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Science & Technology

Birds Have a Mysterious ‘Quantum Sense’. Scientists Have Now Seen It in Action

Seeing our world through the eyes of a migratory bird would be a rather spooky experience. Something about their visual system allows them to ‘see’ our planet’s magnetic field, a clever trick of quantum physics and biochemistry that helps them navigate vast distances.

In early 2021, scientists from the University of Tokyo announced they had, for the first time ever, directly observed a key reaction hypothesized to be behind birds’ (and many other creatures’) talents for sensing the direction of Earth’s poles.
Importantly, this is evidence of quantum physics directly affecting a biochemical reaction in a cell – something we’ve long hypothesized but haven’t seen in action before.
Using a tailor-made microscope sensitive to faint flashes of light, the team watched a culture of human cells containing a special light-sensitive material respond dynamically to changes in a magnetic field.

The change the researchers observed in the lab matched what would be expected if a quirky quantum effect was responsible for the illuminating reaction.
“We’ve not modified or added anything to these cells,” said biophysicist Jonathan Woodward.
“We think we have extremely strong evidence that we’ve observed a purely quantum mechanical process affecting chemical activity at the cellular level.”
So how are cells, particularly human cells, capable of responding to magnetic fields?

While there are several hypotheses out there, many researchers think the ability is due to a unique quantum reaction involving photoreceptors called cryptochromes.
Cryptochromes are found in the cells of many species and are involved in regulating circadian rhythms. In species of migratory birds, dogs, and other creatures, they’re linked to the mysterious ability to sense magnetic fields.
In fact, while most of us can’t see magnetic fields, human cells definitely contain cryptochromes. And there’s evidence that even though it’s not conscious, humans are actually still capable of detecting Earth’s magnetism.
To see the reaction within cryptochromes in action, the researchers bathed a culture of human cells containing cryptochromes in blue light, causing them to fluoresce weakly. As they glowed, the team swept magnetic fields of various frequencies repeatedly over the cells.
They found that each time the magnetic field passed over the cells, their fluorescence dipped around 3.5 percent – enough to show a direct reaction.
How can a magnetic field affect a photoreceptor? It all comes down to something called spin – an innate property of electrons.

We already know that spin is significantly affected by magnetic fields. Arrange electrons in the right way around an atom, and collect enough of them together in one place, and the resulting mass of material can be made to move using nothing more than a weak magnetic field like the one that surrounds our planet.
This is all well and good if you want to make a needle for a navigational compass. But with no obvious signs of magnetically-sensitive chunks of material inside pigeon skulls, physicists have had to think smaller.
In 1975, a Max Planck Institute researcher named Klaus Schulten developed a theory on how magnetic fields could influence chemical reactions.
It involved something called a radical pair. A garden-variety radical is an electron in the outer shell of an atom that isn’t partnered with a second electron.
Sometimes, these bachelor electrons can adopt a wingman in another atom to form a radical pair. The two stay unpaired, but thanks to a shared history are considered entangled, which in quantum terms means their spins will eerily correspond no matter how far apart they are.

Since this correlation can’t be explained by ongoing physical connections, it’s purely a quantum activity, something even Albert Einstein considered ‘spooky’.
In the hustle-bustle of a living cell, their entanglement will be fleeting. But even these briefly correlating spins should last just long enough to make a subtle difference in the way their respective parent atoms behave.
In this experiment, as the magnetic field passed over the cells, the corresponding dip in fluorescence suggests that the generation of radical pairs had been affected.
An interesting consequence of the research could be in how even weak magnetic fields could indirectly affect other biological processes. While evidence of magnetism affecting human health is weak, similar experiments as this could prove to be another avenue for investigation.
“The joyous thing about this research is to see that the relationship between the spins of two individual electrons can have a major effect on biology,” said Woodward.
Of course, birds aren’t the only animal to rely on our magnetosphere for direction. Species of fish, worms, insects, and even some mammals have a knack for it. We humans might even be cognitively affected by Earth’s faint magnetic field.
Evolution of this ability could have delivered a number of vastly different actions based on different physics.
Having evidence that at least one of them connects the weirdness of the quantum world with the behavior of a living thing is enough to force us to wonder what other bits of biology arise from the spooky depths of fundamental physics.
This research was published in PNAS.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

US says ivory-billed woodpecker, 22 other species extinct

By Associated Press

It’s a rare move for wildlife officials to give up hope on a plant or animal, but government scientists say they’ve exhausted to find these 23. And they warn climate change, on top of other pressures, could make such disappearances more common as a warming planet adds to the dangers facing imperiled plants and wildlife.

