Current Affairs (13th July 2021)
- A list of new Union Cabinet ministers issued by the present Central ruling government has triggered a debate in political circles in Tamil Nadu, as well as on social media, by referring to ‘Kongu Nadu’, the informal name for a region in the western part of the state.
- The list mentions new ministerhailing from ‘Kongu Nadu’. This has led to allegations that the present Central ruling government trying to bifurcate the state.
- ‘Kongu Nadu’ is neither a place with a PIN code nor a name given formally to any region. It is a commonly used name for part of western Tamil Nadu.
- In Tamil literature, it was referred to as one of the five regions of ancient Tamil Nadu. There were mentions of ‘Kongu Nadu’ in Sangam literature as a separate territory.
- In the present state of Tamil Nadu, the term is informally used to refer to a region that includes the districts of Nilgiris, Coimbatore, Tirupur, Erode, Karur, Namakkal and Salem, as well as Oddanchatram and Vedasandur in Dindgul district, and Pappireddipatti in Dharmapuri district.
- The name derives from Kongu Vellala Gounder, an OBC community with a significant presence in these districts.
- The region includes prominent businesses and industrial hubs at Namakkal, Salem, Tirupur and Coimbatore.
- At least 30 people were killed in separate incidents of lightning in various parts of the country in the past 24 hours. Deaths due to lightning have become a frequent incident in the country.
How common are deaths by lightning?
- More common than is sometimes realised in the urban areas.
- As a whole, India sees 2,000-2,500 lightning deaths every year on average.
- Lightning is the biggest contributor to accidental deaths due to natural causes.
- A few years ago, over 300 people were reported killed by lightning in just three days — a number that surprised officials and scientists.
- Lightning remains among the least studied atmospheric phenomena in the country. Just one group of scientists, at the Indian Institute of Tropical Management (IITM) in Pune, works full-time on thunderstorms and lightning.
- Occurrences of lightning are not tracked in India, and there is simply not enough data for scientists to work with.
- Often, safety measures and precautions against lightning strikes do not receive as much publicity as other natural disasters such as earthquakes.
- Several thousand thunderstorms occur over India every year. Each can involve several — sometimes more than a hundred — lightning strikes.
What is lightning, and how does it strike?
- Lightning is a very rapid — and massive — discharge of electricity in the atmosphere, some of which is directed towards the Earth’s surface.
- These discharges are generated in giant moisture-bearing clouds that are 10-12 km tall.
- The base of these clouds typically lies within 1-2 km of the Earth’s surface, while their top is 12-13 km away. Temperatures towards the top of these clouds are in the range of minus 35 to minus 45 degrees Celsius.
- As water vapour moves upward in the cloud, the falling temperature causes it to condense. Heat is generated in the process, which pushes the molecules of water further up.
- As they move to temperatures below zero degrees celsius, the water droplets change into small ice crystals. They continue to move up, gathering mass — until they are so heavy that they start to fall to Earth.
- This leads to a system in which, simultaneously, smaller ice crystals are moving up and bigger crystals are coming down.
- Collisions follow, and trigger the release of electrons — a process that is very similar to the generation of sparks of electricity. As the moving free electrons cause more collisions and more electrons, a chain reaction ensues.
- This process results in a situation in which the top layer of the cloud gets positively charged, while the middle layer is negatively charged.
- The electrical potential difference between the two layers is huge — of the order of a billion to 10 billion volts. In very little time, a massive current, of the order of 100,000 to a million amperes, starts to flow between the layers.
- An enormous amount of heat is produced, and this leads to the heating of the air column between the two layers of the cloud. This heat gives the air column a reddish appearance during lightning. As the heated air column expands, it produces shock waves that result in thunder.
How does this current reach the Earth from the cloud?
- While the Earth is a good conductor of electricity, it is electrically neutral. However, in comparison to the middle layer of the cloud, it becomes positively charged.
- As a result, about 15%-20% of the current gets directed towards the Earth as well. It is this flow of current that results in damage to life and property on Earth.
