1. 1.36 crore Indians living abroad, one-fourth of them in UAE

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; IOBR

There are over 1.36 crore Indian nationals living abroad, according to data tabled by the Ministry of External Affairs in Lok Sabha. Citing RBI data, the ministry said that during 2018-2019, $76.4 billion was received as remittances from Indians abroad. During 2019-2020 (April-September), $41.9 billion was received.

The highest number of Indians abroad are living in the United Arab Emirates, where the 34,20,000 Indians comprise about one-fourth of all Indians abroad. The UAE is followed by Saudi Arabia (25,94,947), the US (12,80,000), Kuwait (10,29,861), Oman (7,79,351), Qatar (7,56,062), Nepal (5,00,000), UK (3,51,000), Singapore (3,50,000) and Bahrain (3,23,292).

Image shows the number of Indians in abroad

Source: The Indian Express

2. Mapping the ‘Indian’ genome

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

Recently, the government has cleared an ambitious gene-mapping project that is being described by those involved as the “first scratching of the surface of the vast genetic diversity of India”.

What is a genome?

Every organism’s genetic code is contained in its Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA), the building blocks of life. The discovery that DNA is structured as a “double helix” by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953, for which they won a Nobel Prize in 1962, was the spark in the long, continuing quest for understanding how genes dictate life, its traits, and what causes diseases.

Landmarks while discovering Genome

A genome, simply put, is all the genetic matter in an organism. It is defined as “an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. Each genome contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism. In humans, a copy of the entire genome — more than 3 billion DNA base pairs — is contained in all cells that have a nucleus”.

Hasn’t the human genome been mapped before?

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international programme that led to the decoding of the entire human genome. It has been described as “one of the great feats of exploration in history. Rather than an outward exploration of the planet or the cosmos, the HGP was an inward voyage of discovery led by an international team of researchers looking to sequence and map all of the genes — together known as the genome — of members of our species”.

Beginning on October 1, 1990 and completed in April 2003, the HGP gave us the ability, for the first time, to read nature’s complete genetic blueprint for building a human being.

What then is the ‘Genome India’ Project?

This is being spearheaded by the Centre for Brain Research at Bengaluru-based Indian Institute of Science as the nodal point of about 20 institutions, each doing its bit in collecting samples, doing the computations, and then the research. Its aim is to ultimately build a grid of the Indian “reference genome”, to understand fully the type and nature of diseases and traits that comprise the diverse Indian population. For example, if the Northeast sees a tendency towards a specific disease, interventions can be made in the region, assisting public health, which make it easier to battle the illness.

The other institutes involved are: AIIMS Jodhpur; Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad; Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics; Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology; Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre; IIIT Allahabad; IISER (Pune); IIT Madras; IIT Delhi; IIT Jodhpur; Institute of Bioresources And Sustainable Development; Institute of Life Sciences; Mizoram University; National Centre for Biological Sciences; National Institute of Biomedical Genomics; National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences; Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology; and Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences.

So, what will the project broadly do?

The mega project hopes to form a grid after collecting 10,000 samples in the first phase from across India, to arrive at a representative Indian genome. This has been found necessary as over 95% of the genome samples available, which are the basis of new, cutting-edge research in medicine and pharmacology, use the white, Caucasian genome as the base. Most genomes have been sourced from urban middle-class persons and are not really seen as representative. The Indian project will aim to vastly add to the available information on the human species and advance the cause, both because of the scale of the Indian population and the diversity here.

Who is an Indian?

The Indian subcontinent has been the site of huge migrations. Scientists associated with the project recognise that while the first migrations were from Africa, later too there were periodic migrations by various populations, making this a very special case of almost all races and types intermingling genetically. This can be seen as “horizontal diversity”. Moreover, later, there has been endogamy or inter-marriage practised among distinct groups, resulting in some diseases passed on strictly within some groups and some other traits inherited by just some groups. This is what scientists term “vertical diversity”.

Studying and understanding both diversities would provide the bedrock of personalised healthcare for a very large group of persons on the planet.

What are the challenges involved?

MEDICAL ETHICS: In a project that aims only to create a database of genetic information, gene modification is not among the stated objectives. It is important to note, however, that this has been a very fraught subject globally. The lure to “intervene” may be much more if this kind of knowledge is available, without one being fully aware of the attendant risks. The risk of doctors privately running away with the idea of fixing genetic issues came to light most recently after a Shenzen-based scientist, who helped create the world’s first gene-edited babies, was sentenced to three years in prison. He Jiankui stunned the world when he announced in 2018 that twin girls had been born with modified DNA to make them HIV-resistant. He claimed he had managed that using the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 before their birth.

