1. Snap judgment
Every birth or death should not be seen as success or failure of Project Cheetah
It is almost three months since South Africa sent a batch of 12 cheetahs to India and two have already died. Taken along with the death of one of the eight cheetahs from Namibia — it had a pre-existing renal infection — and it emerges that about 15% of the animals have not made it past the first phase of India’s ambitious Project Cheetah. The aim is to establish a sustainable population of about 35 cheetahs in the next decade by bringing in a few every year from Africa. Thus, it is implicit that there will be many deaths among the animals if one factors in both the natural lifespan of the cat as well as the challenges of adapting to Indian conditions. Daksha, one of the female cheetahs, died from injuries following a violent mating attempt by two males — again not entirely unexpected from what is known about the predator’s behaviour.
Ordinarily, the success of wildlife breeding programmes must be measured over longer intervals. The increase in the lion population in Gir, Gujarat, as well as tiger numbers have been the result of sustained efforts over decades, that have also seen the wildcat count dip to precipitous levels. Therefore, it is yet premature to weigh in on the success of the cheetah translocation programme. However, the arrival of the cheetahs in India was far from an ordinary event. For one, it capped decades of government planning undertaken since 2009, hearings in the Supreme Court, protracted negotiations with two countries, the complex logistics of choosing and ferrying the animals, the Prime Minister’s personal involvement in the enterprise, as well as the significant publicity effort by government departments to promote the endeavour as India’s exemplary commitment to wildlife conservation. It is thus only natural that three deaths in three months raise consternation on whether the conservation approach adopted by experts is based on sound principles. There is criticism that Kuno National Park is inadequate to host 20 cheetahs and that some ought to be in other sanctuaries. The existing batch of animals lived far too long in captivity (in preparation for the translocation) and thus were excessively stressed and more vulnerable, the argument goes. Project Cheetah managers however underline that the investments such as in making the landscape adequately stocked with prey, consultations with experts in Namibia and South Africa with actual experience in managing cheetahs, and cultural traditions that minimise poaching and incentivise local communities to be protective of wildcats, are the right ones to help the species flourish. Given that the relocation programme has been conceived as an ‘experiment’, it is important that every death and every birth are not seen as markers of failure or success. However, there also ought to be clearly defined criteria with timelines that project managers must adhere to, to decide if course correction is warranted.
2. A ground view of the Indian Space Policy 2023
Rakesh Sood is a former diplomat who has worked and negotiated on the interface of technology, security and strategy.
On April 20 this year, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) released the Indian Space Policy 2023 that had been in the works for some years. The document has been received positively by industry. However, it needs to be followed up with suitable legislation, accompanied by clear rules and regulations. Just preceding this, this writer wrote the article, “Awaiting lift-off into the Second Space Age” (April 10, 2023), which said that India’s modest entry into the First Space Age followed by its many gains should be used to help the country tap the vast potential in the Second Space Age.
Until the early 1990s, India’s space industry and space economy were defined by ISRO. Private sector involvement was limited to building to ISRO designs and specifications. The Second Space Age began with the licensing of private TV channels, the explosive growth of the Internet, mobile telephony, and the emergence of the smartphone. Today, while ISRO’s budget is approximately $1.6 billion, India’s space economy is over $9.6 billion. Broadband, OTT and 5G promise a double-digit annual growth in satellite-based services. It is estimated that with an enabling environment, the Indian space industry could grow to $60 billion by 2030, directly creating more than two lakh jobs.
Yet, it is the enabling policy environment that has proved elusive. The first satellite communication policy was introduced in 1997, with guidelines for foreign direct investment (FDI) in the satellite industry that were further liberalised but never generated much enthusiasm. Today, more than half the transponders beaming TV signals into Indian homes are hosted on foreign satellites, resulting in an annual outflow of over half a billion dollars.
A remote sensing data policy was introduced in 2001, which was amended in 2011; in 2016, it was replaced by a National Geospatial Policy that has been further liberalised in 2022. Yet, Indian users including the security and defence agencies spend nearly a billion dollars annually to procure earth observation data and imagery from foreign sources. To streamline matters, a draft Space Activities Bill was brought out in 2017, which went through a long consultative process. It lapsed in 2019 with the outgoing Lok Sabha. The government was expected to introduce a new Bill by 2021, but it appears to have contented itself with the new policy statement.
