1. Shillong’s Dalit Sikhs, an old land dispute, and a relocation proposed and opposed

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance

A Meghalaya Cabinet decision to relocate the Dalit Sikh residents of Shillong’s Them lew Mawlong area, also called Punjabi Lane, is facing opposition. Sikh groups have called it “illegal” and “unjust”, with Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa saying he would take the issue up with Union Home Minister Amit Shah. On Thursday, a Sikh delegation from Delhi met Meghalaya Governor Satya Pal Malik, seeking his intervention. At the heart of it is a simmering issue between the Sikh residents and the local Khasi community, centred on a decades-old land dispute.

Who are the Punjabi Sikhs of Shillong?

They were first brought to Shillong by the British as manual scavengers and sweepers more than a hundred years ago. Today, the community of about 300-odd families lives in Them lew Mawlong, located next to Shillong’s commercial hub, Iewduh or Bara Bazaar.

Himadri Banerjee, former professor of Indian history at Jadavpur University, who has extensively researched the Sikh community in the Northeast, said the Mazhabis were brought first, with a British military contingent, to work as sweepers. They were followed by the Ramgarhias (carpenters, blacksmiths and masons), and then the Soniars or goldsmiths, who came after 1947.

Mazhabi Sikhs, the largest of the groups, were recruited by the Shillong Municipal Board (SMB), and many lived in Bara Bazaar. Over the years, their ranks swelled in the SMB, Banerjee said. “We have been staying here for generations,” said Gurjit Singh, president of the Harijan Panchayat Committee (HPC), which represents members of the Sikh Dalit community in Shillong. “In the 1990s, more than 800 members of our community were employed by the SMB, but the numbers have reduced since then.”

Banerjee said younger generations have moved on to professions such as driving or setting up mobile repair shops. Some integration has also happened. “Some Mazhabis speak Khasi, enjoy Khasi food, and a few are even married to Khasis and have converted to Christianity,” Banerjee said.

Why was the plan to relocate them made?

On October 7, the Cabinet approved the proposal, based on a recommendation by a high-level committee set up in June 2018 to find a solution to a decades-old land dispute, following violent clashes between Khasis and Sikh residents the previous month. While the immediate trigger was something else, the clashes were rooted in the old land dispute.

The government claims the land belongs to the Urban Affairs Department, while the Sikhs say it was “gifted” to them in the 1850s by the Syiem (chief) of Hima Mylliem – one of the chiefdoms in Khasi Hills. Punjabi Lane is part of Mylliem, one of the 54 traditional administrative territories under the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council today.

According to the Cabinet decision, the Urban Affairs Department would take possession of the land from the Syiem of Mylliem (the custodian of the land) within a week. Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said permanent employees of the SMB would be relocated to constructed quarters.

What is the land dispute?

For three decades, sections of society and political organisations have been demanding that residents be shifted out — the primary argument being that a prime commercial area shouldn’t hold a residential locality.

Donald Thabah, general secretary of the powerful Khasi Students’ Union (KSU), said Punjabi Lane was the site of a lot of traffic congestion and needed to be cleared for “public convenience”. “The name Them lew Mawlong literally suggests that it is the valley area of a market — so it doesn’t make sense for it to function as a residential area. It should be used for alternative constructive purposes such as a parking lot or a commercial space,” he said.

Over the years, there have been proposals to build a parking lot or shopping complexes. The Sikhs have often sought legal recourse against this, maintaining they have “full rights to” the land, and two documents to prove their claim: a 1954 agreement and one more in 2008.

In 2018, after the committee was formed, the Sikh HPC filed a petition in the Meghalaya High Court. In February 2019, the court said it was a “civil” matter and needed to be addressed in the civil court. On April 9, 2021, it ordered that status quo be maintained.

Has there been previous conflict between the Sikhs and Khasis?

With the main bone of contention is the 2.5-acre Punjabi Lane, brawls at a local level between residents and Khasis have been reported over the years.

Distrust of the “outsider” — a sentiment expressed among sections of many communities in the Northeast states — also adds to the friction. Banerjee said local Khasis were “initially less enthusiastic” about doing the work the Mazhabis did. “But over time, as Khasis found themselves being squeezed out of a part of the job market, their anxieties manifested themselves in suspicions, hostility, and a hardening awareness of dissimilar identities.”

