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Environment


China-Nepal rail link may go through protected Himalayan park

Engineers deliver their expert recommendation and say there may be no other way, but tunnel would be underground
If approved, the route would include sensitive habitat and environmentalists fear damage

There may be no choice but to put part of the much-anticipated railway between China and Nepal through the main protected area of the Himalayan mountains, according to a senior engineer involved in the project. The US$8 billion railway would be likely to boost the economy of Nepal – the second poorest country in Asia, after North Korea – but Chinese law forbids large-scale construction activities in an environmental protection zone. Six routes for the railway have been proposed over the 1,000-km border between the two countries, with Chinese experts divided on which one to choose. The main debate focused on the core protection zone of Mount Qomolangma National Park, home to Everest, the highest mountain in the world. A consensus has been reached, according to a paper published in domestic journal Railway Standard Design last Wednesday, which said the railway would cross the range through a 30km (18.6 miles) tunnel.
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Liang Dong, a lead engineer with the China Railway First Survey and Design Institute Group in Xian, Shaanxi province, said in the paper that more than a third of the tunnel would be inside the national park’s core protection zone, but would be entirely underground.

The Himalaya Tunnel, all on the Chinese side, would be the first through the Himalayan range and connect Rikaze in Tibet with the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, via the border town of Gyirong. The route would be 513km long (318.7 miles) and require an estimated investment of 53.6 billion yuan (US$8.27 billion), according to Liang.

The proposal will be submitted to the Chinese and Nepalese governments as the experts’ final recommendation with a “sufficient, firm stance against challenges,” Liang said in the paper.
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The rail project has been opposed by India, which remains Nepal’s dominant trading partner, although its trade with China has increased rapidly in recent years. India-Nepal trade exceeded US$8 billion in 2019, while Nepal and China’s trade just reached US$20 million in the same period, despite a five-fold increase from a year before. Nepal is also a strategic buffer zone between China and India, two nuclear-armed giants whose border disputes have turned heated, and sometimes fatal.

While India’s influence on Nepal remains strong, Kathmandu has shown an increasing interest in working with China on a range of issues from geopolitical affairs to economic development.

With per capital GDP only about a tenth of the world average, Nepal has struggled with many social issues, including child labour, illiteracy and infectious diseases. The mountainous country has rich resources – such as hydropower and a range of products from carpets, and textiles to tea – but its trading opportunities are limited by its lack of access to the outside world. Beijing and Kathmandu signed a treaty in 2016 to build a railway between the two countries as part of an infrastructure construction blueprint under China’s Belt and Road Initiative. In 2019, the Nepalese authorities officially abandoned the Indian narrow railway standard and adopted China’s broad gauge system.

The Nepalese embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the proposed route.

Acccording to Liang, each route had its pros and cons, and some proposals were rejected early in the evaluation process. Those which were too costly or difficult to engineer received little support, he said. Some of the rejected routes bypassed the national park entirely, but doubled or even tripled the length of the railway. Others cut the distance to a minimum but required a long, steep tunnel that even the most powerful electric train would have difficulty using safely.

Liang said there was only one other real contender, which proposed a route via the old border town of Zhangmu. This proposal was equivalent to the preferred route in terms of length and avoided the core protected area. While some experts favoured this proposal because of its smaller environmental impact, it was rejected because of its less stable geological conditions and other disadvantages.
Why Nepal is still rebuilding, half a decade after the earthquake
8 Mar 2020

Zhangmu was severely damaged by an 8.1-magnitude earthquake in Nepal in 2015 and there are many faults in the area created by large earthquakes in recent history. Numerous ice dam lakes would also pose a threat, due to increasing melt water caused by global warming.

Liang said the Gyirong route’s advantages would allow the rail line to operate more safely and last for longer, among other considerations. If approval is granted, construction of the Himalaya Tunnel will be challenging.

Kang Xuan, Liang’s colleague and an engineer evaluating the environmental impact of the project, said in a paper published in Railway Engineering last year that tunnel construction would violate the law if it caused visible damage to the protected zone, especially in the core area.

While the most sensitive section would be only 13km (8 miles), there are many rare plants and animals, including long-tailed langurs and snow leopards, in the area. According to Kang’s estimate, it could take more than 70km (43 miles) to transport cement, steel and other construction materials from mixing plants outside the protection zone to the tunnelling site. There would also be nowhere within the national park to dump debris. “Environmental impact must be evaluated thoroughly and effective ways must be found to prevent possible damage caused by construction activities,” he said in the paper.