The ivory-billed woodpecker was perhaps the best known species the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared extinct. The woodpecker went out stubbornly and with fanfare, making unconfirmed appearances in recent decades that ignited a frenzy of ultimately fruitless searches in the swamps of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.

Others such as the flat pigtoe, a freshwater mussel in the southeastern U.S., were identified in the wild only a few times and never seen again, meaning by the time they got a name they were fading from existence.

“When I see one of those really rare ones, it’s always in the back of my mind that I might be the last one to see this animal again,” said Anthony “Andy” Ford, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in Tennessee who specializes in freshwater mussels.

The factors behind the disappearances vary — too much development, water pollution, logging, competition from invasive species, birds killed for feathers and animals captured by private collectors. In each case, humans were the ultimate cause.

Another thing they share: All 23 were thought to have at least a slim chance of survival when added to the endangered species list beginning in the 1960s. Only 11 species previously have been removed due to extinction in the almost half-century since the Endangered Species Act was signed into law.

The announcement kicks off a three-month comment period before the species status changes become final.

Around the globe, some 902 species have been documented as extinct. The actual number is thought to be much higher because some are never formally identified, and many scientists warn the earth is in an “extinction crisis” with flora and fauna now disappearing at 1,000 times the historical rate.

It’s possible one or more of the 23 species named Wednesday could reappear, several scientists said.

A leading figure in the hunt for the ivory-billed woodpecker said it was premature to call off the effort, after millions of dollars spent on searches and habitat preservation efforts.

“Little is gained and much is lost” with an extinction declaration, said Cornell University bird biologist John Fitzpatrick, lead author of a 2005 study that claimed the woodpecker had been rediscovered in eastern Arkansas.

“A bird this iconic, and this representative of the major old-growth forests of the southeast, keeping it on the list of endangered species keeps attention on it, keeps states thinking about managing habitat on the off chance it still exists,” he said.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, a Switzerland-based group that tracks extinctions globally, is not putting the ivory-billed woodpecker into its extinction column because it’s possible the birds still exist in Cuba, said the group’s Craig Hilton-Taylor.

Hilton-Taylor said there can be unintended but damaging consequences if extinction is declared prematurely. “Suddenly the (conservation) money is no longer there, and then suddenly you do drive it to extinction because you stop investing in it,” he said.

But wildlife officials said in an analysis released Wednesday that that there have been no definitive sightings of the woodpecker since 1944 and “there is no objective evidence” of its continued existence.

They said the 23 extinction declarations were driven by a desire to clear a backlog of recommended status changes for species that had not been acted upon for years. They said it would free up resources for on-the-ground conservation efforts for species that still have a chance for recovery.

What’s lost when those efforts fail are creatures often uniquely adapted to their environments. Freshwater mussel species like the ones the government says have gone extinct reproduce by attracting fish with a lure-like appendage, then sending out a cloud of larvae that attach to gills of fish until they’ve grown enough to drop off and live on their own.

The odds are slim against any freshwater mussel surviving into adulthood — a one in a million chance, according to Ford of the wildlife service — but those that do can live a century or longer.

Hawaii has the most species on the list — eight woodland birds and one plant. That’s in part because the islands have so many plants and animals that many have extremely small ranges and can blink out quickly.

The most recent to go extinct was the teeny po’ouli, a type of bird known as a honeycreeper discovered in 1973.

By the late 1990s just three remained — a male and two females. After failures to mate them in the wild, the male was captured for potential breeding and died in 2004. The two females were never seen again.

The fate of Hawaii’s birds helped push Duke University extinction expert Stuart Pimm into his field. Despite the grim nature of the government’s proposal to move more species into the extinct column, Pimm said the toll would probably have been much higher without the Endangered Species Act.

“It’s a shame we didn’t get to those species in time, but when we do, we are usually able to save species,” he said.

