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‘Back off China’ protests echo in Nepal as Beijing scales new peaks of intrusion in Himalayan nation

MurukeshUpdated : People, armed with ‘Back off, China’ banners, have taken to the streets in protest against the Chinese intrusion in the northern Humla district of Nepal, which Beijing now claims as its own.
People carry the Nepal national flag during a protest in Kathmandu. | File image
People carry the Nepal national flag during a protest in Kathmandu. | File imageKey HighlightsProtesters have flocked the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu over the encroachment of Nepal territories in the northern Humla districtPeople in Lapcha, where the buildings have been constructed, brought it to the notice of the Humla administration; the district falls near the Nepal-Tibet borderThe area is remote from the district headquarters, difficult to reach, barren, unused and a treacherous stretch but China can easily cross over due to its proximity and access to road
Kathmandu: The misadventures of China continue to smother peace in the Indian subcontinent and Beijing has reached new lows of bullying Nepal after they unilaterally constructed 11 buildings inside Nepalese territory.

People, armed with ‘Back off, China’ banners, have taken to the streets in protest against the Chinese intrusion in the northern Humla district of Nepal, which Beijing now claims it its own.


Protesters even flocked the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu over the encroachment of Nepal territories in the northern Humla district.

People in Lapcha, where the buildings have been constructed, brought it to the notice of the Humla administration; the district falls near the Nepal-Tibet border.

The area is remote from the district headquarters, difficult to reach, barren, unused and a treacherous stretch but China can easily cross over due to its proximity and access to road.

After the locals in Lapcha raised the issue about the buildings, they also claimed that the Chinese have threatened them from even visiting the bordering areas. Following this, the Home Ministry of Nepal sent senior officials to the disputed land to take stock of the actual extent of encroachment by the Chinese.

Though the Nepal home ministry officials are yet to submit their report, Bishnu Bahadur Lama, the chairman of the Namkha Rural Municipality who was the first to bring the matter to the notice of the administration, said that they have interacted with the locals and also communicated with the Chinese security officials.

“They (Chinese) told us that due to Covid pandemic, it was not possible to sit in a face to face talks urging that those 11 buildings were constructed inside Chinese territory and asked us to leave the place. Then we left. It is happening largely due to one missing pillar,” Lama said.

According to Nepali officials, eight years ago boundary pillar number 11 was damaged during a road construction process and a replacement had not been erected since. Now it seems like the Chinese side caught Nepal napping and took advantage of the critical point along the border.

Locals claim that the territory that the Chinese claim is theirs.

“It belongs to us which has been used by the Nepalese for several purposes in the past. It was basically used for grazing by both sides,” Lama said, according to news agency IANS.

Check the latest facts on Covid-19 here. Times Fact ‘India Outbreak Report’ by TIMES NETWORK and Protiviti is a comprehensive analysis that highlights the impact of the pandemic in India and projects the possible number of active cases in the weeks ahead.


PM Has Visited 58 Nations Since 2015 At Cost Of Rs 517 Crore: Centre

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited 58 countries since 2015 at a total cost of Rs 517 crore, the government said Tuesday in a written response to a question raised in the Rajya Sabha.
Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan said the Prime Minister had visited the United States and Russia the most – five visits each. PM Modi has also visited China – with whom India is engaged in a prolonged and serious border stand-off in eastern Ladakh – five times, he added.

Among other countries visited by the Prime Minister are Singapore, Germany, France, the United Arab Emirates and Sri Lanka, Mr Muraleedharan said.

“The total expenditure on these visits was Rs 517.82 crore,” he said, in a report by news agency PTI, noting that while some of the visits were part of multi-nation trips, others were standalone bilateral visits.

The Prime Minister’s last trip abroad was to Brazil (in November last year) to attend a BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit. He also visited Thailand earlier that month.

PM Modi has made no visits in 2020 because of the global lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Muraleedharan told the parliament the visits had enhanced other countries’ understanding of India’s perspectives on bilateral, regional and global issues.

The visits also helped strengthen economic relations across a wide range of sectors, including trade and investment, technology, defence collaboration and people-to-people contact, the minister said.

However, in December 2018 the government said over Rs 2,000 crore had been spent on the PM’s foreign visits since June 2014 – these, it said, included expenses on chartered flights, maintenance of aircraft and hotline facilities.

According to the data (shared by then Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh), a total of Rs 1,583.18 crore was spent on maintenance of the Prime Minister’s aircraft and Rs 429.25 crore on chartered flights during the period between June 15, 2014 and December 3, 2018. The total expenditure on hotline was Rs 9.11 crore.

While the Prime Minister’s visits have been widely praised by many for boosting India’s profile abroad and helping generate FDI (foreign direct investment), the opposition has sometimes criticised the costs involved and questioned the timing.

