1. World’s first fishing cat census done in Chilika
The lake has 176 of the globally threatened species
The Chilika Lake, Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon, has 176 fishing cats, according to a census done by the Chilika Development Authority (CDA) in collaboration with the Fishing Cat Project (TFCP).
This is the world’s first population estimation of the fishing cat done outside the protected area network.
According to the CDA, phase 1 of the estimation was conducted in 2021 in the 115 sq.km marshland in the north and north-eastern section of Chilika and its surrounding areas. Phase 2 was conducted in 2022 in the Parikud side along the coastal islands of Chilika.
A total of 150 camera traps were deployed in two phases with each fixed in the field for 30 days. Spatially explicit capture recapture method was used to analyse the data, the CDA said in a statement.
“It was truly participatory in spirit since local fishermen and villagers of Chilika were the primary participants in this exercise. Without their support, the world’s first such population estimation outside protected areas on this globally threatened cat, would not have been possible,” said Susanta Nanda, Chief Executive Officer, CDA.
“Ten graduate and postgraduate students also volunteered during the exercise. Chilika Wildlife Division staff actively facilitated and participated in the estimation. Such a participatory effort involving multiple stakeholders for studying this elusive and threatened species sets a wonderful precedent,” said Partha Dey, co-founder, TFCP.
The CDA said the globally threatened cats are found in wetlands in major South and Southeast Asian river basins starting from the Indus in Pakistan till the Mekong in Vietnam and in Sri Lanka and Java. They are found in 10 Asian countries but have stayed undetected in Vietnam and Java since the last decade or so.
“Wetlands in Asia are being lost at alarmingly rapid rates and proper data on their current status or even baseline data are missing. The status of many wetland species remains understudied and highly threatened. Tracking specialist species such as the fishing cat gives us an indication of what might be happening to these ecosystems, which are safeguards against climate change and droughts,” said Tiasa Adhya, the co-founder of TFCP.
- Scientific Name: Prionailurus viverrinus.
- It is twice the size of a house cat.
- The fishing cat is nocturnal (active at night) and apart from fish also preys on frogs, crustaceans, snakes, birds, and scavenges on carcasses of larger animals.
- The species breed all year round.
- They spend most of their lives in areas of dense vegetation close to water bodies and are excellent swimmers.
- Fishing cats have a patchy distribution along the Eastern Ghats. They abound in estuarine floodplains, tidal mangrove forests and also inland freshwater habitats.
- Apart from Sundarbans in West Bengal and Bangladesh, fishing cats inhabit the Chilika lagoon and surrounding wetlands in Odisha, Coringa and Krishna mangroves in Andhra Pradesh.
- Wetland degradation and conversion for aquaculture and other commercial projects, sand mining along river banks, agricultural intensification resulting in loss of riverine buffer and conflict with humans in certain areas resulting in targeted hunting and retaliatory killings.
- Protection Status:
- IUCN Red List: Vulnerable. Despite multiple threats, the Fishing Cat was recently downlisted to “Vulnerable” from “Endangered” in the IUCN Red List species assessment.
- CITES: Appendix II
- Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972: Schedule I
- Conservation Efforts:
- Recently, the Fishing Cat Conservation Alliance has initiated a study of the bio-geographical distribution of the fishing cat in the unprotected and human-dominated landscapes of the north-eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh.
- In 2012, the West Bengal government officially declared the Fishing Cat as the State Animal and the Calcutta Zoo has two big enclosures dedicated to them.
- In Odisha, many NGOs and wildlife conservation Societies are involved in Fishing Cat research and conservation work.
- The Fishing Cat Project, launched in 2010 started raising awareness about the Cat in West Bengal.
2. Rivers facing heavy pollution: CSE
Heavy toxic metals such as lead, iron, nickel present at alarming levels, says NGO
Three of every four river monitoring stations in India posted alarming levels of heavy toxic metals such as lead, iron, nickel, cadmium, arsenic, chromium and copper.
In about a fourth of the stations, which are spread across 117 rivers and tributaries, high levels of two or more toxic metals were reported.
Of the 33 monitoring stations in the Ganga, 10 had high levels of contaminants. The river, which is the focus of the Centre’s Namami Gange mission, has high levels of lead, iron, nickel, cadmium and arsenic, according to the State of Environment Report, 2022 from the environmental NGO, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
The report is an annual compendium of environment-development data and is derived from public sources.
