1. Chinese shenanigans on Arunachal Pradesh
The views expressed are personal
The State represents the finest of India’s cultural and civilisational heritage, and there is absolutely no basis to the Chinese claim over any part of Arunachal Pradesh
For the third time in recent years, China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs, on April 2, made a provocative move by releasing new names for 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh under the fig leaf of standardising geographical names in “Zangnan” (a phoney term invented by Beijing to claim that Arunachal Pradesh is “South Tibet”). According to media reports, these names include “two residential areas, five mountain peaks, two rivers, and two other areas”. In 2017, China had ‘renamed’ six places that lie in Arunachal Pradesh. It had also ‘standardised’ the names of 15 places in 2021, which had similarly included population centres, mountains, rivers, and a mountain pass.
Taken together, and on the face of it, some of the places are located along the Pangchen-Tawang-Jang-Sela axis running down from the Line of Actual Control; others are near old Buddhist pilgrimage circuits near Taksing in Upper Subansiri district, Menchuka-Tato tehsil in West Siang, and still others towards the Lohit and Anjaw districts, near Walong.
Whether it is in the Himalayas or the East and South China Seas, China’s depredations and unfounded irredentist claims are legion. In 2020, China gave names to 80 geographical features in the Paracels and Spratlys in the South China Sea, where China is embroiled in maritime disputes with several states. In 1983, it had named 287 geographical features in the South China Sea. It began using the term “Diaoyutai” for the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea in the 1950s, even before raking up the Senkaku issue with Japan. Often, the Chinese modus operandi is to lay the groundwork through fictional renaming of alien territories as a basis for sham “historical” claims which are then pursued using the “three warfares” strategy — of waging propaganda, psychological and legal warfare. China also struck a jarring note in the wake of the apocryphal exercise concerning place names in Arunachal Pradesh by naming several under-sea features in the Indian Ocean, ironically using the names of Chinese musical instruments.
China issued the Geographical Name Regulation in 1986 designed to regulate naming, renaming, and so-called standardisation exercises. It introduced an amended rule that came into force on May 1, 2022. While these pieces of legislation have mainly dealt with naming, renaming, and standardising names within China, they also cover several alien territories claimed by China.
It is instructive to recall two related developments. China enacted a new Coast Guard Law that came into effect on February 1, 2021, to take necessary measures, including the use of force, to safeguard “sovereignty”. China also passed a new law on the protection and exploitation of the country’s land border areas that came into effect on January 1, 2022. This unilateral step has the effect of converting the boundary dispute with India into a sovereignty issue. In the run-up, from 2017 onwards, China launched the construction of dual-purpose villages, the so-called Xiaokang villages, in areas adjacent to the border with India, from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh. One can discern a new and aggressive thrust by China to emphasise its territorial claims, whether land or maritime.
The Government of India has consistently dismissed such shenanigans on China’s part. After the latest move by China on Arunachal Pradesh, the Ministry of External Affairs said that “this is not the first time that China has made such an attempt. We reject this outright. Arunachal Pradesh is an integral, inalienable part of India. Attempts to assign invented names will not alter this reality”.
China’s bogus claim, Indian history
China’s claim on Arunachal Pradesh is as bogus as can be. A reading of Tibet And Its History by Hugh Edward Richardson clearly suggests that the Qing presence in Tibet began to emerge around 1720, after Chinese intervention in the internecine succession struggle following the death of the Sixth Dalai Lama (1683-1706).
Therefore, there is absolutely no basis to the Chinese claim over Tawang, or for that matter any other part of Arunachal Pradesh, on the flimsy grounds that it is the birthplace of the Sixth Dalai Lama. China, in any case, had no locus standi in Tibet at the time. But that has not prevented China from concocting so-called historical claims with retrospective effect. A study of the 1960 reports of the officials of the two sides on the boundary question reveals the vague, patchy and superficial nature of “evidence” proffered by the Chinese side in support of Beijing’s boundary claims.
Arunachal Pradesh, formerly known as the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA), is home to various tribes that have historically been a part of India’s civilisational heritage. Most of its populace has been historically oriented towards the Assam plains. The tribes there were in regular contact with the Ahom power in Assam, including for the grant of rights to levy the Posha from the plains people in the adjacent areas.
While some tribes, such as the Monpas, have professed Buddhism, others follow animistic practices. Some tribes practise a form of Vaishnavism. The Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Kalika Purana, the Vishnu Purana, the Yogini Purana, and Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsa have references that give a clear indication of the inclusion of these tribal tracts in the collective consciousness and cultural moorings of ancient India.