According to KSU’s Thabah, there was a major clash in 1996 too, which led to the deaths of Khasi youths at the hands of the police. He alleged that the locals were “frequently harassed by some from the Sikh community.”

What are the Sikhs being offered now?

The state government has said those who are permanent employees of the SMB will be relocated to constructed quarters elsewhere in the city. For the other residents, the government was “exploring other locations”.

The government said that while a number of the Sikh residents worked with the SMB, there were many “settlers” in the colony. “We do not know where they came from and thus there is a need to make an inventory of those residing there,” said Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong, who led the committee.

Singh said now only about 20 people (who are close to retirement) were currently permanent employees of the SMB. “The government claims the rest of the people are illegal or unauthorised settlers. But that is baseless… our children and grandchildren have moved into new professions — that does not mean they do not belong here,” he said.

How have the Sikhs reacted?

“We have lived here for 200 years. Time and again, the government tries to move us and our people get scared,” Singh said. The community, however, had not received any official intimation about relocation yet.

Manjinder Singh Sirsa, who had led the delegation from the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee that met the Governor, said the matter was sub judice, and the high-level committee had “no power to make such a decision”. He said the relocation plan had “not granted the residents an opportunity to say anything” or taken in their view.

What is the government’s stand?

CM Sangma had earlier said the government was ready to challenge the court order. Governor Malik on Thursday assured the Sikh delegation that “no injustice will be done and the residents will not be removed illegally”.

Tynsong said the government had followed “due diligence”. He the Sikh community should not “get confused” that they were “being thrown out”. “They are people of Meghalaya and we are here to help them,” he said. “We request them to help us make an inventory.”

Source: The Indian Express

2. Air India’s art collection: what’s in it, and where does it go now?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Economics

The Tata group has reclaimed Air India, but the priceless Air India art collection is not part of the deal and is likely to stay with the government. A look at what is in the collection, and why it is important:

The collection

The ‘Maharajah collection’, as it is called, has over 4,000 works, including by Jatin Das, Anjolie Ela Menon, M F Husain and V S Gaitonde. These were on display across Air India offices, and on its calendars, posters and menu cards. There are posters by cartoonist Mario Miranda as well as ads designed by The New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno, besides paintings, textiles, sculptures, and traditional wooden and bronze artwork. No official estimate exists of the worth of the entire collection. As the airline expanded, so did the collection. But as computerised booking came in, some of the international booking offices were shut/streamlined, and the artworks were either sent back to Mumbai or stored elsewhere. Mumbai-based art historian and conservation architect Meera Dass, who is working on a book about the archive, said, “The airline always had the culture of being representative of the nation… The collection served that purpose — to present India as an ancient civilisation, but with a modern outlook.”

The collector

Air India bought its first set of six paintings for Rs 87.50 in 1956, from a novice art school graduate, B Prabha. The collection was built over more than six decades after Independence, driven by JRD Tata’s philosophy of “putting a little bit of India” in the booking offices of the erstwhile Tata Airlines.

“He (JRD Tata) was a great nationalist and he used the airline’s booking offices outside India to expose the country’s art and artists to the world,” Dass said.

While some of the works were commissioned by the airline and some were bought for as low as Rs 50-500, others were bartered for air tickets to artists travelling abroad. In an interview, M F Husain had said: “They (Air India) would take the paintings and give free air tickets in return. As a result, the artists could travel to Czechoslovakia, Hong Kong, Paris. I did about four or five trips.”

There were other interesting ways of remunerating the artists. An ashtray — a porcelain shell surrounded by a serpent and supported by an elephant and swan — was commissioned to Salvador Dali, to be presented as a gift to first-class passengers. In return, Dali asked for a baby elephant, which was duly procured from the Bangalore zoo and sent to him.