India has 764 river quality monitoring stations across 28 States. Of these, the Central Water Commission tested water samples from 688 stations for heavy metals between August 2018 and December 2020.
Of the 588 water quality stations monitored for pollution, total coliform and biochemical oxygen demand was high in 239 and 88 stations across 21 States — an indicator of poor wastewater treatment from industry, agriculture and domestic households.
India dumps 72% of its sewage without treatment. Ten States do not treat their sewage at all, as per the Central Pollution Control Board.
Over a third of India’s coastline that is spread across 6,907 km saw some degree of erosion between 1990 and 2018. West Bengal is the worst hit with over 60% of its shoreline under erosion.
The reasons for coastal erosion include increase in frequency of cyclones and sea level rise and activities such as construction of harbours, beach mining and building of dams.
While the global average of the Ocean Health Index, a measure that looks at how sustainably humans are exploiting ocean resources, has improved between 2012 and 2021, India’s score in the index has declined over the same period, the CSE report underlines. India’s total forest cover has registered a little over a 0.5% increase between 2017 and 2021 though most of the increase has taken place in the open forest category, which includes commercial plantations. This has happened at the cost of moderately dense forest, which is normally the area closest to human habitations. At the same time, very dense forests, which absorb maximum carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, occupy just 3% of total forest cover.
India has a forest cover of 77.53 million hectares. But recorded forests — the area under the forest department — are only 51.66 million. This gap of 25.87 million hectares — a size bigger than U.P.— remains unaccounted, the organisation noted.
State of India’s Environment Report 2022.
- The report is the annual publication of the Centre for Science and Environment, and Down To Earth (magazine).
- The report focuses on climate change, migration, health and food systems. It also covers biodiversity, forest and wildlife, energy, industry, habitat, pollution, waste, agriculture and rural development.
- CSE is a public interest research and advocacy organisation based in New Delhi.
Where does India Stand on Achieving its National Targets?
- Economy: The target for the economy is to raise the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to nearly USD 4 trillion by 2022-23. But by 2020, the economy has grown only to USD 2.48 trillion.
- The economy has largely shrunk during the Covid-19 pandemic, making it even more difficult to meet the deadline.
- Employment: The target is to increase the female labour force participation rate to at least 30% by 2022-23.
- It stood at 17.3% in January-March 2020.
- Housing: The targets are to construct 29.5 million housing units under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY)-Rural and 12 million units under PMAY-Urban.
- Only about 46.8% and 38% respectively of the targets under ‘Housing for All’ have been achieved.
- Drinking Water: The target is to provide safe piped drinking water to all by 2022-23.
- Only 45% of the target has been achieved.
- Agriculture: The target is to double farmers’ income by 2022. While the average monthly income of an agricultural household has increased to Rs 10,218 from Rs 6,426, this increase is largely due to increase in wages and income from farming animals.
- The share of income from crop production in the average monthly income of an agricultural household has, in fact, dropped — to 37.2% in 2018-19, from 48% in 2012-13.
- Digitisation of Land Records: Another target is to digitise all land records by 2022. While states like Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha have made good progress, states like Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Sikkim languish at 5%, 2% and 8.8% digitisation of land records, respectively.
- Overall, the target is unlikely to be met, particularly because 14 states have witnessed deterioration in the quality of land records since 2019-20.
- Air Pollution: The target is to bring down Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 levels in Indian cities to less than 50 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3). In 2020, when vehicular movement was restricted due to the pandemic, 23 of the 121 cities monitored for PM2.5 exceeded 50 µg/m3.
- Solid Waste Management: The target is to achieve 100% source segregation in all households.
- The overall progress is 78%, and while states like Kerala and Union territories like Puducherry have achieved the target, others like West Bengal and Delhi are woefully behind.
- Manual scavenging is targeted for eradication, but India still has 66,692 manual scavengers.
- Forest Cover: The target is to increase it to 33.3% of the geographical area, as envisaged in the National Forest Policy, 1988.
- By 2019, 21.6% of India was under forest cover.
- Energy: The target is to achieve 175 GW of renewable energy generation capacity by 2022.
- Only 56% of this target has been achieved thus far.
What was India’s Performance on Sustainable Development Goals?
- India has slipped three spots to rank 120 on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) adopted as a part of the 2030 agenda by 192 United Nations member states in 2015.
- In 2021 India ranked 117 among 192 nations.
