1. Technology eases path for the weary
The nomadic communities of J&K have been offered smart cards and free transport to aid their biannual migration
For centuries, Jammu and Kashmir’s nomadic community, known as Gujjars and Bakerwals, have undertaken arduous journeys on foot as part of their seasonal migration to find better pastures for their livestock.
They often lose cattle and, on occasion, family members to accidents and hardships along the way. However, technological solutions and transport services have been offered this year to help them cover long distances in less time and more safely.
2. IAF all set to create a new weapon systems branch, says Air chief
New branch will lead to unification of all weapon system operators under one entity, says Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari; the move will save the exchequer as much as ₹3,400 crore
The government has approved the creation of a Weapon System branch for officers in the Indian Air Force (IAF) which will bring all weapon systems operators of the force under one roof. This is the first time since Independence that a new operational branch is being created, said IAF chief Air Chief Marshal (ACM) V. R. Chaudhari on Saturday. The IAF also unveiled a new digital camouflage uniform for its rank and file.
“This will essentially be for manning of four specialised streams of Surface to Surface missiles, Surface to Air Missiles, Remotely Piloted Aircraft and weapon system operators in twin and multi crew aircraft,” ACM Chaudhari said addressing the Air Force Day parade to mark the 90th Air Force Day celebrations at Chandigarh. “Creation of this branch would result in savings of over ₹3,400 crore due to reduced expenditure on flying training.”
Creation of the new branch would entail unification of all weapon system operators under one entity dedicated to the operational employment of all ground-based and specialist airborne weapon systems, a Defence Ministry statement said.
“In a break from tradition, we have decided to conduct the Air Force Day parade at Chandigarh this year and in different locations across the country from here onwards,” the Air Chief said. “Today is an occasion to renew our allegiance to the Constitution of India and as preservers of the integrity and sovereignty of our country, we owe it to our future generations,” he stated.
As reported by The Hindu earlier, for the first time both the Army and Air Force Day parades are moving out of the National Capital Region (NCR). The next Army Day parade on January 15, 2023, will be held in Southern Command area.
Following the parade in the morning, a fly past was held over Sukna lake in Chandigarh which was witnessed by the public in large numbers. The flypast saw the participation of 74 aircraft and helicopters including 44 fighter aircraft while another nine platforms were on standby in the air. The Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) was also part of the air display while the Suryakiran acrobatic team enthralled the viewers. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh joined the Air Force Day celebrations. President Droupadi Murmu attended the flypast at Sukna lake. This shift of venue follows Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s guidance that major events in New Delhi should be moved out to various places across the country to enable more people to witness and engage in them.
Induction of air warriors into the IAF through the Agnipath scheme is a “challenge for all us”, but more importantly, it is an opportunity to harness the potential of India’s youth and channelise it towards the service of the nation, he said. Stating that in December this year, they would be inducting 3,000 Agniveer Vayu for their initial training, he said this number will only go up in the years to come to ensure adequate staffing.
3. As prisons overflow, BSF lets migrants with clean record return to Bangladesh
Data from the security force reveal that till October 5 this year, 287 persons were handed over to Border Guard Bangladesh; authorities, however, insist that only those who are not involved in smuggling of narcotics, fake currency, and other prohibited articles, are allowed to return
On the midnight of September 23, Sabana Begum (40) and Rehana Khatoon (30) were intercepted by the Border Security Force (BSF) near the border outpost of Jeetpur in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal while illegally crossing the International Border from India to Bangladesh. Upon interrogation, they said that they had come to India six months ago, had been working in Bengaluru, and were heading back home.
On September 28, as many as four Bangladeshi nationals were intercepted near the border outposts of Jeetpur and Ranghat in the district. They said they had come to India some time ago in search of work and were returning to Bangladesh after visiting various cities.
If normal procedure were followed, all six would have been handed over to the police to be lodged in jail for several years for illegally crossing the border. They would have added to the number of foreigners sent to West Bengal’s correctional homes. But this time, the BSF authorities arranged meetings with their counterparts in Bangladesh, the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), and handed them over to the Bangladeshi authorities.
