Daily Current Affairs 31.05.2021 (Monsoon onset over Kerala delayed: IMD, Commando training, more firepower for Kaziranga guard, Govt. cited ‘Indian double mutant strain’ in SC affidavit)

Daily Current Affairs 31.05.2021 (Monsoon onset over Kerala delayed: IMD, Commando training, more firepower for Kaziranga guard, Govt. cited ‘Indian double mutant strain’ in SC affidavit)


1. Monsoon onset over Kerala delayed: IMD

It is likely to hit State by June 3; private forecaster Skymet, however, says the monsoon has arrived

The arrival of the southwest monsoon over Kerala has been delayed to June 3, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Sunday. The agency had last month forecast that the onset would be on May 31.

“As per the latest meteorological indications, the south-westerly winds could strengthen further gradually from 01st June, resulting in likely enhancement in rainfall activity over Kerala. Hence the monsoon onset over Kerala is likely to take place by 03rd June 2021,” the IMD said in a statement.

However, the IMD had, until Saturday evening, maintained that the monsoon would keep its May 31 schedule. All monsoon onset forecasts have a built-in error window of four days, and so, June 3 still falls in this window.

“The monsoon winds haven’t picked up. We expected that in the aftermath of the cyclone [Yaas] there would be a pickup in windspeeds but that hasn’t happened. We expect the wind flows to strengthen in the next few days,” M. Mohapatra, Director-General, IMD, told The Hindu.

Weak onset: Skymet

Skymet, a private weather forecast agency, however, said the monsoon had arrived. This was because two of the three criteria — as defined by the IMD — had been met, said meteorologist Mahesh Palawat.

The criteria are rain-bearing westerlies being at a minimum depth and speed; at least 60% of the available 14 stations in Kerala and coastal Karnataka, namely Minicoy, Amini, Thiruvananthapuram, Punalur, Kollam, Allapuzha, Kottayam, Kochi, Thrissur, Kozhikode, Thalassery, Kannur, Kudulu and Mangalore reporting rainfall of 2.5 mm or more for two consecutive days after May 10; a certain degree of clouding, indicated by a parameter called ‘outgoing longwave radiation’ (OLR), being below 200 W/square metre.

Mr. Palawat said IMD’s own data indicated that except for the OLR, the other criteria were met. “This is certainly a weak onset and the OLR was actually below 200 two days ago but has now increased to 250. There is an element of subjectivity in arrival and even IMD has, on previous occasions, relied on the two out of three criteria to declare monsoon onset.” Skymet added that conditions were favourable for further advancement of the monsoon to more parts of south Peninsula and east central Bay of Bengal.

Last year, the IMD announced the onset date over Kerala of June 1, whereas the monsoon actually arrived on June 5. There is no correlation between the date of onset of the monsoon and the actual quantum of rain that is received during these months. The IMD and Skymet have forecast normal monsoon from June-September this year.

To herald the onset, initial rains first occur over south Andaman Sea and the monsoon winds then advance across the Bay of Bengal.

Since 2005, the monsoon has arrived within the error margin of the IMD’s weather models, except in 2015.


Generally, across the world, the monsoons are experienced in the tropical area roughly between 20° N and 20° S.

The climate of India is described as the ‘monsoon’ type. In Asia, this type of climate is found mainly in the south and the southeast.

Out of a total of 4 seasonal divisions of India, monsoon occupy 2 divisions, namely.

  • The southwest monsoon season – Rainfall received from the southwest monsoons is seasonal in character, which occurs between June and September.
  • The retreating monsoon season – The months of October and November are known for retreating monsoons.

Factors Influencing South-West Monsoon Formation

  • The differential heating and cooling of land and water creates a low pressure on the landmass of India while the seas around experience comparatively high pressure.
  • The shift of the position of Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) in summer, over the Ganga plain (this is the equatorial trough normally positioned about 5°N of the equator. It is also known as the monsoon-trough during the monsoon season).
Inter Tropical Convergence Zone         The Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ,) is a broad trough of low pressure in equatorial latitudes. This is where the northeast and the southeast trade winds converge. This convergence zone lies more or less parallel to the equator but moves north or south with the apparent movement of the sun.
  • The presence of the high-pressure area, east of Madagascar, approximately at 20°S over the Indian Ocean. The intensity and position of this high-pressure area affect the Indian Monsoon.
  • The Tibetan plateau gets intensely heated during summer, which results in strong vertical air currents and the formation of low pressure over the plateau at about 9 km above sea level.
  • The movement of the westerly jet stream to the north of the Himalayas and the presence of the tropical easterly jet stream over the Indian peninsula during summer.
  • Tropical Easterly Jet (African Easterly Jet).
  • Southern Oscillation (SO): Normally when the tropical eastern south Pacific Ocean experiences high pressure, the tropical eastern Indian Ocean experiences low pressure. But in certain years, there is a reversal in the pressure conditions and the eastern Pacific has lower pressure in comparison to the eastern Indian Ocean. This periodic change in pressure conditions is known as the SO.
El Nino           This is a name given to the periodic development of a warm ocean current along the coast of Peru as a temporary replacement of the cold Peruvian current. ‘El Nino’ is a Spanish word meaning ‘the child’, and refers to the baby Christ, as this current starts flowing during Christmas. The presence of the El Nino leads to an increase in sea-surface temperatures and weakening of the trade winds in the region.


