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30 December 2020: The Indian Express Editorial Analysis

1) Dedicated Freight Corridor

GS 3- Infrastructure: Railways


CONTEXT:

  1. Recently, Indian Prime Minister inaugurated a 351-km section between Khurja (12th stop after Sohnewal in the North) and New Bhaupur, near Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh for commercial operations of the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC).
  2. A state-of-the-art Operation Control Centre in Prayagraj was also dedicated to the nation.

 

ABOUT:

  1. This new section is built at a cost of Rs 5,750 crore through a loan from World Bank (which is funding a majority of the EDFC; the WDFC is being funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency)
  2. The new stations in this section are Bhaupur, Kanchausi, Achalda, Ekdil, Bhadan, Makhanpur, Tundla, Hathras, Daudkan and Khurja.
  3. This section passes through Kanpur Dehat, Auraiya, Etawah, Firozabad, Hathras, Aligarh and Bulandshahr districts in Uttar Pradesh.
  4. This total 2,843-km project is the largest rail infrastructure being built in independent India which has been in the making since 2006 with little movement on the ground.

 

TWO ARMS OF DFC:

  1. The recent section launched is part of the 1,839-km Eastern DFC (EDFC) that starts at Sohnewal (Ludhiana) in Punjab and ends at Dankuni in West Bengal.
  2. Around 1,500-km Western DFC (WDFC) from Dadri in Uttar Pradesh to Jawaharlal Nehru Port [JNPT] in Mumbai.

 

Other stretches are Sohnewal to Khurja (365 km), Bhaupur to Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay (Mughalsarai) (400 km), then to Sonnagar in West Bengal (137 km), then to Dankuni via Gomoh in Jharkhand (538 km). There is also a section under construction between Dadri and Khurja to connect the Eastern and Western arms.

 

SIGNIFICANCE OF NEW SECTION:

  1. Around 70% of the freight trains currently running on the Indian Railway network are slated to shift to the freight corridors, leaving the paths open for more passenger trains.
  2. This is like building an entire railway network from scratch, independent of Indian Railways. All the installations are new. Including the stations, and hence the name of stations prefixed with ‘New’, like New Bhaupur, New Khurja etc.
  3. Freight trains usually suffer from unpredictable running times and low speeds of around 25 km per hour (kph). But they can run at 50-60 kph on this new section.
  4. Tracks on DFC are designed to carry heavier loads than most of Indian Railways. DFC will get track access charge from the parent Indian Railways, and also generate its own freight business.
  5. Freight trains plying on this section will now decongest the existing Kanpur-Delhi main line, which currently handles trains at 150% of its line capacity.
  6. Now, on the Indian Railway main line, more passenger trains can be pumped in and those trains can, in turn, achieve better punctuality.
  7. This new section is free from any permanent or temporary speed restrictions.
  8. For Business development plan, this section will also catch the freight traffic originating from key centres like Kanpur Dehat, Aurayia, Etawah, Firozabad, Hathras, Aligarh and Bulandshahr. The existing industrial areas will become major growth centres of the area.
  9. The agricultural produce will get a pan-India market because of cheaper and faster DFC connectivity.
  • Foodgrain and fertilisers from the northern region are transported to the eastern and Northeast regions. From East and Northeast, coal, iron ore, jute and petroleum products are transported North and West.
  • New Makhanpur (Firozabad) and New Daudkhan (Aligarh) will be opened as common user terminals aimed at local farmers in sending their produce to the larger markets.

 

2)Lessons from a Pandemic

GS 3- Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life


CONTEXT:

  1. COVID-19 in year 2020 caused untold human suffering and death, unraveling of social relationships, and robbing individuals of livelihoods and countries of prosperity.
  2. It has strained health systems, revealed unconscionable inequalities, and upended international institutions but on the other hand, it has brought rare attention on science, particularly on the health sciences.
  3. Various issues were discussed like public health, the mechanism of spread of viral diseases, or the state of country’s scientific research, difficulties in clinical trials of drugs and vaccines etc.
  4. Science, and its tools related to diagnostic tests, or clinical management of more serious patients to prevent deaths, or the search for effective drugs and vaccines, was the primary weapon to be deployed in the fight against the pandemic.