A nature reserve would solve China-India border fight, says scientist

A researcher with the school of ecology and nature conservation of Beijing Forestry University said a tunnel could cause long-lasting impacts on the natural habitat. These include a potential change in the natural groundwater distribution network. “Some springs or creeks may disappear forever,” said the researcher, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue. “Sometimes a small disturbance underground can cause a significant impact to the surface environment. The higher the mountain, the higher the risk.”

Media

Arnab Goswami- a journalist without integrity and credibility:

Senior television journalist Arnab Goswami illegally tampered with the TRPs in connivance of the then CEO of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) Partho Dasgupta to improve ratings of Republic TV channels and paid him for his help, as per the supplementary chargesheet filed by the Mumbai Police who cited Whatsapp chats between the duo as a “crucial evidence”.

The Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU) of the Mumbai Police on Tuesday filed a third chargesheet before a magistrate’s court here in the alleged fake Television Ratings Points (TRP) scam.

Besides Goswami, the Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, and ARG Outlier Media that runs Republic TV channels, the police also named six other accused including some employees of Republic group channels in the latest chargesheet.

“We have found evidence to show they (Goswami and Dasgupta) had exchanged confidential information about the BARC repeatedly to benefit Goswami’s channels,” the chargesheet said.

During the period between June 2017 and March 2018 when Dasgupta was working with the BARC, the TRP ratings of an English news channel were illegally manipulated so that they fall below the TRPs of Republic TV channels, which resulted in Rs 431 crore loss to that channel, police said, citing the statement of an executive of the news channel.

Police further said they possess the evidence to show that Goswami had paid Dasgupta in return for the latter’s assistance in manipulating the TRPs, “which was evident from the jewellery and expensive items seized from Dasgupta’s residence”, the chargesheet said.

Dasgupta, who had been named as accused in the previous chargesheet, was arrested in December last year. He is currently out on bail.

The first chargesheet in the TRP rigging case, filed in November last year, had named Dasgupta and Republic TV CEO Vikash Khanchandani.

The alleged fake TRP scam came to light in October last year when the rating agency Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) filed a complaint through Hansa Research Group (HRG), alleging that certain television channels were rigging TRP numbers.

The HRG had been tasked with installing barometers for recording channel viewership data at sample households.

Police had arrested dozens of people, including the top officials of BARC and Republic TV. Most of them are currently out on bail.

In March this year, the Bombay High Court had asked the Mumbai police why Republic TV and Goswami had not been named as accused in the case if the investigators believed to possess adequate evidence against them.

The ARG Outlier Media and Goswami had approached the high court last year, filing a bunch of petitions seeking several reliefs in the alleged TRP scam.

They had alleged that the whole case was malafide and they had been targeted for Republic TV’s reportage in connection with the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput and Palghar lynching case last year
a letter from MB Rajesh : Dear Mr Arnab Goswami
I am writing this open letter regarding the show [on Republic TV] aired on 26 May at 10 pm, in which I too was a participant. During the course of that show, you arrogantly told me, “I have handled bigger leaders than you”. Perhaps that was the only truth you said in that entire show.

This one sentence alone is enough to highlight your ego, arrogance and pettiness. I have never claimed that I am a big leader. Just as you have handled much bigger leaders than me, I have had the privilege of talking to anchors who are more honest, gentle, decent, civilised and knowledgeable than you.

You have every right to imagine that you have a larger than life image. But my impression of you is that you are not only biased and prejudiced but that you also lack substance, integrity, credibility and even confidence as a journalist. I am sure that you are well aware of your weaknesses and I have always felt that your screams and outbursts are your frustrated attempts to cover up this confidence deficit. You are the most unethical journalist I have ever seen.

Arnab Goswami lacks integrity credibility as a journalist Full text of Kerala MPs open letter to Republic TV editor
File image of Pallakad MP MB Rajesh. Image courtesy: Facebook/MB Rajesh

On 26 May, I got a call from your channel requesting my time for a debate – ‘On three years of the Narendra Modi government’, between 10 to 10:15 pm. When I reached the Asianet studio (with whom you have a tie up), as directed by your office at around 9:50 pm, I saw Ravi Shankar Prasad on the screen and came to know that the discussion on Modi government was about to conclude.

