1. A recap of the monkeypox outbreak
By declaring monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern, how does the WHO plan to tackle and contain its spread?
Ever since the first case of monkeypox in humans was identified in 1970, in the present Democratic Republic of the Congo, the virus has become endemic in parts of Central and West Africa.
The designation of monkeypox as a PHEIC entails accelerating international efforts to contain the spread of the disease before it escalates into a pandemic. This would mean promoting countries to devise efforts to control transmission and coordinate sharing of key resources.
There are no specific treatments available for monkeypox. Clinical management of monkeypox includes relieving symptoms and managing complications and preventing long-term effects.
Vinod Scaria Bani Jolly
The story so far: Monkeypox, an uncommon viral infection which was primarily restricted to some countries in western and central Africa as well as travellers to these countries has now spilled over driven by zoonotic events. The disease made headlines with its international spread with over 16,000 cases in over 75 countries to date, primarily driven by human to human contact, spreading predominantly among, but not exclusively in gay, bisexual and MSM (men who have sex with men) communities. On July 23, 2022, amid a rapid rise in monkeypox cases across the globe, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, Director General of World Health Organization (WHO) declared the disease outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
What is monkeypox and what causes the disease?
First discovered in 1958, in monkeys at the Statens Serum Institute in Denmark, monkeypox is a zoonotic virus that can infect humans as well as other animals, including rodents and other primate species. Ever since the first case in humans was identified in 1970, in the present Democratic Republic of the Congo, the virus has become endemic in parts of Central and West Africa primarily driven by zoonotic spillovers. Despite being denoted as ‘monkeypox’, the actual origin and source of the disease are unknown and therefore a misnomer in many ways. The virus belongs to the same family of viruses as variola — the virus that causes smallpox. The disease presents with symptoms that are similar to those previously seen in smallpox patients, although it is less contagious and less severe.
Symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle pain, and lethargy along with rashes and blisters commonly on the face, palms, feet, mouth, eyes or genitalia. These symptoms generally appear within two weeks since infection but can last for two to four weeks, with severe cases occurring mostly among children. In most cases, monkeypox is a self-limited disease that resolves spontaneously without any specific treatment. However, newborns, young children and people with underlying immune deficiencies may be at a higher risk of developing more severe symptoms.
How is the virus transmitted?
The virus can be transmitted from both animals to humans and between humans. Animal-to-human transmission of the virus can result from close contact with blood, fluids or skin lesions of infected animals. Human-to-human transmission could happen through close contact, and through body secretions, skin lesions or contaminated articles of individuals infected with monkeypox.
Close human contact during sexual activities is believed to be a driver of the current spread of the disease, as evidenced by its predominant spread in gay, bisexual and MSM communities.
How is the current outbreak different?
Since its initial detection in humans in 1970 in Africa, the first outbreak of monkeypox outside of Africa was reported in 2003 in the U.S. where multiple cases were found to be linked to close contact with infected imported animals. Recently, in May 2022, several cases of the disease were reported from regions where monkeypox was not endemic, and most cases had a history of travel to Europe or North America and not Africa. Before the current outbreak, monkeypox was predominantly reported from Africa while all cases reported in patients from other countries were linked to travel to regions where the disease was commonly found or because of contact with imported animals. As of now, no links between these new cases of contact with infected animals have been established. The number of confirmed monkeypox cases increased more than 70% from late June through early July 2022, with a majority of the case burden being in Europe. There is, however, limited knowledge about the source and transmission routes of the 2022 outbreak as well as the changes in the virus that helped it infect humans more than before, making monkeypox a disease of global public health importance.
What does declaring monkeypox a health emergency entail?
The WHO defines a PHEIC as a disease outbreak that “constitutes a public health risk through the international spread of disease” which may require an immediate and coordinated international response. Since 2009, the WHO has made seven PHEIC declarations including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This designation entails accelerating international efforts to contain the spread of the disease before it escalates into a pandemic. This would mean promoting countries to devise efforts to control transmission and coordinate sharing of key resources such as vaccines and therapeutics apart from heightened contact tracing, diagnosis and vaccination. While studies are underway to understand the epidemiology, transmission routes, and clinical presentations of the disease, the WHO will offer support to affected nations for developing an effective outbreak response and surveillance as well as prevention and therapeutic strategies against monkeypox.
