8th February 2021

Flash flood disasters in Uttarakhand

Recently, a glacial break in the Tapovan-Reni area of Chamoli District of Uttarakhand led to massive Flash Flood in Dhauli Ganga and Alaknanda Rivers, damaging houses and the nearby Rishiganga power project.

  • In June 2013, flash floods in Uttarakhand wiped out settlements and took lives.
  • Cause of Flash Flood in Uttarakhand:
    • It occurred in river Rishi Ganga due to the falling of a portion of Nanda Devi glacier in the river which exponentially increased the volume of water.
      • Rishiganga meets Dhauli Ganga near Raini. So Dhauli Ganga also got flooded.
  • Major Power Projects Affected:
    • Rishi Ganga Power Project:
      • It is a privately owned 130MW project.
    • Tapovan Vishnugad Hydropower Project on the Dhauliganga:
      • It was a 520 MW run-of-river hydroelectric project being constructed on Dhauliganga River.
    • Several other projects on the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi river basins in northwestern Uttarakhand have also been impacted by the flood.
  • Flash Floods:
      • These are sudden surges in water levels generally during or following an intense spell of rain.
      • These are highly localised events of short duration with a very high peak and usually have less than six hours between the occurrence of the rainfall and peak flood.
      • The flood situation worsens in the presence of choked drainage lines or encroachments obstructing the natural flow of water.
    • Causes:
      • It may be caused by heavy rain associated with a severe thunderstorm, hurricane, tropical storm, or meltwater from ice or snow flowing over ice sheets or snowfields.
      • Flash Floods can also occur due to Dam or Levee Breaks, and/or Mudslides (Debris Flow).
      • In areas on or near volcanoes, flash floods have also occurred after eruptions, when glaciers have been melted by the intense heat.
      • The intensity of the rainfall, the location and distribution of the rainfall, the land use and topography, vegetation types and growth/density, soil type, and soil water- content all determine just how quickly the Flash Flooding may occur, and influence where it may occur.

Glaciers

    • Glaciers are a bulk of ice moving under its weight. It forms in areas where the amassing of snow goes beyond its ablation over many years.
    • They are generally seen in the snow-fields.
    • This largest freshwater basin covers around 10% of the land surface of the Earth.
    • According to the topography and the location of the glacier, it can be categorized as Mountain Glacier (Alpine Glaciers) or Continental Glacier (Ice Sheets).
    • The Continental Glacier moves outward in all directions whereas the Mountain Glacier moves from a higher to a lower altitude.
  • Glaciers and Floods:
    • Glacial Lakes:
      • Retreating glaciers, like several in the Himalayas, usually result in the formation of lakes at their tips, called proglacial lakes, often bound only by sediments and boulders.
    • Flood:
      • If the boundaries of these lakes are breached, it can lead to large amounts of water rushing down to nearby streams and rivers, gathering momentum on the way by picking up sediments, rocks and other material, and resulting in flooding downstream.
  • Impact of Climate Change:
    • Climate change has driven erratic weather patterns like increased snowfall and rainfall, warmer winters has led to the melting of a lot of snow.
    • According to the latest assessment reports of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, glacier retreat and permafrost thaw are projected to decrease the stability of mountain slopes and increase the number and area of glacier lakes.

 

Sub-categorisation of OBCs explained: What a Commission has found so far

Recently, the Centre has extended the tenure of the Rohini Commission until 31st July, 2021 to submit its report on Sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

