CURRENT AFFAIRS – 11/07/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS - 11/07/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 11/07/2023

Women’s reproductive autonomy as the new catchword

The theme of this year’s World Population Day, i.e., ‘Unleashing the power of gender equality: Uplifting the voices of women and girls to unlock our world’s infinite possibilities’, could not be more apt for India. When we unlock the full potential of women and girls, encouraging and nurturing their desires for their families and themselves, we galvanise half the leadership, ideas, innovation, and creativity available to societies. In India, the world’s most populous nation, the template for women-led development, be it in science, technology, agriculture, education or health care, must also include reproductive autonomy at its core.

For far too long the world has been obsessed with population numbers and targets. Instead of ensuring reproductive autonomy for each woman, we are obsessed with total fertility rates; instead of ensuring that family planning services reach all those who want it, we are obsessed with what the ideal population size of a family, a community, a country and even the world ought to be. It is important to understand that there are no ideal numbers or figures.

Population stability comes when reproductive and sexual health decisions are free of discrimination, coercion and violence, that reproductive and sexual health services are affordable, acceptable, accessible and of high quality, and that women and couples are supported to have the number of children they want, when they want them.

Much progress

On World Population Day (July 11), India deserves to be commended for its family planning initiatives, where despite the many challenges, the aim is to provide an increasingly comprehensive package of reproductive health services to every potential beneficiary — with a focus on the provision of modern short and long-acting reversible contraceptives, permanent methods, information, counselling, and services, including emergency contraception.

India’s commitment towards the Family Planning 2030 partnership includes expanding its contraceptive basket. The inclusion of new contraceptive options advances women’s rights and autonomy, leading to a spike in modern contraceptive prevalence. Access to timely, quality and affordable family planning services is crucial because unspaced pregnancies may have a detrimental influence on the new-born’s health as well as major effects on maternal mortality, morbidity, and health-care expenditure.

The Indian government’s health, population and development programmes have shown steady progress over the years. Life expectancy at birth has significantly increased in the country over the years. Compared to the 1990s, Indians are currently living a decade longer. In terms of maternal health, India has made impressive strides. The current rate of maternal mortality is 97 (per 100,000 live births in a year), down from 254 in 2004. Another triumph of these programmes is gender empowerment. Since the beginning of 2000, India has cut the number of child marriages by half. Teen pregnancies, too, have dramatically decreased. Access to vital services, including health, education, and nutrition, has also improved.

No physical autonomy

However, this progress has a fine print too. Many women continue to lack physical autonomy. According to the most recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), just 10% of women in India are independently able to take decisions about their own health, and 11% of women believe that marital violence is acceptable if a woman refuses to have sex with her husband. Nearly half of all pregnancies in India are unplanned, as they are globally.

Advancing gender equality is not just about women but also about populations as a whole. In ageing societies that worry about labour productivity, achieving gender parity in the workforce is the most effective way to improve output and income growth. And in countries experiencing rapid population growth, women’s empowerment through education and family planning can bring enormous benefits by way of human capital and inclusive economic development. More importantly, the focus on gender equality helps shift the focus away from the notion of ‘population stabilisation’ to ‘population dynamics’ based on reproductive choices people make.

India has a significant opportunity to advance gender equality and grow its economy. In fact, raising the women’s labour force participation by 10 percentage points might account for more than 70% of the potential GDP growth opportunity ($770 billion in additional GDP by 2025).

The investments needed

The path to such a bright future is clear. Focusing on gender equality-centred growth, rights, and choices promises to help all achieve their aspirations. Gender equality can be ensured by making investments in a woman’s life at every stage, from childbirth to adolescence to maturity. Engaging with women, girls and other marginalised people and formulating legislation and policies that empower them to assert their rights and take life changing personal decisions are the first steps in this direction.

World Population Day this year is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to putting individual rights, particularly women’s rights and well-being, at the centre of the population and development discourse. Gender-just approaches and solutions are the fundamental building blocks of a more prosperous India, and indeed the world.

Families and communities prosper when women have the power to make choices about their bodies and lives.

Facts about the News

World Population Day is commemorated annually on July 11th to raise awareness and educate individuals about the challenges and consequences associated with global population growth. It serves as a reminder to continuously work towards addressing these issues and improving the lives of everyone on the planet.

 The observance of World Population Day aims to promote understanding and encourage collective efforts in tackling the impacts of population growth.