With overcrowding of prisons turning out to be a major challenge for security agencies, in several cases, the BSF is not arresting those crossing the border but handing them over to the BGB, often described as a “gesture of humanity and goodwill”.
Data from the South Bengal Frontier of the BSF reveal that in 2022, till October 5, the wing returned 287 persons, including 146 men, 102 women, 38 children and one transgender person.
BSF authorities, however, insist that only those who are not involved in the smuggling of narcotics, cough syrup, fake currency, gold and other prohibited articles are handed over to the BGB.
Many cross the border looking for work and return home after working in India. Some of them try to sneak in to meet relatives or to get treatment, and in some cases, it’s children who have run away from their homes.
What the stats show
A recent report on Prison Statistics of India (PSI), 2021 shows that of the 5,565 foreign inmates lodged in the country’s correctional homes, West Bengal alone accounts for 1,746 (31%). The State has reported the highest number of foreign convicts lodged in its jails (30.5% or 329 persons) and the highest number of foreign undertrials (28.4% or 1,179 persons).
The report says among the foreign inmates, Bangladeshi nationals make up the majority — 40.5% — of all foreign inmates. It shows that a majority of the foreign nationals were arrested for crossing the border illegally.
Thousands of persons are apprehended every year for illegally crossing the border along the BSF’s South Bengal Frontier. This wing guards a stretch of 913.324 km along the India-Bangladesh border, from Sunderbans in the south to Malda in the north, and is the most porous stretch of India’s borders in the entire eastern theatre.
More than 40% of the border — over 360 km — is riverine, where rivers serve as boundaries between the two countries. Security agencies managing the border describe it as the most complex region with a high density of populations residing on either side of the border in close proximity, with significant ethnic and cultural similarities.
Delay in deportation
In 2021, the South Bengal Frontier arrested 2,036 Bangladeshis and 860 Indians for illegally crossing the border.
Contrary to the public perception, more arrests are made while Bangladeshi nationals are crossing over from India to Bangladesh than in the opposite direction.
According to officials of the State’s Correctional Homes, other than the convicts and undertrials, there are many Bangladeshi nationals who have completed their term and are still languishing in the prisons. This is because deportation of such prisoners often referred to as “Jaan Khalash (having completed the prison term)” in the prison records is a lengthy process involving both the countries.
The prison occupancy rate in West Bengal as per the PSI stands at 120. Occupancy rate is defined as the number of inmates staying in jails the authorised capacity for 100 inmates.
4. China defends policy on Xinjiang, asserts it’s not about rightsNew Delhi had on Friday called for human rights of Uighurs to be ‘respected’, after abstaining from a UN Human Rights Council vote
China on Saturday defended its policies in Xinjiang and said issues there were “not related to human rights”, a day after India called for the human rights of the people of the region to be “respected and guaranteed”.
India was among the countries that did not vote in favour of a West-led United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) draft resolution on Xinjiang that failed to pass this week.
Explaining why New Delhi abstained on the vote, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Friday cited India’s long-held view that “country-specific resolutions are never helpful”, but at the same time also called for “the human rights of the people of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region [to] be respected and guaranteed.”
“We hope that the relevant party will address the situation objectively and properly,” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said Beijing had “noted” reports on India’s abstention as well as the MEA’s statement. “I want to stress that the issues related to Xinjiang are not related to human rights and are about countering violent terrorism, radicalisation, and separatism,” Ms. Mao said. “Thanks to strenuous efforts, there was no violent terrorist incident in Xinjiang for over five consecutive years.”
Ms. Mao said the UNHRC vote in its favour had affirmed China’s position. “The voting results at the UNHRC reflect the position of the international community, especially of developing countries, in firmly rejecting the politicisation of the human rights issues,” she said.
India said it had also taken note of concerns expressed by a recent report of the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR), which said China’s “arbitrary detention” of Uighurs may have constituted crimes against humanity.
