Elite News Reader: August 28, 2023
Himalayan blunders that are ravaging the Himalayas
Context: The increasing environmental degradation and frequent tragedies in hill States like Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are indicative of a flawed developmental approach.
Relevance: GS 1 Geographical phenomenon
Flawed Development Paradigm:
- Environmental Disasters: Repeated incidents of bridges, roads, and buildings being swept away by raging rivers expose the negative consequences of unsustainable development.
- Road Project Impact: The Chardham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojna, a massive road-widening project, has led to loss of trees, forest land, and fertile topsoil. The project’s muck has choked water sources.
Environmental Impact and Regulatory Bypass:
- Environmental Clearance: Projects over 100 km require environmental clearance. However, large-scale tourism and election agenda-driven projects bypass these requirements.
- Fragmentation to Avoid EIA: The Chardham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojna divided into smaller projects to evade Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) rules.
- Bhagirathi Eco Sensitive Zone (BESZ): This protected area was compromised by hasty approval of a zonal master plan (ZMP) and disregard for Supreme Court directions and detailed EIA.
Contradictory Road Widening Approach:
- Road Widening Contradictions: The Ministry of Road Transport’s decision to widen roads to Double-Laning with Paved Shoulder (DLPS) alignment contradicts its own recommendations for hilly terrains.
- Supreme Court Intervention: The Supreme Court addressed this contradiction and directed implementation of its own notification, but the government cited “national security” to circumvent it.
Unanswered Questions and Unregulated Expansion:
- Questionable Motivations: Changes in road width requirements and project justifications raise questions about the real intentions behind these projects.
- Increased Carrying Capacity: Despite experts’ concerns about overburdened pilgrimage sites, carrying capacities were increased, possibly to justify excessive road widening.
Conservation and Regulation:
- Parliamentary Committee’s Call for Caution: The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment highlighted the need for meticulous environmental assessment in ecologically sensitive areas.
- Gangotri Glacier Threat: Rising vehicular movement and black carbon deposits from roads accelerate the melting of the Gangotri glacier, posing severe environmental threats.
- Sustainable Solution: Advocates for sustainable development stress the importance of regulating road width and minimizing environmental impact, especially in ecologically fragile regions.
The state of scholarships for minorities
Context: The Indian government has historically implemented educational schemes to empower religious minority communities, especially Muslims, to bridge the socio-economic gaps they face. However, recent years have seen a reduction in funding and discontinuation of key educational initiatives targeted at these communities.
Relevance: GS Paper – 2 Issues Related to SCs & STs
The Need for Scholarships for Religious Minorities:
- Socio-Economic Disparities: Religious minority communities, particularly Muslims, experience lower participation in salaried jobs and are often engaged in the informal sector with poor working conditions and low wages.
- Sachar Committee Report: The Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee’s report in 2006 highlighted the socio-economic and educational neglect faced by Muslims in India.
- Inclusion of Minorities: The establishment of the Ministry of Minority Affairs in 2006 aimed to provide focused attention on issues affecting minority communities, including educational empowerment.
Budget Reduction and Impact on Beneficiaries:
- Decline in Beneficiaries: Over the past three years, beneficiaries of key educational schemes for minorities have dropped by around 7%.
- Expenditure Reduction: The expenditure on these schemes has decreased by 12.5%.
- Budget Allocation: The Ministry of Minority Affairs’ budget allocation for 2023-24 decreased by 38% compared to the previous year.
Importance of Educational Aid:
- Affirmative Action: Niti Aayog’s Strategy Document-2018 highlights the need for affirmative action to uplift the socio-economic status of religious minorities, particularly Muslims.
- Disparities in Education: Muslims face significant disparities in education accessibility and enrollment compared to the general population.
- Out-of-School Children: Muslim communities have the highest proportion of out-of-school children in the country.
Challenges and the Way Forward:
- Recommendations by Niti Aayog: Enhance scholarships, including pre-matric, post-matric, and merit-cum-means scholarships, and increase the number of scholarships for girls from minority communities.
- Ensuring Inclusivity: It is imperative to ensure inclusivity and equal educational opportunities for all, regardless of religious background, to bridge socio-economic gaps and promote holistic development.
India’s Rohingya refugee children are not criminals
Context: A tragic incident involving tear gas in a Rohingya refugee holding center in Jammu, India, where an infant died, has highlighted the dire conditions and treatment faced by these vulnerable refugees.
Relevance: GS Paper – 2 India and its Neighbourhood
Detention and Treatment of Rohingya Refugees:
- Prison-like Conditions: The holding center in Jammu, where Rohingya refugees are detained, was formerly a prison. More than 250 Rohingya refugees, including women and children, have been confined there since 2021.
- Refugees as Criminals: India lacks a consistent policy on refugees and asylum seekers and is not a signatory to international refugee conventions. Rohingya refugees are seen as illegal immigrants and are subject to detention under the Foreigners Act.
- Violation of Rights: Detention of refugees, including children, violates their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Constitution of India, which guarantees the right to life and personal liberty for all, including foreigners.
Concerns for Children’s Rights:
- Inherent Right to Life and Development: Article 6 of the CRC states that every child has the inherent right to life, survival, and development. Detaining children, denying them access to education and liberty, and subjecting them to prison-like conditions violate this right.
- Detention Centers and Jails: Rohingya refugee children are detained alongside their parents, and some are sent to juvenile justice homes under the Juvenile Justice Act. Treating them as if they are in conflict with the law is a grave injustice.
