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Current Affairs – 16 June 2021

Current Affairs (16th June 2021)

Southwest monsoon

Context:

  • The southwest monsoon has progressed rapidly to cover two-thirds of the country.

How far has the monsoon progressed?

  • Recently, the northern limit of the monsoon (NLM) continued to pass through Diu, Surat, Nandurbar, Bhopal, Nagaon, Hamirpur, Barabanki, Bareilly, Saharanpur, Ambala, and Amritsar.
  • Across some areas of south peninsular and central India, the monsoon has arrived 7 to 10 days ahead of its scheduled date.
  • So far, the monsoon has missed Northwest India — Gujarat, Rajasthan, western Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, and Delhi.
  • Now, the entire country except West Bengal and the Northeast, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, Kerala, and Gujarat had received cumulative rainfall (since the official beginning of the southwest monsoon season on June 1) in excess (20%-59%) or large excess (60% or more) of normal.

Why is it early this year?

  • Cyclone Yaas, formed in the Bay of Bengal during May, helped the monsoon make a timely arrival over the Andaman Sea on May 21.
  • Despite a two-day delay from its normal onset over Kerala, where it arrived on June 3, the southwest monsoon made fast progress in subsequent days.
  • This was mainly due to strong westerly winds from the Arabian Sea, and the formation of a low-pressure system over the North Bay of Bengal on June 11 that currently lies over eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
  • The monsoon currents strengthened, and it advanced into the Northeast, West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, and parts of Chhattisgarh.
  • An offshore trough, prevailing for a week between Maharashtra and Kerala, has helped the monsoon arrive early over Karnataka, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, and southern Gujarat.

Impact:

  • The time of monsoon onset over a region has no direct impact on the rainfall quantum received during the season, or in the monsoon’s progress.
  • This year, the monsoon is most likely to cover the entire country by the end of this month. Although it is too early to predict the seasonal rainfall, it is possible that June rainfall could end in surplus over the normal of 170 mm. As on June 15, it was 31% above normal.
  • Early rainfall will not directly impact paddy sowing, with seedlings still in the nursery stage in most paddy growing states.
  • Although the IMD considers June 1 as the beginning of the monsoon season over India, the summer in Northwest India is not yet over. In West and Northwest India, day temperatures remain above 40°C.
  • After the monsoon onset over Kerala, its progress can either be rapid, consistent, or slow, based on ocean-atmospheric conditions. The onset of the monsoon over various parts of the country each year can be ahead of time, in time or late. These variations are generally considered normal, given the complexity of the monsoon.
  • However, climate experts have linked extreme weather events like intense rainfall over a region within a short time span or prolonged dry spell during these four months as indications of climate change.


Kerala’s Silver Line project

Context:

  • Recently, the Kerala cabinet gave the green light to begin acquiring land for Silver Line, its flagship semi high-speed railway project aimed at reducing travel time between the state’s northern and southern ends.
  • The project, estimated to cost Rs 63,940 crores, is billed as one of the biggest infrastructure enterprises being pushed by the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) government.

About:

  • The project entails building a semi high-speed railway corridor through the state linking its southern end and state capital Thiruvananthapuram with its northern end of Kasaragod.
  • The line is proposed to be 529.45 kms long, covering 11 districts through 11 stations. When the project is realised, one can travel from Kasaragod to Thiruvananthapuram in less than four hours on trains travelling at 200 km/hr.
  • The deadline for the project, being executed by the Kerala Rail Development Corporation Limited (KRDCL), is 2025.
  • KRDCL, or K-Rail, is a joint venture between the Kerala government and the Union Ministry of Railways.

Need for the project:

  • It has long been argued by urban policy experts that the existing railway infrastructure in the state cannot meet the demands of the future. Most trains run with an average speed of 45 km/hr due to a lot of curves and bends on the existing stretch.
  • The government claims the Silver Line project is the need of the hour as it can take a significant load of traffic off the existing railway stretch and make travel easier and faster for commuters. This will in turn reduce the congestion on roads and help reduce accidents and fatalities.