I immediately asked the Asianet employees in the Palakkad studio to reconfirm the topic for which I had been invited. Aravind, an Asianet employee, contacted your channel in my presence and reconfirmed the topic as ‘three years of Modi government’.

Then suddenly, I came to know on air that you had changed the topic to Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s alleged ‘speech against the army’. I could have boycotted the show at that moment but I chose to remain because, in my absence, you may repeatedly scream the lie that I ran away from the show. I wanted to avoid such a situation and tried to present my views on the fabricated story.

Whatever little time I got, in between your uncivilised outbursts, I repeatedly countered your biased statements that Kodiyeri had insulted the Indian Army. I said that not a single TV channel in Kerala, including your own Asianet, had taken up this story as a topic of debate. I said that this was not a controversy in Kerala because everybody knew that his comments were only against the atrocities committed in the name of Armed Forces Special Powers Acts (AFSPA), and not against the army.

Still, you continued your accusations against the CPM as part of your prepared screenplay. I drew your attention to a Supreme Court order, issued on 27 April, 2016, to investigate all the 1,528 murders in Manipur done by security forces under AFSPA. You ignored that inconvenient fact, probably because you might not have keenly observed such issues related to AFSPA. (After all, this sort of journalism, anchoring in your case, depends more on the ability to make as much noise as possible and does not require careful reading, updating, thorough knowledge of the topic and keen observation. People like you can survive with your voice alone, without using your brain.)

Then you, like a coward safely surrounded by the Sangh brigade, continued spitting venomous lies against CPM without even giving me an opportunity to intervene. Despite my repeated statements, that we have never insulted the Indian Army, you deliberately put the subtitle “against army” next to my picture on the screen. This can only be seen as the dirty act of a loyal servant to appease your immediate boss, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, and your ultimate masters, the Sangh Parivar.

It was evident from your substandard and abusive remarks against the CPM that your sense of history is poorer than that of a primary school student. Your teacher of history in school would have been much ashamed to see the shameless and naive expression of your ignorance on the subject. If you wish to learn the role of Communists in the Indian freedom struggle, I can suggest some pamphlets used for beginners because you may not be able to digest any serious work of history.

When I told you that it is not the Communists but VD Savarkar who had betrayed the freedom struggle by sending repeated clemency petitions to the British Government, it appeared as if you were hearing about it for the first time in your life. I can send the copies of those clemency petitions for your kind perusal so that the next time you can be better prepared to defend your ‘patriotic’ Hindutva masters. You can also think of arranging a tuition to help you acquire some basic facts about our history.

Anyway, if you work hard to overcome your deficiencies, you may be able to improve your understanding of various topics to some extent. But I am not sure, whether at this age you will be able to develop the basic norms of conduct, culture and civilised behaviour. Many of these qualities owe much to the manner in which we were brought up in our childhood.

Here, I must tell you that to me, the army is not just a newsroom experience. I was born in a military hospital and my entire childhood was spent in an army environment. Arnab, I am the proud son of a father who served in the Indian Army for long years. He fought in the 1971 war as well. As the ward of a veteran, I’ve also partaken in the sacrificial living of an army family, like several others. Now, tell me, apart from your highly hypocritical and extremely dramatic expressions in the name of the army, aimed only to raise the ratings, what have you genuinely done for our army?

My last piece of suggestion to you, the self-proclaimed ambassador of the army, is to find time to watch recordings of your ‘performances’ at least once. Then, you will realise how disgusting it is and will definitely search for some other career options. Till you find time to do that, we will have no other option but to bear with the high levels of pollution created by your senseless utterances.

I dare to write this letter to you because neither am I a big leader, as you rightly pointed out, nor do I wish to become one.

My best wishes and regards,

MB Rajesh

Human Rights, Rights


UN : India’s IT rules don’t conform to global rights norms

TNN & Agencies |
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NEW DELHI: UN Special Rapporteurs have written to the Indian government saying that India’s Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, in their current form, do not conform with international human rights norms.
They also “recalled” in a report that restrictions to freedom of expression must never be invoked as a justification for the muzzling of any advocacy of multi-party democracy, democratic tenets and human rights. The report also said consultations with relevant stakeholders on the issue are essential in order to ensure the “final text is compatible with India’s international legal obligations”. The observations were made in Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.