  • The Rohini Commission was constituted in October 2017 under Article 340 of the Constitution. At that time, it was given 12 weeks to submit its report, but has been given several extensions since, the latest one being the 10th.
  • Article 340 deals with the appointment of a commission to investigate the conditions of backward classes.
  • Need for Committee for Sub-categorisation of OBCs:
    • Ensuring Equality:
      • It had been constituted to complete the task of sub-categorising 5000-odd castes in the central OBC.
        • OBCs are granted 27% reservation in jobs and education under the central government.
        • The need for sub-categorisation arises out of the perception that only a few affluent communities among the over 2,600 included in the Central List of OBCs have secured a major part of this 27% reservation.
      • Sub-categorisation would ensure more equitable distribution of opportunities in central government jobs and educational institutions.
    • Recommended by NCBC:
      • In 2015, the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) had recommended that OBCs should be categorised into extremely backward classes, more backward classes and backward classes.
      • The benefits of the reservation in OBCs are being cornered mostly by the dominant OBC groups over the years so there is a need to recognise sub-quotas for the extremely backward classes within the OBCs.
      • NCBC has the authority to examine complaints and welfare measures regarding socially and educationally backward classes.
  • Commission’s Terms of Reference (ToR):
    • Examining Inequality: To examine the extent of inequitable distribution of benefits of reservation among the castes or communities included in the broad category of OBCs with reference to such classes included in the Central List.
    • Determining Parameters: To work out the mechanism, criteria, norms and parameters in a scientific approach for sub-categorisation within such OBCs.
    • Classification: To take up the exercise of identifying the respective castes or communities or sub-castes or synonyms in the Central List of OBCs and classifying them into their respective sub-categories.
    • Eliminating Errors: To study the various entries in the Central List of OBCs and recommend correction of any repetitions, ambiguities, inconsistencies and errors of spelling or transcription.
  • Challenges Before the Commision:
    • Data Deficiency:
      • Absence of data for the population of various communities to compare with their representation in jobs and admissions.
    • Delaying of Survey:
      • It was decided in Census 2021, data of OBCs will also be collected, but no consensus has been reached regarding enumeration of OBCs in the Census.
  • Findings of the Commision Until Now:
    • In 2018, the Commission analysed the data of 1.3 lakh central jobs given under OBC quota over the preceding five years.
    • It also analysed OBC admissions to central higher education institutions, including universities, IITs, NITs, IIMs and AIIMS, over the preceding three years. The findings were:
      • 97% of all jobs and educational seats have gone to just 25% of all sub-castes classified as OBCs.
      • 24.95% of these jobs and seats have gone to just 10 OBC communities.
      • 983 OBC communities (37% of the total) have zero representation in jobs and educational institutions.
      • 994 OBC sub-castes have a total representation of only 2.68% in recruitment and admissions.
    • In mid- 2019, the Commission informed that it is ready with the draft report (on sub-categorisation). It is widely understood that the report could have huge political consequences and face a judicial review so it’s still not released.
  • OBC Recruitment in the Central Government Jobs (as per the Report submitted by the Department of Personnel and Training to NCBC in 2020):
    • From the data of 42 ministries/departments, OBC representation in Central government jobs was found out to be:
      • 16.51 % in Group-A central government services.
      • 13.38 % in Group-B central government services.
      • 21.25 % in Group-C (excluding safai karamcharis).
      • 17.72 % in Group-C (safai karamcharis).
    • Regarding NFS:
      • NCBC also found out that a number of posts reserved for OBCs were being filled by people of general category as OBC candidates were declared “NFS” (None Found Suitable).
  • Revision of Creamy Layer:
    • Even the revision of the income limit for the creamy layer for the OBCs is under consideration.

Note

  • Recently, the Supreme Court of India has reopened a similar legal debate on sub-categorisation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for reservations, what is commonly referred to as “quota within quota” for SCs and STs.

 

Square Kilometre Array Telescope – what largest telescope will do?

Recently, the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO) Council held its inaugural meeting and approved the establishment of the world’s largest radio telescope.

  • The new venture is being deemed as important following the collapse of one of the most prolific radio telescopes in the world, the Arecibo in Puerto Rico, in December last year.
  • SKAO is a new intergovernmental organisation dedicated to radio astronomy and is headquartered in the UK.
    • At the moment, organisations from ten countries are a part of the SKAO.
    • These include Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK.
  • Radio Telescopes:
    • Radio telescope, astronomical instrument consisting of a radio receiver and an antenna system that is used to detect radio-frequency radiation between wavelengths of about 10 metres (30 megahertz [MHz]) and 1 mm (300 gigahertz [GHz]) emitted by extraterrestrial sources, such as stars, galaxies, and quasars.
    • Unlike optical telescopes, radio telescopes can detect invisible gas and, therefore, they can reveal areas of space that may be obscured by cosmic dust.
      • Cosmic dust consists of tiny particles of solid material floating around in the space between the stars.
    • Since the first radio signals were detected in the 1930s, astronomers have used radio telescopes to detect radio waves emitted by different objects in the universe and explore it.
    • According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the field of radio astronomy evolved after World War II and became one of the most important tools for making astronomical observations.
  • The Arecibo Telescope:
    • The Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico, which was the second-largest single-dish radio telescope in the world, collapsed in December 2020.
      • China’s Sky Eye is the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope.
    • The telescope was built in 1963.
    • Because of its powerful radar, scientists employed it to observe planets, asteroids and the ionosphere, making several discoveries over the decades, including finding prebiotic molecules in distant galaxies, the first exoplanets, and the first-millisecond pulsar.
  • Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Telescope:
    • Location:
      • The telescope, proposed to be the largest radio telescope in the world, will be located in Africa and Australia.
    • Development:
      • The development of SKA will use the results of various surveys undertaken using another powerful telescope called the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP).
        • ASKAP is developed and operated by the Australia’s science agency Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
        • This telescope, which has been fully operational since February 2019 mapped over three million galaxies in a record 300 hours during its first all-sky survey conducted late last year.
        • ASKAP surveys are designed to map the structure and evolution of the Universe, which it does by observing galaxies and the hydrogen gas that they contain.
    • Maintenance:
      • Its operation, maintenance and construction will be overseen by SKAO.
    • Cost and Completion:
      • The completion is expected to take nearly a decade at a cost of over 1.8 billion pounds.
    • Significance:
      • Some of the questions that scientists hope to address using this telescope:
        • The beginning of the universe.
        • How and when the first stars were born.
        • The life-cycle of a galaxy.
        • Exploring the possibility of detecting technologically-active civilisations elsewhere in our galaxy.
        • Understanding where gravitational waves come from.
    • Function:
      • As per NASA, the telescope will accomplish its scientific goals by measuring neutral hydrogen over cosmic time, accurately timing the signals from pulsars in the Milky Way, and detecting millions of galaxies out to high redshifts.

