1. Mindless violence
The Maoist attack in south Bastar is reflective of the group’s potency
Less than two years ago, the Union Home Minister Amit Shah had told leaders and representatives of various States that the influence of the Maoists had reduced from 96 districts in 10 States in 2010 to just 41 by late 2021. Close observers of the Maoist insurgency had warned that despite the Maoists’ decline, they were still active in South Bastar, the Andhra-Odisha border or in some districts in Jharkhand. The killing on Wednesday of a District Reserve Guard team of the Chhattisgarh police in a powerful IED blast followed by gunfire is reflective of the threat still posed by Maoists in the south Bastar region. The fact that these 10 personnel were returning from a counter-insurgency operation that they had conducted after a tip-off indicates that the Maoist attacks could have been a trap and points to a possible intelligence failure. With the Maoists known to ramp up attacks on security forces before the onset of the monsoon season, the killings suggest a failure in anticipating such an attack. It is incumbent upon the government to investigate the incident, plug security loopholes, find out the Maoist cadre responsible for the attack and to bring them to justice. But it is a task that is easier said than done as this is tough terrain in a region which could be the last stronghold of the Maoists.
The inability of the Maoists to graduate beyond a violent guerrilla-based movement that utilises the remote and inaccessible forested terrain of central India, and home to tribal communities, is largely because of their incoherent and outdated ideology that has found few takers even among the most marginalised of communities. Diligent security actions have certainly curbed their presence outside their stronghold even as the responsiveness and penetration of the Indian state into areas where governmental sway was hitherto absent, has had a mitigatory effect. Yet, it is not just the terrain and topography that have acted as the obstacles in defeating the Maoists in south Bastar. The alienation of a section of tribals caught in the crossfire between security forces and the Maoists has allowed the Maoists to tap into discontent and to retain a presence in the area. In the years of counter-insurgency, hard-edged strategies of creating wedges among the tribal population to defeat the Maoists have been counter-productive. The government must continue to try to win the support and confidence of the tribal people of south Bastar as that is the surest way of defeating the Maoist movement. Any military action that is hastily put together for retribution and which could target innocent tribals will only exacerbate the problem.
2. Killer mafia
There must be zero tolerance of illegal sand quarrying in Tamil Nadu
The gruesome murder of Lourdhu Francis, a Village Administrative Officer (VAO) in Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu, on Tuesday — he was in his office — is a reminder of the lengths to which the sand mafia will go to protect its lucrative activities involving illegal quarrying. The official had been informing the police and his superiors about mafia operations. This is not the first such case in Tamil Nadu. Five years ago, in neighbouring Tirunelveli, a 33-year-old police constable was brutally murdered by the sand mafia when he was about to arrest the culprits who had mined river sand from the Nambiyar. The State has had a long history of attacks on public servants who have sought to enforce the rules governing sand quarrying and book wrongdoers. Over 25 years ago, the then District Collector of Tiruvallur, Jayashree Raghunandan, nearly lost her life when leading a raid on illegal quarrying; the driver of a lorry was arrested on charges of attempting to kill her. The killing of a Deputy Tahsildar near Chengalpattu, in December 2004, is another case. Both the Madras High Court and the Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal have, on many occasions, sought to address the issue of illegal sand quarrying and mining. In October 2013, after the High Court came down on the administration of Kancheepuram district (near Chennai), over alleged illegal quarrying, the State government went to the extent of suspending the Collector. Over the past five to six years, the government’s launching of measures such as online system of booking of sand and payment (with plans to fine tune technology applications in this regard) as well as the unveiling of a policy document on “M-sand” (or manufactured sand, as an alternative to river sand), in March this year, are steps that have hardly stopped illegal sand quarrying.
What is critical is that the government should send a strong message: of its zero tolerance towards illegal sand quarrying. Unless this is done in unequivocal terms, any other move to tone up the system will fall short. Chief Minister M.K. Stalin ordering ₹1 crore as solatium and the appointment of a member of the VAO’s family in government service on compassionate grounds should be of some comfort to the family, but the government should apprehend the killers and ensure their conviction expeditiously. At the same time, the government should ponder over the efficacy of the existing system concerning the sale and use of river sand. It also needs to strengthen the regulatory mechanism. The authorities would do well to promote research on the production and quality of M-sand. Regardless of any other steps it takes, the government should not give room for any more murderous violence in the State.
3. The threat of rising sea levels
Rising sea level causing land erosion on Mousuni island in West Bengal.
What is the rate at which sea levels are rising? What are the reasons behind the accelerated sea-level rise? What does the report by the World Meteorological Organisation show? What problems can be caused by rising sea levels?
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has found in a new report that the world’s sea level is rising at an unprecedented rate, portending potentially disastrous consequences for the weather, agriculture, the extant groundwater crisis, and social disparities.
The report, entitled ‘State of the Global Climate 2022’, was published last week. Along with accelerating sea-level rise, it focused on a consistent rise in global temperatures, record-breaking increases in the concentration of greenhouse gases as well as glacier loss, sustained drought-like conditions in East Africa, record rainfall in Pakistan, and unprecedented heatwaves that struck Europe and China in 2022.
