Looming water scarcity

Looming water scarcity

Looming water scarcity

Recent reports have highlighted the harrowing conditions of water scarcity in peninsular India, with the monsoon still about three months away. Scientists and specialists have observed that 40 per cent of the country’s area is reeling under drought, of which 16-17 per cent is severe.

Looming water scarcity

Details –

  • Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and Gujarat are in a particularly bad way, with northern Karnataka and Maharashtra not receiving adequate rainfall for three or four consecutive years.
  • Major reservoir levels in Gujarat and Maharashtra, at 22 per cent of their capacity, are well below 30 per cent levels in April 2018 and the trend level of 33 per cent at this time of the year.
  • While almost the entire country is vulnerable to ‘vegetation drought’, regions with low soil moisture such as the river basins of Mahi, Sabarmati, Krishna, Tapi and Cauvery are particularly susceptible due to low levels of soil moisture.
  • It is extraordinary that Kerala should be in the grip of a water crisis in precisely the regions that were devastated by last year’s floods. A combination of high temperatures and water scarcity has put crops such as cardamom, rubber and tea under stress, with pest attack risks on the rise.

The need of an immediate response –

An immediate as well as medium-term policy response is called for. The first priority is to stave of a drinking water crisis by rationing the use of water for irrigation purposes, as Karnataka has done in recent years. Some curbs on construction with the onset of summer might be called for.

Pitfalls in water management –

  • With regions like Latur in Maharashtra nearly back to the crisis they witnessed in 2016, it is clear that very little has changed on the ground. There is no evidence of a shift away from sugarcane.
  • Meanwhile, micro-irrigation practices, such as the use of drips and sprinklers, are not picking up at the desired pace. Economic Survey 2015-16 observes: “The key bottlenecks in the adoption of this technology are the high initial cost of purchase and the skill required for maintenance.”

What should be done?

  • With the political economy focus on rural distress, it is crucial that the right incentives are given. Rather than merely providing short-term relief to farmers, they should be persuaded to grow appropriate crops, to safeguard economic and environmental security.
  • Power subsidies can be gradually withdrawn and instead drip and sprinkler irrigation subsidised. This should be accompanied by a shift away from paddy and sugarcane in rainfed regions, with subsidies and incentives being linked to such choices.
  • Telangana has shown the way in furthering micro-irrigation through Mission Kakatiya, which entails the revival of over 40,000 tanks in the State. This has led to an improvement in groundwater levels.
  • Similarly, catchment area rejuvenation needs equal attention, as the Kerala floods experience informs us.

Conclusion –

Policymakers should take a holistic view of water, agriculture and the environment.

SourceThe Hindu Business Line

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Rail Development Authority for UPSC

Rail Development Authority –
Government has approved formation of a Rail Development Authority (RDA) comprising Chairman and three Members. The objective underlying RDA is to get expert advice/make informed decision on –

  • Pricing of services commensurate with costs.
  • Suggest measures for enhancement of Non Fare Revenue.
  • Protection of consumer interests, by ensuring quality of service and cost optimization.
  • Promoting competition, efficiency and economy.
  • Encouraging market development and participation of stakeholders in the rail sector and for ensuring a fair deal to the stakeholders and customers.
  • Creating positive environment for investment.
  • Promoting efficient allocation of resources in the Sector.
  • Benchmarking of service standards against international norms and specify and enforce standards with respect to the quality, continuity and reliability of services provided by them.
  • Providing framework for non-discriminatory open access to the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) infrastructure and others in future.
  • Suggesting measures to absorb new technologies for achieving desired efficiency and performance standards.
  • Suggesting measures for human resource development to achieve any of its stated objectives.

Necessary adjustments –

  • A degree of independence through the manner of appointment and funding of the Rail Development Authority is necessary.
  • The degree of impact of the Authority will depend significantly on the first Chairman and Members.

How to achieve the planned objectives?
The ability to persuade the Ministry and the Board to implement the guidelines will be critical to success.

  • The first objective, namely “Pricing of services commensurate with costs”, will require separation of the commercial function of the railways and the social/subsidising function of the government. This is a necessary step to be able to bring focus on efficiency in the commercial function.
  • Secondly, getting an early agreement on the reform roadmap, with well-defined roles of each stakeholder in making the transition will be key to sequencing the Authority’s priorities. This will also help in syncing the priorities with various steps that other stakeholders need to take. While the spotlight will be on the Rail Development Authority, the reformers in the government will need to play a strong role in making the structural changes needed to achieve the ambitious objectives.
  • Thirdly, the objectives of “promoting competition, efficiency and economy”, “promoting efficient allocation of resources” and “creating positive environment for investment” require more fundamental reform. A fully empowered regulator will likely be a necessary milestone in that journey. In creating the case for reforms, its ability to position itself as “external” to the Railways will be essential for the Rail Development Authority’s credibility among stakeholders.
  • Fourthly, the Centre-State joint ventures, special purpose vehicles for port and mine connectivity projects, private licensees for container rail operations, Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited, among others, will provide the initial eco-system in which the Rail Development Authority could play a key role as an independent agency among stakeholders.
  • Lastly, its fourth function, namely “Dissemination of Information” may turn out to be the most potent in creating stakeholder support for reforms. Through this, the Rail Development Authority could still play a significant catalytic role in transforming the railways, even within its limited recommendatory mandate.