Onset of the South-West Monsoon

  • The location of ITCZ shifts north and south of the equator with the apparent movement of the Sun.
  • During the month of June, the sun shines vertically over the Tropic of Cancer and the ITCZ shifts northwards.
  • The southeast trade winds of the southern hemisphere cross the equator and start blowing in southwest to northeast direction under the influence of Coriolis force.
  • These winds collect moisture as they travel over the warm Indian Ocean.
  • In the month of July, the ITCZ shifts to 20°-25° N latitude and is located in the Indo-Gangetic Plain and the south-west monsoons blow from the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The ITCZ in this position is often called the Monsoon Trough.
  • The shift in the position of the ITCZ is also related to the phenomenon of the withdrawal of the westerly jet stream from its position over the north Indian plain, south of the Himalayas.
  • The easterly Jet Stream (Somali Jet) sets in along 15°N latitude only after the western jet stream has withdrawn itself from the region. This easterly jet stream is held responsible for the burst of the monsoon in India.
  • As these winds approach the land, their southwesterly direction is modified by the relief and thermal low pressure over northwest India. The monsoon approaches the Indian landmass in two branches:
    • The Arabian Sea branch – The monsoon winds originating over the Arabian Sea.
    • The Bay of Bengal branch – The Arakan Hills along the coast of Myanmar deflect a big portion of this branch towards the Indian subcontinent. The monsoon, therefore, enters West Bengal and Bangladesh from south and southeast instead of from the south-westerly direction.
  • Another phenomenon associated with the monsoon is its tendency to have ‘breaks’ in rainfall. The monsoon rains take place only for a few days at a time. They are interspersed with rainless intervals. These breaks in monsoon are related to the movement of the monsoon trough.

Despite an overall unity in the general pattern, there are perceptible regional variations in climatic conditions within the country.

Retreating Monsoon Season

  • The retreating southwest monsoon season is marked by clear skies and rise in temperature.
  • The land is still moist. Owing to the conditions of high temperature and humidity, the weather becomes rather oppressive. This is commonly known as the ‘October heat’.
  • In the second half of October, the mercury begins to fall rapidly, particularly in northern India.
  • The weather in the retreating monsoon is dry in north India but it is associated with rain in the eastern part of the Peninsula. Here, October and November are the rainiest months of the year.
  • The widespread rain in this season is associated with the passage of cyclonic depressions which originate over the Andaman Sea and manage to cross the eastern coast of the southern Peninsula. These tropical cyclones are very destructive.
  • A bulk of the rainfall of the Coromandel Coast is derived from these depressions and cyclones.
  • Unlike the rest of the country, which receives rain in the southwest monsoon season between June and September, the northeast monsoon is crucial for farming and water security in the south.

Impact of Monsoons on Life in India


  • About 64% of people in India depend on agriculture for their livelihood and agriculture itself is based on monsoon.
  • Agricultural prosperity of India depends very much on timely and adequately distributed rainfall. If it fails, agriculture is adversely affected particularly in those regions where means of irrigation are not developed.
  • Regional variations in monsoon climate help in growing various types of crops.
  • Regional monsoon variation in India is reflected in the vast variety of food, clothes and house types.
  • Monsoon rain helps recharge dams and reservoirs, which is further used for the generation of hydro-electric power.
  • Winter rainfall by temperate cyclones in north India is highly beneficial for Rabi crops.


  • Variability of rainfall brings droughts or floods every year in some parts of the country.
  • Sudden monsoon burst creates a problem of soil erosion over large areas in India.
  • In hilly areas sudden rainfall brings landslide which damages natural and physical infrastructure subsequently disrupting human life economically as well as socially.

Monsoon Prediction In India

  • More than a century ago, when there were no computers, IMD’s forecasts depended only on snow cover. Lesser cover meant a better monsoon.
  • British physicist Gilbert Walker, who headed the IMD, designed a statistical weather model – an empirical way of predicting the weather – based on the relationship between two weather phenomena.
  • In 2014, the IMD started to use numerical models to supplement statistical models for long-range forecasting as well.
  • Now, although the numerical models used by the IMD are state-of-the-art – developed by the US National Centres for Environmental Prediction – their forecast capacity is still weak because a longer period of forecast creates more uncertainty in prediction.
  • At the moment, the IMD provides district-wise weather data but it’s not sufficient; because when IMD says there will be scattered rainfall over a particular district, it means that 26-50% that district (by area) will receive rainfall.
  • The IMD collects weather data like temperature, humidity, wind and precipitation through 679 automatic weather stations, 550 surface observatories, 43 radiosonde or weather balloons, 24 radars and three satellites.
  • Currently, highly advanced dynamical models need supercomputers. Prediction models will not run until proper data about current weather conditions is available.

Factors Responsible for Inaccurate Monsoon Forecast

  • The lack of data due to insufficient monitoring stations.
  • Automatic weather stations are of substandard quality. They need to be calibrated and cleaned regularly, which does not happen often. That affects data.
  • Then, there are major data gaps, like those involving dust, aerosols, soil moisture and maritime conditions are not monitored.
  • The models that we have brought from the west have been developed by western scientists to forecast in their region, little progress has been made is the fine-tuning of weather models to suit Indian conditions.
  • Lack of competent software professionals and scientists working with the IMD.