There are a few factors that are advantageous. Firstly there is a wealth of information on the virus and methods to contain the spread, as well as management of the disease, thanks to researchers from Africa who have been able to contain outbreaks for decades. Additionally there is availability of a fairly effective vaccine, despite the logistical issues along with a widely available infrastructure for molecular diagnosis, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Genomic surveillance of the pathogen provides a unique opportunity to trace the contact networks as well as evaluate the continued evolution of the virus. While it is heartening to note that a large number of genomes of monkeypox from the present outbreak has been available in public domain, there is a significant disparity in the numbers from developing countries, especially from Asia including India.
What are the current prevention and treatment options against monkeypox?
There are no specific treatments available for monkeypox. Clinical management of monkeypox includes relieving symptoms and managing complications and preventing long-term effects. It is also not currently understood if a previous monkeypox infection lends protective immunity against future infections. However, due to the genetic similarities of smallpox and monkeypox viruses, vaccines and antiviral agents used for the worldwide eradication of smallpox can also protect against monkeypox. The WHO reports that vaccination against smallpox is approximately 85% effective in preventing monkeypox and thus prior immunisation against smallpox may lead to mild disease. Although the original smallpox vaccines are not available to the general public, newer vaccines have been developed of which one was approved in 2019 for monkeypox prevention. Studies are now being conducted to understand the effectiveness and feasibility of vaccination in preventing monkeypox.
While the world discusses the nuances of why Dr.Tedros declared monkeypox as a global health emergency despite the committee voting against it almost a month ago, it is possibly time for the world to realise that with global warming, increasing human-wildlife conflicts across the globe and and ubiquitous global travel, efforts for global public health co-operation and sharing of resources never had a better time. As we come out of a global pandemic, there is never a better time to be prepared for newer challenges.
2. The challenges of fiberisation ahead of India’s 5G deployment
Why are optical fibre cables necessary for accessing 5G technology?
The process of connecting radio towers with each other via optical fibre cables is called fiberisation. It helps provide full utilisation of network capacity, and carry large amounts of data once 5G services are rolled out.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his 2020 Independence Day speech, laid out the vision to connect every village in the country with optical fiber cable (OFC) in 1,000 days. To reach the targeted level of fiberisation, India requires about ₹2.2 lakh crore of investment to help fiberise 70% towers.
Satellite communication also can facilitate 5G broadband connectivity to areas where it is not feasible to deploy terrestrial infrastructure like remote villages, islands or mountainous regions.
The story so far: India is preparing to auction off about 72 Ghz of airwaves to rollout 5G services in the country. However, the infrastructure needed for such a rollout requires existing radio towers to be connected via optical-fibre cables. The work of connecting the towers could prove to be a huge challenge for the country.
What is fiberisation?
The process of connecting radio towers with each other via optical fibre cables is called fiberisation. It helps provide full utilisation of network capacity, and carry large amounts of data once 5G services are rolled out. It will also aid in providing additional bandwidth and stronger backhaul support. The backhaul is a component of the larger transport that is responsible for carrying data across the network. It represents the part of the network that connects the core of the network to the edge. As a result, fibre backhaul remains an important part of transport across all telecoms, Sajan Paul, Managing Director & Country Manager, India & SAARC, Juniper Networks, a telecom infrastructure company, told The Hindu.
Fibre-based media, commonly called optical media, provides almost infinite bandwidth and coverage, low latency and high insulation from interference. With 5G, it will also be necessary to increase the density of mobile towers to provide better coverage to consumers and businesses. This calls for increased requirements for fibre deployment, Mr. Paul said.
Where does India stand with respect to tower fiberisation?
To transition into 5G, India needs at least 16 times more fibre, according to estimates by STL, a technology company specialised in optical fibers and cables.
In India, currently only 33% of the towers are fiberised, compared to the 65%-70% in South Korea and 80%-90% in the U.S., Japan and China, according to a 2021 report by India Infrastructure Research. The fibre kilometer (fkm) per capita in India is lower than other key markets. Ideally, a country needs 1.3 km of fibre per capita to ensure good fiberisation. India’s fkm is just .09 compared to 1.35 in Japan, 1.34 in the U.S. and 1.3 in China, the report noted.
There is also a need to increase data capacity in the fiberised towers. These tower sites which are connected via fibre are called fibre point of presence (POP). Currently these fibre POPs at a tower site can handle data at one to five Gbps speed, Nitin Bansal, managing director, India & head – Networks, Southeast Asia, Oceania & India, Ericsson, told The Hindu.
What are the challenges?
To reach the targeted level of fiberisation, India requires about ₹2.2 lakh crore of investment to help fiberise 70% towers. About ₹2.5 lakh crore will be needed to set up 15 lakh towers in the next four years, according to estimates by the National Broadband Mission and Cellular Operator Association of India (COAI).
