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5 THINGS FIRST

PM Modi to meet heads of banks, NBFCs; 5 Rafale jets to arrive at Ambala air base; BSP to move Rajasthan HC over merger of six MLAs with Congress; CEOs of Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook to testify before US House antitrust subcommittee; International Tiger Day

1. A politics of letters in Rajasthan
  • The other letter: The Rajasthan state cabinet responded to Governor Kalraj Mishra’s letter on Monday by sending a revised letter seeking the convening of the assembly on July 31. Incidentally, that is the same date as mentioned in its earlier letter which Mishra had rejected, asking the cabinet to clarify the reason for convening the assembly and whether they indeed were seeking to prove their majority in the house, as reported in the media. That point — whether the party was seeking a vote of confidence or not — has not been mentioned even in the second letter, according to a PTI report quoting official sources.
  • Different party, same headache: There’s a difference of just one letter between the BJP and the BSP, but that didn’t diminish Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot’s troubles as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is expected to file a plea today in the Rajasthan high court against the merger of its six MLAs into the Congress last year, as reported by ANI. In September 2019, all the six MLAs who were elected on a BSP ticket in Rajasthan had taken an ‘independent’ decision to merge the legislature party with the Congress. BSP leader Maywati, naturally incensed, had called the Congress “untrustworthy” as also anti-SC, anti-ST and anti-OBC. That explains the whip issued by the party to its MLAs to vote against the Congress in the trust vote.
  • Proxy war: Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi hit back at the BSP, terming the party the “undeclared spokespersons of the BJP”. Gandhi also termed BSP’s whip to its MLAs a “clean chit to those who murder democracy and the Constitution”. Mayawati, making no bones about the fact that this was vendetta politics, said that the party was “looking for the opportune time to teach Gehlot a lesson”. The contentious merger had in fact boosted the Congress’ strength in the assembly from 100 to 106 in the 200-member house. This is also not the first time BSP MLAs in Rajasthan have merged with the Congress — in 2009 too, when Gehlot was CM, all six BSP MLAs then had joined the Congress in a hung assembly, getting ministerial berths in return. Unlike now, when the BJP-led NDA is in power at the Centre, at that time the Congress-led UPA was in power at the Centre.
2. China claims disengagement, voices in China denounce “smear campaign”
2. China claims disengagement, voices in China denounce “smear campaign”
  • China says: The frontline troops of India and China have “disengaged in most localities” and the situation on the ground is “de-escalating and the temperature is coming down”, China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said so in response to a question by Global Times, China’s state-run publication. India did not offer an immediate response to the claims.
  • But… verification by Indian troops had shown People’s Liberation Army troops were still occupying lands which India claims at Depsang Plains, Gogra-Hot Springs and Pangong Tso. China watchers say talks of de-escalation are in line within China’s strategy of “two steps forward one step back”.
  • China’s voices: As if on cue, Liu Zongyi of the Research Center for China-South Asia Cooperation at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, a Beijing-affiliated think tank, in an opinion piece on Global Times denounced “New Delhi hasn’t stopped its China smear campaign” despite the “de-escalation of border tensions”. Liu blamed everyone from Rahul Gandhi to “extreme Hindu nationalist positions” to media to Washington for India’s growing anti-China sentiments even as he reiterated “China’s firm will to safeguard territorial integrity”.
  • Also, Huawei Tuesday told Global Times it will continue to “work closely with all customers in India”. “Our India operations and resources, backed by robust local talent, are designed to meet any customer requirements,” said Huawei. The Economic Times had earlier reported that the telecom gear giant had slashed its revenue forecast in India for the year by nearly 50%, as pressure mounts on private telecom companies to avoid or replace Huawei equipment in their networks. Huawei is on the verge of losing business from Bharti Airtel in the Rest of Tamil Nadu circle to Ericsson, having already lost the Rajasthan circle late last year, ET reports. This, coupled with the uncertainty over future orders, had forced the company to lay off at least half of its workforce in India, the report said.