Since 1975, 54 species have left the endangered list after recovering, including the bald eagle, brown pelican and most humpback whales.

Climate change is making species recovery harder, bringing drought, floods, wildfires and temperature swings that compound the threats species already faced.

How they are saved also is changing. No longer is the focus on individual species, let alone individual birds. Officials say the broader goal now is to preserve their habitat, which boosts species of all types that live there.

“I hope we’re up to the challenge,” said biologist Michelle Bogardus with the wildlife service in Hawaii. “We don’t have the resources to prevent extinctions unilaterally. We have to think proactively about ecosystem health and how do we maintain it, given all these threats.”


Yak farming in Arunachal Pradesh gets a boost as banks chip in with credit supportPrasanta Mazumdar|

GUWAHATI: Yak farmers in the mountainous Arunachal Pradesh can now afford a smile, thanks to a novel initiative of the ICAR-National Research Centre.

Convinced by the proposal, banks have come forward, showing interest in giving loans to yak farmers as well as others willing to earn a livelihood through the farming of this bovine species.

The ICAR centre, based in Arunachal’s Dirang, described the approval of its proposal by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), as ‘historic’.

“The credit plan vetted by NABARD was found to be feasible for credit support by the lead banks and has been included in the Potential Linked Credit Plans of Tawang, West Kameng and Shi Yomi districts of Arunachal,” the ICAR centre Director, Dr Mihir Sarkar told The New Indian Express.m

He was confident the support will promote yak husbandry and boost economic dividends for yak herders.

Dr Sarkar said anyone could avail the loan, to be given for anything related to yak farming, such as housing for the animal, its feed, treatment, procurement etc. He said an effort would be made to put in place this scheme in Ladakh where a regional centre on yak research had been approved.

He had conceptualised this scheme and submitted a proposal to NABARD which is the prime organisation in matters related to agricultural commodities. Anything that it says is binding on the banks, Dr Sarkar said.

Under the scheme, a yak farmer can avail a loan up to Rs 5.65 lakh.

“We are calling a meeting with banks in our region in November where we will discuss everything. There should be a low interest rate, a period of moratorium as well as subsidy,” Dr Sarkar said.

India has around 58,000 yaks, found on the heights of Arunachal, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh. In Arunachal, their population is estimated to be around 24,000. They are found in Tawang, West Kameng and Shi Yomi districts.

As the animal is susceptible to harsh and inclement weather conditions due to climate change, diseases, attack by wild animals etc, the highlanders used to incur regular losses. But Dr Sarkar came to their rescue.

He played a key role in ensuring an insurance scheme for the animal. For the first time, the National Insurance Company Ltd a few months back had decided to insure the highly-valuable Himalayan cattle.

Yaks are one of the most prized animals of the Himalayan region due to their multifarious roles. They strengthen nutritional security through milk and meat, provide shelter and clothing through fibre and act as a “beast of burden” by carrying loads through hard trek.

The animal has intense socio-cultural importance for the pastoral rearing communities due to centuries-old transhumance practices. However, the past few decades witnessed an unprecedented decline in its population.

Although factors such as inbreeding, cross-hybridization and unscientific farming practices precipitated the worsening trend, disillusionment of the younger generation due to the hardships of yak rearing stands out as one of the prime reasons for mass desertions from the occupation and the consequent declining population.

“To promote sedentarization in yak farming, which entails rearing the animal at a particular location in mid-altitude regions and in a semi-intensive production system, the extension of credit support by banks is crucial to encourage scientific and remunerative yak farming,” Dr Sarkar added.


Monetary Authority (RMA) With a CBDC Project

By Siamak Masnavi

California-headquartered FinTech firm Ripple has announced a partnership with the central bank of the Kingdom of Bhutan, which is a landlocked country in the Eastern Himalayas.

According to the blog post Ripple published last Wednesday (September 22), the basic idea of this partnership is to help Bhutan’s central bank (aka “Royal Monetary Authority”) “use Ripple’s CBDC solution to pilot a central bank digital currency (CBDC) in phases.”

As you may remember, on March 3, Ripple announced via a blog post that it was “piloting” a private version of the open-source public XRP Ledger (XRPL) to allow central banks to create and manage their own digital currencies. The XRP Ledger was created in 2012 by David Schwartz, Jed McCaleb, and Arthur Britto, and XRP is the native currency of the XRP Ledger.

