1. What is causing Arctic warming?
Why is the Greenland ice sheet melting at an alarming rate? How is it affecting the monsoons?
Due to global warming, any change in the surface air temperature and the net radiation balance tends to produce larger changes at the north and south poles. These changes are more pronounced at the northern latitudes and are known as the Arctic amplification
In May 2021, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme had warned that the Arctic has warmed three times quicker than the planet
For several years, the Greenland ice sheet has been melting at an alarming rate. Between July 15 and 17, 2022, the Greenland ice sheet saw a sharp spike in the rate and extent of melting
A study by a group of Indian and Norwegian scientists have found that the reduced sea ice in the Barents-Kara sea region can lead to extreme rainfall events in the latter half of the monsoons, in September and October
The story so far: On August 11, Finnish Meteorological Institute researchers published their study in the Communications Earth & Environment journal, concluding that the Arctic is heating four times faster than the rest of the planet. The warming is more concentrated in the Eurasian part of the Arctic, where the Barents Sea north of Russia and Norway is warming at an alarming rate — seven times faster than the global average. Other studies in 2021 (the American Geophysical Union) and in 2022 (Geophysical Research Letters) indicate that the Arctic amplification is four times the global rate. While earlier studies have proved that the Arctic is warming two or three times faster, recent studies show that the region is fast changing and that the best of climate models may not be able to capture the rate of changes and predict it accurately.
What is Arctic amplification? What causes it?
Global warming, the long-term heating of the earth’s surface, hastened due to anthropogenic forces or human activities since pre-industrial times and has increased the planet’s average temperature by 1.1 degrees Celsius. While changes are witnessed across the planet, any change in the surface air temperature and the net radiation balance tend to produce larger changes at the north and south poles. This phenomenon is known as polar amplification; these changes are more pronounced at the northern latitudes and are known as the Arctic amplification.
Among the many global warming-driven causes for this amplification, the ice-albedo feedback, lapse rate feedback, water vapour feedback and ocean heat transport are the primary causes. Sea ice and snow have high albedo (measure of reflectivity of the surface), implying that they are capable of reflecting most of the solar radiation as opposed to water and land. In the Arctic’s case, global warming is resulting in diminishing sea ice. As the sea ice melts, the Arctic Ocean will be more capable of absorbing solar radiation, thereby driving the amplification. The lapse rate or the rate at which the temperature drops with elevation decreases with warming. Studies show that the ice-albedo feedback and the lapse rate feedback are responsible for 40% and 15% of polar amplification respectively.
What do the previous studies say?
The extent of Arctic amplification is debated, as studies show various rates of amplification against the global rate. Studies have shown that the Arctic was warming at twice the global rate prior to the beginning of the 21st century. With revised figures, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change released a ‘Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate’ in 2019, which said that the “Arctic surface air temperature has likely increased by more than double the global average over the last two decades.”
In May 2021, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) warned that the Arctic has warmed three times quicker than the planet, and the chance of the sea ice completely disappearing in summers is 10 times greater, if the planet is warmer by two degree Celsius above the pre-industrial levels. The report also said that the average annual temperature in the region increased by 3.1 degrees Celsius compared to the 1 degree Celsius for the planet.
However, recent studies have shown that the mean Arctic amplification saw steep changes in 1986 and 1999, when the ratio reached 4.0, implying four times faster heating than the rest of the planet.
What are the consequences of Arctic warming?
The causes and consequences of Arctic amplification are cyclical — what might be a cause can be a consequence too.
The Greenland ice sheet is melting at an alarming rate, and the rate of accumulation of sea ice has been remarkably low since 2000, marked by young and thinner ice replacing the old and thicker ice sheets. The Greenland ice sheet saw a sharp spike in the rate and extent of melting between July 15-17 this year. The unusual summer temperatures resulted in a melt of 6 billion tonnes of ice sheet per day, amounting to a total of 18 billion tonnes in a span of three days, enough to cover West Virginia in a foot of water.
Greenlandic ice sheet holds the second largest amount of ice, after Antarctica, and therefore it is crucial for maintaining the sea level. In 2019, this was the single biggest cause for the rise in the sea level, about 1.5 metres. If the sheet melts completely, the sea level would rise by seven metres, capable of subsuming island countries and major coastal cities.