These sources have indications about the boundaries of the kingdoms of Pragjyotisha and Kamarupa, whose limits appeared to include the whole of Arunachal Pradesh. The Shiva Linga in Ziro, Parshuram Kund, and the temple ruins of Malinithan, which are connected to the legends of Parashuram, Rukmini, Bhismaka and Sishupala, show an ancient Hindu influence in the region. Some Mishmis consider themselves to be the descendants of King Bhishmaka, and some Akas claim their descent from King Bhaluka. Archaeological finds have unearthed silver coins and inscriptions in the Arabic script at Bhalukpong, linked to a Muslim ruler of Bengal. The architecture of many forts, such as those at Bhalukpong, Ita and Bhismaknagar (built between the 10th and 16th centuries), is heavily influenced by the architectural principles of fort construction found in the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and Arthashastra. These forts were frontier posts of the security system that was prevalent in the Brahmaputra Valley.
There is no other comparable influence of any other culture or history on Arunachal Pradesh as a whole. Today, the State represents the finest of India’s cultural and civilisational heritage.
Now is the time perhaps for India to not only reject Beijing’s charade of giving Chinese names to places in Arunachal Pradesh but also to assign Indian names to places and territories under the illegal occupation of China. Aksai Chin, for example, may be called Akshaya Chinha — which means an “everlasting symbol” (of India). It is an indelible part of the Indian consciousness. As for Arunachal Pradesh, it is and will remain an integral part of India.
2. Dealing with extreme heat
Around 350 million Indians were exposed to strong heat stress between April and May 2022. Between 1990 and 2019, summer temperatures on average rose by 0.5-0.9°C across districts in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan; about 54% of India’s districts have also seen a similar rise in winter temperatures. Between 2021 and 2050, it is expected that the maximum temperature will rise by 2-3.5°C in 100 districts and by 1.5– 2°C in around 455 districts. Similarly, winter temperatures will rise between 1°C and 1.5°C in around 485 districts. Such a sharp rise in urban temperatures is rare. However, with climate change exacerbating local weather patterns, we are likely to see April-May temperatures reaching record highs every three years.
Our cities are beset with the urban heat island effect, with temperatures 4-12°C higher than rural outlying areas. Meanwhile, humidity has exacerbated the felt temperature, with wet bulb temperatures often rising above 32°C in many cities. More recently, northern India has seen significant variability in the weather. Cold weather in January was followed by a heat wave in February and early March, and hailstorm and heavy rain in the past few weeks.
Weather variability has consequences, especially for agriculture. For example, 90% of India’s cumin production is from Gujarat and Rajasthan. The recent weather variability has destroyed the majority of the cumin crop in Rajasthan. From agricultural crop losses, it is a short step towards drought and higher mortality.
Rising temperatures have also led to increasingly unliveable cities. For labourers doing heavy work, heat exposure leads to a loss of 162 hours per year, as per one study. A rise in temperatures directly impacts labour productivity. About 50% of India’s workforce is estimated to be exposed to heat during their working hours. This includes marginal farmers, labourers at construction sites and street vendors parlaying their produce on the streets; increasingly, even gig economy workers are affected.
Mitigating the problem
Greening could help mitigate part of the problem. Ideally, for every urban citizen in India, we should have at least seven trees in the urban landscape. However, many urban localities even in leafy Delhi fall short. Development plans for Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities can set up a mandate to increase urban surface area that is permeable, while pushing to increase the density and area of urban forests. Expanding wetlands and restoring dead and decaying ponds/lakes may also help ensure ecological functioning along with reducing urban heat.
We need to reduce the urban heat island effect. This will require a push for greater usage of permeable materials in civic infrastructure and residential construction and enhancing natural landscapes in urban areas. Urban layouts such as brick jalis for ventilation and terracotta tiles to allow hot air to escape, and curbs on anthropogenic heat emissions from vehicles, factories, etc. may be considered. Urban building standards should be upgraded to avoid usage of heat-absorbent galvanized iron and metal roof sheets. Additionally, using cleaner cooking fuels will reduce indoor air pollution, which may also help reduce urban heat. Streets with low ventilation may need further expansion, or an increase in natural vegetation.
The urban design of Chandigarh considered climate responsiveness as a key factor. The city was set up by the foothills of the Shivaliks, between two river beds, while natural green belts were incorporated within the city’s master plan. A large green belt of mango trees was also planted around the city to help reduce urban sprawl and to serve as a buffer between the residential city and the industrial suburbs. Local architecture such as mud houses within the region was considered as a template to build climate-responsive architecture. A small rivulet was dammed to create the Sukhna lake, to help cool the city, while small water bodies were developed near large buildings. Parks were planned out in every sector, along with tree plantations alongside all the major roads. Large forest areas were also reserved. Over time, such complementary urban design has been overlaid by modern construction materials and impacted by factors as varied as climate change and traffic congestion. However, the underlying design principles are applicable across Indian cities.
