Current Affairs – 22nd November, 2016

INFRASTRUCTURE/NATIONAL

 

TOPIC: General Studies 3

  • Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.
  • Disaster and disaster management.

 

Indore- Patna Express derailment- Learning from disasters

In news: the derailment of Indore-Patna Express causing death of more than 140 people is a sad reality of strained infrastructure of Indian Railways which is crying for reforms.

  • India’s railway network caters to about seven billion passenger trips a year. Such humongous infrastructure maintenance possesses extraordinary management challenges.
  • The foremost challenge of the Indian Railways is that it should be able to ensure that all its journeys end safely.
  • Death due to human errors despite knowledge of technical glitches in journey of Indian railways can never compensate the loss suffered by the families just by announcements of ex-gratia compensation by the Railway Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office and State governments.

What is ailing Indian Railways?

  • It is carrying 15 times more people than its capacity, and overloading is damaging old tracks. This infrastructure is not getting new adequate investments
  • Trains do not have adequate and proper safety and fire equipment.
  • Human errors are the maximum cause of accidents. Yet, proper training is not given.
  • There are still many unmanned railway crossings which need to be eliminated.

The Indian Railways- How to be more safe

  • According to National Crime Records Bureau, there have been about 30,000 railway accidents a year in recent times and over 25,000 lives have been lost in such accidents.
  • Indian Railways has recorded an average of 50 derailments a year over the past four years and a peak of 63. Indore Patna Express accident was a big accident that occured after 6 years.
  • This reinforces the duty of Ministry of Railways to engage in a sustained effort to win back public confidence. More attention needs to be paid to upgrading infrastructure such as tracks and signalling and inducting technologies that help prevent accidents.
  • The elements of safety — integrity of the tracks, signalling, engines and coaches — need rigorous auditing. Rail fractures are ‘micro cracks’ on rails that develop into ‘major cracks’ following the passage of a train with heavy load. Such accidents can only happen when Ultra Sonic Fault Detection (USFD) checks of tracks are not routinely done.
  • Internal investigations by the Commissioners of Railway Safety have found human error to be responsible for 70% of serious rail accidents. This shows how much importance has to be accorded to training and adherence to strict operational discipline.
  • The current train disaster takes into blame- the flaws in the track, the speed at which the late-running train was being driven, and the role played by coach design in leading to high fatalities. These are the few of the core areas which entail modernisation as well as maintenance.
  • It is not that VIP trains like Rajdhani and Shatabdi are not prone to accidents as they have similar tracks and signalling system. What is different is the quality of rolling stock, namely locomotives, LHB coaches and better monitoring of tracks before such trains pass on them. Hence, railways should be equally vigilant for the non-VIP trains too as it equally carries precious human lives.

 

The Indian Railways- Way forward

  • 13 million passengers travel in the 7000 passenger trains that are run every day by Indian Railways. These passengers need assurance from Railways that it is learning from its mistakes.
  • It needs to be overlooked that the high level committee recommendations (Anil Kakodkar on safety and Bibek Debroy on restructuring) are being implemented.
  • Major reforms like creation of a statutory safety authority, speedy replacement of ageing coaches with modern LHB design and revamped management that keeps its focus on core train operations should be fast tracked.
  • In Budget 2016-17, the Minister of Railways also announced that all zonal railways would have ultrasound flaw detection machines by March 2017 to test track quality. It should be verified if such a test was done on the Indore-Kanpur-Patna route.
  • Equally important is the availability of quality medical facilities on the site of accident which improve the chances of survival. Many terrible mishaps occur in rural areas that have no hospital facilities worth the name, no trauma specialists or intensive care. Hence, upgrading district hospitals should be a priority.
  • Instead of Railway Ministers succumbing to populism and giving priority to announcing new projects and new trains, more focus should be on necessary operational reforms.
  • Railways is in the process of setting up a non-lapsable fund named Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh with a corpus of ₹1,19,183 crore for safety improvement. A bulk of that money is proposed to be invested in track renewals and safety works at level crossings.
  • Also, there is a need to find ideal solution for safety challenges. Various safety aids for preventing collision as well as train protection and warning systems continue to be pilot projects.
  • Currently, extensive field trials of the anti-collision device (ACD), are going on and once deployed across the zonal railways, this innovative technology will help reduce accidents.