The warming of the Arctic Ocean and the seas in the region, the acidification of water, changes in the salinity levels, are impacting the biodiversity, including the marine species and the dependent species. The warming is also increasing the incidence of rainfall which is affecting the availability and accessibility of lichens to the reindeer. The Arctic amplification is causing widespread starvation and death among the Arctic fauna.
The permafrost in the Arctic is thawing and in turn releasing carbon and methane which are among the major greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. Experts fear that the thaw and the melt will also release the long-dormant bacteria and viruses that were trapped in the permafrost and can potentially give rise to diseases.
What is the impact on India?
In recent years, scientists have pondered over the impact the changing Arctic can have on the monsoons in the subcontinent. The link between the two is growing in importance due to the extreme weather events the country faces, and the heavy reliance on rainfall for water and food security.
A study titled ‘A possible relation between Arctic sea ice and late season Indian Summer Monsoon Rainfall extremes’ published in 2021 by a group of Indian and Norwegian scientists found that the reduced sea ice in the Barents-Kara sea region can lead to extreme rainfall events in the latter half of the monsoons — in September and October. The changes in the atmospheric circulation due to diminishing sea ice combined with the warm temperatures in the Arabian Sea contribute to enhanced moisture and drive extreme rainfall events. In 2014, India deployed IndARC, India’s first moored-underwater observatory in the Kongsfjorden fjord, Svalbard, to monitor the impact of the changes in the Arctic Ocean on the tropical processes such as the monsoons.
According to the World Meteorological Organization’s report,‘State of Global Climate in 2021’, sea level along the Indian coast is rising faster than the global average rate. One of the primary reasons for this rise is the melting of sea ice in the polar regions, especially the Arctic. The Arctic amplification furthers the idea that “what happens in the Arctic does not remain in the Arctic” and can substantially affect tropical processes far south.
2. ‘Delhi’s PM2.5 levels worst in the world’
Kolkata placed second; study says Indian cities witness high PM emissions, but low NO2 emissions
A global analysis of air quality found that Indian cities, while recording particulate matter emissions (PM2.5) that are among the highest in the world, do relatively better on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions.
The report, Air Quality and Health in Cities, released by U.S.-based Health Effects Institute on Wednesday, analyses pollution and global health effects for more than 7,000 cities around the world, focusing on two of the most harmful pollutants – fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
The report, using data from 2010 to 2019, found that global patterns for exposures to the two key air pollutants were “strikingly different.” While exposures to PM2.5 pollution tend to be higher in cities located in low- and middle-income countries, exposure to NO2 is high across cities in high-income as well as low- and middle-income countries.
Delhi and Kolkata were ranked first and second in the list of top 10 most polluted cities when PM2.5 levels were compared, with Delhi and Kolkata reporting an average annual exposure of (relative to population) of 110 ug/m3 and 84 ug/m3 respectively. ug/m3 refers to microgram per cubic metre.
However no Indian city appeared in the list of top 10 – or even top 20 – polluted cities when N02 levels were compared. This list saw Shanghai at the top with an average annual exposure of 41 ug/m3. Average NO2 levels for Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai, according to the report, ranged from 20-30 ug/m3.
NO2 comes mainly from the burning of fuels in older vehicles, power plants, industrial facilities and residential cooking and heating.
As city residents tend to live closer to busy roads with dense traffic, they are often exposed to higher NO2 pollution than residents of rural areas.
In 2019, 86% of the more than 7,000 cities analysed in the report exceeded the WHO’s 10 ug/m3 guideline for NO2, impacting about 2.6 billion people.
“While PM2.5 pollution tends to get more attention on known hotspots around the world, less data has been available for NO2 at this global scale,” the report notes.
An expert, who was not associated with the study, told The Hindu that this paradoxical situation in India was likely due to the relatively lower adoption of high-efficiency engine vehicles. “Complete combustion of fuel results in higher NOx (nitrogen oxides) where incomplete combustion sees other kinds of emissions,” said Sachchida Nand Tripathi, Professor, IIT-Kanpur and an expert on air pollution in India. Other cities with high NO2 population levels included Moscow, Beijing, Paris, Istanbul and Seoul.
Due to their highly reactive nature, nitrogen oxides also contributed to the formation of other pollutants, including ozone and particulate matter. NO2 also has a shorter lifetime compared with PM2.5 and other air pollutants. As a result, NO2 levels show very high variability in space and time — levels can vary significantly even across a few kilometres. In comparison, PM2.5 levels tend to show less spatial variation.