3. Look what Covid-19 and pollution did to you and India
3. Look what Covid-19 and pollution did to you and India
  • The annual report of how many years of our life expectancy have been lost due to air pollution is now out and it turns out, we have lost more than a year in the last one year, in our average life expectancy. If in 2019, the average Indian was living 4 years, 3 months and 18 days less than he/she was eligible to — as per the average life expectancy — that loss has now widened to 5 years, 2 months and 12 days, according to the latest report of the Air Quality Life Index Annual Update.
  • The situation has deteriorated further for people living in northern India, as their life expectancy has shortened by 7 years in 2019 to 8 years now — affecting 24.8 crore people, including those living in the megacities of Delhi and Kolkata. That is more than four times greater than the average life expectancy loss of 1 year, 10 months and 24 days for the entire world. India, along with Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan, has seen a 44% rise in particulate pollution in the last 20 odd years — in fact, had the pollution levels remained the same as they were in 1998, the loss in life expectancy for Indians would have been just 3 years, 2 months and 12 days.
    Lost years
  • Another report, brought out by the UN, gave a glimpse of just how beneficial the Covid-19 induced lockdown had been for the environment. It found that levels of nitrogen dioxide fell by over 70% in Delhi during the lockdown period — this is pertinent since India has emerged as a ‘global hot spot’ for nitrogen pollution, largely due to use of nitrogenous fertilisers, which account for 77% of India’s agricultural nitrogen oxide emissions. While nitrogen in itself is not harmful — it’s the largest component of earth’s atmosphere — its reactive forms such as nitrates, ammonia and oxides, are extremely harmful, being labelled as greenhouse gases.
4. Cases cross 1.5 million, last 500,000 in 12 days
4. Cases cross 1.5 million, last 500,000 in 12 days
  • India’s Covid-19 caseload went past the 1.5 million mark on Tuesday, with the last 500,000 cases having come in just 12 days, even as the country reported its second-biggest jump in infections and the highest death toll of 781 in a single day.
  • After showing a dip on Monday, fresh cases again rose to 49,292 on Tuesday, the second-highest daily count after more than 50,000 infections were reported on Sunday, according to data collated from state governments. Deaths recorded during the day went past the previous single-day high of 757 on July 24.
  • India’s coronavirus caseload is the third highest in the world after the US (4.46 million) and Brazil (2.45 million). Russia has the fourth largest count of cases at 823,515, per the Worldometers website. (All figures as on 0000 IST, July 29)
  • For the first time in several weeks, Maharashtra did not register the highest daily cases in the country. It was dislodged by Andhra Pradesh, where 7,948 Covid-19 fresh infections were recorded on Tuesday, higher than Maharashtra’s 7,717.
  • Fresh infections surged in the country although just three states — Karnataka (5,536 new cases), Kerala (1,167) and Punjab (612) — recorded their highest single-day jump in cases. Fresh cases in Maharashtra, which had dropped by nearly 1,500 to 7,924 on Monday, dipped further.
  • However, several other big states reported fresh cases close to their highest yet, with Tamil Nadu detecting 6,972 infections, Uttar Pradesh (3,490), Bihar (2,480), Bengal (2,134) and Assam (1,348).
  • Now, the Centre has asked ICMR to evaluate the accuracy of rapid antigen testing through mathematical modelling and analyse if the proportion of false negatives is substantially high. “This has to be assessed on samples from across the country. If there are concerns, they need redressal. Once it is done , we can be assured that our numbers are correct,” a senior official told TOI.
  • And in a positive sign for the economy shrugging off a long period of lockdown and depressed growth due to the pandemic, Indian Railways’ total freight loading on Monday was little higher than the freight loaded a year ago. The figures are good news for the national transporter, as passenger traffic remains low with people avoiding anything apart from essential travel and the need for business-related commuting also down.