Before the national election in April and May last year, Rahul Gandhi targeted PM Modi for travelling abroad while there was a crisis in the farm sector. PM Modi’s BJP eventually swept the national election, cementing his term for another five years.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Butterflies are migrating early in southern India this year

In a departure from the past, the annual migration of butterflies from the hill ranges of the Eastern Ghats towards the Western Ghats is an early phenomenon this year.

Usually, butterfly migration in south India begins in October-November, with the onset of the northeast monsoon, from the plains to the Ghats, and in April-June, just before the advent of the southwest monsoon, from the Ghats to the plains.

The southwest monsoon is the season for the breeding of butterflies, especially milkweed butterflies, in plains of south India, after which they migrate.


Migratory paths of butterflies in South India
Migratory paths of butterflies in South India

But this year, the first migratory sighting was recorded in the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve in Palakkad district by forest watchers on July 14. Later, butterfly enthusiasts in Salem, Erode, Tiruppur, Coimbatore and the Nilgiris observed their movement in large numbers from August 21, which is still continuing. Butterfly migration has also been recorded in Mysuru, Bengaluru, Kolar and Coorg districts in Karnataka.

“The migration started early after a gap of eight years. The Eastern Ghats complex of the Yercaud hills (Shevaroy hills), Pachamalai, Kolli hills, Kalvarayan hills are the major originating places for the migrating species. The movement was observed towards the Nilgiris, the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, and Palani hills also, apart from the Western Ghats hill ranges in the Coimbatore district,” said A. Pavendhan of The Nature and Butterfly Society (TNBS).

A recent study revealed that four species of milkweed butterflies belonging to the Danainae subfamily are mainly involved in the migration — the Dark Blue Tiger, Blue Tiger, Common Crow and the Double-branded (commonly known as tigers and crows). Species like Lime Swallowtail, Lemon Pansy, Common Leopard, Blue Pansy, Common Emigrant and Lemon Emigrants are also involved in the migration but their numbers are very low. However, the number of Lime Swallowtail butterflies had increased considerably this year, P.A.Vinayan, president, Ferns Nature Conservation Society (FNCS), Wayanad, told The Hindu.

Observers noted that Blue Tiger and Dark Blue Tiger accounted for 90% of the butterflies involved in migration. Lime Butterfly and Common Emigrant were higher in numbers than the crows.

“The change in rainfall pattern and a considerable increase in the number of sunny days may be the major reasons for the earlier migration,” Mr. Vinayan added.

Mr. Pavendhan said peak migration was observed over Coimbatore district on August 25. The starting rate of movement was 180 individuals per hour, when the counting was done over a band of about 10 metres in the morning, and the movement reached a peak of 1,060 individuals per hour around noon.

A congregation of butterflies sighted at Appapara in North Wayanad forest division


Humans pushing 1 in 3 freshwater species to extinction

At least 85% of the earth’s wetlands are already lost and freshwater species are at highest risk compared to forest or marine species, the report released on Thursday has underlined. The population of freshwater species including fish, birds, amphibians and mammals have declined by 84% globally since 1970, threatening one in three freshwater or riverine species with extinction, the Living Planet Report 2020 has said.

At least 85% of the earth’s wetlands are already lost and freshwater species are at highest risk compared to forest or marine species, the report released on Thursday has underlined.

The Living Planet Report which is released biannually by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London shows an average 68% decline in population of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish since 1970. The report tracks the abundance of 20,811 populations representing 4,392 species based on a number of data sets available globally.

These population trends are brought together in what is called the Living Planet Index (LPI), which calculates the average percentage change in population sizes since 1970.

There is a 94% decline in the LPI in Latin America and the Caribbean, which is also facing massive losses in freshwater species due to fragmentation by hydropower projects and abstraction of water and a 45% decline in LPI in Asia and Australia.

Riverine ecosystems in India are also under threat. The size of wetlands in India has shrunk — to only 0.03% area of the total geographic area. In 2018, there were 351 polluted stretches of rivers , according to the Central Pollution Control Board, up from 302 in 2016. And there has been a reduction in the population of endangered species such as the rare Gangetic Dolphin.

Experts said that such degradation imbalances ecosystems, which can in turn lead to bigger problems. “Intact ecosystems with diverse assemblages of species can buffer the emergence of disease causing pathogens. When populations decline or transmission dynamics are altered, it increases the chance of spillover of pathogens to humans and associated domestic animals. Given the rates of change in natural ecosystems due to globalised economic activities, it is inevitable that new pathogens with the pandemic potential will emerge,” said Abi Tamim Vanak, Fellow, Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance Program (Intermediate Clinical and Public Health Fellowship) and Senior Fellow (Associate Prof) and Convenor, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment.

Globally, habitat degradation through pollution or flow modification, overexploitation, invasive species and sand mining in rivers are among the biggest threats facing freshwater species. Freshwater megafauna—those that are large and grow to over 30 kg such as river dolphins, otters, beavers, hippos, the Chinese sturgeon and the Mekong giant catfish have recorded strong population declines. Large fish are also heavily impacted by dam construction, which blocks their migratory routes to spawning and feeding grounds.