 

NOT AS BAD AS FEARED:

  1. India hasn’t feared as badly as many had feared at the start of the outbreak even it also witnessed huge number of deaths and millions livelihood was affected. But, considering its population and density, the disregard for public hygiene, and unsound public health infrastructure, much worse had been predicted for India.
  2. From the past few weeks, India is witnessing steady decline in the number of cases amid elections, festivals, and a gradual lifting of all restrictions on movement. On the other hand, other major countries are struggling to cope with a second or third wave.
  3. Interventions adopted by India to reduce the impact of the pandemic have worked well, as compared to the ‘others’. For example, lockdown, though essential, could have been implemented in a better way, and the problem of migrants starting to walk back to their villages should have been anticipated. Similarly, the messaging from the Indian Council of Medical Research, or the Health Ministry left a lot to be desired.
  4. It is the lessons learnt from this crisis that humans could see guiding our science and technology policy in the coming years, not just in the realm of health sector, but science in general.

 

INHERENT SCIENTIFIC CAPACITIES:

  1. India has built fairly robust science and technology infrastructure and network over the years and it could benefit from this.
  2. To deal with the pandemic, gradually, India increased the number of diagnostic tests to detect coronavirus infections. Increasing the number of people being tested contributed in a major way to restricting the spread of the disease.
  3. Initial problem of lack of adequate testing kits, reagents and chemicals, and medical equipment like PPE suits and even sanitisers, was overcome. India imported all these things from abroad, not because it could not indigenously manufacture, but due to more cost-effective. But the supply became increasingly uncertain due to travel restrictions, and burgeoning global demand. Then, Indian companies in collaboration with research institutions began producing these at home. The private industry, especially small start-ups, contributed in a big way to filling the demand gap.
  4. One relatively unappreciated fact has been the utilisation of primary healthcare network, and ASHA and anganwadi workers, in contact tracing and awareness efforts. In some cases, more than 100 contacts of an infected person were traced, tested and isolated. It showed that while the primary healthcare network might be weak, and not empowered, it was not entirely broken.

 

VACCINE DEVELOPMENT:

  1. Vaccines are another area where India’s existing capacities are a big asset, and can be leveraged effectively. India is going to be an important player in the manufacturing and distribution of these vaccines, because of the production capacities that have been built over the years. That would also mean that India would also get early access to these vaccines, with the government not having to spend large sums of money like the United States or some European countries had to do to pre-book the vaccines.
  2. Early logistical planning for transport, storage and distribution already have been finalised and this would ensure quick deployment in India.

 

LOOKING AHEAD:

  1. Disruptive COVID-19 pandemic invariably turns out to be a blessing in disguise for making systemic improvements, if authorities are willing to imbibe the lessons that have emerged. Following are some of the things that are likely to be happening in India:
  2. ATMANIRBHAR BHARAT: The experience of this pandemic has made the government more convinced of the need for self-reliance. Going forward, there is likely to be greater encouragement for laboratories and industry to support domestic manufacturing of components and instruments. Scientists and industry expect relevant policy changes in the coming year.
  3. PROMOTING STAR-UP CULTURE: This is related to the atmanirbhar push. During this pandemic, these start-ups filled the supply gaps in medical equipment and instruments. The most reliable information management systems, providing crucial data about the epidemic, were set up and run by young entrepreneurs, students and researchers.
  4. STRENGTHENING COLLABORATION: Collaboration between government, academia and industry is again a process that was initiated before the pandemic but is likely to gain momentum. Related to this is this government’s belief that there is need to give a ‘direction’ to scientific research, at least to the scientific output, that comes out of our laboratories and industry.
  5. STRONGER HEALTH SYSTEM: The current pandemic should prompt a strengthening of the public health infrastructure. Creating a dedicated surveillance workforce that can detect similar outbreaks in future, and help contain it at an early stage is a need of this hour. Greater empowerment of primary healthcare staff is also expected. There is also a need to empower the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP), rather than burden ICMR with a job that is not its core expertise.
  6. VACCINE RESEARCH: A country the size, and scientific capability of India, should have been one of the front-runners in vaccine research.
  7. NEW SCIENCE POLICY: A new Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy is in the final stages of preparation, and is likely to be unveiled in the next months.