Recent Indian Initiatives

It is crucial for farmers (sowing, harvesting, etc.) and policymakers (payment of compensation, minimum support price, etc.) to know when and for how long the monsoon will remain active over India. For that, better predictions and timely advisories are needed.

To achieve this following initiatives have been taken:

  1. Monsoon Mission of India: This initiative of Ministry of Earth Sciences, launched in 2012, has utilized new approaches (high resolution, super parameterizations, data assimilation etc.) so that forecast skill gets quantitatively improved further for forecasting services of India Meteorological Department (IMD).
    For the first time, India Meteorological Department used the Monsoon Mission dynamical model to prepare operational seasonal forecast of 2017 monsoon rainfall over India.


  1. To improve Seasonal and Intra-seasonal Monsoon Forecast
    1. To improve Medium Range Forecast.
  2. IMD in collaboration with Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) provides district-level agro-meteorological advisories to farmers through 130 agro-met field units in vernacular languages.

These advisories are used for critical farm operations such as:

  1. Management of sowing (delayed onset of rains);
    1. Changing crop variety (delay in rainfall);
    1. Spraying Pesticides for disease control (occurrence of rainfall);
    1. Managing Irrigation (Heavy rainfall Forecast).
  2. India Meteorological Department (IMD) provides meteorological support to the Central Water Commission (CWC) for issuing flood warnings.
  3. Indo-US expedition: In 2018, The Indian Ocean Research Vessel, ‘Sagar Nidhi’, set out from Chennai, as part of an Indo-US expedition seeking to find answers to the vagaries of the Bay of Bengal-fed southwest monsoon by collecting various data to improve prediction models.
  4. National Supercomputing Mission will fill the necessary gaps in the computing superpower required to predict timely and accurate monsoon forecasts.

Global Warming and Monsoon

  • A drastic change in the monsoon rainfall intensity, duration, frequency and spatial distribution can be attributed to the climate change. However, it is too soon to arrive at a conclusion.
    • If all this is in response to global warming then it can be permanent and might accelerate. If not then the monsoon system will revert to a more normal state.
  • More data and reanalysis is needed to get a clear picture on the complete separation of the global warming impact from natural climate variability (such as El Niño).

2. Commando training, more firepower for Kaziranga guards

The Assam government has approved a proposal to increase the firepower of the guards of Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve and provide commando training to them.

The government has also sought the notification of all animal corridors, accelerated construction of elevated road corridors through the park, and exploration of helicopter services to and from the one-horned rhino habitat.

These decisions were taken at a meeting on flood preparedness, animal safety and anti-poaching headed by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on May 27.

According to the minutes of the meeting accessed by The Hindu, the number of Ghatak (Indian-made Kalashnikov series) rifles would be increased for the 1,300 sq. km. Tiger Reserve’s guards and members of the Assam Forest Protect Force (AFPF).

All AFPF personnel and frontline staff using modern weapons would be trained at the Assam Police Commando Training Centre near Guwahati on a regular basis, the minutes signed by Dr. Sarma said.

“There shall be zero tolerance to poaching,” the Chief Minister’s note said.

Kaziranga National Park

What are the features of KNP?

  • Kaziranga National Park in Assam hosts two-thirds of the world’s great one-horned rhinoceroses.
  • It is a World Heritage Site and located on the edge of the Eastern Himalaya biodiversity hotspot.
  •  It is home to the highest density of tigers and was declared a Tiger Reserve in 2006.
  • It also hosts large breeding populations of elephants, wild water buffalo, and swamp deer.
  • The rivers Brahmaputra, Diphlu, Mora Diphlu and Mora Dhansiri flow through it.
  • The great one-horned rhinoceros is native to India and listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

What is the documentary about?

  • The documentary, One World: Killing for Conservation explored the anti-poaching strategy adopted by the guards of the Kaziranga Tiger Reserve (KTR) in Assam while protecting the one-horned Indian Rhino.
  • It referred to “dark secrets” of conservation at KTR.
  • The documentary said the forest guards had been given powers to shoot and kill poachers.
  • It also stated that more people were killed by guards than rhinos by poachers at the tiger reserve.

What is NTCA’s rationale?

  • The NTCA alleged that the violations by the journalist involved
    1. Filming after sunset,
    2. Dishonouring the undertaking provided,
    3. Deviating from the original synopsis submitted to mea and its authority.
    4. Not screening the documentary before a committee of the moef&cc.
  • It described the documentary as “grossly erroneous reporting”.
  • BBC had failed to submit the documentary to MoEFCC and the MEA for obligatory previewing.
  • So, NTCA has asked chief wildlife wardens of all tiger range states and field directors of tiger reserves to disallow filming permission to BBC in any of the protected areas for a period of 5 years.

What is the shoot and sight order?

