[op-ed of the day] The wheels to a low-carbon transport system

Mains Paper 1 : Climatic Change |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Improvement in Transport Sector


CONTEXT

Congested streets and polluted air are common experiences in India’s metropolises, although the average Indian contributes only minuscule amounts of transport-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to global climate change. Patterns of road transport, however, diverge wildly between cities and districts. Delhi tops the charts and emissions are more than twice as high as other Indian megacities, such as Mumbai, Bengaluru or Ahmedabad.

Poor Conditions

  • Studies show that India’s road transport emissions are small in global comparison but increasing exponentially.
  • In fact, the Global Carbon Project reports that India’s carbon emissions are rising more than two times as fast as the global rise in 2018.
  • Globally, the transport sector accounts for a quarter of total emissions, out of which three quarters are from road transport.
  • Reducing CO2 emissions of road transport leverages multiple co-benefits, for example, improving air quality and increasing physical activity, which are critical for well-being, particularly in urban areas.
  • Climate action also requires an understanding of how emissions vary with spatial context.
  • In India, we find in our new study (published in Environmental Research Letters), that income and urbanisation are the key determinants of travel distance and travel mode choice and, therefore, commuting emissions.

Public Transport’s Role

  • The way cities are built and the design of public transit are critical for low-carbon mobility systems.
  • The study is based on the most recent results of the Indian Census in 2011.
  • Average commuting emissions in high-emitting districts (Delhi) are 16 times higher than low-emitting districts (most districts in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh).
  • Average per capita commuting emissions are highest for the most affluent districts, which are predominantly urban, and that heavily use four-wheelers for commuting.
  • This is a surprising result, as in other parts of the world such as the United States, commuting emissions are low in urban areas but high in suburban or ex-urban settings.
  • In contrast, average per capita commuting emissions are lowest for Indian districts that are poor, and commuting distances are short and rarely use three-wheelers.

Suggestions To improve

Two policy implications follow.

1.Organise cities around public transport  –

  • First, mayors and town planners should organise cities around public transport and cycling, thereby improving mobility for many, while limiting car use.
  • Uptake of non-motorised transport emerges as a sweet spot of sustainable development, resulting in both lower emissions and better public health in cities.
  • According to the recent National Family Health Survey (2015-16), nearly 30% of all men are overweight or obese in southwest Delhi, but only 25% in Thiruvananthapuram and 13% in Allahabad.
  • These data correlate with high reliance of car use in Delhi and low demand for walking.

Effect on Health

  • Addressing Chronic Diseases – Another of our studies that investigates data from the India Human Development Survey shows that a 10% increase in cycling could lower chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases for 0.3 million people, while also abating emissions.
  • Car use, in contrast, correlates with higher rates of diabetes.
  • Therefore, fuel price increases, congestion charges or parking management could be a strategy that improves the well-being of individuals living in urban areas.
  • In contrast, fuel price increases would be detrimental in poorer rural areas, impairing mobility where there is a lack of alternatives.

2.Technology transition

  • Electric Vehicles – Second, India should double down in its strategy to transition to electric two and three-wheelers.
  • A recent study reports that India has 1.5 million battery-powered three-wheeler rickshaw (over 300,000 e-rickshaws sold in 2018).
  • Rampant Growth – In the coming years, experts judge that the electric three-wheeler market is expected to grow by at least 10% per year. In 2019, nearly 110,000 electric two-wheelers were also sold, and the annual growth rate may be above 40% per year.
  • Make in India – India is one of the world’s largest producers and consumers in two- and three- wheelers and Indian companies can take a leading role in switching to electric vehicles. This will also help in transforming India’s vision of ‘Make in India’.

Way Forward

  • Compact cities improve accessibility and reduce emissions from transport and even the building sector.
  • Most Indian cities are already very dense, with few benefits expected by further high-rise.
  • Short routes and fast access – City managers should ensure that existing urban areas provide short routes and fast access to schools, hospitals and jobs, otherwise, residents would be required to travel long distances.
  • To achieve this aim, mayors and decision-makers need to rethink how to deliver basic services such as education and health.
  • Achieving low carbon development – Building schools and hospitals matters especially for informal settlements and are critical in achieving low carbon development as well as improving the quality of life.
  • Access to public service Centres – Providing access to public service, choosing rapid transit over car driving in cities and supporting the rise of electric two and three-wheelers will help drive India to a modern and low-carbon transport system fit for the 21st century.
Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Explained: Huawei controversy and 5G rollout in India

Mains : Awareness In The Fields Of It, Space, Computers, Robotics, Nano-Technology, Bio-Technology |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : 5G technology

Mains level : Huawei Row


News

  • The telecom minister has said that India would conduct field trials for 5G telephony in the first 100 days of the new government.
  • One question that has been asked is whether Chinese equipment manufacturer Huawei will be able to participate in the trials.
  • Huawei was blacklisted by the US government for American companies to do business with after it was alleged that the company shared data with the Chinese government through the backdoor.

