SUPERB IAS ARTICLES

  • Trilateral meet held after 6 years, looks beyond maritime security

    AFTER THE Quad grouping, India on Saturday revived the Indian Ocean troika with Sri Lanka and Maldives to promote “meaningful cooperation” in the Indian Ocean region on “maritime security”, as Beijing’s aggressive behaviour in the Indo-Pacific has caught global attention. Mauritius and Seychelles joined as observers through virtual mode. In a shift from the past, the National Security Advisors of India, Sri Lanka and Maldives decided — after their in-person trilateral meeting in Colombo — to broad-base the maritime security dialogue and include “terrorism”, “radicalisation”, “extremism”, “drugs”, “arms and human trafficking”, “money laundering” and “cybersecurity” as they decided to cooperate in these areas of common concern. This is the first time that NSA Ajit Doval participated in the trilateral dialogue as the group has not met since March 2014. This mechanism has been revived after six years – past meetings were held in Maldives (October 2011), Sri Lanka (July 2013) and India (March 2014). Sources told The Indian Express that it was Doval’s initiative to include “common security threats” of terrorism and extremism among other areas, and Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Maj Gen (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne and Maldives Defence Minister Mariya Didi readily agreed. Past joint statements after the trilateral meeting were limited in their scope, as they did not mention terrorism – they discussed maritime security, maritime domain awareness and illegal maritime activities. “The Sri Lankan establishment has put terrorism high on agenda, following the Easter bombings last year. So, there was a common understanding on the issue of expanding the scope of the dialogue,” a source told The Indian Express. The deputy NSAs have been tasked to carry forward the agenda discussed at the meeting, and they will meet twice a year. A joint statement issued after the meeting on Saturday said the “past deliberations and outcomes have helped the three countries in improving close coordination in maritime security of the region. These were supplemented by deputy NSA level meetings for sustained engagements and implementation of the discussions at the NSA level meetings”. It said that “recognising the significance of the forum for promoting meaningful cooperation in the Indian Ocean region on common issues pertaining to maritime security, the three countries took stock of the current maritime security environment in the region, and discussed mutual cooperation in the areas of maritime domain awareness, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, joint exercises, capacity building, maritime security and threats, marine pollution and maritime underwater heritage.” This is important since India has been concerned over the increased aggressive behaviour by China in the Indo-Pacific region, especially this year, in the middle of the pandemic. New Delhi wants all the neighbouring maritime neighbours to be on the same page on the issue of Beijing’s assertive and proactive actions in the Indian Ocean region, sources said. “They agreed to further strengthen cooperation in dealing with these challenges to ensure peace and security in the region for common benefit. The three countries also exchanged views on common security threats and agreed to broad-base cooperation by expanding the scope to improve intelligence sharing and include issues like terrorism, radicalisation, extremism, drugs, arms, human trafficking, money laundering, cybersecurity and effect of climate change on maritime environment,” the statement said. Senior officials from Seychelles and Mauritius joined the trilateral meeting through video-conferencing, as they were invited as “observers”. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is in Seychelles to meet the new political leadership, as India develops a strategically-important project on the Assumption island. The joint statement said the heads of delegations “agreed to meet regularly to share, discuss and ensure timely implementation of the decisions taken in the meeting”. “They also decided to hold deputy NSA level working group meetings, biannually for cooperation at operational level,” it said. Doval, who arrived in Colombo on Friday, met Maldives Defence Minister Didi and discussed deepening the bilateral partnership. On Saturday, he called on Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and had a “productive” discussion with him. Eye on China Sensing Beijing’s aggression in the region and beyond, New Delhi sent NSA Ajit Doval to Colombo to build a strategic coalition with maritime neighbours in the Indian Ocean region. The group will be tested in the coming months as Beijing makes its moves. Source: The Indian Express 📣CIVIL SERVICE TIMES is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@LearnFromSuperbIAS) and stay updated with the latest.