- India’s overall SDG score was 66 out of 100.
- India’s rank dropped primarily because of major challenges in 11 SDGs including zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, gender equality and sustainable cities and communities.
- India also performed poorly in dealing with quality education and life on land aspects.
- In 2021, India had suffered on the fronts of ending hunger and achieving food security, achieving gender equality and building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation.
How did the Indian States Perform?
- Jharkhand and Bihar are the least prepared to meet the SDGs by the target year 2030.
- Kerala ranked first, followed by Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh in the second position.
- The third position was shared by Goa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
- Among the Union Territories, Chandigarh was ranked first, followed by Delhi, Lakshadweep and Puducherry in the second place and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands on the third
3. China marks new space milestone
Astronauts dock at Tiangong space station which will be operational by 2022-end
Three Chinese astronauts docked at the country’s space station on Sunday, the state broadcaster said, marking a new milestone in Beijing’s drive to become a major space power.
The trio blasted off in a Long March-2F rocket at 0814 IMT from the Jiuquan launch centre in northwestern China’s Gobi desert, said broadcaster CCTV.
The team is tasked with “completing in-orbit assembly and construction of the space station”, as well as “commissioning of equipment” and conducting scientific experiments, state-run CGTN said on Saturday.
The spacecraft docked at the Tiangong station after about “seven hours of flight”, CCTV reported.
Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace”, is expected to become fully operational by the end of the year.
China’s heavily promoted space programme has already seen the nation land a rover on Mars and send probes to the Moon.
The Shenzhou-14 crew is led by Air Force pilot Chen Dong, 43. The three-person crew’s main challenge will be connecting the station’s two lab modules to the main body.
Tiangong’s second crew
Mr. Dong, along with fellow pilots Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe, will become the second crew to spend six months aboard the Tiangong after the last returned to earth in April following 183 days on the space station.
Tiangong’s core module entered orbit earlier last year and is expected to operate for at least a decade.
The completed station will be similar to the Soviet Mir station that orbited Earth from the 1980s until 2001.
4. The status of eVTOL: a soon to be reality?
What powers electric vertical take off and landing aircraft? What new regulations and policy changes does India need to better integrate electric vertical aircraft?
The Government of India is exploring the possibility of inviting manufacturers of Electric Vertical Take off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft to set up base in India. Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia has been reported as asking Beta Technologies, which has a partnership with the Blade group (it has a presence in India), to look at the Indian market.
An eVTOL aircraft is one that uses electric power to hover, take off, and land vertically. This is technology that has grown on account of successes in electric propulsion based on progress in motor, battery, fuel cell and electronic controller technologies and also fuelled by the need for new vehicle technology that ensures urban air mobility (UAM).
The global market for eVTOLs was put at $8.5 million in 2021 and is to grow to $30.8 million by 2030. The demand will be on account of green energy and noise-free aircraft, cargo carrying concepts and the need for new modes of transport.
Murali N. Krishnaswamy
The story so far: The Union Civil Aviation Minister, Jyotiraditya Scindia, has said that the Government of India is exploring the possibility of inviting manufacturers of Electric Vertical Take off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft to set up base in India. The Minister had been on a visit to the U.S. and Canada in April and in his interactions with key players in the industry, it was said that several eVTOL players were ‘keen on setting up production centres’ in the country. In late May, while speaking at “India@2047”, which was part of the seventh edition of the India Ideas Conclave in Bengaluru, the Minister also said that India is in ‘conversation’ with a number of eVTOL producers — the implication being a futuristic vision for India.
What is eVTOL?
As the acronym suggests, an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft is one that uses electric power to hover, take off, and land vertically. Most eVTOLs also use what is called as distributed electric propulsion technology which means integrating a complex propulsion system with the airframe. There are multiple motors for various functions; to increase efficiency; and to also ensure safety. This is technology that has grown on account of successes in electric propulsion based on progress in motor, battery, fuel cell and electronic controller technologies and also fuelled by the need for new vehicle technology that ensures urban air mobility (UAM). Thus, eVTOL is one of the newer technologies and developments in the aerospace industry.