B Prabha, Banjara Woman; Arpana Caur, Night (Twitter/@airindiain)

State of the art

The works haven’t been opened for decades, and it is believed some of them have been lost, stolen or damaged. In June 2017, Jatin Das learned that his 1991 oil painting Flying Apsara, acquired by Air India, was for sale on the open market for Rs 25 lakh. Following investigations, a complaint was filed against a former Air India executive for stealing government property. Subsequently, it was reported that the airline was “examining how many more former or serving Air India officials could be in possession of such paintings”.

Last year, just before the pandemic hit, Air India organised a four-day exhibition of 7,000 artefacts and memorabilia in Mumbai.

Dass said that since 2016, there have been serious efforts to create a detailed inventory of all art pieces owned by Air India. While a bulk of the collection is in Mumbai, some works are also in erstwhile Air India offices in New York, Washington, Perth, Rome, Tokyo, Paris, and London. The effort is now to get them back, a tedious process given that they were sent out 30 to 40 years ago.

There are, however, no plans to use the artworks to raise funds. The ministries of Civil Aviation and Culture are working out an agreement to transfer the collection to Delhi and display it at a prominent museum.

“Even though the nation couldn’t afford the airline, we can surely create a dedicated museum to display this landmark collection, which unravels the India story, slice by slice,” Dass said.

Source: The Indian Express

3. The founder of a ‘mini-India’

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper I; Modern History

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s ideas on religious unity and the use of education for national integration are still relevant

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, an iconic social reformer and founder of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), which has completed 100 years, was born on October 17, 1817. That was a long time ago, but his thought process is as relevant today as ever before.

Integration through education

With the new National Education Policy, the role of education in national integration has been rekindled. National integration is a reality today. During colonialism, it was an ideal for Sir Syed. His distinctiveness lay in the way he used education as a tool for national integration. He said in 1883: “It is the… verdict of all the nations and great seers of the world that national progress depends on education and training (of the people). If, therefore, we desire the prosperity and development of our nation, we should strive for a national system of education to educate our people in science and technology.”

Some scholars on colonial history have criticised some of Sir Syed’s statements on social order and his perceived closeness with the colonial government. However, to draw a generalised conclusion on Sir Syed’s convictions merely through the lens of some quotes without understanding their context would not be a fair way to assess his legacy. A person’s text should be judged in the context of the time in which they lived. The period of Sir Syed’s life was characterised by rapid transition — Mughal rule yielding to British imperialism. We must not underestimate the challenges posed by the new order for someone brought up in the old order. Sir Syed embraced change against all the odds.

When Sir Syed started his project of educational renaissance, he invited all Indians to come together to join hands in the struggle against illiteracy. This arose from his wish to unshackle Hindus and Muslims from medieval thinking towards broad-mindedness, reason and progress. It is critical to understand that while his approach always remained inclusive, he gave special attention to Muslims as Hindus had embarked to the path to scientific education much earlier than Muslims. It is a known fact that the debate on the tension between religion and science had settled earlier among Hindus than Muslims. Sir Syed laid out his vision for Hindu-Muslim unity in a speech in January 1883 where he said, “India is like a bride which has got two beautiful and captivating eyes — Hindus and Muslims. Within the ranks of the Hindus or Muslims themselves, or even between brothers as also between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, there is dissension. But to make it perennial is a symptom of the decay of the family, the country, and of the nation.”

Inter-faith understanding

The bonhomie between the two communities has always existed since the inception of the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental (MAO) College, the precursor of AMU. This was not a small task. During colonial rule, a narrative of hatred had been engineered by the British. Sir Syed led by example. During the Bismillah ceremony of his grandson Ross Masood, Sir Syed placed him in the lap of his friend Raja Jai Kishan Das. When Sir Syed established a madarsa in Ghazipur, he elected Raja Dev Narayan Singh as patron of the school. Sanskrit was one of the five languages taught at this school. The managing committee of MAO College comprised 22 members of whom nine were Hindus.

Sir Syed laid the foundation of comparative religious studies and revived the spirit of Dara Shikoh’s philosophy — to bring major communities of India together by finding commonalities in their religions and assimilate them as a one mighty stream. This is why AMU established the Dara Shikoh Centre for Interfaith Understanding. Section 5 (2)(b) of the AMU Act empowers the university to promote the study of religions, civilisation and culture of India.

