the Bhagavad Gita and Samkhya Karika . These texts prodded an already sensitive young man towards a contemplative and observation-filled way of living.
•Thoreau’s willingness to see himself as a devotee of Nature’s omnipotence led him to oppose two key forces of his times: one, the expansionist instincts of America’s nascent industrial powers, and two, the overbearing omnipresence of the Christian church. The former led him to till the soil for the saplings of the anti-capitalist, deep-ecology movements that would sprout nearly a century later with Rachel Carson. As for the Church and its claims, Thoreau had little use for it.
•Nature was the one true God he worshipped and his own writings and sweat in its service were one true offering. Thoreau’s life was dedicated to discovering the world as it truly was — a world of sensations and sentiments shorn of ornament, machines, or even history. He, like the rest of us, probably didn’t succeed. But, his efforts teach us that if we wish to witness this unconcealment, a small hut by a lake can contain the world itself. We only need to learn to see it.
The exchange game
Maybe we should learn to admire and celebrate this so-called corruption in all its multi-hued glory
•Perhaps we have to start looking at ourselves a bit differently as a nation and a society. As any therapist will tell you, it helps a lot when you lose your delusions about yourself, see yourself in a different light, and start to register and process how other people see you. It’s only when you recognise your own problems and patterns that you can start to address them, to move away a bit from the internal distress those tics and traits, that repetitive behaviour, can cause. There is, of course, no ‘complete cure’ for one’s neuroses but there can at least be an attenuation, the reaching of a place from where you can manage and contain the problems.
The economy of power
•In this regard, I keep remembering something a friend pointed out many years ago. Though armed with a cosmopolitan education and a fully internationalised mind, this friend comes from a solidly rural, agricultural area and one day he asked me a simple question: “Why does everybody have a problem with corruption?”
•A slightly shocked laugh escaped me. “What? What do you mean? Corruption is bad. It rots our systems. It unfairly props up the rich and powerful. It forces the poor to stay poor, uneducated and subservient.”
•My friend was unmoved by this series of banalities. “No, I mean why do we even call it corruption? In the village, you trade and barter lots of things outside the official money economy and this thing, what we call corruption, is just our politicians and officials enacting our core nature, which is to trade whatever you have for maximum advantage. So, if you’re in a position of power, it’s completely natural that you will trade that power for some profit. This is who Indians are. It’s in your nature, whether you’re a village havaldar , a district collector, a judge in chhota court or big court, Chief Minister or Prime Minister. Other societies like tennis or badminton, we’re addicted to the thrill of the exchange game.”
•As I spluttered, my friend carried on. “And what is this strange notion the British established of corruption being bad? They founded their whole empire on the deepest corruption and then they made it illegal for us to be corrupt? Why? They leveraged what they had to gain an entire subcontinent and then to manage their little jagir they changed the rules! Why should we, as an independent country, pay any attention to their false laws and restrictions? We needed to create our own economy of power and we have. Of course it’s unfair to the poor but that’s the way life is, everywhere in the world.”
•The landscape changes depending on where you’re standing. The more you change your survey points, the better you understand a terrain. Similarly, when looking at yourself, you need to change your vantage point from time to time. So, it’s possible to look at our seventy years of Independence as a series of succeeding corruptions, or, if you like, a series of asymmetrical exchange games between different centres of power.
•Maybe we should say to ourselves: “Our nation is comprised of a million ongoing corruptions, some dying, others being born, like the cells of a human body, and that’s actually alright.” Maybe if we accept this, we wouldn’t feel so bad when this scam or that scandal is brought to light.
Shrug and carry on?
•Maybe we would just shrug and carry on, without undue guilt or self-loathing. “Oh? That billionaire got an unfair tax break for so many trillion rupees? Big deal. Happens. Chalo, aagey badho .” “ Achcha , so that Chief Minister’s name is in some bribe payment diary for so many crores? So? Big deal. What’s the cricket score?”