  • The forest guards were given “legal immunity” in Kaziranga and Corbett to use lethal force to stop poaching.
  • Shoot-at-sight does not mean forest guards can gun down anyone they spot inside the forest.
  • It means that they are empowered to open fire if they cannot satisfactorily establish the identity or purpose of an intruder.
  • A protection force is in any case entitled to retaliate if attacked. The distinction here is that the guards are allowed to shoot as a pre-emptive move before they are shot at.
  • Poachers in KNP are known to carry Kalashnikov assault rifles.
  • Forest guards with their usual .303s have a slim chance without a first-mover advantage.
  • Kaziranga does not has any village inside.
  • Therefore, there is no question of villagers entering or leaving the park at unusual hours.
  • That makes anyone who is spotted a suspect.

How effective is the shoot and sight order?

  • There is no denying that firepower is required to take on heavily-armed poachers.
  • But there is a question about its effectiveness and guard’s responsible use of power.
  • Abuse – The guards allegedly settled personal scores in the name of anti-poaching operations.
  • They even colluded with the poaching syndicates.
  • The park authorities were accused of harassing local villagers while shielding political bigwigs.
  • Effectiveness – The guns also worked only as a limited and temporary deterrent to poaching.
  • Even after hundreds of poachers were killed in Kruger, South Africa, around 500 instances of rhino poaching were reported every year.
  • In Kaziranga, forest guards shot dead 45 poachers over 2014 & 2015, yet at least 44 rhinos were poached in the park during the same period.
  • Reliance on guns tends to shift focus from intelligence-based anti-poaching drives.
  • Local Community – Guns alienate local stakeholders whose support is crucial for any conservation effort to succeed in the long term.
  • Instead, disempowered, persecuted and impoverished locals become easy recruits for poaching syndicates.
  • Sharing the economic benefits of conservation with local communities will not immediately sever the lifelines of poaching syndicates.
  • Yet it is more important to include them as it is more about recognising their rights and dignity. Over time, the collective stake of these communities can grow to work as an effective deterrent.

3. China’s space station plans gather pace with cargo docking

It also plans to send two manned missions this year

China took another step towards completing the construction of its first space station by the end of next year following the launch and docking of a cargo spacecraft early on Sunday.

The Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft, described by China’s state media as “the delivery guy for China’s space station”, was launched late on Saturday on a Long March-7 rocket from the island of Hainan, and docked eight hours later with the space station’s first core module called Tianhe, or “heavenly harmony”.

The launch was a third landmark for China’s space programme in recent weeks. China landed a spacecraft in Mars on May 15 carrying its first Mars rover, Zhurong. The Tianhe module, which the cargo spacecraft docked with on Sunday, was launched on April 29.

The Tianzhou-2 spacecraft carried a range of supplies, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) said, and will be followed by the launch of another cargo spacecraft, Tianzhou-3, and two manned missions, Shenzhou-12 and Shenzhou-13, this year, each carrying three astronauts who will spend several months in orbit. The Shenzhou-12 launch is slated for mid-June.

The six missions to follow this year, including for the space station’s second and third modules, Wentian and Mengtian, will close to complete the construction of China’s first space station, expected to be finished in 2022.

The CMSA said Tianzhou-2, with a maximum takeoff weight of 13.5 tons and 6.9 ton-payload capacity, is the largest cargo spacecraft in service.

The spacecraft is carrying cargo and propellant that will replenish the supplies of the Tianhe module, the agency said.

Official broadcaster China Global Television Network said its supplies include food for the crew that will follow in the Shenzhou-12 and Shenzhou-13 missions, including “famous stir-fried Chinese dishes like shredded pork with garlic sauce and Kung Pao chicken.”

4. Govt. cited ‘Indian double mutant strain’ in SC affidavit

It had objected to affixing nationality to the variant later

The Centre used the term “Indian double mutant strain” in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court just days before it officially objected to affixing nationality to the virus variant.

A May 9 affidavit referred to “Indian double mutant strain” while detailing the steps taken by the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology to develop Covaxin. The affidavit was filed in the court three days prior to a Ministry of Health statement on May 12, taking exception to media reports which referred to the B.1.617 variant as an “Indian variant”. It said the World Health Organization (WHO) had not associated B.1.617 with the term “Indian variant”. Instead, it considered the virus a variant of “global concern”.

The WHO had also clarified that it “does not identify viruses or variants with names of countries they are first reported from”. “We refer to them by their scientific names and request all to do the same for consistency,” it said. But the affidavit runs contrary to the WHO even in this aspect. In fact, the affidavit calls variants “UK variant, Brazil variant, South African variant” and caps the list with the “Indian double mutant strain”.

The Ministry of Health was one among the many Ministries consulted before the affidavit was filed. The introductory paragraph in the affidavit filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs said the document was filed in compliance with the instructions received from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Ministry of Commerce, Department of Pharmaceuticals, Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and Ministry of Railways.

5. Editorial-1: A ‘reform wave’ Lakshadweep could do without

Though there is room for improvement, the archipelago does not need the measures announced by its administrator

Praful Khoda Patel, a former Gujarat Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Minister who took additional charge as Administrator, Lakshadweep, in December last year, is in the news for having introduced a slew of draft legislation that will have a wide-ranging impact on the islands: the Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, 2021; the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (PASA); the Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021 and Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021. Addressing the media in the face of widespread criticism of these measures, Mr. Patel says he intends to develop Lakshadweep like neighbouring Maldives, “a renowned international tourist destination”.

