Health Ministry to launch programme for five non-communicable diseases | PIB Summary

Health Ministry to launch population based prevention, screening and control programme for five non-communicable diseases

Introduction

On February 4th coinciding with World Cancer Day, Union Health and Family Welfare Minster is expected to launch the concerned programme.

Non-Communicable diseases (NCDs) which are Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs) such as heart attacks and stroke, Diabetes, Chronic Respiratory Diseases (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases and Asthma) and Cancer inter alia account for over 60% of all mortality in India. Of these, nearly 55% are premature mortality. This imposes a financial and social cost on families and the country.

According to the World Economic Forum, India stands to lose $ 4.58 trillion (Rs 311.94 trillion between 2012 and 2030 due to non-communicable diseases.

What is the need of the detection programme?

Given that primary health care, including prevention and health promotion can lead to improved health and developmental outcomes at much lower cost, the Ministry is now expanding access to prevention and primary care services. 

Early detection of NCDs not only enables onset of treatment but prevents high financial costs and suffering.  Since these conditions do not exhibit symptoms until complications set in, it is essential to detect them early. For instance – For some cancers, survival rates are good when they are detected and treated in the early stages. 

Screening for these conditions, which can be undertaken at the level of the sub centre or Primary health Centres helps early detection and also serves to raise health awareness among people to lead healthy lifestyles.

Highlights of the programme

As part of the National Health Mission, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is launching population based prevention, screening and control programme for five common non-communicable diseases, namely Hypertension, Diabetes, and Cancers of oral cavity, breast and cervix.

The training of frontline workers- the ASHA and ANM which will be initiated and in some sub-centres, population based screening will also start. Detailed protocols for treatment, referrals and follow-up on these disease conditions will be provided. 

In the first phase, the population based screening component will be rolled out in 100 districts in 32 states and UTs with about 1000 sub-centres undertaking screening before March 31st of this year. ASHAs will also be capturing information on major risk factors so that persons at risk could be counselled on leading healthy lifestyles to prevent onset of NCDs.

In subsequent phases, Chronic Obstructive Respiratory diseases will be included and the programme will be scaled up to cover other districts. Support to states will also be provided for community health promotion and prevention efforts, and referral and treatment.

For more information keep visiting Raj Malhotra IAS Academy

Non-Communicable Diseases

The world is battling with various non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that are directly or indirectly linked with climate, sanitation, poverty and other basic health indicators.

Non-Communicable Diseases | Cause of concern

  • While mortality rates from infectious diseases are declining, developed countries’ sedentary lifestyles, tobacco use, and poor diets are catching on in the developing world, and non-communicable diseases (NDCs) such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer are increasing at an alarming rate.
  • NCDs now kill 38 million people annually, with almost 75% of those deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries.
  • By 2030, NCDs are expected to cause more deaths in Africa than communicable, maternal and nutritional illnesses combined.

Non-Communicable Diseases | Economic impact

  • NCDs can destabilize economies, especially in countries with limited health-care infrastructure.
  • The challenge for governments and global health agencies is to continue making progress against infectious diseases, while also addressing the rising NCD threat. This would involve a significant amount of investment over healthcare budgets.
  • A potential threat from NCDs is the deterioration of otherwise productive demographic dividend which may go unhealthy due to the perils of such diseases making a big scar on the global economy.

Non-Communicable Diseases | How to tackle the menace of NCDs?

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We can apply lessons from the successful fight against infectious diseases to the emerging fight against NCDs -:

  • Working with non-profit agencies, intergovernmental organizations, and private companies, world leaders can have a profound impact on public health – even if foreign-aid budgets are strained.
  • Innovation – Policies that improve access to health care should also support innovation – and they must never undermine it. For example – Without antiretroviral therapy in the mid-1990s, we would not have the tools today to control HIV. Artemisinin-based combination treatments helped in controlling malaria death rates.
  • Partnerships– We need strong partnerships to manage NCDs and ensure that patients have access to the treatment they need. We also need sustainable solutions to provide continuous, long-term care.
  • Private sector participation– Especially in resource-limited countries, private companies need to collaborate with governments and health organisations to develop scalable, sustainable and locally driven programmes to combat NCDs.
  • Political commitment– It has been observed that too few governments in developing countries spend the recommended 5% of annual GDP on promoting health. Even when national budgets are tight, health investments are worth it; after all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Investments in public health create a virtuous cycle: as people and communities begin to experience better health, they invest further in making health a priority.
  • Long term thinking– Governments need to make long term investments that might pay off only after they are no longer in office. This is a serious challenge, especially in electoral democracies; but policymakers from around the world can come together to leverage their investments and those undertaken by the private sector.

 Non-Communicable Diseases | The success story

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  • The unprecedented international cooperation has made impressive progress in the fight against malaria. According to the WHO report released in 2016 (World Malaria Report), malaria mortality rates among children under age five have fallen by 69% since 2000.
  • Many countries have reduced HIV infections by 50% or more over a similar period, and the infection rates for other debilitating tropical diseases, such as leprosy, have fallen significantly too.