•Another useful shift would be that we widen the meaning of the word ‘corruption’ well beyond the narrow usage implying hera-pheri with money or land or some kind of wealth. People can also be corrupt in terms of political or religious power, without necessarily accumulating the trappings of dhan-daulat. Maybe what churns someone’s engine is not a flashy watch or fine clothes or a loaded Swiss bank account, maybe what really makes them ecstatic is watching a whole State or even a whole nation of 1.3 billion dance to their tune, jump up and down as their whims decree. Maybe that’s a thrill that money just can’t buy, or let’s say it’s one that can’t be bought only with money. Maybe partly fuelling that spiking pleasure is the knowledge that you have dealt, exchanged, lied and laughed and leveraged your way to the top of the ladder against all odds.
•Maybe we should learn to admire and celebrate this so-called corruption in all its multi-hued glory. Maybe we should study it and appreciate it fully, because this corrupt power addiction can rule over us in all sorts of guises, today using the name of Ram, tomorrow perhaps Ramrod in military fatigues, the day after under some red AK-47 flag, and the day after that under some snake-oil brand from the ‘Free Market’. Rather than fake yoga or Cow Urine Studies, maybe this is what our universities should be teaching.
Taking it in one’s stride
•Maybe we should be coaching our children in this art, pointing out the U-turns of our leaders with gasps of pleasure the way other societies point to great footballers changing direction and dribbling past opponents. Maybe we should learn to recognise and love the fact that we are a nation of conniving, duplicitous, double-dealing, back-stabbing, principle-free, ethics- mukt liars.
All lined up on the shelf
How you organise your books is both a deception and a revelation
•With summer drawing to a close, and holiday reading hopefully done, an item on most to-do lists is likely to be organising (or reorganising) our bookshelves, perhaps even whittling down our collections to fit on our limited shelf space. And since most of us hopefully are not given to tidying guru Marie Kondo’s drill, the reorganisation amounts to revisiting vital questions about our reading selves.
•For the record, here’s Kondo’s diktat from her bestselling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up : put all your books on the floor, pick up each in your hands one by one, and see “whether or not it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it”, and thereupon decide whether you want to keep it or not. I don’t mean to be judgmental, but I don’t know any reader who would find this remotely convincing.
Composing one’s self
•A more useful, and enormously thought-provoking, guide is Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books by Leah Price, a professor of English literature at Harvard. “To compose a bookshelf is to compose a self,” she writes in the introduction, and seeks out 13 writers to tease out clues about the self they expose through the organisation of their bookshelves. The result, captured along with lavish photographs in this 2011 publication, is an invitation variously to pry voyeuristically into these writers’ shelf space, to form a profile of their deliberative selves, and to pick up lines of questioning to interrogate ourselves.
•For instance, she asks the writer and critic Lev Grossman, “What proportion of the books that you read do you own — and what proportion of the books that you own have you read?” He doesn’t keep books that he knows he will never read, he tells her, while reckoning he’s read a “high proportion” of the books he does have. Novelist Junot Diaz, however, sets the bar rather more high. Everything he owns, he says, will eventually be read, adding: “But naturally I buy more than I can read, so there is always a hundred-book margin between what I own and what I’ve read. What is cool is that I’ve caught up a couple of times…”
•Which books on his shelves has he not allowed her to photograph, Price asks James Wood, novelist and book critic at The New Yorker . “I have a separate bookshelf for ‘unread books I want to read sometime soon,’” he replies, touching on the guilt many of us have that makes us hoard unread books in unseeable spaces.
•On a dilemma most readers or book owners have, he preaches a “generous selfishness”: do not lend a book to a friend, just give it, as “you will never get it back”. And, on another question that divides readers, he owns up not just to writing extensively in his books but also to dog-earing. Grossman may cite his book-reviewing commitments while admitting to scribbling even in first editions, but Wood says he writes notes, to-do lists, emails and phone numbers in the endpapers.
•His wife, Claire Messud, whose novels include The Emperor’s Children , is more ambivalent about owning books, likening her tendency in midlife to accumulate books to the smoker’s two-packs-a-day habit, one that is best broken for one’s well-being. She says: “At one time, collecting books that were my own, feeling I had my own intellectual and literary trajectory visible before me, seemed necessary and meaningful.” While sorting through one’s books and reading lists, this is an appraisal readers often forget about, to examine the arc of one’s life so far and identify the stretches when reading has mattered inordinately more.