In AMU’s 100 years, it has not only contributed to nation-building but also played a role in India’s quest for building friendly ties with the Muslim world. For this, AMU is recognised as an institution of national importance under the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. During the course of history, AMU has passed through many challenges but never has it abandoned its inclusive character. Apart from drawing students from 26 other countries, it has students from 31 States and Union Territories and thus represents India’s multi-religious, multi-racial and multi-lingual character. This is why Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during the centenary celebrations of AMU in 2020, called the institution a “mini-India”. Mr. Modi underscored the principles of ‘nation first’ and ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’, while emphasising that Sir Syed established AMU with a rational, progressive and scientific mindset. It is appreciable that the Prime Minister invoked the contribution of a 19th century reformer in the making of 21st century India. This is a testament to the vision of a man who was far ahead of his times.

Source: The Hindu

4. Powering the energy sector

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Economics

The Electricity (Amendment) Bill is a game-changer

In an energy-dependent country like India, the availability of energy supplies at affordable rates is pivotal for fulfilling developmental priorities. But the energy sector is beset with problems. The distribution sector has for long been the bane of the power sector, consistently making huge losses owing to problems such as expensive long-term power purchase agreements, poor infrastructure, inefficient operations, and leakages and weaknesses in State-level tariff policies. Most discoms are deep into the red as high aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses are chipping into their revenues.

Dismantling state monopoly

Against this backdrop, the Electricity (Amendment) Bill of 2020 is a game-changing reform. The wide-ranging provisions of the Bill will set the process of de-licensing power distribution after the monopoly of the state is dismantled. This will provide the consumers with an option of choosing the service provider, switch their power supplier and enable the entry of private companies in distribution, thereby resulting in increased competition. In fact, privatisation of discoms in Delhi has reduced AT&C losses significantly from 55% in 2002 to 9% in 2020.

Open access for purchasing power from the open market should be implemented across States and barriers in the form of cross subsidy surcharge, additional surcharge and electricity duty being applied by States should be reviewed. Discoms and regulators should be brought on board for proper implementation of open access, which will provide more options to consumers to choose their discom just as they are able to choose telecom providers.

The question of tariffs needs to be revisited if the power sector is to be strengthened. Tariffs ought to be reflective of average cost of supply to begin with and eventually move to customer category-wise cost of supply in a defined time frame. This will facilitate reduction in cross subsidies. All this will happen when discoms are made autonomous and are allowed by regulatory authorities to revise tariffs without interference from the States.

Electrical energy should be covered under GST, with a lower rate of GST, as this will make it possible for power generator/transmission/distribution utilities to get a refund of input credit, which in turn will reduce the cost of power. Other antidotes to the problem include use of technology solutions such as installation of smart meters and smart grids which will reduce AT&C losses and restore financial viability of the sector.

Push for renewal energy

The impetus to renewal energy, which will help us mitigate the impact of climate change, is much needed. One option is to encourage roof-top solar plants. Despite its inherent benefits, the segment has shown relatively slow progress with an estimated installed capacity of 5-6 GW as on date, well short of the 2022 target.

Another welcome feature of the Bill is the strengthening of the regulatory architecture of the sector. This will be done by appointing a member with a legal background in every electricity regulatory commission and strengthening the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity. This will ensure faster resolution of long-pending issues and reduce legal hassles.

The Bill also underpins the importance of green energy by proposing a penalty for non-compliance with the renewable energy purchase obligations which mandate States and power distribution companies to purchase a specified quantity of electricity from renewable and hydro sources. This will ensure that India gradually moves towards non-fossil fuels thereby helping it meet its global climate change commitments.

Some other significant features of the Bill such as the creation of an Electricity Contract Enforcement Authority to supervise the fulfillment of contractual obligations under power purchase agreement, cost reflective tariffs and provision of subsidy through DBT are commendable. Early passage of the Bill is critical as it will help unleash a path-breaking reform for bringing efficiency and profitability to the distribution sector.

Source: The Hindu

5. India needs a caste count

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper I; Social Issues

A new intervention strategy can then be fashioned to emancipate groups that are still at the bottom of the ladder

The Constituent Assembly sat together 114 times to draft a visionary Constitution for India, targeted at transforming an ancient civilisation into a modern nation state. The Preamble inter alia stated that there would be justice (social, economic and political) and equality of status and opportunity.