  • The room where Radcliffe drew the lines of India’s partition

    Praveen Siddharth (private secretary to the President of India) It is Tuesday and our weekly afternoon ritual in the cabinet room of the Rashtrapati Bhavan begins. Seated around a majestic rectangular hardwood table that can easily accommodate 50 people, we are gathered for a staff meeting. The agenda for today’s meeting is displayed on a large LCD screen placed at the far end of the table. Sometimes, the topic of discussion concerns an upcoming visit of a head of state. But, normally, the discussions are less exciting but equally important, such as administrative issues of the vast President’s estate or upkeep of the grand main building and its numerous rooms. Fifteen minutes into the meeting, green tea and samosas are wheeled in, providing a welcome diversion. The meeting persists with the speaker oblivious to the excitement caused by the entrance of the liveried attendants. The long table soon sees a flurry of activity with the clanging of silverware and clinking of cups. As I sip my tea, I marvel that this was the same table on which history had been written. Or rather, drawn up. In 1947, the cabinet room had served as the final venue for the Radcliffe commission, set up to demarcate the boundaries between India and East and West Pakistan. At that time, large detailed maps had been laid out in the space now invaded by teacups and plates, holding leftover crumbs. Men sat down in meetings across this table agonising over a thin pencil line, whose shape decided the destiny of millions across the subcontinent. The man in the hot seat then was Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a British lawyer who had never set foot in Asia before. He was brought in by the Viceroy Lord Mountbatten to do the inglorious job of dissecting India. As the poet WH Auden wrote: “But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided; A continent for better or worse divided. The next day he sailed for England, where he quickly forgot; The case, as a good lawyer must” (Partition, 1966). Sipping my tea, I hoped history and the poets would judge us, sitting here today in the same room, more kindly. Meetings are a remarkably enduring aspect of government life. They have been taking place regularly in the cabinet room for almost a century. Previously, this room was known as the council room and had served as the meeting room for the Viceroy’s executive council, the de jure cabinet. There was rarely an Indian face then. The table in the room was the battleground across which Indians tried to wrest the governance of the country inch by inch. Gradually, more Indians were included in the council until 1946, when the interim government began to function with just the Governor-General and the Commander-in-Chief remaining British. Today, only familiar faces are seen in the room and all are assuredly Indian. Like an old warhorse that has seen its share of battles, the table rests, having witnessed the sun set over the empire. As the discussions continue, my eyes wander to the walls of the room. And these walls are like none you would have ever seen. Large maps of the subcontinent are painted on them but not the boring kinds thrust on every schoolchild. These are painted in bright colours with playful cartoons marking out important towns and sights. Sir Edwin Lutyens initially had planned to paint more sedate and ornate maps inspired by the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche (gallery of maps) in the Vatican, painted by geographer Ignazio Danti between 1580 and ’83. He proposed the name of MacDonald Gill from London for the job. In a letter to the Viceroy, Lutyens wrote about the British graphic designer and cartographer: ‘…had a long experience at such work and is now engaged on some of the Empire Board maps’. But MacDonald Gill sent an estimate of Rs 19,000 for the job which was a princely sum in 1930. Meanwhile, Percy Brown, who had retired as the principal of the Government school of Art in Calcutta in 1927 and was serving as the Curator of the Victoria Memorial hall, offered to paint the room with Indian painters and craftsmen for half the price. Between June and October of 1930, the paintings on the walls of the cabinet room were brought to life by Indian painters hired by Brown, most of whom had never travelled beyond their own country. Yet, I can’t help but wonder how many dreams these walls have given wings to. The walls continue to maintain their magical spell over me and I can’t seem to peel my eyes off them. There are magnificent sea dragons, resplendent tigers, moustachioed men peering into the horizon, alluring sea nymphs and fleets of camels. Etched on the north walls of the room is the air route from Delhi to London with halts at Gwadar, Alexandria, Athens and Belgrade. Each of these cities is represented by a charming motif. The maps don’t just reveal places, they magically transport me there. One moment I am part of a group of nomads leading their yaks across the Taklamakan and the next I am face to face with a Naga warrior in his tribal attire. Turning my gaze, I heroically escape bandits prowling above the Arabian lands to board a waiting seaplane that flies me over the Sphinx. Just like that, the whole room comes alive with a kaleidoscope of lands and marvels. And I am no longer bound by the agenda of the 3 pm meeting. Meanwhile, in another world, the meeting draws to a close. Papers are gathered and laptops shut. My small seaplane sputters and smoke billows out of the rotors. As the lights in the cabinet room are turned off, I get out of my seaplane and wait patiently for it to be Tuesday once more. Source: The Indian Express 📣CIVIL SERVICE TIMES is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@LearnFromSuperbIAS) and stay updated with the latest.

