IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs (Prelims + Mains Focus)- 24th April 2018
The Earth BioGenome Project
Part of: Mains GS Paper II- Science & Technology
- The Earth BioGenome Project (EBP) proposes a detailed genome-sequence draft of every eukaryote species (organisms with a defined nucleus and to which belong all plants and animals).
- There are about eight million eukaryotic species and the authors argue that being able to create their detailed genetic sequences will reveal unexpected, evolutionary connections among the genus, orders and families that make up the so-called Tree of Life.
- The EBP has a 10-year road map and hopes to sequence about 1.5 million eukaryote species in three phases. This exercise needs global collaboration and can have many benefits.
- Sequencing such a large number of organisms will require innovative computation- and-storage solutions and the programming acumen of many thousands across the world.
- The Human Genome Project, which involved preparing a blueprint of the sequence of genes that make up humans, gave scientists a way to link networks of genes with disease and well-being, as well as discover unexpected links; for instance, why some women were prone to breast cancer more than others.
- If mining a single species’ genes can yield such benefits — at least $1 trillion to the U.S. alone, according to a 2013 Nature study — the bounty from preparing detailed sequences of every species on the earth could be many multiples of that and could benefit the world.
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General Studies 1
- Social Issues
General Studies 2
- Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018: An analysis
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 introduces the death penalty for rape of children younger than 12 years.
This article discusses how the law betrays a lack of thought on the likely impact and can endanger the lives of future victims.
Adding burden to the existing dysfunctional system:
- Reports on the functioning of special courts under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 have demonstrated that one of the main causes for the low rate of conviction under the Act is the lack of infrastructure and manpower in the criminal justice system.
- Investigations are regularly inefficient given an understaffed, poorly trained, overburdened police force which has little to no forensic support and is often sympathetic towards the accused.
- The timelines for completion of the investigation, for recording of evidence, and for completion of trial are never adhered to because functionaries in the system (police, prosecutors and judges) find them impractical given their case load and the facilities they have to work with.
Instead of addressing these issues which prevent the proper implementation of the law, as it exists, on the ground, the ordinance has, instead, added to the burden of a dysfunctional system.
Issues with mandatory minimum sentences:
The POCSO and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 (CLAA) changed the sentencing regime for sexual offences by introducing mandatory minimum sentences, thresholds a judge did not have discretion to breach even if she felt there were mitigating circumstances that warranted it.
- An “anchoring effect” is seen, whereby even if there are aggravating circumstances, judges award only the mandatory minimum sentence.
- Another effect of high mandatory minimum sentences is that judges, in order to avoid awarding what they view to be a disproportionate sentence, prefer to acquit the accused.
Therefore, enhanced mandatory minimum punishments in the ordinance are likely to be counterproductive.
Issue of age determination:
The ordinance has anchored its enhanced mandatory minimum sentences and death penalty on age, without considering the issues that arise with age determination.
Given the unavailability or unreliability of age-related documents in most parts of the country, reliance is placed on ossification tests to prove the age of the victim in cases under the POCSO. Since an ossification test cannot pinpoint an exact age operates with a margin of plus/minus two years, a majority of judges add two years to the upper age limit to conclude that the victim is not a minor.
The same issue is likely to arise when considering whether the victim was below the age of 16 or 12, especially if the judge does not believe the enhanced sentence (or the death penalty) is warranted.
Putting future victims at risk:
The introduction of the death penalty for the rape of children under the age of 12 is likely to put future victims (and there will be future victims because the death penalty has been shown to be no more a deterrent than a life sentence) at grave risk.
Since the punishment for rape and the punishment for murder are now the same, a rapist will have no incentive to spare his victim’s life, especially since her testimony would be the most important piece of evidence against him.
What needs to be done instead?
The government needs to invest in combating the rape culture that condones and encourages rape — by age-appropriate sex education at all levels, by aggressive advertisement campaigns to increase awareness and stimulate conversations about gender bias, everyday sexism, stereotypes, consent and equality, and by making concerted efforts to change the way society raises its sons and daughters.
Also, we as citizens, need to tie these issues to the goals and gains of electoral politics, so that the political parties invest in these long term, and potentially expensive, efforts.
Connecting the dots:
- The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 is a step in right direction. Critically analyze.
TOPIC:General Studies 3:
- Infrastructure: Energy
- Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.
Shale gas extraction by fracking: Positive and Negative Impacts
Shale gas and oil are unconventional natural resources found at 2,500-5,000 m below the earth’s surface, as compared to conventional crude oil found at 1,500 m.
Because of its benefits, shale gas is being perceived by some as a ‘saviour’ of humanity.
Process of extraction:
The process of extracting shale oil and gas requires deep vertical drilling followed by horizontal drilling.
The most common way to extract shale gas is ‘hydraulic fracturing’ (fracking), where high volumes of water mixed with certain chemicals are pushed down to break the rocks and release the trapped energy minerals.
Fracking seems an attractive tool, both politically and economically.
To gain the benefits associated with shale gas, the government introduced a policy on shale gas and oil in 2013, permitting national oil companies to engage in fracking.
Under the first phase, shale gas blocks were identified in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.
The environmental groups have strongly criticised the policy, as per them fracking will have adverse environmental impacts.
Countries like Germany and France and subnational governments like Scotland have banned fracking.
Fracking is bound to have positive economic and political impacts.
In the U.S., where shale gas has been commercially exploited for two decades, the prices of fuel and electricity have dropped.
Recent negotiations between the Secretary of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and American shale producers to control oil production and prices show that the U.S. has gained significant political advantage.
Similarly, if India commercially exploits shale deposits, it could meet its ever-increasing energy demand, decrease oil and gas imports, and improve the balance of payments.
Fracking is bound to have a detrimental impact on local communities and the environment.
- As fracking consumes large amounts of water (average 15,000 m3/well) and relatively larger surface area, it is bound to impact irrigation and other local requirements.
In the U.S. experience, out of 260 chemical substances, 58 have been identified to pose a risk to human life and environment, eight are carcinogens and 17 are toxic to freshwater organisms.
- As 25-90% of the fluid is not retrieved and cracks in the shaft are possible, there is a high risk of pollution to nearby underground water. Instances of groundwater pollution have been reported in the U.S. (Pennsylvania) and Canada.
- Fracking has other impacts such as increased air emissions (including greenhouse gases) and seismic activity.
Environmental impact assessments of the European Union and the U.K. have recognised these risks.
- The Supreme Court of India has ruled that every person has the right to enjoy pollution-free water and air. It is also an established principle that the state holds its natural resources in trust for the benefit of the people, and has the duty to protect these resources from harm.
If the risk from fracking to underground water materialises, courts can hold the state responsible for it, stop the activity, and order other corrective and preventive measures.
- The Model Bill for the Conservation, Protection, Regulation and Management of Groundwater, 2016, sets a priority for use of groundwater — right to water for life, and water to achieve “food security, supporting sustenance agriculture, sustainable livelihoods and eco-system needs”. Only after satisfying these priorities can underground water be used for other purposes.
In the light of the risks involved, the government should impose a temporary on fracking. And proceed only when a system to mitiagte the neagtive impacts is in place.
Connecting the dots:
- Explain the process of extraction of shale gas. Outline the positive and negative impacts of fracking. Given the negative impacts, the process may have and the legal hurdles, the government should take calibrated steps. Discuss.
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