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Fitch downgraded Japan’s sovereign-debt rating to A+, as its politicians squabbled about passing a rise in the sales tax.Japan’s public debt is forecast to rise to 239% of GDP by the end of 2012. Japan’s economy is the third largest in the world by GDP.
Rattled by a deepening economic crisis, Spain has, for all practical purposes, nationalised the parent company of Bankia, which is struggling with massive property loans. The Spanish government is expected to inject more funds directly into Bankia and to insist that other banks set aside around euro 35 billion ($45 billion) in fresh provisions.
Scott Thompson resigned as chief executive of Yahoo! amid a ruckus over his academic credentials (company records mistakenly show that he holds a degree in computer science). He was replaced by Ross Levinsohn as interim CEO and Fred Amoroso as chairman of its board.
Argentina has announced that it would expropriate and nationalise 51% of YPF, the former state oil company now controlled by Spain’s Repsol. Repsol demanded U.S.$10.5 billion in compensation, which the government says it will not pay.Spain promised to retaliate, warning of economic and diplomatic “consequences”. Spain currently buys some U.S.$1 billion a year of Argentine biofuels.
Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, has acquired Pfizer’s baby-food business for U.S.$11.9 billion. With about 85% of the unit’s sales coming from emerging markets (like India), the key idea behind the purchase is to secure Nestlé’s position in countries with lots of babies.
Vodafone has acquired Cable & Wireless, a British telecoms company which dates back to the 1860s, for £1 billion (U.S.$1.6 billion). Vodafone is the world’s biggest telecoms company by revenue.
General Awareness Updates – June 2012 and July 2012
SpaceX, a private company, successfully docked its Dragon spacecraft with the International Space Station 390km (240 miles) above the Earth, ushering in a new era in transporting space cargo. Set up by Elon Musk, an internet entrepreneur, SpaceX is under contract with NASA to begin shuttling supplies to the ISS, and also has orders on its books from governments and businesses to launch satellites.
The Rajya Sabha has passed two key bills to enable students of Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research get their degrees and give 8 new Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) their status through an Act of Parliament.
The Institutes of Technology (Amendment) Bill, 2011, already passed by the Lok Sabha, seeks to set up eight new Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) in Bhubaneshwar, Gandhinagar, Hyderabad, Indore, Jodhpur, Mandi, Patna, and Ropar and integrate the Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University, within the ambit of the Act. All these institutions shall be declared institutions of national importance as per amended Act.
The National Institutes of Technology (Amendment) Bill, 2010, also passed by the Lok Sabha, declares certain institutions of technology as institutions of national importance and seeks to add the five Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (established in Kolkata, Pune, Mohali, Bhopal, and Thiruvananthapuram) as institutions of national importance. It also specifies the members of Board of Governors of each institute and establish a Council for all Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research.
India successfully launched into orbit a microwave Radar Imaging Satellite (Risat-1) from the spaceport in Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, around 80 km from Chennai.
The indigenous Risat-1, with a life span of five years, would be used for disaster prediction and agriculture forestry and the high resolution pictures and microwave imaging could also be used for defence purposes as it can look through the clouds and fog.
The rocket – Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle C19 (PSLV-C19) – standing 44.5 metres tall and weighing 321 tons and with a one-way ticket, hurtled towards the skies ferrying the 1,858 kg Risat-1 after unshackling itself from launch pad No.1.
General Awareness Updates – June 2012 and July 2012
The Sethusamudram Project: Science vs Faith
It is a fact that any democratic government will always have the opposition breathing down its neck. The opposition is considered to be the government’s worst enemy. While this may be true, it is equally true that, sometimes, the government is its own worst enemy. The recent imbroglio over the construction of the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal has only lent credence to the fact that when it comes to matters of faith, one should always tread with the greatest caution.
In an affidavit filed with the Supreme Court, the UPA government swore that the Ramayana and its characters are subjects of mythology and have no basis in reality. A direct logical conclusion from such a statement is that the government, in a legal document, has denied the existence of Lord Rama and dismissed him as a mythical hero.
For the creation of such a dangerous situation, the government has none but itself to blame. In matters of faith, discretion is the better part of appeasement. Today, critics of the project say that the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal will destroy the centuries-old Ram Sethu, the bridge constructed by the devoted followers of Lord Rama, connecting Rameswaram (on Tamil Nadu coast) and Sri Lanka.
Against the backdrop of the controversy over it, let me focus on the basic details of the project.
The Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP) is the single largest dredging project ever undertaken in the Indian port sector. The mega project was launched by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in Madurai in June 2005. Ever since it was first announced in 1955, the project has been mired in controversy.
The Sethusamudram project involves the dredging of the sandstone on two stretches along the 167 km channel linking the Gulf of Mannar with the Palk Strait. The primary objective of the Sethusamudram project is to link the east and west coasts of the country.
In other words, the project intends to link the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait by creating a shipping canal cutting through Rameswaram Island. This would create a continuous navigable route between the east and west coasts of India. At present, ships have to circumnavigate around the island of Sri Lanka to reach either coast
The existing water channel is shallow and not enough in terms of depth and width to allow the smooth passage of ships. The main reason for this is the Adam’s Bridge (also called Ram Sethu), a reef located south-east of Rameswaram nearPambam Island. The proposed Sethusamudram channel will cut across this area.