Government programmes like BharatNet and Smart Cities will further add to the demand of fibre deployment, necessitating a complete tower fiberisation. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his 2020 Independence Day speech, laid out the vision to connect every village in the country with optical fiber cable (OFC) in 1,000 days. To achieve that vision, cables must be laid at a speed of 1,251 km a day, around 3.6 times the current average speed of 350 km a day, according to a report by EY, a global professional services company.
One of the biggest issues in the way of fiberisation remains the Right of Way (RoW) rules. The Indian Telegraph RoW Rules 2016 were gazette notified by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Govt. of India on November 15, 2016. The rules aim to incorporate nominal one-time compensation and uniform procedure for establishment of Overground Telegraph Line (OTL) anywhere in the country.
While all States/UTs are required to implement these rules, they are not in complete alignment and still require certain amendments to align, the EY report pointed out. Further, several districts and local bodies have not agreed to the RoW policies as notified in those respective States. These places are following their own bylaws overriding the State RoW policies aligned with the RoW rules, 2016, EY said.
Other central Ministries like the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, National Highway Authority of India, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Department of Post, etc. have not yet adopted these Rules, citing their own departmental rules, EY said.
Global network intelligence firm Ookla highlighted the DoT’s GatiShakti Sanchar online portal as a way to simplify RoW approvals and help deploy cables for 5G. “This initiative will enable centralisation of RoW approvals for telecom infrastructure projects, including 5G and help operators to deploy required infrastructure for the upcoming 5G rollout in a timely manner,” Sylwia Kechiche, Principal Analyst, Ookla, said to The Hindu. In October 2021, the DoT revised the RoW rules, making it easier to install aerial optical fibre cable in the country. This can enable infrastructure providers to deploy cables overhead via street light poles and traffic light posts.
Pilot projects are underway in a few locations like the Delhi airport. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has also published a consultation paper on using street furniture for small cell and aerial fiber deployment. This along with the findings from the pilot projects will help to inform the regulatory and policy framework, Ms. Kechiche added.
Can satellite communication help in 5G deployment and improve network backhaul?
Processing power needs to be distributed from centralised data centres to edge servers closer to users.
Satellite communication can provide high-capacity backhaul connectivity to large numbers of edge servers over wide areas, thereby complementing the terrestrial network with cost-effective scalability, according to a report by Intelsat, a satellite service provider.
Satellite communication can facilitate 5G broadband connectivity to underserved areas where it is not feasible to deploy terrestrial infrastructure like remote villages, islands or mountainous regions. Satellite-based networks are the only means for delivering 5G broadband to users on board moving vessels, including cars, ships, airplanes and high-speed trains. In addition, space-based broadcast capabilities support over-the-air software updates for connected cars anywhere in the world, the Intelsat report said.
Space-based backhaul will also provide disaster relief services, support emergency response teams as well as deliver broadband connectivity for one-off entertainment or sports events anywhere in the world, Intelsat said.
The low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites will be well-suited to offer not only backhaul, but also direct connectivity. As the 5G standard is adopted, new markets will open up for satellite operators, including IoT, private 5G, and cellular backhaul for densification to enable more cell sites and edge devices, Ms. Kechiche added.
3. Study on snow leopard and its prey
Strong link between habitat use by mountain cat and Siberian ibex, blue sheep
A recent study by the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) on snow leopard (Panthera uncia) has thrown up interesting insights on the elusive mountain cat and its prey species.
The study underthe National Mission on Himalayan Studies revealed a strong link between habitat use by snow leopard and its prey species Siberian ibex and blue sheep.
Scientists used camera traps and sign surveys to evaluate the co-occurrence patterns of snow leopards and its prey species in Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh. Details of the study have been published in the journal Plos One.
“We found that the snow leopard detection probability was high if the site was used by its prey species — ibex and blue sheep. Whereas, in the case of the prey species, the probability of detection was low when the predator was present and detected. Besides this, our results suggested that both species were less likely to be detected together than expected …,” it states. Lalit Kumar Sharma, lead author of the publication, said that snow leopards use rugged mountainous areas or non-forested areas covering an altitude between 3,200 metres to 5,200 metres.
Dr. Sharma, who heads the GIS & Wildlife Section of the ZSI, said that the study suggested that habitat covariates such as barren area, grassland, aspect, slope and distance to water were important drivers of habitat use for the snow leopard as well as its prey species. He added that the Spiti Valley possessed a good habitat in and outside the protected areas which could support a viable population of both threatened snow leopard and its prey species.
