1. The C-295 and India’s aircraft industry
How significant is the setting up of the C-295 transport aircraft manufacturing facility in Vadodara to India’s domestic industry? Which are the major companies within India’s growing civil aviation sector? How will the procurement of new aircraft boost the defence manufacturing ecosystem?
On October 30, Prime Minister Narendra Modi layed the foundation stone for the C-295 transport aircraft manufacturing facility in Vodadara to be set up by Airbus Defence and Space and Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL).
Indian companies, both public and private, have steadily expanded their footprint in the global supply chains of major defence and aerospace manufacturers supplying a range of components, systems and sub-systems.
India has a much bigger footprint in civil aviation manufacturing than defence, in addition to being a market itself. Both Airbus and Boeing do significant sourcing from India for their civil programmes.
The story so far:
On October 30, Prime Minister Narendra Modi layed the foundation stone for the C-295 transport aircraft manufacturing facility in Vadodara to be set up by Airbus Defence and Space and Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL). This is the first time a private sector company would be manufacturing a full aircraft in the country. This is a huge step forward for India in the global aircraft manufacturing domain.
What is the C-295MW transporter?
The C-295MW is a transport aircraft of 5-10 tonne capacity which will replace the legacy Avro aircraft in the Indian Air Force (IAF) procured in the 1960s. The Request For Proposal (RFP) was issued to global firms in May 2013 and the sole bid by Airbus and TASL was approved by the Defence Acquisition Council in May 2015. On September 24, 2021 the Ministry of Defence (MoD) signed a ₹21,935 crore contract with Airbus Defence and Space for the acquisition of 56 C-295MW aircraft along with associated equipment.
In the words of N. Chandrasekaran, Chairman of Tata Sons, with the set-up of the final assembly line in Vadodara, the Tata Group will now be able to take aluminium ingots at one end of the value stream and turn it into an Airbus C-295 aircraft for the IAF.
Of the 56 aircraft contracted, 16 will come in fly-away condition from Spain between September 2023 and August 2025. The remaining 40 will be manufactured here to be delivered between September 2026 and 2031 at the rate of eight aircraft per year. Nearly 240 engineers will be trained at the Airbus facility in Spain for the project, the MoD said. The C-295 has very good fuel efficiency and can take off and land from short as well as unprepared runways, according to Air Marshal Sandeep Singh, Vice Chief of IAF. The IAF will base its first C-295 squadron in Vadodara by converting the Avro squadron located there, as the fly-away aircraft start coming in, he stated.
With the procurement of these aircraft, India has become the 35th C-295 operator worldwide. With 285 aircraft ordered and 38 operators in 34 different countries, the aircraft has achieved more than 5,00,000 flight hours. The Navy and the Coast Guard have also expressed interest in the C-295 and it can be used in civilian roles as well as exported in the future. The C-295 is also a potential replacement for the AN-32 aircraft, the workhorse of the IAF with over 100 of them in service. To questions on this Air Marshal Singh said that the AN-32s will be in service upto 2032 and beyond and that they would make a decision on its replacement in five years or so from now.
How will this affect the domestic aircraft manufacturing ecosystem?
Over the last two decades, Indian companies, both public and private, have steadily expanded their footprint in the global supply chains of major defence and aerospace manufacturers supplying a range of components, systems and sub-systems.
For instance, Boeing’s sourcing from India stands at $1 billion annually, of which over 60% is in manufacturing, through a growing network of 300+ supplier partners of which over 25% are micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME). “Boeing has the broadest and most capable engineering teams in the country with over 3,000 employees, and we’re investing in a 43-acre, $200 million centre of excellence to further grow in the years to come,” a company statement said. Tata in a joint venture (JV) with Boeing, manufactures aero-structures for its AH-64 Apache helicopter, including fuselages, secondary structures, vertical spar boxes fuselages and vertical fin structures for the 737 family of aircraft. It also makes Crown and Tail-cones for Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook helicopters.
Similarly, Lockheed Martin has joint ventures with TASL in Hyderabad which has manufactured more than 180 empennages for the C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft and delivered 157 S-92 helicopter cabins. The latter facility manufactures aerospace components for commercial helicopters and aircraft and has expanded to include aircraft engine components for aerospace industry companies as well. One of the JV’s also began manufacturing complex fighter wings with over 70% of detail parts produced indigenously. The JVs till date have clocked $600 million worth of exports and produced over $200 million in Indian industry revenue.