DATA & STORAGE: After collection of the sample, anonymity of the data and questions of its possible use and misuse would need to be addressed. Keeping the data on a cloud is fraught with problems and would raise questions of ownership of the data. India is yet to pass a Data Privacy Bill with adequate safeguards. Launching a Genome India Project before the privacy question is settled could give rise to another set of problems.

SOCIAL ISSUES: The question of heredity and racial purity has obsessed civilisations, and more scientific studies of genes and classifying them could reinforce stereotypes and allow for politics and history to acquire a racial twist.

In India a lot of politics is now on the lines of who are “indigenous” people and who are not. A Genome India Project could add a genetic dimension to the cauldron.

Selective breeding” has been controversial since time immemorial, and well before the DNA was discovered. But eugenics acquired a dangerous context with the Nazis deliberating on the theme at length and its mention came up in the Nuremberg trials. Post World War-2, it has been a very touchy issue.

Source: The Indian Express

3. Why it’s a good idea to have police commissioners in the bigger cities

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

The Uttar Pradesh government recently introduced the Police Commissioner system in Lucknow and Noida, metropolitan cities with populations of about 29 lakh and 16 lakh respectively (2011 Census). Making the announcement, the Chief Minister said that “in Police Commissioner system, police works as a team, under which the Police Commissioner has some magisterial powers in order to take forward smart and effective policing”, while the UP Director General of Police (DGP) cautioned that “with this comes greater responsibility to deliver”. These two statements sum up the roles and responsibilities of the police in the Police Commissioner system.

Police in India are subject to dual control — although their administration under The Police Act, 1861 is vested in the police hierarchy, the District Magistrate exercises general control within his jurisdiction. All preventive actions initiated by police — from securing bonds of good behaviour from potential trouble makers, including habitual offenders, to using force during any law and order situation — require the executive magistrate’s order.

The Inspector General of Police (nowadays called DGP) is also entrusted with magisterial powers under the Act, although these are subject to limits imposed by the state government from time to time. Although most states have drawn up their own police Acts (and repealed The Police Act of 1861) following directions issued by the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh v Union of India in 2006, dual control over police has been retained.

The draft Model Police Act prepared by the Soli Sorabjee Committee to have a uniform law for police forces across the country, has not been adopted by any state. Since ‘public order’ and ‘police’ are part of the State List in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, it is for the states, and not the Centre, to initiate the bulk of police reforms.

From 1856 to now

The Police Commissioner system dates back to 1856. Samuel Wauchope was appointed Police Commissioner for the Town of Calcutta, and William Crawford for the Town of Bombay on November 1, 1856, under Act XIII of 1856. This Act provided for regulating police of the Towns of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, and the Commissioner of Police was appointed as a Justice of the Peace for the preservation of peace and detection of crime.

Subsequently, separate Acts (i.e., The Calcutta Police Act, 1866, The Madras City Police Act, 1888, The Bombay Police Act, 1951) were created to regulate these presidency towns. Ahmedabad in Gujarat was the fourth city to get a Police Commissioner vide The Gujarat Adaptation of Laws (of Bombay) Order in 1960. Delhi got its Commissioner of Police following the recommendations of the Khosla Commission, and the enactment of The Delhi Police Act in 1978.

Later, the metropolitan cities of Tamil Nadu (Madurai and Coimbatore in April 1990, and Salem, Tiruchirappalli, and Tirunelveli in June 1997); Odisha (Bhubaneswar-Cuttack in January 2008); Haryana (Gurgaon in June 2007, Faridabad in August 2009, and Panchkula-Ambala in August 2011); Punjab (Amritsar, Jalandhar, and Ludhiana in February 2010); Rajasthan (Jaipur and Jodhpur in January 2011); Andhra Pradesh (Cyberabad in December 2003), Gujarat (Surat, Rajkot and Vadodara); West Bengal (Bidhannagar and Barrackpore in January 2012); and Karnataka (Kalaburgi in October 2018) too, got police commissionerates.

Maharashtra has the most cities — 11 — with the police commissionerate system; the latest to join the list was Meera-Bhayander late last year. Hyderabad got its Police Commissioner through The Hyderabad City Police Act of 1348F. (‘Fasli year’, which is 590 years behind the Gregorian calendar)

Powers of the police

The most important source of the police’s magisterial powers is The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973. Section 20(1) authorises the state government to appoint as many executive magistrates “as it thinks fit”, and Section 20(5) provides for conferring the powers of an executive magistrate on a Commissioner of Police in a metropolitan area. Under Section 8, the state can declare any area with a population of more than 1 million, a metropolitan area. The previous CrPC of 1898 too contained similar provisions.