World Population Day 2023 Theme

According to United Nations, the theme for this year’s World Population Day is – Unleashing the Power of gender equality: Uplifting the voices of women and girls to unlock our world’s infinite possibilities.


Don’t waste the wastewater

John Snow, a physician in London, found himself in the middle of a devastating cholera outbreak in 1854. In a painstaking investigation in the densely populated Soho district, he traced the source of the epidemic to a contaminated water pump on Broad Street, before knowledge of the causative organism. The epidemic subsided when the pump handle was subsequently removed. Snow’s work underscores the potential of disease prevention and control. It also leads us to a tantalising question: What could he have achieved with the tools of today? Could he have sounded the alarm at the earliest stages that an outbreak was imminent?

A public health tool revisited

This hypothetical scenario is now a tangible reality. A recently published study in The Lancet Global Health reiterated the promise of using wastewater for public health surveillance. This strategy, originally proposed more than 80 years ago to monitor the spread of poliovirus within communities, played a role in confirming India’s victory over poliovirus. It gained fresh relevance during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it was identified as an approach for tracking the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

Wastewater surveillance for known or new health threats offers many benefits for enhancing public health efforts. It is a cost-effective approach that does not rely on invasive samples from individuals with clinical symptoms. While our public health surveillance system has improved in recent years, it still faces many implementation challenges. For instance, according to a recent report by Niti Aayog, the system grapples with issues like uneven coverage and siloed disease-specific efforts. Incorporating wastewater surveillance will not fix these issues, but it could help reduce the reliance on any one source of data. In practical terms, wastewater surveillance in India could involve systematic sampling and analysis of samples from varied sources such as wastewater ponds in rural areas and centralised sewage systems in urban localities. These samples would undergo testing at designated laboratories to identify markers of disease-causing agents, such as genetic fragments of bacteria or viruses. These data could be compiled together with other source of health data to provide real-time insights into community-level disease patterns, sometimes earlier than clinical data.

The integration of wastewater surveillance with existing surveillance mechanisms could help amplify India’s epidemiological capabilities. For instance, efforts to strengthen public health laboratory networks could incorporate the testing of wastewater samples into surveillance reporting. This could strengthen the capacity to detect diseases at an early stage, including in areas where access to healthcare facilities and diagnostic testing might be limited.

Additionally, the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, which aims to create a seamless online platform for healthcare services, offers an opportunity for the integration of wastewater surveillance. This would allow for real-time tracking of disease spread and facilitate more effective, targeted public health responses. Successful integration will rely on public health professionals trained not only in traditional epidemiological methods, but also in the management and interpretation of data derived from wastewater surveillance.

The promise of wastewater surveillance hinges on data sharing. This is not just a domestic issue, but also an international consideration. It is crucial to cultivate an environment of accessibility and cooperative strategies among appropriate agencies, within and beyond borders. Internally, providing access to wastewater surveillance data to health departments at all levels of government can amplify our capabilities for disease monitoring and response. Sharing wastewater surveillance data with global health agencies could foster collaborative efforts in disease tracking and mitigation. This can be a key element in building a robust global health infrastructure capable of rapidly responding to public health threats.

Political backing and funding

It is encouraging that India has already championed public health surveillance and mobilised resources accordingly. Current discussions have noted the importance of innovation and implementation. The integration of wastewater surveillance is fully aligned with Niti Aayog’s current vision. Other innovative forms of disease surveillance include social media surveillance and occupational health surveillance.

India’s leadership at international platforms like the G20 could serve as an opportunity to elevate the significance of innovative approaches to disease surveillance. With the world’s attention focused on global health security in the wake of recent pandemics, these forums provide an opportunity to advocate for enhanced public health surveillance that integrates wastewater sampling as an essential component of health infrastructure. By actively pushing this agenda, India could not only call for international commitments and support, but also position itself as a leader and coordinator in this field. Through strategic collaborations and proactive leadership, India can lead the way in integrated public health surveillance, offering a model that is alert, predictive, responsive, and robust. With a dedicated public health and management cadre driving implementation, India can help realise this vision.

Wastewater surveillance for known or new health threats offers many benefits for enhancing public health efforts.


Facts about the News

  • Wastewater is the polluted form of water generated from rainwater runoff and human activities
  • It is typically categorized by the manner in which it is generated— specifically, as domestic sewage, industrial sewage, or storm sewage  (storm water).
  • Normally, raw sewage dumped into a water body can clean itself through a natural process of stream cleaning and self-purification.
  • But the rise in population, as well as large-scale urbanization, has led to an increase in sewage discharge that far exceeds the rate of natural purification.
  • The excess nutrients thus generated cause eutrophication in the water body and gradual deterioration of the water quality.