Beijing slammed the report and blamed Western interference. China initially denied the mass detention of Uighurs in “re-education” camps, but later claimed the vast network of centres in Xinjiang were for “vocational training”.
5. Chandrayaan-2 gauges sodium content on Moon’s surface
Scientists from Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) have mapped out the global distribution of sodium on the Moon’s surface. They used the CLASS instrument (Chandrayaan-2 large area soft X-ray spectrometer) carried by the second Indian Moon mission, Chandrayaan-2.
This is the first effort to provide a global-scale measurement of sodium on the lunar surface using X-ray fluorescent spectra. The results have been published in a recent edition of The Astrophysical Journal.
A non-destructive way
X-ray fluorescence is commonly used to study the composition of materials in a non-destructive manner. When the sun gives out solar flares, a large amount of X-ray radiation falls on the moon, triggering X-ray fluorescence. The CLASS measures the energy of the X-ray photons coming from the moon and counts the total number. The energy of the photons indicates the atom (for instance, sodium atoms emit X-ray photons of 1.04 keV) and the intensity is a measure of how many atoms are present.
When compared to Earth, the moon is significantly depleted of volatile elements such as sodium. “The amount of volatiles on the moon today can be used to test formation scenarios of the Earth-Moon system. Sodium can be used as a tracer of the volatile history of the moon,” explains the scientists from the Space Astronomy group of ISRO’s U.R. Rao Satellite Centre.
Earlier moon missions, like Apollo-11, Luna and Chang’e-5, brought back rock samples. The amount of sodium in the rocks was precisely gauged. The new study by the Chandrayaan group shows that there is a thin veneer of sodium atoms that are weakly bound to the lunar surface apart from the minor quantities found in lunar rocks (as mentioned earlier).
These sodium atoms on the surface are liberated when enough energy is given to them by solar ultraviolet radiation and solar wind ions. The study shows a pattern in time that supports this, said the scientists.
Sodium is the only element apart from potassium that can be observed through telescopes in the lunar atmosphere (its exosphere). This new map of sodium would enable understanding of the surface-exosphere connection.
“As the solar cycle is in its ascending phase, we expect more solar flares that would ensure a larger coverage of all elements on the moon by CLASS at the highest spatial resolution ever,” said the scientists.
6. What lies at the heart of the Physics Nobel?
How will the three laureates’ groundbreaking experiments using entangled photons clear the way for new technology based on quantum information? What are the applications in the world of computers, crypted communication and secure networks?
The story so far:
On October 4, the Nobel Committee of The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the names of three physicists as the laureates for the Nobel Prize in physics. They are Alain Aspect from the University of Paris-Saclay, France; John F. Clauser of John F. Clauser and Associates, California, U.S.; and Anton Zeilinger, University of Vienna, Austria. They have been awarded “for experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science,” according to a press release given out by the Academy of Sciences, which is based in Stockholm, Sweden.
Why were these three physicists chosen for the award?
The prize has been given for experimental work in quantum entanglement, which Einstein referred to as ‘spooky action at a distance’. John Clauser and Alain Aspect firmed up this concept, developing more and more complex experiments that demonstrated and established that entanglement was indeed a true characteristic of quantum mechanics. They did this by creating, processing and measuring what are called Bell pairs. Anton Zeilinger innovatively used entanglement and Bell pairs, both in research and in applications. These include quantum computation and quantum cryptography.
Why is the word quantum so important here?
Classical mechanics is the study of the dynamics of a system which uses Newton’s laws of motion at the very basic level. The dynamics of a few bodies or particles interacting with each other can be described using classical mechanics itself. This can be extended to many particle systems, such as a box containing millions of molecules of a gas, by employing the powerful technique of statistics, leading to statistical mechanics.
The success of Newton’s laws, classical mechanics, and classical statistical mechanics is not to be sneezed at. From describing a tennis match to sending a rocket to Mars this encompasses a whole lot of everyday activities. However, this approach breaks down when one wishes to describe subatomic particles such as light quanta.
To understand these problems that could not be explained using classical mechanics, postulates of quantum mechanics were invoked. Some of the chief architects of this were Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrodinger, Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr.