Sand mining is a huge problem in Indian rivers. It is illegal to mine for sand from rivers in many states, but it goes on unabated, even in river stretches within protected areas.

“Free flowing stretches of rivers in India are the last bastions of aquatic biodiversity including fish, turtles, crocodilians, waterfowl and river dolphins. Unfortunately, we are still in denial about the irreplaceable ecosystem services of these rivers,” said Jagdish Krishnaswamy, a senior fellow at the Suri Sehgal Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment. “We need to revisit the plans for large dams in the Himalayas and inter-linking of rivers which may destroy the last remaining free-flowing stretches of rivers and their aquatic biodiversity. The Gangetic river dolphin, for example, is threatened by both reduced flows, barriers and dams as well as the under-water noise from increased vessel traffic in inland waterways,” he added.

The 164-page report drafted by 134 authors from 25 countries has also tracked how the global landscape has transformed over the years with satellite data which shows that only Russia, Canada, Brazil and Australia contain most of the places without a human footprint while all of India’s geographical area is highly modified by humans. About 58% of the earth’s land surface is under immense human pressure and only 25% can be considered wilderness, according to the report. The map in the report indicates there is no wilderness left in India, but it doesn’t say so explicitly.

The global land-use projections in the report show that without changes in diet — food production (including food loss and waste) is a major driver — the issue of land-use cannot be addressed. Food production causes 70% of terrestrial biodiversity loss and 50% of freshwater biodiversity loss. This is critical for India because it is the world’s largest producer of milk, pulses and jute, and ranks as the second-largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane and groundnut, WWF’s India factsheet said.

Overall the biggest threats to biodiversity according to the report is land use change followed by overexploitation of species; invasive species; pollution and climate change. “Covid 19 is nature sending us a message. In fact, it reads like an SOS signal for the human enterprise, bringing into sharp focus the need to live within the planet’s ‘safe operating space’. The environmental, health and economic consequences of failing to do so are disastrous,” the report warns.

• 68% fall in monitored populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish between 1970 and 2016
• More than 85% of area under wetlands is lost
• The Living Planet Index (LPI) tracks the abundance of 21,000 populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians around the world
• There is a 94% decline in the LPI for the tropical subregions of the Americas
• There is a 65% decline in LPI for Africa and 45% for Asia and Australia
• 3,741 monitored populations – representing 944 freshwater species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fishes have recorded an 84% decline since 1970
India’s rivers on the edge:

• There are 351 polluted river stretches in India as per Central Pollution Control Board’s 2018 assessment, up from 302 in 2016

• 45 out of the 351 polluted stretches are critically polluted

• Yamuna in Delhi; Damanganaga in Silvassa and Daman; Mithi in Mumbai; Ghaggar in Haryana; many stretches of Ganga are among critically polluted

• There are at least 1000 dams on the Ganga river basin obstructing the flow of various tributaries, according to a recent assessment by INTACH

• India ranks third in the list of countries with the largest number of threatened turtle and tortoise species in the world after China and Vietnam according to Turtle Conservation Coalition.

• Indian wetlands have altogether only 0.03% area of the total geographic area

• Only 1272 Gangetic dolphins were recorded in 3350 km of riverine stretch surveyed by WWF India in Uttar Pradesh, covering Ganga, Yamuna, Chambal, Ken, Betwa, Son, Sharda, Geruwa, Gahagra, Gandak and Rapti.

• Environment ministry estimates there are only 2500 endagered Gangetic dolphins left in India’s river systems. —–By Jayashree Nandi, Hindustan Times


Wildlife in ‘catastrophic decline’ due to human destruction, scientists warn

By Helen Briggs
Wildlife populations have fallen by more than two-thirds in less than 50 years, according to a major report by the conservation group WWF.

The report says this “catastrophic decline” shows no sign of slowing.

And it warns that nature is being destroyed by humans at a rate never seen before.

Wildlife is “in freefall” as we burn forests, over-fish our seas and destroy wild areas, says Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF.

“We are wrecking our world – the one place we call home – risking our health, security and survival here on Earth. Now nature is sending us a desperate SOS and time is running out.”

What do the numbers mean?
The report looked at thousands of different wildlife species monitored by conservation scientists in habitats across the world.

They recorded an average 68% fall in more than 20,000 populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish since 1970.

BBC graphic
Presentational white space
The decline was clear evidence of the damage human activity is doing to the natural world, said Dr Andrew Terry, director of conservation at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which provides the data.

“If nothing changes, populations will undoubtedly continue to fall, driving wildlife to extinction and threatening the integrity of the ecosystems on which we depend,” he added.

The report says the Covid-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of how nature and humans are intertwined.

