1. Agra: from medieval structures to modern systems
A CCTV camera zooms in on a stray cow roaming the streets of Agra in Uttar Pradesh. Immediately the system that works on artificial intelligence’s (AI’s) pattern recognition function captures that it is a cow, and an alert goes to a local animal ambulance that picks it up and deposits it at a gaushala (cow shelter).
Potholes, traffic rule violations, even sexual harassment — all this can be detected by the system employed by the Agra Smart City, spread over an area of 2,250 acres. This area is now being monitored 24×7 by an Integrated Command and Control Centre (ICCC), set up eight months ago. The central control room, manned by 24 specially trained employees, has a large number of visuals zooming in.
There are live updates of clogged manholes, waste collection from houses of the 2.5 lakh population, and vehicles illegally parked. AI is enabled with identification protocols for detection of all of this and more.
Manholes have been fitted with censors that can detect whether they are overflowing and need cleaning, and 3,50,000 houses have been geo-tagged.
“There are results to show,” said G. Anand, Project Planning and Management Expert, Agra Smart City. For example, 836 stray cattle have been detected. Traffic police has been able to track more than 2,000 black-listed and stolen vehicles, and the police department has been able to solve 149 cases with the help of the system.
When the camera catches a person on a two-wheeler riding without a helmet for instance, a red circle appears on the screen, and this information is automatically sent to the police.
The ICCC also controls the smart transport system, adaptive traffic light control, and environment sensors. AI adjusts the duration of traffic lights during peak hours, depending on the vehicular flow on a particular stretch.
The ICCC also has plans to integrate the monitoring and control of parking, street lighting, water meters, and grievance management, says Saurav Agrawal, chief data officer and person in-charge of ICCC.
Agra is one of the 22 cities which have been able to complete all projects under the Smart City Mission, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June 2015. Some of the others are Varanasi, Chennai, and Bhubaneswar.
The city was selected to be turned into a smart city in 2017 in the second round. The total project cost of each city under the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) is ₹1,000 crore.
According to Mr Anand, Agra is the second city after Surat to be able to meet all the project deadlines. Earlier this month, the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs extended, for the second time, the SCM by a year until June 2024.
In Agra, the 19 projects under SCM include a vacuum-based sewerage system integrated with ICCC, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)-based solid waste management collection monitoring through GPS tracking of vehicles and RFID tags, Smart Health Centres catering to the local population, automated self-cleaning toilets and round the clock water supply with metered connections.
The catch, however, is that all the development work has been carried out in 2,250 acres of land, which includes areas around the Taj Mahal and Tajganj area, Agra Fort and its vicinity, and Fatehabad Road, creating an oasis of sorts in the urban space. The rest of the city can choose to replicate this model or choose its own method of development, though some areas are being absorbed in the smart city ambit.
2. Centre announces Praveen Sood as new CBI Director
Karnataka’s Director-General of Police (DGP) Praveen Sood was appointed Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Sunday, according to an order of the Department of Personnel and Training.
The key appointment will see Mr. Sood at the helm of affairs of the investigating agency during the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
Mr. Sood — who has never served with either the CBI or the Union government — was not empanelled as DGP at the Centre. His name was not among the original panel of officers shortlisted for the job.
An official said that the empanelment at the Centre will not apply in the case of the CBI Director, unlike in the case of other Central government appointments, as he or she derives powers under the Delhi Police Special Establishment Act, 1946.
“Approval of the Competent Authority is hereby conveyed to the appointment of Shri Praveen Sood, IPS (KN:86) as Director, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for a period of two years from the date of assumption of charge of the office vice Shri Subodh Kumar Jaiswal, IPS (MH:85) consequent upon completion of his tenure,” the order said.
Mr. Sood’s name was finalised on Saturday by a three-member panel comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, and Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
The two-year fixed tenure of the present incumbent Subodh Kumar Jaiswal is coming to an end on May 25.