The report said as a global leader in technology innovation, India has the potential to develop a legislation that can place it at the forefront of efforts to protect digital rights. However, the substantially broadened scope of the Rules is likely to do just the opposite, it said.
“We would therefore encourage the government to take all necessary steps to carry out a detailed review of the Rules and to consult with all relevant stakeholders, including civil society dealing with human rights, freedom of expression, privacy rights and digital rights”, the report said.
“We understand the new Rules were issued under the Information Technology Act of 2000 and therefore, were not subject to parliamentary review or open for consultation with stakeholders. We believe such consultations with relevant stakeholders are essential in order to ensure the final text is compatible with India’s international legal obligations, in particular with Articles 17 and 19 of the ICCPR,” it added.

Don’t need lectures from US cos on free speech: Prasad
Union law and telecommunications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad reiterated at an online lecture on Saturday that the guidelines issued by the Centre for social media companies came after a direction from the Supreme Court, adding that the instructions were essential to stop “misuse” of social media.
He also warned Twitter that India “does not need lectures on freedom of expression” from profitable American corporations and operating in India implies obeying Indian law.

Sports

Milkha Singh pssses away Milkha Singh, one of the biggest names in Indian sport and the country’s first track and field superstar, passed away after contracting Covid-19. Singh breathed his last Friday night two days after he was shifted out of the Covid intensive care unit at Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh.

Singh had developed complications, including fever and dropping of oxygen saturation level. The 91-year-old, who contracted COVID-19 last month, had tested negative for the virus on Wednesday.

Milkha’s 85-year-old wife Nirmal Kaur, who had also been infected by the virus, passed away at a private hospital in Mohali on Sunday.——————-

To talk of medals, the legendary athlete was a four-time Asian Games gold-medallist and the 1958 Commonwealth Games champion.
Before his 91-year-old body lost to COVID-19 on Friday after fighting it for a month, Milkha won the kind of battles that not many would have survived, forget about living long enough to tell the world about them
The track, to him, was like an open book in which Milkha Singh found the “meaning and purpose of life”. And what a life he made for himself.

Before his 91-year-old body lost to COVID-19 on Friday after fighting it for a month, Milkha won the kind of battles that not many would have survived, forget about living long enough to tell the world about them.

“Don’t worry, I am in good spirits…I am surprised, How could I get this infection?…I hope to get over it soon,” Milkha had said in his last interaction with PTI before being hospitalised.

One of independent India’s biggest sporting icon, he was a tormented man but refused to let that come in the way of accomplishments which were unheard of in his era.

He saw his parents being butchered during partition, indulged in petty crimes to survive in refugee camps of Delhi, went to jail for those and failed three attempts at joining the Army.

Who could have thought a man like that would get the sobriquet of ‘The Flying Sikh’? But Milkha earned it and earned it with a master-class on how to be bigger and better than one’s circumstances.

He “revered” the track like “the sanctum sanctorum in a temple where the deity resided.” To him running was both his God and beloved as he created his own little fairy tale out of what what could have easily been a tale of horrors.

To talk of medals, the legendary athlete was a four-time Asian Games gold-medallist and the 1958 Commonwealth Games champion but his greatest performance was a near miss, the fourth place finish in the 400 metres final of the 1960 Rome Olympics.

His timing at the Italian capital remained the national record for 38 years and he was bestowed the Padma Shri in 1959.

But more than anything else, Milkha was the one who put Indian athletics on the world map by winning the gold in the then 440 yards race of the 1958 British and Commonwealth Games.

He became the first Indian athlete to win an individual gold in a Commonwealth Games, which led to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru declaring a national holiday on his request.

Milkha put his career record at 77 wins out of 80 races. He also claimed to have bettered the ‘Olympics record’ of that time in a race in France, but with sketchy records available, it is difficult to confirm just like his actual date of birth which is officially November 20, 1929.

He lost the race of his life in the Rome Olympics, finishing the 400 metres final in 45.6 seconds, 0.1 second short of the bronze medal mark.