•With novelist Gary Shteyngart, Price brings up another subject that divides readers: the smell of books. Shteyngart is “big on sniffing books”, saying the old Soviet ones remind him of “tomato soup in a cheap Soviet cafeteria”. (He was born in Leningrad.)
•There is, of course, a faint suspicion of being witness to a well-considered performance as these writers run through their organising principles for their libraries, their rough-and-ready tips on giving, receiving, lending books, their neat lists of their top 10 books, their capsules of their reading evolution. Ask a friend or the next person at the checkout desk at your library about any of this, and chances are the answer will not come in such a coherent whole. But then that is the biggest deception, isn’t it, to think that one’s reading self can be so cohesively profiled? So, as Kondo suggests, do put all your books on the floor — but only to place them right back on the shelves to find not how each gives you a thrill, but how the process of reassembling helps you know yourself a bit more.
A new mission for Mr. Modi
India’s drinking water crisis is nearing flashpoint
•I wouldn’t be surprised if Prime Minister Narendra Modi feels that he is running out of things to do at the moment. After all, the economy is ticking along nicely, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) has been rolled out, the Nifty has crossed the 10,000-point mark, Uttar Pradesh is won, Bihar is done and dusted, Rajya Sabha majority is pretty much in the bag and even the Gujarat wobble seems like getting sorted before the next election there. So, what next?
•He might want to turn his attention to a problem which tends to get ignored by policymakers and planners in general, and disappears from the political radar with the first sign of good rains — water.
•The problem is underfoot, literally, and hence out of mind. India is running out of water resources — principally groundwater resources — at an alarming rate. According to a recent study by the American Geophysical Union, the upper Ganges basin — home to more than half of India’s population — could run out of groundwater resources by 2050.
Wastage of rainwater
•It is not as if this is because India doesn’t get enough rain. India’s average annual rainfall is over 1,100 mm. But studies estimate that of the total available water, more than a quarter is lost to just evaporation and run-off losses. Less than a fifth of the rainwater actually gets used — nearly half simply flows out to the sea. The infrastructure to trap and conserve this rainwater either doesn’t exist or is so poorly maintained that capacities are usually a third to a half more than what is actually available.
•With growing urbanisation putting an ever-increasing pressure on the already creaky infrastructure, the problem is fast getting out of hand. According to statistics tabled by the Urban Development Ministry, in India’s six largest cities, water supply ranges from a low of half an hour per day in Hyderabad to a high of nine hours per day in Kolkata. But due to ramshackle infrastructure, most of this is lost in leakage. Consumption is still pretty low — averaging between 78 to 116 litres per capita per day. At least 22 of India’s 32 biggest cities face acute water shortage, with Jamshedpur, with a demand-supply gap of 70%, being the worst hit.
•With civic administrations failing to deliver, private enterprise has stepped in. Tanker supply has taken the place of piped water supply. And since almost all of this tanker water is tapped from groundwater sources, this has meant tremendous strain on groundwater resources. India extracts an estimated 257 cubic km of water from the ground every year — more than the U.S. and China combined.
•In peri-urban India, this has meant an alarming drop in water tables. In south India, which has perennially battled weak monsoons and consequent water shortages, an explosion of groundwater extraction has driven the water deeper into the ground, with nearly 30% of available groundwater accessible only at depths of more than 60 metres. In Chennai, for instance, where over 100 million litres of water per day is sourced by the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply Board, the city’s water utility, from farms and deep borewells, this is leading to rising conflict between urban and peri-urban and rural populations over water, with farmers from areas surrounding Chennai taking to the streets in protest.
•Meanwhile, policies lag behind by decades. The biggest thrust of governments remains on developing surface irrigation infrastructure, despite the known inefficiencies of this system. In unlined irrigation canals, the loss through seepage and evaporation is 40% — and this is before the water even reaches the field. And, in the field, most Indian farmers still prefer traditional watering systems of full flooding or border or furrow flooding, where another 40% of the water gets lost. In fact, though India nominally uses 83% of available water for irrigation and only 5% for domestic consumption, infrastructure issues and usage inefficiencies mean that both urban and rural water consumers face acute shortages, and see each other as the villains.
•The solution is simple. We need a two-pronged approach to solving our water crisis. One, we need to change our focus away from building more inefficient large dams and wasteful irrigation projects and towards conserving the rainfall bounty we get through rainwater harvesting techniques.
