1. Why Delhi roads get flooded every monsoon?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Environment

During the monsoon, many parts of Delhi, including arterial roads, get waterlogged leading to traffic snarls even with an hour’s rainfall. The main reason is the problems related to the city’s storm water drains. The city works on a drainage master plan made in 1976 and one such plan prepared by IIT Delhi for the Delhi government in 2018 is yet to be implemented. In an interview with The Hindu, Professor Emeritus of IIT Delhi, A.K. Gosain, whose team prepared the new plan, tells how the story of a new master plan turned out to be one of disappointment.

Why does Delhi face urban flooding?

In Delhi’s case, flooding could be due to two reasons: floods in the Yamuna or local rainfall. In 1978, Delhi had witnessed a flood due to a rise in the Yamuna water level. But the annual urban flooding we see is due to local rainfall. The run-off water (water left after being absorbed by the earth) from the local rainfall is supposed to drain into the Yamuna through storm water drains. But due to a combination of reasons, including sewage flowing in storm water drains, it does not properly drain into the Yamuna and leads to urban flooding. The drains were made decades ago to handle a particular amount of run-off water. Over the years, the paved area has increased due to development. So, if earlier, a particular amount of rainfall generated 50% of run-off water and the rest was absorbed by the earth, now the run-off water is about 90%. Also, due to climate change, the intensity of rainfall has increased and this also increases the amount of water. But the drainage system is the same and it is unable to handle the excess water.

Is Delhi’s natural topography a reason for urban flooding?

West Delhi is at a higher altitude and there is a slope towards the Yamuna and this actually aids water to drain into the Yamuna. If a city’s topography is flat, then it will be more prone to urban flooding. So, compared to Kolkata or Patna, Delhi is at an advantage in terms of topography. But the part of the city east of the Yamuna is a low-lying area.

How did IIT Delhi start working on Delhi’s drainage master plan?

In 2012, I was heading the civil engineering department at IIT Delhi and used to have meetings with the government on different issues. It was during one such meeting that the then secretary of the Irrigation Department of the Delhi government told me that they were trying to get a drainage master plan made for the city. The government had floated tenders and private companies were asking for ₹10-₹11 crore. We said that we could create a simulation model for the whole Delhi. This would be a framework that the government could upgrade and keep using. We submitted a proposal and agreed to do it for ₹80 lakh, which was less than 10% of what the private companies had quoted.

What is the master plan and why is it needed?

A master plan is needed to study why flooding is happening even with light rain and come up with a plan to fix it. We used data provided by departments ranging from soil type, topography and land use to rainfall and existing storm water drain network to create a mathematical model (a software), which can generate solutions for waterlogging for the whole city. We generated four solutions for different drains — adjusting slope of the existing drain, diverting water to existing water bodies, using additional storages, and other development works. These solutions considered the rainfall, slope of the drain, and many other factors and were done with a bigger picture in mind to provide a comprehensive solution to the city, rather than isolated ones. The model is a dynamic one and can be used to even assess the impact even constructing new drains. The model will keep on giving solutions as you change the different parameters. That is the beauty of the model we have created. Rather than giving the work to a contractor without knowing the impact, the government can actually assess the impact of proposed changes.

The master plan was commissioned in 2012, but why did it get delayed?

The government was supposed to give us data of the drains and we were told that the data was digitised. But we were shocked when we saw the data. In the name of digitisation of drains, there was only a line showing that a drain was passing through an area. The size, depth, slope etc., which are needed for analysis, were not there. We immediately sought a meeting with the Chief Secretary and said that nothing could be done with this data. He understood the issue and directed 11 departments, under whose jurisdiction the drains fall, to provide us with data of the drains. These departments in turn engaged contractors to give the data.

What happened after that?

