Down to Earth – 16th to 30th April Summary (Part - 1) (Download PDF)


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Design of a Building - The Bureau of Indian Standards makes the National Building Code (NBC) that regulates building design in the Country which defines “comfort temperatures”. Its 2005 version had set 25 - 30°C for non-air conditioned buildings and 21 - 23°C for air-conditioned buildings for winter and 23 - 26°C for summer, which was widely seen to be too low.

  • The code was revised in 2016 by introducing a formula (derived from a study by Ahmedabad-based CEPT University) to calculate the building temperature which is based on internal temperature range and outside mean temperature.

There are 6 variables for thermal comfort—

  • Temperature

  • Humidity

  • Heat radiation

  • Air movement

  • Clothing

  • Individual’s metabolism rate

The last two are two critical human variables.

Suggestions regarding construction to keep building cold:

  • Constructions like shading devices (chajja or canopy or balcony)

  • Proper ventilation

  • Planting more trees

  • Better insulation

New typologies of buildings introduced

  • Naturally ventilated

  • Mixed mode (where cooling or heating happens in certain areas or times)

  • Only air-conditioned buildings

Energy Emissions Up Again

  • International Energy Agency report released explains increase in emissions by 1.4 % in 2017 (after a long period of constantly low emissions)
  • Highest growth rate - Renewables
  • Coal demand rose 1%, reversing declines over last two years.

Measures of NHAI

National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) built vertical gardens which would

  • have solar panels along the Delhi-Meerut Expressway (under construction)

  • Generate of 1 MW electricity to illuminate bridge on river Yamuna, between Nizamuddin and Commonwealth Sports Village flyover

  • Have replicas of the Qutb Minar, Ashoka Pillar, fountains and murals

Prediction of Potato Blight

  • A computer model was developed to predict farms at the risk of late blight fungus that infects Potato, the fourth largest food crop after corn, wheat and rice. The program was developed by Benjamin Firester.
  • Potato Blight caused by Phytophthora infestans, is infamous for Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s.
  • The model won the Regeneron Science Talent Search.

Course of River Kosi

  • 742 million tons of slit deposited over past five decades has caused Kosi river in Bihar to change its course a number of times, which is causing floods.
  • Hotspots of silt collection mostly in Madhubani and Supaul were identified by dividing the entire river in 37 reaches or uninterrupted stretches.
  • The silt from the river need to be extracted which can be used in agriculture, building construction and in laying roads.

In Court

  • SC said that the self-appointed village courts (khap panchayats) cannot stop a marriage between two consenting adults.
  • The Gujarat High Court sought explanations of the Union and state governments over the death of 184 lions. Thirty-two lions had died due to “unnatural” causes.
  • The Hyderabad High Court directed the Union home and the external affairs ministries, and the Telangana government to provide basic amenities to Rohingya refugee families in the city.
  • The Kerala High Court held that prohibiting standing passengers in luxury services is to be bound by the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation also.

A Peek into Ancient Greek Treatment

Researchers at USA’s Stanford University are studying the 1, 000-year-old work of Greek physician’s Claudius Galen. Galen’s work showed

  • Use of X-ray technology in ancient Islamic world

  • A manuscript called “On the Mixtures and Powers of Simple Drugs”, a pharmaceutical text translated into Syriac (a language that served as a bridge between Greek and Arabic).

  • Manuscript written over with hymns using palimpsest (11th century, to reuse writing materials by scraping the previous writing), written perpendicular on Arabic text.

Cow Vigilantes Get Life Imprisonment

  • 11 people in Jharkhand were sentenced to life imprisonment, who lynched Alimuddin Ansari, in Ramgarh district in June last year over “cow vigilantism”. The 12th accused aged over 16 years, a juvenile, is yet to face action.

Climate Tutorial as Cities Sue Oil Firms For Their Misery

The court in US under judge William Alsup, hosted a climate tutorial. The case

  • Between US city authorities (San Francisco and Oakland) and oil corporations like Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and BP.

  • The city authorities alleged the companies sold fossil fuels which were contributing to climate change

  • Authorities wanted the firms to pay for measures to cope with climate change impacts.

Ecuador President Moreno

  • Hundreds of Ecuador women marched to the presidential palace to present President Moreno with a list of demands called “Mandate of Amazonian Women”.

  • The demands included stopping oil mining and logging projects, and official investigations attacks on indigenous leaders, promised by Moreno in UN.

  • Moreno assured them he would heed their demands and would try to find consensus

  • A bidding round for foreign companies to explore Andean nation’s oil and gas reserves was launched in the background to attract $800 million.

Biggest Data Leak Hits Social Media

Data leaks in recent times

  • Cambridge Analytica, a London-based firm allegedly stole data of some 50 million Facebook users, the largest data leak in social media history.

  • A French researcher tweeted that the NarendraModi. in app has been sending personal information of its users to data analytics website in. wzrkt. com, which was verified by Fact-checking website Alt News

India needs a data protection law urgently. It could adopt EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which has a provision for the user to ask that their data be deleted from databases.

Olive Ridley in Mumbai

  • Olive Ridley turtles arrived at Versova Beach in Mumbai after 20 years to lay eggs, after Afroz Shah led a campaign to clean up the beach which took him and his team 127 weeks to perform 250 beach cleanups and removed 13 million kg of plastic.

Population a Curse or Resource?

Paul Ehrlich

  • In 1968, published an article ‘The Population Bomb’ in which he made the controversial claim that hundreds of millions would “starve to death” in the following two decades.