What is different
To be fair, the Indian Space Policy 2023 is qualitatively different from previous efforts. It is a short 11-page document, which includes three pages devoted to definitions and abbreviations. The ‘Vision’ is to “enable, encourage and develop a flourishing commercial presence in space” that suggests an acceptance that the private sector is a critical stakeholder in the entire value chain of the space economy. It makes five key points. It defines its role in India’s “socio-economic development and security, protection of environment and lives, pursuing peaceful exploration of outer space, stimulation of public awareness and scientific quest”.
First, this is the only reference to ‘security’ in the document, making it clear that the focus is on civilian and peaceful applications. Considering that space-based intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance, communication, positioning and navigation capabilities are increasingly seen as mission critical by the defence services, that India conducted a successful A-SAT (anti-satellite) direct ascent test in March 2019, and, in the same year, set up the Defence Space Agency and the Defence Space Research Organisation, it is reasonable to infer that a defence-oriented space security policy document will be a separate document. The United States puts out a space policy under the aegis of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Departments of Commerce and Transportation, while the Department of Defence and the Director of National Intelligence are responsible for the space security strategy.
Second, the policy lays out a strategy and then spells out the roles of the Department of Space, ISRO, the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) set up in 2020, and the NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), a public sector unit set up in 2019 under the Department of Space as the commercial arm of ISRO to replace the now defunct Antrix.
Third, it states that ISRO will “transition out of the existing practice of being present in the manufacturing of operational space systems. Hereafter, mature systems shall be transferred to industries for commercial exploitation. ISRO shall focus on R&D in advanced technology, proving newer systems and realisation of space objects for meeting national prerogatives”. Another of ISRO’s tasks in the new policy is to “share technologies, products, processes and best practices with NGEs (non-government entities) and/or Government companies”. This implies that ISRO will now use its biggest asset, its qualified and talented manpower, to concentrate on cutting edge research and development and long-term projects such as Chandrayaan and Gaganyaan.
As ISRO’s commercial arm, NSIL will become the interface for interacting with the industry, undertake commercial negotiations and provide hand-holding support to ensure smooth and efficient transfer of technologies.
Private sector role
Fourth, the NGEs (this includes the private sector) are “allowed to undertake end-to-end activities in the space sector through establishment and operation of space objects, ground-based assets and related services, such as communication, remote sensing, navigation, etc.”. Satellites could be self-owned, procured or leased; communication services could be over India or outside; and remote sensing data could be disseminated in India or abroad. NGEs can design and operate launch vehicles for space transportation and establish their own infrastructure. NGEs can now make filings with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and engage in commercial recovery of asteroid resources. In short, the entire gamut of space activities is now open to the private sector. Security agencies can task NGEs for procuring tailor-made solutions to address specific requirements.
The activities of the NGEs will be in keeping with guidelines and regulation to be issued by IN-SPACe. It is expected to act as the single window agency for authorising space activities “by government entities and NGEs”, in keeping with safety, security, international obligations and overall national interests.
Finally, IN-SPACe is expected to create a “stable and predictable regulatory framework” that will ensure a level playing field for the NGEs. It will act as a promoter by setting up industry clusters and as the regulator, issue guidelines on liability issues.
The policy sets out an ambitious role for IN-SPACe but provides no time frame for the necessary steps ahead. Neither is there an indicative timeline for ISRO’s transitioning out of its current practices nor is there a schedule for IN-SPACe to create the regulatory framework. The policy framework envisaged will need clear rules and regulations pertaining to FDI and licensing, government procurement to sustain the new space start-ups, liability in case of violations and an appellate framework for dispute settlement.
A regulatory body needs legislative authority. The Reserve Bank of India was set up by the 1934 RBI Act, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) by the 1992 SEBI Act, and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) by the 1997 TRAI Act. IN-SPACe is expected to authorise space activities for all, both government and non-government entities. Currently, its position is ambiguous as it functions under the purview of the Department of Space. The Secretary (Space) is also Chairman of ISRO, the government entity to be regulated by IN-SPACe.