The U.S. simplifying its export regulations for India, through a series of measures, has added further impetus to this, experts noted. As U.S. and India pursue the Indo-Pacific strategy, India’s strengths coupled with U.S. and European technology prowess can be a force for good in the world, noted Kriti Upadhyaya, Founder IndUS Tech Council who works closely with companies in both countries.
The domestic defence manufacturing ecosystem will get a boost with the C-295 project as it will lead to the development of a strong private industrial aerospace ecosystem not only in and around Vadorara but across the country. Bengaluru and Hyderabad already have developed such aerospace and defence domains over the years. The C-295 project is expected to create more than 15,000 skilled direct and indirect jobs across the aerospace ecosystem, with more than 125 suppliers qualified on global quality standards across India. Manufacturing of over 13,400 detail parts, 4,600 sub-assemblies and all the seven major component assemblies will be undertaken in India, along with tools, jigs and testers, Tata said.
Is India’s civil aviation sector growing?
India has a much bigger footprint in civil aviation manufacturing than defence, in addition to being a major market itself. Both Airbus and Boeing do significant sourcing from India for their civil programmes.
According to Airbus every commercial aircraft manufactured by them today is partly designed and made in India. “We buy manufactured parts and engineering services worth $650 million every year from more than 45 Indian suppliers”, the company said. Stating that India, which is moving ahead with the mantra of ‘Make in India’ and ‘Make for the Globe’, continues to enhance its potential by becoming a major manufacturer of transport planes, Mr. Modi said, “And I can visualise the day when the world’s biggest passenger planes will also be manufactured in India and will also carry the tag of ‘Make in India’.
Since 2007, Airbus has had a wholly domestic-owned design centre here which has more than 650 engineers who specialise in high-tech aeronautical engineering and work across both fixed- and rotary-wing Airbus aircraft programmes. Airbus which has design, management and training centres in India, added, “Our centres have the capacity to skill more than 8,000 pilots and 2,000 engineers over the next 10 years with plans for further expansion.”
Today in India, we have the world’s fastest growing aviation sector and we are about to reach the top three countries in the world in terms of air traffic, Mr. Modi said. “Crores of new passengers are going to be air passengers in the next 4-5 years… It is estimated that in the coming 10-15 years, India will need about 2000 more passenger and cargo aircraft.”
Another major growing area is Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) for which India can emerge as the regional hub, Ms. Upadhyaya remarked adding, “However, the private defence sector is still nascent and a conducive and stable regulatory and policy environment will be an important enabler.” This moment is akin to the automobile clusters that have emerged in the country turning India into a major exporter of cars to the world. With the right momentum, a realistic roadmap and enabling policy framework, a similar story can be scripted to make the country a hub for aircraft manufacturing.
2. How women subverted traditional roles during the farm law agitations
Women’s participation in the protests against the three agriculture laws, gave them a chance to assert their disregarded position as farmers in the country, moulding the scope and character of the agitation for the better
Sangwan, Jagmati and Singh, Shamsher, ‘Women’s Participation in Protests against the Three Farm Laws in India Perspectives from the Ground’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 57, Issue no. 43, October 22, 2022
India has had a long history of protests against the ruling government, be it during the colonial rule of the British, or against the government in independent India. And despite the prevalent patriarchal system, women have actively participated in these protests alongside men. Women activists, politicians and leaders have emerged from even the most orthodox regions of the country.
While women have always found creative forms of protests within patriarchal structures, protests against the State or with a common cause gave them the opportunity to dissent openly, voice out their issues, and create a space for themselves within the larger discourse.
Asserting their position as farmers
Many academic papers discuss the imperative role of women in protests. Among them Jagmati Sangwan and Shamsher Singh’s article ‘Women’s Participation in Protests against the Three Farm Laws in India Perspectives from the Ground’, documents and discuss the role played by women in one of the largest protests in world history against the three contentious agriculture laws passed by the government, which the farmers feared would lead to the abolishment of the minimum support price, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates. These protests were analysed through participant observation of the unfolding movement at different locations in and around Delhi. Documentation of the protests by the People’s Archive of Rural India, social media platforms like Youtube and independent media were also studied to understand the various aspects of the protests.
The authors explain that while not surprising, the enthusiastic participation of women in the farmers’ protest was a phenomenal event that unfolded during the course of the one-year-long agitation. The reasons behind their participation are rooted in the historic conditions and socio-economic factors that affect women throughout the country. Yet, it is notable that most women who participated, came from States where women, especially from rural regions, are disadvantaged by the patriarchal systems that constrain them. Though women play a crucial role in the agricultural process in these regions, they are denied land ownership and are expected to do unpaid or exchange labour.