An economic and social fillip

In order to fulfil the egalitarian construct of the Constitution, the makers of modern India incorporated into the chapter on Fundamental Rights three path-breaking postulates: Article 17 (abolishing untouchability), Article 23 (prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour) and Article 24 (prohibition of child labour). The Constitution outlaws discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex and place of birth and mandates equality of opportunity in matters of public employment albeit with caveats to promote the interests of the underprivileged. Part XVI delineates Special Provisions relating to certain classes, including reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Anglo-Indians in the Legislatures. This reservation system was supposed to end 10 years after the commencement of the Constitution. However, it has been extended every 10 years since. The objective is to provide a political voice to the disempowered. Article 335 provides for reservations for SCs and STs in public employment both under the Union and the States. The Constitution thus provides both an economic and social fillip to the weaker sections who had been discriminated against historically. The aim is to bring about social integration that could pave the way for the creation of a classless ethos.

In 1990, another step was taken in this direction when the then Prime Minister V.P. Singh decided to act on the recommendations of the Mandal Commission report and provide 27% reservation in public employment to Other Backward Classes (OBCs). This was subsequently extended to educational institutions. This added to the existing 22.5% reservation quota for SCs and STs thereby increasing reservations in educational institutions to 49.5%. This decision led to a nationwide tumult in university campuses and a legal challenge in the Supreme Court.

In Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, the Supreme Court upheld 27% reservation for OBCs but struck down the 10% quota based on economic criteria. It further fixed the ceiling of reservations at 50%. It also held that a “caste can be and quite often is a social class. If it is backward socially, it would be a backward class for the purposes of Article 16(4).” It also evolved the concept of a creamy layer. It held that individuals from backward classes who had attained a certain social, educational and vocational status in life would not be classified as OBCs for the purposes of reservation. This was done to ensure that those who really require reservation get it. The OBC reservations sparked off similar demands from socially powerful and upwardly mobile caste groups. Reservations provided by successive governments either within the 27% quota for OBCs or beyond the 50% ceiling to various communities were struck down by various courts or are still being challenged.

Demand for a caste census

The demand for a caste census is growing louder as its findings can be used to cross the 50% hurdle. If it can be empirically established that the OBCs are numerically higher, perhaps it could be argued that the 50% cap on reservation is redundant. But where would that leave merit? Nations are built by an intricate interplay of social inclusion and meritocracies. The UPA government had, albeit reluctantly, acquiesced to a Socio-Economic and Caste Census in 2011 that it then rigorously implemented. In 2016, the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Rural Development observed that “the data has been examined and 98.87% data on individuals’ caste and religion is error free”. However, the NDA government told the Supreme Court and Parliament that the caste census data are flawed and cannot be released. This assertion that flies in the face of the observations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development.

Over time, what has been forgotten is the original dream of transforming India into an egalitarian and classless society. Undoubtedly, while reservations have ameliorated socio-economic backwardness, they have equally created silos whereby the benefits of reservation have been more far-reaching vertically than horizontally. Therefore, a new paradigm of affirmative action is required to fulfil the vision of the makers of independent India given that economic stimuli have not brought about societal integration. Since it has been judicially determined that caste is synonymous with class, a fresh socio-economic caste census is imperative if the previous one is flawed and cannot be released.

Once it is known what the economic and social status of every caste group is, a new intervention strategy can then be fashioned to emancipate caste groups that are still at the bottom of the ladder and require that socio-economic impetus. The focus of affirmative action would thus shift from emancipating an individual to a caste group as a whole. Only when all castes are equal can society become egalitarian.

Source: The Hindu

6. Why October’s been so rainy

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper I; Geography

The monsoon is over but several parts of the country are still receiving rainfall. Delhi, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand, for example, have received very high rainfall in the last few days, resulting in loss of life and property in some places. Delhi has just had one of its wettest 24-hour periods in several decades.

Scientists say a combination of factors — delayed monsoon and development of low-pressure areas at multiple places — have resulted in these rainfall events at several places.