 

CONCLUSION:

  1. Governments and international institutions have clear choices on how best to respond to COVID-19 and to prepare for future pandemics. Choosing science, the rule of law, and equity as core values would be transformational.
  2. Building universal health systems would not only prepare countries for epidemic response, it would also vastly improve the health and well-being for all people, across the full spectrum of health threats faced by humankind.

 

3) Powering up: Shift towards the e- vehicle

GS: 3   Infrastructure: energy and roads


CONTEXT:

The electric vehicle (EV) segment in India is very much in its infancy. Companies have not only started to manufacture electric scooters and bikes in Uttar Pradesh, but have also begun to research for alternatives to lithium-ion batteries, which are mostly imported from China.

 

ABOUT:

As more money is invested into research, India could emerge as the number one manufacturer of electric vehicles. These are welcome developments, and signal the long-term attractiveness of the EV market segment in India.

 

ARGUMENTS IN FAVOUR:  

  1. This shift towards electric vehicles will lead to reduce pollution, lower oil imports, cut carbon emissions and road congestion
  • India has 21 of the world’s 30 cities with the worst air pollution as per data from IQAir AirVisual’s 2019 World Air Quality Report. And much of the pollution load can be traced to vehicular emissions.
  • Adoption of electric vehicles will reduce overall emissions and also help meet the targets under the Paris agreement.
  1. This shift would also help lower the country’s dependence on oil imports. A NITI Aayog report had earlier pegged the savings in the oil import bill at Rs 1.2 lakh crore (assuming crude at $70 per litre).
  2. It will also lead to enormous socio-economic and environmental benefits, and is a prudent approach to channel investment towards facilitating the shift towards various modes of public transport, two-wheelers and taxis to electric vehicles.
  • Covering these modes of transport itself would include nearly 80 per cent of vehicles on Indian roads as per the NITI Aayog study.

 

ARGUMENTS IN AGAINST:

  1. The shift to EV vehicles from premium four-wheeler cars ignore that they account for only 2 per cent of total vehicle sales in India.
  2. There is the issue of creating the charging infrastructure at the scale required to facilitate its large-scale adoption. Affordable and convenient charging will increase the segment’s attractiveness for consumers. However, while public funding may well be required to incentivise both manufacturers and consumers to shift, governments should be agnostic between various EV technologies.
  3. The government has outlined its goals to have electric vehicles replace 30 per cent of the current automobile fleet by 2030 but much of this has to do with the electrification of two-wheelers, three-wheelers and commercial vehicles.

 

CONCLUSION:

As far as electric car sales are concerned, India hasn't even managed to sell 8,000 vehicles over the last six years. But technical skills prevalent in the industry coupled with low manufacturing costs, and component availability make the EV segment a prime candidate for future investment.

 

4) Facts from the Field

GS 3- Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security


CONTEXT:

  1. The farmers’ movement for the repeal of the three farm laws, which affect them closely but have been introduced without consulting them, is not just about minimum support prices (MSP) but also about the survival of the entire system of public procurement, protection of  traders interests and distribution of foodgrains.
  2. In such a charged environment, rationality often becomes victim to anger and hatred, which does not serve anyone’s purpose, including the farmers’.

 

FEAR OF LOSING MSP:

  1. A major study at Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) showed that over the period 2000-01 to 2016-17, Indian agriculture was implicitly taxed to the tune of almost 14% of its value due to restrictive trade and marketing policies like export controls and stocking limits to the restrictive mandi system.
  • To improve farmers’ price realisation, there is a need to liberate agriculture from these various controls. The farm laws under discussion are intended to do precisely that.
  1. There is no doubt that Agricultural produce market committee (APMC) and MSP will face competition from private markets and out-of-APMC mandi transactions.
  2. The creation of an additional 10,000 Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) and the promised Agri-infrastructure Fund of Rs one lakh crore will aid this process of helping small and marginal farmers.
  3. But many among the agitating farmers fear losing the MSP for wheat and paddy that they get in Punjab-Haryana.

 

WHAT APMC MEANS FOR FARMERS?

