1. IAF choppers to help contain smoke from Kochi dumpyard
Gasping for air: Vehicles moving through a flyover as toxic haze from a waste dump fire covers Kochi on Monday.
While the fire was completely doused, smoke continues to rise from the garbage heaps; Justice Devan Ramachandran writes to the Chief Justice of the High Court to initiate a suo motu case
Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters will be deployed on Tuesday for aerial spraying of water to bring the situation at the Brahmapuram solid waste treatment plant here under control after plastic garbage heaps spread across acres of land caught fire on Thursday evening.
In a press release issued here, District Collector Renu Raj said that the deployment of helicopters was part of the concerted efforts to control smoke billowing out of the plant.
While the fire at the plant could be completely doused on Monday, smoke continues to rise from the bottom of garbage heaps, the release said.
Meanwhile, the district administration allayed fears about air quality with the particulate matter value dropping from that of the previous days. As on Monday afternoon, the particulate matter value was 146 and 92, show readings from the air quality monitoring stations in Vytilla and Eloor, respectively.
A writ petition was filed on Monday before the Kerala High Court seeking a directive to the State government to conduct an inquiry into the fire and also seeking another directive to the State Pollution Control Board to file a report on the present condition at the site. Meanwhile, Justice Devan Ramachandran of the Kerala High Court wrote to the Chief Justice seeking a suo motu case on the incident.
2. Rushikulya sands teem with Olive Ridleys
Golden period: Olive Ridley turtles coming ashore at Rushikulya in Ganjam district of Odisha. BISWARANJAN ROUT
Beach in Odisha’s Ganjam witnesses a record mass nesting of 6.37 lakh turtles this year; absence of extreme weather events made conditions favourable, says official; tagging of the turtles continues
Nearly 6.37 lakh Olive Ridley turtles have arrived for mass nesting on the Rushikulya coast this year, setting a new record for the beach in Ganjam district of Odisha.
The arrival of the turtles for laying eggs from February 23 to March 2 — which is treated as the mass nesting period — was attributed to the emergence of new beaches near the Podam- petta area, Berhampur Divisional Forest Officer Sunny Khokkar said.
Mr. Khokkar said, this year, the beaches remained unaffected as there were no extreme weather events such as cyclone and heavy rain and the turtles ascended the perfectly sloped beaches at the Rushikulya river mouth. Last year, 5.5 lakh Olive Ridley turtles came to Rushikulya for mass nesting.
“The actual number of Olive Ridleys coming to Rushikulya will go up as turtles keep coming to the coast after March 2. We are currently counting the number of turtles received during sporadic nesting witnessed after March 2,” he said. The forest division has stepped up super- vision to prevent turtle mortality by deploying more officials.
Turtles also arrive at Gahirmatha beach in Kendrapara district, which is known as the world’s largest known rookery. Puri and Devi river mouth beaches too host Olive Ridley turtles this time around.
As part of a long-term study, researchers of the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) continued tagging of Olive Ridley turtles at Gahirmatha, Devi river mouth and Rushikulya. “This year, we propose to tag 3,200 turtles. It is heartening to note that 150 Olive Ridley turtles which were tagged have returned to lay eggs on beaches of Odisha this year,” ZSI scientist Anil Mohapatra said.
Dr. Mohapatra said two turtles tagged in Odisha were spotted in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.
3. Keep constant vigil along borders, entire coastline: Rajnath
Ready for challenges: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on board INS Vikrant on Monday.
Constantly evolving world order has forced everyone to re-strategise, says Defence Minister at Naval Commanders’ Conference on INS Vikrant
Future conflicts will be unpredictable and the constantly evolving world order has forced everyone to re-strategise, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Monday, addressing the Naval Commanders’ Conference, being held at sea on board the indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. This is the first time that the conference is being held outside Delhi.
“The Navy standing firm in protecting national interests has strengthened India’s position as the ‘Preferred Security Partner’ in the Indian Ocean region,” Mr. Singh said. “Constant vigil on the northern and western borders as well as the entire coastline must be maintained. We need to be ready to deal with all future challenges.”
The conference serves as a platform for Naval Commanders to discuss important security issues at the military-strategic level as well as interact with senior government functionaries through an institutionalised forum, the Navy said in a statement. This is the first edition of the conference this year.
