1. Elephants are victims of train collisions and electric fences in rising man-animal conflicts
Page 8/Editorial - Corridors of Death
GS 3: Environment - conservation & Environmental' impact assessment.
Expected Question: Killing of elephants due to various reasons is the biggest challenge for the Project Elephant in India. What steps are necessary to reduce the avoidable deaths of elephants? (150 words)
Context: The death of five elephants, four of them cows, caused by trains colliding with them, and all within a week, has again highlighted the gaps in efforts to reduce man-animal conflicts in the country.
On November 26, the first accident occurred near Madukkarai in Coimbatore district, Tamil Nadu that has seen many an elephant death on a rail track stretch that extends up to Kanjikode, Kerala.
The second accident was near Jagiroad in Assam’s Morigaon district, four days later. Both accidents were at night.
Data about elephant collisions: A reply by the Project Elephant division of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in May to a set of RTI questions highlighted reasons other than natural causes as having led to the killing of 1,160 elephants over 11 years ending December 2020;
741 deaths were due to electrocution;
railway accidents accounted for 186 cases;
poaching 169 and
Death by Railway accidents:
The pattern of train accidents involving elephants has been studied by different stakeholders, including the Railways, Forest and Wildlife Departments and activists, especially with regard to the Madukkarai stretch.
That a greater number of casualties getting reported are in elephant passages has been confirmed by the C&AG in its latest compliance audit report on the Ministry of Railways.
Effective solutions - by comptroller & Auditor General report
Installing hanging solar-powered fences, as has been planned in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and
Planting citronella and lemon grass, as done in Golaghat district, Assam, to deter elephants are some of the large-scale options.
The authorities should ensure that there are no illegal electric fences or barbed wire fences, which, instead, can be replaced with the solar powered ones.
Participation of local communities is crucial.
Elevated Wildlife crossings: The Environment Ministry and Ministry of Railways should also expedite proposals for elevated wildlife crossings or eco-bridges and underpasses for the safe passage of animals.
A finding of the C&AG was that after the construction of underpasses and overpasses in the areas under the jurisdiction of East Central and Northeast Frontier Railways, there was no death reported.
From C&AG report:
Periodic review of identification of elephant passages,
More sensitisation programmes for railway staff,
Standardisation of track signage,
Installation of an animal detection system (transmitter collars) and
‘honey bee’ sound-emitting devices near all identified elephant passages.
Creating awareness: The critical role elephants play in biodiversity conservation must be highlighted, especially to those living in areas close to elephant corridors.
Participation of the state governments: Of the 29,964 elephants in India, nearly 14,580 are in the southern region, and the State governments concerned and the Centre need to find lasting solutions to the problem of man-animal conflicts.
Way forward: The recommendations from the report of Comptroller and Auditor general of India's(C&AG's) latest compliance audit report on the Ministry of Railways, must be implemented swiftly in this regard.
2. Recast this apples-and-oranges ranking method; The NIRF’s ranking of State-run and centrally-funded higher education institutions on a common scale is problematic
Page 8/Editorial - Recast this apples-and-oranges ranking method
GS 2: Education
Expected Question: Determine the important parameters on which a university must be ranked. Analyse the importance of NIRF in this regard. (150 words)
The Premise: The ranking of State-run higher education institutions (HEIs) together with centrally funded institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the Indian Institute of Science, the National Institutes of Technology, central universities, etc. using the National Institutional Ranking Framework, or the NIRF (a methodology adopted by the Ministry of Education, Government of India, to rank institutions of higher education in India), is akin to comparing apples and oranges.
University related data in India:
Number of Universities in India; According to an All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2019-20 report, there are 1,043 HEIs; of these, 48 are central universities, 135 are institutions of national importance, one is a central open university, 386 are State public universities, five are institutions under the State legislature act, 14 are State open universities, 327 are State private universities, one is a State private open university, 36 are government deemed universities, 10 are government aided deemed universities and 80 are private deemed universities.
The total enrolment in higher education has been estimated to be 38.5 million — 19.6 million boys and 18.9 million girls (female students constitute 49% of the total enrolment).