With the coming of the farm laws, the already precarious condition of farmers in the country was expected to become even more unstable due to the lack of State protection mechanisms. Furthermore, the lack of food security directly affected women, who are already burdened with the responsibility of managing the domestic (food) needs of the family. Thus, the decision of the government seemed to have pushed them to the brink.
From being mere spectators of the movement, they joined the men demanding the repeal of the agriculture laws. They took up responsibilities of the production and distribution of food and bringing supplies to the sites. Many of them drove themselves in tractors to the protest sites, symbolising their status as farmers. Women’s dissent, though directed towards the government, questioned and challenged the society that burdens them disproportionately and acts oblivious towards their contributions to farming.
Creative forms of dissent
Women have always subtly challenged society; be it through clothing, gossiping, folk songs mocking their in-laws or expressing eroticism and folk art among others.
And in recent times, by participating in sporting events primarily associated with masculinity, preparing for the civil services or pursuing higher education, and engaging in mixed caste or mixed religion marriages, women from rural regions, especially from the north, have defied patriarchal norms. Even during the demonstrations, womens’ presence added texture to the mainstream protests. Borrowing the rhythms of folk tunes, women created songs and slogans that mocked the new laws, discussed the problems of the peasantry and workers, and challenged the political system. Women’s participation in the protests also helped in creating a festive mood, boosting the morale of the protesters as they struggled with harsh conditions (weather, police harassment) at the protest sites. Local festivals were celebrated, where gender roles of certain local traditions were subverted.
An interesting aspect of the movement was that within the agitation against the government, women managed to assert their place in the protests, challenging the structures that constrained them. For instance, during a victory celebration event in Rohtak, when someone announced from the podium, “Brothers! Please have tea arranged for you on the right side of the stage,”, a woman from the audience intervened and asked, “… and what about the sisters?”.
While women were not allowed to give speeches or sit on the podium at the beginning of the protests, their opposition to such constricting norms, gave women a space on the stage to give compelling speeches that inspired more women to join the movement. It must also be noted that though the initial conditions of the protest sites were unfavourable for women in terms of sanitation and safety, they managed to organise committees to address these issues. Many women volunteers, lawyers and activists supported the cause, while women journalists from independent media actively documented the events of the protests. By becoming more gender inclusive, the protest managed to attract more media attention and support from the general public.
There is no doubt that the movement was historic in many aspects, though the authors caution us to look at the event with a pinch of salt.
There were many challenges that women faced during the protests. As the division of labour was mostly decided according to gender roles, women were made responsible for cooking, cleaning and taking care of the elders. In many of the protest sites they were asked to cover their face while on the podium and in a few instances, they were even harassed and molested.
Further, it was seen that the landless, irrespective of their gender limited their participation in the protests. This could be associated with the class and caste inequalities that replicated itself within the farmers’ movement, with oppressive structures like the Khap panchayats being reproduced in the sites.
Thus, women’s participation in the farmer’s protests against the State brought them to the centre stage of agrarian politics and proved that society’s attitude towards women activists and agitators was changing in the right direction. Yet, Indian society has a long way to go in providing equal spaces for people from different genders, castes and classes within protests.
3. At SCO meet, Jaishankar targets BRI
India stayed out of the joint communique reference to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, while all other member states affirmed support for it
Connectivity projects must respect sovereignty issues, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said, in a reference to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), at a virtual meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Heads of Government hosted by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Tuesday.
Dr. Jaishankar pitched for more trade through Iran’s Chabahar port and the International North South Transport Corridors that India is a part of, aiming to improve bilateral trade with Central Asian countries. A communique issued after the meeting named all countries, other than India, and said they “reaffirmed their support for the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative”, “including the work to promote the alignment of the ‘Belt and Road’ construction with the construction of the Eurasian Economic Union”.
“Our total trade with SCO Members is only $141 billion, which has potential to increase manifold. Fair market access is to our mutual benefit and only way to move forward,” Dr. Jaishankar said at the meet which included Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, and the Prime Ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The bulk of India’s trade with SCO countries is with China, which crossed $100 billion this year.
In a series of tweets outlining his speech, Dr. Jaishankar took aim at China’s BRI saying, “Connectivity projects should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states and respect international law.” India has refused to join the BRI, comprising a series of infrastructure projects that pass-through Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, and has been developing and promoting the Shahid Beheshti terminal at Chabahar and the link through the INSTC as an alternative to both the BRI and to transit trade through Pakistan.