Adding to this, the Collector of Lakshadweep, S. Asker Ali (a young IAS officer from Manipur) says, “It was only in 2017 that the Centre constituted the Island Development Agency under the Home Minister for the development of the islands. Since then, we have been working on developing town and country planning norms.”

The IDA framework

Mr. Ali should be aware that a specially constituted Island Development Authority (IDA) for the island territories of India, chaired by no less than the former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, had, in Kavaratti in 1988, approved a framework for the development of India’s island territories. It held the view that “an environmentally sound strategy for both island groups hinges on better exploitation of marine resources coupled with much greater care in the use of land resources”. Published in 1989, the report carried six recommendations for Lakshadweep (Cecil J. Saldanha, Andaman, Nicobar and Lakshadweep: An Environmental Impact Assessment) . At this point, I must highlight that Lakshadweep was an assignment that I consider to be the most enriching in my career — I was Administrator, Lakshadweep, 1987-90.

Upon the conclusion of my term, the Union Territory had its own decentralised political entity from the adoption of panchayati raj much before the constitutional amendments of 1993, in which the Island Development Council, at the apex of the local government, was mandated to advise the Administrator on development; its own airport, and a flourishing tourist industry, with an international tourist resort in Bangaram. According to its first franchisee, Jose Dominic, this facilitated ecotourism in Kerala.

A paradise set in the Arabian Sea, the archipelago of Lakshadweep also gives India a vast and exclusive economic zone with three distinct ecosystems: land, lagoon and ocean. Fishery is a primary occupation here. The language, except in Minicoy, is Malayalam; in Minicoy, Mahl is spoken, a language akin to the 17th century Divehi of the Maldives.

The society in all islands is matriarchal. The religion is Islam of the pristine Shafi school of law. When Islam came to the islands is debated. According to Prof. Lotika Varadarajan, “The thesis… that Islam was introduced not from Malabar but from Yemen and Hadramaut may be accepted in relation to the Maldives but not Lakshadweep… On the other hand, social conventions, dress and the position accorded to Thangals within the community all point to the Mappilas of Malabar as progenitors of present-day Islam in Lakshadweep.”

Vatteluttu was the earliest script used with its heavy Sanskrit component and this system of autography is in evidence in the sailing manuals of local pilots (malmis), on inscriptions on tombstones and those in some mosques/pallis. With the introduction of Islam, Arabi-Malayalam, with Malayalam in Arabic script and associated with the literature of the Mappilas that developed on the mainland, also came into use on the islands.

I was a part of the team accompanying Rajiv Gandhi while on his first visit to Lakshadweep in 1985. Together with his visit to the Andaman and Nicobar islands, Rajiv Gandhi was concerned about the development agenda for these ecologically fragile territories — an agenda hitherto dictated by a faraway government to a design set by the Union Planning Commission, and without so much as a reference to the people most concerned, the residents of the islands.

A ‘no’ to the Maldives model

Deliberations of the IDA wanted that Lakshadweep, with its land ownership constitutionally protected, be opened to international tourism not as a means of generating wealth for investors from the mainland but to bring prosperity to the islanders. Specifically rejecting the Maldives model, the plan for Lakshadweep required that the industry had to be people-centric and enrich the fragile coral ecology. Lakshadweep today has rainwater harvesting facilities, first introduced in government buildings on every island and now accessible in every home. Solar power, which covers 10% of lighting needs, makes Lakshadweep a pioneer in India’s present flagship initiative. All islands have been connected by helicopter service since 1986, and high-speed passenger boats were purchased in the 1990s by an international tender. A study by the National Instituteof Oceanography found practical applications, helping a redesign of the tripods reinforcing the beaches against sea erosion, and ensuring piped water supply especially designed to draw from the fresh water lens that, in every coral island, floats on the saline underground seawater at the core of every coral island, so as not to disturb the slim lens.

The islands boast total literacy. Minicoy had among the country’s first Navodaya Vidyalayas. Kadmat has a degree college that was designed by K.T. Ravindran, an authority on vernacular building traditions, who was to become dean and professor and head of the department of urban design at New Delhi’s School of Planning and Architecture. Vernacular building traditions are the theme of all government housing projects undertaken in the islands in the 1980s, with leading architects providing the designs. Kavaratti has a desalination wind-powered plant gifted by the Danish government. And although the poverty line in terms of GDP is only slightly higher than the World Bank’s poverty threshold, Lakshadweep today has no poor people; they have a high calorific consumption from plentiful foods harvested from the lagoons and islands.

The office of the Administrator, Lakshadweep was also among the first in India to be computerised with a mainframe and fax machine; every island in Lakshadweep had a computer by 1990. Endorsed with outlays by the Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Finance Commissions (1984-2005), this established, in the words of the last of these Commissions “speedy and accurate generation of accounting information that might be needed for purposes of better planning, budgeting and monitoring”.

Admittedly, there is much room for improvement. Today, long lines and refrigeration have aided the expansion of the fishing sector but income disparities have grown. Indiscriminate trawling endangers the coral, as experienced in the Maldives and now banned there. The Government recognises the need to develop policies for enhancing employment opportunities, environment-friendly management of fisheries, sanitation, waste disposal and widening access to drinking water, with the youth, having acquired a modern education, preferring salaried jobs over pursuing traditional occupations. None of this requires any of the measures announced by Administrator Patel.