In 2019, the global average NO2 exposure was 15.5 ug/m3, but exposure levels varied considerably across cities.
Ground monitoring of air quality remains limited in many regions of the world, the report adds, obscuring the true degree of NO2 pollution in countries such as India.
Air pollution is defined as the introduction of pollutants, organic molecules, or other unsafe materials into Earth’s atmosphere. This can be in the form of excessive gases like carbon dioxide and other vapours that cannot be effectively removed through natural cycles, such as the carbon cycle or the nitrogen cycle.
Reasons of air pollution in India:
- High dependence on coal for power: share of coal in power generation in India continue to be around 80%. Power plants with poor technology and efficiency continue to be the major source of pollutants like CO and oxides of nitrogen and sulfur
- High levels of poverty
- Dependence on fuelwood and kerosene for the purpose of lighting and cooking leads to high level of pollutants being released in rural and urban periphery
- Over exploitation of commons like forests, grazing lands and mindless deforestation reduces the natural capacity to absorb pollutants
- Poor governance: the issue of environment and pollution is still to get the policy priority it deserves. While agencies liked CPCB and SPCBs continue to be under-resourced and under-staffed, multiplicity of the state authorities at the ground level leads to poor coordination, lax enforcement of rules and lack of accountability as seen in Delhi. Absence of environmental governance continues to be a major challenge
- Access to technology: India’s industrial landscape continues to be dominated by MSMEs which lack access to cleaner technologies. Agricultural waste burning is also the result of poor access to farm technologies
- Unplanned urbanization: haphazard growth of urban areas has led to proliferation of slums and poor public transport has increased the burden of personal vehicles on the road. Landfills used for waste management also releases pollutants in the air. The rapid urbanization of the recent years if left unmanaged will further exacerbate the problem
- Continentality: problem of pollution in the landlocked northern states gets exacerbated due to unfavorable winds and phenomenon of temperature inversion during winters
Impacts of air pollution:
- Health: increased burden of non-communicable diseases such as cancer, cardiac diseases, COPD etc. is the direct consequence of rise in air pollution. According to Lancet estimates on 2015 there were 2.51 million pollution related deaths in India. It reduces the overall productivity of nation and increases the healthcare burden especially on the poor
- Environment: pollution affects not only health of humans but of environment too. Birds and plants are affected by air pollution and phenomenon like urban heat island resulting from it
- Economy: increased healthcare costs, reduced productivity, diversion of resources towards responding to air pollution are some of the economic costs. According to WB estimate, air pollution might have cost India 8.5% of GDP
- Politics: air pollution has caused major political conflict in last few years, most prominent of which is the recurring conflict among Punjab, Haryana and Delhi
Sources of air pollution:
Initiatives by governments to curb pollution
- Early implementation of BS-VI norm in 2020 to reduce emission from vehicles (as much as 75pc in case of NOx in diesel engine)
- Green India mission: part of NAPCC it aims at protecting, restoring and enhancing India’s diminishing forest cover which is crucial to reduce pollution
- Electric vehicle: the govt is pushing for EVs as a cleaner alternative to vehicles run on fossil fuels with schemes like FAME to incentivizing purchase of EVs
- GRAP Delhi: Graded response action plan as mandated by SC for Delhi NCR to combat pollution aims to institutionalize coordination among all the concerned authorities to respond according to the severity of pollution
- Ban on Diesel vehicle and crackers: Courts in the recent time have cracked down upon Diesel vehicles and crackers to reduce pollutant emissions
- UJJWALA Yojana: the scheme providing subsidized LPG connections to BPL families will curb emissions from fuelwood used for cooking
- Odd even policy: the initiative by reducing the load of personal vehicle on road has helped in slight reduction in PM levels in Delhi
- Renewable energy plans: the aim of government to increase RE capacity by 175GW by 2022 and share of RE in total power generation to 40% by 2030 will be crucial in reducing pollution from power generation
- Smart city, AMRUT: the urban development scheme which seek to ensure planned urban growth including public transport and waste management will address emission from urban areas
- National Air Quality index that measures and monitors the levels of eight pollutants (PM10, PM2.5, NO2, SO2, CO, O3, NH3, and Pb)
3. Credit guarantee plan expanded to aid hospitality, related sectors
‘Loan cover of ₹50,000 cr. for sustenance, recovery of firms dented by COVID-19’
The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved an enhancement of ₹50,000 crore in the Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS), raising its limit to ₹5 lakh crore, with the additional amount set to be deployed for enterprises in the hospitality and related sectors that were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of August 5, loans of ₹3.67 lakh crore had been sanctioned under the ECLGS, which was introduced to provide guarantees for additional credit needs of businesses hit by lockdowns and disruptions since the onset of the pandemic in 2020.
