01 January 2021: The Hindu Editorial Analysis
1) A Constant Vigil: the spread of the new variant.
GS 2 Issues relating to social sector including health.
From the beginning of COVID 19 disease in India, India prepare more in terms of testing capacity, vaccine candidate in development, public awareness and experience of those who exposed to the virus. As well as the new strain of virus visits India from the UK.
CORONAVIRUS AND COVID 19:
- Coronavirus: The group of related RNA viruses that causes disease in mammals and birds is called Coronaviruses.
- This group cause respiratory tract infections which can range from mild to lethal.
- In human, Mild illnesses include the common cold while more lethal varieties can cause SARS, MERS, and COVID-19.
- COVID 19: In December 2019, a pneumonia outbreak was reported in China's Wuhan. In the last of December 2019, the outbreak was traced to a novel strain of coronavirus.
- This novel strain gave the interim name 2019-n CoV by the World Health Organization.
U.K.Strain (SARS Cov-2 VUI)
- This is a new variant of SARS COV2, which is spreading in the U.K.
- First detection: the first detection of this new variant in the U.K. was in October 2020 and it quickly spread by mid-December.
- As well as this correlated with the increased rate of COVID-19 infection in the United Kingdom.
- This increased number is responsible because of change N501Y inside the spike glycoprotein's receptor-binding domain. This change is needed for binding to ACE2 in human cells.
- This variant contains a higher number of mutations as compared to the recorded trend to date.
- First name: This variant's first name was Variant Under Investigation (VUI – 202012/01) given by Public Health England in early December 2020.
- On 21 December Public health England renamed it as Variant of Concern 202012/01 (VOC-202012/01).
- The major problematic issue of this new variant is that it has at least 14 significant mutations.
- This mutation of variant could affect healthy cells or worsen compromised immune systems.
- More transmissible: As well as according to studies, this variant is not linked to increased mortality but more transmissible than other variants so contributing to a higher death.
SPREAD OF NEW VIRUS:
- 25 travellers from the U.K. come to India with a new variant and put India back at the base of a new learning curve. Information about new strain first reported to WHO on December 14.
- This SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01(U.K. strain), was detected after an unexpected case spike in South East England.
- The labs in the U.K. periodically sequences 5%-10% of the entire genome of SARS-CoV-2 isolates. From October to December, more than 50% of isolates were identified as the variant strain in South East England.
- As we know that this has been circulating in the U.K. as early as October, but the world becomes aware of this in December so it is possible that people flying on the U.K.-India route, it is quite caused its circulation in India.
- This possible circulation puts the country right back to January and February of 2020 when attention was towards possible carriers from China and SE Asia.
- As well as this circulation also puts back the country to march 2020 when attention was towards travellers from West Asia and Europe.
CHALLENGE BEFORE INDIA:
- The main difference in the situations of before and present is that India was only figuring out how to mass-produce and distribute RT-PCR kits and paraphernalia for detection.
- Now the new challenge before Indian scientists to work on mass genomic surveillance.
- India has genome sequencing machines as well as personnel to track and identify new variants from some years ago.
- As the early days of RT-PCR, these machines and personnel are not enough to sequence the 4%-5% of isolates in the population like the U.K.
- As compared to the U.K.'s genome sequence of 137,000 isolates, India sequenced only 5,000.
- As a welcome step, India has formed a consortium of genomics labs to make genome surveillance a routine continuous exercise.
- But as well as these labs, the new year likely to be the year of the vaccine. In this year, we have to work on vaccine development at an unprecedented scale.
- As well as scientists have warned against the possibility of some virus strains, which may change enough to evade the vaccine’s immune response like in the case of hepatitis B.
- Hence if India wants to increase its defence against this pandemic and any future variant, it has to continuous monitoring and developing suitable detection kits.
2) Has the Special Marriage Act failed to protect inter-faith couples?
- The Special Marriage Act (SMA), 1954, is seen as a progressive law enacted to help interfaith couples. But recently, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are framing laws that target interfaith marriage which is undermining the original intent of SMA and seen as a violation of the privacy of the couples.
SPECIAL MARRIAGE ACT (SMA):
- The original Special Marriage Act was enacted in 1872. It was moved by an eminent jurist and Legislative Council member named Henry Maine.
- It was enacted following a campaign launched in 1860 by Brahmo Samaj, especially Keshab Chandra Sen, for simpler marriage ceremonies.
- But it required that two people of different faiths who wish to get married must renounce their respective religions.
- But its requirement of renouncing one’s religion was not compatible with modern ideas of liberalism, individualism and autonomy of the individual. So the 1954 law replaced this 1872 Act.
- 1872 Act allows the solemnisation of marriages between any two individuals without religious customs, rituals, or ceremonial requirements. Basically, this law was the first step towards a Uniform Civil Code.
- The Act critically creates provisions for the marriage of interfaith couples without religious conversions — a requirement for marriages under personal laws such as the Hindu or the Muslim marriage acts.