A release said “droughts, floods and heatwaves affected communities on every continent and cost many billions of dollars. Antarctic sea ice fell to its lowest extent on record and the melting of some European glaciers was, literally, off the charts.”
While the sea-level rise is one of several compounding disasters, it also merits individual attention for the unique crises it can precipitate, especially for coastal areas, the communities there that depend on life in the sea, and its ability to render the loss of land.
How much is the sea rising?
The press release said, “The rate of global mean sea-level [GSML] rise has doubled between the first decade of the satellite record and the last.”
Since the 1990s, scientists have been measuring sea-level rise using satellite altimeters. These instruments send radar pulses to the sea surface and measure the time they take to get back and the change in their intensity. The higher the sea level, the faster and stronger the return signal.
Researchers are able to determine GSML by collecting this data from different points on earth and calculating the average. To calculate the rate of change in the GSML — i.e. how fast or slow the sea level is changing — we can calculate the difference in the GSML across a few years, usually a decade, and then divide the difference by the number of years. This provides an estimate of the rate of sea-level change.
According to the WMO report, the sea level has been rising in the three decades for which satellite altimeter data is available (1993-2022). But, while the rate of sea-level rise was 2.27 mm/year in 1993-2002, it shot up to 4.62 mm/year in 2013-2022.
What causes accelerated sea-level rise?
The WMO report points to the following factors as being responsible for a rising GSML: “ocean warming, ice loss from glaciers and ice sheets, and changes in land water storage”.
The report also quantifies the individual contribution of these factors to yield, what researchers call the “GSML budget”.
According to the report, in 2005-2019, loss of glaciers and ice sheets contributed 36% to the GSML rise. Ocean warming — the phenomenon of rising mean ocean temperatures — contributed 55%, and changes in the storage of land water contributed less than 10%.
As increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases drive global warming, 90% of the ‘extra’ heat is stored in the oceans. This leads to ocean warming. And as the ocean heats up, it undergoes thermal expansion, which in turn leads to a rise in the GSML. One measure of ocean warming is the ocean heat content (OHC).
As per the report, OHC measures in 2022 touched a new record.
The report also says that the earth’s ice cover, known as the cryosphere, has thinned. The cryosphere includes the Arctic and Antarctic regions (called “sea ice”), glaciers, the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica (area of ice on land covering more than 50,000 km2), seasonal snow cover, and permafrost (mass of land that remains below 0 degree Celsius for at least two straight years).
What do the report’s findings mean?
Nehru Prabakaran, a scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, who works on the effect of sea-level change on coastal ecosystems, told The Hindu that the WMO report confirms trends that are already well-known.
“They have used more or less the best possible data,” he said.
Raj Bhagat Palanichamy, a senior programme manager with WRI-India and an expert on the use of geoanalytics for urban development and transport, added that “the findings of the report are consistent with observations made by others and predictions from climate models.”
Both Dr. Prabakaran and Mr. Palanichamy told The Hindu that given the GSML is expected to continue rising, the accelerating pace is particularly worrisome.
What problems will sea-level rise cause?
One, Mr. Palanichamy said, is that the accelerated pace will cause changes in land cover, i.e., “what will be land and what will be sea”, in the future.
Dr. Prabakaran added that as rising seas swallow more of the land cover, particularly in coastal areas, coastal communities will face an “acute shortage of land for human use”.
This land crunch, according to Dr. Prabakaran, will mean that those who are better off will be able to cope better than marginalised groups, leading to an increase in social disparities between people living in coastal areas.
Second, weather formations such as cyclones are known to typically originate in the open seas. As the GSML continues to rise, along with a rise in ocean temperatures, the chances of cyclones could increase, affecting coastal communities and leading to large economic liabilities for tropical countries such as India and South Africa, which have high population densities.
Besides this, the WMO report says that South Africa was affected by five cyclones in over two months in 2022, leading to the displacement of “hundreds of thousands of people”.
Third, Mr. Palanichamy said that as the GSML continues to rise, more sea water could seep into the ground, leading to the groundwater — which is usually freshwater — turning more and more saline.
This, in turn, can exacerbate water crises in coastal areas as well as agriculture in adjacent regions.
How will sea-level rise affect societies?
Dr. Prabakaran said that coastal ecosystems could be “completely changed”.
For example, he said that in the Sundarbans delta in West Bengal, the world’s largest mangrove area, rising sea levels and coastal erosion, due to loss of land and sediment from coastal areas, has left more islands submerged under water, and that, in turn, has forced members of local communities to migrate.
Since the lives of coastal communities, including their economic activities, is tied intricately with the coastal ecosystem, changes in the coastal ecosystem as a result of GSML rise — especially when it happens faster than rehabilitative policies and laws can catch up — will further endanger the socio-economic stability of these communities.
Indeed, a combination of these forces having increased child trafficking in the Sundarbans area has already been documented.
Thus, for Dr. Prabakaran, it is crucial that reports such as the WMO’s ‘State of the Global Climate 2022’ continue to generate and accumulate data on climate change.