An article in Inside Unmanned Systems, a leading business intelligence platform, describes eVTOL as being “a runway independent technological solution” for the globe’s transportation needs. This is because it opens up new possibilities which aircraft with engines cannot carry out in areas such as manoeuvrability, efficiency and even from the environmental point of view. The article adds that there are an estimated 250 eVTOL concepts or more being fine-tuned to bring alive the concept of UAM. Some of these include the use of multi-rotors, fixed-wing and tilt-wing concepts backed by sensors, cameras and even radar. The key word here is “autonomous connectivity”. Some of these are in various test phases. There are also others undergoing test flights so as to be certified for use. In short, eVTOLs have been likened to “a third wave in an aerial revolution”; the first being the advent of commercial flying, and the second, the age of helicopters.
Why are the developments in powering eVTOLs?
An article in Avionics International says the roles eVTOLs adopt depends on battery technology and the limits of onboard electric power. Power is required during the key phases of flight such as take off, landing and flight (especially in high wind conditions). There is also the important factor of weight. BAE Systems, for example, is looking at formats using a variety of Lithium batteries. Nano Diamond Batteries is looking at “Diamond Nuclear Voltaic (DNV) technology” using minute amounts of carbon-14 nuclear waste encased in layered industrial diamonds to create self-charging batteries. There are some industry experts who are questioning the use of only batteries and are looking at hybrid technologies such as hydrogen cells and batteries depending on the flight mission. There is even one that uses a gas-powered generator that powers a small aircraft engine, in turn charging the battery system. But whatever the technology, there will be very stringent checks and certification requirements.
What are the challenges?
As the technology so far is a mix of unpiloted and piloted aircraft, the areas in focus include “crash prevention systems”. These use cameras, radar, GPS (global positioning system) and infrared scanners. There are also issues such as ensuring safety in case of powerplant or rotor failure. Aircraft protection from cyberattacks is another area of focus.
A third area is in navigation and flight safety and the use of technology when operating in difficult terrain, unsafe operating environments and also bad weather.
How did it begin?
There is general agreement that the eVTOL world is moving forward based on the spark provided by NASA researcher Mark D. Moore who came up with the concept of a personal (one man) air vehicle while working towards his doctorate. Called the “Puffin” and thought of in 2009-10, it was about four metres tall and with a wingspan of 4.4 metres. It had 60hp electric motors that powered two propellers. Its other specifications included a four-point landing gear, a weight of 272kg, 45kg of batteries, a pilot payload of about 90kg, fetching it a total weight of 407 kg. Its top speed was under 245 kmph with a range of about 80km. A prototype was unveiled in 2010 and the concept was discussed at a conference on aeromechanics in 2010, according to an article in Electric VTOL News. In his paper, “NASA Puffin Electric Tailsitter VTOL Concept”, Moore described “electric propulsion as offering dramatic new vehicle mission capabilities, …. but the only penalising characteristic” being “the current energy storage technology level”.
Are there any big players now?
Since then there have been a number of ideas by industry, such as the Volocopter VC1 from Germany and the Opener BlackFly from the U.S. The top aircraft manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing, have also joined the race. Airbus unveiled its prototype, Vahana Alpha One or the Airbus Vahana (from the Sanskrit Vahana), at the Paris Air Show in 2017. It was pitched as a “cost-comparable replacement for short-range urban transportation” based on a fan-run tilt-wing design. Prototypes made test flights. Airbus then shifted to the “CityAirbus” project (air taxi) which has propellers and direct-drive electric motors.
Boeing is working on the Boeing Passenger Air Vehicle, as an “American autonomous personal air vehicle prototype”. However, the major disruptors have been start-ups, backed by huge dollar flow.
A company, Lilium, started in 2015, which claims to be the “developer of the first all-electric vertical take-off and landing eVTOL jet”, says that it is moving towards developing prototypes “designed to extract over 100kW of power from a system weighing just over 4kg” — which gives us an idea of the advancements. Its Lilium Jet theory has been designed for concepts such as private flights, six-seater passenger flights, or no seating for the zero-emissions logistics market.
It says that the concept looks to connect towns and cities (40km-200km) at speeds of up to 300km/h. It has called this as aimed at Regional Air Mobility, which it clarifies is not to be confused with Urban Air Mobility (UAM) — connecting intra-city points over shorter distances, or less than 20 km. It is also working on a seven-seater model, for use in existing helipads; In the U.S., for example, this would mean approximately 14,000 possible locations. The power demand across different phases of flight and the predicted range have been discussed in detail in a technology paper.
China, Israel and the U.K too have programmes to look out for.
How does one get an idea of the kinds of eVTOLs?
