Persistent Organic Pollutants

Persistent Organic Pollutants

This article deals with ‘Persistent Organic Pollutants – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Environment’ which is an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles on Science and technology, you can click here


Introduction

  • Organic compounds that resist photolytic, biological & chemical degradation are known as Persistent Organic Pollutants or POPs. 
  • Due to persistence, pollutants are capable of long-range transport, bioaccumulation & biomagnification.
  • POPs include pesticides, industrial solvents, polyvinyl chloride & pharmaceuticals.
Persistent Organic Pollutants

Common Characteristics

1. Low water Solubility

  • They aren’t soluble in water.

2. High Lipid Solubility

  • They have high lipid solubility, which leads to bio-accumulation.

3. Semi-Volatile

  • They either occur in nature in the vapour phase or are adsorbed on atmospheric particles, facilitating long-range transport. 

4. Toxicity

  • POPs with higher molecular weights are toxic.

5. Chemical structure

  • Most of the POPs are halogenated & many have chlorine as a component.

Bioaccumulation and  Biomagnification

  • The process by which a pollutant enters the food chain and accumulates in the body of a living organism is known as Bioaccumulation.
  • The tendency of the pollutant to increase in concentration as it moves from lower to higher trophic levels in the food chain is known as Biomagnification.
Biomagnification
Biomagnification
  • Example
    1. The sewage containing POPs such as DDT is dumped into rivers and oceans, entering the food chain through phytoplankton and zooplankton. The concentration continues to increase in the successive trophic levels. 
    2. Commercial agriculture requires more application of insecticides and pesticides. Hence, pesticides and insecticides enter the food chain and continue to accumulate at successive trophic levels.

Properties of bioaccumulants and biomagnification

  • The bioaccumulants tend to move upwards in a food chain.
  • They are non-biodegradable, and therefore they have a longer life.
  • They are not soluble in water, and therefore they can’t be thrown away by the body through urine and excreta. 
  • Most of the bioaccumulants are fat-soluble, i.e. lipogenic, and hence they are transferred easily from mother’s milk to infants or transferred to the meat and fish-eating population. (example includes mercury poisoning or Minamata disease).


Some of the important bioaccumulants are

1. DDT

  • DDT is used as a pesticide and insecticide to control the mosquito population. 
  • DDT is the major bioaccumulant and has been banned under the Stockholm convention. But it is still used in tropical countries like India to control the spread of malaria, dengue etc. 
  • Its effects include nausea, headache, fatigue, neurological disorders, eggshell thinning (loss of fertility), congenital disabilities, and cancer.

2. Endosulfan

  • It is an insecticide that is used on cashew, rubber and tea plantation.
  • It is a cheap but dangerous bioaccumulant because it is associated with congenital disabilities including cryptorchidism, neurological disorders including autism, neurobehavioral disorders, lower testosterone and cancer. Therefore, Endosulphan was added to the Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) list.
  • Supreme Court banned the use of Endosulfan in India after PIL was registered against it due to peculiar health impacts seen after aerial spray in cashew plantations to combat tea mosquitoes in Kerala. Even after that, it is manufactured in India, and India is the biggest consumer of Endosulphan in the world.

3. VOCs

  • These are used in paints, varnishes, fuels, paper bleaching, cosmetics etc.

4. Mercury

  • Mercury is infamous for Minamata disease.

Conventions regarding hazardous wastes and pollutants

There are following conventions

  1. Stockholm Convention 
  2. Rotterdam Convention 
  3. Basel Convention
  4. Bamako Convention

1. Stockholm Convention on POPs

  • It is the convention on bioaccumulants, also known as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).
  • It deals with banning the pollutants known as ‘DIRTY DOZENS’. 
  • The convention was signed in 2001 under the aegis of the United Nations. Consequently, India became a party to the convention in 2005. Presently, it has 179 members. 
  • The global Environmental Facility (GEF) is the designated interim financial mechanism for the Stockholm Convention.

Dirty Dozen or 12 listed POPs  

Dirty Dozen

Note

Most of India’s commonly used insecticides and pesticides have to be mandatorily labelled under the Insecticide Act of 1968 and the rules of 1971. Four colours are used to indicate the toxicity level of insecticide or pesticide

Green Colour Slightly Toxic Eg: Mosquito repellent oils and liquids.
Blue Colour Moderately Toxic Eg: Glyphosate
Yellow Colour Highly Toxic Eg: Endosulphan
Red Label Extremely Toxic Eg: Zinc Phosphide

2. Basel Convention

  • Basel Convention is on the transboundary movement of hazardous waste and its disposal. It was signed to stop the dumping of hazardous chemicals from developed to developing nations. 
  • Most of the pollutants are covered under Basel Convention except radioactive waste.
  • Basel Convention is against the ‘TOXIC COLONIALISM’ (epitomised by KOKO CASE, where Italy used to transport 8,000 barrels of most toxic waste per month to Nigeria in return for the rent of $100 till 1988).
  • It was signed in 1989 and came into effect in 1992. 

3. Rotterdam Convention on International Trade in  Hazardous Substances

  • Rotterdam Convention is on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for certain Hazardous Chemicals & Pesticides in International Trade.
  • It was signed in 1998 and became effective in 2004.
  • Under the convention, while trading in hazardous chemicals and pesticides, the country has to take prior consent before exporting it to another country. 
  • In the recent meeting of the Rotterdam Convention, Canada has objected to listing asbestos fibres as pollutants. 

4. Bamako Convention

  • It is a convention on controlling transboundary movement and managing hazardous waste, including radioactive waste within Africa (only).

Oil Spills

Oil Spills

This article deals with ‘Oil Spills – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Environment’ which is an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles on Science and technology, you can click here


Introduction

The intentional or unintentional release of oil into ocean /coastal waters is known as oil spill.

Scene of Oil Spill 
civilspedia.com

Impact of Oil Spills

  • Damage to fish, turtles, and crabs, among other marine animals. 
    • Decrease insulating capacity of the plumage of birds  
    • Ingestion by seabirds leads to kidney failure, dehydration, metabolic disorders etc.
    • Exposure to toxic petroleum products often results in lower reproductive rates.
Impact of Oil Spills
  • Loss of fisherman’s livelihood as venturing out into the sea is not safe. 
  • Consumers show reluctance to buy seafood, adding to the woes of fishermen.
  • Local tourism is impacted negatively as tourists avoid such places.
  • Heavy metals released along with oil starts to bioaccumulate in fishes and impact the whole food chain, including humans.
  • A variety of health effects may develop when an oil spill occurs close to where people live or work and may come in contact through breathing gaseous oil compounds.

India & Oil Spill: Response & Preparedness

  • The National Oil Spill-Disaster Contingency Plan (NOS-DCP) adopted in 1996 has routinely been updated and revised.  
  • India has ratified the Bunker Convention, 2001, regarding the civil liability for bunker oil pollution in 2015.
  • The government provides a subsidy to the pollution response equipment to the tune of 50%.


Recovery

Recovery of oil spills is difficult & depends on many factors 

  1. Type of oil spilled 
  2. The temperature of the water that may affect evaporation & biodegradability 
  3. Type of shoreline involved 

Bioremediation

Bioremediation or Biodegradation is the use of natural or genetically modified microbes to degrade pollutants (pesticides or hydrocarbons) in the presence of oxygen.

The only problem with bio-remediation is that it can’t be used to break down heavy metals such as mercury, lead etc. But bioremediation is the most crucial technique to clear oil spills.


Bioremediation Techniques

1. Oil Zapper

  • It is essentially a cocktail of five different bacterial strains that feed on crude oil and change it to carbon dioxide and water. 
  • It is developed by the TERI.

2. Oilivorous – S

  • Oilivorous-S has an additional bacterial strain that is effective in destroying Sulphur. Hence, it can be used to contain oil spills in case crude oil has high sulphur content.
  • It is developed by Indian Oil’s research and development wing.

Both Oil zapper and Oilivorous can be used in situ, thus eliminating the need to transfer the pollutant to a centralized plant.

Bioremediation

Some latest oil spills in the news

1. Mauritius Oil Spill (2020)

  • Japanese ship struck a coral reef resulting in an oil spill of over 1,000 tons.

2. Ennore/Kamarajar Port Oil spill (2017)

  • Oil Tankers collided, resulting in the Oil Spill wasn’t quickly contained, destroying marine life especially Olive Ridley Turtles and Migratory birds.

3. Sundarbans Oil Spill (2015)

  • An Oil Tanker passing through the Sela River in the Sundarbans met with an accident resulting in an oil spill. It did irreparable damage to the fragile economy of Sundarbans.

4. British Petroleum / Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (2010)

  • British Petroleum’s oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, causing huge oil spills in 2010.
  • It is the biggest oil spill ever happened in the history of mankind, in which 4 million barrels of oil spilt into the Gulf of Mexico. 
  • British Petroleum had to pay $18.7 billion as a fine to the coastal states of the USA. 

Namami Gange

Namami Gange

This article deals with ‘ Namami Gange – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Environment’ which is an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles on Science and technology, you can click here


Introduction

Namami Gange
  • Till now, various programs have been started by the government to clean Ganga, but all proved to be a failure. These programs include 
1986 Ganga Action Plan (GAP)
1992 Ganga Action Plan – 2 (GAP 2)
2008 Ganga declared as a National River
2009 National Ganga River Basin Authority established
  • 2014: Modi started “Namami Gange” to clean Ganga. It focuses not merely on the main river but also on the tributaries (like Ramganga, Kali and Yamuna as a first priority).  
  • 2016Girdhar Malviya committee formed to prepare a draft law to maintain the Nirmalta (cleanliness) and Aviralta (uninterrupted flow) of Ganga 
  • 2017-18: Chital Committee formed by the government on Desiltation of the river Ganga submitted its report. It recommended a region-specific approach instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.

Institutional Structure

Union Level

  1. National Ganga Council: Headed by Prime Minister and includes Chief Ministers of Ganga Basin States.
  2. Empowered Task Force: Headed by Union Minister of Water Resources.
  3. National Mission For Clean Ganga: Headed by Director-General

State Level

  • State Ganga Committee

District Level

  • District Ganga Committee

Why have all Programs till now failed?