 

Hydrogen – the clean fuel for future

Recently, researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT-D) have come up with a way to generate clean fuel hydrogen from water at a low-cost.

  • It is a significant step towards efforts across the globe that are being made to look for cleaner and greener energy sources.
  • Hydrogen gas is a viable choice as a renewable substitute for fossil fuels, and can help mitigate emissions to reduce pollution.
    • The researchers at IIT-D have successfully split water by a process known as Sulphur-Iodine (SI) thermochemical hydrogen cycle (SI Cycle) to generate low-cost, clean hydrogen fuel for industrial consumption.
    • Generally in SI Cycle, the separation of Hydrogen from oxygen requires a high amount of heat (generally from non-renewable sources such as coal, oil and natural gas). This makes the large-scale production of hydrogen gas economically non viable and non environment friendly.
    • The main achievement has been designing a suitable catalyst for the energy intensive, corrosive step of sulphuric acid conversion to sulphur-dioxide and oxygen.

  • Sulfur-Iodine Cycle
    • Process:
      • The sulfur–iodine cycle (SI cycle) is a three-step thermochemical cycle used to produce hydrogen. In this cycle, all the chemicals are recycled. The SI process requires an efficient source of heat.
      • Heat enters the cycle in high-temperature endothermic chemical reactions in the initial process and heat exits the cycle in the low-temperature exothermic reaction in the final stage of obtaining hydrogen gas.
    • Three-Step Thermochemical Cycle:
      • Step 1: Iodide (I2) is reacted with Sulphur dioxide (SO2) to produce Hydriodic acid (HI) and Sulphuric acid (H2SO4).
        • I2 + SO2 + 2 H2O → 2 HI + H2SO4
      • Step 2: The water, SO2 and residual H2SO4 is separated from the oxygen byproduct by condensation so as to obtain Hydriodic acid (HI).
        • 2 H2SO4 → 2 SO2 + 2 H2O + O2
      • Step 3: It is the Hydriodic acid (HI) from which Hydrogen gas (H2) is obtained.
        • 2 HI → I2 + H2
      • The difference between the heat entering and leaving the cycle exits the cycle in the form of the heat of combustion of the hydrogen produced.
    • Major challenges of the sulfur–iodine cycle are to reduce the surplus of water and iodine and find separation processes that consume less energy than distillation.
    • Traditionally development of the SI cycle has been pursued by several countries for hydrogen production with the Generation IV nuclear reactors.
  • Significance of the Discovery
    • Enhancing Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology:
      • Enabling availability of of low cost hydrogen through this discovery will enhance and improve the application of Hydrogen fuel cell technology which offers the advantages of a clean and reliable alternative energy source to applications such as – electric vehicles, primary and backup power for a variety of commercial, industrial, and residential buildings; and more futuristic-sounding applications like air taxis.
        • A hydrogen fuel cell is an electrochemical power generator that combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, with water and heat as by-products.
    • Help Adhering Emission Targets:
      • It could help India to adhere to its commitment in the Paris Climate Agreement and its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) Targets and ensure that its mobility in the future is with zero emissions.
    • Complements FAME India Scheme:
      • It will complement the implementation of the FAME India Scheme launched with the objective to support hybrid/electric vehicles market development and manufacturing ecosystem.
  • Advantages of Hydrogen as Fuel:
    • Environment Friendly:
      • The advantage of using hydrogen as an energy carrier is that when it combines with oxygen the only byproducts are water and heat.
      • No greenhouse gasses or other particulates are produced by the use of hydrogen fuel cells.
    • Non Toxic:
      • Hydrogen is a non-toxic substance that is rare for a fuel source. It is environmentally friendly and does not cause any harm or destruction to human health.
    • Highly Efficient:
      • Hydrogen is an efficient energy type since it has the ability to convey a lot of energy for every pound of fuel compared to diesel or gas.
    • Ideal Spaceship Fuel:
      • Hydrogen energy’s efficiency and power make it an ideal fuel source for spaceships. Its power is so high that it’s able to quickly rocket spaceships to exploration missions.
  • Disadvantages of Hydrogen as fuel
    • Compared to gas, hydrogen lacks smell, which makes any leak detection almost impossible.
    • Hydrogen is a highly flammable and volatile substance, its potential dangers make its transportation and storage very challenging.