Non-Communicable Diseases | Conclusion

We must prioritise global fight against NCDs over petty political concerns. Governments and global health agencies should apply lessons learned from the successful fight against infectious diseases (such as malaria, polio and HIV). Through innovation, dynamic partnerships to strengthen health systems, and political will, the world can sustain the gains made against infectious disease, while also effectively combating NCDs.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence is essential to almost every computer function, from web search to video games, and tasks such as filtering spam email, focusing cameras, translating documents and giving voice commands to smartphones. Artificial Intelligence’s development and application has been ongoing for several decades and the impact of early systems raises many questions on its full-scale integration in defence systems.

Artificial Intelligence | What could possibly go wrong?

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In simple terms if we fail to align the objectives of an AI system with our own, it could spell trouble for us. For machines, exercising firm judgement is still a significant challenge.

  • Recent advancements in robotic automation and autonomous weapon systems have brought military conflict to a whole new level. Unmanned helicopters and land vehicles are constantly being tested and upgraded. The surgical precision with which these automations can perform military operations is unparalleled.
  • Emerging weapons tech with deep learning systems can ‘correct’ mistakes and even learn from them, thereby maximising tactical efficiency. The high amount of security in their design make them near-impossible to hack and in some cases even ‘abort’ an operation. This could result in mass casualties despite a potentially controllable situation.
  • An obvious issue is that in wrong hands an AI could have catastrophic consequences. Although present systems do not have much ‘independence’, the growing levels of intelligence and autonomy indicate that a malfunctioning AI with disastrous consequences is a plausible scenario.

Artificial Intelligence | Who is accountable in case of a mistake?

Artificial Intelligence

Autonomous vehicles and weapon systems bring forth the issue of moral responsibility. Primary questions concern delegating the use of lethal force to AI systems.

  • An AI system that carries out operations autonomously; what consequences will it face in terms of criminal justice or war crimes? As machines, they cannot be charged with a crime. How will it play out in case a fully AI-integrated military operation goes awry?

Artificial Intelligence | Problems with commercialisation

  • Today’s wars are not entirely fought by a nation’s army. Private military companies play an active role in wars, supplementing armies, providing tactical support and much more. It won’t be long before autonomous technologies are commercialised and not restricted to government contracts.
  • There is no dearth of private military companies who would jump at the opportunity and grab a share of this technology. The very notion of private armies with commercial objectives wielding automations is a dangerous one. Armed with an exceedingly efficient force, they would play a pivotal role in tipping the balance of war in favour of the highest bidder.
  • There are concerns of transferring the same technology to the terrorist groups. The implications of such transfer could be horrendous for global peace.

Artificial Intelligence | Case Study

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In September 1983, Stanislav Petrov, Lieutenant Colonel with the Soviet Air Defence Forces, was the duty officer stationed at the command centre for the Oko nuclear early-warning system. The system reported a missile launch from the United States, followed by as many as five more. Petrov judged them to be a false alarm and did not retaliate. This decision is credited for having prevented a full scale nuclear war.

The findings of subsequent investigations revealed a fault with the satellite warning systems. Petrov’s judgement in face of unprecedented danger shows extreme presence of mind. Can we trust a robot or an autonomous weapon system to exercise judgement and take such a split-second decision?

Artificial Intelligence | Way Forward

There is a heightened need to introduce strict regulations on AI integration with weapon systems. Steps should also be taken to introduce a legal framework which keeps people accountable for AI operations and any potential faults.

AI, as an industry, cannot be stopped. Some challenges may seem visionary, some even far-fetched however it is foreseeable that we will eventually encounter them; it would be wise to direct our present-day research in an ethical direction so as to avoid potential disasters. A probable scenario would be where AI systems operate more as a team-player rather than an independent system.

Artificial Intelligence | Conclusion

War has changed. It is no longer about nations, ideologies and ethnicities. It is an endless series of proxy battles fought by man and machine.

“If we are serious about developing advanced AI, this is a challenge that we must meet. If machines are to be placed in a position of being stronger, faster, more trusted, or smarter than humans, then the discipline of machine ethics must commit itself to seeking human-superior (not just human-equivalent) niceness.” Nick Bostrom (in the paper titled Ethics of Artificial Intelligence)

World's Largest Solar Plant | Kamuthi

World’s Largest Solar Plant at a single location in Kamuthi [Tamil Nadu; India] (privately owned by Adani Power) has successfully been commissioned. With this commissioning, India is expected to become the world’s 3rd biggest solar market after China and the US from next year and the new plant has pushed its total installed solar capacity to cross the 10 GW mark, an achievement that only a few countries can claim.

India has set a massive target of powering 60 million homes by solar energy by 2022 as part of the Government’s 2030 goal to produce 40% of its power from non-fossil fuels.

World’s Largest Solar Plant | Features of Kamuthi Solar Plant:

World's Largest Solar Plant

  • Spread over an area of 10 square kilometres.
  • The plant has about 2.5 million individual solar modules.
  • Capacity of 648 MW.
  • Built at a cost of over Rs. 4500 crores.
  • At its full capacity, the Kamuthi solar power plant is estimated to produce enough electricity to power about 150,000 homes in the area.

Kamuthi is situated in the region which receives a large amount of solar radiation for a longer duration because it is near the Equator and rainy days are also less compared to other states.