  1. The APMC Act of the 1950s freed the Indian farmer from the monopoly of the local trader, undoubtedly with substantial benefits and lead to the creation of oligopoly market.
  2. In practice, each trader in the mandi has built relationships with a set of farmers. The traders provide credit, the farmer then sells his produce only through that trader, to have the credit advance against such sales adjusted.
  3. More often than not, the mandi trader is also a conduit for the sale of foodgrain at MSP (direct sale by farmers to MSP centres is virtually impossible), reducing the net received by the farmer to below MSP.
  4. The symbiotic relationship between particular traders and farmers, which have been created within these oligopolies, is possibly less exploitative.

     

WHAT IS MSP?

  1. It is the price at which the government ‘promises’ to buy from farmers if market prices fall below it.
  2. It is meant to set a floor below which prices do not fall, and is announced by the government for 23 commodities.
  3. In fact, however, government procurement is heavily concentrated on wheat and rice, with other crops barely being procured.

REALITY ABOUT MSP:

  1. The NSSO’s Situation Assessment Survey (70th round) revealed that in 2012-13, only 6 per cent of farmers sold their produce at MSP and majority of them were from the Punjab-Haryana belt.
  2. The recent research worked out the value of agri-produce (paddy, wheat, pulses, oilseeds and cotton) bought by government agencies at MSP for the year 2018-19, and how much that constitutes as a percentage of the total value of agri-produce. Interestingly, the number again comes to about 6%.
  3. So, in all these years since the MSP was given birth to in 1965, only 6% of farmers and broadly, 6% of the value of agri-produce has benefitted from this system.
  4. The MSP and APMC system primarily helps those who have large surpluses, mainly the large farmers.
  5. If one really wants to aid the small and marginal farmers, the right approach is through FPOs at the village level and not in APMC mandis.
  6. And, about 86 per cent of Indian farmers are small and marginal (less than 2 ha), operating roughly 47 per cent of the total operated area in the country.

 

WHAT GOVERNMENT SHOULD DO?

  1. The government should be ready to give in writing that the existing system of APMC markets and MSP will continue and be strengthened.
  2. The government can also give in writing that the contract will be for the produce, not the land.
  3. Farmers can take disputes to district courts, if they like.
  4. The government can also commit to creating a fund of Rs 25,000 crores under the Price Stabilisation Scheme, which can be used to support market prices of specified commodities that take a dip of more than 10 per cent below MSP.
  1. This is akin to NAFED’s operations to support market prices of pulses and oilseeds, or the Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) for cotton prices, and can be extended to maize, sorghum, pearl millet, etc.
  1. Either limit the size of procurement or go for price deficiency payments to those who buy “put options” at MSP for specified quantities at the time of sowing.
  2. An expert committee will have to be set up to look into its operational guidelines. A further positive step will be to announce a diversification package for the Punjab-Haryana belt.

 

CONCLUSION:

  1. One must remember that farmers always want a higher price for their produce, but higher food prices can also bring pains to poor consumers.
  2. The art of policymaking is to balance the interest of producers and consumers within reasonable financial resources.
  3. The farmers have made it amply clear that they do not want petty cash handouts; all they want is a reasonable price for the vital crops they produce for the nation, so that they can cover costs and live at a modest standard. In Indian circumstances, the price support system is in fact the only feasible one. While depletion of groundwater in Punjab is a real problem, the solution lies in introducing improved agronomic practices such as the System of Rice Intensification which economises water, not in reducing rice production.

 

5) Secession of the successful: Migration of students

GS 2  Issues relating to development and management of social sector relating to education


CONTEXT:

Here we will discuss the results of an investigation of the academic choices of school-leaving toppers. The major topic of this report (Indian Express report) is the migration of the children for the study. This migration is mainly of brightest students and wealthiest students of the country.