The Cabinet decided that the additional amount of ₹50,000 crore would be made applicable to enterprises in hospitality and related sectors till March 31, 2023. This step had been announced in this year’s Union Budget. “The enhancement is expected to provide much needed relief to enterprises in these sectors by incentivising lending institutions to provide additional credit of up to ₹50,000 crore at low cost,” the Finance Ministry said in a statement.
The pandemic had adversely affected contact-intensive sectors, and demand has continued to be subdued for them even as other sectors have returned to the recovery path faster.
Justifying the need for interventions for such businesses’ ‘sustenance and recovery’, the Ministry added that their revival was also necessary for supporting the overall ecomomic rebound, taking into account their high employment intensity as well as their linkages with other sectors.
Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme
The Union Cabinet approved the Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme in May 2020 and allowed additional funding of up to Rs.3 lakh crores to different sectors, especially Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSME) and MUDRA borrowers.
The scheme is a part of the AtmaNirbhar Bharat Abhiyan which was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make India a self-dependent country.
Under the ECLGS, all loans sanctioned under the Guaranteed Emergency Credit Line (GECL) facility will be provided with additional credit. However, there are two specifications:
- The scheme would be applicable for loans sanctioned from the date of announcement of the scheme to October 31, 2020, [Now September 3, 2021] OR
- Guarantees for an amount of Rs.3 lakh crore are issued (whichever happens first)
- Disbursement is permitted up to December 31, 2021.
Objectives of Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS)
While the country was fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, major losses were faced by the MSMEs in the manufacturing and other sectors. To overcome this loss, the Government introduced the Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme.
Discussed below are the major objectives of ECLGS:
- As per this scheme, 100% guarantee coverage is to be provided by National Credit Guarantee Trustee Company Limited (NCGTC) to the Member Lending Institutions (MLI), Banks, Financial Institutions, and Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFC)
- It would increase access to, and enable the availability of additional funding facilities to MSME and MUDRA borrowers
- The Scheme aims at mitigating the economic distress faced by MSMEs by providing them additional funding in the form of a fully guaranteed emergency credit line
- It shall also provide credit to the sector at a low cost, thereby enabling the small sector businesses to meet their operational liabilities and restart their manufacturing and work
Once the proper functioning of the MSMEs in India starts off normally, it will benefit India economically and socially. This is one of the major reasons why the Government introduced this scheme during the unprecedented situation of a pandemic.
4. Editorial-1: The geopolitics of the Fourth Taiwan Crisis
If China loses Taiwan for good, Beijing’s attempts to establish regional hegemony would be complicated further
At the 16th Supreme State Council Meeting on April 15, 1959, Mao Zedong told the delegates a story called ‘The Cocky Scholar Sitting at Night’. A young scholar was reading in his room. A ghost, with its long tongue stretching out, appeared by the window. It wanted to scare the scholar. But the scholar took his ink brush, painted his face “as dark as that of Zhang Fei”, the dreaded third century Han dynasty general, and stared back at the ghost with his tongue reaching out. The ghost eventually disappeared. Mao told this story to explain why he had ordered the shelling of the Kinmen and Matsu islands, lying along the mainland but governed by Taiwan, a year earlier. The ghost in Mao’s story was the United States. “Never be afraid of the ghost. The more you are afraid, the more difficult it is to survive,” he said.
A brief history
China’s response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan on August 2 reminds one of Mao’s story. Its unprecedented military drills around the island and the repeated threats of using force for unification suggest that China’s views on the Taiwan issue and the U.S.’s role in it have not changed a bit over the years, even though it never managed to scare away the “ghost” and had to make several tactical retreats in the past. Mao wanted to be the leader who achieved “national reunification”. But he knew that it was practically impossible for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which did not even have a proper navy in the early 1950s, to cross the Taiwan Strait and retake the island. Besides this, U.S. President Harry S. Truman’s decision to send the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet to the Strait had created a buffer between the communist-ruled mainland and Kuomintang-held Taiwan. What he could do was to shell the Kinmen and Matsu islands, in 1954 and then in 1958, triggering the First and Second Taiwan Strait Crises. However, taking the island by force remained a distant dream.
