1. Demolition of Maradu Buildings

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Environment & Biodiversity

The four high-rise luxury apartment complexes in Maradu municipality in Kochi, which violated Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notifications, were demolished on January 11 and 12 following a Supreme Court order.

What was the order of Supreme Court?

The apex court stated that these apartments had been built on the shores of Vembanad wetland, renowned for its rich biodiversity. The wetland is a part of the strictly restricted zone for construction under the provisions of the CRZ notifications, which aim to protect the ecology of the coast. Hence, the violations cannot be lightly condoned.

The illegal constructions in Maradu might have hindered the natural water flow of Vembanad and resulted in severe natural calamities such as floods, which Kerala witnessed in 2018.

What was the reaction of affected families?

Following the court order, residents, about 350 families, started to protest. Despite this, the court gave strict instructions to the State government to speed-up the demolition process.

After the court order, a house owner said, “We are innocent buyers who are frightened about losing our homes for no fault of ours”. The rising demand for waterfront apartments has encouraged many builders to violate norms and construct apartments on the banks of rivers and lakes. It is quite difficult to believe that builders and buyers were unaware of the legal norms they are supposed to obey.

Collusion among builders and officials

The crime branch found that the builders had constructed the apartments after conspiring with panchayat officials in 2006. According to the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority, constructions had taken place in critically vulnerable coastal areas which are notified as CRZ-III, where no construction should be permitted except repairs of authorised structures.

Builders and local body officials who supported the illegal constructions have been arrested. Builders’ bank accounts have been frozen and their properties confiscated. The court ordered that a compensation amount of ₹25 lakh be paid to to each household. The demolition costs should be paid by the builders to the government.

Cost of violations

The overall cost of violation is immeasurable.

  1. The house owners who lost their flats not only suffered financial losses but were also under mental pressure.
  2. There were major administrative challenges in demolishing the apartments. Expert consultations had to take place, the public needed to be made aware of what was happening and a safe demolition strategy had to be drawn up.
  3. Families in the neighbourhood were anxious about their life and property.
  4. The safety of public assets such as roads and bridges was also a concern.
  5. Besides, there were environmental costs of the demolition including air and noise pollution, contamination of the lake, and safe disposal of the debris.

If someone violates the law and constructs apartments in an ecologically sensitive zone, the removal of these buildings is the only solution; no heavy fine will fulfil the purpose of complying with the law.

The apex court order to demolish the Kapico Resorts, also located on the banks of the Vembanad Lake in Alappuzha, is another landmark judgment. There is no doubt that the Maradu incident will help builders guard against future violations.

Source: The Hindu

2. What is H9N2, which has infected an Indian child?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

Indian scientists have detected the country’s first case of infection with a rare variant of the virus that causes avian influenza or bird flu. A 17-month-old boy in Maharashtra has been infected with avian influenza A(H9N2) virus. What is this virus, and is there any cause for serious concern?

The A(H9N2) virus

H9N2 is a subtype of the influenza A virus, which causes human influenza as well as bird flu. The H9N2 subtype was isolated for the first time in Wisconsin, US in 1966 from turkey flocks.

According to the US National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), H9N2 viruses are found worldwide in wild birds and are endemic in poultry in many areas. However, they are somewhat neglected. According to a recent report, H9N2 viruses could potentially play a major role in the emergence of the next influenza pandemic.

Human infections are rare

H9N2 virus infections in humans are rare, but likely under-reported due to typically mild symptoms of the infections. Cases of human infection have been observed in Hong Kong, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Oman and Egypt.

The virus has, however, spread extensively among poultry populations. Surveillance for influenza viruses in poultry in Bangladesh during 2008-2011 found H9N2 virus to be the predominant subtype. The virus was also identified in poultry populations in surveillance studies in Myanmar during 2014-16 and Burkina Faso in 2017.

First case in India

The virus was picked up in February 2019 during a community-based surveillance study in 93 villages of Korku tribes in Melghat district of Maharashtra. Scientists were looking to determine the incidence of deaths associated with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) among children under age two. In the process, they identified A(H9N2) virus infection in one boy.

The child had fever, cough, breathlessness, and difficulty in feeding for two days after illness onset on January 31, 2019, and was fully immunised with treatment. The child was not exposed to poultry. A week before showing the symptoms, he had travelled with his parents to a religious gathering.

A call for surveillance

Scientists said H9N2 viruses have been observed in poultry in India several times. Now, identification of the first clinical human case of H9N2 virus infection highlights the importance of systemic surveillance in humans and animals to monitor this threat to human health.

Despite the low pathogenicity of this subtype, the continuing emergence of the virus in unpredicted region and now rise in number of human cases pose a pandemic threat and the need to adopt a multi sector approach.

Source: The Indian Express

3. How warm was 2019, and why?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Environment & Biodiversity

Recently, 2019 was declared as the second warmest year ever by the European weather agency’s Copernicus climate change programme. Only 2016 has been measured to be warmer.

Just two days earlier, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) had said 2019 was the seventh warmest year on record for India. With Australia witnessing perhaps the worst

spate of forest fires in its history, attributable to global warming, 2020 has started with a series of grim news on the climate change front.

How warm was 2019 globally?

The Copernicus programme, run by the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting, said the average annual global surface temperature in 2019 was 0.59°C higher than the average of the 30-year period 1981-2010, which is taken to be normal in current assessments. Compared to pre-industrial times, a reference to the 1850-1900 period, which is considered the baseline in climate change debates, 2019 was 1.2°C warmer. Within 2019, December clocked its own record. With temperatures 0.74°C above average, 2019 had the warmest December ever, alongside the 2015 December which was similarly warm.