It took more than a year to get the data. But there were problems in that too. We kept on telling them that in many segments the data given to us showed that the drain was going up instead of down. We call them adverse slopes. A drain needs a gradual slope for water to flow through it of its own under gravity. So, an adverse slope means that either the data is wrong or the construction of the drain in that area is problematic. We kept on asking the departments to verify the data; some did it, but majority of them did not verify the data given to us. We even sent 900 students over the course of four-five years to observe the condition of the drains. They had clicked about 2,500 geo-tagged photos of the drains. These photos showed that the drains were full of muck, which went against the government’s claim of cleaning them.

When did you submit the report?

We submitted the draft report in December 2016 and then the departments kept correcting the data and we submitted it again in April 2017, May 2017, November 2017, and the final report was submitted in July 2018. We mentioned in the report also that the data was not verified by the departments. As part of the report, we gave them suggestions to divert water coming to the drains by digging rainwater harvesting pits in parks and diverting water to water bodies. We also told them that we could help them with how to remove silt in drains and verify it. These were things that could be done right away, but they didn’t do anything.

Was it implemented?

On August 1, 2018, we gave a presentation to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on the master plan. The CM asked different departments to implement the recommendations made in the report and we thought that the project was over from our side. But nothing happened after that. A technical expert committee was formed in 2012 to be involved with us from the beginning on the project, but it had never met with us. In 2019, suddenly, it met for the first time and it was decided that the departments should verify at least 10% of the data. Again, the departments were not responding and after a lot of pressure, in 2021, some departments said that of the 10% data, there was 50% error — it took two years for this. Now we are disappointed and feeling very foolish that we decided to help the government. Many people will say that the project didn’t work because IIT didn’t do its job.

Can the master plan be implemented in the current form?

No, the study has to be reworked with validated data. The best way forward will be to identify the perpetually flooded areas and identify drainage networks belonging to those locations. The data of these networks should be verified on priority and the rest can be taken step by step. Since we have provided them the complete modelling framework, the government should close this phase and discuss the way forward as a separate project.

So, is the project over now?

No, the project is not concluded. After nine years, we haven’t been given even one third of the agreed payment. More than two months ago, we had written to the government to end the current project, but there has been no reply from them.

Source: The Hindu

2. NS2, a win-win proposition?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; International Relations

While the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, the Iran-India undersea pipeline, and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline remain pipe dreams, the Nord Stream 2 (NS2) running from Russia to Germany across the Baltic Sea is now complete despite controversy. NS2’s manufacture began in 2016 and construction in 2018. The 1,224 km, $11-billion underwater link is the shortest, most economical and environment-friendly route to double Russia’s gas export to Germany. The pipeline offers stability to the strategically important energy trade because Russia’s dependence on the European Union and vice-versa are increased and this should promote realism.

Ukraine’s concerns

Energy is never removed from politics. Russian authorities say NS2 can transport 55 billion cubic meters of gas each year, cover the needs of about 26 million households, and restock storage inventories, but both Germany and Russia are subject to conditions arising from a compromise between the U.S. and Germany, and EU regulations.

European gas prices have broken records this year, edging close to an unprecedented $1,000 per thousand cubic meters which places many industries and food supply chains under stress. This is due to lack of viable alternatives to gas, low storage levels because of a severe winter and the post-COVID-19 economic surge. Ukraine offered extra transit capacity for Russian gas to Europe at 15 million cubic meters per day for October but Russia booked only 4.3% of this, citing domestic demand. Some European politicians accuse Russia of pressure to expedite the start of NS2, but the project needs European certification, which could take up to four more months. Germany has yet to issue an operating licence, blandly stating that it would rule on this next January.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is accused, mainly by Poland and Ukraine, of weakening the EU’s political unity and strategic coherence by giving Russia greater leverage through NS2. Ukraine’s leadership is unhappy as it believes the pipeline is a Russian geopolitical weapon aimed at depriving Ukraine of political traction and crucial revenue. These concerns have been largely disregarded by the EU, which has refused to yield to the demands of a third party. What Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has secured are assurances from the U.S. that it will impose more sanctions if Russia abuses the advantages of its new pipeline and Germany’s undertakings to help Ukraine develop its energy sector and exert pressure on Moscow to keep its gas transiting through Ukraine even after the current contract ends in 2024. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made it clear that this is acceptable but would depend on purchase contracts from European customers.