The official photo finish of the 400m final at the Rome Olympics on September 6, 1960. It shows Otis Davis of the U.S. (nearer, right) turning his head as Carl Kaufmann of Germany lunges at the tape with his head. This trick, which gave Lee Calhoun of the U.S. the high hurdles title, failed to work for Kaufmann. The judges awarded the race to Davis but gave both athletes the world record smashing time of 44.9s. Malcolm Spence of South Africa was third in 45.5s and India’s Milkha Singh fourth in 45.6s. Photo: The Hindu Photo Archives
The official photo finish of the 400m final at the Rome Olympics on September 6, 1960. It shows Otis Davis of the U.S. (nearer, right) turning his head as Carl Kaufmann of Germany lunges at the tape with his head. This trick, which gave Lee Calhoun of the U.S. the high hurdles title, failed to work for Kaufmann. The judges awarded the race to Davis but gave both athletes the world record smashing time of 44.9s. Malcolm Spence of South Africa was third in 45.5s and India’s Milkha Singh fourth in 45.6s. Photo: The Hindu Photo Archives

Hard to believe but he had slowed down in a colossal error of judgement as he wanted to preserve himself for the final 150 metres.

He remained tormented by that miss, one of the only two incidents in his life, which he described as unforgettable — the other being the killing of his parents in Pakistan.

“The one medal I had yearned for throughout my career had just slipped through my fingers because of one small error of judgement,” Milkha wrote in his 160-page autobiography that coincided with the release of a blockbuster biopic on his life ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’.

However, his timing at the Italian capital remained a national record for 38 years till Paramjeet Singh broke it in 1998 at a national meet in Kolkata.

Milkha had promised to give a cash prize of ₹2 lakh to the one who breaks his record, he eventually did not because the flamboyant star believed that Paramjeet’s feat would have counted for something only if he had achieved it in a foreign competition.

“Mera record todne wala India mein paida nahi hua (the one who can break my record is not born yet in India),” he had famously said in 1991 and he hung on to that belief even when that record was shattered.

A self-proclaimed village ‘bumpkin’ from the undivided Punjab’s Govindpura, Milkha’s run for a better life started as a 15-year-old when he escaped from Pakistan to Delhi after witnessing a bloodbath that claimed his parents during the partition.

His approach to life in the refugee camp was irreverent. He worked as a boot polish boy, a shop cleaner near the old Delhi Railway Station and in between, stole goods from trains to make ends meet.

The petty crimes landed Milkha in jail and he was bailed out by sister Ishvar, who sold her jewellery to get him released.

In this picture, Milkha Singh can be seen finishing second in a 400 metres heats in the Rome Olympics in 1960.
In this picture, Milkha Singh can be seen finishing second in a 400 metres heats in the Rome Olympics in 1960. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Photo Archives

Milkha tried to step up in life by making repeated attempts at joining the army. He got through on his fourth attempt in 1952 and that proved to be the turning point which he so desperately wanted and needed.

He was posted in Secunderabad and ran his first race — a cross country of five miles — there when army coach Gurdev Singh promised an extra glass of milk to those who finished inside top-10.

He finished sixth and later got selected for special training in 400 metres. The rest, as they say, is well-documented history.

He won the selection trial the 1956 Olympics despite that he had been brutally assaulted by his rivals a day before that race.

Milkha disappointed at the Games as he failed to get past the preliminary heats but benefited from the experience and was able to persuade 400 metres gold winner Charles Jenkins to share his training methods.

In his autobiography, he had claimed that he trained so intensely after that disappointment that he would vomit blood and would fall unconscious on many occasions.

His life and career story is incomplete without the 1960 Indo-Pak sports meet where he outran Pakistani Abdul Khaliq before the Rome Olympics.

Khaliq was considered the fastest man in Asia at that time, having won the 100 metres gold in 1958 Asian Games. After winning 400 metres gold in the same Games, Milkha had also beaten Khaliq in the 200 metres final.

At first, Milkha refused to go to Pakistan as he did not want to return to a country where his parents were butchered but was persuaded by Prime Minister Nehru to face his demons.

He beat Khaliq in the 200 metres race in Lahore and was christened ‘The Flying Sikh’ by then Pakistan President General Ayub Khan who congratulated him during the awards ceremony.

Milkha retired from athletics after the 1964 Olympics, two years after winning the gold in 400 metres and 4×400 metres relay events at the Asian Games held at Jakarta.

