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Posted at: May 13, 2018, 12:06 AM; last updated: May 13, 2018, 12:06 AM (IST)

Is Royal family really ‘worth it’?

POTPOURRI

PRINCE Harry will marry Meghan Markle in the St George Chapel of Windsor Castle on May 19. The cost of the wedding itself — the food, the Ralph & Russo Couture dress, etc. — will be picked by the Royal family.

But the security costs have been estimated at more than £20m (over Rs 182 crore). And that will be borne by public. Yet the wedding might also attract additional tourists from abroad, whose expenditure will help defray some of those public costs.

Which leaves us with the perennial questions: How much money do we spend on the British monarchy? Is the Royal family really “worth it”?

Direct funding to meet the monarchy’s official expenditure is through the “Sovereign Grant”. In 2016-17, the Sovereign Grant was £42.8m, rising to £76m in 2017-18. 

This does not include the security costs of looking after the family. One republican pressure group has estimated the actual annual public cost of the monarchy closer to £350m (Rs 3,200 crore).

The money goes into the funding of their official duties — opening buildings, hosting garden parties, travelling, etc.

The Queen, Prince Charles and other members of the Royal family have private incomes too from their estates and financial assets. A sum of money called “The Privy Purse” goes to the Queen as revenue from a landed estate called the Duchy of Lancaster. This was £19.1m in 2016-17.

The Queen has paid income and capital gains tax since 1992 on her private income. Prince Charles has also paid tax on his income from another landed estate, the Duchy of Cornwall, since 1993.

In 2016-17 that estate yielded him revenue of £22.5m, on which he paid tax of £4.76m.

But the situation is complicated. The majority of Prince Charles’ official duties are financed from the Duchy’s income, which also covers the costs of official duties of Camilla, William and Kate and Harry. All the “working royals” in Charles’ direct family also get some revenues from the Sovereign Grant too.

And what financial benefits do the royals bring? VisitBritain reckons that tourism linked to royal residences such as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle adds up to 2.7 million visitors a year.

Brand Finance, a consultancy, estimated in 2017 that the monarchy’s annual contribution to the UK economy to be around £1.8bn, drawing in an additional £550m of tourism revenues a year, and an increase in trade worth £150m a year.

It’s certainly more than the higher estimates of the Royal family’s costs to the public purse, but it’s important to put those numbers in context.

Climate change doubters

Belief in outlandish conspiracy theories goes hand-in-hand with rejection of climate change among Americans, according to a new study. Around 97 per cent of scientists believe climate change is real. Nevertheless, opposition to climate change has entered the mainstream in some nations, with the US perhaps the most prominent example.

Under Donald Trump, the US has withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement. Prof Matthew Hornsey and his colleagues at University Queensland set out to investigate the roots of this phenomenon in the US and elsewhere by looking at the relationships between belief in conspiracy theories and climate scepticism.

To do this, they determined people’s endorsement of four internationally recognised conspiracy theories on the subjects of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the existence of a New World Order and the deaths of John F Kennedy and Princess Diana.

Professor Hornsey was drawn to investigate this topic by the US President’s apparent endorsement of conspiracy theories surrounding the existence of climate change.

“The inspiration for this question was Donald Trump's tweet saying that climate science was a hoax created by the Chinese to make US manufacturing uncompetitive,” Professor Hornsey said.

In their paper, Professor Hornsey and his colleagues explain the most prominent conspiracy theory is that climate change is a hoax “perpetrated by scientists who see it as an opportunity to wield influence, secure funding or act out a green/Marxist agenda”.

Psychologists surveyed 5,323 people across 25 countries to determine their worldviews. “We found that the more Americans believed conspiracies generally, the more they also thought that climate change was a hoax,” said Professor Hornsey. “This relationship was not found in the vast majority of countries.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, revealed that while it may not be a totally American phenomenon, it is not far off.

Freed, but still bonded

India has not paid full compensation to anyone freed from bonded labour since introducing policies in 2016 to fight the crime, which included grants for rescued workers of up to Rs 300,000, officials said.

People freed from bondage are given Rs 20,000 soon afterwards, but the remaining compensation is paid only once the perpetrators are convicted.

Yet, there have only been a handful of convictions since 1976 when India banned bonded labour, said Onkar Sharma, deputy chief labour commissioner.

India announced an ambitious goal last year to rescue more than 18 million trapped in bonded labour by 2030. Campaigners say the plan is flawed in linking compensation to conviction.

“Court trials can go on for years,” said Nirmal Gorana, convener, National Campaign Committee for Eradication of Bonded Labour. “Who will you give compensation if the verdict comes after 15 years?”

Makhanlal Aharwal is one of those awaiting compensation if the man who sold him into slavery in New Delhi is convicted. He has his release certificate — a government document that entitles him to Rs 100,000, jobs and housing. But none of that has materialised yet.

About 18 million people in India are unpaid workers or held in debt bondage, according to the government. Until 2016, freed bonded workers were paid a total rehabilitation amount of Rs 20,000, which is now dispersed as an interim measure until the entire compensation can be paid.

However, campaigners say it has become harder to access even that amount since 2016.

Officials are reluctant to process bonded labour cases, worried over people making false claims, said Kandasamy Krishnan of the National Adivasi Solidarity Council.

According to labour ministry data, only 250 of the nearly 9,000 claims that it settled in the last two fiscal years were for interim relief under the new scheme.

Costa Rica decarbonised

Costa Rica’s President has announced a plan to ban fossil fuels and become the first fully decarbonised country in the world. Carlos Alvarado, a 38-year-old former journalist, made the announcement to a crowd of thousands during his inauguration on Wednesday. 

“Decarbonisation is the great task of our generation and Costa Rica must be one of the first countries in the world to accomplish it, if not the first,” Alvarado said. Symbolically, the president arrived at the ceremony in San Jose aboard a hydrogen-fuelled bus.

Last month, Alvarado said the Central American country would begin to implement a plan to end fossil fuel use in transport by 2021 — the 200th year of Costa Rican independence. 

“When we reach 200 years of independent life we will take Costa Rica forward and celebrate ... that we've removed gasoline and diesel from our transportation,” he promised.

—Sources: The Independent & Reuters

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