•Two, we need to improve efficiencies in agriculture. A mere 10% improvement in irrigation efficiency can solve the drinking water problem of our cities. And the technology is already available. Micro and drip irrigation, with the help of sensor-based technologies, can raise efficiency in water usage to up to 90%. Along with this, we need to rationalise water pricing. Water is badly mispriced in India, with neither the agricultural, industrial or urban consumers paying anything like a realistic price for water.
•This is where the Prime Minister comes into the picture. Only he has the ability to sell a grand vision, the political muscle to cut through differences between the Centre and the States and the focus to actually deliver outcomes in a finite time frame. And this needs to be done in mission mode. Now.
England’s mental health experiment
Sparks global interest in its goal of a primary care system for all of Britain
•England is in the midst of a unique national experiment, the world’s most ambitious effort to treat depression, anxiety and other common mental illnesses.
•The rapidly growing initiative, which has got little publicity outside the country, offers virtually open-ended talk therapy free of charge at clinics throughout the country: in remote farming villages, industrial suburbs, isolated immigrant communities and high-end enclaves. The goal is to eventually create a system of primary care for mental health not just for England but for all of Britain.
•At a time when many nations are debating large-scale reforms to mental health care, researchers and policymakers are looking hard at England’s experience, sizing up both its popularity and its limitations. Mental health-care systems vary widely across the Western world, but none has gone nearly so far to provide open-ended access to talk therapies backed by hard evidence. Experts say the English programme is the first broad real-world test of treatments that have been studied mostly in carefully controlled lab conditions.
•The demand in the first several years has been so strong it has strained the programme’s resources. According to the latest figures, the programme now screens nearly 1 million people a year, and the number of adults in England who have recently received some mental health treatment has jumped to 1 in 3 from 1 in 4 and is expected to continue to grow.
•Mental health professionals also say the programme has gone a long way to shrink the stigma of psychotherapy in a nation culturally steeped in stoicism.
•“You now actually hear young people say, ‘I might go and get some therapy for this,’” said Dr. Tim Kendall, clinical director for mental health for the National Health Service. “You’d never, ever hear people in this country say that out in public before.”
•A recent widely shared video of three popular royals — Prince William, Prince Harry and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge — discussing the importance of mental health care and the princes’ struggles after their mother’s death is another sign of the country’s growing openness about treatment.
What data shows
•The enormous amount of data collected through the programme has shown the importance of a quick response after a person’s initial call and of a triage-like screening system in deciding a course of treatment. It will potentially help researchers and policymakers around the world to determine which reforms can work — and which most likely will not.
•“It’s not just that they’re enhancing access to care, but that they’re being accountable for the care that’s delivered,” said Karen Cohen, chief executive of the Canadian Psychological Association, which has been advocating a similar system in Canada. “That is what makes the effort so innovative and extraordinary.”
•The programme began in 2008, with $40 million from Gordon Brown’s Labour government. It set up 35 clinics covering about one-fifth of England and trained 1,000 working therapists, social workers, graduates in psychology and others.
•The programme has continued to expand through three governments, both ideologically left and right leaning, with a current budget of about $500 million that is expected to double over the coming few years.
•Patients also do simple, real-world experiments, to see if feared consequences materialise.
•The biggest challenges may be those created by runaway demand. Therapists are booked solid; some are juggling 25 clients at a time, and the line to get in the door is long, creating the same complaints about waiting lists that the National Health Service has for many medical services and procedures.NYT
Indian IT supports 4.5 lakh RCEP jobs
The sector, however, faces issues due to curbs on movement of professionals for short-term work
•Indian IT-Business Process Management (BPM) sector is supporting close to half a million jobs in 15 Asia-Pacific nations that are in negotiations for a mega-regional Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
•This is in addition to the sector accounting for 3.5 million jobs in India — which is also part of the proposed mega FTA, officially known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) involving, thereby, a total of 16 Asia-Pacific countries.
•However, the Indian IT-BPM industry — despite supporting so many jobs and investing billions of (U.S.) dollars in the RCEP region – has been facing a host of problems, including restrictions on movement of professionals for short-term work, according to industry body Nasscom.