Why did US blacklist Huawei?

  • Huawei is the world’s largest maker of telecommunications equipment and the No. 2 vendor of smartphones, ahead of Apple Inc.
  • However, notwithstanding its dominance, the US has effectively banned Huawei from selling its products after a 2012 congressional report stated that Huawei could be a security risk.
  • According to the US, Huawei’s owners have close links with the Chinese military and, as such, the company cannot be trusted with data.
  • The treatment of Huawei has become a massive reason for further straining the already fraught diplomatic relations between the US and China.

India stand on the Huawei controversy

  • Following Huawei’s blacklisting several countries were asked to take a stand on whether or not to allow the company to operate.
  • Certain countries such as the UK did not follow the US and cited benefits to operators from Huawei’s cost-efficient technology as the reason behind not banning the firm.
  • While India is yet to take a stand on whether or not to allow Huawei in 5G trials, officials at the telecom department have indicated that a decision will be taken in consultation with the MHA and MEA.
  • Huawei, however, has said that it is ready to sign a “no-backdoor” agreement with the Indian government and telecom companies to ensure that no snooping is allowed on its network.

Where does India stand on the rollout of 5G vis-a-vis other countries?

  • Deliberations are still on whether to give spectrum for 5G in the 25 GHz and 28 GHz bands.
  • This is one of the factors causing a delay in the auction of airwaves necessary for 5G deployment.
  • In February last year, Airtel and Huawei conducted a lab trial for 5G during which a user throughput of 3 Gbps was achieved. However, not much has moved since then.
  • A committee of the telecom ministry recently cleared the proposal to allow few Indian companies to conduct 5G spectrum trial.

What happens after field trials are conducted?

  • Field trials allow operators and equipment makers to prove that the network they have built in a laboratory also works outside in a field.
  • Even after conducting the field trials, operators will have a long way to go before commercial rollout primarily because of the lack of availability of the necessary spectrum.
  • Some telecom companies, however, have questioned the need for rolling out 5G in India given that focus is still on the propagation of 4G services, especially in the hinterlands of the country.
Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Explained: Why power costs vary across states

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Discrepancies in Indian power sector


News

  • Recently a MP from Rajya Sabha suggested that power tariffs should be uniform across the country so that affordable power is available to all.
  • He complained that consumers in Punjab paid Rs 8 per unit of electricity, much more than consumers in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh and J&K.

Power tariffs across state

  • The electricity tariff paid by consumers in each state is directly reflective of the cost of power procurement by the power distribution companies (discoms) in the state.
  • There are state-specific factors for this.
  • So, states such as Jharkhand or Odisha or Chhattisgarh, which have had coal-fired thermal capacity, would typically have lower tariffs because of the base-load capacities that they possess.
  • Or, states such as Himachal or Uttarakhand would have low tariffs because of hydropower capacities .
  • On the other hand, a state like Gujarat, which has capacities based on imported coal, will have comparatively higher tariffs.

So is the idea of having a flat countrywide rate feasible?

  • The State Electricity Regulatory Commissions (SERCs) decide on the power tariff after utilities file their cost of power with the regulators.
  • Because power tariffs entail a number of state-specific factors a uniform nationwide tariff is a proposition that would be difficult to implement.
  • Electricity was a state subject and there has to be consensus for uniform power tariffs among state players.
UDAY Scheme for Discoms

“State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World” Report

Mains Paper 2 : Health & Education |


News

  • The “State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World” was recently released.

About the report

  • It is published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other UN agencies including the WHO.
  • The report estimated that 820 million people worldwide did not have enough to eat in 2018, up from 811 million in the previous year.
  • At the same time, the number of overweight individuals and obesity continue to increase in all regions.

Highlights of the report

  • The number of people going hungry has risen for the third year running to more than 820 million. After decades of decline, food insecurity began to increase in 2015.
  • Africa and Asia account for more than nine out of ten of the world’s stunted children, at 39.5% and 54.9% respectively.
  • However at the same time, obesity and excess weight are both on the rise in all regions, with school-age children and adults affected particularly.

India scenario

  • The number of obese adults in India has risen by a fourth in four years, from 24.1 million in 2012 to 32.8 million in 2016.
  • While India’s undernourished population has dropped by roughly the same fraction in 12 years, from 253.9 million in 2004-06 to 194.4 million in 2016-18.