  • Fuelling a green future

    The transport sector in India contributes one-third of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, within which the lion’s share is that of road transport. Prime minister Narendra Modi, in his recent speech, emphasised electric mobility and hydrogen as fuel as two of the seven key pillars of India’s energy strategy. Over the years, the government has made concerted efforts to tackle vehicular emissions with policies steps and programmes such as the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME I) scheme, FAME II, tax benefits, etc. As of October 20, 50 buses running on hydrogen spiked compressed natural gas (H-CNG) have been deployed in a six-month pilot project in Delhi. Unlike the global trend of blending hydrogen with CNG, these buses will run on a new technology patented by the Indian Oil Corporation Limited that produces H-CNG (18% hydrogen in CNG) directly from natural gas, without having to undertake expensive conventional blending. This compact blending process provides a 22% reduction in cost as compared to conventional blending. In comparison to CNG, H-CNG allows for a 70% reduction in carbon monoxide emissions and a 25% reduction in hydrocarbon emissions. The new H-CNG technology requires only minor tweaks in the current design of CNG buses. Although the current pilot phase of H-CNG buses is a step in the right direction, it should perhaps be considered as a stop-gap arrangement, at least until a cost-effective variant of green hydrogen blended fuel is discovered, which would address emission mitigation and will also be more economical. While hydrogen-spiked CNG provides an innovative alternative to hydrogen-blended CNG, the fact remains that the fuel is still being produced from natural gas, ie, a fossil fuel. Typically, hydrogen can be produced in one of three ways, i.e., from fossil fuels (grey hydrogen), through carbon capture utilisation & storage (CCUS) application and fossil fuels (blue hydrogen), or by using renewable energy (green hydrogen). In the case of green hydrogen, electricity generated from renewable energy is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. This is by far the cleanest and perhaps the most expensive method of producing hydrogen at the moment. Majority of the hydrogen production in India takes place via fossil fuels and is used primarily in the chemical and petrochemical sectors. From a commercial viability standpoint, when deciding on shifting towards cleaner fuel alternatives, two primary contenders come to mind—battery-operated electric vehicles (BEV) and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV). Notwithstanding the various benefits of hydrogen FCEVs over EVs in terms of reduced refuelling time (5 minutes versus 30-40 minutes with fast charges), higher energy density, longer range, etc, what one needs to focus on is the entire life cycle of these vehicles as opposed to restricting the analysis to just the carbon-free tailpipe emissions. According to a recent report by Deloitte (2020) on hydrogen and fuel cells, the lifecycle GHG emissions from hydrogen FCEVs ranges between 130-230 g CO2e per km. The lower end of the range depicts the case of hydrogen production from renewables while the higher end reflects the case of hydrogen production from natural gas. The corresponding life cycles GHG emissions for BEV and internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles range between 160-250 g CO2e and 180-270 g CO2e respectively. It is equally important to take cognisance of the fact that not all aspects of hydrogen as a transportation fuel paint a pretty picture. For instance, the cost of lithium ion-based battery-operated vehicles has been reducing while hydrogen fuel cell technology is still in its nascent stages and is relatively quite expensive. According to a study undertaken by Volkswagen, which compares BEVs and hydrogen FCEVs, it is claimed that in the case of the latter, roughly 45% of energy is lost during the electrolysis process. Moreover, out of the remaining 55% energy that survives the process, another 55% is lost during the conversion of hydrogen into electricity within the vehicle. To put things in perspective, this implies that a hydrogen-run vehicle achieves an energy efficiency rate of 25-35%, which may vary based on the model. This analysis has been conducted with regard to passenger cars, and the results may differ in the case of heavy-duty vehicles. However, given that these are early days, one can be hopeful that we will be able to achieve economies of scale and attain cost reductions. This is in line with the report by the Hydrogen Council (2020) on hydrogen cost competitiveness that states scaling up and augmenting fuel cell production from 10,000 to 200,000 units can deliver a 45% reduction in the cost per unit. Similarly, the versatility of hydrogen allows for complementarity across its numerous applications. Moreover, based on the numbers quoted by this report, fuel cell stacks for passenger vehicles are expected to exhibit learning rates of 17% in the coming future. The corresponding figures for commercial vehicles stand at 11%. According to estimates by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) (2020), some of the findings of green hydrogen projects under construction in Australia, China and Spain have been presented in the accompanying graphic. Efforts are underway in India, and the research activities pertaining to hydrogen have been compiled and recently released in the form of a country status report. Adoption of hydrogen has seen several supporters in the country. In their quest for becoming carbon neutral by 2035, Reliance Industries plan to replace transportation fuels with hydrogen and clean electricity. Similarly, the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) is considering setting up a green hydrogen production facility in Andhra Pradesh. The ministry of road transport and highways issued a notification proposing amendments to the Central Motor Vehicles Rules (1989) to incorporate safety standards for hydrogen fuel cell technology vehicles. As per a policy brief issued by TERI, demand for hydrogen in India is expected to increase 3-10 fold by 2050. Against this backdrop, the future of hydrogen, particularly green hydrogen, looks promising in India. Source: Financial Express 📣CIVIL SERVICE TIMES is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@LearnFromSuperbIAS) and stay updated with the latest.