Revenue from tourism has declined with the closure of resorts (including at Bangaram) from litigation. A clear policy must include conservation and natural resource management arrived at after wide consultation, eminently possible within the existing infrastructure of the Union Territory, and also taking into account climatic compulsions. Maldives is hardly a suitable model. Water bungalows — an expensive concept and also hazardous to the coral — favoured by the NITI Aayog, would collapse in Lakshadweep’s turbulent monsoon. It should be noted that a wooden jetty installed at the diving school in Kadmat needs to be dismantled every monsoon.

Obtuse plans

But, ostensibly, in the pursuit of ‘holistic development’, using the ‘claim’ that there has been no development in Lakshadweep for the past 70 years, Mr. Praful Patel has proposed a cow slaughter ban in a territory where there are no cows (except in government-owned dairy farms), a preventive detention law where there is no crime, and also steps to undermine tribal land ownership, with judicial remedy denied, with also plans for road widening on the islands where the maximum road length is 11 km. More insidious is the provision to allow the mining and exploitation of mineral resources which could convert the islands into a hub for cement manufacture.

Other initiatives by Mr. Praful Patel include panchayat rules designed to restrict the population growth in a territory where, according to the National Health and Family Survey-5 (2019-20), the total fertility rate is 1.4 (which is far behind the national average of 2.2) and relaxing prohibition, extant in the Union Territory because of public demand. Worse still is the relaxation of quarantine restrictions for travel which have introduced the novel coronavirus into a pandemic-free archipelago. The developments only lead one to suspect that there is something sinister being planned. Is the game plan to altogether supplant Lakshadweep’s human habitation with cement factories?

6. Editorial-2: Evidence of how little the judiciary has learnt

The Tarun Tejpal case judgment must not be allowed to become a precedent in derailing the workplace safety of women

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in Goa has rightly filed an appeal in the High Court against the judgment of the Additional Sessions Judge acquitting a former editor of a news magazine, Tarun Tejpal, of charges of the rape of an employee in November 2013. He was tried under sections introduced into the law after the Nirbhaya case, including one denoting that he was in a position of power, authority and trust over the young woman concerned.

We should not let ourselves be distracted either by the argument that this is a case of “ political vendetta” since Mr. Tejpal was known as a BJP critic or by the utter hypocrisy of the BJP when it comes to its double standards in dealing with cases of rape.

The survivor’s battle

The young woman survivor is no pawn of those who may have political motives. Throughout these years she has fought a very tough battle.

In the 527-page judgment (, in spite of all the efforts to suppress it, it is her voice we hear, a voice which speaks with honesty and courage, a voice of a young woman conflicted and torn — sexually assaulted by a man, her boss whom she considered a father figure, the father in fact of her very close friend; confused as to what her course of action should be since so many relationships were at stake; angry, sad, and yet trying to act “ normally” to fulfil her responsibilities at work — a voice which perhaps unintentionally also reveals the horrendous nature of the sexualisation of women made possible at a workplace by not just the accused boss but by women too in positions of authority and the normalisation of such a process by them.

The judgment transforms the accused into the victim and it is the young woman who becomes the accused. It says “(Prosecutrix) neither demonstrates any kind of normative behaviour on her own part – that as a prosecutrix of sexual assault might plausibly show” (p.457).

This pushes us back to 1979 when a rape survivor had to prove through physical marks on her body that she had not consented. In this 2021 judgment, in a similar approach, since the survivor did not fit into the court’s preconceived ideas of a rape survivor’s behaviour, she is considered a liar. It would appear that four decades of women’s struggles which forced changes in law, in case law, and in approaches to victims of rape, have no relevance for this judgment.

Case law gives weightage to the statement of a victim of rape with the proviso of it being “credible and sterling”. The judgment gives a new and dangerous interpretation to this. It poses the question, “who is a sterling witness?” And then accepts every highly objectionable charge of the defence to prove the witness (prosecutrix) is not “sterling”.

Violation of laws, of privacy

To this end, in total violation of various laws, the full personal details of the survivor, her name and that of her family, her WhatsApp messages, her personal mails, her photographs and her relationships are laid out bare in the judgment in the most ferocious aggression on her right to privacy and which have no relevance to the charge of rape. In sharp contrast, there is a blanket of protection given by the court to the accused. Not a mention of his back story. Even his telling WhatsApp message referring to “fingertips”, a clear reference of what he had done to the survivor, is brushed aside.

She on the other hand is subjected to a barbaric and cruel cross-examination recorded in the judgment on intimate details of her life and her friendships. Even while upholding the objections of the prosecution on some issues under Section 53A in the Indian Evidence Act, which rules out reference to past sexual history, the judgment defends this stating “some of the messages shown were not for purpose of proving immoral character or consent but to prove suppressing of relevant facts by the prosecutrix”. This is nothing but a licence for the character assassin’s knife.

The most telling evidence against the accused is his own “personal apology”, the draft of an “official apology” and the conversations recorded by the survivor with the senior woman officer negotiating on behalf of the accused clearly showing that there was no ulterior motive behind the complaint. The judgment records the accused as stating in his apology, “Yes, you did say at one point that I was your boss and I did reply ‘that makes it easier’… again ‘I had no idea that I had been even remotely non-consensual’ and then ‘anything furtive with my daughter’s best friend’”, are words that match what the survivor had said in her accusation — that she asked him to stop but he continued.

