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Daily Current Affairs 18.09.2022 (‘Crime scripts’ to unravel illegal trade of marine species, How climate change is altering Indian monsoon, Using ‘spooky action at a distance’ to link atomic clocks, Matching ecology with agricultural economics, Has the emissions deadline been extended?, Will the future of the Commonwealth change?)

Daily Current Affairs 18.09.2022 (‘Crime scripts’ to unravel illegal trade of marine species, How climate change is altering Indian monsoon, Using ‘spooky action at a distance’ to link atomic clocks, Matching ecology with agricultural economics, Has the emissions deadline been extended?, Will the future of the Commonwealth change?)

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1. ‘Crime scripts’ to unravel illegal trade of marine species

Detailed analysis conducted by WCS-India showed that Tamil Nadu recorded most seizures between 2015 and 2021

An analysis of the illegal trade of marine species in India between 2015 and 2021 pointed out that sea cucumbers were the most frequently seized marine species group. Tamil Nadu recorded the highest enforcement action with 126 seizure incidents of the marine species.

The study conducted by the Counter Wildlife Trafficking team of the WCS-India (Wildlife Conservation Society-India) recorded 187 media reports citing marine wildlife seizures by various enforcement agencies in India from 2015 to 2021.

“A total of 187 incidents of illegal trade of marine species were collated between January 2015 and December 2021. Data collected for seven groups of marine wildlife species were analysed within the report, which includes sea cucumber, coral, Syngnathidae (seahorse and pipefish), Elasmobranch (shark and ray), seashell, sea fan and sea turtle,” stated the recently released report titled “Illegal trade of marine species in India: 2015-2021”.

The report pointed out that collectively, 64,172 kg plus 988 individual (unweighed) sea cucumbers were seized by the enforcement agencies in Tamil Nadu, Lakshadweep and the Andaman Islands. Of the 187 incidents of the illegal trade of marine species, 122 incidents involved the seizure of sea cucumber.

The document not only provided insights into the nature, the volume and the extent of the illegal marine trade across the country but also analysed the incidents involving the illegal sea cucumber trade. They were further researched using “crime scripts”, to understand how the smuggling networks operated. The crime script had been prepared on the basis of the 122 incidents of seizure bringing out what went into the preparation, pre-activity, activity and post-activity phase of the smuggling of the marine group of species.

The report pointed out that due to the legalised trade of sea cucumbers in countries with close proximity to India, the sea cucumber consignments were often smuggled through those countries, to be laundered and then re-exported to the Southeast Asia markets.

Marine biologist Vardhan Patankar said that the illegal marine trade, although common, often went unreported due to the nature of the trade and as a result, the civil society, the policymakers and the local communities were left in the dark about the scale of the problem, making it hard to investigate the report and analyse.

While the most incidents of seizure (122) were of sea cucumbers, sea fan followed with 20, seahorse and pipefish 18, seashell 18 incidents, shark and rays 15, sea coral 12 and sea turtle five.

State-wise data

Similarly in terms of State-wise seizures, Tamil Nadu (with 126 seizures) was followed by Maharashtra (13 incidents), Lakshadweep (12 incidents) and Karnataka (eight incidents). Marine wildlife incidents were reported across 18 States, including the eight coastal States and the two island territories, the report stated. The document also cautioned that a high number of seizure incidents alone “does not always indicate a high frequency of wildlife crime, and it may be a result of effective enforcement or more media interest”.

Aaron Savio Lobo, Senior Advisor Marine program at WCS-India said that when it came to illegally traded marine wildlife, the largest volumes were harvested as an incidental catch in unselective fisheries such as trawling and gillnetting. “This includes the likes of seahorses, sharks, manta and devil rays. This is unlike the most terrestrial traded wildlife species which are directly harvested. Countering marine wildlife trade thereby requires paradigm changes in fisheries management as a whole to reduce their capture in the first place,” he added.