  • Economic geography central to India’s regional inequality woes

    Is regional inequality in India actually a problem of economic geography? There are two good reasons to revisit this question right now. First, the past few years have seen renewed rumblings about how some states are benefiting at the expense of others. The ongoing national election has been free of such issues, but the next one will be fought under the shadow of the delimitation that is due in 2026, and which could redistribute political power to the North while economic power gets concentrated in the South. Second, this year marks the tenth anniversary when economic geography entered mainstream policy debates across the world, thanks to the decision by the World Bank to devote its 2009 edition of the World Development Report to the issue of reshaping economic geography. The intellectual roots of the new economic geography can be traced back to landmark papers by Paul Krugman, especially the 1991 paper titled Increasing Returns And Economic Geography. Krugman himself built on some of the earlier insights from Avinash Dixit and Joseph Stiglitz. The 2009 edition of the World Development Report runs into more than 400 pages and covers a lot of territory. One key idea in the 2009 report is worth using to frame the question of regional divergence in India. The World Bank used alliterative elegance to identify the key dimensions of economic development—density, distance and division. The three capture the human, physical and political aspects of economic geography. This framework is useful when thinking about the economic challenges of the Gangetic plain. The Northern states are densely populated. But this density has clearly not provided the economies of scale to promote rapid economic growth. One problem is that the dense population in the Gangetic plains is not clustered in large cities. Prateek Raj of the Indian Institute of Management in Bengaluru has written about the metropolis vacuum in the Hindi speaking states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, which together have 500 million residents (bit.ly/2UOS2Kv). “The glaring absence of a major metropolitan center in the region has forced young people to migrate away from the small towns and move to other cities in the West and the South," he argues. Then there is the challenge of distance, or more generally market access. The states along the Indian coast have been better able to take advantage of the opportunities provided by globalization. The rise of the Pearl River Delta in China is very similar. It is impossible to reduce physical distance, but economic distance can be reduced through better transport networks. China has begun doing this through massive investments in high-speed trains and intercity highways. India has not paid enough attention to building such infrastructure, especially a better railway network that connects the hinterlands to the coastal areas. The challenge of political division is usually more applicable to trade between countries, but there were trade barriers between states till recently. The move to the goods and services tax (GST) finally integrates India into a single market—a free trade agreement that the country has signed with itself. Much of the immediate GST debates have been naturally focussed on tax rates and tax collections. How GST helps the large states of the North will be worth watching, especially since it is a tax on consumption rather than production. The World Bank had said in 2009 that the hierarchy when it came to regional inequality is that distance is the most important factor, followed by density and finally division. It also optimistically added: “As incomes increase, living standards converge between places where economic mass has concentrated and where it has not, but not before diverging." How does such convergence take place? Essential household consumption converges first, access to public services converges next, and wages and income converge last. The population in the Gangetic plain is too large—nearly a fourth of the entire Indian population—for mass migration to be a viable option. That would entail too many political risks. Policymakers would do well to look at the challenge through the prism of economic geography—density, distance, division. This does not mean the deeper issues such as institutional decline or poor governance in some of these states do not matter. But encouraging the growth of new metropolitan centres, transport infrastructure to improve market access and more trade within different regions of the country have to be part of the solution. The optimistic view is that regional inequality will eventually shrink as economic growth spreads across India. The pessimistic view is that regional inequality will grow to an extent when federal tensions become a threat to unity. Political leaders in both the leading and laggard states need to see that the first option is the one to pursue because the second will be a human disaster. The principles of economic geography can play a part when it comes to thinking about the possible solutions. Source: LIVE MINT 📣CIVIL SERVICE TIMES is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@LearnFromSuperbIAS) and stay updated with the latest.

  • How sea level rise could impact millions of people, cost billions of dollars.

    In a study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers predict that by 2100, the global population potentially exposed to episodic coastal flooding will increase from 128-171 million to 176-287 million. The value of global assets exposed to these episodes is projected to be between $6,000-$9,000 billion, or 12-20 per cent of the global GDP. What are the findings of the study? The researchers note that sea-level rise (SLR) is a “well accepted” consequence of climate change. Their study has found that globally, of the 68 per cent area that is prone to coastal flooding, over 32 per cent can be attributed to regional SLR. This, they say, will significantly increase coastal flooding by 2100. What is regional SLR?
    Because sea level rise is not uniform across the world, there is a need to differentiate regional SLR from the global rates. For instance, the gravitational pull of the polar ice sheets has different effects on sea levels in different parts of the world, which means regional SLR can be higher or lower than the global SLR. Relatively too, regional SLR can be higher or lower. For instance, according to an article published in Yale Environment 360, SLR in places such as Scotland, Iceland and Alaska could be significantly less than the regional SLR for eastern US. Their results indicate by the year 2100, for most of the world, flooding incidents that are typically associated with a 1 in a 100-year event could occur as frequently as 1 in 10 years, “primarily as a result of sea level rise.” As per this assessment, 0.5-0.7 per cent of the world’s land area is at a risk of episodic coastal flooding by 2100, impacting 2.5-4.1 per cent of the population, assuming there are no coastal defenses or adaptation measures in place. How much of a threat is sea level rise? Last year in September, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo announced that the country’s capital would be relocated from Jakarta to the province of East Kalimantan on the lesser populated island of Borneo. The relocation was meant to reduce the burden on Jakarta, which has been facing problems such as poor quality air and traffic gridlocks, and is particularly prone to flooding. It is also the largest Indonesian city with a population of 1 crore. It is located on the North West coast of the most populous island in the world, Java. The combination of climate change and heavy congestion continues to bury Jakarta, the “world’s fastest-sinking city”, by about 25 cm into the ground every year. The situation looks grim for India’s financial capital Mumbai as well. As per some projections, climate change is expected to inundate significant sections of Mumbai by 2050, impacting millions of people. Other cities that regularly feature in the lists endangered by climate change include Guangzhou, Jakarta, Miami, and Manila. IPCC projections too maintain that SLR is going to accelerate further and faster in the coming years. Some of the expected impacts of SLR over the course of the century include habitat contraction, loss of functionality and biodiversity and lateral and inland migration. What are some ways of protecting against sea level rise? Indonesia’s government launched a coastal development project called a Giant Sea Wall or “Giant Garuda” (Garuda is the name of a bird from Hindu mythology and is Indonesia’s national symbol) in 2014 meant to protect the city from floods. In a paper that was accepted for publication earlier this year in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, researchers proposed an extraordinary measure to protect 25 million people, and important economic regions of 15 Northern European countries from rising seas as a result of climate change. They suggested a mammoth Northern European Enclosure Dam (NEED), enclosing all of the North Sea. The idea involved construction of two dams of a combined length of 637 km to protect Northern Europe against “unstoppable” SLR. They also identified other regions such as the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Irish Sea, and the Red Sea that could benefit from similar mega enclosures. A Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, published last year by the IPCC, noted that “well-designed coastal protection” could both “reduce expected damages” and “be cost efficient for urban and densely populated… areas”. Source: NASA, The Indian Express 📣CIVIL SERVICE TIMES is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@LearnFromSuperbIAS) and stay updated with the latest.