  1. Faulty Area-specific Approach: The previous approaches were specific to a very small area. Only certain cities and clusters were selected and not the entire basin.
  2. No Coordination: Different bodies were involved in these schemes without any coordination.
  3. Identification of sources that pollute Ganga: All programs focussed on sewage to a large extent and completely missed agriculture pollutants (non-point pollutants) in policymaking.
  4. Neglected Tributaries: Various tributaries of Ganga like Yamuna, Gomti, Damodar, Mahananda etc., were not given adequate importance in cleaning efforts. 


Special Case of Ganga / Challenges wrt Cleaning Ganga 

  • Ganga flows through 5 states (Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal). It isn’t easy to take all states on board (Note: River Rhine in Europe flows through six countries and yet cleaned)
  • About 1,650-gram panchayats lie directly on the banks of the Ganga. The sewage they generate is almost entirely untreated.  
  • 750 grossly polluting industries lie on the banks of the Ganga. Effluents from all these flow untreated into the river. 
  • Ganga has pressure to sustain the religious faith and historical and social beliefs (e.g., cremation along rivers and immersion of remains).
  • Due to global warming, there is increased apprehension of adverse effects on the riverGlaciers, the source of water, are melting rapidly. 


Focus of Namami Gange

Components of Namami Gange

Namami Gange is different from previous schemes because it focuses on following things 

  • Namami Gange focuses on all sources that pollute Ganga, i.e. Sewage, Industrial Discharge, Open Defecation, non-point sources from Agriculture etc.
  • Ganga is not only getting polluted but is also dying due to numerous Hydel Plants and other man-made projects. To tackle this, Namami Gange has two specific components i.e. Aviral Dhara (Uninterrupted flow) and Nirmal Dhara (Clean flow).
  • It focuses not merely on the main river but also on the tributaries (like Rāmgangā, Kali and Yamuna as a first priority).
  • Instead of selecting a few cities or clusters, Namami Gange has taken the entire Ganga Basin into its ambit.
  • Coordinated approach: The program focuses on coordination between different Central Ministries & State Governments.

Features of Namami Gange

  • Sewage Treatment Plants will be installed
  • Riverfronts will be developed
  • Special emphasis will be placed on protecting the biodiversity of Ganga, especially of species such as Gangetic Dolphin.
  • Ganga Gram, i.e. villages located on Ganga, will be made open defecation free  
  • Ashes can’t be immersed in shallow banks
  • No sewage pipe will have an outlet into the river
  • Ganga Task Force to ensure that industry and civilians do not pollute the river
  • Cleanup of Ganga and its tributaries under one umbrella
  • Ganga Manthan to dialogue with stakeholders: Spiritual Leaders, NGOs, Policymakers, Academicians, Environmentalists etc.
  • Industries will have to install Common effluent treatment plants (CETPs) 
  • New Hydel plants to have a minimum environmental impact 
  • Build electric crematoriums


Case Study: Revival of Kali Bein River and Baba Seechewal

  • About 1,650-gram panchayats lie directly on the banks of the Ganga. The sewage they generate is almost entirely untreated.
  • The model of Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal of Punjab, who is credited with the successful cleaning of the Kali Bein river (Tributary of Beas) with public participation, can be used in Namami Gange. 
  • Seechewal Model includes 
    • Segregation of solid and liquid waste
    • Wastewater is treated through oxidation ponds & used for irrigation 
    • Solid waste is used to make compost 
    • The whole process is done with community participation => this has strengthened the feeling of ownership  
    • The government is now using this model in Ganga Gram Yojana. 
  • Baba Seechewal was awarded Padma Shri in 2017 for his contribution.


Case Study: Revival of Kuttemperoor and River (Kerala)

  • In 2017, the village Panchayat in Kerala revived Kuttemperoor, a channel of the Pamba and Achankovil rivers.
  • Earlier, the river was thick with weeds and heavily polluted.
  • It was revived after 70 days of work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) & can be used for cleaning other rivers as well.


Issues with Namami Gange Scheme

  • There is a delay in the construction of the sewage treatment plants. Additionally, concerns have been raised regarding the poor performance of treatment plants constructed under Namami Gange.
  • There is a decrease in the flow of the Ganga due to the construction of Hydroelectric plants. Since the 1970s, the flow has decreased by 56%. Presently, Ganga cannot maintain the Minimum Ecological Flow except during the monsoon.
  • According to CAG Report, 60% of the funds allocated under the Nanami Ganga program have remained unutilized.
  • Meetings of the National Ganga Council are not held regularly. 

Eutrophication and Algal Bloom

Eutrophication and Algal Bloom

This article deals with ‘Eutrophication and Algal Bloom – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Environment’ which is an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles on Science and technology, you can click here


What is Eutrophication?

  • The syndrome, in response to the addition of artificial or natural substances such as nitrates and phosphates through fertilizers, sewage, etc., fertilizes the aquatic ecosystem, causing algal bloom, which ultimately results in the death of aquatic plants and animals.
  • It is primarily caused by the leaching of phosphates or nitrates containing fertilizers from agricultural lands to lakes or rivers.

Eutrophication and Algal Bloom

Algal Bloom

  • The sudden growth of algae, especially in shallow water bodies, which causes the blocking of sunlight, is known as an algal bloom.
  • Algal blooms increase the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) as they produce toxins causing anoxic conditions and death of the lakes. 
  • But sometimes, algal and phytoplankton blooms are helpful because they form the base of the food chain providing food to marine organisms.

Causes of Algal Bloom 

  • Nitrates and phosphorus fertilization due to excessive use of fertilizers in the agriculture
  • Excessive dumping of biological waste in the water bodies
  • Direct sewage disposal in the water bodies
  • Disposal of industrial waste in the water bodies 
  • Aquaculture (i.e. technique of growing fish in an artificial atmosphere as it involves a direct application of nutrients) 
  • Natural events such as floods which take excessive nutrients due to enhanced weathering and erosion

Solutions

  • Reducing the use of fertilizers by using Nutrient Management Policy
  • Switching to composting in which organic matter is converted to manure. The nutrients present in the compost are deficient in nitrates and phosphates because the essential elements are broken down, thus stopping the cycle of eutrophication. 
  • Precision agriculture, i.e. the use of information communication technology in crop and farm management to provide agro-inputs according to the specific requirement of the different parts of the farm. 
  • Strengthening the laws and regulations for the point and non-point sources of water pollution.
  • Construction of riparian buffers and restoration of wetlands as the riparian buffer acts as a transition water-body or wetland between surface runoff and main water body. 


Effects of Eutrophication and Algal Bloom

1. Changes in ecosystem

  • The waterbody is eventually reduced to a marsh.

2. Decreased biodiversity

  • It results in the death of flora and fauna.

3. New species invasion

  • It may make the ecosystem competitive by transforming the normal limiting nutrient to an abundant level. It causes shifting in the species composition.

4. Toxicity

  • Neuro or hepatotoxic released by some algal blooms 
  • Loss of corals 
  • Colour smell & water treatment problems 

Mitigation

  • Minimize non-point pollution, especially from agriculture. 
  • Treat industrial effluents before dumping.
  • Treatment of sewage before dumping.


Case Study: Sea of Marmara

The Sea of Marmara faces the issue of sea snot. Sea Snot is characterized by a large amount of algae formed due to nutrients from untreated waste (from Istanbul), and agricultural runoff is drained straight into the sea. It has also resulted in mass deaths among the fish population


Side Topic: Dead Zones

Dead zones or Hypoxic zones are regions in the ocean or lakes where the oxygen level falls to such a low level that marine life can’t even survive in them.

Causes

There are two leading causes

  • Rising sea temperatures:  Temperature rise reduces the solubility of oxygen in the water.
  • Eutrophication: The algal bloom results in the reduction of oxygen levels.

Note – Dead zones are reversible if their causes are reduced or eliminated.

Impact

  • Impact on Global Warming: It triggers the release of chemicals like nitrous oxide, which have high GHG potential. 
  • Impact on Corals: The low levels of oxygen in the aquatic ecosystem results in the death of coral reefs.
  • Impact on food security: It results in the loss of marine food resources.

Water Pollution

Water Pollution

This article deals with ‘Water Pollution – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Environment’ which is an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles on Science and technology, you can click here


Introduction

Water pollution occurs when there is a change in the chemical, physical or biological quality of water that has a harmful effect(s) on living organisms that consume it or live in it.

When is water said to be polluted?

  • When it is impaired by contaminants 
  • Doesn’t support human use like drinking
  • Undergoes a marked shift in the ability to support its constituent biotic communities like fish (For example, almost all the fishes in Ulsoor Lake (Bangalore) died due to water pollution)

Sources of Water Pollution

There are two main types of sources: point sources and non-point sources 

1. Point sources

  • Contaminants that enter a waterway from a single and identifiable source.
  • Examples: from a sewage plant, a factory etc. 

2. Non-Point Sources

  • Non-Point Sources are the sources of water pollution that cannot be traced to a single source.
  • For Example, Acid rain, chemical runoff, and leaching out of nitrogen compounds from fertilized agricultural lands.

Apart from that, Groundwater aquifers are susceptible to contamination from sources that may not directly affect surface water bodies. E.g., chemical spill into the soil may not pollute any surface water body but pollute the underground water aquifer.


Causes of water pollution 

Water Pollution

1. Agricultural

  • Agricultural wastes include fertilizer and pesticide runoff from agricultural fields, food processing waste, tree and sawdust from logging operations and sewage from livestock operations.

2. Industrial Sector

  • Industrial discharge (effluents) may contain various compounds such as heavy metals (cadmium, chromium, lead) and organic and inorganic chemicals. These discharges can affect the temperatures of the water bodies and dissolved oxygen levels.

3. Domestic/Municipal Sector

  • The majority of domestic waste generation makes sewage which is dumped into water bodies without treatment. 

4. Thermal Pollution

  • When water at elevated levels of temperature used to run turbines in Power plants is discharged into rivers, streams or oceans, it increases the temperature of the water body. Also, it decreases dissolved oxygen in the water, which adversely affects aquatic life.

Why should India be worried about Water Pollution?