By the time China started building military capacities (including a nuclear bomb), the geopolitical dynamics of the region had begun shifting. In the 1970s, faced with the Soviet problem, China’s focus shifted to bettering its ties with the U.S. and, later, on its own economic development. The Taiwan issue was put on the back-burner without making compromises on the goal of unification. The issue would resurface in 1995 when Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui visited Cornell University in the U.S. China started military drills and missile tests in the Strait, triggering the Third Strait Crisis. But U.S. President Bill Clinton responded by sending U.S. aircraft carriers to the Strait, eventually forcing Beijing to de-escalate. For China, it was another crude reminder of the gap between its objectives and actual strength. “The ghost” was still the king of the Taiwan Strait.
Over the past 27 years, the regional situation has changed dramatically. If the Soviet Union brought China and the U.S. closer in the second half of the Cold War, the successor state of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation, today, is not only one of China’s closest partners but also a power that militarily challenges the U.S-led post-Cold War security architecture in Europe. If Mr. Clinton had confidently sent aircraft carriers to the Taiwan Strait in response to China’s drills in the 1990s, U.S. President Joe Biden would not dare do that today without factoring in the possibility of a military conflict with the world’s largest Navy. The sharpest manifestation of these changes was the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis, unleashed by China’s response to Ms. Pelosi’s recent visit to the island.
Mr. Biden has repeatedly said in recent months that the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defence if attacked. Every time Mr. Biden made the remark, the White House issued a statement explaining that the U.S.’s policy of strategic ambiguity (being ambiguous on the question of whether the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defence) had not changed. But Mr. Biden’s repeated statements suggest that U.S. policy is becoming less and less ambiguous than certain. Against this already tense background, China viewed a visit by an American leader (who is second in the line of succession to the presidency) to an island which it sees as a breakaway province as a clear act of provocation.
For China, “the ghost” has been incrementally violating the status quo. And it responded by establishing a new normal. Its warships and jets breached the median line of the Taiwan Strait, rendering it meaningless. The drills were held in the territorial waters and airspace claimed by Taiwan. China’s missiles flew over the island. As Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu put it, “China has openly declared its ownership of the Taiwan Strait.”
China sees Taiwan as the last vestige of its “century of humiliation” that began with its defeat in the first Opium War (1839-42). And the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wants the island back for historical, political and geopolitical reasons. Historically, the Party sees Taiwan as always a part of China. It was a part of imperial China before it became a Japanese colony in 1895. When Japan was defeated in the Second World War, Taiwan was returned to the nationalist Republic of China, ruled by the Kuomintang. Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang supporters fled to Taiwan in 1949 after they lost the civil war to the communists in the mainland. Since then, Taiwan has remained a self-ruled island, while “national reunification” has stayed one of the most important promises and objectives of the CCP.
Politically, no Chinese leader, not even Xi Jinping who is arguably the most powerful leader since Mao, can compromise on the Taiwan question without damaging their authority, career and legacy. On the contrary, Mr. Xi, who is expected to get an unusual third term in the 20th Party Congress later this year, would like to go down in history as a leader who achieved what even Mao could not do.
Geopolitically, Taiwan is critical for China’s great power ambition. No country can become a global superpower without establishing regional hegemony. The U.S. is protected by the world’s two largest oceans — the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean — and has successfully established hegemony in the Western Hemisphere. The Soviet Union had enjoyed hegemony in the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea. On the contrary, China, despite its military capabilities, is a caged naval power in a crowded neighbourhood. And if it loses Taiwan for good, which is just 180 kilometres from its mainland, China’s attempts to establish regional hegemony would be complicated further. So, it would like control of the island not only to fulfil a historical promise (political benefits for the leader or, as many have pointed out, taking control of the global semiconductor supplies), but also to shore up its geopolitical stature as a great power in the western Pacific. The question is whether China thinks the time has come to take risks to meet its objectives.
This does not mean that military action would be easy for China. Taiwan has been outside its control since 1949. Even if China takes Taiwan, keeping it under its thumb would be challenging, given the island’s topography and nationalist groups. And there is no geographical contiguity from the mainland to Taiwan, which could continue to pose security challenges. Moreover, any strategic miscalculation would prove counterproductive to China’s standing in the region, like what has happened with misadventurous peak powers in the past. But the counter-arguments are also equally persuasive.