Compared with China

  • The report has a section on economic growth in China and India, and its effect on poverty.
  • Between 1990 and 2017, the two countries had an average GDP per capita growth rate of 8.6 per cent and 4.5 per cent respectively, the report said, citing World Bank.
  • In both countries, the increase in GDP per capita has been accompanied by poverty reduction.
Mother and Child Health – Immunization Program, BPBB, PMJSY, PMMSY, etc.

[pib] Broadband Readiness Index (BRI)

Mains Paper 2 : E-Governance |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BRI

Mains level : Utility of the BRI


News

Broadband Readiness Index (BRI)

  • The Department of Telecom and the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) signed a MoU to develop a Broadband Readiness Index (BRI) for Indian States and UTs.
  • The first estimate will be made in 2019 and subsequently every year until 2022.

Why such index?

  • The National Digital Communication Policy (NDCP) 2018 acknowledged the need for building a robust digital communications infrastructure leveraging existing assets of the broadcasting and power sectors.
  • Accordingly the policy recommended that a BRI for States and UTs be developed to attract investments and address Right of Way challenges across India.

Utility of the index

  • This index will appraise the condition of the underlying digital infrastructure and related factors at the State/UT level.
  • Such an exercise will provide useful insights into strategic choices made by States for investment allocations in ICT programmes.
  • In the spirit of competitive federalism, the index will encourage states to cross learn and jointly participate in achieving the overall objective of digital inclusion and development in India.
  • The framework will not only evaluate a state’s relative development but will also allow for better understanding of a state’s strengths and weaknesses that can feed into evidence-based policy making.

BRI of components

  • Part I will focus on infrastructure development based on the measurement of nine parameters.
  • Part II consists of demand side parameters which will be captured through primary surveys.
  • It will include indicators such as percentage of households using computers/ laptops with internet connection, percentage of households with fixed broadband connection, internet users as a percentage of the population, smart phones density, percentage of households with at least one digitally literate member, etc.
  • This will be a first of its kind exercise that will comprehensively measure the development of telecom infrastructure at the sub national level.
Digital India Initiatives

Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India (AERA)

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AERA

Mains level : Read the attached story


News

  • The Rajya Sabha has passed a Bill allowing the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India (AERA) to bid out any new airport at a pre-determined tariff structure.
  • The AERA (Amendment) Bill was approved by the Cabinet in December 2017.

About AERA

  • AERA is a regulator that has the powers to set the tariffs charged at airports.
  • Sixteen airports will be under the jurisdiction of AERA.
  • All the other airports which would not be major airports will continue to be looked after by the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Govt. of India.
  • Currently, all major airports with an annual capacity of handling 1.5 million passengers come under the purview of AERA.

Promises of the amendment

  • At present the passenger throughput at the airports under Airport Authority of India (AAI) is in the vicinity of 344.69 million.
  • So the limited purpose of this amendment is to substitute the figure 1.5 million which defined a major airport, which reflected 1.3 per cent of the passenger traffic at that point of time, by the figure 3.5 million.
  • This accurately reflects the state of traffic today and maintains proportionality.
  • If the amendment if effected, the definition of major airports will change to any aerodrome which has or is designated to have an annual passenger capacity of 3.5 million.

Why such bill?

  • The number of airports which are carrying high traffic has increased considerably and the government is hoping to ease the cumbersome process of fixing tariffs which the regulator had to undertake every five years.
  • With the advent of privatization and increasing number of airports being privatized, the Airports Authority shall not determine the tariff or tariff structures in the case such airports.
  • This is so because the tariff structure is part of the bid which is offered at the time of privatization.
Civil Aviation Sector – CA Policy 2016, UDAN, Open Skies, etc.

[op-ed snap] Rethinking KUSUM

Mains Paper 3 : Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Redesigning Kusum


CONTEXT

  • Earlier this year, the Cabinet approved the Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (KUSUM).
  • There is a budgetary allocation of ₹34,000 crore to KUSUM and a similar contribution is expected from the States.

Features of KUSUM

  • KUSUM aims to provide energy sufficiency and sustainable irrigation access to farmers.
  • Objective – Providing financial and water security to farmers.
  • The components of the proposed scheme are
    1. Component-A: 10,000 MW of Decentralized Ground Mounted Grid Connected Renewable Power Plants.
    2. Component-B: Installation of 17.50 lakh standalone Solar Powered Agriculture Pumps.
    3. Component-C: Solarisation of 10 Lakh Grid-connected Solar Powered Agriculture Pumps.