Milkha Sing finishing far ahead of others in a 400 metres heat event.
Milkha Sing finishing far ahead of others in a 400 metres heat event. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Photo Archives

Before that he had already taken up the job of deputy director of sports in the Punjab government in 1961 on the insistence of then Chief Minister Pratap Singh Kairon. He quit Indian Army and also shifted his residence to Chandigarh from Delhi.

In 1991, he introduced a compulsory games period in schools and also set up sports wings in schools in the districts to tap talent at the grassroot level.

He got married to Nirmal Kaur, captain of the Indian volleyball team, in 1963. They met for the first time in 1956 in Sri Lanka when they were there for their respective national duties.

The couple was blessed with three daughters and a son, golfer Jeev Milkha Singh.

It was quite stunning that an athlete of Milkha’s stature was offered the Arjuna award, instituted in 1961, only in 2001.

He famously turned it down, saying the honour was not of the “stature of the services he rendered to the nation”.

In fact, Milkha was a sum total of way more than his several races and medals. He was also much more than that near miss in Rome.

He was India’s love affair with the track, the one that this country can never get over

Defence

Joint military command is the future but India can’t rush into it
The amalgamation of 19 military commands into a cohesive joint or theatre command will be India’s biggest defence reform. The challenge will be to take everyone along.

by Snehesh Alex Philip

Representational image of an Indian Army convoy moving through Ladakh | Photo: ANI

The ongoing Ladakh stand-off with China has taught us one thing – a unified military approach along with diplomatic and economic measures is the way forward.

When the Galwan clash happened a year ago, India pushed both the Air Force and the Navy into full operational mode besides ramping up the economic counter steps and increasing diplomatic push. The three Service chiefs and the Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, used to meet on a daily basis and jointly work out what needs to be done.

The end result was that China realised India is no pushover, even though the stand-off continues and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) still controls areas that India claims as its own.

Amid all the tension with China, silent work to reform Indian military went on – and the result is the proposal to amalgamate the 18 military commands (including the tri-services Andaman and Nicobar Command) into a few joint or theatre commands.

As the secretary of the Department of Military Affairs, General Rawat is mandated with “facilitation of restructuring of military commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations including through establishment of joint/theatre commands”.

This massive change, which will be the biggest reform that the forces will see, will streamline the world’s fourth largest military into a leaner and stronger cohesive fighting unit. It will also cut long-term costs because common resources and logistics would be pooled instead of each Service spending separately.

But challenges remain. At a crucial meeting held last week on the concept note, it emerged that all stakeholders, including the three Services, are not on board on the exact structure of the joint or theatre commands. The Narendra Modi government is of the view that there should be more discussion on this.

Army chief General M.M. Naravane had in October 2020, while welcoming the integrated theatre commands, said that the process “needed to be deliberate, thoughtful and well-considered, and its fruition will take a number of years.”

Sources in the defence and security establishment say that since joint or theatre commands will have drastic and far-reaching implications on the military’s future war-fighting strategy, it is important that all stakeholders are completely on board.

Also read: The biggest challenge before India’s joint theatre commands plan — who will report to whom

As per the current plan, the 18 commands are to be brought together under five theatres — Northern Land Theatre (Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Central sector) Western Land Theatre (Pakistan centric), Eastern Land Theatre, Maritime Theatre Command, and Air Defence Command. There could be one or two additional commands to look after logistics and training.

The first two to be rolled out are Maritime Theatre Command (MTC) and Air Defence Command (ADC).

The MTC will see a merger of the Eastern and Western naval commands besides getting elements from the Army and the Air Force. The plan is also to bring the Coast Guard assets from all five regions under its operational control. The MTC will be headed by a three-star Naval officer. It will also have one two-star officer from the IAF and a three-star from the Army.

Similarly, the ADC will be headed by a three-star IAF officer, along with a three-star Army officer and a two-star Naval officer.

The other theatres planned will be headed by three-star Army officers with elements from the IAF and Navy.

Also, the Border Security Force (BSF) is being planned to be part of the Northern Land Theatre and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) of the Eastern Land Theatre.

Also read: Rajnath Singh must look beyond ‘feel-good’ booklets. MoD lists reforms but quiet on threats

A number of issues have been raised. Will the theatre commands be based on challenges (China and Pakistan) or will there be one theatre command for the whole country?