Government Initiatives:

  • The Indian government shifted its focus to solid waste, sludge and greywater management under the Swachh Bharat Mission 2.0 (SBM 2.0).
  • Following a sustained focus on achieving Open Defecation-Free (ODF) status, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUAdeveloped detailed criteria for cities to achieve ODF+, ODF++ and Water+ statuses.
  • Under Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) Mission, sewerage & septage management projects were launched by MoHUA. What are the Challenges in the Waste Water Management?


The Global South: origins and significance


The unwillingness of many leading countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to stand with NATO over the war in Ukraine has brought to the fore once again the term “Global South.”

“Why does so much of the Global South support Russia?” inquired one recent headline; “Ukraine courts ‘Global South’ in push to challenge Russia,” declared another.

But what is meant by that term, and why has it gained currency in recent years? The Global South refers to various countries around the world that are sometimes described as ‘developing’, ‘less developed’ or ‘underdeveloped’. Many of these countries — although by no means all — are in the Southern Hemisphere, largely in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In general, they are poorer, have higher levels of income inequality and suffer lower life expectancy and harsher living conditions than countries in the “Global North” — that is, richer nations that are located mostly in North America and Europe, with some additions in Oceania and elsewhere.

Going beyond the ‘Third World’

The term Global South appears to have been first used in 1969 by political activist Carl Oglesby. Writing in the liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal, Oglesby argued that the war in Vietnam was the culmination of a history of northern “dominance over the global south.”

But it was only after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union — which marked the end of the so-called “Second World” — that the term gained momentum. Until then, the more common term for developing nations — countries that had yet to industrialise fully — was ‘Third World’. That term was coined by Alfred Sauvy in 1952, in an analogy with France’s historical three estates: the nobility, the clergy and the bourgeoisie. The term ‘First World’ referred to the advanced capitalist nations; the ‘Second World’, to the socialist nations led by the Soviet Union; and the ‘Third World’, to developing nations, many at the time still under the colonial yoke.

Sociologist Peter Worsley’s 1964 book, The Third World: A Vital New Force in International Affairs, further popularised the term. The book also made note of the ‘Third World’ forming the backbone of the non-aligned movement, which had been founded just three years earlier as a riposte to bipolar Cold War alignment.

Though Worsley’s view of this ‘Third World’ was positive, the term became associated with countries plagued by poverty, squalor and instability. ‘Third World’ became a synonym for banana republics ruled by tinpot dictators — a caricature spread by Western media.

The fall of the Soviet Union — and with it the end of the so-called Second World — gave a convenient pretext for the term ‘Third World’ to disappear, too. Usage of the term fell rapidly in the 1990s. Meanwhile ‘developed’, ‘developing’ and ‘underdeveloped’ also faced criticism for holding up Western countries as the ideal, while portraying those outside that club as backwards. Increasingly the term that was being used to replace them was the more neutral-sounding “Global South.”

Geopolitical, not geographical

The term ‘Global South’ is not geographical. In fact, the Global South’s two largest countries — China and India — lie entirely in the Northern Hemisphere.

Rather, its usage denotes a mix of political, geopolitical and economic commonalities between nations.

Countries in the Global South were mostly at the receiving end of imperialism and colonial rule, with African countries as perhaps the most visible example of this. It gives them a very different outlook on what dependency theorists have described as the relationship between the centre and periphery in the world political economy — or, to put it in simple terms, the relationship between “the West and the rest.”

Given the imbalanced past relationship between many of the countries of the Global South and the Global North — both during the age of empire and the Cold War — it is little wonder that today many opt not to be aligned with any one great power. And whereas the terms ‘Third World’ and ‘underdeveloped’ convey images of economic powerlessness, that isn’t true of the “Global South.”

Since the turn of the 21st century, a “shift in wealth,” as the World Bank has referred to it, from the North Atlantic to Asia Pacific has upended much of the conventional wisdom on where the world’s riches are being generated.

By 2030 it is projected that three of the four largest economies will be from the Global South — with the order being China, India, the U.S. and Indonesia. Already the GDP in terms of purchasing power of the the Global South-dominated BRICS nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — surpasses that of the Global North’s G-7 club. And there are now more billionaires in Beijing than in New York City.

