[op-ed snap] Lapse and collapse: on Mumbai’s pedestrian bridge accident

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Social issues | Urbanization , their problems & remedies

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Accountability on Municipal authority’s part to create sustainable infrastructure.


NEWS

CONTEXT

The pedestrian bridge that collapsed at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, leaving six people dead and several injured, underscores the irony of India’s race to development on creaking urban infrastructure. Mumbai’s creaking public infrastructure must be urgently upgraded.

Loss of lives due to poor infrastructure

  • It was only in September 2017 that there was a stampede at Mumbai’s Elphinstone bridge that left at least 23 people dead, an incident that officials blamed on heavy rain and overcrowding on the rickety structure.
  • there is the chronic toll of eight people, on average, dying every day on the city’s railway tracks.
  • This is a dismal image for a metropolis that generates so much wealth, but cannot guarantee the safety of its public infrastructure.

Punitive Action Taken by municipal Authorities

  • In the first response to the CST incident, the Maharashtra government and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) have launched action on the contractor who carried out repairs on the bridge five years ago.
  • the structural safety auditor who had certified the bridge to be in ‘good’ condition among a total of 39 bridges, and some civic body officials.
  • Such steps may serve to mollify public anger, and no one would argue against efforts to fix accountability for lapses.
  • However, far-reaching administrative reform is necessary to raise public confidence in the way government works.
  • It is extraordinary that the BMC is wiser after the fact, and has determined that the quality of repairs performed on the CST bridge was not ‘up to the mark,’ since it collapsed within six years.
  • It has also closed several busy footbridges, virtually confirming prolonged neglect of maintenance.

Way forward

  • In a city where eight million passenger trips are made daily on an overburdened railway system, besides other modes of transport, the highest policy priority should be to raise levels of safety.
  • In the wake of the bridge disaster, the municipal corporation must explain how much of its annual budget of ₹30,692 crore for the coming year will go towards improving facilities and safety for the majority of its citizens who ride trains and buses or walk.
  • Mumbaikars badly need a new deal in the form of a modernised bus system, with expansion of services that can be funded through a levy on private vehicles or on fuel.
  • The move to privatise BEST bus services may result in greater pressure on other systems, reducing access and adding to the stress faced by citizens.
  • Mumbai’s experience should serve as a warning to all fast-expanding Indian cities governed by municipal systems that have low capacity and capability to create people-friendly infrastructure.
  • Distortions in urban policymaking in recent years are all too evident, marked by support for loosely defined smart cities and personal vehicles, at the cost of basic interventions that will make the commons more accessible — roads, pavements, pedestrian facilities and public transport.
  • The safe mobility of people must be prioritised.

 

Urban Transformation – Smart Cities, AMRUT, etc.

[op-ed snap] Deals to rules

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Growth

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Positive handling of bad loans through IBC and other initiative.


NEWS

CONTEXT

India’s bad loan policy is finally moving in the right direction.

Reasons for high default

  • Not creating the fear of immediate, automatic and borrower-blind consequences for default is one reason why India’s credit to GDP ratio is a low 50 per cent (Arunachal is 1 per cent, Bihar is 17 per cent, 100 per cent is the average for rich countries).

Reforms in the right direction

  • But over the last three years, the new Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) and the RBI’s Revised Framework for Resolution of Stressed Assets (RFRSA, issued on February 12 last year) have begun to show impressive results in recognition (we know the truth), deterrence (defaults are reducing), resolution (defaults are being cured) and speed (defaults are being cured faster).
  • This is great news for financial inclusion of the small, honest, and non-politically connected.

No difference with willful defaulter Tag

  • The “willful defaulter” tag is a distinction without a difference; banks face pain irrespective of whether a default is caused by Fraud , Competition , or Unsustainable Ambition.
  • Current court petitions by defaulting sugar, shipping and power companies against the IBC and RFRSA should be dismissed because they want pre-IBC bank behaviour (discretionary bad loan recognition via restructuring or evergreening) that created our pre-IBC regime (Eagle’s Hotel California, where you check in but never check out).

The effectiveness of new reforms

  • India’s new policy regime for defaults — IBC plus RFRSA — ensures a time-bound exploration of all business, capital and ownership restructuring options before liquidation.
  • It is working; bad loans went from 2.4 per cent in 2007 to 11.6 per cent in 2018 but may now be down to 10.2 per cent.
  • And the direct impact of RFRSA lies in annualised reduction in bad loans for recent quarters being the highest in recent years with a huge acceleration in two-way mobility between standard and non-standard loan classifications.
  • Of the 82 accounts resolved by the IBC, the average realisation by financial creditors was 48 per cent and average time taken for resolution was 310 days (versus World Bank estimates of 27 per cent and 1,580 days).
  • RFRSA fixed birth defects of past RBI interventions like SDR, S4A, JLF, CAP, etc by requiring weekly reporting by banks on all accounts in default anytime during the week with exposure greater than Rs 50 million, requiring all lenders to initiate steps to cure a default with any lender, requiring an independent credit opinion for resolution plans, and setting a 180-day implementation deadline for resolution plans in loans greater than Rs 2,000 crore.