  • India should worry because India is already a water-deficient country. India has almost 18 % of the global population but only 4 % of freshwater.
  • Just 8% of domestic and industrial wastewater is released into the environment after treatment. It pollutes the natural waterbodies, making them unfit for human consumption.
  • The phenomenon of global warming has modified the ecology of major rivers of India. For instance, Ganga and Indus suffer significant-to-severe levels of water scarcity for 7 to 11 months in a year. 


Measurement of Water Pollution

1. Physical Testing

Standard physical tests of water include 

  1. Temperature
  2. Solid concentrations (e.g. Total Suspended Solids (TSS))
  3. Turbidity

2. Chemical Testing

Water samples may be examined using the principles of analytical chemistry. Frequently used methods include 

  • pH
  • Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD): It measures oxygen used by micro-organisms in the oxidation of organic matter. 
  • Chemical Oxygen Demand(COD): It measures oxygen equivalent to the oxidation of total organic matter present in water.
  • Metals (like cadmium and lead), oil & grease and pesticides.

3. Biological Testing

  • Involves the use of the plant, animal, and microbial indicators to monitor the health of an aquatic ecosystem. 
  • Example: Copepods 

Effects of water pollution

Water pollution strongly impacts humans, animals, vegetation, and the entire ecosystem. These effects can be classified into

On Ecosystem

  1. When sewage water and agriculture runoff containing organic material is discharged into freshwater, it increases the growth of algae, causing eutrophication and death of the whole aquatic ecosystem.
  2. If warm water is disposed of in coastal areas containing corals, it leads to the destruction of the whole ecosystem.
  3. A steep increase in Biological Oxygen Demand turns the lake or sea into a dead zone, killing all the organisms in the ecosystem.

On Animal Health

  1. Fishes and aquatic animals are poisoned by the dumping of industrial wastes in water bodies. 
  2. Oil spills kill a number of animals in the affected area.
  3. It leads to bioaccumulation and biomagnification across various trophic levels.

On Human Health

  1. Humans suffer from diseases like hepatitis by eating seafood contaminated due to water pollution.
  2. Heavy metal poisoning of the fishes due to water pollution can cause diseases in humans. E.g., Minamata disease due to mercury poisoning impacted humans as well.
  3. Consumption of polluted water results in cholera and typhoid.
  4. Nitrate contamination of water can prove to be disastrous for infants as it can restrict the oxygen to reach the brain causing the ‘blue baby syndrome.

Control of water pollution

Control of Domestic Sewage

  • It can be treated in urban areas by centralized sewage treatment plants.

Control of Industrial wastewater

  • Industrial waste can be treated with the help of Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETP) in industrial areas.

Control of agriculture wastewater

  • Farmers may utilize erosion controls to reduce runoff flows and retain soil on their fields. ‘
  • Farmers should use nutrient management plans to prevent the application of excess nutrients. 

3R Approach to manage wastewater

Government, organizations and individuals can adopt the ‘3R Approach’ to reduce wastewater which includes  

  1. Reduce (water wastage)
  2. Reuse (after treatment)  
  3. Recycle
3R Approach to manage wastewater

World Examples

  • In Singapore and  San Diego, residents already drink recycled water. 
  • Japan’s sewage operators use bio-solids as a carbon-neutral form of energy.

Side Topic: Waterman of India (Rajendra Singh)

  • Rajendra Singh is India’s noted environmentalist and is nicknamed the “Waterman of India” Rajendra Singh
  • He was awarded the Stockholm Water Prize in 2015 and Magsaysay Award in 2001 for community-based water management.
  • He was born in UP but worked in Rajasthan for decades to solve the drought issue in Indian villages. 
  • He runs the “Jal Jan Jodo” campaign to spread the water conservation message.
  • He is the proponent of community-based water management as the best way to manage water. 

Stubble Burning

Stubble Burning

This article deals with ‘Stubble Burning – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Environment’ which is an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles on Environment, you can click here.


Why do farmers burn stubble?

  • Time Factor / Cropping Pattern: The paddy wheat system leaves farmers with a sowing time of less than a month between the two crops. Delay in sowing means a decline in yield.  
  • Government Policies: Punjab & Haryana directed their farmers to delay paddy transplantation to save groundwater, but now when they harvest rice, there is no time to grow wheat. 
  • Cost Factor: Straw management equipment is costly, and the government doesn’t consider the cost of stubble management while deciding on MSP. 
  • Farm Mechanization: Earlier, farmers used to cut the paddy close to the ground, and the issue of stubble wasn’t there. But the harvesters cut the paddy from height and leave behind one-foot-tall stalks.
Stubble Burning

Side Topic: Stubble burning leads to the formation of Smog in Delhi because 

The concentration of PM 2.5 particles increases in the air due to stubble burning, which provides condensation nuclei for smog formation.


Problems caused by Stubble Burning

  • Bad for soil health: Burning leads to a decline in the bacterial and fungal population in the top 2.5cm of the soil, thus decreasing the soil fertility and increasing farmers’ dependence on fertilizers. 
  • Health Impacts: Stubble burning releases air pollutants, especially particulate matter (PM), CO2 and ash. 
  • It impacts the health of the general population, especially pulmonary disorders. 
  • Increase the cost of agriculture: According to research conducted by ICRISAT, the nutrient loss from soil caused by stubble burning in Punjab amounts to 220 crores worth of urea. 


Carrot & Stick Approach is required

Carrot & Stick Approach of Stubble Management

Carrot Approach 

  • MS Swaminathan suggested commercializing the paddy straw by using it for making cardboards, animal feed, paper, energy generation etc.
  • Government should subsidize farm machinery for stubble management, such as Happy Seeder, Rotavator etc.
  • Economic Survey (2020) suggests setting up Biomass Depots for storing crop residues and making Biochar Briquettes out of them, which can be further used in thermal power plants and coal or as fuel in local industries and brick kilns. 
  • Provide market to farmers to produce electricity from Biomass. For this, Punjab has operationalized the first such powerplant Jalkheri Biomass Powerplant (Patiala District).  
  • Encourage Farmers to change cropping patterns: Government should also procure pulses and oilseeds at MSP.

Stick Approach

  • Fine those farmers who burn the straw even after that.  
  • Authorities in Punjab plan to use satellite technology to keep a vigil on illegal burning. 

Steps already taken by the Government

1. Subsidy for buying In-Situ Crop Residue Management Technologies (like Happy Seeder)

The government is giving 50% subsidy to the individual farmers and 80% subsidy to Cooperative Societies to buy In-Situ Crop Residue Management technologies. These technologies include

Happy Seeder With Happy Seeder, the next crop can be sown in the standing stubble.
Rotavator Prepare the land for the next crop by incorporating the stubble into the soil.
Baler Make the bales of stubble

2. PUSA Decomposer

  • PUSA Decomposer is a set of 4 tablets developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa. The tablets contain the fungi strains, which increase the rate of decomposition of paddy straw.

3. Project to convert Paddy Straw into Bio-Energy

  • Punjab Government has signed an MoU with Chennai based company ‘NEWAY‘ under which 400 Plants for converting paddy straw to electricity will be constructed.

4. Making stubble burning a punishable offence

  • Stubble burning has been made a punishable offence under Section 188 of IPC and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981.

Air Pollution in Indian Cities

Air Pollution in Indian Cities

This article deals with ‘Air Pollution in Indian Cities – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Environment’ which is an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles on Environment, you can click here


Data about Air Pollution

  • A study published in Lancet Journal says that polluted air is a cause of one in eight deaths in India and decreases average life expectancy in the country by 1.7 years. 
  • According to Lancet’s Study, air pollution is linked to type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. India has the greatest risk.


Timeline of Delhi Pollution

Air Pollution in Indian Cities

Reasons for rising in Urban Pollution (Delhi in Particular) 

1. Anthropogenic Causes

  • Stubble Burning in Punjab & Haryana by farmers.  
  • An explosion of personal vehicles.    
  • Massive-scale construction work, leading to an increase in the concentration of PM 2.5 & PM 10.

2. Geographical Causes

  • Westerlies: North India is under the influence of westerlies in winter, and these winds take pollutants of stubble burning to Delhi NCR. 
  • Due to the degradation of Aravallis, frequent dust storms from the Thar Desert have now started to reach New Delhi.
  • Temperature Inversion creates a sort of blanket and doesn’t allow air to circulate in winter.
  • Delhi is a continental city & situated on a ridge.

3. Socio-Economic Factors

  • Population Pressure: Delhi acts as an urban magnet due to the presence of job opportunities. 

4. Faulty Policies / Governance Factors

  • Fuel Subsidy on diesel has distorted people’s preference towards buying diesel cars, although Diesel cars emit 4 to 7X more pollutants. 

5. Reasons for the exponential rise in pollution during winters

  • Dip in temperatures: Due to temperature inversion in the winters, the pollutants can’t disperse upwards, thus increasing the concentration of pollutants. 
  • Dip in wind speed: The winds blow at very moderate speeds during winters compared to summers. Due to stagnant winds, these pollutants get locked in the air and affect weather conditions, resulting in smog. 
  • Biomass burning in neighbouring states: Delhi is landlocked between its adjoining areas. Stubble burning in these states, especially in Punjab and Haryana, is considered a significant cause of environmental pollution. 
  • Combustion caused by firecrackers may not be the top reason for the smog, but it contributes to its build-up. 

Measures needed

1. Improve Public Transport

  • A massive system of Public Transport needs to be built, including metros, BRTS and Public Buses.
  • Last Mile Connectivity should also be looked. 

2. Change in Tax Regime

  • Congestion tax should be introduced in the form of high parking rates. The city of London uses this method. 
  • Instead of a one-time registration tax for 15 years, Vehicle tax should be paid annually with registration fees increasing each passing year.    
  • Polluter paysGovernment should impose more tax on vehicles & factories with higher emission levels.

3. Governance Issues

  • India should adopt yearly registration of vehicles instead of 15 years of registration. 
  • Government should educate people to use public transport. For example, Delhi Government’s Ab Bus Karein—let us take a bus Campaign.

4. Road Design innovations

  • Car Pool Lane (CPL) / High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Facility: CPL formula reserves one lane, the fastest, for cars carrying more than one occupant.  

5. Stubble Burning Management

  • Explained in a separate article (click here)

6. Reform Pollution Control Boards

Following changes are required in Pollution Control Boards. 