Global South on the march

This economic shift has gone hand in hand with enhanced political visibility. Countries in the Global South are increasingly asserting themselves on the global scene — be it China’s brokering of Iran and Saudi Arabia’s rapprochement or Brazil’s attempt to push a peace plan to end the war in Ukraine. This shift in economic and political power has led experts in geopolitics like Parag Khanna and Kishore Mahbubani to write about the coming of an “Asian Century.” Others, like political scientist Oliver Stuenkel, have began talking about a “post-Western world.” One thing is for sure: the Global South is flexing political and economic muscles that the ‘developing countries’ and the ‘Third World’ never had.

The author is Interim Director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, Boston University. This article was republished from The Conversation.


The Global South refers to various countries around the world that are sometimes described as ‘developing’, ‘less developed’ or ‘underdeveloped’.

Countries in the Global South were mostly at the receiving end of imperialism and colonial rule.

By 2030 it is projected that three of the four largest economies will be from the Global South — with the order being China, India, the U.S. and Indonesia.



Facts about the News  

Global North and Global South (or North-South divide within a global context) refer to a grouping of countries based upon their socioeconomic and political characteristics.

  • Term Global South generally  used to identify the regions of Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. It is one of a family of terms, including “Third World” and “Periphery”, that denote regions outside Europe and North America, mostly (though not all) low-income and often politically or culturally marginalized countries on one side of the so-called divide, the other side being the countries of the Global North (often equated with developed countries).
  • The term as used by governmental and developmental organizations was first introduced as a more open and value-free alternative to “Third World” and similarly potentially “valuing” terms like developing countries. Countries of the Global South have been described as newly industrialized or in the process of industrializing, and are frequently current or former subjects of colonialism.


Features and rise of Global South

  • Lower-income countries
  • Beyond geographical south
  • Third World radicalism
  • Newly industrialized
  • Common issues with the global North- like WTO, climate change IMF ETC
  • Major countries: The countries of Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, and Mexico etc
  • Shift in wealth
  • Enhanced political visibility- china as broker of Iran and Saudi, Brazil to push a peace plan to end the war in Ukraine


The need for strengthening palliative care in the face of non-communicable diseases

India is home to nearly 20% of the world’s population, two-thirds of which reside in rural areas. Apart from a rising population, India has experienced a steep rise in the burden of lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases. Nearly 1.4 million people are diagnosed with cancer in India every year while diabetes, hypertension, and respiratory diseases are also on the rise. All these diseases need palliative care sooner or later in the disease trajectory.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is the branch of medicine focusing on improving the quality of life and preventing suffering among those with life-limiting illnesses. It aims to identify patients at risk of over-medicalisation at the expense of quality of life and financial burden on the family. It is often misinterpreted as end-of-life care. However, palliative care aims to improve the quality of life by addressing the physical, psychological, spiritual, and social domains of the health of people suffering from life-limiting diseases like heart failure, kidney failure, certain neurological diseases, cancer, etc.

According to Vandana Mahajan, a palliative care counsellor in Delhi, a palliative care team supports the affected families in a way that focuses on the person as a whole, not just the disease. “Palliative care also includes bereavement support for the caregivers in case of the death of the patient,” she said.

How many need palliative care?

Palliative care in India has largely been available at tertiary healthcare facilities in urban areas. Due to skewed availability of services, it is accessible to only 1-2% of the estimated 7-10 million people who require it in the country. According to Aju Mathew, a medical oncologist from Kerala, as many as 7 out of the 10 patients he sees daily need palliative care.

Post-independence India has made considerable efforts to improve the health of its people. A three-tier health system, multiple national health programmes and schemes, and the Ayushman Bharat Health Insurance Scheme are all positive steps taken towards universal health coverage.

However, despite these efforts, 55 million people in India are pushed below the poverty line every year due to health-related expenditures. Over-medicalisation plays a significant role in this financial burden.

Is there a palliative care programme?

The National Programme for Prevention & Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases & Stroke (NPCDCS), now the National Programme for Prevention & Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NP-NCD), includes chronic diseases whose treatment contributes the most to health-related expenses. These diseases progress to a stage where, in an ideal scenario, palliative care should take over curative care. Launched in 2010 to counter the rising burden of non-communicable diseases in the country, the programme envisaged the provision of promotive, preventive, and curative care from primary to tertiary institutes, thus providing health services delivery across the continuum of care. The revised operational guidelines of NP-NCD were expected to strengthen the programme. However, it has not succeeded in addressing certain gaps in palliative care in India.