31st August, 2017 | PIB Summary

Cabinet approves MoU’s (Prelims + GS 2 IR)

The Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has approved the proposal of the Election Commission of India to enter into Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on cooperation in the field of electoral management and administration with the Election Management Bodies of other countries/International Agencies. These are as follows:

  1. The National Electoral Council of Ecuador;
  2. The Central Election Commission of Albania;
  3. The Election Commission of Bhutan;
  4. The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan;
  5. The National Independent Electoral Commission of Guinea;
  6. The Union Election Commission of Myanmar; and
  7. The India International Institute of Democracy and Election Management (IIIDEM) and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA).

Details –

These MoUs contain standard articles/clauses which broadly express promotion of cooperation in exchange of knowledge and experience in the field of organizational and technical development of electoral process; support in exchanging information, institutional strengthening and capacity building, training of personnel, holding regular consultations etc.

These MoUs would promote bilateral cooperation, aimed at building technical assistance / capacity support for the said Election Management Bodies.

Background –

The Election Commission has been participating in promoting cooperation in the field of election matters and electoral processes across the world with certain foreign countries and agencies by adopting the mode of MoU signed by the concerned parties.

Cabinet approved MoU with Israel (Prelims + GS 2 IR)

The Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between India and Israel on “India-Israel Industrial R&D and Technological Innovation Fund (I4F)“. The MoU was concluded in July, 2017

Details –

India and Israel will make a contribution of four million US Dollars each for the Fund, both equivalent amount, annually for five years. The Innovation Fund will be governed by a joint Board which will consist of four members from each country.

The MoU envisages promotion of bilateral Industrial R&D and Innovation cooperation in the fields of science and technology by extending support to joint projects for innovative or technology-driven new or improved products, services or processes. Such projects will lead to affordable technological innovations in focus areas of mutual interest such as water, agriculture, energy and digital technologies. Institutional support in building up consortia including private industry, enterprises and R&D institutions from India and Israel will be enabled through these collaborative projects.

Significance –

The activities supported by the Joint Fund would increase the techno-economic collaboration between the two countries by investing in jointly developed technology projects and collaborations based on technological innovation. It would leverage the complementary strengths of Israel and India to encourage Israel-Indian joint projects that capitalize on both the national and global marketplace. It would provide a comprehensive set of support tools to encourage joint projects that convert “know-how” into “show-how”. It is expected that this will foster and strengthen the eco-system of innovation and techno-entrepreneurship in India and will contribute directly to the Start-up India programme.

Medical Council of India – Brookings India Paper Summary

Brookings India recently published a research paper on the Medical Council of India (MCI) bill to be put in parliament soon. A good read for UPSC.
The National Medical Commission Bill would create a National Medical Commission (NMC) to replace the currently existing and allegedly corrupt Medical Council of India.
Details –

  • This new body would be responsible for the medical accreditation of all medical education institutions within the country as well as maintaining a national registrar of all certified allopathic medical practitioners within the country.
  • The current draft should be lauded in its efforts to stem corruption by creating a system of accountability and a division of power, however the bill could both improve the structure of the NMC and the system of rules which it follows.

Background of MCI –

  • The Medical Council of India (MCI) was established in 1934 under the Indian Medical Council (IMC) Act of 1933. At the time, its primary function was to standardize both training in medicine and the accreditation of medical and surgical proficiency. In 1956, the original IMC Act was repealed and redesigned. It has subsequently received face-lifts with amendments enacted in 1964, 1993, and 2001.
  • The Council is composed of one representative from each State (appointed by the Central Government), one medical faculty member from each University (appointed by the Senate of the public University), one representative of each State which maintains a Medical Register (elected by members on the register), seven members enrolled on any of the State Medical Registers (elected from amongst themselves) and eight Central Government representatives (appointed by the Central Government). The MCI elect its President and Vice-President.

Objectives of MCI –
The Medical Council’s main objectives are –

  • Maintenance of uniform standards of medical education, both undergraduate and postgraduate.
  • Recommendation for recognition/de-recognition of medical qualifications of medical institutions of India or foreign countries.
  • Permanent registration/provisional registration of doctors with recognized medical qualifications.
  • Reciprocity with foreign countries in the matter of mutual recognition of medical qualifications.
  • Regulating professional conduct of Doctors registered under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956.