  • There is a need for a larger cadre of scientists in the Central and State Pollution Control Boards and more monitoring equipment.  
  • Empower Pollution Control Boards to levy graduated fines depending on the seriousness or repeatability of the offence.

7. Other measures

  • Install flue gas de-sulphurizers in all coal power plants. 
  • Reduce pollution from brick kilns: Kilns should be upgraded to cleaner technologies like Zig Zag kiln.

Initiatives already taken by the Government

1. Air Quality Index


2. Graded Response Action Plan

  • It is applicable in Delhi only.
  • A graded response lays down stratified actions that are required to be taken as and when the concentration of pollutants reaches a certain level.

3. Bharat Stage-VI norms from 2020


4. Western and Eastern Peripheral Expressway

  • The Peripheral Expressways have been built to divert the traffic destined for Delhi to bypass Delhi without entering the city.

5. Odd-Even Policy

  • Under the policy, Odd-numbered vehicles are allowed to run on odd dates and even-numbered vehicles on even dates. 
  • (BUT) Delhi is not the first city to introduce this system & earlier, Mexico city, along with many metropolitans, had introduced this but with bitter results. It is seen that these types of policies work well for a limited time but gradually, people lose their enthusiasm and find loopholes to avoid this.  

6. Tree Sapling

  • After Supreme Courts’ order, New  Delhi will get a tree wall of 31 lakh saplings of specialized trees like pipal, mahua, etc., to get rid of dust storms from its western neighbours due to western disturbances.

Examples from other cities

1. Mexico City: Project Via Verde 

  • Following the alarming levels of Pollution in 2016, Mexico city undertook the initiative of turning its 1000 plus columns supporting flyovers and elevated roads into ‘vertical gardens’.

2. Paris

  • In Paris, a Helium balloon hovers over the skyline and changes colour depending on pollution levels.  

Air Pollution

Air Pollution

This article deals with ‘Air Pollution – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Environment’ which is an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles on Science and technology, you can click here


Introduction

  • Air pollution is the introduction of harmful materials into the atmosphere, which can cause undesirable changes in the atmosphere.
  • The adverse effects of the pollution include
    1. Respiratory issues for humans and animals
    2. Acid rain by elevated levels of Sulphur and Nitrogen oxides
    3. Ozone layer depletion
    4. Global warming by elevated levels of CO2 (industries, deforestation, and partial combustion)
  • According to WHO report, Air pollution caused the deaths of around 70 lakh people worldwide that year.


Air Pollutants

Substances present in the air that can adversely affect humans and the ecosystem are known as Air Pollutants.


Sources of Air Pollution

The primary sources of air pollution are:

1. Transport Sources

  • Cars, buses, aeroplanes, trucks, trains etc.

2. Stationary Sources

  • Power plants, factories, oil refineries etc.

3. Area Sources

  • Agricultural – wood, stubble burning and fertilizers.
  • Cities – vehicular pollution, industrial pollution etc. 

4. Natural Sources

  • Wind-blown dust, wildfires, lightning, volcanoes etc. 
Air Pollution

Primary vs. Secondary Pollutants

Primary Pollutants

  • Primary pollutants are emitted into the atmosphere directly through processes such as burning fossil fuel, volcanic eruptions etc. 
  • These include Sulphur Oxides, Nitrous Oxides, Carbon Monoxide etc. 

1. Sulphur Dioxide

  • Sulphur Dioxide is produced in volcanic and industrial processes. 
  • Coal and petroleum have high sulphur content, and their combustion generates sulphur oxide. Although Indian coal has low sulphur content, still this is a significant danger because of its enormous consumption. 
  • Why is Sulphur Dioxide dangerous?
    1. Oxidation of SO2  in the presence of a catalyst such as NO2 forms H2SO4 and thus causing acid rain.
    1. It is the main reason behind smog formation, and its continued exposure can result in respiratory diseases, including bronchoconstriction and asthma.

2. Nitrous Oxide

  • Nitrous Oxide is a toxic gas that is brown coloured and has a nasty odour. 
  • Sources of Nitrous Oxide include 
    1. High-temperature combustion
    2. During thunderstorms by electric discharge
  • In cities, the brown haze dome is due to Nitrogen oxide.
  • It is dangerous as it is the primary cause of Photochemical Smog, and it can cause severe respiratory problems, including intense attacks on people with asthma and old age. 

3. Carbon Monoxide (CO)

  • Carbon Monoxide is a highly poisonous gas. It becomes more dangerous because it is colourless, odourless & non-irritating.    
  • Carbon Monoxide is formed in the incomplete combustion of natural gas and coal. Vehicle exhaust is the primary source of Carbon Monoxide.
  • Carbon Monoxide in the atmosphere interferes with Oxygen transport in the body. Haemoglobin has a higher affinity with Carbon Monoxide. Hence, even a low concentration of Carbon Monoxide inhibits the bonding of oxygen with Haemoglobin, thus causing death due to suffocation.

4. Carbon Dioxide

  • Carbon Dioxide is associated with the Green House effect, ocean acidification & is emitted from combustion, factories & respiration of living organisms.

5. VOCs & NMVOCs

5.1 Volatile Organic Compounds

  • The most important VOC is Methane.
  • VOCs are Green House Gases & cause global warming.

5.2 Non-Methane VOC

  • Non-Methane VOCs are aromatic compounds such as Benzene, Toluene, Xylene & other dangerous compounds like 1,3 Butadiene.
  • They have carcinogenic properties.

6. Particulate Matters 

  • Particulate matters are microscopic solid particles lying in suspension form in a gas or liquid.
  • They are of two types, i.e. PM2.5 and PM10
  • Their major sources include the combustion of fossil fuels, fly ash produced in thermal power plants, forest fires, asbestos mining units, cement factories.
  • Repeated exposure to particulates can cause them to accumulate in the lungs & interfere with the ability of the lungs to exchange gases.

7. Fly Ash

  • Fly ash is formed as a by-product of the process of burning pulverized coal in power generation plants. It is the solidified form of coal impurities released from the combustion chamber during combustion. 
  • It has a high percentage of silica and toxic heavy metals such as arsenic.
  • It can cause the following issues 
    1. Groundwater contamination
    2. Respiratory problems
    3. Accumulation on leaves, thus reducing the efficiency of trees.

8. Chloro Fluoro Carbons (CFCs)

  • CFCs are released mainly from air-conditioning systems and refrigeration.
  • CFCs are extremely dangerous for the ozone layer. 

9. Ammonia (NH3)

  • Ammonia is emitted exclusively by agricultural sources, including livestock production and nitrogen fertilizers. 
  • Ammonia contributes to several environmental problems, including direct toxic effects on vegetation and eutrophication and acidification of sensitive ecosystems.

Secondary Pollutants

  • Secondary pollutants are not directly emitted into the atmosphere. They are formed when they react with themselves or other components of the atmosphere. 
  • These include Ground Level Ozone, Smog, POPs etc.

1. Smog 

Smog
  • Smog can result in asthma breathing difficulties.
  • Apart from humans, it also negatively impacts the health of plants and animals. 
  • There are two types of smog, and they impact the environment in different ways. These include 

1.1 Sulphurous Smog

  • Sulphurous Smog is also known as London Smog.
  • Sulphurous smog is formed by the use of Sulphur containing fossil fuels, particularly coal.
Sulphurous Smog
  • It is formed in the cool and humid climate.
  • It is chemically reducing and hence known as Reducing Smog.
  • It is characterized by blue colored skies or blue haze.

1.2 Photochemical Smog

  • Photochemical Smog occurs in the warm, dry & sunny climate.
Photochemical Smog
  • It is chemically Oxidizing and hence called Oxidizing Smog.
  • Ozone, PAN (Peroxyacetyl Nitrate), Acrolein & Formaldehyde are produced in it that can cause serious health problems.

2. Ground Level Ozone

  • It is also known as Tropospheric Ozone (The ozone layer is in the Stratosphere).
  • Ozone occurs in two layers, the stratospheric layer and in the tropospheric layer. While ozone in Stratosphere is essential for the survival of human beings, tropospheric ozone is considered a bad Ozone.
  • It is the most important secondary air pollutant.
  • New research has found that Air Purifiers emit (Tropospheric) Ozone gas.

Problems caused by Tropospheric Ozone

  • It can cause various health problems, including chest pain, bronchitis, asthma etc.     
  • Repeated exposure may permanently scar lung tissues.  
  • It also damages vegetation and the ecosystem. 
  • It leads to reduced agricultural and commercial forests yield.

3. Peroxyacetyl Nitrate (PAN)

  • PAN is present in the photochemical smog. 
  • It can decompose into phenoxyethanol radicals and nitrogen dioxide gas, causing eye irritation.

Major Disasters around the world due to Air Pollution

1. Bhopal Disaster

  • Bhopal Disaster happened in 1984.
  • Cause: Due to leakage of Methyl Iso-Cyanate (MIC) Gas.
  • Twenty-five thousand people were killed outrightly & 1.5 to 6 lakh people were exposed.

2. Great Smog of 1952

  • The Great Smog happened in London in 1952.
  • Great smog was formed due to cold weather combined with anticyclonic & windless conditions that accumulated the air pollutants from burning the coal and forming a thick layer of smog over the city.
  • In 6 days, more than 4,000 people died & 8,000 died within a month.

3. Sverdlovsk, Russia 1972

  • There was accidental leakage of Anthrax spores from the biological warfare lab, resulting in the death of many. 

Impacts of Air Pollution

Air pollution negatively impacts all organisms, depending on the atmosphere for respiration. It can result in irritation in the throat, nose, lungs, and eyes at the individual level. It results in breathing problems and asthma. In addition, polluted air reduces the body’s immunity and decreases the body’s capacity to fight other infections in the respiratory system.

1. Health impacts

Air pollutants cause a variety of health impacts. For example

  1. Sulphur Dioxide, Nitrous Oxide and Ozone: Acute respiratory problems 
  2. Carbon Monoxide: Headache, dizziness and even death due to prolonged exposure. 
  3. Ammonia: Lung fibrosis, dermatitis, cataract and glaucoma.
  4. Particulate Matter: Aggravated Asthma and Chronic Bronchitis.