Other measures can also be considered – from embracing public transportation, to reducing personal vehicle usage and, most importantly, reducing the size of landfills. Methane production from mountainous landfills may lead to fires, often exacerbating urban heat and weather variability in our cities. A push for waste segregation, along with solid waste management at source, can help. We need to improve our forecasting ability, including the potential impact of heat on food production. Current econometric models associated with food inflation primarily look at the variability in the monsoon, minimum support prices and vegetable prices. We need to add local heat trends to the mix as well, given the impact of heat on food production, storage and sale. We need detailed policies and guidelines on weather variability and urban heat management at the State, district, city and municipality ward levels.
An El Niño-influenced monsoon bodes ill for marginal farmers and urban migrants. Policymakers must take mitigatory action early, while instituting structural infrastructure measures to help Indians adapt to these conditions.
Policymakers must take mitigatory action early, while instituting structural infrastructure measures to help Indians adapt
3. How coastal species are living on plastic debris in the ocean
A clean-up: A crew of volunteers with the California-based non-profit Ocean Voyages Institute fished out derelict nets from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch during a 25-day expedition in 2019.
Plastic trash is abundant in our urban refuse, rivers, and forests, from the slopes of the highest peaks to the depths of abyssal trenches. A new study by researchers from Canada, the Netherlands, and the U.S. has reported that coastal lifeforms have also colonised plastic items in the ocean
Linsey E. Haram, et al. ‘Extent and reproduction of coastal species on plastic debris in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre’, Nature Ecology & Evolution, published April 17, 2023. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-023-01997-y
“The Anthropocene epoch”. This is the name some scientists have proposed for a new period in history characterised by the influence of one species on the planet’s geology, ecosystems and even its fate — none other than Homo sapiens. Scientists are still figuring out when this epoch really began; some candidates include the first nuclear weapon test and rapid industrialisation after the Second World War.
Yet another contender is the creation of plastic trash which is abundant in our urban refuse, rivers, and forests, from the slopes of the highest peaks to the depths of abyssal trenches. Ocean life has washed ashore at beaches with stomachs of plastic debris. Plastic has provided ample evidence of its persistence in the natural universe, but of late, scientists have also been uncovering evidence that it is becoming one with nature in troubling new ways.
In a study published on April 17, researchers from Canada, the Netherlands, and the U.S. have reported that coastal lifeforms have colonised plastic items in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
There are some water currents in the ocean that, driven by winds and the Coriolis force, form loops. These are called gyres. The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG) is one such, located just north of the equator in the Pacific Ocean. It consists of the Kuroshio, North Pacific, California, and North Equatorial currents and moves in a clockwise direction. These currents flow adjacent to 51 Pacific Rim countries. Any trash that enters one of these currents, from any of these countries, could become part of the gyre.
Inside this gyre, just north of Hawai’i, lies a long east-west strip where some of the debris in these currents has collected over the years. The eastern part of this is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is, per one estimate, 1.6 million sq. km big and more than 50 years old.
It contains an estimated 45,000-1,29,000 metric tonnes of plastic, predominantly in the form of microplastics. The numerical density of plastics here is around four particles per cubic metre. Mass-wise, however, heavier, more visible objects that haven’t yet broken down into smaller particles accounted for 92% of the plastics in 2018.
The tsunami off the Japanese coast in 2011 contributed to the debris in this garbage patch. Until at least 2017, researchers had found debris washing ashore on the West coast of North America containing live lifeforms originally found in Japan. From November 2018 to January 2019, researchers collected 105 pieces of plastic debris from the eastern part of the NPSG, “the most heavily plastic-polluted ocean gyre on the globe,” per their paper.
Based on studying them, they reported that 98% of the debris items had invertebrate organisms. They also found that pelagic species (species of the open ocean) were present on 94.3% of them and coastal species on 70.5%. That is, organisms found on coasts were getting by on small floating islands of garbage (to humans) out in the Pacific Ocean.
“The number of coastal species such as arthropods and molluscs identified rafting on plastic was over three-times greater than that of pelagic species that normally live in the open ocean,” per a press release accompanying the paper.
In all, they found organisms belonging to 46 taxa. While 37 of them were coastal, the rest were pelagic. Among both coastal and pelagic organisms, crustaceans were the most common. The coastal species were most commonly found on fishing nets whereas the pelagic species on crates.