October rains

Rain in October is not unusual. October is considered a month for transition, during which the southwest monsoon withdraws and gives way to the northeast monsoon that largely affects southern peninsular India, mainly on the eastern side.

Western disturbances, which begin to have significant interference in local weather over the extreme northern parts of India, commonly cause either rain or snowfall. Since late last week, Ladakh, the higher reaches of Kashmir and Uttarakhand have reported the season’s first snowfall.

Last week, two low-pressure systems were active simultaneously, one each over the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal regions. Collectively, these triggered severe weather events over Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Odisha and West Bengal.

Delayed monsoon withdrawal

The four-month southwest monsoon season normally withdraws completely by early October. During the withdrawal phase, it causes thunderstorms and localised heavy rainfall.

This year, however, the withdrawal began only on October 6 against a normal of September 17. So far, the monsoon has withdrawn completely from the Western, Northern, Central and Eastern India regions. But it remains active over the southern peninsula. Thus, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have had significant rainfall during the last 10 days.

Until Monday, the monsoon had not withdrawn from Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, parts of West Bengal and Odisha and entire southern peninsular India.

“As there has been a delay in the southwest monsoon withdrawal, good rainfall has continued over Odisha, the Northeast and south India,” said Mrutyunjay Mohaptra, director general, India Meteorological Department (IMD).

Normally, by mid-October, the monsoon winds reverse their direction of flow from the southwest to the northeast.

“Even though the easterlies are beginning to replace the westerlies, the former is yet strengthen and fully establish. The easterly winds indicate the arrival of the northeast monsoon,” said D Sivanand Pai, head, Climate Research and Services, IMD, Pune.

This year, conditions for the onset of the northeast monsoon are expected to develop around October 25.

Extreme rains

For most days last week, at least two low-pressure systems remained active along the east and west coasts and over central India, bringing rains over large parts of the country.

Delhi received 87.9mm (over a 24-hour period) between Sunday and Monday, making it the fourth wettest October day for the national capital since 1901. The month of October has also been the fourth wettest so far. It has received 94.6 mm rains this month so far, which is next only to the 238.2 mm it received in 1954, the 236.2 mm in 1956, and 186.9 mm in the entire Octobers of 1910.

Likewise, Balasore in Odisha recorded 210mm in a day and it was only the second such occasion in a decade for this month.

While Tamil Nadu normally receives good rainfall between October and December, mainly during the northeast monsoon, Coimbatore (110mm) witnessed its wettest October day in a decade even before the onset of the northeast monsoon.

The Western Ghats, northeast and central India are known as high-rainfall receiving regions. However, in recent years, it has been noted that intense spells during a short time span are increasingly becoming frequent.

“Due to climate change, there is definitely a rising frequency in the extreme weather events round the year. But these specific occurrences of heavy to very heavy rains that we are seeing right now can be attributed to the formation of low-pressure systems,” said Mohaptra.

“Whenever there is a low-pressure system, depending on its strength, it results in heavy to very heavy rainfall activity. In addition, when a low-pressure system interacts with western disturbance, further intense rainfall occurs,” he said.

Extreme rainfall in Kerala

A low-pressure system that formed in the east-central Arabian Sea moved and sustained over Kerala between October 15 and17.

Simultaneously, another low-pressure system prevailed over the north Andhra Pradesh coast and southern Odisha. The interaction between them strengthened the southwest winds which brought extreme rainfall over central and southern Kerala during the last weekend.

At some places in Idukki, Ernakulam, Kollam and Kottayam districts, the 24-hour rainfall was over 200 mm. As many of these districts are hilly and covered with dense forests, the water run-off triggered landslides and mudslides.

Rainy days ahead

The low-pressure system that affected Kerala has weakened now. But a similar system is still active over central India, because of which northern India is likely to received good rainfall this week.

Heavy rainfall events are predicted over Western Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh for Tuesday, with a ‘red’ alert having been issued by IMD for these regions.