Only 2016 has recorded marginally higher annual temperatures. That year was 0.63°C warmer than the 1981-2010 average. 2017 has been the third warmest year till now, with a temperature of 0.54°C above average.

Indication of hottest years

The extent of sea ice, both in the Arctic and the Antarctic, is often taken as an important indicator of the impact that global warming was causing. The Copernicus programme said the Antarctic sea ice extent was the third lowest ever in December 2019 since the start of satellite observations in 1979. The Antarctic sea ice extent was 9.3 million square km on an average, which was about 15% lower than the 1981-2010 average for the month. In the Arctic, the sea ice was 11.8 million square km, about 8% below the average. The lowest December sea ice near the Arctic was recorded in 2010 when it was 11% below the average.

India Warmer in last 100 Years

Source: IMD

What are the findings of the climate report on India?

The IMD, in its climate report for 2019, said India had warmed by 0.61°C in the last 100 years. The IMD maintains weather records since 1901. During last year, the annual mean surface air temperature averaged over the country was 0.36°C higher than the 1981-2010 average. For India too, 2016 has been the warmest ever, with temperatures 0.71°C above average. This is followed by 2009 (+0.541°C), 2017 (+0.539°C), 2010 (+0.54°C) and 2015 (+0.42°C).

Cold winters

Annual temperatures have remained high despite the winters being one of the coldest in recent decades. The winter season extending from November 2018 to February 2019 was

colder than average, globally. Meteorologists attributed it to be the effect of a phenomenon called the Arctic vortex. Generally, cold winds blow from west to east around the North Pole. But due to global warming, warming over the Poles happens at a faster rate than other regions on the globe. As a result, these cold westerly winds, which otherwise remain restricted to the North Pole, were disturbed and started blowing to southern latitudes of the northern hemisphere.

During the last winter season, these winds even reached India in the form of cold blasts. All of north India recorded severe cold that triggered snow avalanche in higher reaches. According to Met officials, snow avalanches are common in the years when there is very severe snowfall leading to huge amounts of snow accumulation.

Despite the cold winter, the annual average temperatures were way higher than normal, indicating the rest of the year was unusually warm. And it was indeed so. April 2019 was the seventh warmest April since 1901, with a mean monthly deviation of +0.77°C from the 1981-2010 average, June 2019 was the fourth warmest (+1.02°C), July 2019 was the warmest ever (+0.68°C), and November 2019 was the third warmest (+0.72°).

Why was India warmer in 2019?

Temperatures in India were in line with global trends in 2019. And though there could have been a variety of other local and regional reasons that contributed to the warming over India, scientists point out at least two that would have been responsible.

One of these was an El Niño that prevailed for a particularly long time. The other factor was the timing of the monsoon.

EL NIÑO: El Nino, the abnormal warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, was a low-intensity one in 2019, but its prevalence till July could have contributed to the warming, scientists said. Temperatures recorded during El Niño years and their subsequent years

have usually been higher than normal. This has been noticed all along the El El Niño years during 1951-2019.

El Niño years are warmer usually, as they interfere with the monsoon, make both summer and winter warmer than normal. In fact, the year could have been warmer had it not been for the two extreme cold months, recorded in January and December of 2019.

DELAYED MONSOON: A week-long delay in the onset of the southwest monsoon in June last year contributed to the season being the warmest ever. The rainfall gained momentum only from August and continued to linger on till mid-October.

This delay, coupled with less rainfall recorded during June and July, led to a further increase in the season’s average temperature. The June to September monsoon season saw a record warming in 119 years. The average seasonal temperature was +0.58°C higher than

normal. This, despite the season producing excess rainfall, ending with 109 per cent of the Long Period Average.

Source: The Indian Express

4. Esmail Qaani: His role in Quds Force, and task as Qassem Soleimani successor

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; IOBR

Following the killing of top Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has chosen General

Esmail Qaani to replace Soleimani as the head of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Khamenei overlooked several first-generation IRGC commanders such as Gholam Ali Rashid and Mohammed Kowsari. He instead chose Soleimani’s long-time friend and number two in the Quds Force.

For the sake of continuity

When Soleimani was appointed chief of the Quds Force, he brought Qaani as his deputy and they worked together for the last two decades.

Like Soleimani, Qaani too is close to Khamenei. The news agency IRNA quoted Khamenei as saying that under Qaani’s command “Quds Force will remain unchanged”. Qaani, for his part, promised to move ahead “with the same force” (as Soleimani) and seek to end US military presence in the Middle East.

What is Quds Force?

The Quds Force is an elite wing of IRGC that reports only to Khamenei. While IRGC’s responsibilities include Iran’s ballistic missile programme, its naval forces including units that keep tabs on US presence around Iranian waters, and Basij which is a voluntary force tasked with internal security, its Quds Force wing functions as the foreign arm of Iran’s security apparatus.

Under Soleimani since 1998, Quds Force emerged as an organisation that combines foreign intelligence gathering with military operations that are most often run by paramilitary outfits not directly connected to the Iranian military. Over the last two decades, it mastered the use of proxy war to extend Iran’s influence across the Muslim world, and help contain Israel’s influence in Lebanon, and Saudis in Yemen.

Source: The Indian Express

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