China thinks the strategic environment around Taiwan has shifted to its favour, with a window of opportunity to make the move as the U.S. is caught in a triangular entanglement — its failures in the Muslim world, its desire to defeat Russia in Europe and a strategy to contain China’s rise in the Indo Pacific. Once the structures of the new Cold War are in place and Taiwan emerges as a front line, it would be as difficult for China to get the island back as it was for the German or Korean unification under the communists. This is what is making the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis the most dangerous one.
5. Editorial-2: This maritime partnership is still a work in progress
It is far from clear whether India-U.S. ties are headed towards a comprehensive partnership in the Indian Ocean littorals
The docking of the USNS Charles Drew, a United States Navy dry cargo ship, for repairs at an Indian facility in Chennai last week, marks an important first in the India-U.S. military relationship. Although bilateral strategic ties have advanced considerably over the past decade, reciprocal repair of military vessels was still a milestone that had not been crossed. With the arrival of Charles Drew at the Larsen and Toubro (L&T) facility at the Kattupalli dockyard, India and the U.S. seem to have moved past a self-imposed restriction.
Signs of a broader template
As some see it, a renewed sense of optimism now drives India-U.S. relations. During the bilateral 2+2 dialogue held in April this year, the two countries agreed to explore the possibilities of using Indian shipyards for the repair and maintenance of ships of the U.S. Military Sealift Command (MSC). In the weeks following that meeting, the MSC carried out an exhaustive audit of Indian yards, and cleared the facility at Kattupalli for the repair of U.S. military vessels.
The docking of a U.S. military vessel at an Indian facility has both functional and geopolitical implications. Functionally, it signals a more efficient leveraging of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) — the military logistics agreement India signed with the U.S. in 2017. Thus far, India-U.S. cooperation under the pact had largely been confined to the exchange of fuel and stores during joint exercises and relief operations. With the arrival of a U.S. military vessel at an Indian dockyard, the template of logistics cooperation seems to have broadened. There is a good possibility now that India would seek reciprocal access to repair facilities at U.S. bases in Asia and beyond.
Many in India, meanwhile, are seeing the U.S. ship’s docking as a global endorsement of Indian shipbuilding and ship-repair capabilities. In recent years, New Delhi has sought to showcase its private shipyards, in particular the L&T, which has developed significant ship design and construction capability at its yards in Hazira (Gujarat) and Kattupalli. At a time when the Indian Navy has taken delivery of the INS Vikrant, the country’s first indigenously constructed aircraft carrier, the spirits of Indian shipbuilders are already riding high. As Indian observers see it, the presence of the USNS Charles Drew in an Indian dockyard is a boost for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and ‘Make-in-India’.
The political signal
Politically, too, the development is noteworthy, as it signals a consolidation of the India-U.S. partnership, and the Quadrilateral (India, Japan, Australia and the United States) Security Dialogue. Despite its intention to strengthen logistics exchanges among Quad members, New Delhi has desisted from offering foreign warships access to Indian facilities. Notwithstanding the odd refuelling of foreign warships and aircraft in Indian facilities, India’s military establishment has been wary of any moves that would create the impression of an anti-China alliance. Yet, Indian decision makers evidently are willing to be more ambitious with the India-U.S. strategic relationship. New Delhi’s decision to open up repair facilities for the U.S. military suggests greater Indian readiness to accommodate the maritime interests of India’s Quad partners.
For Washington, the strategic implications of the docking in India are no less tangible. This is an incremental step forward in the U.S. moving to bolster its military presence in the Eastern Indian Ocean. Recent assessments of the evolving security picture in the Indian Ocean point to the possibility of China’s military expansion in the Asian littorals, holding at risk U.S. and European assets. Reportedly, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been readying to play a more active security role in the region. New Delhi’ s offer of repair services for U.S. military vessels could kickstart a process that would culminate in India opening up its naval bases for friendly foreign warships. At a time when New Delhi has shied away from backing the U.S. position in the Russia-Ukraine war, greater India-U.S. synergy in the Indian Ocean littorals could galvanise the supporters of closer bilateral ties. It would revive talk about the bilateral as a defining partnership in the Indian Ocean, and of India’s potential to counter China in the Indian Ocean. Coming on the heels of the delivery of the first two U.S. manufactured MH-60R (Multi Role Helicopters) to India (with a third craft due to arrive later this month) the visit of the USNS Charles Drew has given Indian and U.S. observers much to be optimistic about.
