Researched by: Rachel John, Nirmal Bhansali, Aarthi Ramnath & Anannya Parekh
Delhi is under water
The rising Yamuna hit a record 208.66 metres—as its waters flooded into the city. Among the areas affected: Red Fort, Kashmere Gate, Civil Lines, Rajghat and ITO. The reasons for the flooding include record levels of rainfall—but also poor maintenance. For example, gates of a key water barrage were jammed with silt—and unable to release water downstream. Flood waters have affected water treatment plants—some of which had to be shut down. Schools are closed—and people have been asked to work from home. Meteorologists predict light to moderate rain in the capital—but heavier rainfall upstream in places like Himachal Pradesh. You can see how bad it was below. Mint has more vids. (The Hindu)
Shameful assault on Pune principal: The latest update
The context: The principal of DY Patil High School—Alexander Coates Reid—was assaulted by parents accompanied by Hindutva party workers. His alleged crimes: forcing children to recite the Lord’s Prayer—and installing CCTV cameras in the girls bathroom.
What happened now: The police have now concluded that there is zero evidence for either allegation. Worse, the parents who lodged the complaint have recanted their claims about Christian ‘brainwashing’. One of them says she was mainly upset at the rude attitude of the authorities—and rumours about the CCTV camera. But she has no explanation as to how the Bajrang Dal got involved. The NewsLaundry report shows just how shamefully easy it is to target someone on trumped up allegations today.
A mass grave in Sudan
The context: Sudan has been in a civil war since April due to a power struggle between two generals—Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti). Hemedti is supported by a notorious militia known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The clashes have killed over 3,000 people and wounded over 6,000 others. We explained the situation in Sudan in this Big Story.
What happened now: At least 87 people have been found buried in a mass grave in West Darfur. The UN is pointing its finger at the RSF—which has strongly denied any responsibility. Why this is frightening: back in 2003, more than 300,000 people were killed in what amounted to ethnic cleansing. Meanwhile, Egypt is hosting a regional summit to broker peace between the two sides. (Al Jazeera)
The government’s GST-happy spree
The Goods and Services Tax Council has been announcing a flurry of tax increases—making everyone happy. Example: a 28% tax on all types of online gaming. Its latest announcement takes aim at your snacks at the movie theatre. If you buy your nibbles in advance while booking your ticket, get ready to pay 18% in tax. But if you’re willing to stand in line at the movie hall, the tax is only 5%. The excellent logic at work:
When bought together, it is treated as a composite supply and the principal supply there is watching the movie, or giving access to the cinema hall, which is chargeable at 18% tax. Food happens to be incidental, and billing is done in a consolidated way. But if you just buy the cinema ticket for entry, and purchase food subsequently, it will not be billed with the ticket, and you will pay 5%.
Similarly, sandesh will be taxed at 5%—but get ready to pay the higher 18% rate if you’re in the mood for a “luxury” like kulfi.
As for cars: The GST went up for “multi-utility vehicles (MUVs) with a minimum length of four metres, an engine size of at least 1,500cc, or a ground clearance exceeding 170 mm.” What this means: most popular makes such as Maruti Suzuki Ertiga, Grand Vitara, Toyota Hyryder, Maruti Suzuki Invicto, Toyota Hycross, Kia Carens etc will become more expensive.
Data point to note: The government has published “more than 900 notifications and over 1,100 circulars and orders since GST was rolled out in 2017. This means the GST law has been amended more than 900 times in five years.” Mint slams the perverse incentives of GST tax rates.
WHO’s mixed messages on aspartame
The WHO released its awaited verdict on aspartame—and it was exactly as predicted. Its cancer research wing classified the artificial sweetener as a “possible” carcinogen. It cited a “possible link” between aspartame and a type of liver cancer called hepatocellular carcinoma—and said it requires more research. But as we explained in this Big Story, contrary to popular belief, a classification as a “possible carcinogen” shows that the link between the sweetener and cancer is weak—and still unproven.
Also this: A separate WHO committee announced that it will not be changing its recommended daily allowance for the sweetener. It will remain 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight—which for most adults means drinking less than nine to 14 cans of diet soda every day. In other words, we had a whole lot of fuss over nothing. (CNBC)
Pakistan gets a big bailout
In the midst of a severe economic crisis—worsened by catastrophic floods—the country was on the brink of defaulting on its debts. The government has been negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package—which was threatened by political instability (see: Imran Khan). Happily, the IMF has now approved a $3 billion lifeline—which comes on the heels of $2 billion in aid from Saudi Arabia. But the government is not out of the woods yet:
Mr Sharif's coalition government, which is due to face a national election this year, still has to make major spending cuts to meet the conditions of the bailout. The cost of living has been soaring in Pakistan. The official annual rate of inflation currently stands at almost 30%.
BBC News has more details.
UN warning about global hunger
A new report says 735 million people worldwide faced chronic hunger in 2022—that’s 122 million more people than in 2019. Instead of ending hunger by 2030—which is a key UN goal—the report projects that 600 million people will be undernourished in that year. Quote to note: "We are seeing that hunger is stabilising at a high level, which is bad news." The rise is not uniform across the world. Hunger has declined in South America and most regions in Asia—but is rising in the Caribbean, Western Asia, and Africa. (Reuters)
Bard just got an upgrade!
Google’s AI chatbot can now speak to you—and respond to visual prompts—i.e images:
In a blog post, Google is positioning Bard’s spoken responses as a helpful way to “correct pronunciation of a word or listen to a poem or script.” You’ll be able to hear spoken responses by entering a prompt and selecting the sound icon. Spoken responses will be available in more than 40 languages and are live now, according to Google.
It isn’t clear what it can do with images except maybe helping you caption them—maybe create a meme? (The Verge)
Move over orcas, here come cranky otters!
Marine life is increasingly in a bad mood. First came reports of killer whales attacking boats off the coasts of Portugal and Spain. Now a California sea otter—called 841—is riding and chewing on surfboards. Sounds cute but this is actually aggressive behaviour targeting humans. Experts think this behaviour could be due to hormonal surges or being fed by humans. The plan is to find and examine the otter before finding her a long-term home. You can see 841 in action below. (The Guardian)