- There exist some critical fundamental differences between civil marriages under the Special Marriage Act when compared to marriages under personal laws. These provisions are most problematic for couples who wish to marry against the wishes of their families.
- So, those going for an interfaith marriage, as well as others, could register under the SMA. The effect of the SMA is that once your marriage is registered under it, your religion’s personal laws won’t apply.
- Marriage under the Special Marriage Act requires an extra witness – three, instead of two in the case of marriage registration under personal laws. This extra responsibility might make one think twice before agreeing to be a witness, adding an extra layer of complexity in the overall process.
- Despite these issues, couples who choose to use the Special Marriage Act find that there is a complete lack of transparency around the process. A lack of this can result in corruption and potential harassment by middlemen, especially in the case of interfaith couples.
Can the SMA do a better job of protecting interfaith couples?
INTERSECTION OF SPECIAL MARRIAGE ACT AND ‘LOVE JIHAD’
- The Uttar Pradesh government cleared a law against forceful religious conversions. The law is now being used to target consenting interfaith couples, including those whose parents’ agree to the marriage.
- Madhya Pradesh and Haryana are also contemplating laws on ‘Love Jihad’ or ‘anti-conversion’, which use the garb of forced conversions to target inter-faith marriages and require individuals to take special permissions if they wish to convert their religion in order to marry under personal laws.
- Contrary to the premise of the Special Marriage Act that accepts the existence of interfaith relationships, the current ‘Love Jihad’ laws create scenarios that suggest that every case of inter-faith marriage is actually a case of forced conversion.
- The complexities of the Special Marriage Act, and the criminalisation of interfaith marriages in the name of forced conversions, couples are being forced to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea.
- This twin monitoring from the law and the extreme Right is performing its intended task of discouraging interfaith marriages and maintaining religious ‘purity’.
- All in all, the discourse around marriage in India ceases to place adult individuals at the center. Familial and societal forces have always played a role in deciding young people’s futures.
- By making the implementation of the Special Marriage Act so complex, the law is further complicating the lives of young people who have decided to choose their own partners.
- Lastly, the attitude of the law is reflected in the name of the act itself — the ‘Special’ Marriage Act. A marriage that is deemed special because it is seen as an anomaly, something that is out of the ordinary and deserves constant scrutiny.
3) A leopard count with a missing benchmark number
GS 3- Conservation
- Since 2014, India’s leopard population has increased by 60% in 4 years, as reported recently.
- However, to get a population estimate of an elusive carnivore at the geographical scale of 21 States in India is tricky and requires colossal effort.
- The Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca) is a leopard subspecies widely distributed on the Indian subcontinent.
- The species Panthera pardus is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because populations have declined following habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching for the illegal trade of skins and body parts, and persecution due to conflict situations.
- The Indian leopard is one of the big cats apart from the Asiatic lion, Bengal tiger, snow leopard and clouded leopard.
- Conservation of the species of interest aims to protect and increase the population.
- In this direction, scientific monitoring of their current numbers, and an increase or a decrease in numbers over the years will determine whether the conservation efforts undertaken to preserve the species are beneficial. To achieve this, a solid, genuine benchmark is very essential and critical.
- The report ‘Status of leopards in India, 2018’ states that the country has 12,852 leopards. But according to experts, this is an underestimate by at least 40% as they predict that India may have over 20,000 leopards.
REASONS FOR UNDERESTIMATION:
- This study focused mostly on forested habitats where tigers are found, as it was a by-product of the all-India tiger estimate.
- Hence other leopard habitats such as rocky outcrops, smaller dry forests, higher elevation habitats in the Himalayas, agricultural landscapes (coffee, tea, arecanut, sugarcane plantations) where leopards are known to be found in good numbers were not a part of this exercise.
- Similarly, much of Northeast India was excluded from the study. Hence the area studied by itself does not represent a true pan-India leopard population.
- Though a very coarse scale map is made available in the report, it clearly depicts that vast stretches of leopard habitats have been excluded from the study. This is a key factor that has kept India’s leopard numbers lower than the true picture.
CASE STUDY KARNATAKA:
- Camera trapping exercise in the BRT-MM Hills-Cauvery-Bannerghatta protected areas revealed a leopard population of 267 individuals.
- This protected area complex, of an area of 2,825 square kilometres, possibly represents less than 6% of leopard habitat in Karnataka.
- This landscape also has two competing large predators — the tiger and the dhole — who keep leopard numbers under check.
- Even in small, natural habitats such as the Devarayanadurga Reserved Forests and its adjoining areas, studies showed a population of 15 leopards in a small area of 70 square kilometres.
- Small rocky outcrops such as Devarayanadurga can potentially have high leopard numbers.
- Hence it is critical that such habitats are included when the population figure for an entire nation is projected.
- We need a benchmark number against which we can evaluate the trend in leopard numbers and threats to this carnivore.