Factors believed to lead to the emergence of pandemics – including habitat loss and the use and trade of wildlife – are also some of the drivers behind the decline in wildlife.

BBC graphic
Presentational white space
New modelling evidence suggests we can halt and even reverse habitat loss and deforestation if we take urgent conservation action and change the way we produce and consume food.

The British TV presenter and naturalist Sir David Attenborough said the Anthropocene, the geological age during which human activity has come to the fore, could be the moment we achieve a balance with the natural world and become stewards of our planet.

“Doing so will require systemic shifts in how we produce food, create energy, manage our oceans and use materials,” he said.

“But above all it will require a change in perspective. A change from viewing nature as something that’s optional or ‘nice to have’ to the single greatest ally we have in restoring balance to our world.”

Sir David presents a new documentary on extinction to be aired on BBC One in the UK on Sunday 13 September at 20:00 BST.

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES Eastern lowland gorilla
Image caption Gorillas in the mountains of DRC face threats from illegal hunting
How do we measure the loss of nature?
Measuring the variety of all life on Earth is complex, with a number of different measures.

Taken together, they provide evidence that biodiversity is being destroyed at a rate unprecedented in human history.

This particular report uses an index of whether populations of wildlife are going up or down. It does not tell us the number of species lost, or extinctions.

The largest declines are in tropical areas. The drop of 94% for Latin America and the Caribbean is the largest anywhere in the world, driven by a cocktail of threats to reptiles, amphibians and birds.

“This report is looking at the global picture and the need to act soon in order to start reversing these trends,” said Louise McRae of ZSL.

The data has been used for modelling work to look at what might be needed to reverse the decline.

Research published in the journal Naturesuggests that to turn the tide we must transform the way we produce and consume food, including reducing food waste and eating food with a lower environmental impact.

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES The African grey parrot is endangered due to habitat loss and wildlife trade
Image caption The African grey parrot is endangered due to habitat loss and wildlife trade
Prof Dame Georgina Mace of UCL said conservation actions alone wouldn’t be sufficient to “bend the curve on biodiversity loss”.

“It will require actions from other sectors, and here we show that the food system will be particularly important, both from the agricultural sector on the supply side, and consumers on the demand side,” she said.

What do other measures tell us about the loss of nature?
Extinction data is compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which has evaluated more than 100,000 species of plants and animals, with more than 32,000 species threatened with extinction.

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES Forest elephants
Image caption Elephants are under threat from poaching and habitat loss
In 2019, an intergovernmental panel of scientists concluded that one million species (500,000 animals and plants, and 500,000 insects) are threatened with extinction, some within decades.

Humans ‘threaten 1m species with extinction’
The WWF report is one of many assessments of the state of nature being published in the coming weeks and months in the build-up to a major summit next year.

The UN will reveal next Tuesday its latest assessment of the state of nature worldwide

Climate Change, Environment

Three climate threats that can become opportunities for Bhutan

The Kingdom of Bhutan has a strong approach towards environmental sustainability, but its fast growth is making this increasingly demanding.
Here are three climate risks for Bhutan that also offer opportunities for a green reset.
In many ways, Bhutan’s unique development approach and institutional structures support the country’s ambitious climate policy. Today, Bhutan claims to not only be carbon neutral, but carbon negative.

It has achieved these aims while adhering to its development policy of Gross National Happiness, which asserts that economic growth must be equitable and inclusive, that good governance is essential to make this a reality, and – most radically – that economic growth must be coupled with conservation of the environment.

Pro-climate policies are embedded even in Bhutan’s constitution, which mandates that 60% of its land must be under forest cover.

However, as one of the fastest-growing economies in South Asia and one set to become a middle-income country by 2023, Bhutan has also experienced amplified urbanization and consumption, along with growing alienation from nature.

This year, keeping the climate crisis on top of the country’s agenda has become even more demanding, as the COVID-19 pandemic challenges the country’s economic resilience.

In this article, we speak to three climate risks that are also green reset opportunities for Bhutan as it sets out on a path towards a sustainable economic recovery.

Of the approximately 3,000 lakes that exist in Bhutan, 24 may burst their banks sooner than expected due to the accelerated rate of melting glaciers causing glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF).

In a country in which the entire river system is fed by glaciers and where around 60% of the population rely on agriculture and more than 80% live along the river valleys, GLOFs can have devastating impact. Furthermore, GLOFs also put the country’s largest source of income – hydropower – at risk. The COVID-19 pandemic has propelled the conversation about data analytics to the top of the global agenda, which may be an impetus for countries to strengthen their technology and data policies and investments. For Bhutan, it may mean developing resources to enable the production of high-quality historical, as well as real time, climate data. This is vital because a lack of historical data on flood frequencies, for instance, has hindered the construction of cost-effective flood protection. The upfront investments required to modernize the country’s hydro-meteorological sector will be worthwhile, as the cost-benefit ratio in the long-term is favourable both monetarily and socio-economically.