  • How the US counts its votes in the presidential election, and why it’s taking so long.

    As the US election verdict remains inconclusive with key swing states still individually counting votes, we take a look at how the world’s oldest democracy counts their votes, and the reason behind the delay in the results. So, how are elections supervised in the US? In the US, all elections — federal, state, and local — are directly organised by the ruling governments of individual states. According to the White House website, the US Constitution and laws grant the states wide latitude in how they administer elections, resulting in varying rules across the country. In many US states, the responsibility of conducting elections falls on the state’s secretary of state — a politician who in some states is directly elected and in others appointed by the state governor. How is the election process different from India? In India, the Constitution under Article 324 provides for a separate rule-making Election Commission that is independent of the executive in government. Set up in 1950, it is charged with the responsibility of conducting polls to the offices of the President and Vice President of India, to Parliament, and to the state Assemblies and Legislative Councils. In India, the ECI has been devised as an apolitical body — a key priority of the country’s founding leaders. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, while introducing Article 324 in the Constituent Assembly on June 15, 1949, said, “the whole election machinery should be in the hands of a Central Election Commission, which alone would be entitled to issue directives to returning officers, polling officers and others”. So, US states vary widely when it comes to key electoral practices such as vote counting, postal voting and drawing constituencies. Often, individual states are accused of providing an unfair advantage to one political party through practices such as gerrymandering. During the Jim Crow era (late 19th century-early 20th century), states in the American South actively disenfranchised Black people– a practice that was largely curbed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Why counting votes in Election 2020 is taking time Although most US states allow electronic methods, paper ballots are the norm across the country. Ahead of counting comes a stage called processing, which involves checking signatures, verifying documentation, and perhaps even scanning the ballots. Counting votes is a separate, and later, process. Each state has its own date for starting in-person or mail-in voting, deadline for receiving the mail-in ballots, processing the ballots, and tabulating votes. To take two examples: In Arizona, mailing of ballots started on October 7, accepted until Election Day, and counting has been on since October 20; in Ohio, processing started on October 6, mail-in ballots can be received up to November 13 but they must be postmarked by November 2, and counting started on November 3. As counting entered its third day in the United States, Indians on social media expressed their admiration for the Election Commission of India, attempting to draw a comparison between the two nations although the processes are quite different. Former Union minister Milind Deora tweeted, saying: “We Indians should be proud of our Election Commission for overseeing 650 parties, 8,000 candidates & 603 million voters in 2019!” Source: The Indian Express 📣CIVIL SERVICE TIMES is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@LearnFromSuperbIAS) and stay updated with the latest.

  • 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is no longer the normal human body temperature.

    For several years now, doctors and researchers have known that 98.6°F is not really the gold-standard “normal” body temperature it was once considered to be. Studies in the US and Europe have found average body temperatures declining over time. But does this trend also hold good outside of high-income countries? Indeed, body temperatures have declined in an indigenous rural population in Bolivia, a 16-year study has fund. Published in Science Advances, the study also looks at possible reasons that may have caused this decline among people in general. What is the case for and against taking 98.6°F as “normal” body temperature? The German doctor Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich, who in 1851 pioneered the use of the clinical thermometer, took over a million measurements of 25,000 patients, and published his findings in a book in 1868, in which he concluded that the average human body temperature is 98.6°F. In recent years, however, different studies have found the human body temperature averaging out differently, including at 97.7°, 97.9° and 98.2°F. One of the largest such studies, published last year, found that body temperatures among Americans have been declining over the last two centuries. So, what does the new study add? In previous studies, the reasons for declining body temperatures were not clear, nor was it known whether a temperature below 98.6°F is “normal” outside of high-income countries. The new study made 18,000 observations of body temperature in 5,500 individuals among the Tsimane, an indigenous population in the Bolivian Amazon. “The Tsimane are indigenous forager-horticulturalists who inhabit a tropical environment rife with diverse pathogens — from familiar ones like a cold or pneumonia, to less familiar, like hookworm and tuberculosis,” lead author Michael Gurven, an anthropologist at University of California, Santa Barbara, said by email. Greater exposure to infection can lead to higher inflammation, which is turn can lead to a higher body temperature. “From earlier studies, we also know that Tsimane experience higher inflammation due to this high infectious burden. And so we expected to find that body temperatures would be higher among Tsimane than they are in the US, UK and Germany,” Gurven said. Instead, the study found, average body temperatures among the Tsimane have fallen by 0.09°F per year; they average roughly 97.7°F today. This decline in less than two decades, the researchers noted, was about the same as that observed in the US over two centuries. What could be the reasons for this? The study looked at a number of hypotheses about factors that may be causing the decline of body temperature among people in general, and tested these against their findings among the Tsimane. BETTER HEALTHCARE: One hypothesis is that improved hygiene and healthcare in high-income population groups have led to fewer infections over time and, in turn, to lower body temperature. While the Tsimane live a rural lifestyle with a relatively low access to healthcare, they do have better access than they did two decades ago. Indeed, some infections were found to be associated with higher body temperature. But when the statistical model adjusted the temperature findings for infection, it found that reduced infection alone could not explain the declines. “This is to say that the decline in body temperature over the duration of the study is not altered by considering patient characteristics, including their medical diagnoses,” Gurven said. LOWER INFLAMMATION: People use anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen more frequently than earlier. Again, even after accounting for biomarkers of inflammation, body temperature declines over time remained among the Tsimane. BRIEFER ILLNESS: Since people have greater access to treatment, has it reduced the duration of infection? That was another hypothesis the study tested. The findings among the Tsimane, indeed, were consistent with this argument. If a study participant had a respiratory infection in the early stages of the 2002-18 study, it led to having a higher body temperature than the temperature if they had the same infection more recently. BODIES WORKING LESS: Another hypothesis is that people are healthier, so their bodies might be working less to fight infection. Also, our bodies may not have to work as hard as before in order to regulate internal temperature, because of air-conditioning and winter heating. The Tsimane do not use such advanced technology, but do have more access to clothes and blankets. So, what are the implications? Together, the findings underline that there is no single cause that could explain the decline. The researchers said it’s likely a combination of factors — all pointing to improved conditions. The researchers do not expect their findings to influence how doctors use body temperature readings in practice. Doctors already acknowledge there is no universal ‘normal’ body temperature for all people at all times. Among its limitations, the study used the same type of thermometer, but not the same thermometer over the entire 16 years. In the earliest study years, the sample size was smaller. The study did not account for pregnancy or lactation, or the time of day when body temperatures were recorded. Source: The Indian Express 📣CIVIL SERVICE TIMES is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@LearnFromSuperbIAS) and stay updated with the latest.