World’s Largest Solar Plant | Solar Energy

World's Largest Solar Plant

  • Around two gigawatt (GW) of solar projects were commissioned during the past financial year translating into $0.2 billion worth of investment. Total wind power projects commissioned were 3.6 GW, the highest in the past two financial years totalling an investment of $2.1 billion.
  • It can be expected that six GW could be installed during the current calendar year and around 10 GW in 2017 due to the excellent Government policies.
  • International private equity investors poured $1.5 billion in RE companies in India in 2015.
  • If all goes right and India issues solar power project tenders worth 10 GW, it would be on the way to become the fourth largest solar power market. India is likely to cross the Japan’s growth in solar by 2018. “After the US, China and Japan, India’s solar market size would be that of the UK and Germany put together in the next two years.
  • According to industry estimates, last year, 35 solar power project tenders were issued with a cumulative capacity of 15.5 GW. On a rough calculation, it comes out to be $11 billion of expected investment in the next 18 months, which is the commissioning time for solar power project.

World’s Largest Solar Plant | Falling prices

  • Last year was also the first time that tariffs went below Rs 5 a unit and still continue to be. While the Indian government has maintained that Rs 5.5 a unit is the relevant tariff, some foreign players and recently Indian ones as well have quoted half and even less of Rs 4.43 a unit.
  • After 2014, we have seen a decline of five per cent in panel prices. The average market price of panel is 46 cents per unit, at present. In 2015, the price was 50 cents. In 2012, it was more than $1 a unit. Most of this decline happened due to excess capacity in China where we are seeing consolidation and bankruptcies in major Chinese companies.

World’s Largest Solar Plant | India’s solar power potential?

World's Largest Solar Plant

  • The major chunk of the budget goes in acquiring land. This can be used by using the already available land under the Government efficiently as seen in the state of Gujarat.
  • We shall also attach the ‘SMART Cities’ and ‘RURBAN Mission’ with the standards of solar power. A new beginning can be made where the local administration may make it mandatory for households above a specified threshold to mandatorily consume their energy requirements through solar energy.
  • Getting the technology from the developed countries under the technology transfer agreement. The budget overshoot can be managed from taking loans from AIIB or the World Bank.
  • India should also take a lead in materialising the success of the ‘International Solar Alliance’ which would help in sharing of effective technology and allocation of funds required for the sustenance of the solar technology.
  • Encouraging the Big IT parks and industries to become self-sufficient for their energy needs by using renewable sources of power generation and giving them tax incentives or the same. Example – Infosys.
  • Encouraging more private investment in solar energy sector is also required. It is beneficial for the businesses too in context of the emergence of solar market and avenues of growth in this sector.

World’s Largest Solar Plant | Conclusion

Solar power is not the panacea for India’s energy needs. Solar power also has its own share of issues in terms of its effect on overall grid stability, more so in the case of India, where the grid does not have buffer capacities like in the West. However, while plans are being drawn to scale up solar power, equal attention is also being provided to improve transmission corridors and grid management systems through increased investments and budgetary allocations to states to strengthen the network and deploy smart grid framework. To exploit its potential, India’s policy makers must re-craft their solar strategies. Costs must be pruned, and India’s inherent natural advantage of sunlight must be harnessed more judiciously.

Nuclear Power and India

Nuclear Power is the talk of the town with the energy crises these days. The world is taking a sharp turn back to the 20th century when there was a ‘nuclear renaissance’. The reasons for this going back to the history may be many, but the most important among them is the stress on the renewable sources of energy that the world is paying attention to.

Nuclear Power | History

In 1945, generating electricity was one of a number of potential applications of atom-splitting technology developed in a hurry by the United States to help win a world war. Nuclear power thereafter became a reality because of government support, public confidence that it would be cheap, and absence of serious misgivings about proliferation, safety, and waste management. Enough resources were invested in this idea to set up more than 400 nuclear power plants in 31 countries that now produce 11 percent of the world’s electricity.

 Nuclear Power | The world acceptance

Nuclear Power Acceptance

Today, there are good reasons why nuclear power may continue to make advances worldwide.

  • At the top of the list are expectations for economic growth linked to urbanization and greater electrification, and the consensus of among almost all nations that they need carbon-free sources to generate most of their power and mitigate dramatic climate change.
  • The demands on electricity supply systems will be very different than they were a generation ago when most of the world’s nuclear power plant projects were initiated.
  • The shift from non-renewable energy resources indicate that if nations penalize power generated by coal, gas and oil — fuels that account for 67 percent of the world’s electricity production — a shift back to nuclear power could happen.

 Nuclear Power | Risks

Nuclear Power Risks

Besides large scale displacement of people and land acquisition problems attached with starting a nuclear project, there are many other issues involved too.

  • In case of a meltdown, a nuclear power plant could release radiation into the environment like in Fukushima disaster.
  • Biggest challenge is how to dispose radioactive waste.

Health concerns

  • If a person were exposed to significant amounts of radiation over a period of time, this exposure could damage body cells and lead to cancer.