“[I] underlined that we need better connectivity in the SCO region built on centrality of interests of Central Asian states. [This] will unlock the economic potential of this region in which Chabahar port and the International North South Transport Corridor could become enablers,” Dr. Jaishankar tweeted.
Without referring directly to the Ukraine war, and Russia’s decision to halt the grain initiative, Dr. Jaishankar said that India will “foster greater cooperation with SCO member states on countering the food crisis”, particularly with millets. In the SCO joint communique, all countries also criticised the “imposition of unilateral economic sanctions not endorsed by the UN Security Council”, and said the sanctions “adversely affect” the global economy, without naming U.S. and European Union sanctions on Russia.
Belt and Road Initiative (BRI):
- It was announced by the Chinese President Xi Jinping-led regime in 2013.
- It encompassed five kinds of activities:
- Policy coordination
- Trade promotion
- Physical connectivity
- Renminbi internationalization
- People to people contacts.
- The initiative envisioned a Chinese Investment of over $1 trillion in partner countries by 2025.
- More than 60 countries have now joined BRI agreements with China, with infrastructure projects under the initiative being planned or under construction in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America.
- To finance BRI projects, China offers huge loans at commercial interest rates that countries have to pay within a fixed number of years.
- In recent years, the BRI seems to have experienced a slowing down as annual Chinese lending to countries under the initiative slimmed from its peak of $125billion in 2015 to around $50 to 55 billion in 2021.
Routes of BRI:
- New Silk Road Economic Belt: It encompasses trade and investment hubs to the north of China; by reaching out to Eurasia including a link via Myanmar to India.
- Maritime Silk Road (MSR): It begins via the South China Sea going towards Indo-China, South-East Asia and then around the Indian Ocean thus reaching Africa and Europe.
- China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: CPEC is a 3,000-km long route of infrastructure projects connecting China’s northwest Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and the Gwadar Port in the western province of Balochistan in Pakistan.
- It is a bilateral project between Pakistan and China, intended to promote connectivity across Pakistan with a network of highways, railways, and pipelines accompanied by energy, industrial, and other infrastructure development projects.
- It will pave the way for China to access the Middle East and Africa from Gwadar Port, enabling China to access the Indian Ocean and in return China will support development projects in Pakistan to overcome the latter’s energy crises and stabilizing its faltering economy.
BRI’s investments in Pakistan:
- China pledged $62billion in low interest loans and financing from Chinese state-owned banks and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), up from an initial $46 billion pledge.
- The CPEC envisioned multiple projects involving energy, transport and communication systems.
- At the center of the CPEC was the $700million development of the city of Gwadar into a smart port city that would become the “Singapore of Pakistan”.
- Gwadar is strategically important as it is an hour’s drive from Iran and less than 320 km from Oman.
- Gwadar’s development under BRI, approved in 2020, would increase the city’s GDP to $30 billion by 2050 and create over a million jobs.
- Other projects:
- The orange line metro
- coal power plants to tackle energy shortages
- Main Line 1 rail project from Peshawar to Karachi.
- While coal plants set up and managed by Chinese firms did help improve the power situation in Pakistan.
- Multiple reports have shown that shipping activities at the Gwadar Port is almost negligible so far, with only some trade to Afghanistan.
- Gwadar residents have also protested against the large security force deployed to protect Chinese nationals involved in projects after they became the target of multiple deadly attacks by Baloch nationalists.
- In late 2021, thousands of Gwadar residents staged a sit-in protest against the lack of promised basic amenities in Gwadar and Chinese deep sea trawlers reducing fishing opportunities for locals.
- Chinese power firms operating in Pakistan threatened to close down if the latter did not pay dues worth 300 billion in Pakistani rupees (approximately $1.5 billion).
BRI and Sri Lanka:
- In Sri Lanka, multiple infrastructure projects that were being financed by China came under the fold of the BRI after it was launched in 2013.
- The island nation in the last couple of years has witnessed competition between India and China in port terminal and energy projects.
- In 2021, Colombo ejected India and Japan out of a deal to develop the East Container Terminal at the Colombo port and got China to take up the project.
- It then awarded the project for the Western Side of the Terminal to the Adani Group.
- Some BRI projects in Sri Lanka have been described as white elephants, the Hambantota port:
- A deep seaport on the world’s busiest east-west shipping lane, which was meant to spur industrial activity.
- The port had always been secondary to the busy Colombo port until the latter ran out of capacity.
- The Sri Lankan government took $1.4 billion in Chinese loans for the port’s expansion.
- Unable to service the huge loan and incurring $300 million in losses due to delays, the government handed Hambantota port to a Chinese State-Owned company on a 99-year lease in 2017.