The report threw light on international illegal marine trade routes. “Out of the 122 sea cucumber incidents recorded between 2015 and 2021, 34 incidents either mentioned attempts to illicitly export sea cucumbers to neighbouring countries or countries with established markets for trade. Sri Lanka (26 incidents), China (six incidents) and Malaysia (two incidents) were recorded as countries that are either transit locations or destinations of trade,” it said.

Wildlife Conservation Society India

  • The Wildlife Conservation Society to conserve wildlife, backed by science.
  • It works in partnership with the government and many dedicated local organizations.
  • It deals with conservation challenges like human wildlife interactions, voluntary relocation of people from the forests, tourism in protected areas, and so on.

Impact of Illegal Wildlife Trade:

  • Species face extinction because of demands arising out of illegal wildlife trade.
  • Overexploitation of the wildlife resources due to its illegal trade creates imbalances in the ecosystem.
  • Illegal wildlife trade as part of the illegal trade syndicates undermines the economy of the country and thereby creates social insecurity.
  • Wild plants that provide genetic variation for crops (natural source for many medicines) are threatened by the illegal trade.

Various Species-Specific Enforcement Operations:

  • Operation Save Kurma: To focus on the poaching, transportation and illegal trade of live turtles and tortoises.
  • Operation Turtshield: It was taken up to tackle the illegal trade of live turtles.
  • Operation Lesknow: To gain attention of enforcement agencies towards the illegal wildlife trade in lesser-known species of wildlife.
  • Operation Clean Art: To drag attention of enforcement agencies towards illegal wildlife trade in Mongoose hair brushes.
  • Operation Softgold: To tackle Shahtoosh Shawl (made from Chiru wool) illegal trade and to spread awareness among the weavers and traders engaged in this trade.
  • Operation Birbil: To curb illegal trade in wild cat and wild bird species.
  • Operation Wildnet: It was aimed to draw the attention of the enforcement agencies within the country to focus their attention on the ever-increasing illegal wildlife trade over the internet using social media platforms.
  • Operation Freefly: To check illegal trade of live birds.
  • Operation Wetmark: To ensure prohibition of sale of meat of wild animals in wet markets across the country.

India’s Domestic Legal Framework for Wildlife Conservation:

  • Constitutional Provisions for Wildlife:
    • The 42nd Amendment Act1976, Forests and Protection of Wild Animals and Birds was transferred from State to Concurrent List.
    • Article 51 A (g) of the Constitution states that it shall be the fundamental duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests and Wildlife.
    • Article 48 A in the Directive Principles of State policy, mandates that the State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.
  • Legal Framework:
    • Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972
    • Environment Protection Act, 1986
    • The Biological Diversity Act, 2002

India’s Collaboration with Global Wildlife Conservation Efforts:

  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
  • Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS)
  • Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
  • World Heritage Convention
  • Ramsar Convention
  • The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (TRAFFIC)
  • United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF)
  • International Whaling Commission (IWC)
  • International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
  • Global Tiger Forum (GTF)

2. How climate change is altering Indian monsoon

Research shows that global warming increases the fluctuations in the monsoon, resulting in both long dry periods and short spells of heavy rains

Monsoon in India has undergone several changes over the years, especially on account of climate change. A shift in the track of monsoon systems, like low pressure and depression travelling south of their position and flash floods are a result of this change. And these changes spell intense and frequent extreme unprecedented weather events over the places which once struggled to record even normal monsoon rains. With this looming threat having a bearing on food security, it is only a matter of time before it has socio-economic impact.

“It has been very complex to understand the rainfall variability and how monsoon patterns have been behaving of late, especially this year. The problem is that it is very challenging for us to understand the situation, which calls for a lot more research. Persistence of intense La Nina conditions, the abnormal warming of East Indian Ocean, negative Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), southward movement of most of the monsoon depressions and lows and pre-monsoon heating over the Himalayan region are melting glaciers. This is a very complex mix,” said Dr. R. Krishnan, Executive Director, Centre for Climate Change Research, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM).