Environment concerns:

  • Nuclear power plants use water from local lakes and rivers for cooling. Local water sources are used to dissipate this heat, and the excess water used to cool the reactor is often released back into the waterway at very hot temperatures. This water can also be polluted with salts and heavy metals, and these high temperatures, along with water pollutants, can disrupt the life of fish and plants within the waterway.
  • Terrorists and anti-national forces may target nuclear plants.

Nuclear Power | Safety Measures to be taken

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  • Continuous check on control rods, lubricants so there remains no mechanical problem during operation.
  • Strict regulation guides for checking and measuring radiation level regularly.
  • More innovative security system should be installed with continuous up gradation.
  • Promoting Private or PSU companies to use nuclear waste for electricity generation so that over or unnecessary disposal can be minimized.
  • Setting up nuclear reactors in non-seismic zones to prevent possibility of nuclear disasters.
  • Regulating body should stay vigil and lay detailed guidelines.
  • Enhancement of the level of safety of the backup systems in reactors that are under construction in India.

Nuclear Power | India’s Measures

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  • India has highly equipped nuclear plants with full safe shutdown system, early warning systems, combination of active and passive coolant system and robust containment to prevent releases.
  • Mechanisms to withstand extreme weather phenomena.
  • Periodic and unannounced safety reviews by NPCIL and AERB.
  • Coastal plants have appropriate funds to prevent shoreline pollution.
  • AERB lays minimum safety regulations that all plants have to follow.
  • Licenses are only given to operators with in depth knowledge and skill.
  • All nuclear plants have been made in seismically inactive zones.
  • The disposal of nuclear waste is as per standards of procedure and no violation has been found till date.
  • They are highly protected sites by our intelligence and armed forces.
  • All Indian plants have double dome built-up.

Nuclear Power | Alternative source of renewable energy

While nuclear power awaits government fixes, renewable energy technologies led by solar and wind power are jumping into the breach. They now provide a quarter of the world’s electricity. Their market penetration is currently favoured by the same kind of policy stimuli that governments after World War II used to favour nuclear power.

So far, renewables cannot replace the world’s nuclear power plants. But their success may lead decision-makers not to commit to nuclear investments that might become stranded assets. It is also well known that a nuclear investment requires a century-long commitment because of the trajectory for operation, decommissioning, and waste management.

Nuclear Power | Future

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The ultimate litmus test for nuclear power in this century is how it will respond to the forces of globalization. So far, the record is mixed. Globalization has favoured procurement and safety standards. But the downsides could prove fatal.

India plans to increase the installed nuclear power capacity from the current 5,780 MW to 10,080 MW by the end of the Twelfth Plan (2017) and 20,000 MW by 2020. Also, India gave an assurance in Paris that by 2030 it would reduce carbon emissions relative to its GDP by 33-35 per cent from 2005 levels and also generate 40 per cent of the country’s electricity from non-fossil fuel-based sources, using among others the solar, wind and nuclear options. In this light efficient mechanisms need to be brought in the interest of humanity.

ICANN – All you need to know

Hyderabad hosted the 57th meet of ICANN recently where the issues of independence and transparency in operations of the internet was discussed. In September, the US relinquished its control of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and transferred it to the ICANN, in what appears to be an ‘unprecedented surrender of government control’.

Let us look at few of the issues attached with it.

What is the ICANN?

The Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a not-for-profit organization that was set up in 1998 to oversee the administration of domain names. It coordinates and ensures smooth and secure functioning of the cybernetic framework.

ICANN | Functions

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ICANN oversees the interconnected network of Domain Names, Host Names, IP addresses and websites emerging on a daily basis. It also ensures that computers across the internet can find one another through defined unique pathways and identifiers (in short the role of a moderator of the online world).

  • Approval of companies that can become accredited registrars for domain names.
  • Decision making regarding the addition of new Top Level Domains (TLDs) to the Root system.
  • Coordinating technical parameters to maintain universal connectivity.
  • Creating a Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) for competing domain names.
  • It is responsible for coordinating the maintenance and methodologies of several databases, with unique identifiers, related to the namespaces of the Internet – and thereby, ensuring the network’s stable and secure operation.
  • ICANN is governed by an internationally diverse Board of Directors overseeing the policy development process. ICANN’s President directs an international staff, working from three continents, who ensure that ICANN meets its operational commitment to the Internet community.

ICANN | Issues and limitations

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  • The ICANN functions as a not-for-profit group with a license from the US Department of Commerce. Given the inescapable conundrum of its hierarchical structure, the ICANN has frequently been criticised for an alleged lack of accountability and opaque decision making.
  • The ICANN claims that it aims to share control between a wide range of interests including technical experts, academics, representatives of civil society and governments without giving control to any of them”. However, this claim is yet to be fulfilled given the nascent state of the transfer and the unpredictability of the outcome.
  • The lack of diversity in its theorising body is also a major cause for concern. As a body aiming to represent individual stakeholders across the world or the “Global internet consumer”, the predominance of North American representation and first world academic rhetoric within the policy making body is suspicious to say the least.
  • The bureaucratic structure of the body is another major cause for concern among theorists. As the Economist states, “ICANN’s “multi-stakeholderism”, which means that everybody has some say, sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare. Yet it may be the best hope for finding common solutions to the global problems created by the internet.”
  • Anti-western grouping has often criticized the United States for not relinquishing its control over the internet. The charge made against them is that internet was a brainchild of US Defence Department during the second world war, which raises the eyebrows of the world regarding the secure and impartial use of cyber space. The revelations of PRISM programme of the NSA of the United State has pushed the concerns even high.