Back then, Ripple said:

more than 80% of the world’s central banks are “actively exploring some form of sovereign-backed cryptocurrency”
eventually there would be a wide range of central bank digitial currencies (CBDCs).
existing public blockchains cannot meed the needs of CBDCs since “a Central Bank requires more transaction privacy and control over its currency than a public ledger can offer,” which means that it is “most likely opt to create a CBDC on a private ledger that can also operate at the required scale.”
Ripple also explained in that March 2021 blog post why interoperability is crucial:

“Additionally, interoperability – the ability for a private ledger to connect with today’s existing global financial infrastructure, as well as other CBDCs and other digital currencies– will be critical. In fact, in its 2021/22 innovation program, the Bank for International Settlements identified interoperability for cross-border payments as a major priority for CBDCs.“

Ripple’s proposed solution to this problem is the CBDC Private Ledger, which uses the same distributed ledger technology as the XRP Ledger, which means that it is “built for payments” and “designed for issuing currencies”; XRP could then serve as “a neutral bridge asset for frictionless value movement between CBDCs and other currencies.”

Ripple also said that transactions on the CBDC Private Ledger would be low-cost, reliable, and fast.

In last week’s blog post, Ripple mentioned that that this new initiative, which builds on top of the country’s payments infrastructure and capabilities, will tap use Ripple’s CBDC solution to “support seamless retail, cross-border and wholesale payment use cases for a digital Ngultrum.”

Ripple went on to say that the RMA “believes that easier, faster and more affordable payments, both domestically and internationally, will help it reach its goal of increasing financial inclusion by 85% by 2023.”

Finally, apparently, Ripple’s “commitment to sustainability was important for Bhutan.” As Ripple points out, its CBDC solution is “carbon-neutral and, because it’s based on the public XRP Ledger, is 120,000x more energy efficient than proof-of-work blockchains.”

According to data by TradingView, on crypto exchange Bitstamp, currently (as of 07:20 UTC on September 27), XRP is trading around $0.9637, up 4.3% in the past 24-hour period


Six remote areas in Arunachal Pradesh to be connected via fixed-wing flights —- Six remote areas in Arunachal Pradesh to be connected via fixed-wing flightsThe flights will be run by Alliance Air using two Dornier DO-228 aircraft under the UDAN scheme

Sumir Karmakar
Sumir Karmakar, DHNS, Guwahati,
SEP 26 2021, 18:16 IST UPDATED: SEP 26 2021, 20:34 IST

The DO-228 aircraft will connect passengers in remote locations like Mechuka, Tuting, Vijaynagar, Ziro, Pasighat and Tezu.
Advance landing grounds (ALG) refurbished by the Indian Air Force (IAF) at remote locations in Arunachal Pradesh will now be used by fixed-wing aircraft for boosting passenger connectivity as well.

The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) on Sunday signed an agreement with Alliance Air to lease out two Made in India Dornier DO-228, a 16-seater aircraft, for operation in Arunachal Pradesh under the Civil Aviation Ministry’s regional connectivity scheme, UDAAN.

The DO-228 aircraft, which can land and take off in small airstrips including ALGs, will connect passengers in remote locations like Mechuka, Tuting, Vijaynagar, Ziro, Pasighat and Tezu.

An official statement issued by the office of Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu said Pasighat and Tezu will be connected in the first phase while Mechuka, Tuting, Vijaynagar and Ziro will be connected in the second phase. Two more ALGs, which are being surveyed at Dirang and Daporijo will be connected in the third phase, it said.

“It is a big leap in connectivity for Arunachal Pradesh,” Khandu said while virtually taking part in the agreement signing programme.

The ALGs, some of which are situated close to border with China and Myanmar have remained unused since the 1962 war with China. They were recently refurbished by the Union Defence Ministry to upgrade India’s defence preparedness along the China border. Although these are primarily meant for defence purposes, local residents demanded that terminals be constructed for transportation of civilians as well.

On Sunday, Khandu also hoped that all feasible ALGs would be connected with fixed-wing passenger services in the days to come.