  • What is a bulk drug park, and why does Himachal want one?

    Himachal Pradesh is one of the states vying for the allotment of a bulk drug park under a central government scheme announced earlier this year for setting up three such parks across the country. The state government has identified around 1,400 acres in Una district and sent a proposal to the Centre seeking grant to set up a bulk drug park there, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur informed a group of drug manufacturers Thursday. What is a bulk drug park, and why is Himachal keen to build one? The Indian Express explains: What are bulk drugs or APIs? A bulk drug, also called an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), is the key ingredient of a drug or medicine, which lends it the desired therapeutic effect or produces the intended pharmacological activity. For example, paracetamol is a bulk drug, which acts against pain. It is mixed with binding agents or solvents to prepare the finished pharmaceutical product, ie a paracetamol tablet, capsule or syrup, which is consumed by the patient. What are KSMs and DIs? APIs are prepared from multiple reactions involving chemicals and solvents. The primary chemical or the basic raw material which undergoes reactions to form an API is called the key starting material, or KSM. Chemical compounds formed during the intermediate stages during these reactions are called drug intermediates or DIs. India has one of the largest pharmaceutical industries in the world (third largest by volume) but this industry largely depends on other countries, particularly China, for importing APIs, DIs and KSMs. This year, drug manufacturers in India suffered repeated setbacks due to disruption in imports. In January, factories in China shut down when the country went into a lockdown, and later, international supply chains were affected as the Covid pandemic gripped the entire world. The border conflict between India and China exacerbated the situation. All these factors pushed the Indian government to call for greater self-reliance across all industries, and in June, the department of pharmaceuticals announced a scheme for the promotion of three bulk drug parks in the country. What will a bulk drug park look like, and what does the scheme offer? A bulk drug park will have a designated contiguous area of land with common infrastructure facilities for the exclusive manufacture of APIs, DIs or KSMs, and also a common waste management system. These parks are expected to bring down manufacturing costs of bulk drugs in the country and increase competitiveness in the domestic bulk drug industry. The Centre’s scheme will support three selected parks in the country by providing a one-time grant-in-aid for the creation of common infrastructure facilities. The grant-in-aid will be 70 per cent of the cost of the common facilities but in the case of Himachal Pradesh and other hill states, it will be 90 per cent. The Centre will provide a maximum of Rs 1,000 crore per park. How will the Centre select the three parks? Several states including Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Telangana have expressed interest in the scheme, and are likely to send their respective proposals. A state can only propose one site, which is not less than a thousand acres in area, or not less than 700 acres in the case of hill states. The proposals should contain the estimated cost, feasibility studies, environmental risk assessment etc. A project management agency, nominated by the department of pharmaceuticals, will examine these proposals and make recommendations to a scheme steering committee, which will then approve the proposals. How strong is Himachal’s case? The state is keen to attract investment to strengthen its economy and generate employment. It organised a global investors’ meet last year, and has introduced reforms such as a single window clearance and online approval system for industrial units. Himachal jumped nine places in this year’s ease-of-doing-business rankings declared by the Centre last month, securing the seventh position in the country. According to the state government, Himachal already has Asia’s largest pharma manufacturing hub, that is the Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh industrial belt, and the state produces around half of India’s total drug formulations. Chief Minister Thakur claimed that Himachal offers power and water at the lowest tariffs in the country, and the state also has an industrial gas pipeline. Source: The Indian Express 📣CIVIL SERVICE TIMES is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@LearnFromSuperbIAS) and stay updated with the latest.