- Other key projects under BRI:
- Colombo International Container Terminal
- Central Expressway
- Hambantota International Airport among others.
BRI and Bangladesh:
- Bangladesh joined the BRI in 2016, with the second highest investment (about $40billion) in South Asia after Pakistan.
- Multiple studies, including research by the Council on Foreign Relations, show that Bangladesh has been able to benefit from the BRI while maintaining diplomatic and strategic ties with both India and China.
- It has managed to not upset India by getting India to build infrastructure projects similar to BRI in the country.
- In 2016, when the Chinese government promised Dhaka BRI investment worth around $40 billion, India followed up in 2017 by extending a $5 billion line of credit and economic assistance.
- BRI projects include:
- China Bangladesh Friendship Bridges
- Special economic zones
- The $689.35 million Karnaphuli River tunnel project
- Upgradation of the Chittagong port
- A rail line between the port and China’s Yunnan province.
How have projects from India and China progressed in Maldives
- Situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean, Maldives comprises two hundred islands, and both India and China have strategic interests there.
- One of the most prominent BRI projects undertaken in the Maldives is the two km long China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, a $200 million four lane bridge.
- Most of China’s investment in the Maldives happened under former President Abdullah Yameen, seen as proChina.
- The Maldives’ current regime of President Ibrahim Solih has tried to distance itself from the BRI, focusing more on its ‘India First’ policy.
- India has also in recent years sought greater ties with the Maldives under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’.
BRI and Afghanistan:
- China had promised investments worth $100million in Afghanistan which is small in comparison to what it shelled out in other South Asian countries.
- The projects have not materialized so far and uncertainties have deepened after the Taliban takeover last year.
Issues Associated to BRI:
- Chinese Monopoly in the Projects: The investments under the BRI are mostly done by the state-owned enterprises and banks in China.
- Most of the contracts (93%) have also gone to the state-owned enterprises in China.
- The host countries or other companies hardly have any role to play.
- Increased Corruption and Reduced Competition: Chinese monopoly in lending and building infrastructure has further led to corruption.
- Due to no private sector participation, there is no competitive element in the programme.
- Lack of Transparency and Environmental Concerns: The debt trap diplomacy, the lack of transparency and unreasonable loan conditions have made the scheme extremely unpopular.
- At least 236 BRI projects have been facing the debt related problem.
- This has also led to dumping of steel and cement raising environmental concerns.
- BRI- A Recipe For Total Failure: China sold most of its connectivity projects to the countries which were looking at China for the success of its economic model in infrastructure projects and wanted to emanate the same path, even if it was not viable for the countries.
- Moreover, China has overcommitted itself and now it is not able to sustain the aid-program.
- The fate of those projects is undetermined which were started but not finished.
- More than 35% of the project portfolio is stuck on the implementation stage.
4. Invasive tree spreading in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve
An invasive species, Senna spectabilis, an exotic tree, has taken over between 800 hectares and 1,200 hectares of the buffer zones of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) in the picturesque Nilgiris hill district. The Forest Department is coming up with a comprehensive strategy to tackle the invasive species, which continues to spread rapidly in the buffer zone.
Introduced as an ornamental species and for use as firewood from South and Central America, the species has become highly invasive in the Sigur plateau in both the core and buffer zones of the MTR.
Native species hit
Over the last few years, its bright yellow flowers have become more visible across the Tiger Reserve. Conservationists say the invasive weed has a negative effect on local biodiversity, crowding out native species and limiting food availability for wildlife.
According to P. Arunkumar, Deputy Director, MTR (Buffer Zone), the Forest Department estimates that the species has spread over 800-1,200 hectares of the buffer zone.
Local residents said the species seemed to be spreading faster over the last five years. The Forest Department is still demarcating areas where the species is spreading. According to officials, policy-level discussions are under way on Tamil Nadu Newsprint and Papers Limited (TNPL) plan to use wood from Senna spectabilis from the MTR for paper-making. They said the funds so raised would be used in eco-restoration to bring back native species.
Mr. Arunkumar said the Forest Department was also formulating a 10-year-plan to systematically remove Lantana camara, the other major weed that poses a threat to biodiversity in both the core and buffer zones of the Tiger Reserve.
Senna spectabilis, along with Lantana camara, is among five major invasive weeds that had taken over vast swathes of the Nilgiris, with wattle being the other major invasive species. Eucalyptus and pine, though exotic, do not spread as quickly as the other species and are considered easier to manage, Forest Department officials said.