Where were the organisms from?
According to the paper, “nearly all taxa were of Northwest Pacific origin”, including Japan.
Similarly, “most debris items (85.7%) did not have identifiable markings linked to origin, such as manufacture locations or company/brand names.” However, eight of the remainder were from East Asia and five specifically from Japan. Four items were from North America.
The researchers also found that 68% of the coastal taxa and 33% of the pelagic taxa reproduced asexually, while there was evidence of sexual reproduction among the hydroids and the crustaceans, among others.
They reported a strong positive correlation between reproduction and mobility.
The relevance of the findings
Speaking to another form of uniquely human influence on the planet, the researchers have written in their paper that “the introduction of a vast sea of relatively permanent anthropogenic rafts since the 1950s” has given rise to a new kind of “standing coastal community … in the open ocean”. They’ve named it the neopelagic community.
They write in their paper that while coastal species have been found on human-made objects in the open ocean before, they were always considered to have been “misplaced” from their intended habitats. The neopelagic community, on the other hand, is not misplaced but lives on plastic items in the garbage patch, including reproducing there.
The finding recalls a study published on April 3, in which researchers reported that polyethylene films had chemically bonded with rocks in China. This, in turn, is reminiscent, of the “anthropoquinas” of Brazil (sedimentary rocks embedded with plastic earrings) and the “plastiglomerates” of Hawai’i (beach sediment + organic debris + basaltic lava + melted plastic). When did humans begin creating such delectable recipes?
As it happens, the Anthropocene Working Group, of the International Commission on Stratigraphy, will vote this summer on where in the geological record — that is the layers of rock that record everything from evidence of nuclear tests to the burning of fossil fuels — the Anthropocene epoch can be said to have commenced.
No surprises if they agree that it looks like a spike in the concentration of microplastics.
4. Pittas find new haven in Odisha districts
Place to thrive: Personnel involved in the census inside the Bhitarkanika Mangrove Sanctuary in Odisha.
In the first-ever census carried out in Kendrapara and Jagatsingpur, 179 of the nearly threatened birds were counted; information on their distribution, habitat and breeding collected
In the first-ever census of mangrove pitta birds carried out in two coastal districts of Odisha, 179 such birds were sighted.
Mangrove pitta birds are a nearly threatened species found in a few pockets of eastern India, including Bhitarkanika in Odisha and the Sundarbans in West Bengal.
The first census of mangrove pitta (Pitta megharencha) birds was focused on the mangrove patches all along the coasts of Kendrapara and Jagatsingpur districts. “The mangrove pitta is found in coastal mangrove forests of India, foraging on the ground and resting on the trees,” Gopinath Sudarshan Yadav, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Rajnagar Mangrove Forest Division, said.
Mr. Yadav said information had been collected on the distribution, habitat and breeding of the birds along the coastal mangroves. “In this exercise, a total of 32 teams were deployed in 32 pre-identified segments. The census was carried out by point count method, either by walking in the forest or using country boats in the creeks. A total of 179 individual mangrove pitta birds were counted. The highest concentration of the birds has been found in the mangroves near the Mahipura river mouth inside the Bhitarkanika National Park,” the DFO said.
5. India to host summit on Buddhism
India will host an international summit on Buddhism here on April 20 and 21. Delegates from 30 countries will participate, a notable exception being China. Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, is also unlikely to attend the two-day conclave.
The maiden conference being organised by the Union Culture Ministry and the International Buddhist Confederation will discuss contemporary global issues through a Buddhist perspective.
“India is the birthplace of Buddhism. The summit aims to find solutions to problems such as climate change, poverty, and conflict, among others, by exploring the Buddhist teachings and practices,” Union Culture Minister G. Kishan Reddy said.
Over 170 delegates from countries such as Mexico, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Japan, and 150 from India will participate in the summit to be held in the national capital.
The delegates include prominent scholars, monks, diplomats and members of Buddhist organisations across the globe. The largest number of delegates are from Sri Lanka (20) and Vietnam (30).
Abhijit Haldar, Director General of International Buddhist Confederation, said that while no delegate had confirmed from China, there would be two participants from Taiwan.
“The invitations were sent to various Buddhist institutions and not to governments,” Mr. Haldar added.
He also mentioned that the Dalai Lama might not attend the event due to “health issues”.
PM to open conclave
The conference themed “Responses to contemporary challenges from philosophy to praxis” will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The discussion will be under four themes — Buddha Dhamma and peace, Buddha Dhamma: environmental crisis, health and sustainability, preservation of Nalanda Buddhist tradition and Buddhist pilgrimage, living heritage and relics.