2. Impact on animals

  • Air pollution also impacts the fauna. 
  • Animals are impacted in the following ways 
    1. Excessive UV radiation may cause skin cancer in wildlife.
    2. Affect animals through plants on which they feed. 

3. Impact on plants and vegetation

  • Physical injury to leaves. E.g., Ozone produces a speckle of brown spots and Ammonia results in drying out of tissues. 
  • It impacts cell metabolism and results in reduced growth.
  • Particulate matters affect the plant and trees as they block the leaf stomata through which gas exchange takes place for photosynthesis and respiration.

4. Acid Rain

  • Acid rain is the precipitation with a higher concentration of hydrogen ions. 
  • The pH of pure water is 7.0, but even in unpolluted air, there is the presence of some carbon monoxide which dissolves in raindrops to produce rain with a pH of about 5.6. Hence, in normal conditions too, rainfall is quite acidic with a pH of around 5.6. But in some parts of the world, pH as low as 1.5 is observed, resulting in Acid rain. 

5. Global Warming

  • Pollutants like Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide etc., show the Green House Gas (GHG) Effect and thus cause Global Warming. 

6. Ozone Depletion

  • Introduction of pollutants like Chloro Fluoro Carbons (CFCs) in the atmosphere results in the depletion of the Ozone layer. 
  • Ozone depletion is a serious issue as the Ozone layer protects the earth and its inhabitants from harmful UV rays in solar radiation. UV rays can cause skin cancer and impact the ecosystem negatively.

Topic: Steps taken by Government to control Air Pollution

1. National Air Quality Index (NAQI)

  • The National Air Quality Index is a number to indicate the level of pollution in the given area. 
  • It is part of Swatch Bharat Abhiyan Operational since 2014. 
  • Earlier, Government agencies used to publish air-quality data with technical terms like PM2.5, PM10. But it cant be understood by the common person. Hence, the government came up with a New Air Quality Index that uses colour-codes that even a common person can easily understand.  
  • It has 8 gases and 6 colour codes. 

6 colour codes are

National Air Quality Index

8 pollutants monitored are

PM10 Coarse Pollutants with diameters up to 10 microns.
It is emitted from dust and smoke. 
It creates breathing difficulty, particularly among asthma patients and the elderly.
PM2.5 Respirable pollutants with a diameter up to 2.5 microns.  
These are dangerous because they can go deep in the lungs and cause chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease.
NO2 Nitrogen dioxide is a lung irritant. 
It also causes red haze in traffic.
SO2 Sulphur dioxide can cause respiratory diseases like asthma, bronchitis, emphysema etc. 
CO Carbon Monoxide binds with haemoglobin and can cause death due to suffocation.
O3 Tropospheric ozone can damage the lungs.
NH3 Ammonia (NH3) in water leads to eutrophication, algal blooms, and the death of aquatic ecosystems.
Pb Lead interferes with the functioning of red blood cells.

Sameer App

  • Sameer App made by Central Pollution Control Board provides hourly updates on pollution levels on the National Air Quality Index.

Criticism of NAQI

  • One index for all: There is just one index for the entire India. But there is a need for separate indexes for residential and industrial areas & cities, and villages because pollutants found in these places differ. E.g., Methane is a significant pollutant in villages, but it is not among the gasses under observation
  • Benzene not included: Benzene is a carcinogenic chemical produced during the combustion of fossil fuels. Even European countries and the USA monitors its level. But it is not observed under NAQI. 
  • No Standard Response when dangerous levels reached mentioned: Mere informing the citizens through a colour-coded chart is insufficient. There is a need to include standard responses. For example, if the air quality index reaches a red level in China, they shut down primary schools (Note: Delhi has Graded Response, but the rest of the cities don’t have any standard response mechanism). 

2. Bharat Emission Standards

What are Bharat Emission Standards?

  • Bharat Emission norms are the pollution standards of vehicles in India. All the vehicles sold in India have to comply with these pollution standards for sale in India. 
  • They are the Indian version of Euro norms applicable in Europe. 

Difference between Bharat Norms & Euro Norms

  • Both are the same in terms of stringency/emission limits
  • India uses Euro Standards with only one modification, i.e. lower maximum speed of 90 km/hr, whereas in Euro norms, it is 120Km/hr. 

Timeline

1981 Air (Prevention &Control of Pollution) Act enacted.
1991 Vehicle emission norms introduced in India.
1999 MC Mehta vs Union of India case
The Supreme Court observed that Delhi was experiencing a considerable spurt in air pollution.
Supreme Court ordered the government to introduce Euro like pollution control regime.
2000 onwards Bharat Stage Emission Standard introduced.
2003 The government of India appointed Mashelkar Committee to formulate Auto Fuel Policy. 
The Committee gave the timeline for introducing Bharat Stage (BS) Norms II and III in India.
2014 Saumitra Chaudhry recommended introducing BS-IV from 2017, BS-V from 2022 and BS-VI from 2024.
2016 The government announced that it would implement BS-VI norms by 2020 (completely bypassing BS-V). 
2017 After the Smog incident, the Government of India brought forward the date for the rollout of BS-VI for Delhi to 1 April 2018 (from 2020).
2018 BS-VI launched in Delhi
April 2020 BS-VI launched in the whole of India

Bharat Stage Norms in India

Bharat Emission Standards

BS VI: Concept and Challenges

Concepts

In Bharat Stage 6, two new components have been added

  1. DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter) (actually, DPF is Stage-5 addition)
  2. SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) (SCR is Stage-6 addition)

But since India jumped to Stage-6 from Stage-4, Indian companies have to add these two components simultaneously. 

Challenges

  1. It will make vehicles more expensive (because of the costly technology and taxes that depend on the bonnet length).
  2. Moving directly to BS-VI will require significant technological upgrades. This would leave them with insufficient time to design changes in their vehicles, considering that two critical components — diesel particulate filter (DPF) and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) module — would have to be introduced. 
  3. Oil refineries will need to upgrade petrol and diesel quality to meet cleaner fuel specifications.
  4. Loss of Jobs & service problems as serviceability will become a more significant challenge requiring highly skilled professionals and technology.
  5. In India, diesel vehicles are disproportionately higher than petrol vehicles with a diesel to petrol usage ratio (4.5): 1. Hence, a mere increase in BS levels will not bring down pollution levels. 

3. Scrapping Policy

According to Transportation Ministry, more than one crore vehicles don’t have fitness certificates and are not fit to run. These vehicles have negative externalities in the form of safety risks to commuters and pollution. But vehicle owners don’t go for new vehicles because they don’t get any financial incentive for buying a new vehicle. 

Along with that, vehicle scrapping will lead to the formation of a circular economy. The steel, plastic and rare earth metals used in the vehicles can also be recycled.


Features of Scrapping Policy

  1. The registration certificate for non-commercial vehicles will be valid for 15 years. After 15 years, the vehicle will have to pass a fitness test to get re-registered for the next 5 years.
  2. The fees for re-registration has been increased by 8 to 20 times to encourage them to move towards new and environment-friendly vehicles. 
  3. Those who opt to scrap their vehicle after 15 years will get a certificate that can be redeemed for buying new vehicles along with a waiver. 
Scrapping Policy of India

4. Electric Vehicle (EV)

  • Electric vehicles are automobiles that draw their energy from rechargeable batteries
  • They can be classified into top two types
    • Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs): Completely relying on battery power 
    • Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs): Uses battery power as well as petrol or diesel. 
  • Currently, the market share of electric cars is less than 1% in India, compared to 2% in China and nearly 40% in Norway.

Current status in India

The majority of vehicles in India still use combustion engines. The market share of electric vehicles in India is around 1% compared to world leaders like Norway, where 40% of vehicles are electric.


India should encourage Electric Vehicles because

  • Climate Friendly: The transport sector is the second-largest contributor to GHG emissions. Hence, electric vehicles will help in constraining the GHG emissions of India.
  • Saving Foreign Currency and containing CAD: It will help India contain its Current Account Deficit and foreign currency reserves by reducing the oil imports.
  • Job Creation: It can also help in job creation as India can become the hub of electric vehicle manufacturing. 

Steps taken by India to promote Electric Vehicles

1. FAME or Faster Adoption & Manufacturing of Electric vehicles

It is the main scheme of the Government of India to promote the manufacturing of Electric Vehicles in India. The main provisions of the scheme include 

  • Demand incentive in the form of reduced prices to public transport and commercial four-wheeler vehicles and private two-wheeler vehicles.
  • Setting up charging stations to ensure at least one charging station within 3 km in urban areas and within 25 km on highways

2. Taxation Measures

  • Lower GST: The GST on electric vehicles is just 5%. 
  • Income Tax Deductions: The EMI paid for electric vehicles is counted in the additional income tax deductions. 

3. State-specific measures

Various states are taking their own measures to promote electric vehicles in India. E.g.,

  • Delhi: Delhi government has announced its Electric Vehicle Policy to achieve the target of 25% of newly registered vehicles to be electric till 2024 by providing low-interest loans, incentives to scrap old petrol and diesel vehicles to switch over to EVs, no registration fee, building charging points etc.

4. Other Vehicles

  • Green Number Plates: Transportation Ministry has announced that Electric Vehicles will have special green number plates.

Way Forward

  1. Charging Stations: In India, the biggest roadblock in the introduction of electric vehicles is the inadequate number of charging stations. The greatest emphasis should be on setting up charging stations. Government should divert more subsidies to charging stations.
  2. Secure Lithium Supply: Lithium is the most critical component in battery manufacturing. India has to secure this supply by investing in mines in Congo, Chile and Bolivia as done by China. 
  3. Investment in Charging Technologies: The government research organizations and premier institutions such as IITs should invest in developing faster charging in vehicles. 

5. Air (Protection & Control of Pollution) Act ,1981

The Parliament enacted this act to arrest deteriorating air quality.


Notable points from this Act

1. Central and State Pollution Control Boards

The act has the provision for setting up Pollution Control Boards at Central and State levels. 

Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) Central Level
State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) State Level

2. Role of these boards

These boards have following functions

CPCP

  • Advices Central Government on the matters concerning improvement of air quality
  • Plan and execute a nationwide program for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution.
  • Provide technical assistance & guidance to State Pollution Control Boards 
  • Lay down standards for quality of air. 