Much depends on how much power is entrusted to police to effectively check crime. The Orissa Urban Police Act, 2003 (Orissa Act 8 of 2007) for example, gives ample powers to police to prove their mettle; the Police Commissioner of Gurgaon, on the other hand, had no powers of an executive magistrate to begin with.

The powers of an executive magistrate provided under several special Acts (such as The Arms Act and the Excise Act), which are essential to check the mafia and effectively control crime, remain out of reach of police in many states including Rajasthan and UP. Although Salem, Tiruchirappalli and Tirunelveli got Police Commissioners in 1997, powers under certain special Acts were transferred only in November 2006.

In June 2019, the posts of Inspector General of Police of Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram were changed to Commissioners of Police without any transfer of powers of the executive magistrate. Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, the Northeastern states, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are yet to introduce the Police Commissioner system.

Where commissionerates score

The idea of entrusting greater powers to police via a police commissionerate system is often accompanied by apprehensions of a “police raj”, alongside questions over the fitness of police to exercise these powers. These apprehensions are baseless.

While certain aberrations are indeed seen in some states, the Police Commissioner system in itself has many advantages. It enlarges the role of the police and allows it to work as an agency that promotes the rule of law and renders impartial service to the community. Unified control over the crime prevention and detection mechanism in the hands of the police hierarchy has great potential to improve public order. An integrated command structure enables the police to exhibit its comprehensive responsiveness, and to avoid the game of blame-shifting to other agencies.

The National Police Commission set up in the 1970s to suggest police reforms, noted that large urban areas in which crime and law and order situations develop rapidly, require a speedy and effective operational response from police. This can be possible only when the police are organised to perform the twin basic functions of decision-making and implementation.

The Commission recommended that in cities with populations of 5 lakh and more, and in places that witness special circumstances like speedy urbanisation, industrialisation, etc., the system of police commissionerate would provide more effective policing. In fact, the situation in cities changes so quickly that the system of consultations between executive magistrates and police officers before taking preventive measures often leads to delays and confusion in urgent situations, which eventually attracts criticism from the public.

An overall strengthening of the police structure and many reforms are needed — the adoption of the commissionerate system is an effective first step in achieving the objectives of crime-fighting and maintaining the rule of law.

Source: The Indian Express

4. Lessons from a melting Antarctic glacier

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Environment

In the Antarctic floats a massive glacier, roughly the size of Britain, whose melting has been a cause of alarm for scientists over the years. Now, a new study has pinned the cause of the melting to the presence of warm water at a vital point beneath the glacier.

What is the glacier and why is it important?

Called the Thwaites Glacier, it is 120 km wide at its broadest, fast-moving and melting fast over the years. Because of its size (1.9 lakh square km), it contains enough water to raise the world sea level by more than half a metre. Studies have found the amount of ice flowing out of it has nearly doubled over the past 30 years. Today, Thwaites’s melting already contributes 4% to global sea level rise each year. It is estimated that it would collapse into the sea in 200-900 years. Thwaites is important for Antarctica as it slows the ice behind it from freely flowing into the ocean. Because of the risk it faces — and poses — Thwaites is often called the Doomsday Glacier.

What has the new study found?

A 2019 study had discovered a fast-growing cavity in the glacier sized roughly two-thirds the area of Manhattan. Then last week, researchers from New York University detected warm water at a vital point below the glacier. The NYU study was funded by the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, headed by the Natural Environment Research Council of the UK and the National Science Foundation of the US; the collaboration has been studying the glacier since 2018.

The New York University study reported water at just two degrees above freezing point at Thwaites’s “grounding zone” or “grounding line”.

Why is that significant?

The grounding line is the place below a glacier at which the ice transitions between resting fully on bedrock and floating on the ocean as an ice shelf. The location of the line is a pointer to the rate of retreat of a glacier.

When glaciers melt and lose weight, they float off the land where they used to be situated. When this happens, the grounding line retreats. That exposes more of a glacier’s underside to seawater, increasing the likelihood it will melt faster. This results in the glacier speeding up, stretching out, and thinning, causing the grounding line to retreat ever further.

“Warm waters in this part of the world, as remote as they may seem, should serve as a warning to all of us about the potential dire changes to the planet brought about by climate change,” David Holland of New York University said in a statement.

How was the warming water detected?

Scientists dug a 600-m-deep and 35-cm-wide access hole, and deployed an ocean-sensing device called Icefin to measure the waters moving below the glacier’s surface.

“The fact that such warm water was just now recorded by our team along a section of Thwaites grounding zone where we have known the glacier is melting suggests that it may be undergoing an unstoppable retreat that has huge implications for global sea-level rise,” Holland said.

Source: The Indian Express

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