What are the gaps in the guidelines?

As per the Global Atlas of Palliative Care, in 2020, the need for palliative care was higher for non-cancer illnesses. However, the revised NP-NCD operational guidelines, released in May 2023, mention palliative care in synonymy with just cancer. To quote, “Palliative care is provided for relief rather than to cure the symptoms and suffering caused by cancerand to improve the quality of life of patients.” This is a step back from the previous operational guideline, in which chronic and debilitating conditions also fell under the ambit of palliative care.

Since most patients who need palliative care are suffering from debilitating diseases, home-based care forms the ideal mode of healthcare delivery. Previously, the programme guidelines mentioned support being provided to facilitate home-based palliative care services. However, palliative care service delivery starts only from the district hospital in the revised guidelines, with no mention of home-based care. “Palliative care must be delivered at least at the health and wellness centre and sub-center level. If people have to come to the district hospital for palliative care, it is a failure of the health system,” Ravi Kannan, Padma Shri recipient and director of the Cachar Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, Assam, said.

The guidelines mention the linking of 11 programmes to promote the convergence of services focusing on the care of non-communicable diseases. One of these is the National Programme for Palliative Care (NPPC). NPPC was announced in 2012; however, the lack of a dedicated budget has prevented the implementation of the programme since its inception. Experiences from the field suggest that many medical officers at primary health centres are not aware of the existence of such a programme.

Theoretically, the linkage could improve the provision of palliative care, but the mechanisms of the linkage — that too with a programme that has not yet been fully implemented — is unclear.

Is palliative care accessible?

Despite various government programmes with palliative care provision as one of their objectives, like the National Programme for the Health Care of Elderly, access to palliative care continues to be abysmal. NGOs like Pallium India, Karunashraya, and CanSupport are trying to fill the gap but, according to Dr Mathew, this isn’t enough. “NGOs have limitations on how much they can spend and that doesn’t compare in any way with how much the government can spend,” he said.

Apart from limiting its attention to cancer, the guidelines have also skipped an opportunity to bring focus on children suffering from chronic diseases. An estimated 98% of children facing moderate to severe suffering during their end of life reside in lower and middle-income countries like India. This could be due to diseases like cancer, birth defects, neurological conditions etc. Paediatric palliative care has been a neglected branch, Dr. Kannan said, and needs urgent attention.

How is such access measured?

The guidelines’ narrow focus is also evident from the indicator chosen to assess the programme’s impact. Access to palliative care will be assessed by estimating morphine-equivalent consumption of strong opioid analgesics (excluding methadone) per death from cancer. While including an indicator to assess morphine access is a welcome move, an indicator focusing only on patients with cancer might lead to an inaccurate assessment of coverage of services. The World Health Organization recommends the use of morphine consumption per capita to assess morphine access for palliative care services. Using this indicator would also have allowed us to compare the progress of palliative care services in India with other countries.

The 67th World Health Assembly in 2014 called for palliative care to be integrated into health systems at all levels. Despite needs at the grassroot level and international calls for including palliative care along with curative treatment, the realities on the ground are a far cry from what is desirable. It is high time we realised the ongoing pandemic of non-communicable diseases in India and strengthened our palliative care services.

Dr. Parth Sharma is a public health physician and founder of Nivarana (a public health information and advocacy platform). Dr. Deepak Sudhakaran is head of the Research and Innovation Department at Pallium India. The authors have no conflict of interest to declare.


Centre instructs Manipur, Mizoram to record biometrics of ‘illegal migrants’ by September

Days before ethnic violence erupted in Manipur, the Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla had asked the State governments of Manipur and Mizoram to capture the “biographic and biometric details of illegal migrants”. The biometric information will include retina, iris and fingerprint scans.

The Ministry, in a June 22 letter, reminded the States to complete the exercise by September 30.

On April 28, Mr. Bhalla chaired a meeting on collating information pertaining to illegal migrants in the two States, which share a border with Myanmar.

Ethnic violence between the Meitei and Kuki communities erupted in Manipur on May 3, leading to the killing of more than 140 people and internal displacement of over 54,000 people.