57th ICANN, Hyderabad

ICANN

As an emerging global power with an ever increasing populace, the database of internet users in India is constantly on the rise. Therefore, India has a larger role to play in global governance of the Internet and this is evinced by its inclusion in the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts (UN GGE) as well as the recently concluded 57th meeting of the ICANN in Hyderabad.

  • This meeting was the first meeting post the IANA transition and was watched with interest. The discussion examined the immediate effects of the transition, and possible hurdles that might emerge in the future.
  • The meeting in Hyderabad provided a tremendous platform for raising issues and concerns as well as seeking partnerships across borders to create an inclusive and access equal Cyberspace.
  • ICANN communicated to the participants that it works freely and impartially and the United States do not exercise more control than any other member of the grouping. The relinquishing of its power by the US to Los Angeles-based ICANN (as agreed upon in 2014) marks a transition from an internet effectively governed by one nation to a multi-stakeholder governed internet.

ICANN is largely independent of national governments. The board is elected by outside organizations composed of businesses, non-profits, and Internet users from around the world. And those organizations can recall individual board members, or the entire board. While the ICANN has addressed some of these claims and issues, the path ahead remains complicated. As Internet has become a fundamental part of the daily life, ‘a properly global solution for what has become a global asset’ is the need of the hour.

Bullet Train in India

Bullet Train (High Speed Railways) was used recently by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his travel to Japan. The same High Speed Railways (bullet train) is being built on Ahmedabad-Mumbai route. There has been a lot of debate about the relevance of bullet train in today’s situation in India. Many myopic commentators have criticised the government’s initiative to introduce the bullet train comparing the same with utmost poverty in India. Let us see what are the possible benefits and pitfalls of introducing bullet train in India.

Bullet Train | Benefits

  • The benefits include reduced journey times that impact individuals and business, connectivity benefits to populations and markets, increased passenger comfort, mode shifts from more polluting air and road transport and consequently, lower road congestion.
  • High speed rail can create agglomeration benefits i.e., benefits that accrue from the clustering together of firms and labour markets, and regeneration benefits for an area. The actual construction also provides an opportunity for employment and the potential for technology transfer.
  • The HSR solution is also cleaner; CO2 emissions in 2050 are also lower by 0.2 MT and further emission drops are possible with decarbonisation of electricity, according to the UNEP. In general, per passenger km, high speed rail has lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than road or air transport. It also supports lower emissions over the longer term as road and air passengers shift to trains. However, as the UNEP-DTU study says, there is currently debate on the impact on short term emissions, which may be high owing to embedded emissions (in the construction and manufacturing process).

Bullet Train | Pitfalls

  • Environmental degradation along the route, dislocation of people, noise pollution, as well as regionally imbalanced development are potential pitfalls. How the high speed line interacts with existing transport choices is also crucial for the strength of the overall case.
  • Higher speeds imply higher costs which may then necessitate higher ticket prices so that the service is commercially viable. This, ironically, could mean a loss of ridership to air travel, making the train less profitable.
  • EXAMPLE – If the 500 km journey between Ahmedabad and Mumbai is about Rs 2,800, then the Delhi-Chennai journey is likely to cost Rs 11,200. A one-way flight for this journey booked ten days in advance costs in the ballpark of Rs 4,000, suggesting challenges for the Delhi-Chennai high speed model.

High speed lines for Bullet Train require huge investments and cause long term demographic and economic impacts. Their success depends on getting a comprehensive, context-specific optimal solution; at the very least this means getting speed, pricing, and distance right.

 