SPCB

  • Comprehensive plan for prevention, control & abatement of air pollution & to secure execution thereof

3. Define Air Pollutant

  • The act defines Air Pollutants as ‘any solid, liquid or gaseous substance( including noise) present in the atmosphere in such concentration as may be or tend to be injurious to human beings or living creatures or plant or property or environment. 

4. Air Pollution Control Areas

  • The state government, after consultation with SPCB, can declare any area as Air Pollution Control Areas (APCA). 
  • If the state government, after consultation with SPCB, believes that the use of any fuel in APCA may cause air pollution, it may prohibit the use of such fuel. 
  • No person shall, without the consent of SPCB, establish or operate any industrial plant in an APCA. 

6. Other Steps

  • Google Maps has decided to start a feature in which the system will show the most ‘eco-friendly’ route as the default route to the user based on traffic, congestion, road inclination etc. It is part of Google’s effort to fight climate change.

Aviation

Aviation

This article deals with ‘Aviation – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Economics’ which is an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.


Introduction

  • India’s domestic passengers have almost doubled in the last 5 years owing to the UDAN scheme
  • In 2020, the number of airports in India reached the 100 mark.


Potential of civil aviation sector

  • The geographical, economic and demographic conditions are such that India can be on the third-largest number of airline passengers. These favourable conditions are listed below.
    • India’s geographical situation in the middle of the Eastern and Western Hemisphere
    • India has a robust middle class of about 35 cr Indians. 
    • Rising income due to India being one of the fastest-growing economies globally
  • But strict and outdated regulations have not allowed the sector to achieve its potential, and India is ranked 10th globally wrt the number of airline passengers. 


Aviation Challenges

Aviation

1. Infrastructure constraints

  • The civil aviation infrastructure, especially in the metros such as Delhi, Mumbai etc., has been operating at saturated levels. Therefore, the government will have to attract large investments in building new and upgrading the existing infrastructure.

2. Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF)

  • The taxation on Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) in India is high. Hence, ATF is priced 60% higher in India compared to the global average. Given the fact that ATF accounts for 40% of the operating costs of airlines, it puts Indian airlines under considerable pressure.

3. Lack of skilled workers

  • Given the growth of the aviation sector, India will need 0.25 skilled workers in the aviation sector over the next decade.

4. Limited Capacity of Airlines

  • 90% of traffic is concentrated in the metro cities. Although the potential consumer base is large, airlines have not been able to tap it.

5. Predatory pricing

  • Indian airlines indulge in Predatory pricing, i.e. sell their tickets at very low prices to bleed the competitors out of business. But in the process, they bleed themselves and make substantial losses.

6. Aviation Safety

  • In India, there were 440 aviation safety violations in 2016 and 340 in 2017, which are quite high compared to global standards.

7. Other challenges

  • High Airport Charges
  • High aircraft to man ratio

Airlines in India

Public Sector Air India and its subsidiaries
Private Sector Air India = owned by Tata GroupB
Jet Airways = Naresh Goyal
Spicejet = Sun group (of Kalanidhi Maran)
Interglobe Aviation (IndiGo)
Go Airlines
Cargo Airlines Deccan cargo (Deccan 360) 
Blue Aviation Express Logistics

New players in the Indian market

  • Air Asia (Tata 30%+ Malaysian Airline AirAsia 49% + Telstra 21%)
  • Air Costa
  • Quickjet Cargo Airlines

Air India

  • Air India was formed after Air India & Indian Airlines merger in 2007. 
  • It has the largest fleet in India, including new planes. It controls 17% of the Indian Market.
  • But it suffered from a debt of over ₹50,000 Crore. Hence, the government wanted to privatize it. After large discussions, the Tata group has bought the airlines. 

Pawan Hans Helicopter ltd

  • It is a government-owned company started in 1985 
  • Provides helicopter service to
    • ONGC’s offshore drilling platforms
    • Hilly and inaccessible areas
    • Amarnath Yatra
    • Emergency evacuation

Disinvestment of Air India

Timeline of Air India

1932 Tata Airlines begins offering air services in India
1946 Tata Airlines renamed as Air India (AI)
1953 Air Corporation Act passed, and Air India was nationalized along with 7 other private carriers.
1981 Vayudoot, a new carrier, established to act as a regional feeder airline
1986 To boost tourism, private air taxis were allowed to fly with riders.
1993 After suffering an annual loss of ₹200 crores, Vayudoot was merged with Indian Airlines, adding to its debt load.
1994 The Air Corporation Act was repealed, and private carriers were allowed to enter the market again.
2003 Naresh Chandra Committee report calls for the privatization of Indian Airlines and Air India but faces stiff opposition.
2005 Air India signs a purchase agreement for 50 Boeing aircraft at the cost of ₹ 33,000 crores.
2007 Indian Airlines & Air India were merged to form the National Aviation Company of India Ltd.
2010 The company was renamed Air India
2011 CAG hauls up Air India and Civil Aviation Ministry for reckless purchase of aircrafts
2017 Air India losses mounted to ₹ 50,000 crores forcing the government to move towards privatization.
2021 Tata group bought Indian Airlines from the Government of India.

Debt Causes

Air India has a debt of ₹ 50,000 crores, accumulated for various reasons spanning decades. CAG Report of 2011 too has given detailed reasons for this 

  1. Unprofessionalism in management when compared to world-class airlines. 
  2. Massive fleet expansion 
  3. Free travels by VVIPs like Ministers and Officials
  4. In early 2005, Indian Airlines inducted planes despite no demand for them. These were funded by raising high-interest loans.  
  5. Liberalized policy on international routes like nonstop flights to the US was loss-making.

Pros of disinvestment of Air India

  • Indian Airlines is loss-making. Hence, keeping it afloat under government control would be wasting taxpayers’ money 
  • The private sector has taken up, and private airlines already cater to over 85% of the air travel demand in the country.
  • It would bring professionalism in management.  
  • Government money that keeps Air India afloat would be better used to fund important social and infrastructure programs. 
  • It will help the government to spend its energy on core governance issues. 
  • The sale of Pawan Hans in 2016 revived the company owing to the infusion of professionalism and better management.

Cons of disinvestment of Air India

  • Many sectors and routes that private airlines may not find economical to operate are handled by Air India. E.g., Private Airlines give limited services to North East. 
  • Air India, which is a sovereign airline, is used by Government in emergency evacuations of Indian nationals from warzones.  

National Civil Aviation Policy, 2016

Key highlights of  Aviation Policy-2016 are as follows

1. 5/20 rule Scrapped

  • 5/20 rule, i.e. 5 years of operation and a fleet of 20 aircraft before handling international flights, has been scrapped. 
  • But airlines will have to operate at least 20 aeroplanes or 20% of their planes (whichever is higher) on domestic routes. 

2. Improve Air connectivity to smaller cities 

  • The policy wants to improve air connectivity with smaller cities. 

3. Subsidized Tickets

  • Under the regional connectivity scheme, the maximum price that can be charged is Rs 2500 per hour.
  • A 2% levy is to be charged on all domestic and overseas tickets to subsidize airlines’ losses.

4. Infrastructure

  • Airports in Tier 2 and 3 cities will be operationalized on the ‘No Frills Model’. 

5. Open Skies Policy

  • Under the ‘Open Skies Policy’, foreign airlines can operate unrestricted and unlimited flights in and out of India. It will help India become a regional hub like Dubai and Hong Kong. 

6. Other important

  • Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul (MRO) don’t have to pay a royalty to airports where they operate, which will help make India an MRO hub. Royalty is up to 20% presently.  

Side Topic: No Frills Airport

  • No Frill Airports are the airports with lesser facilities like no escalators, no AC Lounges etc.
  • These Airports are made in small cities because airports providing high-end facilities are not feasible in Tier II & III Cities.
No Frills Airport

UDAN Scheme

Timeline

2017 Aviation Ministry announced a scheme named UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik) to increase air traffic to Tier II & Tier III cities. 
2018 Second phase of UDAN scheme announced.
2019 UDAN (International) scheme launched, under which Guwahati Airport will be connected to Bangkok and Dhaka shortly. 

Under Scheme

  • Capping the fare
    1. Airfare for an hour’s journey of about 500km is capped at ₹2,500. 
    2. In the case of helicopter operations, fares are capped at ₹2,500 for a 30-minute flight.
    3. Seaplanes have also been included in the scheme in the subsequent phases. 
  • Capping of airfare is applicable on half of the flight’s seats.
  • Centre provides subsidy support to airlines via a Viability Gap Fund (VGF), which obtains money by levying cess on non-regional routes. 
  • Airlines get three-year exclusive rights to operate regional flights. 
  • No airport charges for airlines as airline operators complain that airport expenses constitute 25% to 30% of operating costs.
  • The scheme will be operational for a period of 10 years. 

Importance

  • The scheme has brought Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities into the country’s aviation network. 
  • Positive Spillover Effect on Economy: The scheme will make businesses and trade more efficient, enable medical services and promote tourism.
  • Employment Generation: As per the International Civil Aviation Organisation, each job created in the aviation sector creates 6.1 jobs in the economy. 
  • This scheme can help in improving the health of the ailing Aviation Sector. Even if 1 middle-class family buy 1 air trip per year, the Aviation sector can sell 35 crore tickets. 

Issues

  • Misdirection of Subsidy 
    • Even without the subsidy, there was an increase in air flyers.  
    • The subsidy is given to Middle Class when it could better serve some Social Schemes aimed at Lower Class.
  • Against Laisse – Faire: Airlines are given exclusive rights for 3 years, and other airlines cant operate there even if they want to. 
  • Another levy for creating the Viability Gap Fund will impact the already overtaxed Aviation Sector. Taxes on ATF is already among the highest in the world.

NABH (Nextgen Airports for Bharat) Nirman initiative

Aim: Capacity augmentation of the airport because 25 busiest airports of India are operating beyond their capacity.  

What it will do?

  • Expansion of the airport capacity to handle a billion trips a year.  
  • Establish about 100 new airports in the next 15 years at an estimated Rs 4 lakh crore investment. 
  • Increase the economic and tourism activities in the smaller cities by connecting them with airline services.