Officials also stated that the Madras High Court was hearing petitions seeking the removal of exotic species, and that judges had inspected the Tiger Reserve this year to monitor the work in this regard.
Invasive Alien Species (IAS)
- An alien species is a species introduced outside its natural past or present distribution; if this species becomes problematic, it is termed an invasive alien species (IAS).
- The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defines IAS as “an alien species whose introduction and spread threaten ecosystems, habitats, or species with socio-cultural, economic and environmental harm and harm to human health”.
- Unintentionally introduced fungal pathogens continue to cause widespread declines in taxa ranging from bats and amphibians to corals and native forests.
- Intentionally introduced feedstock and biofuel crops that go on to invade carry high financial and environmental risk, as realized in Africa and Asia.
- Invasive pines (Pinus species) transform habitats and fire regimes in the biodiverse South African fynbos and Brazilian cerrado.
- IAS are such a problem that Aichi Biodiversity Target 9 and one clause of UN Sustainable Development Goal 15 – Life on Land specifically address the issue.
- Common features of invasive exotics include
- The ability to reproduce both asexually and sexually
- Fast growth
- Rapid reproduction
- High dispersal ability
- Tolerance of a wide range of environmental conditions
- Ability to live off of a wide range of food types
- Human & Animal Health: Direct impact on human health. They have potential threats to livestock health.
- Food Security: Biological invasions are a major threat to global food security and livelihoods, with developing countries being the most susceptible.
- Environmental Consequences:
- The biological invasion could lead to changes to fire regimes, disease transmission to native species, forest loss, reduction in water flows, and habitat transformation, among others.
- IAS are the most common threat to amphibians, reptiles and mammals on The IUCN Red List;
- IAS reduces the resilience of natural habitats, making them more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
- Financial Costs: On average, 32% of the farmers’ budget goes into the control of weeds, which includes the regular spraying of insecticide and labour costs.
- Man Animal Conflict: The widespread prevalence of IAS like Lantana Camara has reduced the proportion of natural grasses for herbivorous animals.
- This has resulted in the movement of animals like the Indian gaur and the chinkara (Indian gazelle) from their natural habitats to human settlements, thus endangering them.
- Some of the species are not weeds but are highly economic species.
- Though they are a weed, they are of high medicinal value, being a potent source of Vitamin D-3.
- Such weed could be turned into a potential crop for the people living in the vicinity of the park to uplift their livelihood.
- Conservation and propagation of the members of the Poaceae family in a very holistic manner will help in countering the shrinking grasslands.
5. India factory output growth, new orders ease to 4-month lows: PMI
Survey of manufacturers shows October job creation fastest in almost three years; inflation rates stayed below trend helping boost producers’ optimism about future prospects including seeing demand buoyancy staying sustained
India’s manufacturing production growth and new orders eased to four-month lows in October, but a surge in new jobs and subdued price pressures kept producers optimistic about future prospects, the S&P Global India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) survey shows.
The seasonally adjusted PMI was mildly higher at 55.3, compared with September’s 55.1, but remained above its long-run average, indicating a stronger improvement in the manufacturing sector’s health, S&P Global said.
“The upward movement in the headline figure largely reflected stronger increases in employment and stocks of purchases,” the firm said, noting that export orders growth picked up pace even as overall factory orders rose the slowest since June.
Outstanding business volumes hit a two-year high and some firms responded by hiring extra workers, the firm said, signalling that manufacturing jobs likely grew at one of the strongest rates since March 2005.
“Consumer goods emerged as the brightest area of the manufacturing sector in October,” the research firm said. “Firms in this segment signalled the fastest increases in output, overall sales and exports.”
The overall rate of cost inflation was the second-weakest for two years, spurring producers to limit output price increases, which grew at the slowest pace since February. Indian manufacturers remained confident of a rise in output volumes by October 2023, although the overall level of sentiment fell to a three-month low.
‘Loosen purse strings’
Despite the loss in growth momentum, factory orders and output grew strongly, noted Pollyanna De Lima, economics associate director at S&P Global Market Intelligence.
“Manufacturers continued to loosen the purse strings as they expect demand buoyancy to be sustained. There was a marked rise in input purchasing, with firms adding to their inventories to better align with client purchasing,” Ms. De Lima said.
6. Editorial-1: The truth about ‘the India story’
As the COVID-19 pandemic fades and hopes rise for nations and societies to return to some kind of normalcy, there is effort all around to take stock of where we stand and what our prospects look like. It is in this spirit that I want to look back over the last few years at how India performed in terms of its economy.