What is at the centre of the quantum revolution?
Many of the concepts that were useful in visualising the movement of particles in the classical realm break down when applied to particles obeying quantum mechanics. For example, when a tennis ball is struck, we see that it traces out a definite path in space. The path it traces out is called a trajectory, and it is eminently possible to theoretically calculate the trajectory to any given accuracy. Simultaneously, there is no restriction on measuring the speed, or momentum of the ball at every point on the trajectory. Particles that fall into the quantum regime on the other hand — electrons or photons, for example — do not even possess a definite trajectory because they are not little hard spheres that we initially imagined them to be, but are weird, wavelike quantum objects. Because of this, there is a limit to how precisely you can measure the position and momentum of these particles simultaneously. Many differences arise, starting from this fundamental difference.
One important difference in the behaviour of quantum systems, when compared to classical bodies, is the concept of entanglement, which is at the heart of this year’s Nobel Prize for physics.
What is the practical use of quantum mechanics?
Electronic devices that we employ today use transistors that apply quantum mechanical ideas. Lasers have been built that apply the quantum properties of light.
What is quantum entanglement? Does it have a classical counterpart?
Quantum entanglement is a phenomenon by which a pair of particles, say photons, is allowed to exist in a shared state where they have complementary properties, such that by measuring the properties of one particle, you automatically know the properties of the other particle. This is true however far apart the two particles are, provided the entanglement is not broken.
There is a trivial example of this from the classical domain. Take two coloured balls, one black and one white, and put them in identical boxes so that no one other than you know which box contains the black ball. One of the boxes is sent to Vienna and the other to Madurai. Just by opening the box they have received, the person in Vienna (or Madurai) can know not only the colour of the ball they have received but also that of the one in Madurai (or Vienna). This is a classical example and is somewhat trivial because nothing more can be made of it.
If the ball obeys quantum mechanics, its colour is not known to the observer until he or she makes an observation. So, until the box is opened, the state of the ball inside is a superposition of black and white states. Like the absence of a well-defined trajectory described earlier, this is one of the features of quantum mechanics. If the two balls occupy a shared state to start with, which is possible in quantum mechanics, however far the two may be transported, because of entanglement, opening one box can tell the user what the other ball’s colour is. Until one box is opened, the two balls exist in a superposition of colours.
But how is it possible to know that each ball did not have a set colour at the beginning? Was there a ‘hidden variable’ that instructed each ball which colour to take when the box was opened?
This is where the theory of Bell’s inequalities come in. Bell’s inequalities are theoretical insights that make it possible to differentiate between two scenarios. One, that the indeterminacy of the colour of the balls is purely a quantum phenomenon, and the other, that there are hidden variables that determine the colour when opened.
What was the work done by the laureates?
John Clauser and Alain Aspect devised sophisticated experiments to test the above cases and establish through Bell’s inequality, that entanglement was indeed a consequence of quantum physics. The third laureate Anton Zeilinger and his group used the phenomenon of entanglement to perform what is called quantum teleportation. This is a way of conveying information from one place to another without the actual transport of material.
Where does the work find use in practical applications?
The work of the three laureates can help in developing quantum technologies of the future, for example, quantum cryptography, and precise timekeeping as is done in atomic clocks.
7. Does palaeogenomics explain our origins?
Why is this year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine important for the study of human evolution? How did Svante Pääbo pioneer a method to analyse ancient DNA sans contamination? What is the physiological relevance of knowing the ancient flow of genes to present-day humans?
The story so far:
The Nobel Prize for Physiology this year has been awarded to Svante Pääbo, Swedish geneticist, who pioneered the field of palaeogenomics, or the study of ancient hominins by extracting their DNA.
What is the significance of Pääbo’s work?