Khandu informed that the civil passenger terminal building at Ziro and Tuting are under construction and will be ready by the end of this year. A terminal is also under construction at Mechuka while Pasighat and Tezu already have the required infrastructure.

He suggested that till completion of the Hollongi airport, which can be later used as operational base for DO-228 aircraft, flight services connecting Tezu, Pasighat, Ziro, Tuting, Mechuka and Vijaynagar may be extended to Lilabari in neighbouring Assam’s North Lakhimpur district so that passengers from these remote places coming to the state capital Itanagar can avail the flights.

Further, till completion of the Hollongi airport, he suggested Guwahati or Dibrugarh serve as the operational base of the Dornier aircraft.

Secretary of Ministry of Civil aviation, Singh Kharola, Joint Secretary Usha Padhee, DoNER Secretary Lok Ranjan, Chairman and Managing Director, HAL, R Madhavan, CEO of Alliance Air, Vinod Sood attended the programme.

Arunachal Pradesh CM Kahndu, Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein, Home Minister Bamang Felix, Lok Sabha MP Tapir Gao, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar and other officials virtually took part in the programme.

Indigenous no-state people

Rice Cultivation in Assam
Photograph by Rihaana Akhtar
In Assam, rice is the most significant crop. It covers 2.54 million ha of the state’s gross cropped area of 4.16 million ha and accounts for 96% of the state’s total food grain production. Assam is well-known for its extensive rice genetic diversity. Rice cultivation under a variety of agro-ecological settings has resulted in the formation of a variety of strains with specialized adaptations over time, thanks to natural selection and farmers’ discretion.

The state’s physical characteristics, geographical position, and historical reality have resulted in ethnic mobility and immigration, which has resulted in the introduction of several types of rice genetic stock over time.

The state has three rice-growing seasons due to agro-climatic variance, seasonal variations in temperature and rainfall, and agriculture’s reliance on natural precipitation.

Based on six zones namely Upper Brahmaputra Valley Zone, North Bank Plain Zone, Lower Brahmaputra Valley Zone, Hill Zone, Central Brahmaputra Valley Zone and Barak Valley Zone.

Rice Varieties:
Flood Tolerant Rice Varieties include BINA Dhan 11, Ranjit-Sub1, Bahadur-Sub1 and Swarna-Sub1.

Drought Tolerant Varieties include DRR Dhan 44 and DRR Dhan 46.

Premium Quality Rice Varieties include DRR Dhan 45, Bokul Joha, Keteki Joha (IET – 14390), Kola Joha, Joha (aromatic) rice, CR Dhan 909, CR Dhan310, RNR 15048 and Zinco Rice by Chintu Das

Civil War

Pulitzer-winning Indian photojournalist Danish Siddiqui killed in Afghanistan clashes:

Danish Siddiqui, a Pulitzer-winning photojournalist with Reuters, was reportedly killed during clashes in Afghanistan’s Kandahar. Siddiqui was in Kandahar over the last few days, covering the internal security situation in Afghanistan. “The Secretary General grieves the journalists killed or indeed harassed anywhere in the world and the case of Danish Siddiqui is one such case,” Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, UN, said at the daily press briefing on Friday. In 2018, Siddiqui, who recently did extensive coverage of the graveyards and mass cremations during the COVID-19 outbreak in India, became the first Indian, along with his colleague Adnan Abidi, to win the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis.
Siddiqui had been posting updates from his coverage in Afganistan on his Twitter handle. He posted his last thread on July 13, which had pictures documenting what he was witnessing in Kandahar during the rescue mission carried by Afghan Special Forces.
Siddiqui had been posting updates from his coverage in Afganistan on his Twitter handle. He posted his last thread on July 13, which had pictures documenting what he was witnessing in Kandahar during the rescue mission carried by Afghan Special Forces.
In 2018, Siddiqui, who recently did extensive coverage of the graveyards and mass cremations during the COVID-19 outbreak in India, became the first Indian – along with his colleague Adnan Abidi – to win the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis.
In 2018, Siddiqui, who recently did extensive coverage of the graveyards and mass cremations during the COVID-19 outbreak in India, became the first Indian – along with his colleague Adnan Abidi – to win the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis.
Siddiqui enjoyed capturing the human face of a breaking story, “While I enjoy covering news stories – from business to politics to sports – what I enjoy most is capturing the human face of a breaking story,” reads his Reuters profile page. A Reuters photographer since 2010, Siddiqui’s work spanned covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Rohingya refugees crisis, the Hong Kong protests and Nepal earthquakes.
Siddiqui enjoyed capturing the human face of a breaking story, “While I enjoy covering news stories – from business to politics to sports – what I enjoy most is capturing the human face of a breaking story,” reads his Reuters profile page. A Reuters photographer since 2010, Siddiqui’s work spanned covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Rohingya refugees crisis, the Hong Kong protests and Nepal earthquakes. Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Friday said that India strongly condemns the killing of the Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Danish Siddiqui in Afghanistan. Speaking at an event of the United Nations Security Council, Shringla raised concerns about violence against civilians during armed conflict. The Taliban has said it does know how Indian photojournalist Danish Siddiqui was killed and expressed regret over the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist’s death in Afghanistan’s Kandahar during clashes between its fighters and Afghan forces. “We are not aware during whose firing the journalist was killed. We do not know how he died,” Taliban’s spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid told CNN-News18 on Friday.