Apart from the hydropower sector, which is directly vulnerable to GLOFs, every other top-earning sector in Bhutan, including agriculture and tourism, stands to benefit from high-quality data on climate conditions for planning and mitigation. Investment in capabilities to produce sophisticated climate data is an opportunity for Bhutan to supply a professional cadre of climate data service providers – including data scientists, AI experts, ICT technicians, early warning systems operators and policy specialists – who can monitor, assess, predict and communicate critical climate data not only in Bhutan, but in other countries where GLOFs are a threat. Furthermore, businesses, such as insurance companies, have expressed willingness to pay for such data to develop financial products to mitigate the damages caused by floods.

Healthy, energy-efficient housing must become the norm
With 50% of its population projected to live in urban areas by 2030, the built environment in Bhutan is growing proportionately. However, Bhutan’s modern construction norms are largely ill-suited for the local environment. Accounting for 42%, Bhutan’s built environment is the largest national consumer of energy. The lack of a market ecosystem for green construction, and a perception that green buildings are expensive, are stifling the credibility and growth of a green construction sector in the country.

The building sector presents a high-impact opportunity for climate change adaption, if done right. Energy-efficient buildings could save an estimated annual 300 million kWh in energy consumption every year. The construction sector is also beginning to converge on the agreement and alignment of the need to green the building sector. Consequently, there is a small but growing ecosystem of energy-efficient designers, contractors, vendors and maintenance businesses. This growth could be exponential if coupled with the right kind of incentives and enforcements; for example, the Government could invest in building energy-efficient public housing.

Increasing vehicle ownership equals higher emissions
The transport sector is a major consumer of fossil fuel in Bhutan, and accounts for 34.1% of the total energy consumed in the country. It is projected that if the status quo remains, vehicular greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could triple by 2030. This is directly correlated to the annual 15% rise in vehicle ownership in Bhutan. In growing urban areas, particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pose a major public health concern. Since 2009, PM levels in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital city, have consistently been higher than the standards set by the World Health Organization. For Bhutan to remain carbon negative or neutral for years to come, immediate measures must be taken to reset the current vehicular fossil fuel consumption and GHG emission levels.

It starts with improving the standards for fuel imported into the country from India,. Fortunately, it is projected that by 2021, India will reduce the amount of sulphur – a major pollutant – in its fuels, a move that could effectively reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by 95%.

Currently, the uptake of electric vehicles also remains low in Bhutan, despite having abundant hydroelectricity; price and a lack of infrastructure, such as charging stations and maintenance facilities, are both major factors here. Bhutan needs a concerted, low-carbon transportation strategy with a focus on accessible electric mobility of taxis, public buses, and urban freight vehicles.————–by Thinley Choden
Founding Curator and Curator, Thimphu Hub,
Namgay Choden
Impact Officer, Thimphu Hub,

Woman Rights

The Buddhist Nun Challenging Misogyny In Myanmar

Yangon, Myanmar: In a society where a popular saying urges women to “regard her son as her master and her husband as her god”, Buddhist nun Ketumala is already an outlier.
The 40-year-old walked away from traditional expectations of marriage and children as a teenager, and has instead spent more than two decades as a fierce advocate for the importance of women in religion.

The deep-red robes and shorn heads of Myanmar’s monks are internationally recognised, but the plight of the nation’s vast number of nuns, estimated to be in excess of 60,000, is little documented.

An entrenched patriarchy — the belief women are inferior is common and discrimination is routine — means that nuns, who also shave their hair but wear pink, can face abuse.

“When a man enters into monkhood, people always applaud saying it is good for the religion and will make it better, but when a woman enters into nunhood, people always think it is because of a problem,” Ketumala explains.

“They think it’s a place for women who are poor, old, sick, divorced, or need help for their life,” she adds.

Outspoken and rebellious, Ketumala is arguably the best known nun in Myanmar, having founded the Dhamma School Foundation, which runs more than 4,800 Buddhist education centres for children throughout the country.

But she warns that many nuns are still treated with contempt — the nunneries are run on donations but they do not command the reverence of monasteries and so struggle with funding.

In the worst cases, nuns are abused even for asking for alms that help them survive.

“Sometimes they are harassed along the road,” she explains.

– Superstition and discrimination –

Ketumala’s battle for recognition and respect for nuns in Buddhism runs parallel to the broader challenge for women’s rights in modern Myanmar.

Aung San Suu Kyi might be the face of the nation, but her role at the apex of the civilian government belies the lack of female representation in positions of power in the country.

Only 10.5 percent of MPs are women, although there are signs the ratio might improve after the November election.

Laws are often made by men, for men, and rights activists have warned that in wider society violence against women is so pervasive it is regarded as normal.

Superstitions surrounding women are widespread: It is frowned upon to wash women’s clothes with men’s — even within the same family — for fear the men will lose their masculinity.