After a military coup in Myanmar in February 2021, over 40,000 refugees from the neighbouring country have taken shelter in Mizoram and around 4,000 refugees are said to have entered Manipur. The refugees belonging to the Kuki-Chin-Zo ethnic group comprising the Lai, Tidim-Zomi, Lusei and Hualngo tribes are closely related to the communities in Mizoram and Manipur. India and Myanmar share a 1,643-km border and people on either side have familial ties. The Mizoram government arranged relief camps for the refugees.

“In this context, it is further mentioned that a campaign for capturing of biometric data of the illegal migrants in the States of Manipur and Mizoram is to be completed by the end of September 2023. The State governments of Manipur and Mizoram are requested to quickly prepare the plan and initiate the biometric capture of the illegal migrants,” according to the letter sent to the Manipur government.

Rajkumar Imo Singh, BJP legislator from Sagolband in Imphal West, shared the Home Ministry’s letter on Twitter on Monday. He said that the Manipur government had already started the campaign earlier this year, due to which nearly 2,500 “illegal migrants” were identified. “All districts have to arrange this up to the police station level as per the standardised format of NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau). Looks like this is a step towards NRC (National Register of Citizens),” Mr. Singh, three-time legislator and son-in-law of Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, posted on Twitter.

Matter of compliance

The Ministry’s letter said that it had earlier issued detailed instructions and guidelines on overstay and illegal migration of foreign nationals. The guidelines issued on March 30, 2021 were circulated again to all State governments on October 21, 2022 for compliance.

The 2021 letter to the Chief Secretaries of Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh asked them to “take appropriate action as per law to check illegal influx from Myanmar into India”, adding that State governments have no powers to grant “refugee” status to “any foreigner”, and India is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol.

The Governments of Manipur and Mizoram have appointed Nodal Officers to feed the data in the centralised portal on illegal foreigners maintained by the Bureau of Immigration and the Home Ministry.

Sharing the letter on Twitter, BJP Minister from Imphal West suggests this is a step towards NRC.


China protests Dalai Lama meeting U.S. officials in Delhi, calls it interference

The Dalai Lama

China on Monday protested the meeting between the Dalai Lama and officials of the “Central Tibetan Administration” (CTA) with visiting U.S. official Uzra Zeya in New Delhi, calling it an attempt to “interfere” in China’s “internal affairs”. Ahead of the meeting with Ms. Zeya, the Dalai Lama, who arrived in Delhi on Saturday, said that Tibetans did not seek “independence” and he was open for talks with the Chinese government, which he said had sent feelers to him.

Ms. Zeya, who is the U.S. Under Secretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights, and also the U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, met the Tibetan leader and the officials of the Dharmshala-based CTA on Sunday evening. Last week, Ms. Zeya attended the Dalai Lama’s 88th birthday celebrations, organised by the “Office of Tibet in Washington” as well.

“Xizang [Tibet] affairs are purely internal affairs of China and no external forces have the right to interfere. China firmly opposes any form of contact between foreign officials and the “Tibetan independence” forces,” the Chinese embassy spokesperson in India said in a statement, referring to the Chinese government’s official name for Tibet.

China had similarly protested Ms. Zeya’s visit to Dharamshala to meet the Dalai Lama in May 2022 and had opposed the setting up of the “special coordinator on Tibetan issues” post by the Biden administration in 2021.

“The U.S. should take concrete actions to honour its commitment of acknowledging Xizang as part of China, stop meddling in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of Xizang-related issues, and offer no support to the anti-China separatist activities of the Dalai clique,” the spokesperson added, while also referring to the CTA as a “separatist political group” not recognised by any country.

Speaking to journalists before leaving Dharamshala on Saturday, however, the Dalai Lama had said that Tibet was part of China, and that the Chinese Government had “officially and unofficially” reached out to him for talks.


Solomon Islands and China sign deals on police, economy, tech


Leaders of the Solomon Islands and China promised to expand relations that have fuelled unease in Washington and Australia about Beijing’s influence in the South Pacific.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare met Chinese leader Xi Jinping and the country’s No. 2 leader, Premier Li Qiang. Mr. Sogavare and Mr. Li presided over the signing of agreements on police, economic and technical cooperation.

“We are here to further boost relations,” Mr. Sogavare told Mr. Li.

The Solomon Islands, 2,000 kilometres northeast of Australia, has been China’s biggest success in a campaign to expand its presence in the South Pacific. Mr. Sogavare’s government switched official recognition in 2019 to Beijing from Taiwan, the self-governed island democracy claimed by the mainland’s ruling Communist Party as part of its territory.