Meanwhile, the Indian Navy has formally commenced its cooperation with the Bahrain-based multilateral partnership, Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), as an ‘associate member’. This comes months after India had announced its intention to join the grouping in furtherance of its regional security goals. India’s political and military leadership is seeing this as a demonstration of Indian commitment towards the collective responsibility of ensuring security in the shared commons.
Indian analysts, however, ought not to overread developments, as extrapolating from perceived trends can often be misleading. The reality is that the India-U.S. relationship is still some way from crossing a critical threshold. For all the hype in the media surrounding India’s membership of the CMF, the modalities of the engagement are still being worked out. The Indian Navy, it seems, has stopped short of formally joining the group, of which the Pakistan Navy is a key member. According to the CMF website, “associate members provide the assistance that they can offer, if they have the time and capacity to do so, whilst undertaking national tasking”. This is not unlike India’s earlier model of cooperation, whereby the Indian Navy worked alongside CMF and other security forces in the Western Indian Ocean on a need-to basis — all while operating independently, and under the broader banner of the United Nations. Despite increased engagement with the U.S. Navy, India’s liaison officer at the U.S. Navy component (NAVCENT, or the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command) in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) is still the military attaché at the Indian Embassy in Bahrain.
Limited in scope now
Even with the docking of the U.S. vessel at Kattupalli, Indian analysts ought to recognise that the U.S. military sealift command has no warships. The MSC is charged with delivering supplies to U.S. bases, and deals only with transport vessels of the U.S. Navy. The agreement with India for the repair of U.S. military vessels is limited to cargo ships. U.S. decision makers are unlikely to seek Indian facilities for repair and replenishment of U.S. destroyers and frigates in the near future until New Delhi is clear about the need for strategic cooperation with the U.S. Navy.
By many accounts, then, the India-U.S. maritime relationship remains a work in progress. There has doubtless been some movement ahead, but it is far from clear whether navy-to-navy ties are headed towards a wide-ranging and comprehensive partnership in the Indian Ocean littorals.
6. Editorial-3: Finding a home
The established adoption process should not be bypassed to increase the numbers
Policy intervention without knowledge of the ground realities often ends up as an exercise in self-gratification for those in authority and results in little or no benefit for the intended target group. Wanting to do good must be matched by knowing the right thing to do in the circumstance, and in the case of children, be guided by child-centric policies. Whether the recent recommendation of a parliamentary panel to bring more abandoned children into the adoption process will fulfil these parameters is an issue that warrants further discussion. A recent report, “Review of Guardianship and Adoption Laws”, by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances and Law and Justice has pointed to the huge mismatch between the number of people wanting to adopt children and the number of children legally available for adoption, and suggested that the way to remedy that would be to ensure that “orphan and abandoned children found begging on the streets… are made available for adoption at the earliest”. To do so, it has suggested periodic district surveys to identify children who are orphaned/abandoned. The report argued that in a country with millions of orphans, only 2,430 children were available for adoption. It is true that there are always more people wanting to adopt children than the number of children actually available for adoption; it has been so historically, but the increasing chasm, as the report indicates, will undoubtedly have to be addressed. According to the report, there were 27,939 prospective parents registered with the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) as on December 2021, from nearly 18,000 in 2017. There were 6,996 orphaned, abandoned and surrendered children residing in childcare institutions considered adoptable, but only 2,430 were declared legally free for adoption by Child Welfare Committees. It claimed that the waiting time for adoption had increased to three years from one year, in the past five years. The total number of children adopted in 2021-22 was only 3,175.
But the process of adoption in the country was tightened — procedurally and legally — in response to rampant malpractices and inter-country adoption rackets. CARA was installed as the nodal body for in-country and inter-country adoptions, to monitor and regulate the process, ensuring through stringent rules that the adoption is in the best interests of the child, and no illegality is involved. While the parliamentary committee has interpreted that there is automatic happiness when a child in an institution is placed in a home, it is important to exercise caution. No doubt, the country should take care of its children orphaned due to circumstances, but even as it acknowledges that institutionalisation may be detrimental over the long term, it should pay equal attention to the finer aspects of child care, and allow itself to be guided by a child-centric philosophy. There are no shortcuts in ensuring orphaned children come to no harm.