About National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF)
It is a methodology initiated by Ministry of Education(M/o E) to rank all institutions of higher education in India on the basis of voluntary participation:
The Methodology: The NIRF outlines a methodology to rank HEIs across the country, which is based on a set of metrics for the ranking of HEIs as agreed upon by a core committee of experts set up by the then Ministry of Human Resources Development (now the Ministry of Education), Government of India.
Teaching & learning resources, includes metrics viz. student strength including doctoral students, faculty-student ratio with an emphasis on permanent faculty, a combined metric for faculty with the qualification of PhD (or equivalent) and experience, and financial resources and their utilisation.
Research output & Professional Practice - consulting & collaborating performance; It encompasses a combined metric for publications, a combined metric for quality of publications, intellectual property rights/patents and the footprint of projects, professional practice and executive development programmes
Graduation Outcomes - which includes the placement records.
Inclusivity and outreach
The Criticism of this approach:
Comparing Apples with Oranges: The rationale to compare State universities and colleges with the top colleges(IITs/IISCs/NITs), to which the Central government is committed to sponsoring resources and infrastructure, is inexplicable.
The Central government earmarked the sums, ₹7,686 crore and ₹7,643.26 crore to the IITs and central universities, respectively, in the Union Budget 2021.
No comparison on cost-benefit analysis/economic indicators such as return on investment(RoI) the Government made into them vis-à-vis the contribution of their students in nation building parameters such as the number of students who passed out serving in rural areas, tier-2 and tier 3 cities of the country and bringing relief to common man.
No comparison on the Social returns: While students who pass out of elite institutions generally prefer to move abroad in search of higher studies and better career prospects, a majority of State HEIs contribute immensely in building the local economy.
It takes cognisance of only the strength of institutions while completely disregarding the problems and the impediments they encounter, hence, disallowing a level-playing-field to State universities and colleges vis-à-vis their centrally funded counterparts.
Inadequacy of Funding:
Inequity in funding: A close study of this data shows that 184 are centrally funded institutions (out of 1,043 HEIs in the country) to which the Government of India generously allocates its financial resources in contrast to inadequate financial support provided by State governments to their respective State public universities and colleges.
Largest number of students are enrolled in State universities: out of the total student enrolment, the number of undergraduate students is the largest (13,97,527) in State public universities followed by State open universities (9,22,944).
Deficiencies: The financial health of State-sponsored HEIs is an open secret with salary and pension liabilities barely being managed.
Many are located in rural areas: It must be noted that 420 universities in India are located in rural areas. Scare resources and the lackadaisical attitude of States preclude such institutions from competing with centrally sponsored and strategically located HEIs.
Lagging state university Ranking on critical parameters
Teaching, learning and resources: In the absence of adequate faculty strength, most State HEIs lag behind in this crucial NIRF parameter for ranking. The depleting strength of teachers, from 15,18,813 (2015-16) to 15,03,156 (2019-20), as a result of continuous retirement and low recruitment has further weakened the faculty-student ratio with an emphasis on permanent faculty in HEIs.
Research and professional practice: As most laboratories need drastic modernisation in keeping pace with today’s market demand, it is no wonder that State HEIs fare miserably in this parameter as well while pitted against central institutions.
Silver-lining: Interestingly the share of PhD students is the highest in State public universities, i.e. 29.8%, followed by institutes of national importance (23.2%), deemed universities – private (13.9%) and central universities (13.6%), while the funds State HEIs receive are much less when compared to centrally funded institutions.
State HEIs are struggling to embrace emerging technologies involving artificial intelligence, machine learning, block chains, smart boards, handheld computing devices, adaptive computer testing for student development, and other forms of educational software/hardware to remain relevant as per the New Education Policy.
Way Forward for State universities:
Better financial allocation: As quality research publications and the number of patents filed in State HEIs are contingent on well-equipped laboratories, modern libraries and generously funded infrastructure, it is imperative for policymakers to reorient financial allocation strategies towards State HEIs.
Ranking HEIs on a common scale purely based on strengths without taking note of the challenges and the weaknesses they face is not justified.
It is time the NIRF plans an appropriate mechanism to rate the output and the performance of institutes in light of their constraints and the resources available to them.