Challenges

  • Litigation has choked the pipeline with resolution for only three of the RBI’s first IBC list of 12, only 63 of the total 1,484 cases admitted under the IBC have the highly desirable outcome of being withdrawn under Section 12A (withdrawal from insolvency prior to expression of interest stage with consent of 90 per cent of lenders).
  • recovery rates are still lower than global averages, and 31 per cent of the 898 ongoing insolvency cases at the end of 2018 have breached the 270-day deadline.

Learning from the mistakes of  China

  • China can teach us a lot about labour markets but not about banking.
  • Their share of bank lending to the private sector has shrunk by 80 per cent since 2013, total bad loans may exceed $3 trillion, and total debt now exceeds 300 per cent of GDP (most loans went to construction because China produced three times as much cement between 2012 and 2016 as the US did in the entire 20th century).
  • While China’s treatment of defaulters is tempting — they recently expanded restrictions on travel, buying homes, holding high-level jobs, kids school eligibility, etc for defaulters — these practices are inconsistent with a democracy.

Way Forward

  • Over the last three years, India’s bad loan policy moving from deals to rules means the long arc of economic history is finally bending towards justice.
  • This remarkable reform will not only recover Rs 3 lakh crore plus for banks but has hugely positive consequences for India’s productivity, wages and prosperity.

 

Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code

[op-ed snap] Nehru, China, and the Security Council seat

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Cold War, UN General Assembly

Mains level: India’s reason behind saying no to UNSC permanent seat.


NEWS

CONTEXT

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently said that India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the “original sinner” who favoured China over India for permanent membership in the UN Security Council.

Background

  • It refers to Washington’s feeler sent to New Delhi in August 1950 through the Indian Ambassador in the U.S., mentioning the American desire to remove China from permanent membership of the UNSC and possibly replace it with India.
  • The allegation that Nehru refused to take this suggestion seriously and thus abdicated India’s opportunity to become a permanent member of the UNSC is the result of the critics’ inability to comprehend the complexity of the international situation in the early 1950s and the very tentative nature of the inquiry.

Situation in the 1950s

  • This episode took place in August 1950.
  • The Cold War was in its early stages, with the two superpowers in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation that threatened nuclear catastrophe.
  • The People’s Republic of China, which had just emerged from a bloody civil war and was seen at the time as the Soviets’ closest ally, was prevented from taking its permanent seat in the UNSC because of American opposition premised on Cold War logic.
  • Furthermore, war was raging in the Korean peninsula, with U.S. and allied troops locked in fierce combat with North Korean forces supported by China and the Soviet Union.

Factors behind India’s No at that time

  • Nehru was trying to carve a policy that ensured India’s security, strategic autonomy and state-led industrialisation in these very dangerous times.
  • He was well aware of the fact that pushing China out, as the U.S. wished to do, was a recipe for perpetual conflict that could engulf all of Asia.
  • To him, the Korean War appeared a forerunner to more such conflagrations in Asia that could even turn nuclear.
  • The U.S. had dropped nuclear bombs on Japan only five years ago and many observers believed it would not hesitate to do so again in an Asian conflict, especially since nuclear deterrence had not yet become a recognised reality.
  • Nehru did not want India to get embroiled in hazardous Cold War conflicts and become a pawn in the superpowers’ great game risking its own security.
  • Nehru’s approach to China was dictated by realpolitik and not wishful thinking.
  • He understood that peace could not be assured in Asia without accommodating a potential great power like China and providing it with its proper place in the international system.

USA’s vested interest behind the feeler

  • The so-called American “offer” to India of a permanent seat in the Security Council replacing China was made in this combustible context.
  • To be precise, it was not an offer but merely a vague feeler to explore Indian reactions to such a contingency.
  • The U.S. intended it to be a bait to entice India into an alliance with the West against the Sino-Soviet bloc, as it was then known, and lure it into becoming a member of the “defence” organisations it was setting up in Asia to contain presumed “Communist expansionism”.
  • Then Pandit Nehru responded, “India because of many factors is certainly entitled to a permanent seat in the Security Council. But we are not going in at the cost of China.
  • Had India accepted the American bait, it would have meant enduring enmity with China without the achievement of a permanent seat in the UNSC.
  • The Soviet Union, then China’s closest ally, would have vetoed any such move since it would have required amendment of the UN Charter that is subject to the veto of the permanent members.
  • It would have also soured relations between India and the Soviet Union and made it impossible to establish the trust required to later build a close political and military relationship with Moscow that became necessary once the U.S. entered into an alliance relationship with Pakistan.