FDI in Aviation

FDI in Aviation

Bodies related to Aviation Sector

Ministry of Civil Aviation

  • Ministry of Civil Aviation mainly looks after the Aviation sector in India 

Airport Authority of India

  • AAI is a PSU of Miniratna category. 
  • Sovereign Air traffic controller of India.
  • It manages international airports, domestic airports, and custom airports.

Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)

  • DGCA is the regulatory body of Civil Aviation. 
  • Its functions include 
    • Registrar of civil aircrafts
    • Laying down airworthiness requirement 
    • Gives license to pilots
    • Investigates of minor accidents 
    • Implements Chicago Convention

Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS)

  • Initially, it was a cell in DGCA setup in 1976 on the recommendation of the Pandey Committee after an aircraft hijack in 1976. It has been restructured now an independent department under the Ministry of civil aviation, after Kanishka Tragedy in 1985
  • BCAS is the regulator of the security of civil aviation. 

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

  • ICAO is a specialized agency of the UN and was set up under the provisions of the Chicago Convention of 1944.
  • It is headquartered in Montreal, Canada and India is a member of ICAO since its inception.
  • ICAO ensures the operation of airlines between different countries.

Railways

Railways

This article deals with ‘Railways – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Economics’ which is an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.


General Information

Timeline

1853 First Train started in India (from  Mumbai to Thane (34kms))
1924-25 Rail budget was separated from general budget (based on the Acworth Committee Report of 1921)
2015 Bibek Debroy Committee on railway restructuring gave recommendations.
2016 India’s first Railway University opened in Vadodara, Gujarat
2017 Railway Budget was merged with General Budget.

Share of Railways in the transportation of goods

In the US, 44% of goods are transported through railways, but in India share has been decreasing each passing year  (65% in 1970, 30% in 2007 & 25% in 2020)

Railways

Benefit of Railways wrt other modes of transport

  • Cheaper: The transportation cost of goods using railways is low (₹2/ton/km).
  • Low Carbon Footprint: Railways are a greener mode of transportation as they consume 20% less energy.
  • Integrate India with world markets: Railways can help to expand & integrate markets as they did in Europe and the USA. 
  • Spur economic activity: According to Economic Survey, 1 rupee invested in the railways increases GDP output by 5 rupees.

Railway gauge size

Gauge Size
Broad 1,676 mm
British used it to send raw material from Indian hinterland to port cities
Meter 1,000 mm 
Narrow 762 mm
Lift  610mm
  • Ranking track length in India: broad > meter > narrow
  • Under the Project uni-gauge, Railways has converted selected routes into broad gauge.

Railway Undertakings 

Indian Railway has 14 undertakings. Important ones are 

  • IRCTC (provides catering services)
  • CONCOR (Container Corporation of India)
  • Railtel

Statistics about Indian Railways

Statistics about Indian Railways
Operational Ratio of Indian Railways

UNESCO World Heritage: Indian railways

  1. Darjeeling Himalayan Railways
  2. Nilgiri Mountain Railways
  3. Kalka Simla Railway
  4. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Victoria Terminus) (It was designed by British architect FW Stevens in  Gothic Style)

National Rail Plan for India, 2030

Under this plan, the government of India wants to achieve the following

  1. Increase Indian railway’s share in freight transportation to 45% and average speed of freight transportation to 50% by 2030.
  2. Achieve 100% electrification of all train routes.
  3. Increase the speed of Delhi-Howrah and Delhi-Mumbai routes to 160 km/hr.
  4. Identify and develop new Dedicated Freight Corridors and High-Speed Rail Corridors.
  5. Improve the safety of railway tracks in India.

PM Gati Shakti

  • The scheme aims to bring Railways and Roadways together for integrated planning and coordinated implementation of infrastructure connectivity projects.

Railway Budget merged with General Budget

Railway Budget vs General Budget

  • 1924-25: British separated rail budget based on the recommendations of Acworth Committee (1921).
  • Indian constitution didn’t provide for a separate railway budget or budget in parts. But Parliamentary rules of procedure permitted it.
  • 2017: Railway Budget was merged with General Budget.

Arguments for merging Railway Budget with General Budget

  1. Economic Reasons:
    • Saving funds of financially starved Railways: Indian Railways need not pay the annual dividend of ₹10,000 crores to the Government. 
    • Railways will be better equipped to raise funds on the strength of the sovereign instead of being restricted to the Indian Railway Finance Corporation.
  2. The situation is different from 1924:  In 1924, the railway’s expenditure was more than the expenditure of all other administrative expenses. It has presently reduced to just 6% of total government spending.
  3. Any other country does not follow this system. 
  4. Politicization of Railways: This provision was used by politicians for populist reasons.   
  5. Bibek Debroy Committee too has suggested separating the railway budget from the general budget.

Why should there be a separate budget for the Railways?

  1. Indian Railways is different from other central ministries due to its size and scope. Whereas other ministries just spend, Railways is an operational ministry as it earns and spends. 
  2. Bibek Debroy Committee has recommended separating the railway budget from the general budget. But it wasn’t a standalone measure.

Metros / Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS)

  • Rapid transit, also known as the metro or subway, is high-capacity public transport. Unlike buses & trams, they are electric & operate on an exclusive right-of-way. 
  • First Metros was started in Kolkata in 1984 from Dum Dum to Tollygunge. 

Benefits

  1. Reduced traffic density on the roads
  2. Reduced vehicular emission leading to decreased air pollution
  3. Reduced fatalities due to road accidents
  4. Reliable & safer journey
  5. Decreased fuel consumption
  6. Decreased vehicular operating cost

Metro Rail Policy, 2017

Metro Rail Policy, 2017

Indian Government has announced its Metro Rail Policy with PPP as the centre of the scheme

  • PPP is the centre of the scheme. The PPP component has been made mandatory for availing assistance from the central government.
  • The new policy mandates Transit Oriented Development (TOD).
  • Power to set up Fare Fixation Authorities has been vested with states. 
  • States can raise low-cost debt capital through the issuance of corporate bonds. 
  • Empowers state to charge a “betterment levy” in areas that will benefit from the metro rail projects. 

Problem with the Policy

  • The main problem is with the PPP model. PPP model has failed in Delhi Metro’s airport line — and is faltering in the Mumbai and Hyderabad metro rail projects. Due to various positive externalities of Metro, these projects must be subsidized by the government. In  Delhi Metro, the Centre and state government have footed much of the bills. Even E Sreedharan has opined that the PPP model is not suitable for Metros as private players expect more than 12% return from metro projects while no metro project can yield more than 3 per cent.

MetroLite or MetroNeo

  • MetroLite or MetroNeo is the model for Metros in smaller cities such as Nashville in the USA and Indian cities of Jammu, Coimbatore, Srinagar etc.
  • It was announced in the budget of 2021. 
  • These are a lighter version of conventional metro rail and can be set up at a lesser cost (2/3rd to 1/3rd cost of the normal metro).

Issues that Indian Railways is facing

1. Cross subsidisation

  • Railways keep passenger tickets low –> Indian Railways suffer the loss of 23 paisa/passenger/km.
  • To compensate for the loss, Indian Railways keep freight prices higher.

2. Operating ratio of Indian Railways

  • The Operating Ratio of Indian Railways is just 98.4%, i.e. Indian Railways spend 98.4 rupees out of 100 rupees earned. Hence, only 1.6 rupees are left in surplus. 
  • It is a problem because Indian Railways left with no capital for expansion. 

3. Rail Safety / Large accidents

  • A large number of rail accidents such as derailments and collisions take place in India.

4. Congestion of Tracks

  • Indian railways has an overstretched  infrastructure  with 60 per cent plus routes being more than 100 per cent utilized,  leading to a reduction in the average speed of passenger and freight trains

5. Organisational Structure

  • Due to complex and outdated organizational structure, project approval and completion take extraordinarily long.

Steps already taken to improve railways

  • Tariff rationalization of fares has already been completed.
  • Indian Railways is focussing on Non-Tariff Earnings such as advertisement revenue.
  • Rail Budget has been merged with General Budget. 
  • The government has constituted the Rail Development Authority (RDA).
  • New delivery models like Roll-on Roll-off (Ro-Ro)services have been started.
  • Indian Railways have changed the accounting system  to Accrual Based Accounting from Cash Based Accounting 
  • Indian Railway Finance Corporation has issued Masala Bonds to gather funds.
  • Kayakalap Council under the Chairmanship of Ratan Tata has been constituted

Side Topic: Accrual Based Accounting

Accrual Based Revenues are reported on Income Statement when they are earned
Cash Based Revenues are reported on Income Statement when they are received

Non-Tariff Earning

  • Indian Railways has decided to increase its focus on non-tariff earning
  • All the budgets since 2016 have emphasized on non-tariff earnings, and Indian Railways unveiled its first non-fare revenue policy in 2017.
  • Indian railways earn a minuscule amount from non-tariff revenue compared to their counterparts in other countries. E.g., Indian railways earn 5% of all its earnings from non-tariff revenue compared with 25-30% in Japan. 

How

  • Selling spaces on railway stations and railway containers for advertising hoardings and billboards.  
  • Leasing out spaces at platforms to ATMs. 
  • Selling branding rights of trains and stations. 
  • Leasing the land around tracks for horticulture purposes

Bibek Debroy Committee  on Railway Restructuring

Bibek Debroy is a noted economist & member of NITI AYOG. The committee was formed under Bibek Debroy to suggest measures to restructure railways. 

Suggestions of Committee

Bibek Debroy Committee  on Railway Restructuring

The committee does not recommend the privatization of Indian Railways. However, it does endorse private entry with the provision of an independent regulator.

1. Reform in Human Resource Management

  • There are 8 services in Railways with different cadres, thus reducing the administrative efficacy. 
  • Recommendations: Unify the Cadre System for optimal utilization of human resources.  

2. Outsourcing

  • Outsource non-core areas, i.e. Police force, schools, hospitals, water bottling, museums etc. 

3. Regulator

  • The Committee has recommended that the Independent RAILWAY Regulator. 
  • Railway Board should continue only as an entity for the management of Indian Railways (PSU).
  • 2018 Update: Rail Development Authority has been constituted with the following functions
    1. Recommend tariff “commensurate with costs.” 
    2. Benchmark service standards
    3. Frame guidelines for track access charges on dedicated freight corridors.