Conclusion

It is true that Indian Railways has monopoly in rail transportation, but it does not mean that it can take passengers for granted. The initial days after accidents will witness public support and anger against railways, but it will be soon lost in committee inquiries and finally forgotten.

This trend has to stop and railways have to be made more accountable. Along with rising fares, the Railways need to provide superior service — better chairs and berths, on-board services and punctuality and safe and secure passage for passengers.

Similarly, safe and secure transportation of goods also needs to be assured for the Railways to attract freight traffic. Mass’s safety and convenience should be priority.

Connecting the dots:

  • What are the issues plaguing Indian Railways and how to address them?
  • Indian Railways are on path reformation and transformation. How can Indian Railways achieve ‘no accident’ year in future? Discuss.

 

ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE

 

TOPIC:

General Studies 2

  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
  • Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate.

General Studies 3

  • Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

 

Marrakech Climate Change Conference – COP 22

 

Facts

  • The twenty-second session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Marrakech, Morocco from 7-18 November 2016.
  • The leaders met at Marrakech to deliver part of the blueprint for achieving the goals set under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (Paris Agreement).
  • The Conference demonstrated to the world that the implementation of the Paris Agreement is underway and multilateral cooperation on climate change continues.
  • Climate Finance was the core issue to be discussed at the Conference.
  • The aim of COP 22 was to find ways and means to integrate national commitments to actual policies.

Significance

Climate Finance:

  • Developing nations have demanded firm commitments and a clear road map from the developed countries for how and from where the money will flow for the pledged $100 billion by 2020.
  • India and other developing countries which actively seek to adopt renewable energy need support in the form of finance commitments from the developed countries.

USA and Climate Finance

  • The Marrakech COP provided an opportunity to communicate concerns about the future climate policy of the USA.
  • The USA had earlier promised $3 billion in climate funding but the flow of the same has been uninspiring.

Marrakesh Action Plan

  • The Marrakesh Action Plan (MAP) was signed on the last day of the conference and it emphasises on the need for all countries to work together to close the gap between their intended reduction of carbon emissions and what needs to be done to keep the rise of the global average temperature well below 2°C in this century.
  • Highlights the need to decide on steps to enhance financing and technology transfer.

India and COP 22

  • India has the twin challenges of growing its economy to meet the development aspirations and cutting emissions.
  • As a signatory to the Paris Agreement there is a huge pressure on India to affect big emission cuts and the same is expected to increase.
  • Smaller and more vulnerable countries such as island states and Bangladesh are demanding action from India to cut emissions.
  • Issues pushed by India, such as “climate justice” and “sustainable lifestyles”, were largely ignored.
  • The International Solar Alliance was officially opened for sign-up and made some progress.

 

Challenges from COP 22

  • Not much progress was made at Marrakech on raising the $100 billion a year that is intended to help the developing nations and the lack of consensus still prevailed.
  • Lack of clarity on the intent of USA with respect to the Paris Agreement since the President Elect has threatened to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
  • The US government may transfer a share of its financial commitments to the private sector and this will be just as problematic as private funding will be profit oriented and erratic.
  • No support for India on two concepts of “Climate Justice” and “Sustainable Lifestyle” which it wanted to introduce.
  • The concept of Adaptation did not find much popularity at the conference.
  • The pledges made so far are well short of the intended targets, and even if they are all implemented, a minimum rise of 2.9°C is forecast by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)
  • The money pledged at Marrakesh is about 150 million dollars and is a drop in the ocean against the target of raising 100 billion dollars a year by 2020.

Analysis

Other than the above mentioned challenges, the COP 22 to UNFCCC has definitely has had its share of small victories such as the Marrakech Action Proclamation for Our Climate and Sustainable Development. It now requires all State governments to come together to strengthen the case for international funding. The developing countries were also successful in inserting a clause which requires scaling up of financial resources beyond $100 billion per year after 2020.

A major positive from Marrakech has been that the developing countries have raised voice against the developed nations and have shown unity and solidarity as well. India has taken a lead in cementing the International Solar Alliance. A 47-nation coalition named Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) has vowed to convert to 100 percent renewable energy as soon as possible.

Once all the above essential commitments are on track to being fulfilled, it is likely to trigger higher ambition and bigger commitments which might just be enough to achieve the Paris objective of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Connecting the dots

  • Define Climate Change and critically analyse the outcomes of the UNFCCC COP 22 held at Marrakech, highlighting their importance in fulfilling the commitments made at the Paris Agreement.