Behind the argument of protecting Western interests against Russia, the Ukraine case is that if Russia cuts its transportation of gas through Ukraine, Kiev would lose billions of dollars in transit fees, and fears that Russia could reduce energy supplies by cutting those needed for Ukraine’s own consumption. Ukraine has not diversified its economic fundamentals, whose viability is dependent on Russia moving fossil fuels through its territory. But the loss of cheap money gained through transit fees could in the long run benefit its economy.

The completion of NS2 suggests that no third party can affect the project’s outcome. Any flagrant violation of the commercial rationale of NS2 by Russia would enable Ukraine to invoke the assurances it has been given; it is accordingly in Moscow’s interest to proceed in a manner that avoids friction.

Assistance to Ukraine

To enable a consensus on NS2, Germany has promised assistance to Ukraine for development of hydrogen energy, but such commitments are less robust in their detail; Berlin seems to offer a modest €206 million as seed money to attract a potential corporate investment envisaged to be €1 billion. President Zelensky considers this proposal inadequate, and his Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has been forthright saying, “This country has learnt a number of bitter lessons that Western promises are possibly unfulfilled. We do not believe in promises.”

Despite the lack of certitudes in Germany’s financial promise, there is reason to take it seriously. The German elections could result in a coalition including the Greens, in which case the Greens might drop their opposition to NS2 in return for more substantial compensation for Ukraine. Since the hydrogen option is environmentally friendly, this presents scope for accommodating the requirements of German coalition politics and support for the Ukrainian budget and turning NS2 into a win-win proposition. It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

Source: The Hindu

3. What are the Pandora Papers, and why do they matter?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; International Relations

There are at least 380 persons of Indian nationality in the Pandora Papers. Of these, The Indian Express has so far verified and corroborated documents related to about 60 prominent individuals and companies. What do the Pandora Papers say about these entities? Also, if trusts are not illegal, what is the investigation about?

What are the Pandora Papers?

These are 11.9 million leaked files from 14 global corporate services firms which set up about 29,000 off-the-shelf companies and private trusts in not just obscure tax jurisdictions but also countries such as Singapore, New Zealand, and the United States, for clients across the world.

These documents relate to the ultimate ownership of assets ‘settled’ (or placed) in private offshore trusts and the investments including cash, shareholding, and real estate properties, held by the offshore entities. There are at least 380 persons of Indian nationality in the Pandora Papers. Of these, The Indian Express has so far verified and corroborated documents related to about 60 prominent individuals and companies. This is an ongoing investigation.

What do the Pandora Papers reveal?

The Pandora Papers reveal how the rich, the famous and the notorious, many of whom were already on the radar of investigative agencies, set up complex multi-layered trust structures for estate planning, in jurisdictions which are loosely regulated for tax purposes, but characterised by air-tight secrecy laws.

The purposes for which trusts are set up are many, and some genuine too. But a scrutiny of the papers also shows how the objective of many is two-fold: i) to hide their real identities and distance themselves from the offshore entities so that it becomes near impossible for the tax authorities to reach them and, ii) to safeguard investments — cash, shareholdings, real estate, art, aircraft, and yachts — from creditors and law enforcers.

How is Pandora different from the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers?

The Panama and Paradise Papers dealt largely with offshore entities set up by individuals and corporates respectively. The Pandora Papers investigation shows how businesses have created a new normal after countries have been forced to tighten the screws on such offshore entities with rising concerns of money laundering, terrorism funding, and tax evasion.

