Mitras Analysis of News : 3-6-2017

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  1. Cleaning metal pollution: the microbe’s way (Science reporter)
  2. Polarising polar (Down to Earth)
  3. Gross misuse (The Hindu)

 

Cleaning metal pollution: the microbe’s way (Science reporter)

 Synoptic line: It throws light on the ecological sustainable way of cleaning heavy metal pollution. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • Rapid urbanisation and industrialisation have led to an enormous increase in the amount of industrial waste generated, including heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, nickel, lead and mercury.
  • The existence and persistence of the heavy metals in the environment results in their entry and bioaccumulation in the food web, thus disturbing the ecosystem.

Metal pollution

  • Metal pollutants can be produced through industrial processes such as mining, refining and electroplating. Although they have major roles in industrial and economic development, these metals also exert toxic effects if present in high concentrations in the environment.
  • They are not only toxic to living cells, but can also cause cancers and mutations. Due to rigorous exploitation of the available resources, levels of heavy metals have become alarmingly high in air, soil and water.
  • There are many examples of the toxic accumulation of metals leading to disastrous effects. These include mercury poisoning in Minamata Bay of Japan, arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh (one of the largest mass poisoning incidences in history), lead poisoning that accounts for approximately 1,43,000 deaths every year worldwide, and cadmium accumulation in the offal (mainly kidney and liver) of grazing animals in New Zealand and Australia making them unsuitable for human consumption.

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Way to remove heavy metals

  • Even though metals are non-biodegradable, they can be transformed through processes such as sorption, methylation and complexation, and changes in valence state.
  • The current treatment practices for heavy metal removal from industrial wastes primarily rely on physical processes such as land filling, leaching, chemical precipitation, oxidation or reduction.
  • These techniques are not only expensive and labor intensive; they do not offer an effective solution for removal of heavy metals from contaminants as well. In recent years, the focus has shifted to biological methods of heavy metal remediation, which involve the use of plants (phytoremediation) or microbes (bioremediation).

Bioremediation

  • Bioremediation involves degradation or transformation of metals to their to less hazardous forms by the use of microbes, their metabolites and other biological systems.

Biotransformation:

  • Biotransformation involves enzymatic oxidation (removal of electrons) or reduction (addition of electrons) of heavy metals by microbes. Mainly seen in metals such as iron (Fe), uranium (U), technetium (Tc), and chromium (Cr), the process converts these soluble metals to their insoluble forms, which are less toxic.

Bioaccumulation:

  • Some microorganisms possess the ability to physically remove heavy metals from solution by retaining and concentrating the contaminant intracellularly. This phenomenon is known as bioaccumulation. During bioaccumulation, metals are transported inside the cell through various transport pumps present on the cell membrane. Inside the cell, the metal is sequestered in the cytoplasm by metal- chelating proteins, e.g., metallothioneins

Biosorption:

  • Biosorption is the metabolism-independent association of metals with the microbial cell wall. Both dead and live microbial biomass have been used as metal biosorbents. Several advantages associated with biosorption such as its low cost, high efficiency, no additional requirement for nutrients, easy regeneration of biosorbent and the possibility of metal recovery, make it a method of choice for bioremediation practices.

Way ahead

  • High metal concentrations in soil, sediments and water are a potential threat to human and animal health. In situ bioremediation has an edge over the conventional methods used in heavy metal removal.
  • The application of the process in industry, however, faces certain constraints such as non-specific biotransformation of toxic metals, inhibition of microbial metabolism by the by- products of bioremediation and optimisation of application protocols of the microbe in the industrial set-up.
  • Therefore, more elaborate studies are warranted to overcome these limitations and to increase the potential of the microbial bioremediation technology. This should focus on screening more microorganisms, which could be used efficiently under industrial environments or at other contaminated sites; or alternatively, use of genetically engineered micro- organisms, with a better efficiency and adaptability to extreme environments.