Classified as ‘Vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red list and listed in Schedule-I species of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, snow leopards are elusive mountain cats.
Wildlife (Protection) Act (WPA), 1972
- Constitutional Provisions for Wildlife:
- The 42nd Amendment Act, 1976, Forests and Protection of Wild Animals and Birds was transferred from State to Concurrent List.
- Article 51 A (g) of the Constitution states that it shall be the fundamental duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests and Wildlife.
- Article 48 A in the Directive Principles of State policy, mandates that the State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.
- Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972: The Act was enacted for the protection of plants and animal species.
- It extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
- Prior to this legislation, India had only five designated national parks.
- At present, there are 101 National Parks in India.
- Authorities Appointed under the Act:
- The Central Government appoints the Director of Wildlife Preservation and assistant directors and other officers subordinate to the Director.
- The State Governments appoint a Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW) who heads the Wildlife Wing of the department and exercises complete administrative control over Protected Areas (PAs) within a state.
- The state governments are also entitled to appoint Wildlife Wardens in each district.
Salient Features of the Act
- Prohibition of hunting: It prohibits the hunting of any wild animal specified in Schedules I, II, III and IV of the act.
- Exception: A wild animal listed under these schedules can be hunted/ killed only after getting permission from the Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW) of the state if:
- It becomes dangerous to human life or to property (including standing crops on any land).
- It is disabled or suffering from a disease that is beyond recovery.
- Exception: A wild animal listed under these schedules can be hunted/ killed only after getting permission from the Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW) of the state if:
- Prohibition of Cutting/Uprooting Specified Plants: It prohibits the uprooting, damage, collection, possession or selling of any specified plant from any forestland or any protected area.
- Exception: The CWLW, however, may grant permission for uprooting or collecting a specific plant for the purpose of education, scientific research, preservation in a herbarium or if a person/institution is approved to do so by the central government.
- Declaration and Protection of Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks: The Central Government can constitute any area as a Sanctuary, provided the area is of adequate ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological, natural or zoological significance.
- The government can also declare an area (including an area within a sanctuary) as a National Park.
- A Collector is appointed by the central government to administer the area declared as a Sanctuary.
- Constitution of Various Bodies: The WPA act provides for the constitution of bodies to be established under this act such as the National and State Board for Wildlife, Central Zoo Authority and National Tiger Conservation Authority.
- Government Property: Hunted wild animals (other than vermin), animal articles or meat of a wild animal and ivory imported into India and an article made from such ivory shall be considered as the property of the Government.
Bodies Constituted under the Act
- National Board for Wildlife (NBWL): As per the act, the central government of India shall constitute the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL).
- It serves as an apex body for the review of all wildlife-related matters and for the approval of projects in and around national parks and sanctuaries.
- The NBWL is chaired by the Prime Minister and is responsible for promotion of conservation and development of wildlife and forests.
- The Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is the Vice-Chairperson of the board.
- The board is ‘advisory’ in nature and can only advise the Government on policy making for conservation of wildlife.
- Standing Committee of NBWL: The NBWL constitutes a Standing Committee for the purpose of approving all the projects falling within protected wildlife areas or within 10 km of them.
- The committee is chaired by the Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
- State Board for Wildlife (SBWL): The state governments are responsible for the constitution of the state board of wildlife.
- The Chief Minister of the state/UT is the chairperson of the board.
- The board advises the state government in:
- The selection and management of areas to be declared as protected areas.
- The formulation of the policy for protection and conservation of the wild life
- Any matter relating to the amendment of any Schedule.
- Central Zoo Authority: The act provides for the constitution of Central Zoo Authority consisting of a total 10 members including the Chairperson and a Member-Secretary.
- The Environment Minister is the chairperson.
- The authority provides recognition to zoos and is also tasked with regulating the zoos across the country.
- It lays down guidelines and prescribes rules under which animals may be transferred among zoos nationally and internationally.
- National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA): Following the recommendations of the Tiger Task Force, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) was constituted in 2005 for strengthening tiger conservation.
- The Union Environment Minister is the Chairperson of NTCA and the State Environment Minister is the Vice-Chairperson.
- The Central Government on the recommendations of NTCA declares an area as a Tiger Reserve.
- More than 50 wildlife sanctuaries in India have been designated as Tiger Reserves and are protected areas under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
- Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB): The act provided for the constitution of Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) to combat organized wildlife crime in the country.
- The Bureau has its headquarters in New Delhi.
- It is mandated to:
- Collect and collate intelligence related to organized wildlife crime activities and to disseminate the same to the State to apprehend the criminals.
- Establish a centralized wildlife crime data bank.