Sympathy towards accused

But in an extraordinary and unprecedented interpretation, the judgment holds that the apology and the statements made by the accused were “not sent voluntarily but that it was due… to the pressure and intimidation by prosecutrix to act swiftly and also the inducement that the matter would be closed.” In this way, the boss accused of rape is converted into a victim by “manipulation and calculating nature” of the prosecutrix and his statement is taken as being “not voluntary and against his wishes”. The sympathy towards the accused leaps out in paragraph after paragraph of the judgment. Sample this: “Accused was absolutely repulsed with the accusation made by the prosecutrix”; “accused asserted his claim that it was only drunken banter”; “accused consistently claiming to be a bunch of lies”, In contrast, the comment against the survivor: “she twists and manipulates the truth”.

Every witness who gave evidence that the survivor shared her traumatic experience with them within hours of the incident — proving that it was no afterthought — is brushed aside on grounds that they are her friends, and therefore biased while the statements of the accused’s own sister and another female colleague known to be close to him, are accepted as being true.

Even the right of a survivor to approach activists and lawyers for their help — the most natural course of action for any rape survivor — is criminalised in this judgment. Senior members of the Bar such as Indira Jaisingh are put in the dock as probable advisers for “doctoring” and also “of adding to incidents”.

The judge in this case was a woman which once again underlines that it is not biology but ideology which determines one’s view of social reality. This judgment will find its place in history as an example of the worst kind of victim blaming and shaming to benefit the accused, a man old enough to be her father, powerful as her boss. The sooner it is overturned the better. Otherwise if this becomes the precedent, no working woman will dare to speak out against sexual abuse and violence at the workplace.

7. Editorial-3: Only a global effort can tame COVID-19

What we need is the mass production of vaccines in order to inoculate the global population

India has been witnessing an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases, largely due to the new variants. The variant found initially in the United Kingdom (B.1.1.7) was found in parts of north India earlier this year and began to spread across the country. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared the variant first found in India (B.1.617) as a variant of global concern as it has already spread to more than 40 countries. This underscores the fact that no one is safe until everyone is safe. It calls for globally coordinated efforts to build herd immunity through mass vaccination and to develop new vaccines or tweak the existing ones to become effective against the new variants. Experts have been doubtful about the effectiveness of some of the COVID-19 vaccines against the new variants of the virus.

Vaccine nationalism

An immediate outcome of the second wave in India is that many people are no longer hesitant to take the vaccine. However, vaccine shortages have been reported in many parts of the country. Several people have criticised the government’s Vaccine Maitri policy. The government has already imposed temporary restrictions on the export of COVID-19 vaccines from India. Although there is a need for these temporary restrictions to meet domestic demand, any definite move towards vaccine nationalism will be detrimental to global efforts to contain the virus. The pandemic needs to be checked globally in a coordinated manner. If this is not done, the virus will keep mutating and no country will remain isolated.

From May 1, all those aged 18 and above became eligible in India to receive the COVID-19 vaccines. This means that 595 million people who require 1,190 million doses were added to the 344 million people in the 45 and above age group requiring 688 million doses. Inoculating this huge population calls for massive production capacities. Only a little over 12% of the population has received one dose and 3.2% has received both the doses in India so far.

The current production capacity of Covishield and Covaxin is just over 70 million doses per month. The government has allocated ₹45 billion as an advance commitment to Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech for enhancing their production capacity. By June-July, in the best-case scenario, the combined production capacity of the two companies is expected to rise to 158 million doses per month. The 50 million imported Sputnik doses will add to this. This vaccine will be available only in major private hospitals for now. It is reported that the Sputnik vaccine will be produced in India from July with an annual capacity of 156 million doses, which, according to the Russian Ambassador to India, will be gradually increased to 850 million doses. Even if all the three vaccines are exclusively used for domestic supply, the anticipated production in the near future will not be sufficient to meet the enormous vaccine demand.

Pharmacy of the world

Being the pharmacy of the world, India needs to rise to the occasion and cater to the demand for vaccines in the country as well as facilitate inoculation of the global population, especially in poorer countries. In the first week of May, the Indian Council of Medical Research said it was willing to share the know-how to produce Covaxin with any company interested in production. Allowing multiple producers will lead to more competition and a reduction in prices. The government can easily task the public sector vaccine manufacturers with the production of Covaxin by providing support to them. In its attempt to enhance the production of Covaxin from 12.5 million doses to 58 million doses a month, the Government of India has involved three public sector enterprises — Haffkine Biopharmaceutical Corporation, Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Corporation Limited, and Indian Immunologicals Limited.

While raising an alarm on the spread of infectious diseases, a 2020 report of the WHO on the urgent health challenges for the next decade expressed concern on the lack of access to medical products, including medicines and vaccines. As infectious diseases are expected to increase in the coming years, India needs to frame a long-term strategy to enhance supply at the domestic and international level. Public sector enterprises should be an integral part of that strategy. Unfortunately, the Public Sector Enterprise Policy, released in February, has not identified public sector enterprises in the pharmaceuticals sector as strategically important, and therefore, all central public sector enterprises will subsequently be privatised.