Current Situation

  • Despite growing farm power subsidies, nearly 30 million farmers use expensive diesel for their irrigation needs.
  • This is because they have no access to electricity. More than half of India’s net sown area remains unirrigated.
  • KUSUM could radically transform the irrigation economy if the government chooses an approach of equity by design and prudence over populism.

Approach of Equity 

  • Reducing disparity among States with regard to solar pumps deployment and irrigation access should be the first aim.
  • This disparity highlights poor State budget allocation towards solar pumps and the lack of initiative by State nodal agencies.
  • To encourage equitable deployment, the Centre could incentivise States through target linked financial assistance and create avenues for peer learning.
  • Addressing inequity within a State – This is addressed by a share of central financial assistance under KUSUM should be appropriated for farmers with small landholdings and belonging to socially disadvantaged groups.
  • By providing greater financial assistance to smaller farmers, instead of a one­size­fits­all approach.
  • KUSUM proposes a 60% subsidy for the pumps, borne equally by the Centre and the States, and the other 40% will be the farmer’s contribution.
  • This will exacerbate the inter farmer disparity given the inequity in access to credit and repayment capacity between small and large farmers.
  • A more economical and equitable alternative – A higher capital subsidy support to small and marginal farmers and long-term loans with interest subsidies for large and medium farmers.

 Prudence over populism

  • Solarising existing grid connected pumps needs a complete rethink.
  • Existing grid connected farmers would receive the same financial support as that received by an off-grid farmer.
  • In addition, the farmer would earn regular income from the DISCOM on feeding surplus electricity, furthering the inequitable distribution of taxpayers’ resources.
  • Instead of this, the scheme should only provide Central government subsidy of up to 30% for solarisation, and use the proposed State support to incentivise DISCOMs to procure energy from the farmers.
  • Instead of feeding surplus energy to the grid, solar pump capacity could be used to power post harvesting processes, which complement the seasonal irrigation load.
  • The entire feeder could be solarised through a reverse bidding approach, and provide water conservation linked incentives to farmers as direct benefit transfer.
Renewable Energy – Wind, Tidal, Geothermal, etc.

[op-ed snap] Chinese check: on economic troubles

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : China's Growth is slowing down


CONTEXT

The Chinese economy is seeing the first signs of trouble after long years of sustained growth that rode on cheap labour and high volumes of exports.

Background

  • Data released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Monday revealed that the economy grew by 6.2% in the second quarter, its slowest pace in 27 years.
  • This is in contrast to the growth rates of 6.4% and 6.6% reported for the first quarter and the full year of 2018, respectively.
  • The faltering growth rate was due to a slump in exports in June amidst China’s ongoing trade war with the United States and the downturn witnessed by sectors such as housing construction, where investor sentiments play a major role.
  • Many economists believe that the worst may not yet be over for China and that economic growth could further worsen in the coming quarters.

Rise in Domestic Demand –

  • But just as growth seems to be faltering, the latest growth figures also showed that the retail sales and industrial output components of the growth numbers witnessed steady growth, suggesting that domestic demand may be compensating for the dropping appetite for Chinese exports weighed down by high tariffs.
  • But with China still heavily reliant on exports and its trade war with the U.S. showing no signs of coming to an end, the pressure on growth is likely to remain for some more time.

Measures tried by Chinese Government –

So the Chinese government, which has tried to boost the economy through measures such as tax cuts, increased public spending and a relaxation in bank reserve requirements to encourage banks to increase lending, will hope that domestic demand for its goods will hold up the economy.

Challenges in data credibility –

China’s quarterly GDP numbers, while useful in many ways, don’t reveal very much about the underlying challenges facing the country. One is the need to improve the credibility of data released by the Chinese government.

Restructuring of Chinese Economy –

Driven primarily by market forces – An even larger challenge is the urgent need to restructure the Chinese economy from one that is driven heavily by state-led investment and exports to one that is driven primarily by market forces.

Huge amount of liquidity – The high-growth years of the Chinese economy were made possible by the huge amount of liquidity provided by the Chinese state and the large and affordable workforce that helped build China into an export powerhouse.

Conclusion

More sustainable model – But now, with China’s tried and tested growth model facing the threat of getting derailed as the export and investment boom comes to an end, the Chinese will have to build a more sustainable model, or forfeit hopes of double-digit economic growth in the future.

Restructure the economy – As of now, there are no signs to suggest that the Chinese authorities are looking at implementing deep-seated structural reforms reminiscent of its early decades of liberalisation that can help fundamentally restructure the economy.

Boosting domestic consumption –  There might not be a need for radical macroeconomic changes, but China’s economic troubles will not go away unless the government boosts domestic consumption and reduces the reliance on exports.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China