Talking of military modernisation and the emphasis on self-reliance, Mr. Singh said the defence sector had emerged as a major demand creator. “In the next five to 10 years, orders worth over $100 billion are expected to be placed through the defence sector and it will become a major partner in the economic development of the country… If we want to see India among the top economic powers of the world by the end of Amrit Kaal, we need to take bold steps towards becoming a defence superpower,” he said.
Mr. Singh later witnessed operational demonstrations which included aircraft carrier and fleet operations, weapon firings by ships and aircraft, and underway replenishment at sea. In addition, a demonstration of indigenous products, including spotter drone, remote-controlled lifebuoy and fire-fighting bot, was held.
The Chief of Defence Staff and the Chiefs of the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force would also interact with the Naval Commanders on subsequent days to address the convergence of the three services vis-à-vis common operational environment, and avenues of augmenting tri-service synergy and readiness, the Navy said.
During the conference, Naval Commanders would also be provided with an update on the ‘Agnipath Scheme’, the Navy said. The first batch of Agniveers is scheduled to pass out from INS Chilka in March-end.
INS Vikrant, which was commissioned last September, is currently undergoing aviation trials and is expected to be operationally ready by year-end.
4. Railways ties up with ISRO for train tracking
A total of 4,000 locomotives have been fitted with the technology, and new locomotives come with tracking devices.Getty Images
The Indian Railways is harnessing the power of data analytics for integrated transportation. It has commenced a project which will now enable real time tracking of train movements with the assistance of satellite imagery under the Real Time Train Information System (RTIS) project.
D.K. Singh, Managing Director, Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS), said that the CRIS has collaborated with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for live tracking to help Railways run trains efficiently.
Mr. Singh, and the Union Minister for Railways Ashwini Vaishnaw, spoke on the sidelines of a conference on ‘Reimagining Indian Railways: Harnessing the Power of Data Analytics for Integrated Transportation’ here on March 3.
Mr. Singh said that ISRO has developed its own regional navigation satellite system called Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC) and Bhuvan, a web-based utility which allows users to explore a set of map-based content being deployed for tracking.
“We have taken bandwidth from ISRO and integrated our systems with NavIC and Bhuvan. Every locomotive is fitted with a device and a SIM, which communicates the train’s real position to the satellite and feedback is received. The movement is updated every three seconds,” Mr. Singh added.
Real-time tracking of trains is also useful during accidents, floods and landslips, when there is a need to pin down the train’s exact location for rendering help. “Until now, 4,000 locomotives have been installed with the technology, and new locomotives that are being manufactured come pre-installed with the tracking devices,” Mr. Singh said.
Mr. Vaishnaw emphasised the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and quantum tech for the Indian Railways. Mr. Vaishnaw said that there was a pilot project underway between Sanchar Bhavan, which houses the Ministry of Electronics, Information and Technology, and Rail Bhavan, which houses the Ministry of Railways, to use quantum key encryption in order to exchange information in a way that is “non-hackable”.
The Railways is tapping into data analytics to improve passenger experience, help chart out empty seats, and enable more passengers to receive confirmed tickets.
“Nearly 2.3 crore passengers travel on the Indian Railways every day, of which 30 lakh passengers travel on reserved tickets, while about two crore passengers travel via the unreserved ticketing system,” Mr. Singh said.
The CRIS has now developed a hand-held device that can help reduce queues by providing tickets on platforms to unreserved passengers.
Mr. Singh said that the CRIS has identified 90 cases where AI can be used for improving Railways services, including seat allocation, prediction analysis on when freight trains will be emptied, and balancing stocks of medicines across the Railways health infrastructure.
“We crunch data and provide it to the Zonal Railways for further problem solving,” Mr. Singh said.
5. The anti-defection law is facing convulsions
After long years of legislative meanderings, Parliament enacted the anti-defection law (10th Schedule) in 1985 to curb political defection. The volume, intensity, recklessness and uncontrolled venality seen in defections in the 1960s and thereafter almost came to a stop after this. Defections not only caused the frequent fall of governments but also caused great instability in political parties with power-seeking politicians wreaking havoc on political parties. The Supreme Court of India in its first comprehensive judgment in the Kihoto Hollohan case characterised it as a political evil and upheld the right of Parliament to curb this evil through legislative mechanism.
Years have passed and this promise of political stability seems to be ending with the anti-defection law facing convulsions in Indian legislatures, especially in the last five years. The happenings in the State of Maharashtra are an example.