  • Recently told The Guardian “the collapse of civilisation is a near certainty within decades. “

The Green Revolution managed to produce enough food to save the surging million.

Reverand T R Malthus in his 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population, argued that

  • The progress of population tends to be geometric (that is, 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64…)

  • Available food, along with extra food that can be produced, increased at most by arithmetic amounts.

India and China (one-child policy) have policies to control their population. On March 9, the SC dismissed a petition that sought to ration babies to only two per family.

Indira Gandhi in 1972, said that population is not the greatest polluter but poverty is.

In 1980, Price of five key industrial metals—chromium, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten as predicted by Ehrlich rather than going up went down, Ehrlich lost bet to Julian Simon.

A recent World Bank report suggests

  • Most countries’ population is on the decline

  • Population worldwide is growing but not rapidly which would stabilize at 11 million by end of century.

  • Muslim growth rate has more or less stabilized in countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh and Indonesia, Egypt and Pakistan area also catching up.

  • Africa being an exception, but also showing signs like the rest.

The richest half billion (about 7 % of the global population) account for 50 % of the world’s emissions, while the poorest 50 % contribute 7 %.

The number of hectares needed to supply necessary resources such as food and clothes for an average person is 9.5, 7.8 and 5.3 respectively for the US, Australia and Britain, against 2 for China and 1 each for India and Africa.

Cleaning a Dirty Patch

Gonda, a town in UP was named as the dirtiest city in India by the Swachh Survekshan rankings.

“Mission 32” scheme: District targeted to build 32, 000 toilets and twin pits (for the management of black water) in just 120 hours in 4 days to remove the tag of one of the dirtiest districts in the country.

A Look into Gonda:

  • Earlier toilet coverage was below 40 % and it climbed to 46 % in just one week of the recent construction phase.

  • The district spent over Rs. 1 crore on Information, Education and Communication (IEC) in the last two financial years, according to Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) data of March 2018

  • According to MDWS, had over 25, 000 dysfunctional toilets as on March 26, 2018.

  • Solid liquid waste management plan is still awaited.

  • No dearth of groundwater reserves, so twin pits policy not a solution for tackling black water.

  • Need to build 20 toilets/hour to achieve its target of 100 % household coverage by October 2019.

Poor progress in household coverage of toilets was basically due to poverty. Mission 32 was helpful in this regard.

Other similar rush for construction of toilets was done in

  • Udham Singh Nagar district in Uttrakhand, a Limca Book of Records in 2016.

  • Peramnalur district in Tamil Nadu in February 2017.

  • Vizianagaram district in Andhra Pradesh in March 2017.

  • District of Prakasam in the Andhra Pradesh.

  • Many districts in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand

Derailment of India’s Renewable Energy Plans

India achieved just 36% (by December 2017) of its target of ‘175 gigawatt (GW) of renewable energy capacity by 2022’.

The 39th report of the Standing Committee on Energy tabled in the Parliament finds that the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has been unable to utilize the funds for the past two years (less than 70 % were utilized).

The Committee, chaired by Kambhampati Hari Babu,

  • Says low utilisation of allocated funds is not understandable and is indicative of poor financial planning.

  • Recommends realistic budgets and exhaustive plans to utilise them.

  • Recommends proper and continuous monitoring of the implementing agencies.

The country is on-track with its wind power commitments, it is lagging behind in solar and biomass energy capacities.

Reasons for lagging in the renewable energy sector are

  • Underutilization of funds in R&D of renewable technology.

  • Introduction of GST: 5 % GST was announced for all components, but 5 % GST coverage was given only for solar modules. Invertors and batteries still come under 18 and 28 % slabs.

The performance of the five institutions that aid MNRE in achieving the targets

  • Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA)

  • Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI): implements the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, target higher than the previous years.

  • National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE): Under-utilization of budget allocation

  • National Institute of Wind Energy (NIWE): Under-utilization of budget allocation

  • National Institute of Bio Energy (NIBE): budget allocation has been fluctuating.

Solar Energy

  • 62 % of the target achieved till Jan 2018.

  • Failure to setup solar parks and solar rooftops are the reasons for the lagging in the target.

  • State governments are not showing interest in solar parks because they take a lot of area to be set up.

  • The inability of domestic players to compete with foreign competitors is another factor.

  • Revision of customs duty on solar/cells/modules/panels and introduction of safeguard duty of 70 % causing problem.

Roof Top Solar

  • Target of 40 GW unrealistic

  • Achieved 5.4 % till December 2017.

  • High maintenance cost and delay in disbursement of subsidy are reasons for the poor response.

  • KUSUM initiative taken with loophole of payment by cash strapped distribution company.

Wind Energy:

  • Only 15 % of target achieved but all funds utilized.

  • Positive of the wind sector has been the country’s ability to domestically produce 70 % of wind turbines, which are among the cheapest in the world. MNRE is also planning to install its first Wind-Solar Hybrid Park of 160 MW in Andhra Pradesh

  • Hybridizing wind and solar technology would help in optimally utilizing infrastructure.

Bio Mass Energy:

  • 74 % of the target achieved by Jan 2018.

  • The Bio- Mass sector’s performance in the past three years has been discouraging.

  • The government has also failed to utilize its biomass budget in the past three years.

MNRE Gives the Following Reasons for Sector’s Poor Performance

  • Non-signing of Power Purchase Agreements by distribution companies

  • Lack of working capital

  • Non-availability of biomass

- Published/Last Modified on: May 9, 2018


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