MTCR, NSG, Australia Group and Wassenaar Arrangement

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MTCR:
What is the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)?
Established in April 1987, it is a voluntary association of 34 countries — 35, once India is formally included — and four “unilateral adherents” that follow its rules: Israel, Romania, Slovakia, Macedonia. The group aims to slow the spread of missiles and other unmanned delivery technology that could be used for chemical, biological and nuclear attacks. The regime urges members, which include most of the world’s major missile manufacturers, to restrict exports of missiles and related technologies capable of carrying a 500 kg payload at least 300 km, or delivering any type of weapon of mass destruction.
How did India get into it?
Prospective members must win consensus approval from existing members. United States policy had been that members that are not recognised nuclear-weapon states — including India — must eliminate or forgo ballistic missiles able to deliver a 500 kg payload at least 300 km. The US, however, made an exception in 1998 for Ukraine, permitting it to retain Scud missiles and, in October 2012, South Korea was allowed to keep ballistic missiles with an 800-km range and 500-kg payload that could target all of North Korea.
For India, the US seems to have waived these terms, allowing it retain its missile arsenal. Therefore, India has formally joined the MTCR on 27th June, 2016.
How does the MTCR work?
Members must have national policies governing export of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, space launch vehicles, drones, remotely piloted vehicles, sounding rockets, and their components. There are two categories of exports: Category I, which are basically exports of complete products and major sub-systems and are meant to be extremely rare — with guidelines instructing members that “there will be strong presumption to deny transfers”; and Category II, which includes materials, technologies and components whose transfers can be made more easily, since they generally have civilian applications, even though these too are done with caution.
Does joining the MTCR make getting missile technology easier?
There are no special concessions for MTCR members. But India hopes its MTCR membership will be one more reason for the US to consider exporting Category 1 UAVs, Reaper and Global Hawk, which have been key to counter-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. These drones have so far been sold to only one country, the UK, though unarmed versions have also been made available to Italy and South Korea. The US has been rethinking rules on exports, aware that competitors in Israel, Russia and China are working on similar products — and India wants to be at the head of the queue when the Reaper and the Global Hawk go on the market.
Are there any sanctions for breaking MTCR rules?
Rule breakers can’t be punished. However, US law mandates sanctions for companies and governments that export MTCR-controlled items. The sanctioned entity can’t sign contracts, buy arms and receive aid for two years or more.
Does the MTCR actually stop the spread of missile technology?
Yes, and no. North Korea, Iran and Pakistan acquired ballistic missile technology from China. But then, China began to feel the pinch of US technology sanctions — and announced, in November 2000, that it would stop exporting ballistic missile technology. Four years later, it applied for MTCR membership — but has been denied entry because of suspicion that some companies in the country are secretly supplying technology to North Korea.
Many others dropped missile programmes because of MTCR pressure: Argentina abandoned its Condor II ballistic missile programme (on which it was working with Egypt and Iraq) to join the regime. Brazil, South Africa, South Korea and Taiwan shelved or eliminated missile or space launch vehicle programmes. Poland and the Czech Republic destroyed their ballistic missiles.
It is possible China may now seek some kind of bargain, whereby it is given entry to the MTCR in return for letting India get into the NSG, where it wields a veto.
NSG:
Why does India want to be in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)?
Following India’s 1974 nuclear tests, the US pushed for setting up a club of nuclear equipment and fissile material suppliers. The 48-nation group frames and implements agreed rules for exporting nuclear equipment, with a view to controlling the spread of nuclear weapons; members are admitted only by consensus. India has been trying, since 2008, to join the group, which would give it a place at the high table where the rules of nuclear commerce are decided — and, eventually, the ability to sell equipment. Many countries that initially opposed its entry, like Australia, have changed stance; Mexico and Switzerland are the latest to voice support. India’s effort has been to chip away at the resistance, leaving only one holdout — China. But until China accepts India’s entry, there is no hope of membership.
Why does the US want India in the NSG?
The answer lies in the US effort to strengthen the global nuclear non-proliferation regime, whose centrepiece is the 1968 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, or NPT. The NPT defines “nuclear weapons states” as those that tested devices before January 1, 1967 — which means India cannot ever be one. India — like Israel and Pakistan — thus refused to sign the treaty. From 2005, though, President George W Bush’s administration sought ways to deepen strategic cooperation with India. Nuclear energy was a key means to strengthen cooperation, but since India wasn’t a member of the NPT, the technology couldn’t be shared. Then, a way forward was found — the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. India agreed to separate its civilian and military nuclear programmes and put the civilian part under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. India also changed its export laws to line up with the NSG, MTCR, Wassenaar Arrangement, and Australia Group — the four key nuclear control regimes. The US agreed to shepherd Indian entry into these regimes, which meant India would for all practical purposes be treated like an NPT member, even though it wasn’t one.
Why doesn’t Pakistan want India in?
The Pakistani argument is that giving India easy access to fissile material and technology for its civilian nuclear programme means it would have that much more material for its military nuclear programme. Thus, Pakistan says, the move to give India NSG membership is fuelling a nuclear arms race. But this argument falls apart because Pakistan is resolutely opposed to a key international agreement called the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT), which would cap the military nuclear stockpiles of all countries. The FMCT ought to put an end to Pakistan’s fears, but Islamabad has refused to sign.
And what is China’s problem?
Chinese diplomats say Beijing wants NSG entry to be norm-based — in other words, whatever rules govern Indian entry should apply to others too. Norm-based entry would, presumably, help Pakistan gain entry, something many in the NSG are certain to resist because of the country’s record as a proliferator of nuclear-weapons technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.
Why then did China go along with the NSG waiver in 2008?
Geopolitics. The 2008 one-time waiver allowed nuclear commerce between NSG members and India — the agreement that now allows Westinghouse, and its competitors in France or South Korea, to bid to set up civilian reactors in India. The waiver came only after President Bush rang President Hu Jintao and called in a favour. Back then, US-China relations were riding high — on the back of surging trade, and a common vision of how the international order should be structured. Today, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping are at odds over Chinese muscle-flexing in the South China Sea. The odds of a phone call changing the state of play are next to zero.
What might tip the odds?
India and the US have cards to play. China wants membership of the MTCR — and to enter that club, and see an end to key technology sanctions, it needs US help. European Union states too have denied China exports of critical military technologies, which might be a bargaining chip. All depends on how well India bargains — and how much Pakistan’s NSG membership actually means to China. Either way, this is going to be long diplomatic haul.
OTHERS –
Wassenaar Arrangement:
Wassenaar Arrangement was established to contribute to regional and international security and stability. It aims to promote transparency and greater responsibility in transfer of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies. It has 41 member states and was established in 1996 as an extension of Coordination committee for Multilateral export Controls (COCOM). The participating states ensure that transfer of materials do not contribute to the development or enhancement of military capabilities.
India is not a member of the Wassenaar Arrangement, but hopes to be one soon. The United States is likely to support India’s bid.
The Australia Group:
The Australia Group is an informal forum of countries that seeks to ensure that exports do not contribute to the development of chemical or biological weapons. It was established in 1985 and presently has 42 members.