What we need now is the mass production of COVID-19 vaccines for the mass vaccination of the global population in order for us to develop herd immunity against the virus. India still has options left for scaling up production. The National Health Profile 2019, published by the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, shows that India has an installed capacity of 8,151.7 million doses of vaccines annually, in the private and public sectors. A few of these facilities can be re-purposed for the production of COVID-19 vaccines.

International co-operation

Scaling up production of existing vaccines and producing new vaccines is not easy. Unavailability of raw materials, complexities in the transfer of technology, and intellectual property barriers all hinder production. Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech have faced constraints in continuing production due to the lack of raw materials.

Intellectual property rights act as a major barrier in scaling up production. About 1,800 patents cover the single-use plastic reactors which are used in the production of some of the COVID-19 vaccines. Similarly, other equipment and materials used in the production of vaccines are patent-protected and therefore supplied by only a few players. India and South Africa had led an initiative at the World Trade Organization (WTO) for the waiver of intellectual property rights over products required for treating COVID-19. Recently, after coming under pressure, the U.S. extended support to this proposal covering only vaccines. However, Germany said it is opposed to it. Therefore, it is unclear how this IP waiver proposal will help enhance the global production of vaccines. Besides, the U.S. support, which is limited to vaccines, may also limit the benefits deriving from the intellectual property waiver, if the proposal comes through the WTO.

An article published in Nature points out the benefits of mRNA vaccine technology compared to conventional vaccine technologies. The key advantage of this technology is easy scalability in production. At present, the WHO has approved two mRNA COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna, and those vaccines have proven to be more effective than other vaccines. Global cooperation is needed to create an environment where those companies interested in producing the mRNA vaccines get open licence from the innovators.

Global cooperation is also required for the sequencing of the viral genome to track and control the multiple variants. Only if we tame the virus together and quickly will the world benefit both in terms of health and economy.

8. Editorial-4: The binding law

The newspaper cannot follow the norms set by social media in reporting child sexual abuse

I have been critical of whataboutery for both ethical and practical reasons. Ethically, it creates a false hierarchy among the issues confronting us and arranges them in neat political silos. Practically, it diverts our attention from the pressing issue. When I get complaints from the readers of this newspaper, I tend to use accepted journalistic yardsticks to evaluate them and hardly indulge in the comparison of differing standards between news organisations.

Best practices in journalism

I draw from documented best practices for journalism. While many scholars believe that the history of modern journalism begins with the anti-colonial struggle in the United States in the mid-18th century, the finer nuances emerged in the first half of the 20th century. We can distil these principles into five actionable points to understand what constitute the best practices in journalism. They are: 1) differentiate facts from conjecture and opinion, 2) maintain a standard of accuracy, 3) do not easily resort to anonymous sources, 4) do not promote hate and bigotry, and 5) defer to the rule of law, including those dealing with privacy.

Early this week, Chennai was rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct by a teacher in a reputed school. Social media platforms carried all sorts of information. Most of them were violative of the guidelines spelt out in two important laws: the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (the POCSO Act) and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (the JJ Act). Some readers expected this newspaper to follow the norms set by social media.

A report on May 25, “Teacher accused of sexual misconduct suspended”, was seen by this section of readers as incomplete reporting as it did not name the school in which the said offence took place. S. Kathiresan, a reader from Saligramam in Chennai, wrote: “The Hindu has published the name of the accused teacher but not the name of the school. Why are you protecting the school?” I received a number of letters and direct messages on my Twitter account about the failure of the newspaper in naming the school.

The report that the newspaper published was in compliance with the POCSO Act, which clearly states that any form of reporting that may result in identifying the survivor would violate the privacy of the individual. People who express themselves on social media platforms are not necessarily familiar with the laws that govern the reporting of sexual violence against children. It is true that with the proliferation of social media platforms, many rules are broken. At times, even the survivors have been named. But this is a clear violation of the prescribed law.

Pointing out lacunae in the law

At the same time, the newspaper has pointed out the lacunae in the POCSO Act. While reporting within the legal framework is a primary requisite, it is also important to flag the loopholes in the governing law. The newspaper carried a comment article by lawyer Manuraj Shunmugasundaram titled “Expanding the scope of POCSO” (May 25). He argued that necessary changes should be made in the law to account for the reporting of historical child sexual abuse.

The newspaper has been looking at this law closely. For instance, when a single bench of the Madras High Court allowed a petition seeking to quash a case of kidnap in March, a lecturer, Shraddha Chaudhary, wrote a comment article titled “The limits of POCSO” (March 16, 2021). She dealt with the more sensitive area of adolescent sexuality. In her earlier article, “Putting victims on trial” (July 16, 2020), she documented the deeply entrenched patriarchal biases in our justice system.

Like society, journalism too does not condone child sexual violence. But the reporting on this particularly distressing story has to navigate a binding legal regime. For instance, when complaints started emerging against various schools in the city, the newspaper stuck to the legally sanctioned method of reporting. Its report on May 30, “Schools mull child protection measures”, also refrained from naming the other schools which are in the investigative dragnet.

Not naming the schools that failed to protect the students from predatory behaviour does not mean that the newspaper is not worried about accountability and the necessary follow-up action. It has been reporting the police investigation and the observations of the School Education Minister extensively.

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