Conclusion

It should be remembered by critics of Nehru’s eminently sensible decision not to fall into the American trap would do well to analyse the decision in the particular strategic and political context in which it was made and not allow their current political preferences to dictate their amateurish conclusions.

 

 

 

Solar tsunami can trigger the sunspot cycle

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Geography | Salient features of World’s Physical Geography

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Sunspots, Solar Tsunami

Mains level: Impact of Sunspots on mankind as a whole


News

  • A group of solar physicists suggests that a “solar tsunami” is at work that triggers the new sunspot cycle, after the old one ends.

Solar Dynamo

  • It is believed that the “solar dynamo” a naturally occurring generator which produces electric and magnetic fields in the sun is linked to the production of sunspots.
  • What kick-starts the 11-year sunspot cycle is not known.
  • The extreme temperature and pressure conditions that prevail some 20,000 km below the sun’s surface cause its material to form plasma consisting primarily of hydrogen and helium in a highly ionised state.
  • The plasma is confined with huge magnetic fields inside the sun.

What is Solar Tsunami?

  • The sun’s magnetic field, from which sunspots get generated, wraps around the sun in the east-west direction.
  • These magnetic fields behave like rubber bands on a polished sphere. They tend to slip towards the poles.
  • Holding these fields in their place requires that there is extra mass (plasma mass) pushing at the bands from higher latitudes.
  • Thus, a magnetic dam is formed which is storing a big mass of plasma.
  • At the end of a solar cycle, this magnetic dam can break, releasing huge amounts of plasma cascading like a tsunami towards the poles.
  • These tsunami waves travel at high speeds of about 1,000 km per hour carrying excess plasma to the mid-latitudes.
  • There they give rise to magnetic flux eruptions.
  • These are seen as the bright patches that signal the start of the next cycle of sunspots.

What are Sunspots?

  1. Sunspots are temporary phenomena on the Sun’s photosphere that appear as spots darker than the surrounding areas.
  2. They are regions of reduced surface temperature caused by concentrations of magnetic field flux that inhibit convection.
  3. Sunspots usually appear in pairs of opposite magnetic polarity.

 Why study them?

  • The solar cycle and sunspot activity are intimately connected with space weather.
  • The model provides a sound physical mechanism supporting why we should expect the next sunspot cycle 25 to begin in the year 2020.
  • This is again followed by a strong increase in space weather shortly after the trigger of a series of new sunspots in that year.
Global Geological And Climatic Events

Migration in Bengal delta driven by livelihood issues, social factors

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Indian Society | Population and associated issues

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the compact

Mains level: Problem of illegal migration


News

Population surge in Bengal

  • According to the 2011 national census, West Bengal is the fourth-most-populous state in India with a population of 91,347,736 (7.55% of India’s population).
  • As of 2011, West Bengal had a population density of 1,029 inhabitants per square km making it the second-most densely populated state in India, after Bihar

What pulls migrants towards Bengal?

  • Economic reasons are the precipitating factor for migration in the Indian Bengal Delta that comprises the Sunderbans reveals an international study.
  • The study is titled Deltas Vulnerability and Climate Change: Migration and Adaptation (DECMA).
  • It points out that there is huge gender disparity when it comes to those migrating from the region.
  • The study reveals that 64% people migrate because of economic reasons, unsustainable agriculture, lack of economic opportunities and debt;
  • 28 % of the migration from the region is for social reasons and about 7% for environmental reasons like cyclones and flooding.

Highlights of the study

  • The DECMA report also finds that most migrants both in case of men and women are young, in the age group of 20-30 years.
  • When it comes to migration in the Indian Bengal Delta, the study finds a huge gender disparity, with men outnumbering women by almost five times.
  • It shows that of the people migrating 83% are men and only 17 % are women.
  • While most of the men migrate due to economic reasons, women do so, driven by mostly social factors.
  • It shows that 57% of migration is seasonal, where people move once or twice a year;
  • 19% is circular where those migrating move thrice a year irrespective of reasons and 24% permanent where people intend to stay for at least six months in the place they are migrating to.
Urban Transformation – Smart Cities, AMRUT, etc.