Akhil Gogoi set free, slams govt for ‘misusing’ NIA, UAPA
Assam MLA and Raijor Dal president Akhil Gogoi walked out of jail on Thursday after a special court of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) acquitted him of all charges in the second of the two cases related to the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act violence in the State in December 2019.

The activist-turned-politician, who represents the Sibsagar Assembly constituency in eastern Assam, was discharged in the first case on June 25. He was in jail since December 2019 and had spent the last few months in the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital due to ailments.

The NIA had pursued the cases filed under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act (UAPA) for alleged criminal conspiracy, sedition, promoting enmity between groups on grounds such as religion, race and language, assertions against national integrity, and support to a “terrorist organisation”.

The cases were registered on the basis of two FIRs lodged with the Chabua police station in Dibrugarh district and the Chandmari police station in Guwahati. The Chandmari case had the additional charge that he had links with a Maoist organisation.

“The court has proven that the government’s charges against me were bogus. This is a historic day for the Indian judiciary,” Mr. Gogoi told journalists after his release.

“A case was filed against me for my links with CPI [Maoist]. In another case, I was charged with inciting violence during the anti-CAA agitation. The court proved these were fake charges that kept me in jail for more than a year and a half,” he said.

He slammed the BJP-led State government for “misusing” the UAPA and NIA. The court’s judgement would influence future cases, he stated.

Visits anti-CAA firing victim’s house
Soon after his release, Mr. Gogoi visited the house of Sam Stafford, a schoolstudent who was among the five persons killed in the anti-CAA violence in Guwahati. He expressed solidarity with the parents of the boy who died in police firing.

Mr. Gogoi’s advocate Shantanu Borthakur said three others – Dharjya Konwar, Manas Konwar and Bittu Sonowal – who were arrested with him were also discharged on Thursday. The three, members of various wings of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti that Mr. Gogoi had founded, had been out on bail.

“The court’s ruling has exposed the State government’s attempts to target our party president,” Bhasco de Saikia, Raijor Dal working president, said.

The NIA court last week granted two days’ parole to Mr. Gogoi to meet members of his family in Guwahati and eastern Assam’s Jorhat. His 84-year-old mother Priyada Gogoi is ailing. She had campaigned for her son in the May 27 Assembly elections.

“My focus will be on working for the development of my constituency besides opposing any anti-people policy the government tries to impose,” Mr. Gogoi said.(The Hindu)


China-Nepal rail link may go through protected Himalayan park

Engineers deliver their expert recommendation and say there may be no other way, but tunnel would be underground
If approved, the route would include sensitive habitat and environmentalists fear damage

There may be no choice but to put part of the much-anticipated railway between China and Nepal through the main protected area of the Himalayan mountains, according to a senior engineer involved in the project. The US$8 billion railway would be likely to boost the economy of Nepal – the second poorest country in Asia, after North Korea – but Chinese law forbids large-scale construction activities in an environmental protection zone. Six routes for the railway have been proposed over the 1,000-km border between the two countries, with Chinese experts divided on which one to choose. The main debate focused on the core protection zone of Mount Qomolangma National Park, home to Everest, the highest mountain in the world. A consensus has been reached, according to a paper published in domestic journal Railway Standard Design last Wednesday, which said the railway would cross the range through a 30km (18.6 miles) tunnel.

