IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


5th April, 2020


-       Grounding of planes affects IMD’s weather data supply

-       The grounding of the country’s civilian aircraft has strangled a key source of weather data that the India Meteorological Department (IMD) uses for its forecasts.

-       Aircraft relay data about temperature and wind speed in the upper atmosphere to meteorological agencies the world over and this is used in the dynamical models.

-       What are Dynamic Models?

-       Models which are run on super computers and relied on to give weather forecasts three days, or even two weeks in advance.

-       Inputs from aircraft are important for the dynamical models as they determine the initial conditions for these models.

-       This year, the IMD will likely rely on its traditional statistical forecast system — the workhorse, developed on the basis of historical data.  India had begun to move away from this system and started to rely on its dynamical models as it better captures developing changes in the atmosphere.

-       However, India’s dynamical models are still not as adept as meteorologists want them to be, for warning of a drought or extreme changes in monsoon rainfall. 

-       In addition, the limited data from aircraft as well as a general decline in land based information because of a shortage of manpower to send observations, are forcing the agency’s hand.

-       A major factor for gauging the performance of the monsoon is the El Nino, a warming of the ocean waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. This data is measured by observational data buoys located in the sea and relayed via satellite.

-       The IMD issues its first forecast for the June September monsoon in April and updates it in June.

-       Aviation generated data is also helpful to warn of developing thunderstorms or swings in temperatures that often begin at the heights aircraft traverse.

-       It is the principal agency responsible for meteorological observations, weather forecasting and seismology.

-       IMD is headquartered in Delhi and operates hundreds of observation stations across India and Antarctica. Regional offices are at Mumbai, Kolkata, Nagpur and Pune.


-       The India Meteorological Department (IMD) is an agency of the Ministry of Earth Sciences of the Government of India.

About El Nino

-       El Niño is a climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean with a global impact on weather patterns.

-       The cycle begins when warm water in the western tropical Pacific Ocean shifts eastward along the equator toward the coast of South America. Normally, this warm water pools near Indonesia and the Philippines. During an El Niño, the Pacific's warmest surface waters sit offshore of northwestern South America.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-lockdown-grounding-of-planes-partially-hits-imds-weather-data-supply/article31257641.ece


-       Power managers primed for a dip and surge

-       The lights off event planned for Sunday can lead to disruptions in power supply when everyone switches off their lights from 9 p.m. and switches on after nine minutes.

-       Power companies say a sudden dip and then a spike in supply could threaten the stability of the grid and may cause some of them to trip.

-       Power System Operation Corporation (Posoco) Ltd, a public sector company in charge of managing the grid load, said it expected a 12­13 GW (1 gigawatt is 1,000 megawatt) dip and a subsequent surge in 17 minutes. (A four-minute window will be available on either side of the nine minutes when consumers would begin switching off and then relight).

-       With the lockdown in force, power suppliers across India are already grappling with a 20% dip in demand.

-       Instability in the grid would wobble the frequency range at which electricity flows and threaten an outage.

-       In an advisory, Posoco described the anticipated fluctuation in demand as “unprecedented” and would need hydro and gas resources to help the grid retain its stability.

-       The method of management would be a phased reduction in gas­ and hydro generation from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at interstate generating stations and then a ramping up from 9:10 onwards.

-       Different types of power plants have different abilities to handle sudden increase or decrease in load.

-       In hydro plants, the water can be stored in dams to the brim and then let down. In coal-fired plants, it would be harder to suddenly reduce or increase their power generation. They take a while.

-       In gas-fired plants, load changes can be much quicker.

-       In nuclear plants, this ability is quite limited. It would be difficult to switch off or load these plants suddenly or quickly.

-       In solar and wind, there is little or no control.

Power System Operation Corporation

-       Power System Operation Corporation Limited (POSOCO) is a wholly owned Government of India enterprise under the Ministry of Power.

-       It was earlier a wholly owned subsidiary of Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL). It was formed in March 2009 to handle the power management functions of PGCIL.

-       It is responsible to ensure the integrated operation of the Grid in a reliable, efficient, and secure manner. It consists of 5 Regional Load Despatch Centres and a National Load Despatch Centre (NLDC).

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/explained-all-power-plants-cannot-handle-sudden-load-fluctuations-in-a-uniform-manner/article31256579.ece



-       Refiners to halve crude import

-       Indian refiners — from Indian Oil Corporation (IOCL) to Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) — are looking to cut down their crude oil imports for April by as much as 50%, even as the oil firms have offers to buy crude at $20 a barrel or even less.

-       The reason?

-       All their storage capacities are full and refining need not be done at full capacity due to the over 50% fall in petrol and diesel sales and the nil sales of aviation turbine fuel (ATF).

-       IOCL, which owns about a third of India’s 5 million barrels per day (bpd) refining capacity, has reduced its refining capacity by a third as demand for petroleum products has declined substantially.

-       The demand for ATF has also come down sharply due to suspension of flights.

-       HPCL and Mangalore Refineries and Petrochemicals Limited have also reduced their refining capacities and cut crude oil imports.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/refiners-to-halvecrudeimport/article31259648.ece


-       Bounty from oil plunge

-       Why does it matter to the U.S. how much oil its competitors produce?

-       Fracking, which helps extract oil from rocks, and which is a significant source for U.S. extraction firms, does not come cheap.

-       So, a spike in production by Saudi Arabia and Russia typically drives down oil prices, following the traditional concepts of supply and demand.

-       Beyond a certain point, U.S. producers may not be able to withstand declining oil prices, considering their costs.

-       But now, if Saudi Arabia and Russia too are considering a production cut to help bring prices back up again, it is a signal that oil prices have gone too low for even these producers to profit from.