But before dealing with the questions of constitutional importance that have arisen in the Maharashtra Assembly, and which are presently before the Supreme Court, it is necessary to make a few general points about the scheme of the anti-defection law in India. In fact, a closer reading of this law will show that this enactment had a two-point objective. The first was to curb the act of defection by disqualifying the defecting member. The second was to protect political parties from debilitating instability. The fact is that frequent defections from even well-organised political parties leave them weak. They find themselves incapable of keeping their flock together as politicians have a tendency to abandon a sinking ship and move out in search of greener pastures. Indian democracy is based essentially on a party system where stable parties are a sine qua non of a stable democracy. Representatives elected otherwise than as members of parties cannot run a government, which is a very complex institution that demands unity of purpose, ideological clarity and cohesiveness — objectives that can only come from organised, ideologically-driven political parties. This is true of every democratic country in the world.
That this objective is the principal focus of the anti-defection law is clear from two provisions enacted in the 10th Schedule, namely the provision of a split in a political party and that of a merger of two political parties. Although ‘split’ has ceased to be a defence against disqualification with the deletion of paragraph three of the Schedule, a closer look at this erstwhile provision is necessary for a proper understanding of the true objective of this law. Under this paragraph, if a split occurs in a political party resulting in a faction coming into existence, and one-third of the legislators move out of the party and join that faction, those members could get an exemption from disqualification. The point to note here is that one-third of the legislators would get protection only if there was a split in the original political party. So, the split in the original political party is the pre-condition for exempting one-third of legislators from disqualification.
In other words, if there was no split in the original political party and one-third of the legislators only moved out, all of them would be liable to be disqualified. With the deletion of this paragraph, a split in the original party is no longer a defence against disqualification. Even when a political party has split, the legislators will not get any protection. That would be the impact of the deletion of paragraph three. But the point is that in order for the legislators to claim protection, a split in the original party was always necessary.
The merger issue
In paragraph four which protects defecting members from disqualification, the condition is merger of the original political party with another party and two-thirds of the legislators agreeing to such a merger. Here too, as in split, merger of the political party is the pre-condition to seek exemption from disqualification. One thing that becomes clear from an analysis of the omitted paragraph on split and the paragraph on merger is that the legislators do not have the freedom to bring about a split or merger as they are legally restrained by the anti-defection law. It is the original political party in both cases which takes that decision.
The argument that the Speaker cannot make a roving inquiry into the split or merger is specious as the Speaker takes the decision only after ascertaining the fact of the split. The same applies to the merger. Only a merger of the original political party provides the basis for claiming protection from disqualification under paragraph four. Of course it contains another assertion — namely, the merger will be deemed to have occurred only if two-thirds of the legislators agree to such merger. This simply means that for exempting defecting legislators from disqualification, merger is taken into account only if two-thirds of legislators have agreed to it. A merger of parties can take place outside the legislature but it has no consequence unless two-thirds of the members agree to it.
The crux of the Maharashtra case
In the Maharashtra case, interesting constitutional questions have arisen. The first question that should have been decided by the Court was on whose whip is valid. The whole issue could have been settled on that point. It is true that the breakaway group of the Members of the Legislative Assembly chose its own whip, who also reportedly issued whips to all the MLAs of the Shiv Sena. But the question as to whose whip is valid should have been decided on the basis of the explanation (a) to paragraph 2(1)(a), which says that an elected member of a House shall be deemed to belong to the political party by which he was set up as a candidate for election as such member. This explanation makes it unambiguously clear that the party which can legally issue the whip is the Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray as this is the party which set them up as candidates in the last election. It should not be forgotten that the anti-defection law was enacted to punish defectors, not to facilitate defection.
The Supreme Court by allowing the Election Commission of India to go ahead and decide the petition under paragraph 15 of the symbols order has put the cart before the horse. The 10th Schedule is a constitutional law and the disqualification proceedings under it should have been given primacy over the proceedings under paragraph 15 of the symbols order which is a subordinate legislation. As it happened, the ECI gave a flawed order which has made the operation of the 10th Schedule irrelevant and complicated.
The propositions made in this article can be summed up as follows: legislators have no freedom under the 10th Schedule to split or bring about a merger of their party with another. Only the original party can do that and the legislators have the choice to agree or not to agree to it. A whip can be legally issued only by the original political party which set them up as candidates in the election. The Court could have settled it as the first and foremost issue which would have done complete justice to the original political party, the Shiv Sena led by Mr. Thackeray, as in the mandate of Article 142 of the Constitution.