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has clearly sighted that 2022 has seen the second highest extreme events since 1902. An alarming case as incidents of floods and droughts have increased, there is more evidence coming our way on how global warming has been impacting the Indian monsoon.

“There is no doubt about the fact that most of the monsoon weather systems have been travelling across central parts of the country, changing the area of rainfall. Climate change is definitely behind these changes and thus, it calls for more research on the changes in the behavioural pattern of these systems,” said G.P. Sharma, President, Meteorology and Climate Change, Skymet Weather.

Excess and deficit

As a result, States such as Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and parts of Maharashtra have been recording excess rainfall this season. Usually, monsoon systems move across Northwest India giving rains over the region there. Experts believe that these changes are here to stay, which would continue to propel extreme weather events over the entire South Asian region.

During the last six months, entire South Asia has been reporting a series of extreme weather events. While Bangladesh, Pakistan and India have battled severe floods, China is reeling under massive drought conditions.

“Slow onsets can still be taken care of through adaptation and resilience ideas but these kinds of big events are very difficult to cope with. That is where the main issue lies as the country would then have to divert development money to climate finance to combat climate change.” said Dr. Anjal Prakash, Research Director, Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business and IPCC lead author.

After a weak onset, monsoon went into a lull and so no thumping activity was seen in Kerala and adjoining parts of Karnataka. By June, monsoon had reached the plains but the onset was not a strong one. This resulted in West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar not receiving normal rains. Back-to-back active monsoon systems in the Bay of Bengal in July led to excess rainfall to the tune of 8% — actual rainfall recorded was 472.8 mm as against the normal of 437.2 mm.

“August too saw two back-to-back depressions forming in the Bay of Bengal and travelling across Central India. These intense systems in quick succession kept the monsoon trough well south of its normal position for most of August,” explains Mahesh Palawat, Vice President, Meteorology and Climate Change, Skymet Weather.

Rice production

“Monsoon each year is unique, but we did see a large regional and temporal variability in rainfall this year. Our research shows that global warming increases the fluctuations in the monsoon, resulting in both long dry periods and short spells of heavy rains. This year, the monsoon was potentially influenced by La Nina also — the cooler than usual Pacific conditions,” said Dr. Roxy Mathew Koll, Climate Scientist, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology.

One of the major impacts of changes in track of monsoon systems can be seen on kharif crops, particularly rice production. They form a significant share of more than 50% of total food grain production during this period.

“Arrival of monsoon and whether onset would be strong or weak will always continue to dodge us. Due to southward movement of majors, all main monsoon low pressure areas and depressions, rice producing States such as West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and east Uttar Pradesh have been deficit by large margins. This would straight away have an impact on the quantity as well as the quality of the crop,” said Mr. Palawat.

Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, which account for a third of the country’s total rice production, have been highly deficit despite an active monsoon current in July and August.

These uneven distribution rains along with increasing temperatures and humidity give rise to pest attacks and diseases. This will, in turn, impact the quality of the grain as well as the nutrition value may vary. According to a study, ‘Climate change, the monsoon, and rice yield in India’, very high temperatures (> 35°C) induce heat stress and affect plant physiological processes, leading to spikelet sterility, non-viable pollen and reduced grain quality. Drought, on the other hand, reduces plant transpiration rates and may result in leaf rolling and drying, reduction in leaf expansion rates and plant biomass, immobilisation of solutes and increased heat stress of leaves.

Recent research indicates that monsoon rainfall became less frequent but more intense in India during the latter half of the 20th century. Scientists and food experts believe that a better rainfall scenario could have helped increase the harvest. However, India’s hundreds of millions of rice producers and consumers are being affected negatively with these unprecedented changes which are also raising concerns over food security.