Liang Dong, a lead engineer with the China Railway First Survey and Design Institute Group in Xian, Shaanxi province, said in the paper that more than a third of the tunnel would be inside the national park’s core protection zone, but would be entirely underground.

The Himalaya Tunnel, all on the Chinese side, would be the first through the Himalayan range and connect Rikaze in Tibet with the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, via the border town of Gyirong. The route would be 513km long (318.7 miles) and require an estimated investment of 53.6 billion yuan (US$8.27 billion), according to Liang.

The proposal will be submitted to the Chinese and Nepalese governments as the experts’ final recommendation with a “sufficient, firm stance against challenges,” Liang said in the paper.
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The rail project has been opposed by India, which remains Nepal’s dominant trading partner, although its trade with China has increased rapidly in recent years. India-Nepal trade exceeded US$8 billion in 2019, while Nepal and China’s trade just reached US$20 million in the same period, despite a five-fold increase from a year before. Nepal is also a strategic buffer zone between China and India, two nuclear-armed giants whose border disputes have turned heated, and sometimes fatal.

While India’s influence on Nepal remains strong, Kathmandu has shown an increasing interest in working with China on a range of issues from geopolitical affairs to economic development.

With per capital GDP only about a tenth of the world average, Nepal has struggled with many social issues, including child labour, illiteracy and infectious diseases. The mountainous country has rich resources – such as hydropower and a range of products from carpets, and textiles to tea – but its trading opportunities are limited by its lack of access to the outside world. Beijing and Kathmandu signed a treaty in 2016 to build a railway between the two countries as part of an infrastructure construction blueprint under China’s Belt and Road Initiative. In 2019, the Nepalese authorities officially abandoned the Indian narrow railway standard and adopted China’s broad gauge system.

The Nepalese embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the proposed route.

Acccording to Liang, each route had its pros and cons, and some proposals were rejected early in the evaluation process. Those which were too costly or difficult to engineer received little support, he said. Some of the rejected routes bypassed the national park entirely, but doubled or even tripled the length of the railway. Others cut the distance to a minimum but required a long, steep tunnel that even the most powerful electric train would have difficulty using safely.

Liang said there was only one other real contender, which proposed a route via the old border town of Zhangmu. This proposal was equivalent to the preferred route in terms of length and avoided the core protected area. While some experts favoured this proposal because of its smaller environmental impact, it was rejected because of its less stable geological conditions and other disadvantages.
Why Nepal is still rebuilding, half a decade after the earthquake
8 Mar 2020

Zhangmu was severely damaged by an 8.1-magnitude earthquake in Nepal in 2015 and there are many faults in the area created by large earthquakes in recent history. Numerous ice dam lakes would also pose a threat, due to increasing melt water caused by global warming.

Liang said the Gyirong route’s advantages would allow the rail line to operate more safely and last for longer, among other considerations. If approval is granted, construction of the Himalaya Tunnel will be challenging.

Kang Xuan, Liang’s colleague and an engineer evaluating the environmental impact of the project, said in a paper published in Railway Engineering last year that tunnel construction would violate the law if it caused visible damage to the protected zone, especially in the core area.

While the most sensitive section would be only 13km (8 miles), there are many rare plants and animals, including long-tailed langurs and snow leopards, in the area. According to Kang’s estimate, it could take more than 70km (43 miles) to transport cement, steel and other construction materials from mixing plants outside the protection zone to the tunnelling site. There would also be nowhere within the national park to dump debris. “Environmental impact must be evaluated thoroughly and effective ways must be found to prevent possible damage caused by construction activities,” he said in the paper.

A nature reserve would solve China-India border fight, says scientist

A researcher with the school of ecology and nature conservation of Beijing Forestry University said a tunnel could cause long-lasting impacts on the natural habitat. These include a potential change in the natural groundwater distribution network. “Some springs or creeks may disappear forever,” said the researcher, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue. “Sometimes a small disturbance underground can cause a significant impact to the surface environment. The higher the mountain, the higher the risk.”