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Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

virtual-reality-augmented-reality-innovation
Technology is improving at a rapid pace, as many things are possible today that were not possible 10 years ago even if we tried our best to make it happen. Today, some of the impossible things are rising to the occasion in the form of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. But what are they exactly? Let’s find out.
Back in the 1990s, virtual reality was on the lips of everyone as multiple companies tried and failed to make it happen. The most notable device back then was the Nintendo Virtual Boy, though it failed miserably, and was discontinued a year after going on sale. Since then, Nintendo has never attempted improve on the technology, which could set the company behind its competition as virtual reality is slowly creeping back into our lives.
When it comes to augmented reality, we’re looking at something that has found more success in the consumer space when compared to virtual reality. We’ve seen several applications with AR, along with video game and hardware devices such as the Google Glass. It is clear that the way things are right now, AR has the upper hand against VR, and that might not be changing anytime soon.
What is Augmented Reality-
Augmented reality is the blending of virtual reality and real life, as developers can create images within applications that blend in with contents in the real world. With AR, users are able to interact with virtual contents in the real world, and are able to distinguish between the two. The best example of AR can be – ‘Pokemon Go’.
What is Virtual Reality-
Virtual reality is all about the creation of a virtual world that users can interact with. This virtual world should be designed in such a way that users would find it difficult to tell the difference from what is real and what is not. Furthermore, VR is usually achieved by the wearing of a VR helmet or goggles similar to the Oculus Rift.
Difference and similarities-
Both virtual reality and augmented reality are similar in the goal of immersing the user, though both systems to this in different ways. With AR, users continue to be in touch with the real world while interacting with virtual objects around them. With VR, the user is isolated from the real world while immersed in a world that is completely fabricated. As it stands, VR might work better for video games and social networking in a virtual environment, such as Second Life, or even PlayStation Home.
Which technology will succeed?
As it stands, augmented reality is ahead of virtual reality, as there are several products already on the market. We are witnessing the rise of AR hardware devices from Google in the form of Glass, and also plans from Microsoft to launch something similar with its $150 million purchase for wearable computing assets.
On the matter of VR, the technology is just stepping up to the plate. It’s still far away from being this great thing for social encounters in a virtual world, but with the rise of the Oculus Rift, it is getting there.
Conclusion-
It can be believed that both AR and VR will succeed; however, AR might have more commercial success though, because it does not completely take people out of the real world.
NOTE-: This topic and Air Defence System are two of the most expected questions for Science and Technology section in UPSC Mains this year.

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International Solar Alliance