•This was stated by Nasscom in a presentation made by its senior director (global trade development), Gagan Sabharwal on July 25 before a gathering of the RCEP industry groups. The trade negotiators were later shown some highlights of the presentation.
•The RCEP technical-level negotiations were held during July 18-28 in Hyderabad, where India made a strong pitch for liberalisation of services, including norms to ease temporary movement of professionals across borders.
•The Nasscom presentation showed the Indian IT-BPM sector supported 4.54 lakh jobs in 15 RCEP countries (excluding India) and made investments worth “several thousand millions of (U.S.) dollars across the (RCEP) region.”
•Of the 4.54 lakh jobs, 1.72 lakh (or about 38%) were direct jobs while 2.82 lakh (or about 62%) were indirect jobs.
•Nasscom, however, pointed out the Indian IT-BPM sector was subjected to several restrictions in the RCEP region on temporary movement of professionals.
•These included trouble in getting visas (Singapore), increase in minimum salary levels for foreign short-term workers (Singapore and Australia), mandatory police clearances and hike in visa costs (Australia), lack of country-wide validity of visas (China), job quotas (Indonesia), requirement of legalised marriage certificates (Philippines).
•It further said the “irritants” for business visa travellers included the requirement of minimum bank balance (Philippines), very short-duration single entry visas (China), requirement of original invite letter with certificate of incorporation of the invitee (Japan), mandatory work permit for stay of over 15 days (Indonesia).
•On the suggestions from the Indian IT-BPM industry regarding the broad contours of an “RCEP Services Visa / Work Permit’, Nasscom said visa or work permit should be given to skilled resources for short duration (up to 3-5 years) for all intra-company related movement. There should be time-bound fast-track immigration clearance and easier expat registration, it said.
•There should be no conditions including caps, quotas, levies and charges, it said, and argued against onerous measures such as certifications from end-consumer.
•Also, there should not be any requirement of contribution to the host social security regime if the applicant shows proof of continuing association with the home country regime, the apex body said.
IGIB researchers rein in cancer cells
Controlling the level of telomerase can probably prevent cancer metastasis
•Researchers at Delhi’s CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB) have found the mechanism by which controlling the levels of telomerase can help in reining in the growth of cancer cells and probably prevent cancer metastasis. The results were published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
•Unlike normal cells, most cancer cells have high levels of telomerase and this leads to more than normal length of the telomere. Telomeres protect chromosome ends somewhat like the plastic clips at the end of shoelaces that prevent fraying of the ends. While cells die when the telomere becomes shorter beyond a certain limit, in the case of cancer cells the length of the telomere is maintained thereby ensuring extended life span of the cells.
•In normal cells the telomerase is kept under tight control. But in about 85% of all cancers the telomerase levels are more than normal leading to malignant transformation and aggressive metastasis in many cases. “It is not clearly understood how telomerase is kept under tight control in normal cells and how the telomerase levels gets increased in cancerous cells,” says Dr. Shantanu Chowdhury from the Genomics and Molecular Medicine Unit at IGIB and the corresponding author of the paper.
•It is already known that when the amount of a particular protein that suppresses the spread of cancer (metastasis) called nonmetastatic 2 (NME2) is high the tendency of the cancer to spread is low. But what came as a surprise is the role of this protein in controlling the telomerase levels as well. “How NME2 controls metastasis is not clearly understood. But surprisingly we found that NME2 controls the levels of telomerase,” Dr. Chowdhury says.
•The researchers found that NME2 binds to a DNA structure (G-quadrauplex) found in the telomerase promoter. Once bound, the NME2 facilitates a well known suppressor of gene expression (REST complex) to bind to the telomerase promoter and control the production of telomerase.
•“Experiments show that if you don’t have NME2 then the REST suppressor cannot bind to the telomerase promoter and control the production of telomerase,” says Dhurjhoti Saha from IGIB and one of the first authors of the paper.
•“We used proteomics approach to study the protein-protein interactions. We could identify protein members of the REST complex that interact with NME2. The IGIB team then confirmed the role of the REST complex and its function,” says Dr. Ramesh Ummanni, from the Centre for Chemical Biology at the CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (CSIR-IICT), Hyderabad and a co-author of the paper.