The Solomon Islands signed a secretive security agreement with Beijing that might have allowed Chinese military forces in the South Pacific. However, Mr. Sogavare rejected suggestions his government might give Beijing a foothold in the region.

Meeting later with Mr. Sogavare, Mr. Xi said Beijing wants to expand relations and trade through its Belt and Road Initiative to build ports and other infrastructure from the Pacific across Asia and Africa.

Under PM Manasseh Sogavare, Solomon Islands had switched recognition from Taiwan to Beijing



Facts about the News

Solomon Islands:

  • Solomon Islands is a country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean.
  • It consists of a double chain of volcanic islands and coral atolls in Melanesia.
  • The Solomon Islands consist of six major and approximately 900 smaller volcanic islands, coral atolls and reefs.
  • The archipelago nation consists of several large volcanic islands to the south-east of Papua New Guinea.
  • The U.S. previously operated an embassy in the Solomons for five years before closing it in 1993


The strange particle that holds the key to ‘quantum supercomputers’

Majorana zero modes can be used to realise a powerful form of computing called topological quantum-computing. They can work as qubits and won’t easily lose the information vested with them. Such a computer could also take advantage of peculiar mathematical rules called non-Abelian statistics

In a paper published on June 21, researchers at Microsoft announced that they had figured out a way to create a strange kind of particle that could potentially revolutionise quantum computing.

These particles are called Majorana zero modes, whose unique properties could help build quantum computers that are less fragile, and more computationally robust, than they are today.

What does ‘Majorana’ mean?

All subatomic particles that make up matter are called fermions.

In 1928, the British physicist Paul Dirac wanted to understand how quantum mechanics would change if it accommodated the special theory of relativity as well. The result was the Dirac equation, which described the behaviour of subatomic particles that moved at near the speed of light.

Dirac noticed that the equation predicted the existence of an antiparticle for each particle, such that if the two meet, they annihilate each other. Based on his prediction, scientists found the first antiparticle, the positron (the anti-electron), in 1932.In 1937, the Italian physicist Ettore Majorana found that the Dirac equation also allowed particles that satisfied certain conditions to be their own antiparticles. In his honour, fermions that are their own antiparticles are called Majorana fermions.

What is a Majorana zero mode?

All particles have four quantum numbers associated with them. No two particles in the same system can have the same four quantum numbers. The numbers are together like each particle’s ID.

The characteristic feature of fermions is that one of these numbers, called the quantum spin, has only half-integer values, like 1/2, 3/2, 5/2, etc. This is why any particle, even two particles bound to each other in some way, can be a fermion: the total quantum spin needs to have a half-integer value.

Most of the rules that apply to single fermions also apply to these pairs, or bound states. When these bound states are their own antiparticles – i.e. if they meet, they annihilate each other – they are Majorana fermions. Physicists call such bound states Majorana zero modes, and have been looking for them for at least two decades.

Benefit to quantum-computing

Majorana zero modes can be used to realise a powerful form of computing called topological quantum-computing.

A quantum computer today can use individual electrons as qubits – its fundamental units of information. Information can be encoded in some property of each electron, like its spin. Then, the computer manipulates that information by having the electrons interact with each other according to the quirky rules of quantum mechanics.

These quirks are what make quantum computers better than classical computers: they allow the computers to access computational techniques and pathways not available to systems that are limited to the possibilities of classical physics. For example, a qubit can have the values 0 and 1 at the same time thanks to a property called quantum superposition. But a semiconductor in a classical computer can have only one value at a time, 0 or 1.

On the flip side, quantum computers are very fragile. Tap your fingers on a table on which there’s a computer and it could lose its quantummy abilities. That is, it could decohere.

Now, say we have a Majorana zero mode that’s an electron and a hole. A hole is a point where there could be an electron but isn’t. It effectively has a positive charge. We can build a quantum computer whose qubit is such a Majorana zero mode. That is, we encode information onto some property of the mode.

The zero mode is composed of two entities (electron and hole), so say we pull the entities apart and keep them at a distance from each other. In this configuration, physicists have found that even if one of the entities is disturbed, the overall qubit doesn’t decohere, and continues to protect the encoded information. In principle, if there is no overlap between the two ‘half-particles’, such a qubit can exist forever, Indian Institute of Science associate professor Anindya Das told this writer.

What does ‘topological’ mean?

The information is protected thanks to topological degeneracy.

Degeneracy in quantum mechanics means that the system has multiple states at the same energy. In topological systems, the system has multiple states at the lowest or ground state energy.