In religious life, women are banned from entering certain Buddhist sites or temples and are told never to sit above men.

Ketumala says she has little power to bring about all the changes she would like to see.

“The decision for entire affairs about the nuns comes down from the monks,” she explains.

Even creating the foundation was a fight — she says monks she initially approached for support would not back her, even though they thought it was a good idea.

She says: “For me it was doing good things together for the religion and for the country. But what I realised was that the monks have egos… they didn’t want to be involved and implement because it was a nun’s idea.”

Even when the project launched, she could not be appointed to its executive, instead given the role of ‘secretary’, and was ultimately forced to resign as monks took control of its management.

– Mastery of the mind –

Ketumala admits she was not interested in religion in her youth, but found her path to enlightenment through reading about Buddhist philosophies, crediting Sayarday U Zawti Ka’s tome ‘A House Where Mindfulness Is’ with giving her clarity.

“I used to think success was measured with materials — titles and property — but later I found out that those who can control and master the mind are the only successful people,” she says.

Her family were against her becoming a nun, fearing she would end up an outcast, and refused to speak to her for years — though they have since been reconciled.

She pushed ahead despite the opposition, even securing two degrees in Buddhist Studies as she completed her training.

Ketumala concedes there is no hope of achieving equal status with monks — some historians say that nuns were once ordained in Theravada Buddhism, practised in Myanmar and much of South East Asia, but as the practice died out more than a 1,000 years ago there is no way to revive it.

Nonetheless she is determined to make a difference for the tens of thousands of religious women in the country so they can “better utilise their abilities”.

In 2016, she launched an empowerment training scheme for younger nuns, and is planning to create an organisation that will teach subjects such as the art of leadership and management.

“The institute will provide the skills they need outside nunnery, particularly for the development of their community,” she explains.

Ketumala believes the best way to drive change is to find allies and friends across society, including monks, rather than creating “enemies” so has taken a soft approach to tackling female marginalisation.

She adds: “Conservatives are everywhere, so the situation doesn’t give much space to ask for women rights.”

Business, Economy

Bhutanese beer crosses the Himalayas into India

Bhutanese brewery Ser Bhum is behind Kati Patang, a beer sold by Delhi-based Empyrean Spirits. Launched in Zesty Amber and Snappy Wheat variants in 2018, Kati Patang prides itself on being “brewed with the happiest water on earth”.

One of the traditional drinks is Ara, a clear liquid made with barley, wheat and rice, and often served hot — something similar to makgeolli, a version of riced wine popular in South Korea.

However, the easy availability of illicit liquor means that death rates owing to alcohol are high and, naturally, the government discourages its consumption, taxing it at 100 per cent.

Given the difficult circumstances, the Ser Bhum Brewery has, in its own little way, taken up a substantial task: To change the way the country drinks beer.

Ser Bhum — which translates to “golden vase” — is only one of two craft breweries in Bhutan, a market dominated by Bhutan Brewery, which manufactures the Druk 11000, the most popular beer among locals and one of its major exports.

Ser Bhum, nestled in the scenic woods of Hongtsho, a 15-km drive from the capital Thimphu, opened operations in 2017. The choice of location was strategic: In the hills of Hongtsho, the brewery would have close and abundant access to clean, pure Himalayan spring water.

“The water in the beer is everything. It makes all the difference. It’s like the blood of the beer,” explains Sonam Lhaden, one of the founders.

Lhaden studied in the US and experienced America’s bustling craft beer scene firsthand.

“We had nothing like that in Bhutan. That got me thinking,” she says.

After elaborate planning — getting permissions took seven long years — Lhaden started Ser Bhum with her two brothers. One of them, Karma Tenzin, took up the role of master brewer.

Ser Bhum’s signature beer is the Bhutan Glory, a medium-bodied amber ale that comes with a caramel aroma and neutral bitterness. It also produces the Dragon Stout — an unabashed tribute to the country of its origin — which is a dark beer with notes of chocolate and coffee.

Both varieties, Lhaden says, have caught on with youngsters and the office-going crowd who, for long, sought a quality alternative to mass-produced beer brands in Bhutan. For the summer, Serbhum has also come out with a limited-edition honey-wheat beer made from locally sourced honey and available in kegs.

But the brewery is, perhaps, most famous for its India connection. Ser Bhum is behind Kati Patang, a beer sold by Delhi-based Empyrean Spirits.

Launched in Zesty Amber and Snappy Wheat variants in 2018, Kati Patang prides itself on being “brewed with the happiest water on earth”.

In Delhi, it’s taken off in cafés and restaurants, primarily for its fresh, clean flavours. “Our brewery is open to visitors. Many Indians who come ask to taste Kati Patang,” says Lhaden.

Ser Bhum’s latest Indian collaboration is the Beor360, a new beer that made its way into the Delhi market last month.