4. Towards entry of private players

  • It recommended separating railway track construction, train operations, and rolling-stock production units under different entities to enable open access to private operators. 

5. Other Recommendations

  • Merge rail budget with General Budget.

Sanjeev Sanyal Committee Report (2021)

The main recommendations of the Committee include

  1. Wind up organizations such as Central Organisation for Railway Electrification (CORE), Centre for Railway Information System (CRIS) etc.
  2. Merge Rail Vikas Nigam into IRCON, Railtel into IRCTC and takeover of Braithwaite and Co. Limited by RITES as their functions overlap.
  3. Outsource the non-core functions. 

Private Train Operators

On selected routes, Private train operators will Design, Build, Finance and Operate (DBFO Model) their own private trains on government tracks  & charge market-linked fares. . Government (Indian Railways) will provide track and signalling infrastructure to them in return for which Private train operator will share a percentage of its revenue with Government.


Timeline of Rail Privatization

2011 
Sam 
Pitroda 
Committee 
Attract private 
investment in building 
railway infrastructure. 
2015 
Bibek 
Debroy 
Committee 
Allow entry of private 
railway operators in goods 
and freight services 
2021 
Bharat 
Gaurav 
Policy 
Allowed Private Operators 
to run trains on theme 
based circuits

Benefits of Rail Privatization

  • It will lead to improved efficiency as private players will bring superior management, technology and amenities.
  • It will lead to a lack of political interference in the railway operations, and decisions will be taken on sound economic principles.
  • Increased competition: The entry of private players will ensure improved quality of service with competitive fares. 
  • Prevent Government’s loss: The revenue generated by the Indian Railways is low and keeps the system always at losses. 
  • Reducing the supply-demand deficit: Since waitlisted passengers comprise ~15% of the reserved passengers. 
  • Private investment: According to estimates, railway infrastructure needs an investment of ₹50 trillion between 2018 and 2030. Given the FRBM restrictions, involvement of private capital is required.  
  • Economic Growth: Private investment in the railways will also lead to economic growth due to its positive spillover effects.

Challenges

  • Private monopoly: Privatization in railways might create a private monopoly that might seek to set higher prices and exploit consumers.  
  • Coverage Limited to Lucrative Sectors: With privatization, less popular routes could be eliminated, thus hurting connectivity and rendering some parts of the country virtually inaccessible.  
  • Apprehension among railway employees about job-loss, if Government reduces the number of Government trains.
  • Fragmentation in the railways: Rail privatization broke unified railway operations into infrastructure management and train operating companies in the UK. It led to the absence of clear demarcation of responsibility.

Bharat Gaurav trains and Bharat Gaurav Policy

  • Bharat Gaurav Trains are private trains that will operate on theme-based circuits (e.g., Ramayana Express connecting places associated with Lord Ram).
  • The operator can lease the train and coaches from the Indian railways and change the interiors provided they comply with the safety norms.
  • The tenure of arrangement can vary from a minimum of two years to the life of the coach. 
  • The operator can also decide the halts, sell advertisement rights etc.

Railway Safety

Main categories of Railway Accidents

  • Derailment of Trains is the primary cause of railway accidents, constituting 50% of railway accidents.
  • Accident on unmanned level crossing gates (36%)
  • Train collisions
  • Rail Fire 
  • Persons standing on railway tracks (e.g., In 2018, 61 people were crushed to death in Amritsar).
  • Natural Causes such as floods, landslides etc. 

Between 2012-2018, a total of 600 rail accidents happened.


Reasons for Railway Accidents

  1. Lack of anti-collision technologies that automatically halts the train if it overshoots a red signal.  
  2. Inappropriate maintenance of tracks: Khanna Committee on Railways Safety commented that nearly 25% of the total railway track in India is overaged.  
  3. Poor Rolling stock: Most trains’ locomotives are not equipped with the Linke Hoffman Busch (LHB) coaches. LHB coaches are more secure than ICF due to the lower centre of mass, preventing it from toppling, turtling, and telescoping.
  4. Rail Fractures: Railway Tracks are made up of strong and durable steel, which can withstand extreme weight and fluctuations in temperature. But Railway fractures do occur due to many reasons like defects during manufacturing, defects during installation and lack of maintenance. These Rail fractures are also among the frequent reasons for derailments.
  5. Government Negligence: Government has formed committees such as Sam Pitroda Committee, Khanna Committee and Bibek Debroy Committee. But all these reports kept on lying dormant and recommendations un-implemented.  

Steps taken by Government

  • Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh was created with a corpus of 1 lakh crores to promote railway safety.   
  • TCAS (Train Collision Avoidance System): TCAS is based on a combination of railway signalling data, global position, radio frequency identification devices (RFID), software and logic. 
  • Tri-Netra System: Tri-Netra or Three Eyes system is made up of (1) Optical video camera, (2) Infrared video camera and (3) Radar-based terrain mapping system. It will help in avoiding collisions even during the fog.
Tri-Netra System
  • Changing to LHB: Indian Railways is replacing the ICF (Integral Coach Factory) coaches with German-made Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches. 
  • Setu Bharatam Project: Under the Setu-Bharatam project, unmanned railway crossings are eliminated. 

Way Forward: An independent body like Railway Safety Authority should be constituted to set the standards for Rail Safety and find the reasons and persons responsible for it in case of an accident.


Dedicated Freight Corridors 

Freight operations on the Indian Railways are set to witness a paradigm shift with the completion of its two dedicated freight corridors.

Eastern & Western DFC

Eastern & Western Dedicated  Freight corridor
  Eastern corridor Western corridor
Start Ludhiana in Punjab Dadri in Uttar Pradesh
Funded by World Bank JICA
End Dankuni in West Bengal Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust near Mumbai
Length 1760 Km 1468 Km

Why DFCs?

  1. It will segregate freight infrastructure passenger transport. It will remedy the issue faced by freight trains, i.e. unpredictable and low speeds of around 25 km per hour. These trains can run at the average speed of 50-60 kph on the Dedicated Freight Corridors, thus leading to faster transport of raw material & finished material from factories to ports and vice versa. 
  2. DFCs will reduce the congestion on existing routes as existing routes are already saturated. 
  3. Allow Passenger Trains to run at faster speed:  Indian railways run fast passenger trains, slow trains, goods trains all on the same track. Hence trains like Rajdhani, which can achieve speeds up to 130kmph, run at an average of 70kmph.  
  4.  Reduce Logistic cost: At present, the logistic cost is about 14% GDP which is 30-40% higher than global benchmarked logistics cost.
  5. DFCs will help India in containing the railway’s falling share of goods traffic, which is 44% in the US and 47% in China compared to just 25% in India.
  6. DFCs will facilitate fresh industrial activity along the corridors.
  7. Carbon emission reduction may help India to claim carbon credits.

Issues / Constraints

  • Issue of Land Acquisition: Due to route alignment, the railways have to acquire large swathes of private land that are already developed, making the construction of the corridor difficult.
  • Double stack vs single stack: The project has adopted different technical standards for WDFC and EDFC. WDFC would have moving dimensions made for double-stacked containers, and moving dimensions for EDFC are being made for single stack container operations. This makes the seamless movement of double-stack trains from WDFC to EDFC impossible.  
  • Not enough bidders: Given the conditions set by the Japanese government (which is giving soft loans) and which stipulates the involvement of a Japanese partner, the total number of bidders has been low for the Western corridor.

High-Speed Rails (HSR)

High-Speed Rail Corridor Plan (Diamond Quadrilateral)

  • Under the High-Speed Railway Corridors (HSR) plan, the Railways intend to run trains at the average speed of 200- 300 Kmph.
  • Ministry of Railways has selected the following six corridors
    1. Delhi-Chandigarh-Amritsar
    2. Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad
    3. Hyderabad-Dornakal-Vijaywada-Chennai
    4. Chennai-Bangalore-Coimbatore-Ernakulam
    5. Howrah-Haldia
    6. Delhi-Agra-Lucknow – Patna

Ahmedabad-Mumbai HSR

  • Work on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai line has already been started.
  • It’s details are as follows
Length 509 km
Time to travel 2 km (compared to 7 hours taken by fastest train now)
Top Speed 350 km / hr
Cost of project ₹ 1lakh 8 thousand CRORE
Technology Used Japanese Shinkansen (Bullet Train) Technology
Ahmedabad-Mumbai HSR

Why should India go towards HSR ?

  • Globally, India’s railway network is the fourth largest. Hence, India should build High-Speed Railways to move forward on the learning curve.
  • It has a multiplier effect. 
    1. Improved specialization in construction technologies (as done by China)
    2. The emergence of large MNCs like Alston of France and Hitachi of Japan
  • The development of HSR will have benefits on real estate & facilitate balanced urbanization. For example, the Beijing-Tianjin HSR line helped the growth of Tianjin’s real estate & commercial industry.  
  • Although High-speed railways directly compete with economy class tickets of an airline but have the following benefits vis-a-vis road and airlines
    1. These rail systems have 30% less land requirement in comparison to expressways. 
    2. Energy consumption is 1/3 less than private cars & 5 times less than aeroplanes.
  • HSR system is highly safe. No accident has been reported in the entire history of the Japanese High-Speed Rail.

New Trains

1. Vande Bharat

  • It was formerly known as Train -18.
  • It was made and designed by Integral Coach Factory (ICF) based in Chennai under the Make in India Initiative 
  • These are semi high-speed trains that run at a speed of 160 Kmph (fastest in India).
  • It is an Engineless train running on Electrical Multiple Unit (EMU) Technology.
  • The train has state of the art facilities like onboard WiFi, CCTVs, Rotating Chairs, disabled friendly, intelligent braking system etc. 
  • Budget 2022: 75 new Vande Bharat trains will be added in Indian Railways till 15th August 2023 and 400 new trains in 3 years.

2. Gatiman Express

  • Gatiman Express is a semi-high speed train.
  • It runs on electricity.

3. Antyodaya Express

  • Antyodaya Express is a fully unreserved superfast train that runs on dense routes. 

4. Tejas Express

  • Tejas runs at 130 Kmph and provides advanced amenities such as WiFi services.

5. Uday Express

  • Uday is a double-decker train running on busy routes.