Another low pressure — located over Northern Odisha and Gangetic West Bengal — is active and its interaction with the moist easterly winds from the Bay of Bengal is expected to bring heavy rain over West Bengal, Odisha, Sikkim, and Bihar until Wednesday. The maximum impact in terms of extremely heavy rain (more than 204 mm in 24 hours) is likely over some places in West Bengal and Sikkim on Tuesday.

Further, strong southeasterly winds from the Bay of Bengal are expected to cause very heavy rain over Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya until Wednesday.

Source: The Indian Express

7. Arctic melt: will polar bears vanish by 2100?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Environment

The shrinkage of summer sea ice in the Arctic has long been a concern, as has been the survival of the species that depend on it for survival. A new study has now put a timeline to an impending disaster: If carbon emissions continue at current levels, summer ice will disappear by 2100 — and, along with it, creatures such as seals and polar bears.

The study has been published in the journal Earth’s Future.

Ice and life

In winter, most of the Arctic Ocean surface freezes, and scientists expect this to continue for the foreseeable future, even as climate warms. In summer, when some of the ice melts, winds and currents carry it for great distances — some of it into the North Atlantic, but much of it into the Arctic’s farthest-north coasts, along Greenland and the Canadian islands.

This results in a rich marine ecosystem. On the Arctic ice, algae bloom. These feed tiny animals, which in turn feed fish, which in turn feed seals, which feed polar bears at the top of the chain. The irregular topography also helps create lairs for seals, and ice caves for polar bears during the winter.

But with a warming climate, summer sea ice has been shrinking fast, and now consistently spans less than half the area it did in the early 1980s.

The findings

The study covers a 1 million-sq km region north of Greenland and the coasts of the Canadian Archipelago, where sea ice has traditionally been thickest round the year, and thus likely to be most resilient.

The researchers looked at two scenarios: optimistic (if carbon emissions are brought in check) and pessimistic (if emissions continue as they are). By 2050, summer ice in this region will dramatically thin. Under the optimistic scenario, some summer ice could persist indefinitely. Under the pessimistic scenario, summer ice would disappear by the end of the century.

Under the low-emissions scenario, ice from even the central Arctic will wane by mid-century, and will no longer endure through the year. Locally formed summer ice will persist in what is known as the Last Ice Area, but will now be only a metre thick.

The implications

The study forecasts that under the low-emissions scenario, at least some seals, bears and other creatures may survive. These species currently exist under similar summer conditions along western Alaska and parts of Hudson Bay.

However, under the higher-emissions scenario, by 2100, even the locally formed ice will disappear in summer, the study has found. With no summer ice anywhere, there will be no ice-dependent ecosystems.

“Unfortunately, this is a massive experiment we’re doing,” the Columbia University’s Climate School quotes a senior research scientist Robert Newton, co-author of the study, as saying. “If the year-round ice goes away, entire ice-dependent ecosystems will collapse, and something new will begin,” he is quoted as saying on the School’s website.

This may not mean the end of all life. “New things will emerge, but it may take some time for new creatures to invade.” Fish, algae etc may come up from the North Atlantic, but it is not clear if they could survive there year round. “…it may be getting warmer, but the planet’s rotation around the sun will not change, and any new occupants including photosynthetic organisms would have to deal with the long, sunless Arctic winter,” the statement said.

Source: The Indian Express

8. Why India Has Dismissed 2021 Global Hunger Index Ranking

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; International Organisations

India came out strongly against the publishers of the annual Global Hunger Index over the questions of methodology and data sources amid a decline in the country’s ranking, which slid from 94 in 2020 to 101 in 2021, which puts it behind its neighbours Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. While the country has seen consistent improvement in terms of its score, it is reported to have demonstrated mixed performance on the representative indicators. Here’s what you need to know.

Why has india objected to the 2021 ranking?

Taking strong exception to the 2021 report, a statement from the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) said that its publishers “have not done their due diligence before releasing the report”.

“It is shocking to find that the Global Hunger Report 2021 has lowered the rank of India on the basis of FAO estimate on proportion of undernourished population, which is found to be devoid of ground reality and facts and suffers from serious methodological issues,” the ministry said.

Terming the FAO methodology “unscientific”, it said that “the scientific measurement of undernourishment would require measurement of weight and height, whereas the methodology involved here is based on Gallup poll based on pure telephonic estimate of the population”.