 

DATA OF THE REPORT:

  1. Toppers: The report showed that more than half of the first rankers in Class 10 and Class 12 examinations which conducted by the CBSE and ISC during the two decades of 1996-2015 had migrated for studying or employed overseas.
  2. They migrate mostly in the US.
  3. Recent data, post-2015, suggest that the trend of out-migration of Indian talent and wealth has increased.
  4. There is another data collected from high-profile private schools in New Delhi.
  5. This data shows that while around the turn of the century about 20 per cent of their high school students went abroad for graduate studies. This number increased close to 50 per cent by 2010 and to 70 per cent in 2019.
  6. International Baccalaureate students: Apart from the CBSE and ISC students, there is now a growing number of International Baccalaureate (IB) students.
  7. These students study and prepare only to be able to pursue higher education overseas.
  8. In India, since the 1980s, 176 “world schools” have come up that offer IB certificates.
  9. This certificate helps qualify Indian children for graduate education abroad.
  10. The fee charged for this IB certificate can range from around Rs 75,000 per month to Rs 1,50,000 a month.

DESTINATION OF STUDENTS:

  1. Major destination: the United States of America,
  2. Other popular destinations: Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.
  3. Emerging destination: Dubai.
  4. Other destinations: China, Russia, Taiwan, France, Germany, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines and Malaysia.

 

FLIGHT OF FINANCIAL CAPITAL:

  1. Under RBI's Liberalised remittances scheme: which is for studies abroad, the annual total outward remittances have increased more than threefold.
  2. Under this scheme, this remittance increased from US$ 1.54 billion in 2016-17 to US$ 4.99 billion in 2019-20.
  3. As well as total outward remittances under this scheme have increased exponentially over the past five years. This number increased from US$1.3 billion in 2014-15 to US$ 18.75 in 2019-20.
  4. This flight of financial capital signals the flight of human capital as well as withdrawal of the successful.

 

HISTORY OF THIS MIGRATION:

  1. A leader of the national movement: like Motilal Nehru sent his son Jawaharlal to Harrow school in Britain.
  2. Eminent Indians: As well as many eminent Indians of the Raj were educated in the United Kingdom.
  3. After independence: Even after Independence, this education has attracted those who could afford and those who won scholarships.
  4. Now there is the rising flood of out-migration from both the middle and the upper classes.

 

INCREASING NUMBER OF NON-METROPOLITAN STUDENTS:

  1. According to the Indian Express report: an overwhelming number of the CBSE and ISC toppers going overseas have a non-metropolitan background.
  2. They are those children, who are from modest social and economic backgrounds and with excellent academic performance, to seek educational opportunities overseas.
  3. While wealthy families from big cities send their children to schools that equip them for further studies and life overseas.
  4. Here the students from non-metropolitan may represent “aspirational India”, but the students from big cities constitute the “secession of the successful”.

 

BRAIN DRAIN: A INCREASING PROBLEM:

  1. We can measure the flight of finance capital, but there are no reliable estimates of the flight of human capital.
  2. Jagdish Bhagwati proposal: Due to the increasing problem of “brain drain” for developing economies, trade economist Jagdish Bhagwati proposed the imposition of a brain drain tax in the 1970s.
  3. As there was a very small number of emigrating talent in the 1970s, the social class denied the Bhagwati proposal.
  4. Now, there is large numbers and socially and economically diverse in migration, it is hard to introduce such tax.
  5. Changing thoughts: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Modi have suggested that out-migration does not necessarily constitute a “brain drain”, but could help create a “brain bank”.
  6. Brain bank: According to them with this brain bank, India can draw for its development.
  7. But the data suggests that an increasing number of non-resident Indians have become “not-returning” Indians. This situation is contributing more to their host countries than to their home country.

CHANGING TREND OF MIGRATION:

  1. Majority of students for work and the quality of life overseas, especially migrate in English-speaking nations.
  2. Migration of minorities: Now there is an emerging category of Indians migrating out because they feel their motherland no longer wants them.
  3. This sense is increasing especially among minorities.
  4. Migration of super-rich: As well as there is the increasing number of India’s super-rich who have chosen to live abroad and work from abroad.
  5. An annual outward remittance of up to US$2,50,000 is permitted according to Indian law.
  6. The law also permits businesspersons to function from overseas as non-resident entities.
  7. The next generation of top Indian business families is increasingly choosing this dual status of owning and managing the business in India while living overseas.

 

CONCLUSION:

  1. A large number of overseas Indians have cheered current Prime Minister at his rallies in New York, Houston, London, Dubai and Singapore.
  2. Few of them are willing to cheer plans for India’s Atma nirbharta but prefer to invest in their atma nirbharta overseas.