  • US-India defence relationship reflects alignment on security issues of mutual concern

    This week, the US and India held the third annual 2+2 ministerial dialogue in New Delhi, demonstrating the strength of the bilateral relationship even during these unprecedented times. The dialogue comes at a consequential moment for our two countries as we forge ever-closer ties to promote a common vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region. Fifteen years after the signing of the US-India Defence Framework, the pace of our growing defence cooperation is such that we are achieving new milestones every year. This year is no exception as we announced the conclusion of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement, the last of four defence “enabling” agreements, which together facilitate closer military cooperation and interoperability. The elevation of the US-India defence relationship to a “Major Defence Partnership” in 2016 was a milestone that set our bilateral defence cooperation on a new trajectory. In the years since, we have increased the scope and complexity of exercises, expanded mutual logistics support, and established secure communications between our forces, facilitating closer collaboration on shared security interests, particularly in the maritime domain. We saw evidence of this deepening partnership this past July as our navies conducted a combined naval transit of the Indian Ocean, and last November as we completed our first-ever tri-service exercise, Tiger Triumph. In February, President Trump and Prime Minister Modi announced a vision for a Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership, a sign that the bilateral relationship had reached new heights. This upward trajectory should not come as a surprise. As the world’s oldest and largest democracies, the United States and India have a special role among free societies. The United States and India share a similar vision of the Indo-Pacific based on a shared commitment to a rules-based order that respects the sovereignty of all countries and ensures freedom of navigation and overflight. The recent acceleration in the US-India defence relationship reflects our alignment on security issues of mutual concern, and a recognition that only by working together — and with like-minded partners — can we address the formidable challenges we face today and those we expect in the future. This alignment exists not only in concept, but in our strategy. The 2018 National Defense Strategy identified the “reemergence of long-term, strategic competition” as the central challenge to prosperity and security, and called for expanding alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region. The same year, Prime Minister Modi announced India’s Act East Policy, which calls for greater Indian involvement in promoting “SAGAR” — the Security and Growth of All in the Region. In poetic fashion, sagar is the Hindi word for ocean — a fitting allusion to India’s status as the largest economy and military in the Indian Ocean region. We welcome this expanded role for India in promoting regional stability and defending the principles that have helped so many in this region to rise and prosper. Under this policy, India has deepened bilateral defence relations with Southeast Asian countries, while preserving ASEAN centrality. India has also strengthened its ties to like-minded countries, such as the United States, Japan, Australia and France. Earlier this year, India signed Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreements with both Japan and Australia, facilitating shared logistics between its militaries — a critical enabler for cooperation across such a vast region. And just this month, India invited the Royal Australian Navy to participate in the annual US-India-Japan Malabar naval exercises in November. The increased scope and pace of Quadrilateral activities reflects a clear strategic convergence among the four countries, and a strong reminder of the importance of fostering a resilient network of like-minded partners in a complex region. Looking to the future, there are many opportunities for further growth in the defence partnership. We are expanding dialogue on emerging threats in the cyber and space domains, and will continue seeking broader collaboration between our defence innovation communities. We are also looking to expand cooperative capacity building efforts with partners across the region to ensure they are equipped with the tools they need to protect their sovereignty. To this end, we support India’s greater involvement in promoting maritime security in Southeast Asia, including upholding international law and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Finally, we hope to deepen our interoperability with India through the sale of even more high-end systems such as unmanned aerial systems, fighter aircraft, and air and missile defence capabilities. Under the 2+2 framework, the US and India are strengthening one of the most consequential partnerships of the 21st century. Just as investments in previous years have set the foundation for the accomplishments we can claim today, our ongoing efforts will carry forward the momentum for even stronger ties in future years. At its full potential, our partnership can serve as a source of strength and inspiration for the region and the world, highlighting the benefits of freedom and inclusion over approaches that rely upon coercion and intimidation. Source: The Indian Express 📣CIVIL SERVICE TIMES is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@LearnFromSuperbIAS) and stay updated with the latest.

  • Why a peaceful transition of power in the US is being doubted.

    There was a time when the United States was regarded as one of the world’s most stable democracies. The peaceful transition of political power is only a bare minimum threshold for a stable democracy. “Yet, whether this would happen in the US after this election is today in doubt to a degree that is unprecedented in living memory,” writes Sanjib Baruah, professor of political studies at Bard College in New York, in an opinion column in The Indian Express. In some of the most influential quarters of American life, there is great concern about the prospects of an orderly presidential transition. The New York Times has even published the “nightmare scenarios” of seven election experts — their fears about the worst thing that could happen with the elections — and possible measures to prevent it. The efforts by Trump and his allies to undermine the integrity of the election system — through often-repeated but unsubstantiated concerns about voter fraud and misinformation about the credibility of postal ballots — creates conditions for Trump’s supporters to reject the election results. In addition, the talk of voter fraud provides cover to controversial local- level decisions on polling locations and postal ballot requirements that could lower voter turnout among groups that disproportionately support Democrats. Postal ballots will most likely account for more than half the votes in the coming elections. But since Trump has successfully politicised the COVID-19 precaution protocols, many more Biden supporters will vote by post than Trump supporters. As a result, the results available on the night of the elections on November 3 — based on the counting of only in-person ballots — are likely to be substantially different from the final count. “All this could lead to significant uncertainty, legal battles, public protests and mayhem, plunging the country into a post-election crisis,” says Baruah. “What makes American democracy particularly vulnerable to the Trump challenge is the peculiar way in which it elects its president. Presidential elections are determined not by the national popular vote, but by the votes of individual states reflected in the Electoral College,” explains Baruah. Donald Trump became president in 2016 even though nationally Hillary Clinton won 2.9 million more votes than him (2.1 per cent of the total votes). But Trump won 304 Electoral College votes to Hillary Clinton’s 227. Source: The Indian Express 📣CIVIL SERVICE TIMES is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@LearnFromSuperbIAS) and stay updated with the latest.