That is, the quantum system can exist in two (or more) possible states at its lowest energy. This is usually not possible: in its ground state – i.e. when a system has the least amount of energy – it will have a particular configuration and will exist in a particular state.

If a system can exist in two possible states, or configurations, at its ground state, then the information encoded in that energy level can be recovered from one state or the other. ‘Topological degeneracy’ refers to a special case. Topology is the study of those properties of matter that don’t change when it undergoes continuous deformation – i.e. when it’s stretched, folded, twisted, etc., but not ruptured or glued to itself.

For example, a rubber band that’s continuously deformed will continue to have one hole. A pair of shorts that’s continuously deformed will always have three holes. This is why a rubber band (no matter how big) can’t seamlessly transform into a pair of shorts. It will need to undergo a discontinuous deformation. That is, the rubber band and the shorts are in topologically different states.

If they are also topologically degenerate, the rubber band and the shorts would be two possible states of the same system in its ground state. So the information can be stored between different topological properties, such as in the number of holes each state contains.

In effect, Majorana zero modes can work as qubits and they won’t easily lose the information vested with them. This is why people building quantum computers are interested in finding them.

What are the advantages?

A quantum computer based on Majorana zero modes could be interesting in other ways, too. For example, it can take advantage of the peculiar mathematical rules that describe the behaviour of Majorana zero modes, called non-Abelian statistics. In these rules, changing the order of steps in which you perform a task changes the task’s outcomes.For example, say you have an algorithm that performs a series of steps in the order A-B-C-D. If the algorithm played by the rules of non-Abelian statistics, A-C-B-D would give a different result from A-D-B-C. So algorithms running on a quantum computer using non-Abelian statistics will have one more degree of freedom than those running on a computer that doesn’t.

Majorana zero modes

The first big challenge today is to create Majorana zero modes in a system. A popular example of a system that could give rise to them is a structure called a topological superconductor.To be a Majorana zero mode, any bound state should obey the Dirac equation and should be its own antiparticle. A topological superconductor is built to allow particles to meet these conditions.

It consists of a semiconductor in the form of a nanowire, with a superconducting sheath wrapped around it. The sheath covers a part of the nanowire. At one end, the nanowire is connected to a small junction through which electrons are fed into it. A magnetic field is applied over the materials to complete the setup. Here, Majorana zero modes are expected to exist at the ends of the nanowire, due to the interactions between the materials’ electronic structures.

In a 2021 study, researchers created this setup but couldn’t find Majorana zero modes. They found that the junction where the electrons entered the nanowire was the problem. Another paper, also published in 2021, claimed to have found Majorana zero modes, only to be retracted after mistakes were found in its data.These are just two examples from a panoply of studies. Scientists have also come up with other ways to realise Majorana zero modes. But they are yet to be observed.

Apart from creating these ‘particles’, confirming that they are there is also tricky: they need to be inferred indirectly, from their effects on the surrounding material. One way was thought to be the presence of a zero-bias conductance peak – the ability of an electric current to flow very easily in the absence of a voltage, while controlling for some parameters. But studies later found that such a peak wouldn’t be caused by Majorana zero modes alone, that they could be caused by other phenomena as well.

This left the field in a mess, Dr. Das said.

What has Microsoft found?

In the new study, published on June 21, researchers from Microsoft reported engineering a topological superconductor made of an aluminium superconductor and an indium arsenide semiconductor.

They have said that this device was able to pass a “stringent protocol”, based on measurements and simulations, that indicated with a “high probability” that it hosted Majorana zero modes. The protocol is called the topological gap protocol. According to the researchers, passing this protocol as well as observing the conductance peak is a smoking gun for Majorana zero modes.

According to Dr. Das, while topological quantum computing remains the ultimate goal, the existence of Majorana fermions hasn’t been settled yet. The result will need to be independently confirmed. Nonetheless, several news outlets reported that Microsoft had taken an important step towards a “quantum supercomputer”.

For example, TechCrunch quoted Microsoft’s VP of advanced quantum development saying “the company believes that it will take fewer than 10 years to build a quantum supercomputer using these qubits that will be able to perform a reliable one million quantum operations per second.” Dr. Das’s estimate of the timeline for such a device was at least a century.

The paper itself concluded thus: “Continued improvement in simulation, growth, fabrication, and measurement capabilities will be required to achieve the topological gap required for … coherent operations.”