7. Editorial-4: The Centre vs State tussle over IAS postings
India needs a stable system of civil services to bolster responsive public administration
It is now official. The Government of India (GOI) painfully admitted recently to what some of us already knew. Fewer and fewer All India Services (AIS) officers working in States were coming forward to opt for a tenure with the Centre. An overwhelming majority would like to be in the comfort zone of their State cadres and vegetate there rather than migrate — albeit even for one short spell of three to five years — to the country’s capital and its neighbourhood to work for the Union Government.
This is no reflection on the Centre’s ability or willingness to offer incentives to maintain the morale of Indian Administrative Services (IAS) and Indian Police Service (IPS) officers who choose to work for it on deputation.
Rigour routine of GOI
There are many positives in working for the GOI. These include a psychological satisfaction of contributing to the formulation of national policy on many critical issues, such as education, health care or preservation of the environment. This throws up many opportunities for foreign travel and a chance to be deputed to work for international agencies. These prospects do not, however, seem to be attractive enough for many officers to crave for a posting in Delhi. Several factors account for this reluctance. These include the rigour of the GOI routine — long hours of work and the need for extreme clinical care in the preparation and submission of reports going up the hierarchy — sometimes up to the Prime Minister himself.
Compound this with fewer creature comforts than what is available in a State environment as also the need to operate sometimes far away from one’s native State. There are only a few who are fortunate enough to be allotted to their home State or closer. Not surprisingly, many willing to go to Delhi on deputation are those assigned to the Northeastern States.
Officers shying away from going to Delhi is not a new phenomenon, but is one that has lately assumed grave proportions. This is a serious situation if one reckons that the manpower demands of GOI ministries (at the level of Deputy Secretaries and Directors who generally come from the IAS) are growing. There is no doubt now as there is a lateral entry scheme meant for qualified personnel from the public and private sectors. Their number is too small to make even a marginal difference to the deteriorating vacancy position at the Centre.
The case of the Indian Police Service (IPS) is equally bad. There are far too many vacancies in the Central Police Establishment comprising the paramilitary forces such as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF) and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), and investigating agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and National Investigation Agency (NIA).
One organisation particularly affected is the CBI. When this is the case, ironically, the non-IPS direct recruits to the para military forces are permanently at war with the Home Ministry (MHA), demanding a greater share of the jobs in the higher echelons. The Cadre rules now in place do not permit such expansion of opportunities for the non-IPS officers. A major grouse of the latter is that none of them can ever rise to head the forces. The rationale is that they lack the experience at the grassroots of policing essential to operate in unison with the local civil authorities.
The AIS structure is unique to India and is too delicate to handle during a crisis. No public administration practitioner or scholar abroad can comprehend its nuances.
The AIS appointments
The selection of AIS officers is done through the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), which holds an annual examination that attracts 3,00,000 to 4,00,000 young aspirants, competing for less than 1,000 positions. The appointing authority for those shortlisted from the written examination, followed by an oral interview, is currently the Central government.
Appointment officers are allotted to various States, the number of officers depending on each State’s requirement. Thereafter, they spend most of their career in those States, intervened by short spells of deputation to the Centre. While they are functioning under a State government, disciplinary authority is vested in the former, except that a State cannot impose a major penalty on a delinquent AIS officer for any misconduct.
Suspension of an officer from the service by a State government will have to be ratified by the Centre before the end of three months. This is meant to be a safeguard against any arbitrary action by a State government.
I, however, know of a case of a totally unjustified harassment of a distinguished police officer who was harassed for reporting to the Indian government after the State went back on its earlier promise to relieve her to join a Central organisation. There was a short-lived tussle between the State and the Ministry of Home Affairs over this issue.
A few years ago, we also witnessed such battles in other States too, especially West Bengal, where senior officers such as the Chief Secretary and Commissioner of Police were greatly embarrassed because the Chief Minister and GOI were out of steps with each other. It is in situations like these where the canons of prudent and mature governance are ignored that pose a threat to the foundation of All India Services.
Empowering the Centre
Crass politics triumphing over enlightened public administration has become the order of the day. It is in this context that the Centre’s dialogue with the States over amending the AIS rules assumes importance. Such amendment would empower the Centre to commandeer the services of any officer serving in the States to work for the former, with or without the concurrence of the State concerned or the consent of the particular officer.
However, it is debatable whether the States will agree to this change. Intriguing times are, therefore, ahead of all of us who are convinced that we need a stable system of civil services to bolster democratic and responsive public administration in our country.