The Pandora Papers pierce the corporate veil and reveal how trusts are prolifically used as a vehicle in conjunction with offshore companies set up for the sole purpose of holding investments and other assets by business families and ultra-rich individuals. The trusts can be set up in known tax havens such Samoa, Belize, Panama, and the British Virgin Islands, or in Singapore or New Zealand which offer relative tax advantages, or even South Dakota in the US, the biggest economy.

What is a trust?

A trust can be described as a fiduciary arrangement where a third party, referred to as the trustee, holds assets on behalf of individuals or organisations that are to benefit from it. It is generally used for estate planning purposes and succession planning. It helps large business families to consolidate their assets — financial investments, shareholding, and real estate property.

A trust comprises three key parties: ‘Settlor’ — one who sets up, creates, or authors a trust; ‘trustee’ — one who holds the assets for the benefit of a set of people named by the ‘settlor’; and ‘beneficiaries’ — to whom the benefits of the assets are bequeathed.

A trust is not a separate legal entity, but its legal nature comes from the ‘trustee’. At times, the ‘settlor’ appoints a ‘protector’, who has the powers to supervise the trustee, and even remove the trustee and appoint a new one.

Is setting up a trust in India, or one offshore/ outside the country, illegal?

No. The Indian Trusts Act, 1882, gives legal basis to the concept of trusts. While Indian laws do not see trusts as a legal person/ entity, they do recognise the trust as an obligation of the trustee to manage and use the assets settled in the trust for the benefit of ‘beneficiaries’. India also recognises offshore trusts i.e., trusts set up in other tax jurisdictions.

If it’s legal, what’s the investigation about?

This is a very valid question. True, there are legitimate reasons for setting up trusts — and many set them up for genuine estate planning. A businessperson can set conditions for ‘beneficiaries’ to draw income being distributed by the trustee or inherit assets after her/ his demise.

For instance, while allotting shares in the company to say, four siblings, the father promoter set conditions that a sibling can get the dividend from the shares and claim ownership of the shares, but not sell it without offering the first right of refusal to the other three siblings. This could be to ensure ownership of the enterprise within the family.

But trusts are also used by some as secret vehicles to park ill-gotten money, hide incomes to evade taxes, protect wealth from law enforcers, insulate it from creditors to whom huge moneys are due, and at times to use it for criminal activities. The Indian Express investigation reveals this.

So, why are trusts set up? And why overseas? What should you also know?

Overseas trusts offer remarkable secrecy because of stringent privacy laws in the jurisdiction they operate in. A lot depends on the intention behind setting up an offshore trust — and if the taxman can provide evidence that suggests mala fide intent by the trust, then the courts tend to back the tax department in their attempt to recover the taxes due.

From the investigation, some key tacit reasons why people set up trusts are:

i) Maintain a degree of separation: Businesspersons set up private offshore trusts to project a degree of separation from their personal assets. A ‘settlor’ (one who sets up/ creates/ authors) of a trust no longer owns the assets he places or ‘settles’ in the trust. This way, he insulates these assets from creditors.

This is best illustrated through an example: A real estate promoter sets up an offshore trust, which sits on top of four offshore entities holding some assets. Now, private equity investors drag various entities of the real estate group to the National Company Law Tribunal under the bankruptcy law. So do homebuyers who have invested in residential properties by this company. But the Pandora Papers show the promoter moved tens of millions of dollars in assets to the trust amid police complaints in Delhi by his foreign investors, alleging siphoning off funds to the tune of hundred-plus million dollars. His wealth moved to an offshore trust remains safe from creditors.

ii) Hunt for enhanced secrecy: Offshore trusts offer enhanced secrecy to businesspersons, given their complex structures. The Income-Tax Department in India can get to the ultimate beneficial owners only by requesting information with the financial investigation agency or international tax authority in offshore jurisdictions. The exchange of information can take months.

iiii) Avoid tax in the guise of planning: Businesspersons avoid their NRI children being taxed on income from their assets by transferring all the assets to a trust. The ownership of the assets rests with the trust, and the son/ daughter being only a ‘beneficiary’ is not liable to any tax on income from the trust.