- Assist State Governments to ensure success in prosecutions related to wildlife crimes.
- Advise the Government of India on issues relating to wildlife crimes having national and international ramifications, relevant policy and laws.
Schedules under the Act
The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 has divided the protection status of various plants and animals under the following six schedules:
- Schedule I:
- It covers endangered species that need rigorous protection. The species are granted protection from poaching, killing, trading etc.
- A person is liable to the harshest penalties for violation of the law under this Schedule.
- Species under this Schedule are prohibited to be hunted throughout India, except under threat to human life or in case of a disease that is beyond recovery.
- Some of the animals granted protection under the Schedule I include:
- The Black Buck
- Bengal Tiger
- Clouded Leopard
- Snow Leopard
- Swamp Deer
- Himalayan Bear
- Asiatic Cheetah
- Kashmiri Stag
- Fishing Cat
- Lion-tailed Macaque
- Musk Deer
- Brow Antlered Deer
- Chinkara (Indian Gazelle)
- Capped Langur
- Golden Langur
- Hoolock Gibbon
- Schedule II:
- Animals under this list are also accorded high protection with the prohibition on their trade.
- They cannot be hunted except under threat to human life or if they are suffering from a disease/ disorder that goes beyond recovery.
- Some of the animals listed under Schedule II include:
- Assamese Macaque, Pig Tailed Macaque, Stump Tailed Macaque
- Bengal Hanuman langur
- Himalayan Black Bear
- Himalayan Newt/ Salamander
- Flying Squirrel, Giant Squirrel
- Sperm Whale
- Indian Cobra, King Cobra
- Schedule III & IV:
- Species that are not endangered are included under Schedule III and IV.
- This includes protected species with hunting prohibited but the penalty for any violation is less compared to the first two schedules.
- Animals protected under Schedule III include:
- Chital (spotted deer)
- Bharal (blue sheep)
- Sambhar (deer)
- Animals protected under Schedule IV include:
- Horseshoes Crabs
- Schedule V:
- This schedule contains animals that are considered as vermin (small wild animals that carry disease and destroy plants and food). These animals can be hunted.
- It includes only four species of wild animals:
- Common Crows
- Fruit Bats
- Schedule VI:
- It provides for regulation in cultivation of a specified plant and restricts its possession, sale and transportation.
- Both cultivation and trade of specified plants can only be carried out with prior permission of competent authority.
- Plants protected under Schedule VI include:
- Beddomes’ cycad (Native to India)
- Blue Vanda (Blue Orchid)
- Red Vanda (Red Orchid)
- Kuth (Saussurea lappa)
- Slipper orchids (Paphiopedilum spp.)
- Pitcher plant (Nepenthes khasiana)
4. China launches second space station module
Wentian to host space for experiments, serve as short-term living quarters
China on Sunday launched the second of three modules to its permanent space station, in one of the final missions needed to complete the orbiting outpost by year’s end.
A live feed on state broadcaster CCTV showed the 23-tonne Wentian (“Quest for the Heavens”) laboratory module launching on the back of China’s most powerful rocket, the Long March 5B, at 2:22 p.m. (0622 GMT) from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the southern island of Hainan.
Space agency staff, seen on the live feed observing the progress of the launch from a control room, cheered and applauded when the Wentian separated from the rocket about 10 minutes after the launch.
The launch was “a complete success”, CCTV reported shortly after.
China began constructing the space station in April 2021 with the launch of the Tianhe module, the main living quarters, in the first of 11 crewed and uncrewed missions in the undertaking.
The Wentian lab module, 17.9 m long, will provide space for experiments, along with the other lab module yet to be launched — Mengtian (“Dreaming of the Heavens”).
Wentian features an airlock cabin that is to be the main exit-entry point for extravehicular activities when the station is completed.
It will also serve as short-term living quarters for astronauts during crew rotations on the station, which is designed for long-term accommodation of just three astronauts.
Mengtian is expected to be launched in October and, like Wentian, is to dock with Tianhe, forming a T-shaped structure.
‘Source of pride’
The completion of the structure, about a fifth of the International Space Station (ISS) by mass, is a source of pride among ordinary Chinese people and will cap President Xi Jinping’s 10 years as leader of China’s ruling Communist Party.
On board the space station are Shenzhou-14 mission commander Chen Dong and team mates Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe. They are slated to return to Earth in December with the arrival of the Shenzhou-15 crew.
International Space Station
The International Space Station (ISS) is a space station in low earth orbit and is a significant achievement for science and technology. In this article, you can learn all about the International Space Station, how it functions, what all countries are behind it and other details. This is a topic under the UPSC science and technology segment.