international-solar-alliance
On the sidelines of the plenary 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference – 21st yearly Conference of Parties at Paris, India has pledged to reduce 33-35% of its carbon emissions (at 2005 level) by 2030. Also, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Francois Hollande has launched an ambitious initiative called ‘International Solar Energy Alliance’.
Origin of the idea –
The origin of the ambitious initiative goes back to the election campaign days of the Prime Minister aspirant Shri Narendra Modi who foresaw the ambition to curb the usage of non-renewable energy resources from India and to build an enthusiastic ‘solar alliance’ that could serve the interests of the energy needs of the entire world and not just India. As the Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, he spurred companies to build more than 900MW of solar plant across the state in just a couple of years and commissioned Asia’s largest solar park at Charanka village.
What exactly is this ‘International solar alliance’?
It is a strategic cluster of around 120 countries that falls within the tropical region, receiving abundant sunshine throughout the year which may be used to harness the solar energy potential. This solar energy may be used for domestic consumption as well as for strategic exports to subtropical, temperate and polar countries. India has invited over 120 countries that falls in the tropical region to be a part of the ambitious project. A good number of them lies in the Gulf region having historical enterprise with non-renewable resources like petroleum oil. The Southern coast of the United States too falls within the region which has a strategic reserve of Shale Gas.
Why India has emerged as the natural leader for this alliance?
India has an ambitious target to install 175GW of renewable energy by 2022, which includes 100GW of solar energy usage. India has reiterated its stance to draw 40% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030. Currently, renewable energy, nuclear energy and hydropower together contribute 30% of the overall installed capacity in India. With power production expected to triple, this will amount to 320 GW of non-fossil fuel capacity. Since 2010, India has been providing 40% subsidy on capital costs of Solar PV Panels which is available through NABARD in India (as per JNNURM mission). Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to give electricity to every one of the 300 million Indians living in the dark. For this, three more ultra-mega solar parks were backed with cash in July 2014, as were solar-powered irrigation pumps and canal-top solar plants. The electric fences on India’s sensitive northern borders will be solar-powered as the military installs 1,000MW of panels to replace expensive diesel generators across its posts. Another 7,000MW of solar is out for tender across the country and the rooftops of Delhi are to be bedecked with panels under a new scheme. The solar energy from the Rajasthan desert sun can meet whole of India’s future power needs, a proposition which has been realized meticulously by the Government of India as evident from the building up of 4,000MW Ultra Mega Green Solar Power Project (UMPP) near Sambhar Lake in Rajasthan. More than 25 major states of India out of 29 have an operational or installed solar power capacity. This makes the country a natural leader of the solar club. The geographical presence of the country in the tropics add boon to its leadership role.
Benefits-
Current geopolitics revolves around the presence of reserves of non-renewable sources of energy like petroleum oil, shale gas, nuclear energy, natural gas etc. The sceptics have often linked the tensions in West Asia and Africa to the insatiable thirst for energy resources of many alleged ‘neo-colonizers’ present in the region in the form of private, governmental as well as intergovernmental organizations. Presence of cartels like OPEC, African Union that invariably control the price of the energy resources through the forces of demand and supply might meet an end to their monopoly over the energy resources, after the discovery and operationalisation of the alternative sources of energy i.e. solar energy. Solar energy is unlimited in supply, non-pollutant, non-disaster prone and complements climate change. With solar technology evolving, costs coming down and grid connectivity improving; it becomes the best alternative to conventional sources of energy.
How does it affect India’s foreign policy objectives?
Indian government is investing an initial $30m (£20m) in setting up the alliance’s headquarters in India (the Secretariat). The eventual goal is to raise $400m from membership fees, and international agencies. As Isaiah Bowman (geographer and strategic adviser to the former US President Franklin Roosevelt) played an instrumental role in the establishment of the United Nations and forcing its location to be based in an American city (New York), the Secretariat of the ‘International Solar Alliance’ would bring India at the forefront of the world politics. It has the potential to boost India’s bid to secure a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council. Like the citizens of OPEC member nations, the future generations of India would reap the economic and social benefits of this long term initiative as the solar energy to be exported to the sub-tropical, temperate and polar countries would make solar energy production a viable business in India. It would considerably reduce India’s energy import bill which stands at almost 70-75% of total energy needs of our economy, saving around $120 billion energy bill annually. This lower dependency on energy would provide a political leverage to India to take strategic position in international affairs which it currently refuses to acknowledge through the principle of non-interference.
Challenges –
There would be silent yet stiff resistance from non-renewable energy providing cartels because the operations of the solar alliance is deemed to end the monopoly of petroleum, natural gas, shale gas, nuclear energy suppliers. In this battle of energy production, India stands to lose strategic allies like Russia, Scandinavian countries, African countries, Latin American countries, Gulf countries, Central Asian countries, Australia, China as well as the United States that export high cost energy resources throughout the world. It is possible that the only support that India may inevitably rely upon is from Europe where the demand of energy is rising with no conventional resources of energy of their own, including renewable energy. This is evident from the fact that the strongest support India has received in this initiative was from France and organizations like Solar Power Europe with others, especially Europeans following the line. Europe is fed up from Russian, African, Latin American and OPEC’s arm-twisting for their energy needs, therefore it looks towards a renewable alternative, by which India’s solar alliance could fill the void. It would be a herculean task for Prime Minister Modi to bring all the stakeholders on the table and highlight the importance of the solar alliance that actually has the capacity to harness the unlimited resource for contemporary and future generations. The most important task for India would be to take Russia on board, whose economy thrives on energy exports, especially after international sanctions. Central Asian, Latin American and African countries too would not be much delighted about the prospects of the solar club that could jeopardize their economy for long term. A strategic threat to our leadership in the International Solar Alliance comes from China, which is also aggressively pursuing the green technology, installing 12,000MW in 2013 – a record for any country in a single year. But a ray of the light for India looks in the Gulf region (in Dubai), which has announced a Dirham 100 billion ($27 billion) programme to make solar panels mandatory for all rooftop buildings by 2030, part of a plan to make the city a global clean energy centre. Dubai aims to generate 25% of its energy from clean sources by 2030, rising to 75% by 2050. Taking advantage of our close relationship with UAE, India can get the West Asian region on board. More high level foreign visits, regular information exchanges, strongest PR and lobbying, removing unrealistic insecurities from all the concerned stakeholders would actually help in giving a much needed thrust to the ambitious programme.
Conclusion –
Fossil fuels still get more than $40bn (£24bn) in subsidy every year in India, even a quarter of which if invested in solar energy research would provide long term strategic gains for the nation. Legislative as well as citizen support could make India a global leader in this noble vision. We could celebrate ‘Solar Energy Week’ every first week of January (associated with perihelion position of the sun) to encourage our people to adopt solar technology for household as well as industrial needs. Indian media too has to realize its duty to promote a strategic yet humanistic vision of the Prime Minister. Ancient Indian civilization calls for ‘सेवा परमो धर्म (Sewa Parmo Dharma)’ which means ‘Service is the highest duty’. The commencement of the ‘International Solar Alliance’ project envisages this ancient Indian idea through which India aims to help the world with a clean, low cost and a viable renewable source of energy.

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