In many business families, children have one foot abroad, hence family patriarchs have increasingly looked at trusts to ensure a hassle-free transfer of assets into their children’s hands.

iv) Prepare for estate duty eventuality: There is pervasive fear that estate duty, which was abolished back in 1985 when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister, will likely be re-introduced soon. Setting up trusts in advance, business families have been advised, will protect the next generation from paying the death/ inheritance tax, which was as high as 85 per cent in the more than three decades after its enactment (The Estate Duty Act, 1953). Although India does not have a wealth tax now, most developed countries including the US, UK, France, Canada, and Japan have such an inheritance tax.

v) Flexibility in a capital-controlled economy: India is a capital-controlled economy. Individuals can invest only $250,000 a year under the Reserve Bank of India’s Liberalised Remittance Scheme (LRS). To get over this, businesspersons have turned NRIs, and under FEMA, NRIs can remit $1 million a year in addition to their current annual income, outside India. Further, the tax rates in overseas jurisdictions are much lower than the 30% personal I-T rate in India plus surcharges, including those on the super-rich (those with annual income over Rs 1 crore).

vi) The NRI angle: Offshore trusts, as noted earlier, are recognised under Indian laws, but legally, it is the trustees — not the ‘settlor’ or the ‘beneficiaries’ — who are the owners of the properties and income of the trust. An NRI trustee or offshore trustee taking instructions from another overseas ‘protector’ ensures they are taxed in India only on their total income from India.

Of late, NRIs are under greater scrutiny of the Income-Tax Department; they have been receiving notices to prove their non-resident status of past years, to check if they made the required disclosure of ‘foreign assets’ in years when they were ordinarily resident in India.

Can offshore Trusts be seen as resident Indian for tax purposes?

There are certain grey areas of taxation where the Income-Tax Department is in contestation with offshore trusts. After The Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015, came into existence, resident Indians — if they are ‘settlors’, ‘trustees’,  or ‘beneficiaries’ — have to report their foreign financial interests and assets. NRIs are not required to do so — even though, as mentioned above, the I-T Department has been sending notices to NRIs in certain cases.

The I-T Department may consider an offshore trust to be a resident of India for taxation purposes if the trustee is an Indian resident. In cases where the trustee is an offshore entity or an NRI, if the tax department establishes the trustee is taking instructions from a resident Indian, then too the trust may be considered a resident of India for taxation purposes. For instance, in one case, an Indian wealth manager has been appointed a ‘protector’ (with powers to supervise the trustee) by an offshore trust, leaving a window open for the taxman.

Source: The Indian Express

4. How central govt can get around MSP demand and end stalemate with farmers

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

Farmers camping at Delhi’s borders for the past 10 months have clear cut demands — the cancellation of three farm laws, legal assurance on Minimum Support Price (MSP) for all crops, and continuation of the ongoing MSP scheme for wheat and paddy. Experts said the government was leaning towards the withdrawal or cancellation of the three farm laws and a recent tweet of the former chairman of the Punjab farmers commission and farmworkers commission was an indication of the same. The question of a legal guarantee of MSP for all crops, however, continues to be the bone of contention, with the government not willing to take direct responsibility of the same and farmers not ready to pull back from protest sites without getting an assurance.

Is there a possibility of the three farm laws being cancelled in the near future?

Former chairman of Punjab farmers’ commission and farmworkers commission, Ajay Vir Jakhar, who had submitted his resignation with the change of guard in Punjab, had recently tweeted, “In my judgement, the government has in principle already decided to withdraw/compromise on 3- farm laws to the satisfaction of the farm unions, but the issue on legal MSP remains. After so much distress and loss of trust hope better sense prevails on both sides of the fence.”