The ISS is a manmade space station or artificial satellite that is habitable for humans in space. It is in the low-earth orbit and there are astronauts living onboard the space station conducting experiments on earth science, biology, biotechnology, astronomy, microgravity, meteorology, physics, etc.
- The astronauts generally don’t live on the station for more than six months at a time.
- The first piece of equipment of the ISS was launched in 1998 and other parts and modules were added and assembled in space at different times.
- The first crew arrived on the ISS in 2000 and since then it has always been manned by astronauts.
- The ISS was developed and built by five space agencies namely, NASA (USA), Roscosmos (Russia), European Space Agency (ESA-Europe), JAXA (Japan) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA-Canada).
- The ISS is usually at an altitude between about 200 km and 400 km and weighs more than 400,000 kg. It is 73 m long and 109 m wide.
- The ISS orbits the earth at about 5 miles per second and makes 15.5 orbits per day. It takes roughly 93 minutes for it to make one revolution around the earth.
- According to NASA, more than 240 people from 19 nations have visited the space station. More than 3000 educational and research investigations have been carried out in various fields.
- Astronauts conduct spacewalks (that is, stepping out of the ISS onto space) and conduct maintenance and repair works on the station. There have been over 200 spacewalks until now.
ISS Program Evolution
- The ISS is not the first actual space station to be conceived.
- It evolved from NASA’s Space Station Freedom, which was conceived in 1984. However, it was never constructed as per the original design.
- Russian space station Mir-2 had started in 1976 and some of the modules built for it have been incorporated into the ISS.
- The ISS happens to be the ninth crewed space station, the other earlier ones being Salyut, Almaz, and Mir stations of Russia and Skylab of the US.
International Space Station Latest update
- Russia announced that it will exit the ISS in 2025. Russia was a vital component of the ISS with countries depending on its modular space station construction technology to build the station in the early years. Also, it was Russia’s Soyuz passenger vehicle that transported people to the ISS ever since 2011 when the US retired its space shuttle program.
- The ISS has not started relying on private firm SpaceX for this purpose. This has deprived Russia’s Roscosmos of its funding from NASA.
- Russia is also planning to build its own space station, expected to be launched into orbit by 2030.
- China is also building its own space station named Tiangong (meaning heavenly space). Its core module, the Tianhe was launched in April 2021.
Indian Space Station
India plans to have its own space station and its modalities will be submitted to the government by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) after the Gaganyaan Mission. The proposed space station is envisaged to weigh 20 tonnes and serve as a facility where astronauts can stay for 15-20 days, and it would be placed in an orbit 400 km above the earth.
5. Editorial-1: Weighing in on India’s investment-led revival
Prospects of sustaining investment recovery are likely to get harder with a depreciating rupee and rising inflation
The Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitaraman, said recently that India’s long-term growth prospects are embedded in public capital expenditure programmes. She added that an increase in public investment would crowd in (or pull in) private investment, thus reviving the economy. The Minister was speaking at the third G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (FMCBG) meeting hosted by Indonesia in Bali.
Lag in investment
Public investment-led economic growth has a respectable academic pedigree, and forms a credible strand of explanation for India’s post-Independence economic growth. Here is an illustration. When it was faced with a slow-down after the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led-National Democratic Alliance government initiated public road building projects. In the form of the Golden Quadrilateral (to link metro cities using a high-quality road network) and the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (to ‘provide good all-weather road connectivity to unconnected habitations’), these initiatives sowed the seeds of economic revival, culminating in an investment and export-led boom in the 2000s; GDP grew at 8%-9% annually.
In comparison, the investment record during the 2010s has been dismal. However, a recent uptick is evident in the real gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) rate — the fixed investment to GDP ratio (net of inflation). The ratio recovered to 32.5% in 2019-20 from a low of 30.7% in 2015-16 (figure).
Ms. Sitaraman has claimed that the Government sustained the investment tempo even during the novel coronavirus pandemic (2020-21 and 2021-22). As in the June edition of the Ministry of Finance’s Monthly Economic Review, the fixed investment to GDP ratio was 32% in 2021-22. However, there is need for caution in reading the most recent data, as they are subject to revision. Moreover, the budgetary definition of investment refers to financial investments (which include purchase of existing financial assets, or loans offered to States) and not just capital formation representing an expansion of the productive potential.
On gross capital formation
The National Accounts Statistics provides disaggregation of gross capital formation (GCF) by sectors, type of assets and modes of financing; over 90% of GCF consists of fixed investments. The upturn in the investment rate is welcome, though its productive potential depends on its composition. Contrary to Ms. Sitaraman’s contention, the investment distribution has hardly changed over the last decade, with the public sector’s share remaining 20%.
