Privatisation of Railways
The employees union of the North Western Railway (NWR) protested recently against the privatisation of railways announced by Centre recently.
Objectives of privatisation:
- To introduce modern technology rolling stock with reduced maintenance.
- Reduced transit time.
- Boost job creation.
- Provide enhanced safety.
- Provide world-class travel experience to passengers.
- Reduce demand-supply deficit in the passenger transportation sector.
- Improved Infrastructure – It will lead to better infrastructure which in turn would lead to improved amenities for travellers.
- Balancing Quality of Service with High Fares – The move would foster competition and hence lead to overall betterment in the quality of services.
- Lesser Accidents – Because private ownership is synonymous with better maintenance, supporters of privatisation feel that it will reduce the number of accidents, thus resulting in safe travel and higher monetary savings in the long run.
- Coverage Limited to Lucrative Sectors– An advantage of Indian Railways being government- owned is that it provides nation-wide connectivity irrespective of profit. This would not be possible with privatisation since routes which are less popular will be eliminated, thus having a negative impact on connectivity.
- Fares– Given that a private enterprise runs on profit, it is but natural to assume that the easiest way of accruing profits in Indian Railways would be to hike fares, thus rendering the service out of reach for lower income groups. This will defeat the entire purpose of the system which is meant to serve the entire population of the country irrespective of the level of income.
- Accountability– Private Companies are unpredictable in their dealings and do not share their governance secrets with the world at large. In such a scenario it would be difficult to pin the accountability on a particular entity, should there be a discrepancy.
Recent Decision of Ministry of Railways in this regard:
- On July 1, 2020, the Ministry of Railways announced that 151 trains in 109 pairs of routes will be operated by private sectors. It comprises just 5% of the 2,800 Express and Mail services operated by Indian Railways.
- Private trains will start operating tentatively in 2023 and in 12 clusters.
- Private companies will be given the freedom to procure locomotives and trains from their source of choice.
- Railways has invited Request for Qualifications proposals, for scrutiny of vendor capabilities, from those who can bring modern trains for operations on existing rail infrastructure.
Findings of Chandrayaan-2:
The Orbiter and other instruments of Chandrayaan-2 mission have, in two years, gathered a wealth of new information that has added to our knowledge about the Moon and its environment.
What happened to Chandrayaan-2?
- Chandrayaan-2, India’s second mission to the Moon, had failed to make a soft-landing on the lunar surface.
- The lander and rover malfunctioned in the final moments and crash-landed, getting destroyed in the process.
But, why is this mission still relevant?
Despite the failure, the mission’s orbiter and other parts have been functioning normally, gathering information. Recently, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) released the information gathered by the scientific payloads till now, some of which were still to be analysed and assessed.
What is the information gathered?
- Presence of water molecules on moon: The mission has given the most precise information about the presence of H2O molecules on the Moon till date.
- Presence of Minor elements: Chromium, manganese and Sodium have been detected for the first time through remote sensing. The finding can lay the path for understanding magmatic evolution on the Moon and deeper insights into the nebular conditions as well as planetary differentiation.
- Information about solar flares: A large number of micro flares outside the active region have been observed for the first time, and according to ISRO, this “has great implications on the understanding of the mechanism behind heating of the solar corona”, which has been an open problem for many decades.
- Exploration of the permanently shadowed regions as well as craters and boulders underneath the regolith, the loose deposit comprising the top surface extending up to 3-4m in depth. This is expected to help scientists to zero in on future landing and drilling sites, including for human missions.
The Chandrayaan-2 mission, which was lost after it hard landed on the dark side of the Moon in 2019, remains active in the form of its orbiter hovering over the Moon.
Scientists used the Solar X-ray Monitor (XSM) onboard Chandrayaan-2 in September 2019 to study the Sun.
- The primary objective of Chandrayaan 2 was to demonstrate the ability to soft-land on the lunar surface and operate a robotic rover on the surface.
- The mission consisted of an Orbiter of the Moon, Vikram (after Vikram
Sarabhai) – the lander and Pragyan (wisdom) – the rover, all equipped with scientific instruments to study the moon.
Swachh Survekshan Grameen 2021
Swachh Survekshan Grameen, 2021 was launched recently under the Swachh Bharat Mission Phase- 2.
- It aims to support acceleration of ODF plus interventions and results in the country.
About Swachh Survekshan Grameen (SSG), 2021
- An expert agency has been hired to conduct the Survekshan 2021.