These are polarising times and one hears some arguing that the Indian economy is doing dismally, and others chanting that it is a blazing success. The truth lies somewhere in between. It is true that the Indian rupee has been doing very poorly (especially in comparison to the stated target of our political leaders to strengthen it) and inflation, at 7.41%, is high, but these are global problems. Virtually all currencies are losing out against the U.S. dollar, and inflation right now is a global phenomenon.
Where India is doing especially poorly is in employment generation. India’s unemployment rate is high. In October, it stood at 7.8%. However, what is really worrying is youth unemployment. According to International Labour Organization (ILO) data, collated and presented by the World Bank, India’s youth unemployment, that is, from among people aged 15 to 24 years who are looking for work, the percent that does not find any, stands at 28.3%. This places India in the cluster of troubled West Asian nations such as Iran (27.2%), Egypt (24.3%) and Syria (26.2%), and in a much worse state than most Asian countries such as Indonesia (16%), Malaysia (15.6%), and Bangladesh (14.7%).
The growth story is mixed
India’s growth story is more mixed. In 2021-22, its GDP growth was 8.7%, which was among the highest in the world. This is good but, against this, we must offset the fact that much of this is the growth of climbing out of the pit into which we had fallen the previous year. In 2020-21, India’s growth was minus 6.6%, which placed the country in the bottom half of the global growth chart. For 2022-23, the International Monetary Fund has cut India’s growth forecast to 6.1%. There are two special worries related to this. First, given that most of India’s growth is occurring at the top end, with a few corporations raking in a disproportionate share of profits, and unemployment is so high, it is likely that large segments of the population are actually witnessing negative growth. The second worry is not so much about India’s dropping rank in the world, as about how India’s performance has been sliding compared to its own past performance.
The short story of India’s growth is the following. After sluggish growth for about four decades after Independence, India’s growth picked up in the early 1990s, following the reform of 1991-93. From 2003, it rose again, and India joined the ranks of the Asian super performers. From 2005 to 2008, it was being acclaimed globally for being on top of most charts. For three consecutive years, India grew at, respectively, 9.3%, 9.2% and 10.2%.
It must be pointed out that in recent years, the official Indian estimates for these years have been revised downwards. The latest Economic Survey has cut these growth rates to 7.9%, 8.0%, 8.0%. But, even with that, India stood out. In fact, from 2003 to 2011, barring one year, the start of the Great Recession in 2008-09, India was on top of most global rankings in terms of growth performance.
What makes the current situation dire is not that India grew slower than a majority of nations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those were troubled times, and nations were often, understandably, caught on the wrong foot.
What makes India’s growth story worrying is that the slowdown began much before the COVID-19 pandemic. It began in 2016, after which, for four consecutive years, the growth rate each year was lower than in the previous year. Growth in 2016-17 was 8.3%. After that it was, respectively, 6.9%, 6.6%, 4.8%, and minus 6.6%. This downward spiral stretching over four years has never happened before in India since its independence in 1947.
Why is this happening? If we look at India’s policy interventions over the last six or seven years, there have been good and bad moves. India needed to make it easier for bankrupt firms to close down and move on. Without this, business was sluggish. Hence, it was good to see the new Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code the nation adopted in 2016. On the other hand, the demonetisation of 2016 was a big mistake. Much has been written about this. Let me not expend more time on it.
India’s investment rate
I want to instead turn to one reason behind India’s poor growth performance over the last six years that has been largely overlooked. We know from textbook economics models that one of the most important drivers of growth is the investment rate, that is, the fraction of the national income that is spent on investment — roads, bridges, factories, even human capital. For long years, India used to have a low investment rate, and, in keeping with textbook economics, India had slow growth.
Then the investment rate began a slow rise and crossed the 30% mark for the first time in 2004-05. By 2007-08, it had reached 39.1%. India was, for the first time, looking like an East Asian super-performer; and it was growing faster than the super performers. The investment rate remained just short of 40% for six years and then began to fall. By 2019-20, it had fallen to 32.2%.
No one fully understands what determines the investment rate. It has many drivers. Monetary policy matters, as does fiscal policy. In addition, how much people invest depends on social and political factors.
It is arguable that trust is a major driver of investment. As the level of trust erodes in a society, investment tends to fall.
We will need more research to know what is causing India’s investment rate to fall. However, given the rise of political polarisation and the policy of divide and rule, it is likely that societal trust is eroding and this is reducing the investment rate. In turn, the falling investment rate is adversely impacting growth and hurting job creation.