3. The nutritional value of millets
Why are millets popular sources of nutrition? What are the different parts of a millet kernel? How are nutrients in millets affected by processing and polishing? Can millets thrive in harsh, resource-poor conditions?
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has declared 2023 to be the ‘International Year of Millets’, giving these crops a shot in the arm even as countries worldwide are looking to them for their ability to grow in environmental conditions that the climate crisis is rendering more common. Millets are becoming more popular in India as well because of their low input requirements and high nutritional density, both of which are valuable for a country whose food security is expected to face significant challenges in the coming decades. However, the consumption of millets face one threat that has already overtaken India’s major food crops — grain-processing.
What are millets?
Millets are fundamentally grasses. They are cultivated worldwide, but especially in the tropical parts of Africa and Asia, as cereal crops. Some of the more common varieties include pearl millet (Cenchrus americanus), barnyard millet (Echinochloa utilis), finger millet (Eleusine coracana), and foxtail millet (Setaria italica).
There is both palaeontological and textual evidence to indicate that millets were being cultivated in the Indian subcontinent five millennia ago. According to the Agricultural and Processed Foods Development Authority, India is the world’s largest producer of millets. In 2021-2022, the country accounted for 40.51% of the world’s pearl millet production and 8.09% of sorghum. Within the country, pearl millet made up 60% of all the millet production, sorghum 27%, and ragi 11%.
Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), adlay millet (Coix lacryma-jobi), and teff (Eragrostis tef), among others, are grasses that differ in some respects from millets but are grouped together with them.
Why are they sought after?
Millets have two broad features that render them attractive — their nutritional value being comparable to that of major extant food crops (and better on some counts) and their ability to reliably withstand harsh, resource-poor conditions.
They are drought-tolerant, adapted to growing in warm weather, and require low moisture (axiomatically, they are particularly efficient consumers of water) and loamy soil. They don’t grow well in water-logged or extremely dry soil which might occur after heavy rainfall or particularly bad droughts, respectively. Nonetheless, millets have the upper hand over crops like rice and maize with more drought-like conditions expected in many parts of the world, including the newly realised prospect of ‘flash droughts’. That being said, millets don’t abhor better growing conditions, and respond positively to higher moisture and nutrient content in the soil.
According to the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, millets also “thrive on marginal land in upland and hilly regions”; marginal land is land whose rent is higher than the value of crops that can be cultivated there.
Are millets nutritious?
The nutritional content of millets include carbohydrates, proteins, fibre, amino acids, and various minerals. Different millet varieties have different nutrient profiles. For example, pearl millet — one of the oldest cultivated varieties — has been found to have higher protein content than rice, maize, and sorghum, while being comparable to that of barley. According to various studies, foxtail millet is rich in the amino acid lysine; finger millet has more crude fibre than wheat and rice; proso millet has a significant amount of the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and methionine; and overall, millets have been found to be important sources of micronutrients and phytochemicals.
Where are the nutrients stored?
According to a paper published in 2021 in the journal Agriculture & Food Security, each millet kernel consists of three major parts, called pericarp, endosperm, and germ. The pericarp has an outer covering called the husk. The husk and the pericarp together protect the kernel from inhospitable conditions, disease, and physical damage.
The endosperm is the largest part of the kernel and its ‘storage’ centre. It has a protein covering called the aleurone. According to an FAO article about sorghum, the endosperm is “relatively poor in mineral matter, ash and oil content” but “a major contributor to the kernel’s protein (80%), starch (94%) and B-complex vitamins (50-75%)”. Similarly, pearl millet has a relatively larger germ, which is “rich in oil (32%), protein (19%) and ash (10.4%),” plus “over 72% of the total mineral matter”.
This is why, according to various experts, millets deserve to be included in people’s diets. But whether they’re actually included depends on the availability of “delicious products to satisfy the taste, providing knowledge on nutritional and health facts on millets, and improving accessibility,” as per a 2021 study.
How does processing affect the nutrients?