The Space Policy 2023 is a forward-looking document reflecting good intentions and a vision. But it is not enough. What is urgently needed is a time frame to provide the necessary legal framework to translate this vision into reality, to successfully launch India into the Second Space Age.
Though the forward-looking document is qualitatively different from previous efforts, it needs to be followed up with suitable legislation, backed by clear rules and regulations
3. Pokhran-II: A moment of profound epiphany
Amitabh Mattoo is Professor of Disarmament Studies at JNU and Honorary Professor at the University of Melbourne. He was a member of the National Security Council’s Advisory Board, which reviewed India’s nuclear doctrine
Twenty-five years ago, on May 11 and 13, 1998, India carved out a new future for itself. No other event — save the fall of Dhaka in 1971 — did more for India’s self-esteem and its place in the world, and no other policy decision had greater consequences for its national security. In the previous two decades, the military aspects of India’s nuclear policy and programme were shrouded in a veil of ambiguity and opaqueness. There had been little reliable information available since May 18, 1974, the day India conducted its first nuclear test and termed it a “peaceful nuclear explosion.”
On May 11, 1998, the veil was finally lifted. After conducting three underground tests at Pokhran, followed by two more on May 13, the Government of India was unusually candid in its statements. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was explicit: “Our intentions were, are, and will always be peaceful but we do not want to cover our action with a veil of needless ambiguity. India is now a nuclear weapons state…”
The 1998 tests unleashed a fury of events and catapulted India into probably its worst confrontation with the United States. On May 13, Washington imposed sanctions against New Delhi under the Glenn Amendment; Pakistan conducted a series of nuclear tests on May 28 and 30; and China castigated India for what it saw as an “outrageous contempt for the common will of the international community.” Domestically, the Congress and the Left criticised the decision to test.
But in 2023, it is evident that the nuclear tests reflected a moment of profound epiphany: an awakening of India’s self-confidence and an awareness of its potential. India’s status, security, and ability to influence the international system received arguably the greatest fillip then, since independence, and unarguably the strongest boost since the end of the Cold War.
Dispelling three beliefs
Moreover, the nuclearisation of India, subsequent events, and declassified sources dispelled, if not destroyed, three beliefs. First, that the decision to conduct the tests was taken by a BJP government out of tune with public opinion. While the Vajpayee government may have taken the decision to test, virtually every Prime Minister since independence is “implicated” in the development of India’s nuclear weapons programme. Even Jawaharlal Nehru, whose commitment to disarmament is considered unassailable, was conscious of the potential security benefits of India’s nuclear programme. He argued that by not having developed steam power and having thus missed out on the industrial revolution, India become a slave country and therefore must develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. But he went on to add, “Of course, if we are compelled as a nation to use it for other purposes, possibly no pious sentiments will stop the nation from using it that way.”
It was during Lal Bahadur Shastri’s premiership, after the nuclear test by China at the Lop Nor test site in 1964, that Homi Bhabha, ‘the father of India’s nuclear programme,’ is believed to have received the green signal to pursue India’s nuclear weapon option, and a small group was set up to study Subterranean Nuclear Explosions for Peaceful Purposes.
It is well known that Indira Gandhi sanctioned the first nuclear test in May 1974. Although it was termed a “peaceful nuclear explosion,” the architect of the test, Raja Ramanna, revealed that it was a weapon that was tested. Less well known is that in 1988-89, Rajiv Gandhi gave the go-ahead to the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Defence Research and Development Organisation, to begin creating an Indian nuclear deterrent. By 1990, India had a fully developed nuclear weapons programme, which every subsequent Prime Minister had approved of. The Vajpayee government must, however, take credit for the historic Shakti tests.
The second was the myth that India would be isolated and its economy would collapse under the weight of sanctions and international opprobrium. However, beginning with the dialogue between Jaswant Singh and Strobe Talbott, it became clear that democratic India, with its blemish-free non-proliferation record, was too big and important to be marginalised. Instead, the U.S. took the first steps to mainstream India, treating it as an exceptional case, which culminated in the India-U.S. Civil Nuclear Agreement in 2005.