-       Significantly, neither of these oil producers has publicly committed to production cuts.

-       About Fracking

-       Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside.

-       Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well.

-       The process can be carried out vertically or, more commonly, by drilling horizontally to the rock layer, which can create new pathways to release gas or used to extend existing channels.

-       The term fracking refers to how the rock is fractured apart by the high-pressure mixture.

-       What are the advantages of fracking?

-       Fracking allows drilling firms to access difficult-to-reach resources of oil and gas.

-       In the United States it has significantly boosted domestic oil production and driven down gas prices.

-       It is estimated to have offered gas security to the US and Canada for about 100 years, and has presented an opportunity to generate electricity at half the CO2 emissions of coal.

-       Why is it controversial?

-       The extensive use of fracking in the US, where it has revolutionized the energy industry, has prompted environmental concerns.

-       Fracking uses huge amounts of water, which must be transported to the site at significant environmental cost.

-       As well as earth tremor concerns, environmentalists say potentially carcinogenic chemicals may escape during drilling and contaminate groundwater around the fracking site.

-       The industry suggests pollution incidents are the results of bad practice, rather than an inherently risky technique.

-       Campaigners say fracking is distracting energy firms and governments from investing in renewable sources of energy, and encouraging continued reliance on fossil fuels.


-       How has COVID­19 influenced prices?

-       With the virus which originated from Wuhan in China in late 2019 bringing global economic activity to a near-complete halt, demand for fuel is bound to have dropped significantly.

-       This would have had a dampening effect on oil prices.


-       What is happening to Indian oil prices?

-       The country’s oil bill may have fallen in the recent past and could remain low if Saudi Arabia and Russia do not behave as the U.S. President expects them to, but Indian end customers may not benefit.

-       Indian prices of petrol and diesel have remained steady from ₹10.38 to about ₹23.

-       In March, the Central government reacted to declining international oil prices by raising excise duties by about Rs. 3 per liter on fuel sold in India, such that the end user saw little or no change in the retail price.

-       This was only the latest in a series duty increases over the past few years.


-       Why the excise duties hike?

-       Even before the virus-induced lockdown paralyzed the economy, the government had been battling a fiscal deficit problem.

-       The nearly four­year­old Goods and Services Tax has not immediately yielded robust collections; consumer demand has fallen and there have been calls to put more money in the hands of the consumer, fuelling expectation of a tax cut.

-       The Centre could not afford a blanket cut in income tax rates but it did offer taxpayers the option of moving to a lower tax slab without deductions or rebates.

-       With international oil prices declining, the government has used the opportunity to keep end-user fuel prices stable while increasing its own prospects for collection.

-       With consumer inflation being largely influenced by poorer supply of specific food items, and not necessarily by rising fuel prices, the government has chosen to keep Indian end-user fuel prices stable with higher taxes to augment its otherwise emaciated kitty.

-       Before the COVID­19 lockdown was announced on March 24, there were reports that the most recent duty hike would give the Centre ₹43,000 crores for the fiscal year 2020­21.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/business/Economy/bounty-from-oil-plunge/article31259756.ece



-      Novel coronavirus can be transmitted even before symptoms show up

-       The existence of pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic transmission makes contact tracing more challenging.

-       A study of seven clusters in Singapore by Vernon J. Lee and others from the Ministry of Health, Singapore, provides some evidence that virus transmission to others (resulting in infection) can happen from one to three days before a person shows symptoms.

-       But the World Health Organization maintains that the risk of getting infected with the novel coronavirus (SARS­CoV­2) from someone with no symptoms at all of Covid19 is “very low”.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/novel-coronavirus-can-be-transmitted-even-before-symptoms-show-up/article31257297.ece


-      How long does SARS­CoV­2 stay potent?

-       The Atlanta headquartered Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has said that current evidence suggests that SARSCoV­2 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials.

-       Information listed on the CDC website says: “Cleaning of visibly dirty surfaces followed by disinfection is a best practice measure for prevention of COVID­19 and other viral respiratory illnesses in households and community settings.”

-       Disinfection helps in reducing the viral load in the environment, public health experts say.

-       A 1 % hypochlorite solution is an effective disinfectant on various surfaces. 

-       Presently, massive disinfection efforts are being carried out in public places as a control measure. This is assuming that people would have spit in the open or sneezed without covering their mouth.

-       Floors, walls and surfaces frequently touched by hands should be disinfected as per guidelines. This is because handrails of staircases, elevators, door handles, armrests of chairs, table surfaces can be contaminated by droplets.

Centers for Disease Control

-       The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the leading national public health institute of the United States.

-       It is a United States federal agency, under the Department of Health and Human Services, and is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.

-       The CDC focuses national attention on developing and applying disease control and prevention.

-       It especially focuses its attention on infectious disease, food borne pathogens, environmental health, occupational safety and health, health promotion, injury prevention and educational activities designed to improve the health of United States citizens.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/how-long-does-sars-cov-2-stay-potent/article31259761.ece


-      Why must COVID­19 clusters be identified?

-       What is a disease cluster?

-       A disease cluster is defined as “an aggregation of cases in an identifiable subpopulation.”  

-       Reports show that the novel coronavirus can travel about six feet from a diseased person and cause infection between two and four individuals.  

-       Thus, when people congregate in a place — typically for worship/shopping/commute — the chance of a disease spread multiplies, resulting in a cluster of cases.

-       The size of a disease cluster could vary widely from just four cases to as many as 5,000 depending on the place visited by the infected individuals.  All patients who belong to a disease cluster need not have shared space and time.

-       At least 1,023 positive cases in 17 States/Union Territories have been linked to the recently discovered Nizamuddin cluster in India. The cluster which was discovered in late March originated in a religious congregation in the Nizamuddin area of New Delhi.