The table shows the distribution of GCF by agriculture, industry and services (columns 1 to 3); within services transport (column 3.1) and within transport, roads (the single largest expenditure item; column 3.1.1).
Between 2014-15 and 2019-20, the shares of agriculture and industry in fixed capital formation/GDP fell from 7.7% and 33.7% to 6.4% and 32.5%, respectively. Services’ share rose to 52.3% in 2019-20 compared to 49% in 2014-15. The rise in the services sector is almost entirely on transport and communications. The share of transport has doubled from 6.1% to 12.9% during the same period. Within transportation, it is mostly roads.
As roads and communications are classic public goods, investment in them is welcome. But over-emphasising it may be lop-sided. For healthy domestic output growth, there is a need for balance between “directly productive investments” (in farms and factories) and infrastructure investments. And this balance was missed. Moreover, the share of agriculture and industry shrank even as the economy’s gross capital formation rate trended downwards (see figure).
Import dependence grew
The case of manufacturing is distressing. Its share in the investment ratio (column 2.1) fell from 19.2% in 2011-12 to 16.5% in 2019-20. It is not surprising that ‘Make in India’ failed to take off, import dependence went up, and India became deindustrialised. Import dependence on China is alarming for critical materials such as fertilizers, bulk drugs (active pharmaceutical ingredients or APIs) and capital goods. This became acute during the COVID-19 pandemic, as China imposed export restrictions — prompting the Prime Minister to announce the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ campaign.
Instead of boosting investment and domestic technological capabilities, the ‘Make in India’ campaign frittered away time and resources to raise India’s rank in the World Bank’s (questionable and contested) Ease of Doing Business Index. India’s position did go up, from 142 in 2014 to 63 in 2019, but it failed to boost industrial investment, let alone foreign investment.
The contribution of foreign capital to financing GCF fell to 2.5% in 2019-20 from 3.8% in 2014-15 (or 11.1% in 2011-12). With declining investment share, industrial output growth rate fell from 13.1% in 2015-16 to a negative 2.4% in 2019-20, as per the National Accounts Statistics.
The Finance Minister has claimed that public investment is the pivot of the ongoing investment-led economic revival. The recent upturn in the aggregate fixed capital formation to GDP ratio is positive, though the rate is still lower than its mark in the early 2010s. The claim that the investment revival is public sector driven is not borne out by facts. The jury may still be out on the suggested rise in public investment during the COVID-19 pandemic. The budgetary figures refer to financial investment, not estimates of capital formation, indicating expansion of the economy’s productive capacity.
During the 2010s, the investment shares of agriculture and industry fell but rose sharply in services. The percentage share for roads has doubled. The expansion of roads and communications is surely welcome. Considering such a skewed investment priority, the ‘Make in India’ strategy failed to take off, accentuating India’s import dependence, especially on China, leading to deindustrialisation.
The lack of domestic capacity for essential raw industrial materials and capital goods could prove costly. It will likely test India’s ability to withstand external economic challenges. With a depreciating currency and rising (imported) inflation, prospects of sustaining investment recovery are likely to get harder. The deficit on balance of payment is already well above policy makers’ comfort level of 2.5% of GDP.
6. Editorial-2: Adding digital layers of indignity
Dehumanisation is the likely outcome when humane aspects of governance get outsourced to technologies
The right to live with dignity is a constitutional imperative. However, it rarely manifests in discussions surrounding digital initiatives in governance. Centralised data dashboards — valuable as they are — have become the go-to mode for assessing policies, relegating principles such as human dignity and hardships in accessing rights to its blind spots. Often when technological glitches prevent one from accessing rights, there is a tendency to make the rights-holder feel responsible for it. For instance, I recall being in Rajasthan with Natho Ba, an old MGNREGA worker with severe speech impediment. Despite repeated attempts at a bank to get his e-KYC, he wasn’t able to access his own MGNREGA wages because his biometrics wouldn’t work. The bank manager said in Hindi, “His fingers are defective”. Natho Ba felt humiliated, but was physically unable to voice his humiliation. The bank official was not intentionally insensitive, but had internalised spouting dehumanised technocratic vocabulary. Dehumanisation is the likely outcome when trust and humane aspects of governance get outsourced to opaque technologies.
