THE HINDU EDITORIAL – September 23, 2017

  1. a) Tax trauma

For a reform that was cracked up to be India’s biggest tax overhaul since Independence, the rollout of the goods and services tax is off to a less than-desirable start. Over 80 days after its introduction, the GST Network, its online backbone, is struggling to keep pace with the millions of invoices and returns being filed electronically by businesses across the country. The government has extended the deadline for filing GST returns for July, the first month of the GST era, twice. And Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has reiterated an appeal to taxpayers to not wait till the last day, to avoid burdening the GSTN. But even those filing returns well before the last date have struggled. It is clear that the network had not been fully tested for chinks before July. A ministerial group formed by the GST Council to resolve the GSTN’s glitches gave an assurance last Saturday that 80% of the problems would be fixed by the end of October. For a country that takes pride in its IT edge, this is a strange impasse. Critically, for an economy that is slowing down for multiple reasons, even more troublesome is the implication of these implementation stumbles for 85 lakh taxpayers now registered for GST. Exporters, for instance, have already alerted the Centre that the delayed timelines for ling GST returns (the last of which must be sent in by November 10) will mean that no refunds can be expected before mid November on input taxes paid in advance and the integrated GST levied on goods they imported. By their reckoning, as much as ₹65,000 crore of working capital will get blocked, cramping their ability to ramp up capacity and raw material procurement in time for festive season orders from around the world. Terming these as ‘wild’ estimates, the government has asserted that many exporters’ funds were blocked for five-six months even before the GST, even as it said a solution to speed up refunds is being worked out. Those producing only for the domestic market are no better off. Therefore, expectations of a rebound in manufacturing activity may be misplaced. Moreover, in contrast to the ₹95,000- crore GST collections recorded so far for July, about ₹65,000 crore has been claimed as transitional credit (that is, taxes paid on stock purchased before the GST). On Friday, the government clarified this is not ‘incredibly high’ as firms had outstanding credits of ₹1.27 lakh crore for central excise and service tax levies on June 30. Though the deadline to file the relevant return has been extended to October 31, initially only those who filed by September 28 were to be allowed to revise their credit claims. While revisions will be enabled from mid October, the tax department is already examining some of these credit claims, triggering unease among firms. Several revisions in deadlines, tax and cess rates, rules, clarifications and tweaks later, the GST regime is turning out to be neither simple nor friendly for taxpayers.

  1. b) From ocean to ozone, the limits of our planet

The population of vertebrate species on Earth in the wild saw a dramatic fall of about 30% between 1970 and 2006, with the worst effects being in the tropics and in freshwater ecosystems. Destruction of species’ habitats by pollutants and land-use change are obliterating flora and fauna at unprecedented rates. In fact, the ecological footprint of humanity — the natural habitats, such as water and land, transformed or destroyed as a result of human activity — far exceeds the biological capacity of the earth. In an attempt to understand the natural world, its relationships with human societies and limits, in 2009, Johan Rockström and others from the Stockholm Environment Institute described elements of the biophysical world that link us together. Often regarded as a “safe operating space for humanity”, these planetary boundaries include loss of biodiversity, land-use change, changes to nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, ocean acidification, atmospheric aerosols loading, ozone depletion, chemical production, freshwater use and, of course, climate change. In the course of 12,000 or so years after the last ice age, the Holocene epoch has offered a stable climate, a period of grace for humanity to grow and to flourish, with settlements, agriculture and, more recently, economic and population expansion. This epoch has since given way to the Anthropocene, the exact beginnings of which are debated, but which has led to over-reliance on fossil fuels, industrial agriculture, pollution in water, soils and air, loss of species and so on, which are devastating for many life forms and connected ecosystems throughout the planet.

Biophysical considerations

Many of these conditions respond in a non-linear manner to changes. This means, for instance, that ecosystems that are stressed by their exposure to pollutants may not recover once the pollutants are removed. Or, some systems may collapse precipitously under conditions referred to as thresholds. We understand many of these thresholds and how they interact with each other, but not all. When ecological thresholds or tipping points are crossed, significant large-scale changes may occur, such as breakdown of glaciers in Greenland and the Antarctica, the dieback of rainforests in the Amazon, or failure of the Indian monsoons. Since these boundaries interact with one another and cause changes across scales, crossing a threshold in one domain can speed up or undermine processes in another subsystem. For instance, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions increase ocean acidification, land-use change often increases GHG emissions, and increasing nitrogen and phosphorus deplete species biodiversity and freshwater resources and increase warming from climate change.