Needed, a policy refocus
Given India’s strong fundamentals and abundance of talent, there is no reason why such a vast expanse of the economy should be languishing, with so many people witnessing a contraction in their incomes. We do need to shift the policy focus from a few rich corporations to the larger segments of population — small businesses, farmers and ordinary labourers. There is a need for fiscal policy interventions to transfer income from the super-rich to these segments. There is ample space for this since inequality in India has risen disproportionately over the last few years. Finally, even though a divided society is easier to rule, we have to pull back from this and create an ethos of inclusion and trust, the erosion of which is slowing down investment and adversely impacting job creation and growth.
7. Editorial-2: The weakest link in the air pollution fight
In the fight against air pollution in the Indo-Gangetic Plain, there are several important protagonists, none more so than India’s frontline environmental regulators, the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs), and the Pollution Control Committees (PCCs) in the Union Territories. Their primary role is to regulate emissions from point sources such as industries and power plants that contribute substantially to ambient air pollution in urban and rural areas. More recently, they have also been tasked with guiding cities in meeting targets under the National Clean Air Programme and spending Finance Commission grants for air quality improvements. In short, there is no future with clean air in which the SPCBs do not perform at the highest level possible.
An enhanced mandate
The SPCBs were initially constituted under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. Under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, the SPCB mandate was expanded to include air quality management. Subsequently, several new environmental regulations added to their roles and functions. Unfortunately, this enhanced mandate has not been matched with increased capacity and capability in the Boards. As environmental indicators such as air quality and water quality worsen in many parts of the country, the Boards are evidently failing to effectively discharge their statutory mandate.
Over the years, several reports that have been published, including those by the parliamentary standing committee and government committees, have identified reasons for the poor performance of the SPCBs. In a recently published series of papers by the Centre for Policy Research, we find that many of these reasons continue to afflict the SPCBs. This article unpacks three key institutional constraints under which SPCBs in the Indo-Gangetic Plain function, and discusses their implications on air quality governance in India.
Board composition as conflict of interest
First, the composition of SPCBs is a matter of serious concern as important stakeholders and those with crucial expertise are missing in most States. Boards are multi-member bodies headed by a chairperson and a member-secretary. Their decisions and policies guide the day-to-day functioning of the organisation. Over 50% of the Board members across the 10 SPCBs and PCC studied represent potential polluters: local authorities, industries, and public sector corporations. They are subject to the SPCB’s regulatory measures, and their overwhelming presence raises fundamental questions around conflicts of interest.
At the same time, scientists, medical practitioners, and academics constitute only 7% of the Board members. What is even more worrying is that most Boards do not meet the statutory requirement of having at least two Board members who have knowledge of, and experience in, air quality management. Given the scale and causes of air pollution in India, multi-disciplinary expertise is needed to tackle it; there must also be an explicit focus on health while designing air pollution policy. The lack of expertise and skewed representation of stakeholders on the Boards can only be a hindrance to effective policy making.
Second, the SPCB leadership — the chairperson and the member secretary — do not enjoy a long, stable, and full-time tenure. In many States, persons in these two posts hold an additional charge in other government departments. Data also show that several chairpersons and member secretaries have held their posts for less than a year. For example, the shortest tenure for a chairperson has been 18 days (Chhattisgarh) and 15 days for a member secretary (Haryana and Uttar Pradesh). With the focus of the leadership of SPCB spread thin across multiple roles and their tenures being short, often they do not even have the time to understand their mandate fully before they are moved out. In such a scenario, long-term policy planning, strategic interventions and effective execution aimed at reducing air pollution substantially are extremely difficult.
Staff running on empty
Third, the SPCBs are critically under-staffed. At least 40% of all sanctioned posts are vacant across nine SPCBs/PCCs for which there is data. Vacancy levels in technical positions are as high as 84% in Jharkhand, and over 75% in Bihar and Haryana. An inadequate staff strength forces the Boards to recast their priorities among their various functions. This has significant implications on pollution regulation as vital functions such as monitoring industrial compliance, initiating enforcement actions in case of violations, and standard setting are often not prioritised. Less staff strength also means weaker regulatory scrutiny and poor impact assessment. For example, given their workload, engineers in Bihar, Jharkhand, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh have less than a day to inspect, evaluate and decide on each consent application. With Board staff running on empty, this is clearly an unsustainable situation.
The institutional picture we paint is rather bleak. Unfortunately, it gets worse when one considers the massive mandate of the Boards on environmental issues beyond air quality. Without essential capacity, capability, expertise, and vision in our frontline regulators, sustained and substantial gains in air quality are virtually impossible.