The ministry further said that the “report completely disregards government’s massive effort to ensure food security of the entire population during the Covid period, verifiable data on which are available”. Referring to the FAO report, ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021’, the ministry said it is “noted with surprise… that other four countries of this region — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka — have not been affected at all by Covid-19 pandemic induced loss of job/business and reduction in income levels, rather they have been able to improve their position on the indicator…”

While it was not clear when the GHI 2021 page for India was last updated, the publishers said they had not used FAO’s Gallup telephone-based opinion indicator — the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) — for their report. They also add that “any developments in 2021 are not yet reflected in the latest prevalence of undernourishment data, which covers 2018-2020″. So, they pointed out, the “full effects of the Covid-19 pandemic will likely only be reflected in the GHI data in the coming years”.

The publishers said that while India has made “substantial progress” since 2000, “there are still areas of concern, particularly regarding child nutrition”. Noting that India’s GHI performance has improved — as reflected in a decrease in its GHI score from 38.8 points in 2000, which put the country in the ‘alarming’ zone to 27.5 in 2021, considered ‘serious’ — the publishers said that “the proportion of undernourished in the population and the under-five child mortality rate are now at relatively low levels”.

In fact, the indicator values on child wasting and stunting both saw a rise, while those for undernourishment and under-5 mortality registered declines. The publishers said that while child stunting has seen a significant decrease — from 54.2 per cent in 1998–1999 to 34.7 per cent in 2016–2018 — it is “still considered very high”.

As to child wasting, the report said that, at 17.3 per cent, the rate is slightly higher than what it was in 1998–1999, when it was 17.1 per cent, adding that “India has the highest child wasting rate of all countries covered in the GHI”.

What is the global hunger index?

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is published annually as part of a partnership between Concern Worldwide, Ireland’s largest aid and humanitarian agency that says it is “dedicated to tackling poverty and suffering in the world’s poorest countries”, and Welthungerhilfe, which describes itself as “one of the largest private aid organisations in Germany, independent of politics and religion”.

The publishers say that the first GHI report was published in 2006 and that it is intended to be “a tool designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger at global, regional, and national levels”.

The publishers say that the GHI assesses a country’s performance on four component indicators, which reflect the multidimensional nature of hunger — undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality — to compile a score that gives an indication as to deficiencies in calories as well as in micronutrients.

A three-step process based on standardisation of scores on each of the indicators and their aggregation yields a country’s GHI score on a 100-point ‘GHI Severity Scale’, where 0 is the best score and 100 is the worst.

What are the data sources used for the index?

The publishers said the data and estimates for the four GHI components is taken from the United Nations and other multilateral agencies and that the same data sources are used for all countries to ensure uniformity of methodology and comparability.

For undernourishment, the values are from the 2021 edition of the FAO Food Security Indicators, the publishers said, adding that GHI uses the prevalence of undernourishment indicator assessed by FAO using Food Balance Sheet data from each country. “It measures the proportion of the population with inadequate access to calories and is based on data regarding the food supply in the country,” they said.

For child stunting and wasting, the data are from the 2021 edition of UNICEF, WHO, and World Bank Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates with the publishers saying they also included data from India’s Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey 2016–2018 National Report published in 2019.

The under-five mortality rate data was obtained from the 2020 edition of the UN IGME (Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation) Child Mortality Estimates published in September 2020.

But on the comparability of GHI reports, the publishers said that while GHI scores are comparable within each year’s report, they cannot be compared between different years’ reports. It has been pointed out that it is so because of revisions of the source data and methodology.

“Comparing scores between reports may create the impression that hunger has changed positively or negatively in a specific country from year to year, whereas in some cases the change may be partly or fully a reflection of a data revision,” the publishers said, adding that “the methodology for calculating GHI scores has been revised in the past and may be revised again in the future”.

Further, just like the GHI scores and indicator values, the publishers said that “the rankings from one year’s report cannot be compared to those from another” as different countries are included in the ranking every year.

“If a country’s ranking changes from one year to the next, it may be in part because it is being compared to a different group of countries,” they said.

Source: The Indian Express