Boundaries and limits

According to Mr. Rockström and others, we are already at critical levels of concern for climate change, fresh water, species biodiversity and changes to nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, which are reaching tipping points. For example, GHG emissions have led to average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations being about 410 ppm. This is well above the 350 ppm level considered a ‘safe’ limit, and the earth is already about a degree Celsius warmer than average pre-industrial temperatures. Since publication of these studies by Mr. Rockstrom and others, there has been plenty of discussion, even strong disagreement, regarding the boundaries. Some scientists, such as Kate Raworth, have expanded them to reflect and include several social dimensions such as equity and gender justice that were subsequently placed in the centre of a schematic representation of the boundaries as a circle with a hole or as a doughnut. One may regard planetary boundaries as support systems for life on Earth or view them as expressing “carrying capacity” and defining “limits to growth”. The latter is a thesis that was originally published nearly half a century ago by the Club of Rome as a book in 1972. It described the situation we would find ourselves in with exponential population and economic growth. While the “limits to growth” argument was challenged for good analytical reasons, it still provided a lens through which to view the changing world of the 21st century. It also offered the idea of thinking about a system as a whole — systems thinking — not just as separate parts and feedback mechanisms as valuable processes in considering long-term change.

On sustainability

The idea of sustainability has been embedded in the human imagination for a very long time and is expressed through our ideas of nature, society, economy, environment and future generations. But it became formally a part of international agreements and discourse when it was recognised at the Earth Summit of 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. This systems view and the recognition of inter linkages among the social, environmental, and economic pillars of sustainability, and between biophysical planetary boundaries and social conditions, are essential to have a chance of keeping the world safe for future generations. It is telling that scholars who work on planetary boundaries regard climate change as one of the easiest to manage and contain. In thinking about these planetary limits then, researchers and policymakers should reflect on multiple systems and the linkages among them, and whether step-by-step or transformative changes must be considered to keep the planet safe for the future.


1) Cracked up    

Meaning: Suffer an emotional breakdown under pressure.

Example: I feel I’m cracking up, always on the verge of tears.

Synonyms: Control, Crumble

2) Overhaul

Meaning: Overtake (someone), especially in a sporting event.

Example: Jodami overhauled his chief rival.

Synonyms: Overtake, Outdistance

3) Reiterated

Meaning: say something again or a number of times, typically for emphasis or clarity.

Example: She reiterated that the government would remain steadfast in its support.

Synonyms: Repeat, Recapitulate

4) Chinks

Meaning: A narrow opening, typically one that admits light.

Example: A chink in the curtains.

Synonyms: Opening, Crack

5) Impasse

Meaning: A situation in which no progress is possible, especially because of disagreement; a deadlock.

Example: “the current political impasse”

Synonyms: Deadlock, Stalemate

6) Troublesome

Meaning: Causing difficulty or annoyance.

Example: Schools are removing troublesome pupils.

Synonyms: Annoying, Exasperating

Antonyms: Simple, Cooperative

7) Implication

Meaning: The conclusion that can be drawn from something although it is not explicitly stated.

Example: “the implication is that no one person at the bank is responsible”

Synonyms: Suggestion, Inference

Antonyms: Explicit statement.

8) Stumbles

Meaning: Make a mistake or repeated mistakes in speaking.

Example: “she stumbled over the words”

Synonyms: Stammer, Hesitate

9) Levied

Meaning: Impose (a tax, fee, or fine).

Example: “a tax of two per cent was levied on all cargoes”

Synonyms: Impose, Collect

10) Reckoning

Meaning: The action or process of calculating or estimating something; a person’s opinion or judgment.

Example: “the sixth, or by another reckoning eleventh, Earl of Mar”

Synonyms: Calculation, Evaluation

11) Cramping

Meaning: Inhibit the development of.

Example: “tighter rules will cramp economic growth”

Synonyms: Hamper, Constrain

12) Ramp up

Meaning: An increase in firm production ahead of anticipated increases in product demand.

Ramp up in the first sense often occurs when a company strikes a deal with a distributor, retailer, or producer, which will substantially increase product demand.

13) Asserted

Meaning: State a fact or belief confidently and forcefully.

Example: The company asserts that the cuts will not affect development.