Electric VTOL News, for instance, has a World eVTOL Aircraft Directory. Started in 2016 and listing half-a-dozen known designs, it has now progressed to categorising almost all known electric and hybrid-eVTOL concepts. Categories are: “Vectored Thrust”, where any thruster is used for lift and cruise; “Hover Bikes/Personal Flying Devices”, which are single-person eVTOL aircraft and in multicopter-type wingless configurations; “Lift and Cruise”, where independent thrusters are used for cruise and lift without any thrust vectoring; “Wingless (Multicopter)”, or where there is no thruster for cruise but only for lift; and “Electric Rotorcraft” or eVTOLs that use a rotor, such as an electric helicopter or autogyro.
What about certification?
Some companies have concepts that are aimed at dual certifications by regulatory agencies in the western world. In March this year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority announced being engaged in discussions focused on “facilitating certification and validating new eVTOL aircraft, their production, continued airworthiness, operations, and personnel licensing”. Both bodies also highlighted the need to maintain very high safety standards. Further to this, eVTOL technology is to use existing regulatory frameworks despite being in the form of new and emerging technologies. The FAA has clarified that it plans to certify eVTOLs as powered-lift aircraft (an existing category) but in future, “develop additional powered-lift regulations” for innovation in operations and pilot training. It plans to use a “special class” process in 14 CFR 21.17(b) to oversee the unique features of emerging powered-lift models. But this certification will use the performance-based airworthiness standards found in Part 23 of the FAA regulations. The FAA’s important clarification that the changes will be gradual has been welcomed by eVTOL developers, who are leaning on the Part 23 framework as the bedrock for type certification.
EVTOL certification is also complex because of planned operations within urban areas, new battery systems and the need for higher levels of automated redundancy.
How has the progress been?
The Paris summer Olympics 2024 is expected to be the big moment, according to an article in Bloomberg. France is working on two dedicated routes to transport passengers. Landing and takeoff zones at the Pontoise-Cormeilles-en-Vexin hub are being tested on parameters such as noise levels, integration of drones and eVTOLs with existing air traffic, battery charging and also maintenance.
How will it be in India?
Mr. Scindia has been reported as asking Beta Technologies, which has a partnership with the Blade group (it has a presence in India), to look at the Indian market. An official from Blade India told The Hindu that Blade is an urban air mobility company that aims to connect places that are heavily congested and also not well connected by air services. The concept of ‘Advanced Air Mobility’ comes in, i.e., connecting places through vertical aircraft and thus skipping road travel. This is being done now by helicopters, but eVTOLs will step into this space.
The official said that Blade U.S. is currently working with electric vertical aircraft (EVA) manufacturers such as Beta Technologies and has partnered with them for an all electric fleet by the year 2024. eVTOLs are noise free, have a zero carbon footprint and are more affordable. Beta technologies and other EVA manufacturers have been extended an invitation to manufacture in India.
Amit Dutta, Managing Director, Blade India is the chairperson of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Taskforce for Urban Air Mobility. In his suggestions for policy and regulation changes to better integrate EVAs, he has advised regulatory authorities in India to look at: formulating regulations for pilotless vehicles, airworthiness certifications, and the need for a pilot’s licence; implementing efficient energy management systems, onboard sensors, collision detection systems and advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence; having in place infrastructural support such as take-off and landing zones, parking lots, charging stations and what are called vertiports; creating a robust air traffic management system that is integrated with other modes of transportation, and putting in place a database to ensure operational and mechanical safety.
In addition to this, there are psychological barriers that need to be overcome when it comes to flying in a fully autonomous aircraft. Therefore, the official added, there needs to be a document that outlines compliance for eVTOLs and also aligns frameworks to meet the standards adopted in commercial aviation, especially when it comes to safety. The current timeline for certification with India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation is two years. The Blade India official says that there is a need for a committee to spell out the guidelines for eVTOL operations and speed up the process.
What is the value of the market?
The global market for eVTOLs was put at $8.5 million in 2021 and is to grow to $30.8 million by 2030. The demand will be on account of green energy and noise-free aircraft, cargo carrying concepts and the need for new modes of transport.
According to the Blade India official, the UAM market is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 25% between 2018-25. By 2025, it is anticipated to be a $74 billion market. This includes the eVTOLs market since UAM ideally focuses on the use of eVTOLs, the official added.