Analysis –
After looking at various other countries and their accreditation systems, five changes can be recommended –

  • Removing NMC members from the Medical Advisory Council,
  • Creating regional medical councils in the place of third party organisations,
  • Adopting WHO guidelines as the basis of all standards set by the Under-Graduate Medical Education Board and the Post-Graduate Medical Education Board,
  • Ensuring that post-graduate schools receive accreditation only if they have a research based meritocracy for students and staff, and
  • Mandating that all medical school graduates work in the country for a limited amount of time.

Conclusion –
These changes can lead to significant improvements in the accreditation system of medical education in India. This is critical for the overall quality of healthcare services available in the country in the long run.

Sagarmala Project | AIR Summary

To pursue the vision of ‘Blue Economy’ for India, the flagship ‘Sagarmala’ programme aims to increase port-led development along India’s 7,500-kilometre-long coastline.
Background –

  • The idea was originally mooted by the Atal Behari Vajpayee (NDA 1) government in 2003.
  • Sagarmala project is seen as an equivalent of the project named ‘Golden Quadrilateral’, a highway network that connects many of the major agricultural, industrial, and cultural centres in India.

Details –

  • The project was launched in March 2015 by the Ministry of Shipping. It promises to be a major game changer in the time to come.
  • It aims to unravel the full potential of India’s coastline and waterways through investments in logistics and other coastal infrastructure.
  • Through these investments and asset upgradation, Indian economy will receive a significant boost. It will also lead to creation of jobs for youth in the coastal region of the country.
  • It is to be noted that the construction of new ports, modernisation of existing ports, and the process of connectivity of ports, along with the development of coastal economic zones, industrial clusters and smart cities are an integral part of Sagarmala initiative which comprises over 400 projects.
  • Rs 8 trillion as investment would be required for the 20-years period for the Sagarmala project.
  • Sagarmala project involves a total of 199 projects for implementation by 2020, while 239 similar projects are under various stages of implementation and development for the future. This conveys in volumes about the speed and dedication with which the Sagarmala project is being executed by the Government. But we must share the credit for it to the Sagarmala Development Company which has been established to ensure that the project faces no glitches in implementation and development stage.

Significance –

  • It is estimated that on completion, the Sagarmala project would reduce logistic costs leading to savings of around Rs 350-400 billion per annum. It would also benefit the country’s export-import trade and industries that thrive upon EXIM trade.
  • India had not yet fully exploited its full coastline to its best economic interests. The reasons include lack of modern facilities at our ports, absence of adequate rail and road connectivity, and of course, the non-linkage of industrial base with ports. This had hit India’s ability to place itself in the ranks of developed countries like China, the US, Singapore and Malaysia who have fully utilised the potential of their coastline. Through the Sagarmala mega project, India wishes to address these inadequacies, besides boosting the country’s merchandise exports to USD 110 billion by 2025.
  • Given that this mega project incorporates construction of coastal economic zones (CEZs), industrial clusters and other ancillaries, expectations of earning billions of dollars of money cannot be merely imaginary. It may be noted here that China with its CEZs in Shenzhen has helped the city grow its GDP by 50 times to USD $180 billion since 1978. It has also helped in creating jobs of about seven million there. Hence, India too aspires for replicating this growth story here by developing 14 CEZs across all 13 coastal states (Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal would be states where CEZs will be developed).
  • Interestingly, these CEZs will be linked with a total of 29 industrial clusters in the region and beyond (two refinery and petrochemicals, four gas-based petrochemicals, three coastal power, two steel, two marine, two cement, two food processing, two science and technology clusters, three apparel, one automotive, three leather and footwear and three furniture clusters).
  • By establishing these CEZ units closer to ports, the government wishes to reduce the logistical costs which will will increase competitiveness of Indian goods abroad.

Conclusion –
It is obvious that an investment of about Rs 850-900 billion would be required for the development of infrastructure along the coastline. Overall, the project is in synchronicity with the contention of many experts that, only ports can drive India’s economic growth. Since without skilled manpower, the mega project cannot meet its desired objective, it is indispensable for the government to start focussing on skills training especially for the youth in the coastal districts (in trades like manufacturing, logistics, fishing and tourism). The Sagarmala project is one which really conjures up to Prime Minister Modi’s vision of building India as a powerful ‘blue economy’.
Here is a mind map to quickly know about everything about Sagarmala for UPSC preparation:

 

National Strategic Plan For Malaria Elimination

Shri J P Nadda, the Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare launched the National Strategic Plan for Malaria Elimination 2017-22.
National Strategic Plan For Malaria Elimination | Details