Two technocratic initiatives
Two recent technocratic initiatives by the Union government underscore these issues again. The Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), launched in 1975, is one of the world’s largest early childhood care and development programmes. An important component of ICDS is supplementary nutrition for children in the 0 to 6 years age group, pregnant women and lactating mothers. This became a legal entitlement when it became part of the National Food Security Act in 2013. As per this, the rights-holders get hot cooked meals or take-home rations at the local Anganwadis. In 2021, the Union government launched the Poshan Tracker, a centralised platform, to monitor all nutrition initiatives, including ICDS. A recent article by Tapasya of The Reporters’ Collective highlights some alarming technocratic proposals for ICDS. As per Union government circulars, the updating of Aadhaar of ICDS rights-holders, including children, on the Poshan Tracker is mandatory, and subsequent Central funds for supplementary nutrition to States is being made contingent on this. Nearly three-fourths of children between the ages of 0 to 5 years do not have Aadhaar cards, and Supreme Court orders specify that children cannot be denied their rights for lack of Aadhaar. The government has responded saying that only the Aadhaar of mothers need to be authenticated at Anganwadis. However, it does not provide any data or evidence to show how many “fake” or “ghost” children exist. In our study of Common Service Centres (CSC), even CSC owners reported that biometrics of 42% of the users don’t work on the first attempt. This is borne out in other studies too.
As per the recent National Family Health Survey, 36% of children under the age of five are stunted and nearly one-third of children in this age group are underweight. These are pre-pandemic numbers and this would have worsened since the pandemic. In such light, creating new hurdles for children — migrants or otherwise — and young mothers to access food in the name of digitisation appears cruel. It is also unclear what impact such a move will have on the psyche of a child whose mother’s Aadhaar authentication fails. For instance, a pensioner whose biometrics failed repeatedly had poignantly remarked, “I feel humiliated that my own body is rejecting my identity.” Tackling grave structural issues with technocratic fixes is like putting band aid on a person having a heart attack.
The Union government has issued an order introducing the National Mobile Monitoring Software (NMMS) app to record attendance of MGNREGA workers at worksites. As per the order, the app will record “two time-stamped and geo-tagged photographs of the workers in a day” which “increases citizen oversight of the programme besides potentially enabling processing of payments faster.” In worksites with 20 or more workers, the app will replace physical attendance registers. A recent article by Chakradhar Buddha and Laavanya Tamang in The Hindu and a letter to the government by People’s Action for Employment Guarantee articulates the perils of such a move. Here is a short summary. MGNREGA workers could complete their share of work and leave. This gave them time for household work or for other work that gave them supplementary income. The app makes this hard as they have to now stay back at the worksite even after completing their work only to get photographed and geo-tagged. Even from a hard economic standpoint, this move deters workers’ contribution to the GDP. The attendance at worksites is taken by Mates who are usually local women in charge of worksite supervision. Now, Mates have to carry smartphones which many don’t own. Another ground report by Vijayta Lalwani shows that many Mates are forced to take loans to buy smartphones to use the app. It also demonstrates how a worker has lost more than ₹1,100 of her wages because the app failed to upload her attendance. It has also been a bane for many officials. A district MGNREGA official told me how he is relentlessly getting phone calls regarding glitches on the NMMS app from 6 a.m. The very need for an app, its failures plus other impediments such as unstable network connectivity are likely to discourage women from MGNREGA work. So, the basis for the government’s claims of how such an app will assist in “increasing citizen oversight” and in making payments faster are misleading. No doubt that cases of corruption in MGNREGA need to be addressed. But for that, social audits need strengthening instead of making already overburdened women struggle more.
Both these technocratic initiatives point to a digital avatar of panopticon with no evident positives for the rights-holders. The sense of being constantly watched induces fear among people. This normalises and exacerbates the power asymmetry between the rights-holders and the government as the rights-holders begin to internalise and accept this form of coercion. Moreover, the rights-holders will be made to take the blame for technical reasons blocking their participation. This further alienates and erodes the political capacities of rights-holders who usually get addressed in patronising terms such as “beneficiaries.” In the process, violations of dignity get buried in the calculus of technocracy and opacity of government actions.
‘Seeing’ government actions
One thing that routinely strikes me during my frequent visits to parts of rural India is the absence of people wearing spectacles. One rarely sees opticians in most block headquarters, let alone in panchayats. We have made huge technological strides in the country, but have paid scant attention in ensuring that the poor get to see clearly. This extends at a metaphorical level too. While the Indian state has put so much weight behind ‘seeing’ its people, the majority are unable to see and scrutinise government actions. Democratic dictum suggests that people should be able to ‘see’ the state clearly, not the other way around. It is the dignity and trust of people at stake otherwise.