3. Using ‘spooky action at a distance’ to link atomic clocks

The researchers show frequencies of spatially separated clocks can be compared more precisely

An experiment carried out by the University of Oxford researchers combines two unique and one can say even mind-boggling discoveries, namely, high-precision atomic clocks and quantum entanglement, to achieve two atomic clocks that are “entangled.” This means the inherent uncertainty in measuring their frequencies simultaneously is highly reduced.

While this is a proof-of-concept experiment, it has the potential for use in probing dark matter, precision geodesy and other such applications. The two-node network that they build is extendable to more nodes, the researchers write, in an article on this work published in Nature recently.

Atomic clocks grew in accuracy and became so dependable that in 1967, the definition of a second was revised to be the time taken by 9,19,26,31,770 oscillations of a cesium atom. At the start of the 21st century, the cesium clocks that were available were so accurate that they would gain or lose a second only once in about 20 million years. At present, even this record has been broken and there are “optical lattice clocks” that are so precise that they lose a second only once in 15 billion years. To give some perspective, that is more than the age of the universe, which is 13.8 billion years.

Mundane uses

The more mundane uses to which these clocks can be put include accurate time keeping in GPS, or monitoring stuff remotely on Mars.

“If you can measure the frequency difference between these two clocks that are in different locations, that opens up a host of applications,” says Raghavendra Srinivas, from the Department of Physics, Clarendon Laboratory, University of Oxford, U.K., who is an author of the Nature paper.

Their work is a proof-of-principle demonstration that two strontium atoms separated in space by a small distance, can be pushed into an “entangled state” so that a comparison of their frequencies becomes more precise. Potential applications of this when extended in space and including more nodes than two, are in studying the space-time variation of the fundamental constants and probing dark matter — deep questions in physics.

In quantum physics, entanglement is a weird phenomenon described as a “spooky action at a distance” by Albert Einstein. Normally, when you consider two systems separated in space that are also independent and you wished to compare some physical attribute of the two systems, you would make separate measurements of that attribute and this would involve a fundamental limitation to how precisely you can compare the two — for two separate measurements have to be made.

On the other hand, if the two were entangled, it is a way of saying that their physical attributes, say spin, or in this case, the frequency, vary in tandem. Measuring the attribute on one system, tells you about the other system. This in turn improves the precision of the measurement to the ultimate limit allowed by quantum theory.

Proof of concept

Quantum networks of this kind have been demonstrated earlier, but this is the first demonstration of quantum entanglement of optical atomic clocks.

Dr. Srinivas says, “The key development here is that we could improve the fidelity and the rate of this remote entanglement to the point where it’s actually useful for other applications, like in this clock experiment.”

For their demonstration, the researchers used strontium atoms for the ease in generating remote entanglement. They plan to try this with better clocks such as those that use calcium.

“We showed that you can now generate remote entanglement in a practical way. At some point, it might be useful for state-of-the art systems,” says Dr. Srinivas.

4. Matching ecology with agricultural economics

Ecological niche modelling helps to find new inhabitants for existing habitat

An ecological niche is the right set of environmental conditions under which an animal or plant species will thrive. A range of ecological niches can occur within an ecosystem. Biodiversity is the result of these niches being occupied by species that are uniquely suited to them. Desert plants, for example, are suited for dry, arid ecological niches because they have the ability to store water in their leaves.

As the world’s climate undergoes change, the ability of existing species to hold on to their biogeographic niches may be altered. This has an important bearing on agriculture, as practices and crop choices that have worked well for centuries may no longer be ideal.

Factors that are altered by such changes include the availability of food and nutrients, occurrence of predators and competing species. Non-living, or abiotic factors also affect ecological niches. These include temperature, amount of available light, soil moisture, and so on.

Niche modelling

Ecologists use such information for conservation efforts as well as for future developments. However, ecological considerations may not correlate well with economic realities. To bridge these two viewpoints, ecological niche modelling can be used to examine economic feasibilities within the context of changing ecological scenarios.