Topical gel protects farmers from pesticides

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Science and Technology | Achievement of Indians in science & technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: About the gel

Mains level: Preventing fatalities due to harmful pesticides


News

  • Using easily available, inexpensive natural polymers, researchers in Bengaluru have developed a gel for the skin to protect agricultural workers from harmful pesticide sprays.

Protective Gel for Farmers

  • The base of the gel is chitosan, a natural substance extracted from the waste shells of crabs and shrimps, to which a nucleophile and few aqua reagents are added to get the consistency and desired pH.
  • Organophosphate pesticides bring about the inhibition of important enzymes (AChE) of the body, which can, in turn, affect the functioning of nervous system, heart, immunity, and even the reproductive system.
  • The gel looks and feels like a cold cream and we can add suitable fragrance too.
  • Since pesticides can inhibit enzymes in blood, different experiments were carried out using rat blood to see if the gel could prevent this.
  • The gel does not just act as a simple physical barrier; it chemically deactivates pesticides.
  • The gel was found to cleave a wide range of commercially available pesticides before they enter the bloodstream, thus reducing the pesticide-induced enzyme inhibition.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

UN meet dilutes Indian plan to phase out single-use plastics

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Issues related to plastic waste disposal in India


News

  • An ambitious resolution piloted by India to phase out single-use plastics by 2025, was watered down at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) that concluded recently in Nairobi.

Deadline pushed back

  • The final declaration on March 15 removed the firm timelines and edited out the “decisively” and only committed to a “reduction by 2030.”
  • At the World Environment Day summit on June 5, 2018 India had pledged to eliminate single-use plastics from India by 2022.
  • This pushed several States — notably Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh — to enforce previous commitments to ban plastic bags and similar disposables.
  • Ahead of the UNEA, the UN secretariat had invited inputs from member states to forge a common declaration regarding addressing a host of environmental challenges.

What concerns India?

  • A CPCB estimate in 2015 says that Indian cities generate 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste daily and about 70% of the plastic produced in the country ends up as waste.
  • Seventeen States have plastic bans, on paper.
  • Experts have rued the inadequacy of collection and recycling systems to address the burgeoning plastic waste problem.

Reasons cited

  • The UNEA lauded India for playing a key role in advocating a time-bound ban on single use plastic.
  • A person privy to negotiations told that India didn’t work enough to garner international support to carry it all the way through.

Curbing Nitrogen pollution

  • Along with plastic, India also piloted a resolution on curbing nitrogen pollution.
  • The global nitrogen-use efficiency is low, resulting in pollution by reactive nitrogen which threatens human health, ecosystem services, contributes to climate change and stratospheric ozone depletion.
  • Only a small proportion of the plastics produced globally are recycled, with most of it damaging the environment and aquatic bio-diversity.

Assist this newscard with:

Ministry plugs loophole that allowed plastic waste import

Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc

New hydro policy to help meet renewables target

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Read the attached story

Mains level: Move towards India’s NDCs for clean energy


News

  • While the government’s decision to re-classify large hydroelectric projects as renewable energy will certainly help the sector, the move will also go a long way in meeting the targets set for the sector.

New Hydroelectric Policy

  • According to the new policy, large hydro projects will also be designated as renewable energy projects.
  • So far, only small hydro projects of a capacity of less than 25 MW were treated as renewable energy. Large hydro projects were treated as a separate source of energy.
  • The tag allows these to qualify as part of the framework for non-solar Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) of the states.
  • Under this, power purchasers will have to source a portion of electricity from large hydro projects.

India’s renewable capacity

  • India’s renewable energy sector had an installed capacity of 75,055.92 MW as of February 2019, according to data with the Central Electricity Authority.
  • This made up about 21.4% of the overall energy mix, with the rest coming from thermal, nuclear and large hydro sources.
  • With the inclusion of large hydro in renewable energy, the energy mix changes drastically.
  • Renewable energy capacity would now be 1, 20,455.14 MW or 34.4% of the overall energy mix.

This won’t be additional

  • This is a purely cosmetic change.
  • No additional resources have been created through this policy. It is a reclassification of existing capacity.
  • The policy has meant a drastic change in the renewable energy mix as well.
  • Whereas earlier, wind energy contributed nearly 50% of all renewable energy capacity, it will now make up only 29.3%.
  • Similarly, solar energy’s share will fall from 34.68% to 21.61%.

Huge imbalance

  • There has been a huge imbalance in the thermal-hydro mix for the last few years because of a sharp growth in thermal and complete stagnation in hydro.
  • The basic idea is to ramp up hydro because it provides grid stability which a renewable source like wind and solar do not.
  • The key reasoning seems to be providing grid stability and a better energy mix.
Renewable Energy – Wind, Tidal, Geothermal, etc.