The channel would have a depth of 12 km and a width of 300 metres for two-way ship traffic. Experts estimate that over 80 million cubic metres of sea bed will be dredged for the smooth passage of ships through the narrow channel.
The project is estimated to cost `2,427 crore. To raise funds and implement the project through Tuticorin Port Trust (TPT), the Central Government has floated a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), Sethusamudram Corporation Limited. The Government’s equity in the SPV will be `495 crore. The SPV will have debt-equity ratio of 1.5:1. This debt-equity ratio is lower than the norm for most SPVs, which is 2:1.
Some economic benefits of the project are:
- The project will, for the first time, provide a continuous route within Indian waters.
- Once the project is complete, it would reduce the distance between the two coasts by 424 nautical miles (780 km), thereby reducing the time taken to cross the entire
stretch by a little over 30 hours.
- This would also lead to considerable savings in fuel cost.
- Also, the project would boost maritime trade, which in turn would increase the revenue of the numerous ports - major, medium, and minor - that dot the coastline. All
this, experts say, would boost the local economy.
- Once the project is complete, it is estimated that ships of 20,000 or 40,000 DWT will be able to navigate through the channel connecting the Palk Straits and the Gulf
Benefits to Tuticorin Port
The major beneficiary of this project stands to be Tuticorin port located in southeast Tamil Nadu. The strategic location of this major port could help it become an important container destination as it lies mid-way between vital east and west transshipment lines.
The port has the advantage of being located centrally on the international trade route connecting Europe and the Middle East on one side and the Asia-Pacific region on the other. As of now, transshipment of containers takes place at Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka. In this respect, Tuticorin could replace Colombo as a transshipment hub.
Also, the port of Tuticorin is shielded from rough weather throughout the year owing to the presence of Sri Lanka on the east and the stretch of the mainland on the north. The untapped potential of the port in terms of growth of trade and transport, revenue generation, employment generation, defence needs, etc., would come to the fore once the Sethusamudram project is completed.
Defence analysts say that the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project would provide a vital base for India to become theIndian Ocean’s predominant naval power. They believe that the project would help India strengthen its naval presence in the Indian Ocean rim. Also, it would help India safeguard the merchant shipping lines in an area that is close to one of the most dangerous merchant shipping channels, notorious for its presence of pirates.
Damage to environment
The project is not without its critics, however, with environmentalists leading the brigade. The environmentalists are worried about the impact of the dredging project on marine life in the ecologically sensitive channel. They say an economically unviable and ecologically disastrous project is being pushed through without the necessary environmental clearances.
Environmentalists argue that the sea off the Adam’s Bridge is home to one of the world’s richest biosphere reserves, with about 3600 types of marine life, including some 400 endangered species. They say that this huge project would lead to depletion of the fish population, which could, in turn, seriously impact the livelihood of thousands of fishermen on the Tamil Nadu coastline. Fearing such a disaster, fishermen have now joined hands with the environmentalists.
In fact, the inauguration of the opening ceremony was boycotted by the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalithaa. She claimed that the Central Government had turned a Nelson’s Eye to environmental concerns raised by her. She also cried foul that the project would endanger the livelihood of several thousand fishermen. Many experts believe that the project will provide jobs to only a few thousand while 3.5 lakh fishermen will lose their livelihood.
Tsunami computer simulation models by leading international experts, including Prof. Steven N. Ward of University ofCalifornia, have described graphically the way the tsunami waves attacked Palk Bay on 26 December, 2004. It is against all this background that the international tsunami expert Prof. Tad S. Murty chose to warn the Prime Minister’s Office in January 2005, about the possible negative and dangerous impact of SSCP during the times of future tsunamis.
Observations of the NEERI
To address the environmental concerns raised by various groups, the Government of India asked the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) to carry out an Environment Impact Assessment report, which the latter submitted in May 2004 (before the tsunami struck on December 26, 2004).
- Due to dredging the bottom, flora and fauna on an area about 6 sq. km along the channel alignment in Adam’s Bridge and about 16-17 sq. km. in Palk Bay / Palk Strait
area will be lost permanently. This loss, however, will be insignificant compared to the total area of 10,500 sq. km of theGulf of Mannar Marine Biosphere Reserve.
- During the construction and operation of the channel, the potential sources of marine pollution are spillage of oil and grease, marine litter, jetsam and floatsam
including plastic bags, discarded articles of human use from the sea-borne vessels which will have to be controlled.
- The channel may facilitate the movement of fishes and other biota from the Bay of Bengal to the Indian Ocean and vice versa. Thereby, the entry of oceanic and alien
species into the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar, as also the dispersal of endemic species outside the Palk Bay and theGulf of Mannar could occur.
- Due to the construction of infrastructure on the island, the land access, now available to the local fisherfolk to Dhanushkody area for traditional fishing, will be hindered
unless alternative arrangements are made. The dredging and shipping operations will have to be so regulated as to cause minimum disturbance to the normal fishing