Processing and preparing millets for consumption can affect nutrients in three ways — enhance them, suppress/remove them, and ignore them. In this context, ‘whole grain’ refers to the endosperm, germ, and bran (pericarp + aleurone) whereas ‘refined grain’ refers only to the endosperm.
The husk is removed from the grains because it is composed of cellulosic matter that the human body cannot digest. But at least one study has found that when this is done to pearl millets, their phytic acid and polyphenol contents drop. (On the other hand, a paper published in 2021 found that millet husk could be briquetted and used as household fuel, and potentially alleviate energy poverty in north Nigeria.)
The second common step is to decorticate the grain, that is, remove any other outer covering and expose the seed. While studies have found that mechanical and hand-worked decortication did not have significant effects on the grain, they both removed crude and dietary fibre. But decortication also makes the grain more edible and visually attractive, which are favourable factors when marketing them to urban centres.
The typical next steps are milling, to grind the grains into flour, and sieving to remove large ‘impurities’, including bran. One 2012 study of finger millet found that whole-flour had a high content of “total polyphenols and flavonoids” while sieving made the flour more digestible and its nutrients more accessible to the body. However, it also reduced nutrient content due to the loss of bran.
On the other hand, according to the February 2022 study, germination and fermentation — in which the grains are soaked in water for an extended duration — “showed a positive improvement in the overall nutritional characteristics of millets”.
What is the effect of polishing?
A frequent last step is polishing.
The longer the grains were milled, the more protein, fat, and fibre contents the process removed. A different 2012 study found that barnyard millet could be polished with a rice polisher for up to three minutes without significant nutrient loss. Polishing is the process whereby brown rice, for example, is changed to white rice by rubbing off the bran and the germ.
A 2012 study in the Journal of Cereal Science assessed the effects of polishing in the nutritive value of two major Asian rice varieties — indica and japonica. Using a combination of precision abrasive polishing, plasma mass spectrometry, and fluorescence microscopy, they found that polishing removed 8-10% of grain weight and also removed 60-80% of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and manganese in both varieties. The loss of bran also compromised the grains’ fibre content. Yet rice polishing is considered desirable because, as per a 2009 study, most consumers favour the resulting taste and texture and prefer the shorter cooking time, and retailers want longer shelf-life, which can be achieved by removing the bran.
4. With 6.9% year-on-year growth, goods exports rise to $451 billion in 2022-23
India’s goods exports for 2022-23 scaled up significantly from earlier estimates to almost $451 billion, indicating a 6.9% year-on-year growth, with exports for March upgraded sharply to a nine-month high of $41.9 billion, as per Commerce Ministry data.
Initial estimates for March had pegged exports at $38.38 billion, marking a sharp 13.9% decline, but revised numbers signal only a 6% contraction. The $41.9 billion exports made March only the second month of 2022-23 to cross the $40-billion mark after $42.3 billion in outbound shipments last June.
The Ministry, which will be releasing the initial estimates for April’s merchandise trade on Monday, also revised March’s import bill to over $60 billion, the highest in 2023, raising its initial estimate of imports during the month by $1.9 billion.
However, the overall import bill for 2022-23 remained unchanged at $714.04 billion, a 16.5% rise from 2021-22, compared to $714.24 billion reported initially. The rise in March’s import figure was offset by $1.7 billion correction in November 2022’s import tally that was initially pegged at $58.2 billion, then revised upwards and finally pared to $56.95 billion.
Total exports were initially pegged at $447.46 billion as per data released on April 15, then revised to $444.2 billion, as per a Ministry statement on May 1. This figure has now been raised to $450.95 billion. Similarly, the import bill as per the May 1 statement was pegged at $711.85 billion, from the initial estimate of $714.24 billion. Overall, export numbers were revised by over $25 billion from their initial estimates through 2022-23, with four months seeing a $3 billion-plus upward revision.
While experts have flagged petroleum shipments as the main driver for the high revisions of recent export data, the revision in import numbers needs further scrutiny.