The third was the ethnocentric myth perpetuated by non-proliferation absolutists of the West that India and South Asia could not be “trusted” to manage nuclear weapons, and the logic of deterrence that had prevented a major war between the Soviet Union and the U.S. could not be applied to the sub-continent. In reality, whether it be in terms of a well-thought-out nuclear doctrine, C4I (command, control, communications, computers and intelligence) structures required to manage nuclear weapons, deterrence and the escalation ladder and to ensure flexibility of response, India has far more sophisticated measures in place than the U.S. and the Soviet Union had 25 years after acquiring nuclear weapons. Deterrence has worked well in South Asia, not just at the strategic or conventional level, but increasingly at the sub-conventional level as well.
As Ukraine, which renounced nuclear weapons, faces nuclear threats and ‘blackmail’ from Russia, India must celebrate the wisdom and sagacity of its leaders (political and scientific) who refused to capitulate under pressure, and helped to develop a credible nuclear deterrent against fierce odds.
The nuclear tests of 1998 reflected an awakening of India’s self-confidence and an awareness of its potential
4. The uprising of 1857, and Meerut’s role in the first war for India’s Independence
The Indian Rebellion of 1857.
On May 10, 1857, Meerut showed India the way when sepoys revolted against British rule and began marching to Delhi which was the power centre, the capital of Mughal India. Here are a list of books which narrate the series of events which led to the rebellion.
Alamgirpur, Mahabharata, May 10, 1857, Meerut has many calling cards.
ZIYA US SALAM
Alamgirpur in Meerut district should have been enough to provide the township in western Uttar Pradesh a passport to fame. It was the eastern most settlement of the Harappa civilisation, and was excavated by Y.D. Sharma. According to professors Katta Narasimha Reddy, E. Siva Nagi Reddy and Krishna Naik, the shape of the pottery of this region was comparable to that of Lothal, Ropar and Rangpur etc. “Kilnbricks are in evidence; large platters and trough with open base have also been found as also beads of steatite and semi-precious stones. Terracotta cakes are met in large numbers,” write the authors in Kalyan Mitra: Volume 1: Archaeology.
Yet Meerut’s fame rests not on beads and terracotta cakes no matter how ancient, but on bullets and blood, more accurately cartridges with possibly cow and pig fat, and rifles with which began India’s First War of Independence on May 10, 1857. The British were well and truly in the saddle in the 19th century. A year after muskets were introduced in 1856, Lord Canning was planning to send back the 84th Regiment of the Army to Burma, when news came of a serious outbreak in Meerut which was, as G.W. Forrest writes in A History of the Indian Mutiny (published by William Blackwood), “situated 36 miles from the Imperial City of Delhi…traversed by two main roads, the one from Ghaziabad to Roorkee, and the Mall, lined with a fine avenue of lofty trees. On the north of the Mall are lines of barracks for the accommodation of a brigadier of artillery, a European cavalry corps and a regiment of European infantry.” From here rose the first cry for the independence of India.
Why the sepoys rebelled
A day before Indian sepoys rose in rebellion in the month of Ramzan, Colonel Smyth had ordered cartridges to be handed out to 90 soldiers at the parade in Meerut. Five accepted, 85 refused, among them were 49 Muslims and 36 Hindus. The rebels were stripped of their uniform and fetters were hammered on their ankles. The rebellion was caused by the government’s decision to replace the old-fashioned musket with the Enfield rifle. Locals believed the cartridges had a mix of fat of cows and pigs with flour. Their friends back home refused to eat with them; they became the new untouchables.
As John William Kaye writes in A History of the Sepoy War in India 1857-58 (published by W.H. Allen, London), “The Native Troops at that great headquarters were smouldering into rebellion, and the Sepoy War was about to commence. The native troops, in fetters, were confined to an empty hospital, and a guard of their regiment was placed over them.”
“That evening,” as William Dalrymple writes in The Last Mughal, “placards were seen in the Meerut bazaar calling on all true Musalmans to rise up and slaughter the Christians.”