Virus

NEWS IN CLUES
5. Malayan, Indochinese and Amur are all subspecies of which animal?
  • Clue 1: It is the third-largest carnivore on land, after the polar bear and brown bear.
  • Clue 2: The largest cat species in the world, at full speed it can reach up to 65 km/hr.
  • Clue 3: In the Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Life of Pi, the animal is stranded in a lifeboat with the story’s protagonist.

Scroll below for answer

6. Nepal’s ruling party clutches at straws to avoid a split
6. Nepal's ruling party clutches at straws to avoid a split
  • A meeting: A majority of the members of Nepal Communist Party’s Standing Committee met on Tuesday amid differences with Prime Minister and party’s co-chairperson KP Sharma Oli. The meeting, though, was not official as Oli’s faction once again tried to postpone the proceedings; the Standing Committee meeting had been postponed six times before. 29 of the 44 members of the Committee attended the meeting called by Oli’s rival and co-chairperson Pushpa Kamal ‘Prachanda’ Dahal, who has been demanding Oli’s resignation as PM and as the party’s co-chairperson.
  • A split? Political observers say the continued rift between Oli and Dahal could lead to the split of the NCP. On Tuesday, Oli reportedly said Dahal’s faction can “do whatever” they want, and refused to budge from his position, reports Kathmandu Post. A senior member of the Oli cabinet said in a tweet: “A disaster is imminent. Let’s exercise restraint. Let’s talk”. Oli had earlier threatened to stitch together a coalition with other legislators — possibly with the support of opposition Nepali Congress — if forced to step down.
  • A formula: Kathmandu-based My Republica reports vice chairperson of the NCP, Bam Dev Gautam, has put forward a six-point agenda as a middle path to avoid a split in the party. The proposal would allow Oli to continue as the PM until the remaining term of the House and as the co-chairperson of the party until a unity general body meeting is held by mid-December. But Dahal would be empowered with the executive powers as the co-chairperson of the party.
  • Note: Under Oli, Nepal had taken a distinctively more assertive stance against New Delhi, and pushed through the parliament a constitutional amendment that redrew the Nepalese map to include Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura — areas which India controls and claims.
7. 500 up for Broad!
7. 500 up for Broad!
Courtesy: England Cricket

On Tuesday, Stuart Broad became the seventh bowler, and only the fourth pacer, to join the very exclusive club of 500-plus wicket-takers in Test cricket. The 34-year-old fast bowler removed Kraigg Brathwaite on the fifth day of the third Test against West Indies at Old Trafford to follow team-mate James Anderson (who’s also featuring in the match and had, incidentally, dismissed Braithwaite for his 500th in 2017) in reaching the landmark.

  • Courtney Walsh, West Indies (2001)
  • Shane Warne, Australia (2004)
  • Muttiah Muralitharan, Sri Lanka (2004)
  • Glenn McGrath, Australia (2005)
  • Anil Kumble, India (2006)
  • James Anderson, England (2017)
  • Stuart Broad, England (2020)

Now, of the seven bowlers in the 500+ club, he is the second-youngest to the mark at 34 years and 32 days. Only Muralitharan was younger when he got there (31 years, 334 days). However, Broad is the slowest in joining the club as he took 140 Tests to claim his 500th wicket. Muralitharan is the fastest taking just 87 Tests for his 500th scalp. Following him are Kumble (105 Tests), Warne (108 Tests), McGrath (110 Tests), Anderson/Walsh (129 Tests).

With a resounding 269-run win on Tuesday, England also won the three-match Test series 2-1. And not only did Broad pick up the Player of the Match award for his efforts (match figures of 10/67) but was also adjudged England’s Player of the Series. He finished as their highest wicket-taker in the series, with 16, despite sitting out the first Test. His career haul of 501 wickets now comprise 18 five-wicket hauls in Tests and three 10-wicket hauls, with his best figures of 8/15 coming against Australia in the 4th Ashes Test at Trent Bridge in 2015.

So who’s been Broad’s ‘bunny’? He has dismissed four batsmen at least ten times: Warner (12), Clarke (11), de Villiers (10) and Taylor (10). Among Broad’s contemporaries, no other bowler has dismissed more than two batsmen at least 10 times.

8. Who wants to be an engineer?
8. Who wants to be an engineer?
  • Fewer colleges: 179 professional colleges, including engineering institutes and business schools, have shut down during this academic year (2020-21). That’s the highest number of technical institutions closing in the last nine years. At least 134 other institutes did not seek approval from the technical education regulator, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), due to many seats lying vacant over the last 5 years and another 44 could not get approval, or had their approvals withdrawn due to punitive action.
College 1