Founder Rishabh Ranjan spent much of last year scouting breweries all across Europe, but eventually chose Ser Bhum for its excellent water and unerring dedication to quality beer.

“With craft breweries, the master brewer takes care of intricate details that large commercial breweries don’t,” he says, adding that Tenzin is hands-on and extremely passionate about beer.

Moreover, managing the supply chain from just across the border is significantly easier when compared with importing beer from Europe.

Even so, Beor360 imports most of its ingredients from Europe, which are then shipped to Bhutan. Once the batches are ready and all the export clearances are secured, the beer takes three-four days to reach India.

Much like Kati Patang, Beor360 is available as a lager and a wheat beer, both with a 4.9 per cent ABV, and retails at Rs 150 a pint.

The curious name comes from the Anglo-Saxon term for beer, and “360” is an ode to the intellectual beer drinker, someone looking to not get high but have a good conversation — evidently the principle that Ser Bhum follows with all its products.

Lhaden swears by the motto: “Drink Less, Drink Better”.

For the likes of Beor360 and Kati Patang, Ser Bhum represents superior quality; for Ser Bhum, it’s a rare chance to go beyond its domestic territory.

“Because Bhutan is a small market, catering to just the locals is simply not sustainable for a craft brewery. You have to export,” explains Lhaden.

The Bhutanese government, while conservative in its view of alcohol at home, has been supportive of breweries such as Ser Bhum wanting to take their beer elsewhere.

Bhutan’s eagerness to do business with India is, perhaps, why a number of beer brands are seeking opportunities in the landlocked country. Last year, the Economic Times reported that craft beer brands like Simba, Arbor Brewing Co and White Rhino were exploring expansion plans in Bhutan.

Ser Bhum currently operates at a capacity of 2,000 cases (one case = 330ml x 24) a month, of which 500-1,000 are shipped out.

Before Covid-19 struck, it was exporting some 1,000 cases every fortnight.

The number of cases pales in comparison to what a commercial brewery would normally produce, but such small batches ensure the consistency that people like Ranjan demand.

“When you’re selling a premium beer, you cannot be inconsistent. All batches must be equally good,” says Ranjan. After debuting in Delhi, he is planning to take Beor360 to Gurugram and Noida, and subsequently to Hyderabad, Mumbai and Chennai.

Success in the craft beer market in India, he reckons, will be determined by three factors: the quality of distribution, the strength of the supply chain, and efficient marketing.

“Like the US, we will see more craft beer brands come up. So, there’s still a lot of road to cover.”

Dhruv Munjal


A new quantum paradox throws the foundations of observed reality into question

by Eric Cavalcanti, Griffith University

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Perhaps not, some say.

And if someone is there to hear it? If you think that means it obviously did make a sound, you might need to revise that opinion.

We have found a new paradox in quantum mechanics – one of our two most fundamental scientific theories, together with Einstein’s theory of relativity – that throws doubt on some common-sense ideas about physical reality.

Quantum mechanics vs common sense
Take a look at these three statements:

When someone observes an event happening, it really happened.

It is possible to make free choices, or at least, statistically random choices.

A choice made in one place can’t instantly affect a distant event. (Physicists call this “locality”.)

These are all intuitive ideas, and widely believed even by physicists. But our research, published in Nature Physics, shows they cannot all be true – or quantum mechanics itself must break down at some level.

This is the strongest result yet in a long series of discoveries in quantum mechanics that have upended our ideas about reality. To understand why it’s so important, let’s look at this history.

The battle for reality
Quantum mechanics works extremely well to describe the behaviour of tiny objects, such as atoms or particles of light (photons). But that behaviour is … very odd.

In many cases, quantum theory doesn’t give definite answers to questions such as “where is this particle right now?” Instead, it only provides probabilities for where the particle might be found when it is observed.

For Niels Bohr, one of the founders of the theory a century ago, that’s not because we lack information, but because physical properties like “position” don’t actually exist until they are measured.

And what’s more, because some properties of a particle can’t be perfectly observed simultaneously – such as position and velocity – they can’t be real simultaneously.

No less a figure than Albert Einstein found this idea untenable. In a 1935 article with fellow theorists Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, he argued there must be more to reality than what quantum mechanics could describe.

The article considered a pair of distant particles in a special state now known as an “entangled” state. When the same property (say, position or velocity) is measured on both entangled particles, the result will be random – but there will be a correlation between the results from each particle.

For example, an observer measuring the position of the first particle could perfectly predict the result of measuring the position of the distant one, without even touching it. Or the observer could choose to predict the velocity instead. This had a natural explanation, they argued, if both properties existed before being measured, contrary to Bohr’s interpretation.

However, in 1964 Northern Irish physicist John Bell found Einstein’s argument broke down if you carried out a more complicated combination of different measurements on the two particles.

Bell showed that if the two observers randomly and independently choose between measuring one or another property of their particles, like position or velocity, the average results cannot be explained in any theory where both position and velocity were pre-existing local properties.