•“We established that the DNA structure (G-quadrauplex) could be a possible drug target once we understood the mechanism of NME2 binding to the promoter followed by the REST suppressor complex,” Dr. Chowdhury says. The involvement of a DNA structural architecture allowed the team to use small molecules that recognised the specific structure.
•Since the amount of NME2 is low in many metastatic cancerous cells, the researchers used small molecules that were able to function like NME2 by recognising and binding to the DNA structure. “We screened 20 molecules and 11 were able to bring down the telomerase level in fibrosarcoma cancer cells,” Dr. Chowdhury says.
•Based on the initial lead from the small molecules, the researchers are planning to synthesise new molecules to optimise for drug-like characteristics for therapeutic use. The molecules will then be tested on animals.
J.D. Hooker, Indian plants and the unexplored Himalayas
We should pause and reflect on the current status of the documentation of India’s amazing plant wealth
•Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, one of the greatest explorers of the nineteenth century, and the closest friend of Charles Darwin, was 32 years old when, in 1849, he visited the then remote kingdom of Sikkim in the Eastern Himalaya. Over a two-year period, he travelled widely in the Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya and described over 3,000 species of plants for the tiny state of Sikkim, 7,096 square kilometre in size.
•After Hooker returned to England he went on to write, over a 25-year period, the seven-volume Flora of the British India —the first and still the only authoritative account of the plants of the vast sub-continent. June 30, this year, marked Hooker’s 200th birth anniversary.
•While celebrating the bicentenary of Hooker’s birth and his enormous contribution to the documentation of biodiversity in one of the hottest global hotspots of biodiversity, we should pause and reflect on the current status of the documentation of India’s amazing plant wealth, the pace of global environmental change that is impacting this plant wealth, and the prospects for sustainability in the Himalaya, particularly the Eastern Himalaya, where Hooker conducted his most notable studies that led to the compilation of the flora of a vast region.
•It is questionable if the pace of cataloguing life in India or South Asia has advanced very much since Hooker’s time. The descriptions of many plant genera on which Hooker worked still remain incomplete. Hooker, for example, wrote to Charles Darwin about the taxonomic status of Impatiens: “I took down the most difficult genus of Indian plants I could think of to work at:—viz. Impatiens of which there are just 100 Indian species! I have made the first draft of a monograph of them…” (J.D. Hooker to Charles Darwin, December 2, 1857: https://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-DAR-00104-00178/3). Since the pioneering work of Hooker, species of Impatiens from the entire Himalaya or India have not been fully catalogued.
•Hooker’s exploration of the Indian sub-continent was very limited. He could visit only a small part of the huge sub-continent. In present-day India alone, the genus Impatiens, for example, is now known to contain more than twice the 100 or so species estimated by Hooker: the British India at the time of Hooker included Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. New species of Impatiens from the Himalaya are being described every now and then. Thus, further work is necessary to fully document India’s incredible diversity of plants, especially from the unexplored regions of the Eastern Himalaya.
•It is interesting that Hooker single-handedly organised the effort to write the flora of a sub-continent, extraordinarily rich in species. British India at Hooker’s time perhaps had more than 25,000 species of flowering plants. Hooker described about 16,000 of these species. With modern digital and other tools, and a sound infrastructure for field work that Hooker could not dream of, Indian scientists have a great opportunity to complete Hooker’s unfinished task, and to produce a complete, modern authenticated list of India’s plants.
•The neglect of plant exploration in India, particularly in the Eastern Himalaya, where Hooker began his professional career, is ironic. The Eastern Himalaya, along with Hengduan Mountains, matches the Andes that include the lowlands of South America, as among the world’s richest centres of plant diversity. There are thousands of economically important species, many such as rhododendrons, orchids, poppies, primroses and, of course, Hooker’s balsams (Impatiens) of immense horticultural significance. Many species remain to be discovered: despite the lack of systematic exploration, from 1998 to 2014, according to the World Wildlife Fund, India, 375 species of new plants were discovered in the Indian part of the Eastern Himalaya.
•At the same time, the Himalaya is changing rapidly. When Hooker visited Darjeeling and Sikkim, he writes in his Himalayan Journals that he could see dense forests all around him. These forests now exist as a patchwork of fragments, and are threatened by a host of factors such as expanding populations, infrastructure development (roads and hydropower) and climate change.