Ecological niche modelling is a predictive tool for identifying new possibilities — new inhabitants for an existing habitat, or new geographical locations where a desirable plant may grow well. The modelling involves the use of computer algorithms to compare data about the environment and to make forecasts about what would be ideal for a given ecological niche.

Compare two places that are geographically apart, say the Madikeri area of Coorg in Karnataka and Gangtok in Sikkim. Both are on hilly terrain. Madikeri is at 1,200 metre above sea level and Gangtok is 1,600 metre above sea level. Average yearly rainfall is 321 cm and 349 cm, respectively. Average relative humidity at 5:30 p.m. is 76% and 83%, respectively. The similarities are many in both regions.

Where to grow

A recent paper highlights the uses that ecological niche modelling can be put to within the context of India’s geographies and agricultural economics (Amit Kumar et al., Scientific Reports, 2022). Researchers at the Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology, Palampur, Himachal Pradesh used modelling strategies to examine the economically important spice, saffron.

Crocus sativus, the saffron plant, is propagated through underground stems called corms. It is thought to be a native of Greece, and grows best under mediterranean climate conditions. Today, Iran grows nearly 90% of the world’s saffron. The flower of the plant has three bright crimson stigmata, which are handpicked when ready and carefully dried for the commercial saffron. Besides adding flavour to food, saffron has many other uses. Ancient Indian medical texts prescribed it for disorders of the nervous system. More recent clinical trials have shown that the administration of 30 mg saffron every day had a significant anti-depressant effect (Toth et al., Planta Medica. 2019;85). Some of its chemical constituents have been shown to possess anti-cancer properties.

India produces 5% of the world’s saffron. Historically, some of the world’s most prized saffron has been grown in old lake beds of Kashmir. The temperate climate of Jammu and Kashmir is well-suited with a well-drained soil of high pH value (6.3 to 8.3), summer temperatures (when flowers develop) of around 25°C and good soil nutrient availability.

Using big data

For big data, the authors of the Indian study combined their efforts with openly available global resources. Areas of saffron cultivation in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand were compared with 449 locations of saffron cultivation in different parts of the world as documented by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. Environmental data came from the WorldClim web portal, which provides data on 103 variables, ranging from solar radiation to wind speeds. Terrain data (slope, aspect and elevation) came from the Space shuttle radar topography mission (SRTM) Digital Elevation Model. Several rounds of analysis yielded a map of probable niche areas suitable for growing saffron in India.

The study identified 4,200 square kilometre of new areas suitable for saffron cultivation in places in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, North Sikkim, Imphal, Manipur and Udagamandalam, Tamil Nadu. Field trials over two seasons at some of these locations obtained a saffron yield that was very close to the average national yield of 2.6 kg per hectare. Will saffron be regularly cultivated in these new areas? From an economic standpoint, the answer should certainly be in the affirmative.

5. Has the emissions deadline been extended?

Why have thermal units got an extension on installing pollution-control technology?

The story so far: On September 5, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) extended the deadline for installing pollution control technologies in the country’s thermal power plants (TPPs). This was the third time that the Ministry has extended the deadline for installation of pollution control technologies. The country’s first emission norms for control of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and mercury (Hg) from coal-fired power plants were notified in December 2015, and the thermal plants were given a timeline of December 2017 to comply.

What does the notification say?

In the notification, the Ministry set up three different timelines for three categories of thermal power plants for ensuring installation of pollution-control technologies. The categorisation of power plants was done in April 2021 on the basis of an amendment to The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

For power plants within a 10 km radius of Delhi-NCR and million plus cities, the deadline has been extended to December 31, 2024 from the earlier deadline of December 2022. In case of power plants within a 10 km radius of critically polluted cities, the deadline has been extended to December 31, 2025 from the earlier December 31, 2023. For all other power plants across the country which had an earlier timeline of December 31, 2024, the new deadline stands at December 31, 2026. The notification also extends the timeline until 2027 for retiring units (power plants which are over 25 years old or more) and 2026 for non-retiring units.