That sounds incredible, but experiments have now conclusively demonstrated Bell’s correlations do occur. For many physicists, this is evidence that Bohr was right: physical properties don’t exist until they are measured.

But that raises the crucial question: what is so special about a “measurement”?

The observer, observed
In 1961, the Hungarian-American theoretical physicist Eugene Wigner devised a thought experiment to show what’s so tricky about the idea of measurement.

He considered a situation in which his friend goes into a tightly sealed lab and performs a measurement on a quantum particle – its position, say.

However, Wigner noticed that if he applied the equations of quantum mechanics to describe this situation from the outside, the result was quite different. Instead of the friend’s measurement making the particle’s position real, from Wigner’s perspective the friend becomes entangled with the particle and infected with the uncertainty that surrounds it.

This is similar to Schrödinger’s famous cat, a thought experiment in which the fate of a cat in a box becomes entangled with a random quantum event.

For Wigner, this was an absurd conclusion. Instead, he believed that once the consciousness of an observer becomes involved, the entanglement would “collapse” to make the friend’s observation definite.

But what if Wigner was wrong?

Our experiment
In our research, we built on an extended version of the Wigner’s friend paradox, first proposed by Časlav Brukner of the University of Vienna. In this scenario, there are two physicists – call them Alice and Bob – each with their own friends (Charlie and Debbie) in two distant labs.

There’s another twist: Charlie and Debbie are now measuring a pair of entangled particles, like in the Bell experiments.

As in Wigner’s argument, the equations of quantum mechanics tell us Charlie and Debbie should become entangled with their observed particles. But because those particles were already entangled with each other, Charlie and Debbie themselves should become entangled – in theory.

But what does that imply experimentally?

Our experiment goes like this: the friends enter their labs and measure their particles. Some time later, Alice and Bob each flip a coin. If it’s heads, they open the door and ask their friend what they saw. If it’s tails, they perform a different measurement.

This different measurement always gives a positive outcome for Alice if Charlie is entangled with his observed particle in the way calculated by Wigner. Likewise for Bob and Debbie.

In any realisation of this measurement, however, any record of their friend’s observation inside the lab is blocked from reaching the external world. Charlie or Debbie will not remember having seen anything inside the lab, as if waking up from total anaesthesia.

But did it really happen, even if they don’t remember it?

If the three intuitive ideas at the beginning of this article are correct, each friend saw a real and unique outcome for their measurement inside the lab, independent of whether or not Alice or Bob later decided to open their door. Also, what Alice and Charlie see should not depend on how Bob’s distant coin lands, and vice versa.

We showed that if this were the case, there would be limits to the correlations Alice and Bob could expect to see between their results. We also showed that quantum mechanics predicts Alice and Bob will see correlations that go beyond those limits.

Experimental apparatus for our test of the paradox with particles of light. Photograph by Kok-Wei Bong
Next, we did an experiment to confirm the quantum mechanical predictions using pairs of entangled photons. The role of each friend’s measurement was played by one of two paths each photon may take in the setup, depending on a property of the photon called “polarisation”. That is, the path “measures” the polarisation.

Our experiment is only really a proof of principle, since the “friends” are very small and simple. But it opens the question whether the same results would hold with more complex observers.

We may never be able to do this experiment with real humans. But we argue that it may one day be possible to create a conclusive demonstration if the “friend” is a human-level artificial intelligence running in a massive quantum computer.

What does it all mean?
Although a conclusive test may be decades away, if the quantum mechanical predictions continue to hold, this has strong implications for our understanding of reality – even more so than the Bell correlations. For one, the correlations we discovered cannot be explained just by saying that physical properties don’t exist until they are measured.

Now the absolute reality of measurement outcomes themselves is called into question.

Our results force physicists to deal with the measurement problem head on: either our experiment doesn’t scale up, and quantum mechanics gives way to a so-called “objective collapse theory”, or one of our three common-sense assumptions must be rejected.

There are theories, like de Broglie-Bohm, that postulate “action at a distance”, in which actions can have instantaneous effects elsewhere in the universe. However, this is in direct conflict with Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Some search for a theory that rejects freedom of choice, but they either require backwards causality, or a seemingly conspiratorial form of fatalism called “superdeterminism”.

Another way to resolve the conflict could be to make Einstein’s theory even more relative. For Einstein, different observers could disagree about when or where something happens – but what happens was an absolute fact.

However, in some interpretations, such as relational quantum mechanics, QBism, or the many-worlds interpretation, events themselves may occur only relative to one or more observers. A fallen tree observed by one may not be a fact for everyone else.

All of this does not imply that you can choose your own reality. Firstly, you can choose what questions you ask, but the answers are given by the world. And even in a relational world, when two observers communicate, their realities are entangled. In this way a shared reality can emerge.

Which means that if we both witness the same tree falling and you say you can’t hear it, you might just need a hearing aid