Question: What can be the application of bioremediation in cleaning of e-waste and oil spill sites?

Polarising polar (Down to Earth)

 Synoptic line: It throws light on the threats posed by commercialisation of polar regions due to melting away of ice. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • In the past 30 years, the minimum coverage of summer ice in Arctic has fallen by half; its volume has fallen by three-quarters. On current trends, the Arctic ocean will be largely ice-free in summer by 2040.
  • Ravaged by global warming, an ice-free Arctic is going to become the next battleground for economic hegemony.

Ice free polar

  • The cap of sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean started to shrink when it should have been growing. Temperatures at the North Pole soared more than 20 °C above normal at times. And polar bears prowling the shorelines of Hudson Bay had a record number of run-ins with people while waiting for the water to freeze over.
  • Climate-change sceptics may even celebrate as according to them, an ice-free Arctic ocean promises a shortcut for shipping between the Pacific coast of Asia and the Atlantic coasts of Europe and the Americas, and the possibility of prospecting for perhaps a fifth of the planet’s undiscovered supplies of oil and natural gas.
  • Such reactions are profoundly misguided. Never mind that the low price of oil and gas means searching for them in the Arctic is no longer worthwhile.
  • The current period of global warming that Earth is undergoing is caused by certain gases in the atmosphere, notably carbon dioxide. These admit heat, in the form of sunlight, but block its radiation back into space, in the form of longer-wavelength infra-red. That traps heat in the air, the water and the land. More carbon dioxide equals more warming.
  • There will be unprecedented high precipitation, which would turn the white landscape into green. Instead of ice reflecting sunlight, sunlight would penetrate the melting ice and enable phytoplankton colonies to thrive under icy waters, making them unavailable to sea creatures that depend on them for food.
  • That’s not all. Permafrost—frozen soil—would have taken over the entire natural terrain; changes in vegetation would be releasing even more greenhouses gases in the atmosphere; and, shifts in snow and ocean water distribution would be causing catastrophic changes in the global weather systems. Parasites and diseases hidden deep inside the Arctic snow for centuries would be infecting human populations.

Challenges of meltdown

  • The repercussions are unimaginable. If all the ice in Greenland were to melt, global sea levels will rise by about 7 metres. This rapid melting of the ice caps would not just submerge many small island nations, but would cause climate disruption as far as in the Indian Ocean, disrupting wind and current patterns, while playing havoc with the monsoon timing in India.
  • Project Clamer, a collaboration of 17 institutes in 10 European countries, says the meltdown will result in unprecedented freshwater being released—it could flush out the Arctic Ocean waters into the Atlantic. This would not only impact global and local weather and cause unparalleled damage to coastal communities, but will also affect the salinity of ocean waters threatening the very existence of several marine species.

Misguided responses

  • While the Arctic region is physically presenting a dark trailer of climate change, the world’s response has been economic, not ecological.
  • To begin with, new trading alliances and partnerships are being forged by the Arctic countries—USA, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Canada and Denmark (Greenland). These countries have made grand plans to exploit the fallout of global warming: by investing in business in a fragile region. Some countries have even dumped their own earlier stated positions.
  • Even China, which is not an Arctic country, is forging partnerships with Arctic countries for exploitation. In April this year, the presidents of China and Finland laid the blueprint for a range of business ventures in the Arctic. Similarly, Russia and Norway have buried their age-old boundary dispute and strengthened their military partnership in the region.
  • India too is not far behind. In March this year, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and Russia’s Gazprom Neft signed a pact to explore a hydrocarbon production project. In fact, Neft has already produced 100 million barrels of oil at one of its four oil wells in the Arctic.

Conclusion

  • Though the actions of the rich countries are unforgivable, even global bodies have failed to take note UNESCO has not listed even a single World Heritage site in the Arctic. It is a pity that a window to under-stand the impacts of climate change is being broken to open an ecologically unsustainable economic door.

Question What are the implications of mega trade deals which are centred around arctic region. What are its ecological threats?