  • China is the main reason why US Presidential elections matter for India.

    A significant amount of the commentary in India about the upcoming US presidential election’s impact has focused on what Donald Trump and Joe Biden have said or not said about Kashmir. However, points out Tanvi Madan of Brookings Institution, that misses a crucial point: Broader foreign policy decisions will have more significant implications for India. “Particularly consequential will be how a second Trump administration or a Biden administration perceive and approach China and, relatedly, the question of America’s role in the world. The outcome will depend on not just who wins in November, but also the choices that the next American president makes on key personnel and policies,” she states in her opinion piece in The Indian Express. For the Indian government, the Trump administration’s more hawkish view of China has been welcome. It broadly converges with Indian concerns about a rising China’s actions and intentions. And it has facilitated, if not driven, the Trump administration to assign India an important role in its strategic framework, including through the Free and Open Indo-Pacific concept. This, in turn, has laid the basis for defence and security cooperation, incentivised Washington to manage differences with Delhi on trade, Russia, Iran, and human rights, and led to vocal American support for India in the ongoing crisis with China. “However, there are aspects of President Trump’s China approach that have caused consternation in Delhi,” she points out. There are questions whether the competitive approach to China has sufficient presidential buy-in or is more the result of certain Trump administration officials’ preferences. “If Trump wins, India will carefully consider three elements: Whether Trump stays the course or again pivots on China, which officials remain in or join the administration, and how Beijing responds to a Trump victory,” she asserts. Commentators have noted Biden’s recent, more hardened view of China. He has called Xi “a thug” and written about “the need to get tough on China”. His campaign has laid out specific steps it will take vis-à-vis Tibet and Taiwan, and talked of a “genocide” in Xinjiang. “But what a Biden administration sees as the terms of strategic competition with China and how it might choose to blend in cooperation will have implications for India,” writes Madan, who is the author of “Fateful Triangle: How China Shaped US-India Relations During the Cold War”. In other words, New Delhi will have to look at whether Biden administration’s Asia policy derives from its China policy or vice versa. Source: The Indian Express 📣CIVIL SERVICE TIMES is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@LearnFromSuperbIAS) and stay updated with the latest.

  • Five main strategic implications of Bangladesh’s economic rise.

    The International Monetary Fund’s latest World Economic Outlook published last week has triggered much outrage in India. The provocation was the IMF’s prediction that Bangladesh’s per capita GDP will overtake that of India this year. The projected difference is rather small —$1,888 to $1,877— and unlikely to last beyond this year. But it offered enough ammunition for a political attack on the NDA government’s economic record. “There are many reasons for anxiety about India’s economic slowdown in recent years,” writes C Raja Mohan in an opinion column in The Indian Express, “but in using Dhaka’s impressive economic performance to attack Delhi’s government, India is missing the bigger story about the strategic consequences of Bangladesh’s economic rise”. Mohan points out five key implications of Bangladesh’s economic success. First, rapid and sustained economic growth in Bangladesh has begun to alter the world’s mental maps of the subcontinent. Over the last five decades and more, South Asia, for most purposes, has meant India and Pakistan. The economic rise of Bangladesh is changing some of that. The second implication is about the changing economic weights of Bangladesh and Pakistan in South Asia. A decade ago, Pakistan’s economy was $60 billion larger than Bangladesh. Today, Bangladesh’s weight is bigger than Pakistan by the same margin. A US dollar today gets you 85 Bangladeshi taka and 162 Pakistani rupees. “The trend line is unlikely to change in the near future — for Bangladesh has controlled its population growth and Pakistan has not. Dhaka has a grip over its inflation and Islamabad does not,” states Mohan. Third, Bangladesh’s economic growth can accelerate regional integration in the eastern subcontinent. Instead of merely praying for the revival of Saarc, Delhi could usefully focus on promoting regionalism among Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal. Fourth, the economic success of Bangladesh is drawing attention from a range of countries in East Asia, including China, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. The US, which traditionally focused on India and Pakistan, has woken up to the possibilities in Bangladesh. Finally, the economic rise of Bangladesh could boost India’s national plans to accelerate the development of its eastern and north-eastern states. Consider this: Bangladesh’s economy is now one-and-a-half times as large as that of West Bengal; better integration between the two would provide a huge boost for eastern India. So would connectivity between India’s landlocked Northeast and Bangladesh. Source: The Indian Express 📣CIVIL SERVICE TIMES is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@LearnFromSuperbIAS) and stay updated with the latest.

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