Though no formal talks have taken place between the farm unions and government for the past eight months, sources in the government said that informally, they had been engaging continuously with representatives of farmers’ unions to discuss the matter and to reach a consensus. Sources said that the government and farmers unions were likely to reach a mutually acceptable solution on the three contentious farm laws soon, because Assembly elections in several states, including Punjab, were to be held soon. Punjab being a primarily agrarian state has defined the direction of the farmers’ agitation, with its farmers leading from the front. Another state where elections are due next year was Uttar Pradesh (UP) — the most populous state and one that sent the maximum number of parliamentarians to the Parliament. Both the states were crucial for the BJP for obvious reasons.

What is other major demand of farmers for a legal guarantee of MSP for all crops?

The major point of contention between farmer leaders and the government’s emissaries seems to be the issue of assurance of MSP for all 23 crops — including seven kinds of cereal, seven oilseeds, five pulses, and four other commercial crops. Sources said that the farmers have told the government that the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) releases MSP for all Kharif and Rabi crops every year. The government should hence assure the implementation of the same legally in practical form also. Most of these 23 crops are purchased by private players and there is high fluctuation in the prices. Sometimes these crops are sold much below the MSP and sometimes they fetch a little more than the MSP. The farmers, therefore, want a legal guarantee that crops can be sold only at MSP or above it. But the government is not ready to give legal guarantees at the moment, except reiterated verbally several times that it will continue its current MSP regime, which mostly covers wheat and Paddy in Punjab, Haryana, MP and parts of UP. The farmers, however, have refused to budge.

Some states, in the meanwhile, have already stepped in and have started compensating farmers for crops that they sell below the MSP rates under their own state-level policies.

Can state-level policies assure that the farmers get MSP for their crops?

In the past years, some states like Madhya Pradesh (MP), Haryana, Kerala have launched schemes like Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojna (price difference payment scheme), floor prices, and Bhavantar Bharpayi Yojna, respectively, under which the state governments pay the difference to the farmers when the sell their crop below MSP in the market. While the MP government has covered some cereals, pulses, oilseed and horticulture crops under its scheme, Haryana and Kerala have covered only horticulture crops. Haryana has recently added millet to its scheme.

Under these schemes, the state price or floor price are fixed by the state governments and if the covered crops are sold below that price then the state government pays the difference to the registered farmers on their respective portals.

But experts said that state governments cannot sustain such schemes for long and also they cannot cover all the crops. Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Kerala have not been able to cover most of the agriculture crops under it. Experts also said that there are mixed results of these schemes everywhere.

“These schemes are good but the state governments do not have resources to sustain such policies and to cover all the crops, as in the case of Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Kerala,” said Jagmohan Singh, general secretary of Bharti Kisan Union (Dakaunda). He added that such state-level policies cannot work where a bulk amount of cereals are sold by the farmers.

Is there a solution then?

Experts have suggested some solutions.

Along with the current MSP regime, corporations, like Cotton Corporation of India (CCI), should be formed by the centre government for cereals, some of which are not covered under centres’ current MSP regime, said Agriculture experts at Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana.

CCI enters the market when the price of ‘Kapas’ (unginned raw cotton) goes below the MSP fixed by CACP. The CCI then purchases Kapas at MSP, as witnessed several times in the past in Punjab. This in turn forces the private players also to offer prices at par with the MSP or little more than the MSP so as to stop the CCI from purchasing all the cotton from the market.

In the case of Basmati last year, for example, rates were at an all-time high in the international market but farmers got much less because of their dependence on the private players. That is where a corporation like CCI could step in and play the role of a deterrent to stop farmers from being exploited.

When such corporations cover all the crops, private players will not be able to exploit farmers, experts said. Just like wheat and paddy MSP, which the government purchases through Food Corporation of India (FCI) by taking cash credit limit (CCL) from RBI, such corporations too can follow the same policy because there is a huge market of oilseeds and pulses in our country and this way both the government and farmers will not be at loss, explained experts. This, they said, will lead farmers to opt for diversification of crops also in states like Punjab.