•There is thus an urgent need to conserve remaining biodiversity and the associated ecosystem services, particularly in the light of a recent report about the world wide “annihilation” of the biological world, also termed as the sixth mass extinction. Our country, for instance, has lost more than 50% of the populations of many of our large mammals.
•This decimation of life is particularly ironic when many species are yet to be discovered, and when the evidence is mounting that nature provides us with a host of economic benefits that we had not thought of before. Take for example a recent, widely publicised, study that shows that economic flows from six selected tiger reserves range from US$128 million to US$271 million per year.
•A commitment to fully document the richness and the value of life in the Himalaya for the benefit of our society might be the best way to celebrate the birth anniversary of one of the greatest plant explorers of the world.
•Kamal Bawa is Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and the President of the Bengaluru-based Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE). R Ganesan is a Fellow at ATREE. The views expressed are their own.
Tackling obesity in mice
•A study published in Cell identified two new populations of cells in the brain that regulate appetite and may help develop drugs to treat obesity by controlling hunger signals.
•Researchers located through whole-brain imaging, the two types of cells in a part of the brainstem called the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) that becomes activated in hungry mice.
•Subsequent imaging of other mice that were fed more than their normal amount of food, until they were full, revealed a different pattern of DRN activity. These results indicated that neurons in that part of the brain played a role in feeding behaviour.
•They then determined which of the neurons were involved.
•Genetic analysis of the activated cells showed that the neurons triggered by a full belly released glutamate, while the neurons triggered by hunger released a different neurotransmitter, known as GABA.
•Researchers were able to turn on the glutamate-releasing cells in obese mice. This suppressed the animals’ food intake and made them lose weight. It also confirmed that the DRN neurons turned on by hunger did indeed drive food intake.
•Similarly, flipping on the GABA-releasing neurons in the same part of the brain had the opposite effect and increased food intake.
•Turning on the “hunger neurons” automatically turned off the “satiety neurons,” maximising the effect, researchers said.
A device to test infants’ field of vision
Accurate quantification now possible
•An advanced device to measure the field of vision of infants has been developed by scientists at L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad. The device, named pediatric perimeter, can be used to test the eyesight of infants between two and 12 months. Currently, there is no specific perimeter device to measure the field of vision in infants. As a result, most of the eye defects arising during infancy get detected only in adulthood.
•The pediatric perimeter helps to measure the area of vision and also the reaction time of infants. The innovation was recently published in Translational Vision Science and Technology.
•Most doctors and optometrists use a crude way of assessing visual fields by bringing bright toys from the side of the eye to the centre and see if the infant is attracted.
•While there is no accurate quantification when such methods are employed, the use of pediatric perimeter addresses this shortcoming. Besides infants, the device can also be used on patients with special needs where testing using conventional perimeters is not possible.
•The device consists of a hemispherical dome fitted with LEDs in all directions which are controlled using a computer program. The infant is placed inside the dome in the lying down position. The baby’s eye and head movements when the LED is switched on randomly are monitored by an infrared camera mounted on the top of the dome. The test takes only 6-10 minutes .The reaction time (time taken for the infant to look at the LED after it is switched on) measured helps identifying infants with developmental delay — healthy infants react within 380 milliseconds and those with developmental delay took 663 milliseconds.
•To measure the area of vision, the LED was switched along the dome starting from the left and right sides to the centre, and also from front to back. The infants gaze was monitored by the camera and the degree of eye movements along with the reaction time was calculated to identify visual field defects. Many neurological factors can cause impairments in the vision of an infant.
•The device was validated using adults with normal vision and those with glaucoma and retinal defects.
•“The device is the result of collaborative effort of optometrists, ophthalmologists, engineers and designers from all over the world at Srujana Center for Innovation at the institute,” says Mr. Koteswararao Chillakala, Embedded Systems Engineer from the Srujana Centre for Innovation at L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad in an e-mail to The Hindu.
•“Few patients with squint eye realise their visual field defect only when they come for cosmetic correction. It is therefore essential to test infants and address their visual defects as early as possible,” explains Dr. PremNandhini Satgunam, Associate Research Optometrist at L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad.