4 July 2020: The Indian Express Editorial Analysis
1) A different track-
GS 2- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
On Wednesday, the Indian Railways initiated the process to allow private firms to operate passenger trains on its network by inviting entities to participate on 109 origin-destination routes through 151 new trains.
- In return, private operators will have to pay fixed haulage(charge for the commercial transport of goods) charges, energy charges on the basis of actual consumption.
- It also has to share of their gross revenue to the Railways — the last parameter will be bid upon.
- 151 trains will form a minuscule(small) portion of the entire railway network.
- But this marks the beginning of private sector participation in passenger train operations, the only form of transport that remains a government monopoly.
- The Railways has taken some steps to make this an attractive proposition for the private sector.
- For instance, the time slots for private operations have been fixed at the bidding stage itself.
- There will be questions over the financial viability of some routes.
- Railways also tend to cross-subsidize passenger fares through freight revenue.
- (Cross subsidization is the practice of charging higher prices to one type of consumers to artificially lower prices for another group)
- This translates to below cost pricing, which will make it difficult for private players to compete.
- On the other hand, higher fares needed to cover costs might bring them in direct competition with airlines, pricing them out of the market.
- Further, as the experience of private operators in running container trains suggests, setting up an independent regulator will be critical for creating a level playing field for private players.
- Currently, the same entity is effectively the policy maker, regulator and service provider, rolled into one.
- This, as the Bibek Debroy committee pointed out, “is a clear conflict of interest”.
- An independent regulator can help establish trust with the private sector, facilitating its entry, but without it, the balance of power will continue to be tilted in favour of the Railways.
- While liberalising the entry of new operators may be the path for improving services, and facilitating growth of the sector, there is need to exercise caution.
RAKESH MOHAN COMMITTEE REPORT:
It pointed out that the international experience on privatising railways showed that it was “exceedingly difficult and controversial” — and keeping in mind the social welfare concerns, this should be treated as an opportunity to explore what will work, while keeping the flexibility to adjust the framework and fine-tune the rules and regulations.
Indian Railways opening up to private players in passenger services is a good idea — but there will be challenges ahead.
2) In a Plastic Crisis-
GS 3- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
- An inanimate(lifeless) object and hitherto(although) a longstanding enemy — single-use plastic (SUP) has been thriving and proliferating(increase) on an unprecedented(large) scale on the back of the global pandemic.
- Our increased dependence on non-recyclable items such as plastic-lined masks, gloves, hand sanitiser bottles and other personal protective equipment has been increasing.
- There has also been a steep increase in day-to-day items such as plastic bags and delivery packaging.
- In 2018, a report by McKinsey estimated that, globally, we generate 350 million tonnes of plastic waste a year of which only 16 per cent is recycled.
- Today, the WHO estimates that the planet is using about 89 million masks and 16 million gloves each month.
- The amount of plastic waste it’s generating is much higher than that estimated in the McKinsey report two years ago.
- To complete the stark picture, The Guardian recently reported that there are possibly more masks than jellyfish in the oceans today.
- The plastic-made items we use to protect ourselves against the coronavirus are necessary, no doubt, although cloth masks have increasingly been encouraged for common use.
- These are essential short-term needs for health, sanitation and other frontline workers as preventive measures against the coronavirus.
- But what about the long-term environmental impact on the planet?
- Are we waiting for the pandemic to be over to assess the damage or should we try to deal with the problem now?
- In pre-coronavirus times, different nations had their own programmes to handle plastic waste.
- In India, we have the Plastic Waste Management Rules of 2016, which were updated and amended in 2018.
- In fact, India saw incredible momentum in its fight for effective management of plastic waste in the last year.
- The Prime Minister made clarion calls for a jan andolan (people’s movement) to curb the use of SUP and to ensure proper disposal of all plastic waste.
- He led the way by “plogging” — collecting plastic waste while jogging — on the Mamallapuram beach in Tamil Nadu.
- As recently as September-October 2019, the entire country rallied together under the banner of the Swachhata Hi Seva campaign.
- People from all walks of life collected plastic waste from their surroundings and disposed of it suitably with the help of the local authorities.
- Today, the national, as well as the global momentum for plastic waste management, has been seriously disrupted.
- Thailand, which had banned disposable plastic bags at major stores in January and had planned to slash plastic waste completely in 2020, now expects to see such waste rise by as much as 30 per cent.
- In Indonesia, 63,000 workers were recently laid off in the recycling industry.
- Even the Bring Your Own (BYO) movement started in Singapore in 2017, where consumers were urged to bring their own utensils to restaurants in the effort to reuse and recycle, has received a blow with global giants such as Starbucks doing away with their “Bring Your Own Cups” policy due to the pandemic.
- Plastic is not the problem, our handling of it is.
- We need plastic, but not SUP, which is difficult to dispose of effectively, and that is where the problem lies.
- It is important to understand this distinction so we may change our behaviour and our lifestyles, to balance our need for plastic with effectively managing its waste.
- To go back to the opening cliché, one way to approach the issue is to treat it not just as an environmental problem but as an economic opportunity.
- We require new business models which are designed for sustainability.
- In Uganda, they are melting plastic waste to make face shields which are being sold for just a dollar each.
- In Singapore, start-ups are using stainless steel cups and bamboo boxes, which can be returned and reused after being washed and sanitised.
SHIFT IN BEHAVIOUR:
- But, most of all, we need a tectonic shift in the behaviour of consumers.
- We need consumers to care about their role in the plastic waste value chain, using their power to change the existing unsustainable approach.
- This had started in India until the pressing need to confront the coronavirus took precedence over the fight against SUP.
- Rural India have declared themselves open defecation free (ODF),
- Village communities across the country are now starting to plan for setting up waste collection and segregation systems under phase 2 of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen).
- The options are all around us, but true change is only possible when each one of us takes responsibility for the environment around us.
- It is important to take necessary steps to Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and, when all else fails, Remove, or dispose of plastic waste safely and effectively.
- At some point, hopefully, sooner rather than later, we will eradicate the coronavirus.
- This would possibly be by using a vaccine, which will be administered by using a single-use plastic syringe, each consisting of 0.052 grams of single-use plastic.
- If each of the 7.8 billion people around the world had to be inoculated(safeguard), this would amount to an additional plastic consumption of 400 tonnes.
Are we going to wait till the end of the pandemic to effectively dispose of plastic waste, or is the time now?
3) Crime and Impunity-
- The brutal torture and death of a father and son in custody in Tamil Nadu brings the issue of police impunity(protection) to the fore(focus) once again.
- The deaths were not caused by bullets, which might have been less painful, but by organ damage that shows how merciless the policemen were.
- The victims were dragged to the police station for a non-violent crime — a civil offence of keeping the shop open longer than allowed.
- But where is India’s Floyd moment?
- Earlier this week, the Maharashtra government reinstated four policemen accused in the custodial death of Khwaja Yunus in 2003.
- Yunus’s mother has filed a contempt of court petition since a suspension done by a court order cannot be legally revoked by the government.
- Her son, an IT engineer, was taken by the police and never returned. She could not even see his dead body.
- The family went to the Bombay High Court.
- A CID enquiry revealed that while the police claimed that Yunus had absconded, he had died in police custody.
- He was allegedly stripped and beaten on the chest and abdomen with a belt in a lockup.
- Out of the 14 indicted policemen, only four were charged by the Maharashtra government.
- The case for murder, voluntarily causing grievous hurt to extort confession, fabricating evidence, and criminal conspiracy, is still pending.
- Successive governments have failed to charge policemen indicted by Srikrishna Commission for their inaction or direct violence in the Bombay riots of 1992-93, for shooting Muslims point-blank, for sending families back to rioters.
- This kind of police behaviour often gets justified as “stress” or because “the police are common people too”.
- This is a twisted argument that allows the police on one hand, to be egoistic men, and on the other hand, provides them with arms, closed spaces and immunity(protection) from consequences.
- In India, the structures that enable police brutality date back to the British Raj.
- The colonial government used bullets, torture and branding as criminals to discipline the lowest strata of Indians, including tribals, Dalits and Muslims.
- After Independence, the police departments continued to be brutal, prejudiced and bereft(deprived) of scientific policing techniques.
- A survey showed that 14% of police personnel feel that Muslims are “very much” naturally prone to committing crimes, while 36 per cent feel that Muslims are “somewhat” prone.
- This bias comes handy when the current right-wing political regime tries to “teach a lesson” to its political opponents.
- From Kashmir to Northeast Delhi, from JNU and Jamia to Aligarh Muslim University, we have seen aggressive police actions against protesters.
FUELLING HATRED AGAINST MUSLIMS:
- The Hindu-Muslim rift that started before Partition has been successfully fuelled by the right-wing in the past three decades.
- The “dangerous minority” discourse overshadows that systemic discrimination and economic deprivation of Muslims has resulted in Muslim OBCs (lower castes amongst Muslims) sinking on social and economic indicators — as revealed by the Justice Sachar Committee report in 2006.
- The propaganda that portrays Muslims as villains creates impunity for the police.
- India does not follow the “command responsibility” principle for police chiefs — the commander of forces is not held guilty for failing to curb illegal activities of those in his charge.
- Nor does the law permit common citizens to sue(charge) a police officer – only the government has that discretion.
- Governments and superior officers have been alleged to shield the guilty, making the path to justice thorny(difficult) for the survivors of police brutality.