  • The Strategic Plan gives details about year wise elimination targets in various parts of the country depending upon the endemicity of malaria in the next 5 years.
  • Recalling the launch of the National Framework for Malaria Elimination (NFME) last year, Shri Nadda had stated that NFME outlined India’s commitment for eliminating malaria by 2030.
  • National Strategic Plan for Malaria Elimination (2017-22) gives strategies for working towards the ultimate goal of elimination of malaria by 2030.
  • Encouraging results have been achieved in the North East India and the efforts are now focussed in other states such as Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

National Strategic Plan For Malaria Elimination | Features of the plan
The strategies involve strengthening malaria surveillance, establishing a mechanism for early detection and prevention of outbreaks of malaria, promoting the prevention of malaria by the use of Long Lasting Impregnated Nets (LLINs), effective indoor residual spray and augmenting the manpower and capacities for effective implementation for the next five years.
About Malaria

  • Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease affecting humans and other animals caused by parasitic protozoans (a group of single-celled microorganisms) belonging to the Plasmodium type.
  • Malaria causes symptoms that typically include fever, feeling tired, vomiting, and headaches. In severe cases it can cause yellow skin, seizures, coma, and / or death.
  • The methods used to prevent malaria include medications, mosquito elimination and the prevention of bites. There is no vaccine for malaria. The presence of malaria in an area requires a combination of high human population density, high anopheles’ mosquito population density and high rates of transmission from humans to mosquitoes and from mosquitoes to humans.

Kashmir Terrorism – The Last Gasp or Not

The increase in Kashmir Terrorism and violence levels on the streets and participation of the local population became a cause for worry in 2016. The peace dividend achieved at great cost only a couple of years earlier seemed to be losing out to the mindlessness of violent mobs.

Kashmir Terrorism | Troubled waters

  • There was an enhanced local recruitment, especially within the ranks of the Hizb-ulMujahideen (HM).
  • A larger proportion of the new recruits came from South Kashmir, unlike in the past when North Kashmir was the hub of violence and terrorism.
  • The security forces were routinely the target of stone pelting mobs.
  • And finally, children and women had been pushed into the line of pellets and bullets due to relentless propaganda, coercion and the resultant cycle of violence.

Kashmir Terrorism | Analyzing the trends

All this indicate an upswing in the levels of violence and a hardening of approach by Pakistan, which controls and coordinates major terrorist groups like the LeT and HM. Contrary to this seemingly obvious conclusion, however, the reality could be the very opposite. In fact, we may well witness a shift in the ground situation in Kashmir.

Kashmir Terrorism | Lessons from the Punjab experience

  • Even as terrorism was at its peak in the state during 1980s and 90s, the criminalisation of terrorist groups had led to senseless violence, with humiliation and atrocities being unleashed against policemen and their families as well as common citizens. This led to a fight for survival between the people and the local police on one side and the terrorists on the other.
  • Given the nature of violent acts perpetrated by the terrorists, the struggle also became personal. The alienation of the population and victimisation of the local police turned the tide in favour of the State.
  • The gradual rise in terrorism in Punjab stood in contrast to its sudden elimination. Terrorists were hunted down without pity or remorse.

Replicating Punjab’s strategy in Kashmir

  • The misdirected angst of terrorists against policemen, their families, a defenceless Kashmiri army officer on leave and innocent pilgrims all appear to represent a sign of disarray in their ranks.
  • It is a reflection of the frustration that has surfaced against Kashmiris employed in the police and in the security forces as well as against the syncretic culture of tolerance prevalent in the state.
  • The debacle of terrorism in Punjab suggests that all this violence against security forces and policemen could push the common people who came for the funerals of terrorists to shift their loyalties.
  • The return of violence also sets back any possibility of bringing different groups to the negotiating table in the near future.

Shift on the ground

  • The turning of the tide through a series of counter terrorism operations seems to suggest that the shift is already underway. For instance, June 2017 witnessed a series of successful strikes by security forces against terrorists and especially their leaders. To a casual observer, this may seem to be a coincidence. But the reality is that these strikes were enabled by accurate intelligence provided by angry locals who may not be able to voice their dissent in public, given their fear of being targeted by terrorists, but have helped punish them for their wanton acts of violence.
  • For the common Kashmiri people, the Amarnath pilgrimage is an important event in the annual calendar that contributes significantly to their income. The attempt to disrupt it suggests a disconnect with the local economics of the region.The distancing of every segment of Kashmiri politics, population and even separatists from the Amarnath pilgrim attack is a clear indication of anger and frustration that seems to be building up against senseless acts of terrorism. It is also a reality check for Kashmiri leaders, both mainstream and separatist.
  • The decision of some within terrorist ranks to reject Kashmiriyat and secularism is likely to propagate a radical ideology that the present leadership in the state will be unable to reconcile with their own objectives.

Conclusion

If this reality does not lead to a rejection of senseless violence, it is a matter of time before the people and their police in Kashmir turn the tide of violence and defeat terrorism in conjunction with other security forces, as happened in Punjab.