This extension comes alongside two dilutions granted to thermal power plants for water and NOx norms. In June 2018, water norms for units installed post-January 2017 were diluted from 2.5 cubic metres per megawatt-hours to three cubic metres per megawatt-hours. Similarly, in May 2019, NOx norms for units installed between 2004 and 2016 were diluted from 300 milligrams per cubic metres to 450 milligrams per cubic metres.

What are the concerns?

Environmentalists have raised red flags over the deadline extensions and the dilutions. According to Anjal Prakash, Research Director and Adjunct Associate Professor with the Bharti Institute of Public Policy at the Indian School of Business (ISB) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) author, the manner in which the extensions have been made since 2015 across parameters including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury, act as a roadblock. “It could potentially dent India’s emission targets. The deadlines needed to be met earlier as the further increase in SO2 emissions will further dampen the current air pollution scenario, resulting in a double whammy with current climate catastrophes being witnessed across our cities at the moment,” he added.

A thermal power plant converts heat energy into electric power by burning fossil fuels (coal) and pumps out a lot of gases which are by-products of the burning. Along with carbon dioxide, thermal power plants release SO2 (sulphur dioxide) which is a major contributor to particulate matter in air pollution. The process of eliminating sulphur compounds from the exhaust emissions of fossil-fuelled (coal-fired) power plants is known as flue gas desulfurisation (FGD). This is accomplished by including absorbent materials, which can eliminate up to 95% of the sulphur from the flue gas by scrubbing.

Seven years since the first notification for thermal power plants to control the emission level of S02 within prescribed standards, the percentage of plants that have installed FGDs remains negligible.

How many plants have installed desulfurisation units?

Data from Central Electricity Authority (CEA) points out that till February 2021, of the total thermal power of 211. 6 GW (giga watt) across 600 units installed in the country, only 8.2 GW (across 20 units) have installed FGDs. Installation of FGDs is a time-consuming process and takes a minimum of 36-42 months for commissioning from the date of award. Data by CEA till February 2021 show bids for installation of FGDs have been awarded to power plants generating 85.7 GW (across 190 units). Environmentalists argue that going by the pace at which bids are being awarded for FGDs’ installation, a majority of power plants are most likely to miss the new deadline too.

What are the challenges?

The Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy has often referred to constraints in the implementation of FGD technology at thermal power plants. In response to a question in the Lok Sabha in August 2022, the Ministry pointed out that alongside the minimum time period required for FGD commissioning of 36-42 months there is limited availability of vendors and that there is a price escalation factor too due to the limited supply of components. According to the Ministry, the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on the supply chain and manpower availability. Two years ago, an association of power producers had written a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office seeking more time for installation of FGDs and raised the issue of supply disruptions in China, pointing out that only 20-30% of emissions-reducing components are manufactured in India and the country is dependent on China.

In another reply in December 2021, the Ministry informed the House that the FGD system to control pollution was installed for 1,340 MW of coal-fired thermal power capacity of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). With 24 coal-based power stations, NTPC is the largest thermal power generating company in the country which has an installed capacity of 48,720 MW.

Despite the push for alternative sources of power, major production of electricity in India is achieved through coal-based thermal power plants which accounts for 75% of the country’s total power generation. With severe levels of air pollution recorded in the past few years in the Delhi-NCR region and other cities, the cost of installing FGDs, say experts and environmentalists, should not come in the way of the benefits a clean-up will provide for air quality and health.

What lies ahead?

Going by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment made at the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference, India proposes to achieve the goal of 500 GW of non-fossil fuel by the year 2030 and will achieve the net zero emission target by 2070. Environmentalists argue that if the MoEF&CC, which should have penalised power plants for not switching to pollution-control technologies, keeps extending the deadline, the transition to cleaner sources of power will take much longer. According to Ritwick Dutta, environmental lawyer and founder of Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, India’s National Clean Air Programme’s target of reducing air pollution by 20-30% by 2024 will never be achieved if the government gives repeated leeway to violators. “With this extension, a clear message has gone from the Central Government to all power companies that they should not take environmental norms seriously,” he contended.