  • Vanishing seats: Admission in technical institutions will be carried out for 30,86,022 seats this year instead of 32,85,018 last year, nearly 2 lakh fewer seats. About 1.09 lakh seats approved by AICTE have been reduced in pharmacy and architecture institutions alone. Over 69,000 seats in 762 colleges have been reduced due to reduction in intake or closure of a course or division.
  • Not all gone: According to AICTE, the main reason for a bulk of seat reductions is a Supreme Court judgment and not the pandemic or lack of students. According to the judgment, the approval for setting up architecture and pharmacy colleges, will now be given by ‘Council of Architecture’ and ‘Pharmacy Council of India’ respectively instead of the AICTE from this academic year. This has led to many such colleges withdrawing their affiliation and approval from AICTE resulting in bulk reduction of seats.
  • More coming too: The AICTE has also granted approval to 164 new institutes for the 2020-21 academic season, adding up to 39,000 seats. Over 1,200 institutions have sought the regulator’s approval for increasing intake in different courses, which would add more than 1 lakh seats. The AICTE had earlier announced that it would not approve any new engineering college for two years due to lack of demand.
9. Malaysia’s former PM gets 12-year jail term in corruption trial
9. Malaysia’s former PM gets 12-year jail term in corruption trial
  • Guilty: A Malaysian court on Tuesday sentenced former Prime Minister Najib Razak to 12 years imprisonment after finding him guilty of all seven charges in the corruption trial over the multi-billion 1MDB investment fund scandal. Najib said he will appeal; he is facing at least two other related trials.
  • The case: Shortly after taking office in 2009, Najib set up an investment fund named 1MDB to ostensibly accelerate Malaysia’s economic development. But the fund accumulated billions in debt, and the US Department of Justice alleged that at least $4.5 billion was stolen from it and laundered by Najib’s associates to buy hotels, a luxury yacht, artwork, jewellery and finance Hollywood films, including… The Wolf of Wall Street. More than $700 million from the fund allegedly landed in Najib’s bank accounts. One of the key accused in the case, Jho Low, is absconding.
  • Goldman deal: The corruption case also raised serious questions on the role of Goldman Sachs, which arranged the bond sales that raised $6.5 billion for the investment fund, collecting an unusually high $600 million in fees in 2012 and 2013. Goldman last week reached a $3.9 billion settlement with the new Malaysian government. Goldman is also close to a settlement with the US Justice Department, Bloomberg recently reported. The case was seen as the biggest threat to the bank’s business since the 2008 financial crisis. The bank has blamed “rogue employees” for the scandal. Goldman’s former Southeast Asia chairman Tim Leissner had pleaded guilty to the US charges in 2018.
  • The politics: Najib’s conviction came just five months after a new government took power. In the 2018 election, a coalition of Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim had stormed to power in the wake of the scandal — the country’s first change of government since its independence. But the uneasy alliance between Mahathir and Anwar did not last, and this March, Muhyiddin Yassin — a member of Mahathir’s party — was sworn in as the new PM, backed by the United Malays National Organization, the party that was ousted from power in 2018.
BEFORE YOU GO
10. Doshi makes it to Booker longlist
10. Doshi makes it to Booker longlist
  • Indian-origin author Avni Doshi’s debut novel Burnt Sugar — released in India as Girl in White Cotton — has made it to the Booker Prize longlist for 2020. It’s the debut novel for the 1982-born US citizen. She was born in New Jersey and now lives in Dubai, according to her website, and has a B.A. in Art History from Barnard College in New York and a Masters in History of Art from the University College London.
  • According to The Booker Prizes, which announced the long list on Tuesday, “This is a love story and it is a story about betrayal. But not between lovers — between mother and daughter”. And the story goes: In her youth, Tara was wild. She abandoned her loveless marriage to join an ashram, endured a brief stint as a beggar (mostly to spite her affluent parents), and spent years chasing after a dishevelled, homeless ‘artist’ — all with her young child Antara in tow. Now she is forgetting things, mixing up her maid’s wages and leaving the gas on all night, and her grown-up daughter is faced with the task of caring for a woman who never cared for her.
  • There are a total of 13 books on the Booker longlist, including the conclusion of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy — The Mirror and the Light. Both the other books in the series — Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies — won Mantel the Booker in the past.
  • The shortlist of six books will be announced on September 15, with the winner being announced in November. The winner will receive £50,000 (Rs 48.2 lakh), while the shortlisted authors each receive £2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book.

The Booker longlist’s here.

Answer to NEWS IN CLUES
Untitled (10)

Tiger. The Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand is the reserve with the most number of tigers in India, home to 231 of the 2,967 country’s big cats. This according to the Status of Tigers, Copredators & Prey in India report released by Union forest and environment minister Prakash Javadekar on Tuesday, a day ahead of International Tiger Day. Corbett’s tiger count has been rising — from 137 in 2006 to 174 in 2010 and 215 in 2014. Among states, Madhya Pradesh topped the tiger estimation, with 526 (it had 308 last time), going past Karnataka (524 this time, 406 earlier). However, Mizoram’s Dampa reserve and Bengal’s Buxa lost the 6 tigers they had between them.

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Written by: Rakesh Rai, Judhajit Basu, Sumil Sudhakaran, Tejeesh N.S. Behl
Research: Rajesh Sharma

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