 

Gross misuse: on States using ‘Goondas Act’ (The Hindu)

 Synoptic line: It throws light on the concerns regarding preventive detention in India (GS paper II)

Overview

  • There has been misuse of preventive detention laws in the country. Preventive detention laws confer extraordinary discretionary powers on the executive to detain persons without bail for a period that may extend to one year and courts tend to review them on the touchstone of strict adherence to the prescribed procedure.
  • Several States have a law popularly known as the ‘Goondas Act’ that aimed at preventing the dangerous activities of specified kinds of offenders. In a recent order, the Supreme Court has questioned the use of words such as “goonda” and “prejudicial to the maintenance of public order” as a “rhetorical incantation” solely to justify an arbitrary detention order.
  • The Supreme Court has warned against the indiscriminate use of the law against bootleggers, dacoits and Goondas to push people into preventive custody. According to the Supreme Court bench it is a gross abuse of the statutory power of preventive detention.

Goondas act

  • Goonda is a term that means a hired thug. It is both a colloquial term and defined and used in laws, generally referred to as Goonda Acts. Many Indian states have enacted special laws to deal with Goondas. For e.g
  1. Madhya Pradesh had a goonda act in force, known as the Central Provinces and Berar Goondas Act (1946), however it was struck down in 1960 in the Supreme Court of India case State of Madhya Pradesh vs. Baldeo Prasad. The court held that “the definition of a goonda lay down by the Act, which is of an inclusive character, indicated no tests for deciding whether the person fell within the first part of the definition.
  2. UP, Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab, and Tamilnadu various states have act to deal with Goondas.
  3. Tamil Nadu was the first state in 2004 to bring digital pirates under the ambit of its version of the Goondas Act. Maharashtra followed suit in 2009. Andhra Pradesh in 2010 suggested that it would also like to amend its Goondas Act to include video piracy.

Preventive detention laws in India

  • Preventive Detention is the most contentious part of the fundamental rights in the Indian constitutions. Article 22 provides that the Detenu under the preventive detention law shall have the right to have his representative against his detention reviewed by an advisory board.
  • If the advisory board reports that the detention is not justified, the Detenu must be released forthwith. If the advisory board reports that the detention is justified, the Government may fix the period for detention. The advisory board may conclude its proceedings expeditiously and must express its opinion within the time prescribed by law. Failure to do that makes the detention invalid.
  • The Constitution (44th Amendment Act 1978) has amended Article 22 and reduce the maximum period for which a person may be detained without obtaining the advisory board from three to two months.
  • Preventive detention should be carefully distinguished from punitive detention. Punitive detention is punishment for illegal acts done. Preventive detention on the other hand is action taken beforehand to prevent possible commitment of crime. Preventive detention thus is action taken on grounds of suspicion that some wrong actions may be done by the person concerned.

Preventive detention can however be made only on four grounds, these are-

  • Security of state,
  • Maintenance of public order,
  • Maintenance of supplies and essential services and defence,
  • Foreign affairs or security of India.

Problem

  • The Goondas Act is meant to be invoked against habitual offenders, but in practice it is often used for a host of extraneous reasons. The police tend to use it to buy themselves more time to investigate offences and file a charge sheet. At times, it is used merely to send out a “tough message”.
  • The Act had been widely criticized, even in courts of law, for the scope for human rights violations offered by its provisions as they are a sinister design to trample “brazenly and impudently” upon fundamental rights.
  • Recently there has been several case of violation of the act, where the act has been seen as a brazen violation of fundamental rights and another instance of abuse of the law.

Way ahead

  • The Supreme Court bench has cautioned that, If the power is misused or abused, “it will stand vitiated as being in colorable exercise of power”.
  • There is need to understand that prevention of crime needs an efficient system of investigation and trial, and not draconian laws.

Question: What reforms should be initiated to reform the preventive detentions law in India? How is it a breach of Part III of Indian constitution?

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