- As part of the Survekshan, Villages, Districts and States would be ranked using key parameters.
- 17,475 villages in 698 Districts across the country will be covered where schools, anganwadis, public health centres, haat/bazaars/religious places will be visited for survey.
- Also, citizens will be mobilized to provide feedback on sanitation related issues online using an application developed for the purpose.
What is the Background of SSG?
- It was Commissioned by the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation (DDWS) under the Ministry of Jal Shakti.
- It has been a vehicle for creating a Janandolan (people’s movement).
- Districts are ranked based on their performance on key quality and quantitative parameters.
- The weights to different elements of the SSG 2021 are as below:
- Direct Observation of sanitation at public places – 30%
- Citizen’s Feedback – 35%
- Service Level Progress on sanitation related parameters – 35%
What is Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen) Phase-II?
- SBM (G) Phase-II was approved in February 2020 by the Ministry of Jal Shakti and will be implemented from 2020-21 to 2024-25 with total outlay of Rs. 1,40,881 crores.
- It emphasizes the sustainability of achievements under phase I and to provide adequate facilities for Solid/Liquid & plastic Waste Management (SLWM) in rural India.
- The fund sharing pattern between Centre and States will be 90:10 for North-Eastern States and Himalayan States and UT of J&K; 60:40 for other States; and 100% for other Union Territories.
About Open Defecation Free (ODF), ODF+, ODF++ Status (for Town and Cities)
- ODF: At any point of the day, not even a single person is found defecating in the open.
- ODF+: At any point of the day, not a single person is found defecating and/or urinating in the open, and all community and public toilets are functional and well maintained.
- ODF++: If the area is already ODF+ and the faecal sludge/septage and sewage are safely managed and treated
The Civil Aviation Ministry has announced its agenda over the next 100 days. It includes:
- Launching 50 new routes under the UDAN scheme.
- Rationalising the value added tax (VAT) charged on aviation turbine fuel (ATF).
About UDAN scheme (Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik) Scheme:
- The scheme is aimed at enhancing connectivity to remote and regional areas of the country and making air travel affordable.
- It is a key component of Centre’s National Civil Aviation Policy led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and launched in June 2016.
- Under the scheme, nearly half of the seats in Udan flights are offered at subsidised fares, and the participating carriers are provided a certain amount of viability gap funding (VGF) – an amount shared between the Centre and the concerned states.
- The scheme will be jointly funded by the central government and state governments.
- The scheme will run for 10 years and can be extended thereafter.
- The 4th round of UDAN was launched in December 2019 with a special focus on North-Eastern Regions, Hilly States, and Islands.
- The airports that had already been developed by Airports Authority of India (AAI) are given higher priority for the award of VGF (Viability Gap Funding) under the Scheme.
- Under UDAN 4, the operation of helicopters and seaplanes is also been incorporated.
Impact of fossil fuel extraction on global warming:
According to a new study (published in the journal Nature), global fossil fuel extraction needs to go down to keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is the target set by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
- The global oil and gas production should decline by three per cent per year until 2050 to reach the target set by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
- As of now, both planned and operational fossil fuel extraction projects are not conducive to meeting the targets set.
- A substantial number of regions in the world have already reached their peak fossil fuel production and that any increase in fossil fuel production will have to be offset by a decline elsewhere, if the goal wants to be achieved.
- The required unextracted reserves need to be 58 percent for oil, 59 percent for fossil methane gas and 89 percent for coal by 2050. Which is to say that these percentages of fossil fuels need to remain unextractable if global warming targets are kept in mind.
Why is there a need to limit the use of fossil fuels?
Global cost of air pollution from fossil fuels is high: It was around $2.9 trillion per year, or $8 billion per day, which was 3.3 per cent of the world’s GDP at the time.
- India is estimated to bear a cost of $150 billion from air pollution caused by fossil fuels.
- As of now, human activities have already caused global temperatures to rise by about 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels (1950-1900).
- Currently, countries’ emissions targets are not in line with limiting global warming to under 1.5 degrees.
What is the goal set out by the Paris Climate Agreement?
The Paris Climate Agreement that was signed by 195 countries in 2015 has set out a goal to limit climate change in the coming decades.
- The agreement aims to slow the process of global warming by making efforts to “hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels”.
Need of the hour for India:
- Reduce emphasis on domestic exploration.
- Increase productivity of producing fields.
- Increase strategic reserves.
- Restructure and reorganize public sector petroleum companies.
- Avoid siloed thinking.