Pääbo is the Director of the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany and has, over three decades, uniquely threaded three scientific disciplines: palaeontology, genomics and evolution. The study of ancient humans has historically been limited to analysing their bone and objects around them such as weapons, utensils, tools and dwellings. Pääbo pioneered the use of DNA, the genetic blueprint present in all life, to examine questions about the relatedness of various ancient human species. He proved that Neanderthals, a cousin of the human species that evolved 1,00,000 years before humans, interbred with people and a fraction of their genes — about 1-4% — live on in those of European and Asian ancestry. Later on, Pääbo’s lab, after analysing a 40,000-year-old finger bone from a Siberian cave, proved that it belonged to a new species of hominin called Denisova. This was the first time that a new species had been discovered based on DNA analysis and this species too had lived and interbred with humans.
How can DNA be extracted from fossils?
The challenge with extracting DNA from fossils is that it degrades fairly quickly and there is little usable material. Because such bones may have passed through several hands, the chances of it being contaminated by human as well as other bacterial DNA get higher. This has been one of the major stumbling blocks to analysing DNA from fossils. One of Pääbo’s early forays was extracting DNA from a 2,500-year-old Egyptian mummy and while it caused a stir and helped his career, much later in life he said that the mummy-DNA was likely contaminated.
DNA is concentrated in two different compartments within the cell: the nucleus and mitochondria, the latter being the powerhouse of the cell. Nuclear DNA stores most of the genetic information, while the much smaller mitochondrial genome is present in thousands of copies and therefore more retrievable. In 1990, Pääbo, as a newly appointed Professor at the University of Munich, took the call to analyse DNA from Neanderthal mitochondria. With his techniques, Pääbo managed to sequence a region of mitochondrial DNA from a 40,000-year-old piece of bone. This was the first time a genome from an extinct human relative was pieced together. Subsequently, he managed to extract enough nuclear DNA from Neanderthal bones to publish the first Neanderthal genome sequence in 2010. This was significant considering that the first complete human genome was published only in 2003.
What has Pääbo’s work shown?
Pääbo’s most important contribution is demonstrating that ancient DNA can be reliably extracted, analysed and compared with that of other humans and primates to examine what parts of our DNA make one distinctly human or Neanderthal. Thanks to his work we know that Europeans and Asians carry anywhere between 1%-4% of Neanderthal DNA and there is almost no Neanderthal DNA in those of purely African ancestry. Comparative analyses with the human genome demonstrated that the most recent common ancestor of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens lived around 8,00,000 years ago. In 2008, a 40,000 year-old fragment from a finger-bone, sourced from a Siberian cave in a region called Denisova, yielded DNA that, analysis from Pääbo’s lab revealed, was from an entirely new species of hominin called Denisova. This was the first time that a new species had been discovered based on DNA analysis. Further analysis showed that they too had interbred with humans and that 6% of human genomes in parts of South East Asia are of Denisovan ancestry.
What are the implications of palaeogenomics?
The study of ancient DNA provides an independent way to test theories of evolution and the relatedness of population groups. In 2018, an analysis of DNA extracted from skeletons at Haryana’s Rakhigarhi — reported to be a prominent Indus Valley civilisation site — provoked an old debate about the indigenousness of ancient Indian population. These fossils, about 4,500 years old, have better preserved DNA than those analysed in Pääbo’s labs as they are about 10-times younger. The Rakhigarhi fossils showed that these Harappan denizens lacked ancestry from Central Asians or Iranian Farmers and stoked a debate on whether this proved or disproved ‘Aryan migration.’ Palaeogenomics also gives clues into disease. Researchers have analysed dental fossils to glean insights on dental infections.
Genome-wide association studies, where segments of DNA from species are compared, have found that Neanderthal DNA may be linked with autoimmune diseases, type 2 diabetes, and prostate cancer. A study co-authored by Svante Pääbo and Hugo Zeberg linked an increased risk of severe respiratory failure following COVID-19 with a set of genes that are inherited from Neanderthals and is present in 50% of South Asians and 16% of Europeans. “However, with respect to the current pandemic, it is clear that gene flow from Neanderthals has tragic consequences,” they say in their paper published in Nature in September, 2020. The presence of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA in people also raised questions on whether there are hard genetic distinctions between people and their extinct evolutionary cousins.