Call for Action:
- Immediate Release: To uphold the rights and well-being of Rohingya refugee children, it is imperative to release all children and their primary caregivers from detention centers immediately.
- Guidelines: Authorities should follow the Government of India’s internal guidelines (2011) on refugee detention, ensuring timely release within six months.
- Ombudsman Appointment: The National Human Rights Commission and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights should appoint an ombudsman to investigate refugee detention centers in India.
An undersea tunnel is a national asset
Context: The Kerala government has embarked on an ambitious project to construct a coastal highway connecting Thiruvananthapuram to Kasargode, spanning 623 km and passing through nine coastal districts.
Relevance: GS 3 Infrastructure
- Undersea Tunnels: Undersea tunnels are impressive feats of civil, structural, and marine engineering. Examples like the Channel Tunnel (English Channel), the Eurasia Tunnel (Turkey), and the Seikan Tunnel (Japan) demonstrate the feasibility of such projects.
- Reports suggest that the Central government has also sanctioned funds for an underwater road-cum-rail tunnel across the Brahmaputra river, making an undersea tunnel between Fort Kochi and Vypeen Island a feasible proposition.
Proposed Undersea Tunnel: Engineering Considerations:
- Distance and Gradient: The shipping channel’s width is 260 m, and considering the need for comfortable gradients for heavy trucks and containers, the approach road on either side and the tunnel itself could span around 2.6 km in total length.
- Design Features: Modern tunnels incorporate dedicated corridors for vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians. Similar arrangements could be planned for this tunnel, making it an engineering marvel.
- Cost Estimates: Preliminary estimates suggest that the total cost could reach around ₹1,500 crore.
- Route and Land Acquisition: The tunnel could start from Puthuvypeen and emerge at Fort Kochi beach, minimizing land acquisition.
Benefits and Importance:
- Seamless Transportation: The undersea tunnel would significantly contribute to the proposed coastal highway, offering seamless transportation across Kerala.
- Traffic Congestion Reduction: By reducing traffic congestion, the tunnel could provide an effective alternative to the national transportation network.
- Time and Energy Savings: The tunnel’s shorter route would save time, energy, and fuel for transporting goods and people across Kerala.
- Tourist Attraction and Revenue: The tunnel could serve as a tourist attraction and generate revenue through toll charges, benefiting the government immediately after commissioning.
- Long-term Impact: With a lifespan of around 100 years, the tunnel’s long-term impact on transportation and connectivity is significant.
Government’s Role and Perspective:
- Appropriate Agency: As the tunnel passes through the territory of the Cochin Port Authority, the Central government should be responsible for meeting the cost, given the tunnel’s integration into the coastal highway network.
- Social Overhead Capital: The tunnel should be seen as a collective asset, benefiting both urban and rural populations, and enhancing the public transport system and quality of life in Kochi.
- Public Safety and Enhancement: While commercial viability is important, the government’s primary concerns should be public safety, improved transportation, and overall quality of life in Kochi.
Neeraj Chopra crowned World champion
Context: Neeraj Chopra, a 25-year-old Indian javelin thrower, has secured the World Championship title, adding to his impressive list of achievements that includes an Olympic gold, Asian Games victory, and Commonwealth Games success.
- Neeraj clinched the World Championship title in Budapest with an exceptional throw of 88.17 meters during the second round.
- His early strong performance set him apart and his competitors couldn’t surpass it.
- Neeraj is already an Olympic champion, Asian Games gold medalist, and Commonwealth Games winner.
- He made history by becoming the first Indian man to win a world medal in the previous year’s World Championships.
ISRO releases graph of temperature variation of topsoil in lunar South Pole
Context: The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) released temperature variation data of the lunar surface.
- The data was collected by the Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment (ChaSTE) payload on Chandrayaan-3’s Vikram lander module.
Objective of the Study:
- ChaSTE aimed to understand the thermal behavior of the lunar surface by measuring temperature profiles of the topsoil around the South Pole.
- The study helps gather insights into the moon’s surface temperature changes with depth.
- The presented graph showcased temperature variations of the lunar surface and its near-surface at different depths.
- The temperature data was recorded during the probe’s penetration into the lunar soil.
Significance and Scope:
- This study marked the first temperature profile for the lunar South Pole.
- The findings provide crucial insights into the moon’s thermal dynamics at varying depths.
- Detailed observations based on the collected data are currently underway.
Development and Collaboration:
- The ChaSTE payload was developed by a team led by ISRO’s Space Physics Laboratory (SPL).
- The Space Physics Laboratory is part of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC).
- The development was done in collaboration with the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) located in Ahmedabad.
Government imposes restrictions on export of Basmati rice
Context: The Union government of India has stopped the export of Basmati rice priced below $1,200 per tonne.
- The decision aims to prevent possible “illegal” shipment of regular white rice that might be falsely labeled as Basmati rice.
Price Variation and Consultations:
- The Ministry noted significant differences in Basmati contract prices, with the lowest being $359 per MT despite the average being $1,214 per MT in August.
- APEDA is directed to consult with traders to create awareness about this matter and discourage the misuse of this route for exporting non-Basmati white rice.
- Based on the committee’s report, a decision regarding the export of lower-priced Basmati rice will be made.
- The government is aiming to prevent misclassification and ensure the integrity of Basmati rice exports.
Previous Ban on Broken Rice:
- In September 2022, the Indian government had imposed a ban on the export of broken rice, indicating a series of measures to manage rice trade.