- There is a greater probability of lightning striking tall objects such as trees, towers or buildings. Once it is about 80-100 m from the surface, lightning tends to change course towards these taller objects.
- This happens because air is a poor conductor of electricity, and electrons that are travelling through air seek both a better conductor and the shortest route to the relatively positively charged Earth’s surface.
What precautions should be taken against lightning?
- Lightning rarely hits people directly — but such strikes are almost always fatal.
- People are most commonly struck by what are called “ground currents”. The electrical energy, after hitting a large object (such as a tree) on Earth, spreads laterally on the ground for some distance, and people in this area receive electrical shocks.
- It becomes more dangerous if the ground is wet (which it frequently is because of the accompanying rain), or if there is metal or other conducting material on it.
- Water is a conductor, and many people are struck by lightning while standing in flooded paddy fields.
- The Met office routinely issues warnings for thunderstorms. But this is a very generic advisory, and for locations that are very large in area.
- Predicting a thunderstorm over a pinpointed location is not possible. Nor is it possible to predict the exact time of a likely lightning strike.
- For reasons given above, taking shelter under a tree is dangerous.
- Lying flat on the ground too, can increase risks.
- People should move indoors in a storm; however, even indoors, they should avoid touching electrical fittings, wires, metal, and water.
New population policy
- Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister launched the State’s population policy for 2021-2030.
Aims of New Policy:
- Decreasing the total fertility rate from 2.7 to 2.1 by 2026 and 1.7 by 2030.
- Increasing modern contraceptive prevalence rate from 31.7% to 45% by 2026 and 52% by 2030.
- Increase male methods of contraception use from 10.8% to 15.1% by 2026 and 16.4% by 2030.
- Decrease maternal mortality rate from 197 to 150 to 98, and infant mortality rate from 43 to 32 to 22, and under 5 infant mortality rate from 47 to 35 to 25.
- It targets stabilisation and states that the State would attempt to maintain a balance of population among the various communities.
- The policy comes at a time when the Uttar Pradesh State Law Commission has prepared the proposed draft Bill under which a two-child norm would be implemented and promoted.
- A person who will have more than two children after the law comes into force would be debarred from several benefits such as government-sponsored welfare schemes and from contesting elections to the local authority or any body of the local self-government.
- According to the draft, ration card units would be limited to four members of a family.
Impact of rising population:
Across the world, concerns have been raised from time to time about the increasing population being a hurdle in development.
- In the Indian context, the rising population is considered the root of major problems and prevailing inequality in society.
- An increasing population can be an obstacle to development.
- The rising population increases poverty.
- People have to spend a large portion of their resources for bringing up their wards. It results in less savings and a low rate of capital formation.
- Besides, if there is no gap between the birth of two children, it will naturally affect their nutrition.
Kesariya Buddha Stupa
- Recently, the world-famous Kesariya Buddha stupa in east Champaran district of Bihar has been waterlogged following floods after heavy rainfall in Gandak river’s catchment areas.
- The stupa is located about 110 km from the State capital Patna.
- It has a circumference of almost 400 feet and stands at a height of about 104 feet.
- It is regarded as the largest Buddhist stupa in the world and has been drawing tourists from across several Buddhist countries.
- The locals call the stupa “devalaya” meaning “house of gods”.
- The first construction of the stupa is dated to the 3rd century BCE.
- The original Kesariya stupa is believed to date back to the time of emperor Ashoka (circa 250 BCE) as the remains of an Ashokan pillar was discovered there.
- Faxian (or Fahien), a 5th century CE, Chinese Buddhist monk, in his travels, mentioned a stupa which was built over Buddha’s alms bowl by Licchavis of Vaishali. It is now believed the stupa that was referred to was none other than Kesariya stupa.
- Hiuen Tsang, also mentioned the stupain his travels, but gave no details.
- Its exploration started in the early 19th century after its discovery led by Colonel Mackenzie in 1814.
- Later, it was excavated by General Cunningham in 1861-62 and in 1998 an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) team led by archaeologist K.K. Muhammad had excavated the site properly.
- However, a larger part of the stupa is yet to be discovered and developed as it remains under thick vegetation.