- In general, habitat loss due to :
- mining and quarrying,
- poaching for body parts,
- mortality due to vehicular collisions,
- retaliatory killing due to human-leopard conflict and;
- accidental deaths due to snares set for catching wild prey
- All these threats seem to be impacting the conservation of this rosette-patterned cat. If we can assess leopard numbers in a few selected sites and monitor the area occupied by them over large swathes, it will perhaps give us a better overview of leopard conservation efforts.
- It is an endangered large cat inhabiting the high mountains of Central and South Asia.
- It has an extremely patchy and fragmented distribution throughout its range. Snow leopards are found in 12 central Asian countries, including India, China and Mongolia.
- The estimated global population of the species is 4500 to 7500 individuals.
- Within India, 200 to 600 individuals are thought to occur in the higher reaches of the Himalayas encompassing the northern areas of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
- Snow leopard is highly threatened due to poaching for its pelt and other body parts, a decline in its natural prey base, increasing competition between its natural prey and domestic livestock.
- More recent threats include hydroelectric projects, mining and climate change. Within Ladakh, retaliatory killing by villagers/farmers, whose livestock are occasionally killed by the cat, remains the most important threat.
- The snow leopard is listed as an 'Endangered' species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
- However, it remains one of the least studied large cats in the world due largely to its secretive nature, and the inaccessibility and political sensitiveness of its high altitude habitats.
4) Acclimatising to climate risks
GS 3- Environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
- A recent report by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water found that 75% of districts in India, home to over half the population, were vulnerable to extreme climate risks. While winter may be longer and harsher in some regions due to La Niña.
- According to weather forecast, 2021 would still be among the Earth’s hottest years recorded. Rising temperatures have led to a sharp increase in climate extreme events in recent years.
El Nino and La Nina:
- El Niño and La Niña events are a natural part of the global climate system. They occur when the Pacific Ocean and the atmosphere above it change from their neutral ('normal') state for several seasons.
- El Niño events are associated with a warming of the central and eastern tropical Pacific, while La Niña events are the reverse, with a sustained cooling of these same areas.
- These changes in the Pacific Ocean and its overlying atmosphere occur in a cycle known as the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO).
- The atmosphere and ocean interact, reinforcing each other and creating a 'feedback loop' which amplifies small changes in the state of the ocean into an ENSO event.
- When it is clear that the ocean and atmosphere are fully coupled an ENSO event is considered established.
- India witnessed 250 extreme climate events between 1970 and 2005, the country recorded 310 extreme climate events after 2005 alone.
- Further, between 1990 and 2019, India incurred losses exceeding $100 billion. Also, the intensity of floods increased eightfold and that of associated events such as landslides and heavy rainfall increased by over 20 times since 1970.
- Drought-affected districts have increased by a yearly average of 13 times over the last two decades.
- The frequency of cyclones has also doubled. Over 40% of Indian districts now show a swapping trend: flood-prone areas are becoming drought-prone, and vice-versa.
- At the recent Climate Ambition Summit, the UN Secretary-General underscored the importance of adaptation and resilience to mainstream climate actions, and tagged 2021 as a “make it or break it” year.
- India in 2021 should enhance its resilience and adaptive capacity against extreme climate events.
BUILDING CLIMATE RESILIENCE:
- First, India should create an Environment and Health De-risking Mission to increase emergency preparedness, secure critical resources and build resilient infrastructure and governance systems to counter the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme climate events.
- The Mission should also focus on democratising local climate-related and weather-related data along with integrating risk projections in national, sub-national and district disaster and climate plans.
- Another priority would be restoration, revival, and recreation of traditional climate-resilient practices, with a special focus on indigenous communities, often on the front lines of ecosystem conservation.
- Second, India needs a comprehensive Climate Risk Atlas to present a risk-informed decision-making toolkit for policymakers at the national, State, and district level.
- Such an Atlas should identify, assess and project chronic and acute risks at a granular level to better prepare against extreme climate events, urban heat stress, water stress, crop loss, vector-borne diseases, and biodiversity collapse.
- The Atlas would also help in assessing the resilience and adaptation capabilities of communities and business. Further, it would help in climate-proofing critical infrastructure.
- Third, to finance climate action at scale, risk financing instruments and risk retention and identification tools should be supplemented by contingency and adaptation funds such as the Green Climate Fund.
- This will enhance the public finance pool and gear up efficient allocation across sectors at risk by mobilising investments on critical infrastructures and resilient community actions.
- The Climate Ambition Summit also called for enhancing adaptation financing by 50% versus its current share of 20% of the total pool of climate financing.
- Finally, as the permanent chair of the recently formed Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, India should play a pivotal role in attracting private investments into climate-proofing of infrastructure.
- It should also promote adaptation-based infrastructure investment decision making in these countries.
- Further, an equal focus should be on championing a culture of localised risk assessments among members from the Global South.
Ignoring low probability risks could be disastrous for the economy as well as society. This year, policymakers, industry captains and common citizens must make climate proof choices.