In the Maharashtra case, disqualification proceedings under the 10th Schedule should have been given primacy over the proceedings on the symbols order
6. How to become a green hydrogen superpower
Green hydrogen will be a critical industrial fuel of the 21st century. India is well-positioned to show leadership
The 2023 Union Budget has allocated ₹19,700 crore for the National Green Hydrogen Mission. This will set in motion a programme that can position India as a green hydrogen (super)power. Why is this important and what will it take?
India has committed to 50% electricity capacity from non-fossil sources by 2030. But an energy transition in industry is needed at the same time. Most industrial greenhouse gas emissions in India come from steel, cement, fertilizers and petrochemicals.
Green hydrogen holds the promise of fuelling industrial growth while simultaneously reducing industrial emissions. Splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen is energy-intensive. When this energy comes from renewable/non-fossil sources, we get green hydrogen. It can serve as an energy source (heavy industry, long-distance mobility, aviation, and power storage) and an energy carrier (as green ammonia or blended with natural gas).
India is targeting at least five million tonnes of production by 2030, which is larger than that of any single economy. This would create demand for 100-125 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy, 60-100 GW of electrolysers, investment opportunity of ₹8 lakh crore, and cut 50 MMT of annual emissions. With abundant sunshine and significant wind energy resources, India is geographically blessed to become one of the lowest-cost producers of green hydrogen.
For the vision to convert into reality, government and industry must act in sync along five priorities. First, domestic demand is critical. If we are not a big player domestically, we cannot be a major player in the international market. The mission introduces a Strategic Interventions for Green Hydrogen Transition (SIGHT) fund for five years, with ₹13,000 crore as direct support to consume green hydrogen. This will encourage heavy industries to increase demand, offering economies of scale by which suppliers can reduce prices.
Blending mandates for refineries can be another demand trigger. Urea plants have been exempted. Over time, targets can be ratcheted up with blending mandates rising (including for urea fertilizers). Another approach is to leverage government procurement. As the second-largest steel producer in the world, can India aspire to become the largest green steel producer? Costs of green steel, made from green hydrogen, are currently much higher, but could be reduced with economies of scale and changes in production technologies. A share of government procurement of steel could be nudged towards green steel. India could later position itself as a green steel exporter.
Second, India can be an attractive destination for domestic and foreign investment. Green hydrogen production projects announced/underway in India are far fewer compared to others. Green hydrogen is difficult and expensive to transport. The mission envisions green hydrogen hubs to consolidate production, end use and exports. A mission secretariat can ensure project clearance is streamlined and reduce financial risks.
Third, the SIGHT fund offers ₹4,500 crore to support electrolyser manufacturing under the performance-linked incentive scheme. Currently, manufacturers are importing stacks and assembling them. We must become more competitive — with targeted public funding — in manufacturing the most critical and high-value components of electrolysers in India. Not targeting value addition would result in electrolyser technologies and production again getting concentrated. China could end up controlling 38% of electrolyser capacity by 2030. Electrolyser technology must be improved to achieve higher efficiency goals, specific application requirements, be able to use non-freshwater, and substitute critical minerals.
Fourth, establish bilateral partnerships to develop resilient supply chains. Globally, about 63 bilateral partnerships have emerged; Germany, South Korea and Japan have the most. Using yen- or euro-denominated loans for sales to Japan or to the EU, respectively, could reduce the cost of capital and help us become export competitive.
Many bilateral deals focus on import-export but few deal with technology transfer or investments. India must cooperate with like-minded countries on trade, value chains, research and development, and standards. The mission allocates ₹400 crore for R&D, which can be leveraged to crowd in private capital into technology co-development. Indian companies should consider joint projects in countries with good renewable energy resources and cheap finance.
Finally, India must coordinate with major economies to develop rules for a global green hydrogen economy. In the absence of common global frameworks, attempts for rules and standards are being driven by collectives of private corporations rather than through structured intergovernmental processes. There are already signs of conflicting regulations and protectionist measures in major markets. These put India’s ambitions at risk.
India’s G20 presidency is an opportunity to craft rules for a global green hydrogen economy. These rules must address operational threats, industrial competitiveness and strategic threats. India should promote a global network on green hydrogen via which companies could collaborate. Green hydrogen will be a critical industrial fuel of the 21st century. India is well-positioned to show leadership — in our collective interest and that of the planet.