Some farmer leaders suggested that even a state-Centre joint “Bhavantar scheme” can be launched to compensate farmers in case their crop price goes below the fixed rate or government can regulate purchase by private players through some policy to stop farmers’ loot.

Source: The Indian Express

5. What is dark energy, and have scientists finally detected it?

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

While dark matter attracts and holds galaxies together, dark energy repels and causes the expansion of our universe.

Dark energy, the mysterious form of energy that makes up about 68% of the universe, has intrigued physicists and astronomers for decades. Dark energy has been noted as “the most profound mystery in all of science”. With advanced technologies and newer experiments, scientists have found certain clues about it and, last week, an international team of researchers made the first putative direct detection of dark energy.

They noticed certain unexpected results in an underground experiment and write that dark energy may be responsible for it. The XENON1T experiment is the world’s most sensitive dark matter experiment and was operated deep underground at the INFN Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso in Italy.

The finding also suggests that experiments like XENON1T, which are designed to detect dark matter, could also be used to detect dark energy.

Dark energy Vs Dark matter

Everything we see – the planets, moons, massive galaxies, you, me, this website – makes up less than 5% of the universe. About 27% is dark matter and 68% is dark energy. While dark matter attracts and holds galaxies together, dark energy repels and causes the expansion of our universe.

“Despite both components being invisible, we know a lot more about dark matter, since its existence was suggested as early as the 1920s, while dark energy wasn’t discovered until 1998,” said Sunny Vagnozzi from Cambridge’s Kavli Institute for Cosmology, the first author of the paper published last week in Physical Review D in a release. “Large-scale experiments like XENON1T have been designed to directly detect dark matter, by searching for signs of dark matter ‘hitting’ ordinary matter, but dark energy is even more elusive.”

How did they make the detection?

Last year, the XENON1T experiment reported an unexpected signal. “These sorts of excesses are often flukes, but once in a while they can also lead to fundamental discoveries,” said co-author Luca Visinelli, from Frascati National Laboratories in Italy in the release.

“Basically there’s some background noise and the electrons in XENON1T will on average move a bit on their own even with no dark matter or dark energy around simply by virtue of “kicks” due to this background,”explained Dr. Vagnozzi in an email to indianexpress.com. “We saw that at energies around ~2 keV there are way more events than one expects simply due to noise and this could be due to dark energy”.

“It was really surprising that this excess could in principle have been caused by dark energy rather than dark matter,” Vagnozzi said in the release. “When things click together like that, it’s really special.”

But some astronomers have their doubts too. “If it’s true, it’s a stunning discovery,” University of California, Berkeley astronomer Alexei Filippenko, who was not involved in the study, told inverse.com. “But a lot remains to be done to verify whether it’s true.”

What if the signal was caused by some other force?

The team constructed a physical model, which used a screening mechanism known as chameleon screening, to show that dark energy particles produced in the Sun’s strong magnetic fields could explain the signal seen in XENON1T.

There are four fundamental forces in our universe, and speculative theories have proposed a fifth force – something that can’t be explained by the four forces. To hide or screen this fifth force, many models for dark energy use special mechanisms.

Dr Vagnozzi explains how the chameleon screening works: “Imagine two people carrying something, one heavy object and other one a light object. The person with the light object will most likely make it further. Similarly, here the fifth force carried by this heavy chameleon in a dense environment doesn’t make it far.”

When can we get direct detection of dark energy?

Dr. Vagnozzi says he has been thinking about new ways to search for dark energy. The team is hopeful that upcoming upgrades to the XENON1T experiment and similar experiments such as LUX-Zeplin – a next generation dark matter experiment located at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, and PandaX-xT – another project at China Jinping Underground Laboratory could help directly detect dark energy within the next decade.

Source: The Indian Express