 

Veil of privacy can be lifted for legitimate state interest: Centre response in Delhi HC

Recently, the Central government has stated that though the right to privacy is held to be a sacred fundamental right, the veil of privacy can be lifted for legitimate State interest.

  • The government was responding to a petition seeking permanent halting of the Centre’s surveillance projects– Centralized Monitoring System (CMS), Network Traffic Analysis (NETRA) and National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID).

Centre’s Surveillance Projects

  • Centralized Monitoring System:
    • The government has set up a Centralised Monitoring System (CMS) for lawful interception and monitoring of mobile phones, landlines and internet traffic through mobile networks.
  • Network Traffic Analysis:
    • NETRA (or Network Traffic Analysis) is one such effort being taken by the Indian Government to filter suspicious keywords from messages in the network
  • National Intelligence Grid:
    • First conceptualised in 2009, NATGRID (National intelligence Grid) seeks to become the one-stop destination for security and intelligence agencies to access databases related to immigration entry and exit, banking and telephone details of a suspect on a “secured platform”.
  • Petitioner’s Arguments:
    • The government’s surveillance projects enable government authorities to intercept, store, analyse and retain telephone and internet communications data in bulk in violation of the fundamental right to privacy.
    • These systems allow the government a 360 degree surveillance of all citizens, including judges.
    • It sought creation of a permanent and independent oversight authority – judicial or parliamentary – for authorising and reviewing interception and monitoring orders or warrants issued under the Telegraph Act, 1885 and the IT Act, 2000.
  • Government’s Arguments:
    • Lawful interception, monitoring or decryption of any messages or information stored in any computer resources is done by authorised agencies after due approval in each case by the competent authority.
      • There is no blanket permission to any agency for interception or monitoring or decryption; and permission from the competent authority (Union Home Secretary) is required.
    • It contended there is sufficient mechanism of oversight in place in the form of a Review Committee, headed by the Cabinet Secretary at the centre and chief secretary at the state level, which examines if the approval has been given in accordance with the law.
      • When the Review Committee is of the opinion that the directions are not in accordance with the provisions, it may set aside the directions and order for destruction of the copies of the intercepted message or class of messages.
    • The grave threats to the country from terrorism, radicalization, cross-border terrorism, cybercrime, organized crime, drug cartels cannot be understated or ignored and a strong and robust mechanism for timely and speedy collection of actionable intelligence including digital intelligence, is imperative to counter threats to the national security.

Right to Privacy

    • Generally understood that privacy is synonymous with the right to be let alone.
    • The Supreme Court described privacy and its importance in the landmark decision of K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India in 2017 that – Right to Privacy is a fundamental and inalienable right and attaches to the person covering all information about that person and the choices that he/ she makes.
    • The right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution.
  • Restrictions (as stated in the Judgement):
    • The right may be restricted only by state action that passes each of the three tests:
      • First, such state action must have a legislative mandate;
      • Second, it must be pursuing a legitimate state purpose; and
      • Third, it must be proportionate i.e., such state action- both in its nature and extent, must be necessary in a democratic society and the action ought to be the least intrusive of the available alternatives to accomplish the ends.

Government Steps to Protect Privacy

  • Draft Personal Data Protection Bill 2019:
    • The Bill regulates the processing of personal data of individuals (data principals) by government and private entities(data fiduciaries) incorporated in India and abroad. Processing is allowed if the individual gives consent, or in a medical emergency, or by the State for providing benefits.
  • B N Srikrishna Committee:
    • Government appointed a committee of experts on data protection under the chairmanship of Justice B N Srikrishnathat submitted its report in July 2018.
  • Information Technology Act, 2000:
    • The IT Act provides for safeguard against certain breaches in relation to data from computer systems. It contains provisions to prevent the unauthorized use of computers, computer systems and data stored therein.
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