Features of the project:

  • According to K-Rail, the project will have trains of electric multiple unit (EMU) type with preferably nine cars and extendable to 12 cars each. A nine-car rake can seat a maximum of 675 passengers in business and standard class settings.
  • The trains can run at a maximum speed of 220 kmph on standard gauge track, completing journeys in either direction in under four hours.
  • A total of 11 stations are proposed including the two terminals, three of which will be elevated, one underground and the rest at grade.
  • Every 500 metres of the corridor, there will be under passages with provision of service roads.
  • The government claims the railway line will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help in expansion of Ro-Ro services, produce employment opportunities, integrate airports and IT corridors and faster development of cities it passes through.

Can the project be completed on time?

  • The unofficial deadline for the project is 2025 but many would say it is not a realistic target, given the laborious nature of land acquisition in a highly densely populated state like Kerala.
  • Acquiring land, especially from private players, in urban areas remains the key challenge for the project.
  • There’s also significant opposition to the project by environmentalists citing potential damage to the state’s ecosystem in the path of the proposed route.
  • They fear irreversible impact to the state’s rivers, paddy fields and wetlands, triggering floods and landslides in future.
  • The Kerala Paristhithi Aikya Vedi, a forum of eco-experts and activists, has called on the government to abandon the project and explore sustainable solutions.
  • Hence, the pace of the project would hinge on the government’s ability to assuage these concerns and speed up acquisition of land.

 

 

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Year book 2021

Context:

  • Swedish think-tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released its “Yearbook 2021”, which assesses the current state of armaments, disarmament, and international security.

About:

  • The number of nuclear warheads which are ready and deployed to fire have increased globally.
  • Russia and the USA together possess over 90 per cent of global nuclear weapons.
  • Both have extensive programmes under way to modernise their nuclear warheads, missile and aircraft delivery systems and production facilities.
  • China is in the middle of a significant modernisation and expansion of its nuclear weapon inventory.
  • India and Pakistan also appear to be expanding their nuclear arsenals.

Highlights:

  • The world has nine declared nuclear-armed states —
    • the USA,
    • Russia,
    • the UK,
    • France,
    • China,
    • India,
    • Pakistan,
    • Israel and
    • North Korea
  • These countries together possess an estimated 13,080 nuclear weapons at the start of 2021.
  • This marked a decrease from the 13,400 that SIPRI estimated these states possessed at the beginning of 2020.
  • Despite this overall decrease, the estimated number of nuclear weapons currently deployed with operational forces increased to 3,825 from 3,720 last year.
    • Around 2,000 of these — nearly all of which belonged to Russia or the USA — were kept in a state of high operational alert.
    • The UK and France are the other two who have deployed warheads.
    • China, India, and Pakistan are not listed in the report as having “deployed” such weapons with operational forces.
  • India possessed an estimated 156 nuclear warheads at the start of 2021 compared to 150 at the start of last year.
  • Pakistan had 165 warheads, up from 160 in 2020.
  • China’s nuclear arsenal consisted of 350 warheads up from 320 at the start of 2020.
  • The raw material for nuclear weapons is fissile material, either highly enriched uranium (HEU) or separated plutonium.
    • India and Israel have produced mainly plutonium,
    • Pakistan has produced mainly HEU but is increasing its ability to produce plutonium.
    • China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA have produced both HEU and plutonium for use in their nuclear weapons.
  • Saudi Arabia, India, Egypt, Australia, and China were the five largest importers of major arms in the world between 2016 and 2020.
  • Saudi Arabia had 11 percent share and India 9.5 percent in the global imports of the major arms in this time period.

Way Forward:

  • As a complement to controlling arms, international security can be improved by states acting to build mutual confidence.
  • This can be through relatively simple multilateral mechanisms for sharing information on arms procurement or military expenditure.
  • The existing arrangements are in urgent need of revitalization as participation is low and there is a gap in communication among leading countries.
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