6. Will the future of the Commonwealth change?

After Queen Elizabeth’s reign, will several nations go the Barbados way and shed ties with Britain’s monarchy?

The story so far: The death of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, the country’s longest serving ruler, who reigned for over 70 years, marks not only the end of an era for the British monarchy, but also a turning point for the 14 Commonwealth realms of which she was the Head of State. There has been a significant transformation of the socioeconomic milieu in these countries compared to the Elizabethan era, including calls in several nations to establish a republic and break free of historical ties to the British monarchy. Thus, it is possible that during the reign of the incumbent King Charles III, the Queen’s successor, more nations will follow in the footsteps of Barbados, which in 2021 became the 18th country to remove the British monarch from the role of head of state and substitute them with a national government functionary.

What is the Commonwealth and what are its realms?

The Commonwealth of Nations is a group of 56 countries comprised mostly of former British colonies. While members of the Commonwealth are predominantly located in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific, with many of them emerging economies, the three European members of the group are Cyprus, Malta, and the U.K. The developed nations of the Commonwealth are Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

The Commonwealth consists of both republics and realms. The British monarch is the Head of State for the realms, whereas the republics are ruled by elected governments, except in the the case of five countries — Brunei Darussalam, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malaysia, and Tonga — each a self-governed monarchy.

The realms are comprised of Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu.

How is the Commonwealth viewed by its members?

Even if the situation is changing vis-à-vis the realms and their Heads of State, the broader Commonwealth group, of which India and other South Asian countries are members, remains strong and fosters policy coordination among its members through its Heads of Government Meetings, a feature that has gained additional salience in the context of post-pandemic economic recovery. In this regard, Queen Elizabeth played a critical role in championing the organisation and maintaining the group’s relevance, regularly travelling to meet with leaders of Commonwealth nations across the world.

This has not always been the case. During the Queen’s third and final visit to India in 1997, many expected an apology for the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre of 1919, carried out by the erstwhile colonial government, and ordered by General Reginald Dyer. Yet that apology never came, and instead the Queen only referenced the killings during a banquet speech when she said, “It is no secret that there have been some difficult episodes in our past. Jallianwala Bagh is a distressing example.” Tactless remarks by her husband, Prince Philip, questioning the number of deaths in the massacre, added salt to injured sentiment. It was also in 1997 that the U.K. handed over control of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China, thereby losing after 156 years what was considered to be one of the most important colonies in Asia.

More recently, in March 2022, King Charles’ son and now heir to the throne, Prince William, his wife, Kate, and other royals faced demonstrations and demands for reparations for slavery while on a tour of the Caribbean that also witnessed several gaffes and awkward moments by the visitors from the U.K.

Which nations are moving towards ending formal ties to the British monarchy?

The debate in some of the Commonwealth realms, including for example Australia, has led to popular movements to reposition the country in question as a republic. In Canberra, the administration of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese appointed in June 2022 for the first time a Minister, Matt Thistlethwaite, to set in motion the gradual transition towards a republic. In this regard it is likely that there will be a referendum on the question of severing official ties to the monarchy in the months ahead.

While Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand has said that her country would support King Charles, she added that it would become a republic “in time”.

Similarly, Prime Minister Philip Davis of the Bahamas has said he intends to conduct a referendum to remove King Charles from the role of official Head of State, thereby moving the country, which gained independence in 1973, towards being a republic. Governments in five other Caribbean nations — Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica and Saint Kitts and Nevis — have signalled their intention to act similarly.

Thus, it is not beyond imagination that following the death of Queen Elizabeth, the Commonwealth realms might fade into being a relic of the past, and nations that suffered a history of colonialism — along with its attendant violence and resource extraction — will move forward to establish themselves as republics.

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