Synonyms: Declare, Profess

14) Examining

Meaning: Test the knowledge or proficiency of (someone) by requiring them to answer questions or perform tasks.

Example: “the colleges set standards by examining candidates”

Synonyms: Test, Assess

15) Triggering

Meaning: Cause (an event or situation) to happen or exist.

Example: “an allergy can be triggered by stress or overwork”

Synonyms: Prompt, Precipitate

16) Vertebrate

Meaning: An animal of a large group distinguished by the possession of a backbone or spinal column, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes.

17) Dramatic

Meaning: Exciting or impressive.

Example: “he recalled his dramatic escape from the building”

Synonyms: Exciting, Starling

Antonyms: Boring, Unimpressive

18) Unprecedented

Meaning: Never done or known before.

Example: “the government took the unprecedented step of releasing confidential correspondence”

Synonyms: Unmatched, Unrivalled

Antonyms:  Normal, Common

19) Described

Meaning: Give a detailed account in words of.

Example: “he described his experiences in a letter to his parents”

Synonyms: Relate, Recount

20) Depletion

Meaning: Reduction in the number or quantity of something.

Example: “the depletion of the ozone layer”

Synonyms: Exhaustion, Expenditure

Antonyms: Augmentation

21) Epoch

Meaning: A particular period of time in history or a person’s life.

Example: “the Victorian epoch”

Synonyms: Era, Period

22) Flourish

Meaning: Develop rapidly and successfully.

Example: “the organization has continued to flourish”

Synonyms: Thrive, Prosper

Antonyms: Decline

23) Over-reliance

Meaning: Excessive dependence on or trust in someone or something.

Example: “an over-reliance on technology”

24) Devastating

Meaning: Highly destructive or damaging.

Example: “a devastating cyclone”

Synonyms: Destructive, Calamitous

25) Exposure

Meaning: The state of having no protection from something harmful.

Example: “the dangers posed by exposure to asbestos”

Synonyms: Submission, Subjection

26) Precipitously

Meaning: Very steeply.

Example: “off the coast, the depth of the sea floor drops precipitously”

27) Thresholds

Meaning: A point of entry or beginning.

Example: “she was on the threshold of a dazzling career”

Synonyms: Start, Beginning

Antonyms:  End

28) Undermine

Meaning: Lessen the effectiveness, power, or ability of, especially gradually or insidiously.

Example: “this could undermine years of hard work”

Synonyms: Subvert, Weaken

Antonyms: Enhance, Improve

29) Tipping

Meaning: Overbalance so as to fall or turn over.

Example: “the hay caught fire when the candle tipped over”

Synonyms: Overturn, Overbalance

Antonyms: Level, Right

30) Concentrations

Meaning: The action of strengthening a solution by the removal or reduction of the diluting agent or by the selective accumulation of atoms or molecules.

Example: “by concentration of cell contents and supercooling, frost-hardened plant tissues survive temperatures down to −10°C”

31) Schematic

Meaning: (of thought, ideas, etc.) simplistic or formulaic in character.

Example: “Freeman constructs a highly schematic reading of the play”

Synonyms: Over simple, Formulaic

32) Doughnut

Meaning: an act of driving a car so that either the front or back of the car spins around, producing a circular mark on the ground.

Example: They were showing off, trying to pull doughnuts.

33) Exponential

Meaning: (of an increase) becoming more and more rapid.

Example: “the social security budget was rising at an exponential rate”

34) Analytical

Meaning: Relating to or using analysis or logical reasoning.

Example: “a more analytical approach was needed”

Synonyms: Systematic, Logical

Antonyms: Unsystematic

35) Embedded

Meaning: Fix (an object) firmly and deeply in a surrounding mass.

Example: “he had an operation to remove a nail embedded in his chest”

Synonyms: Insert, Implant

36) Discourse

Meaning: A formal discussion of a topic in speech or writing.

Example: “a discourse on critical theory”

37) Recognition

Meaning: The action or process of recognizing or being recognized, in particular:

Example: “he stared at her, but there was no sign of recognition on his face”

Synonyms: Identification, Recollection

38) Sustainability

Meaning: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.

Example: “the sustainability of economic growth”

Synonyms: Ability, Deep

39) Planetary

Meaning: Relating or belonging to a planet or planets.

Example: “a planetary system”

40) Transformative

Meaning: Causing a marked change in someone or something.

Example: “the transformative power of technology”