“The native troopers at once prepared for a revolt from the English rule and in order to rescue their comrades, resolved to dare the worst extremity. The opportunity was well chosen. The next day, May 10th being Sunday, while the European residents of Meerut were driving to church in the evening, they were startled at hearing the sound of musketry, and seeing the columns of smoke rising to the sky. That sound marked the opening of the Indian Mutiny. The native troops had revolted,” Forrest writes.
The argument finds favour with Amar Farooqui who writes in The Colonial Subjugation of India: “It was the month of Ramzan. Towards sunset the sipahis were in the bazaar buying goods for Iftaar. In a couple of hours, the entire cantonment and the civilians had joined the uprising. The sipahis travelled through the night. They wanted to march to Delhi.” For every Indian in Meerut, Delhi was the power centre, the capital of Mughal India. The Meerut sepoys had not only risen but had also ridden southeastwards throughout the night, and as Dalrymple notes, “at the very moment were pouring over the Bridge of Boats, and into the walled city, in search of their emperor.” Meerut had shown India the way.
As they reached Delhi, the locals were finishing their suhoor or pre-dawn meal before commencing a 15-hour long fast, and not a 12-hour fast as Dalrymple writes. In Delhi, the working class joined the sipahis, the elite preferred to weigh their options. In Meerut, all civilians had joined the fray. Reason enough for V.D. Savarkar to dub the Mutiny or Revolt as the First war of Independence in his book, The Indian War of Independence, written in early 20th century.
Behind the name
Glorious as the chapter is, there is more to Meerut’s history. It probably derives its name from Mayarashtra, the capital of the kingdom of Mayasura, Ravana’s father-in-law. This name later journeyed to Mairashtra, Mairaath and eventually Meerut. After archaeological excavations at Vidura-ka-tila, a collection of several mounds named after Vidura, in 1950–52, a site 37 km northeast of Meerut, was concluded to be the remains of the ancient Hastinapur, the capital of Kauravas and Pandavas of the Mahabharata, which was washed away by the floods. Once ruled by the Scindias, Meerut was ceded to the British in 1803. Some 54 years later, it paved the way for the eventual ouster of the British from India.
5. Study on sludge finds high potential for use as fertilizer after treatment
Wastewater when treated leaves behind organic sludge that is also a repository of effluents and bacterial contaminants.
A first-of-its-kind analysis of the sludge found in Indian sewage treatment plants (STP), set up to treat polluted water from the Ganga, found that most of it had “high potential” for use as fertilizer, but required treatment before it could be used unrestricted on farms or as a potential biofuel.
An emerging initiative of the National Mission for Clean Ganga, a flagship programme of the government to establish treatment facilities and prevent pollution of the river, is to derive livelihood opportunities from the river rejuvenation programme. One of the measures under this, “Arth Ganga” (economic value from Ganga), is to “monetise” and reuse treated wastewater and sludge. This means converting sludge — a thick residue that while rich in organic chemicals is also a repository of heavy metals, industrial effluents and bacterial contaminants — into usable products such as manure and bricks.
Treated sludge can be classified as class A or B — as per the standards of the United States Environment Protection Agency — with class A being safe to be disposed of in the open and useful as organic fertilizer. Class B means that the sludge can be used in “restricted” agricultural applications, the edible parts of the crop not be exposed to the sludge-mixed soil, and animals and people not come into extensive contact. India does not yet have standards classifying sludge as class A or B.
A study by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee found that most of the sludge analysed after drying fell into the class B category. Nitrogen and phosphorous levels — the basic soil nutrients — were higher than those recommended by India’s fertilizer standards (FCO, 2009). However, potassium levels in some samples were less than recommended. The total organic carbon was more than 16%, again higher than FCO recommendations, but the degree of pathogens as well as heavy metal contamination was above the recommended standard.
“This is the first time such a project has been conceived in India,” D.P. Mathuria, a senior official in the NMCG, said. “Only when we have data about the chemical characteristics of the sludge can we then ask developers to adopt practices on treatment and safe disposal of sludge.”