“I hope it presses for global and local policy-level changes related to climate change,” he told The Hindu.
Sayantan Datta works with the feminist multimedia science collective, TheLifeofScience.com
The WMO has found in a new report that the world’s sea level is rising at an unprecedented rate, portending potentially disastrous consequences for the weather, agriculture, the extant groundwater crisis, and social disparities.
The sea level has been rising in the three decades for which satellite altimeter data is available (1993-2022). But, while the rate of sea-level rise was 2.27 mm/year in 1993-2002, it shot up to 4.62 mm/year in 2013-2022.
Since the lives of coastal communities, including their economic activities, is tied intricately with the coastal ecosystem, changes in the coastal ecosystem as a result of GSML rise will further endanger the socio-economic stability of these communities.
4. India sends third ship INS Tarkash to Port Sudan for evacuating citizens
Indian citizens who were evacuated from Sudan outside the Mumbai International Airport on Thursday.
The Foreign Secretary says evacuation efforts face challenges such as lack of diesel and buses, calls situation in Sudan ‘highly volatile and unpredictable’; he expresses gratitude to Saudi Arabia for cooperation in ‘Operation Kaveri’
INS Tarkash, an Indian naval ship, reached Port Sudan on Thursday to evacuate stranded Indians. Announcing the progress of Operation Kaveri to bring back Indians from the war-torn Sudan, Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra said India would do “all that it requires to be done” to help its citizens in Sudan.
The country was “extremely grateful” to Saudi Arabia for its support in the evacuation.
“On April 25, INS Sumedha brought 278 Indian nationals. It’s the same INS Sumedha which has gone back and re-docked today. Two sorties of C-130J brought in 121 and 135 passengers, respectively. Yesterday on 26th April, another batch of 297 Indians have sailed out on INS Teg and there were two more sorties of C-130J to evacuate 264 Indians,” he said giving an update on Indians and persons of Indian origin (PIOs) evacuated so far.
INS Tarkash is the third ship to join the evacuation, which is being supported also by INS Sumedha and INS Teg. The ships are being used to ferry stranded Indians from Port Sudan to the Saudi port of Jeddah from where they are being flown to India. “The pockets of concentration of Indians are in Khartoum city and its suburbs. There are also pockets in Omdurman, Port Sudan,” he said.
The Foreign Secretary said India had set up control rooms in Jeddah and Port Sudan, and the evacuation had to deal with factors such as lack of diesel and buses. He said 42 Indian nationals were evacuated to South Sudan. “There were evacuation requests from other nationalities also. From our side, we are willing to provide all possible assistance to everybody who approaches us for such assistance,” he said explaining that such a process would have to take into account procedures in the transit country, Saudi Arabia.
Describing the situation in Sudan as “highly volatile and unpredictable”, he said India was in touch with the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces. India has been aiming to bring its citizens to the “greater safety zone” as the first step and then shift them to Port Sudan before evacuating them to India, via Jeddah. “Substantial number of buses are currently on their way from Khartoum city to Port Sudan. Between 1,700 and 2,000 people have already moved out from the conflict zone,” he said.
Late on Thursday, Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan announced that the seventh batch of stranded Indians from Port Sudan had landed in Jeddah. There were 135 passengers onboard the C-130J aircraft.
5. ‘Ready to play facilitator to push govt. to ease concerns of same-sex partners’
Conscious of our limitations as a court, says Chief Justice Chandrachud; the SC says it can facilitate solutions for day-to-day human concerns of cohabiting partners without touching upon the issue of legal recognition of same-sex marriage
The Supreme Court on Thursday said it is ready to play the role of a “facilitator” to push the government into taking administrative steps to bring down “barriers” and ease the day-to-day human concerns faced by cohabiting same-sex partners in areas such as joint banking, insurance and admissions of children to schools without touching upon the issue of legal recognition of same-sex marriage.
The seventh day of court hearing of petitions seeking legal status for same-sex marriages witnessed a sharp diversion on the part of a Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud. The petitioners have sought a judicial declaration of nothing less than a “full marriage” status for same-sex couples. But the court said “we don’t want to go for an all-or-broke approach”. The court, at one point, conscious of semantics, suggested labels such as “contract” and “partnership” to describe same-sex unions rather than “marriage”.
The government had argued that the court would encroach into the legislative arena by giving legal status to same sex marriages.
“We understand our limitations as a court. But there are so many problems faced by same sex couples which your Ministries, on the administrative side, can find real solutions…We can act as a facilitator to achieve these solutions,” the CJI said.
Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta said he would consult with the government and report back by Wednesday, the next day of hearing. “Except for legal recognition of same-sex relationships as marriage, if there are problems they face, they can be addressed,” he underscored.
Justice S. Ravindra Bhat said a representative democracy had a duty to break down the barriers faced by the LGBTQIA+ community in their daily lives. Justice P.S. Narasimha said the term ‘recognition’ does not always mean ‘marriage’. “These associations should not always be equated to marriage,” Justice Narasimha clarified.
Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul asked the Solicitor-General to find out whether the government had conducted any study to address concerns faced by the community following the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2018.