The larger fear is that the theaterisation is heavily tilted in the Army’s favour with nomenclatures like “Land” not helping the cause.

It has also been pointed out that in case of a war with Pakistan, at least four theatres will come into action. In case of a war with China, at least four theatres will take part while the fifth, the Western Land Theatre, will be on high alert.

However, from the Chinese side, the Western Theatre Command will take care of the entire borders with India. The only additional theatre to get involved will be the one with naval assets – either Eastern, Southern or Northern Theatre.

The counter argument to the fear that multiple theatres would get involved in case India faces a war, is that there will always be a primary theatre of war and a secondary theatre and this has been taken into account while planning.

As per the theaterisation plan, all commands will have elements from all the three Services. The Navy assets are unlikely to see much division but the IAF assets will be. At present, the IAF assets are centrally controlled and operated through the Air Headquarters even though there are multiple Air Commands.

As per the proposed plan, each theatre will get its own IAF assets. There is a view that this will impact operational capability as the assets are limited and the fighter squadron strength is already very low — 30 squadrons against a sanctioned strength of 42.

Former Air Force chief ACM B.S. Dhanoa, while in office, has said that there can be only one theatre — India — and the focus should be on institutionalised structure of joint planning by the three Services.

While the Navy supports the creation of the Maritime Theatre Command, there are also voices within the force who say that there already exists the independent Western Naval Command and the Eastern Naval Command who look after their specific areas of operations.

“The equipment/assets of each Service is not large enough to be distributed up and locked in theatres. Forget the IAF, which anyway has a lower number of aircraft and surveillance equipment, even the Army had to push in additional reserves and additional equipment into the Northern Command during the ongoing standoff with China,” a source said.

Another source explained that China had been focusing on a new war-fighting strategy since the 1980s and it began by slowly cutting down the personnel strength and expenditure while increasing focus on indigenous technology for missiles, vessels and aircraft.

But China has the numbers and money to spend on more military assets and have specific theatres, something that India cannot afford to replicate.

Incidentally, with approximately 1.4 million personnel, the Indian Army has become the world’s largest ground force, pulling ahead of China, which cut down its strength by half and is instead focusing on its navy, air force and technology.

Some retired top military officers have written to concerned government positions against rolling out the theaterisation in its current format.

Another issue of concern is the question of who will head these theatres. As per the current plan, the theatre commanders will report to the CDS and the respective Service chiefs will become more administration- and training-oriented.

In the US and China, the theatre commanders report to the political leadership.

Some have also expressed concern of moving ahead with a concept without war gaming the plans and seeing how effective or ineffective the whole process is going to be.

Another school of thought is that the first step towards joint mashup should be joint training. The idea is that people need to learn and train together for them to plan and fight together.

Fears expected but unified approach the way forward
The concerns expressed by various quarters to the theaterisation was expected. The Modi government would need to handle it deftly because militaries are seldom open to change.

As Harsh V Pant and Javin Aryan wrote in October 2020, “the inter-services competition wherein each service zealously oversees its own assets and strives for a greater share of the defence budget and influence might prove to be an obstacle in creating synergy among the services.”

However, there is no doubt that while concerns and fears need to be understood and taken care of, a unified war-fighting strategy along with exponential capability increase in our cyber and space warfare is the only option going forward.

But given India’s limited experience with integrated command structures, I would go back to what the Army chief said, “The process should be deliberate, thoughtful and well-considered.”

There is no doubt that this journey may require a fair bit of mid-course corrections, but it is important to get off on a firm foundation.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant Dixit)

Media

3 news channels fined Rs 1 lakh for ‘objectionable’ coverage of Tablighi Jamaat case
The NBSA has fined a national news channel and two regional news channels for their reporting of the Tablighi Jamaat case at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in India.

Channels fined for Tablighi Jamaat coverage
Members of Tablighi Jamaat outside the Nizamuddin Markaz building in March 2020. (PTI)
The News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) has fined a national news channel and two regional news channels for their reporting of the Tablighi Jamaat case at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in India.

NBSA has imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh on the three news channels for biased coverage of the incident ‘targeting Muslims’, reported The News Minute.

One of the three channels has also been asked to issue an apology to its viewers.

In March 2020, when the first cases of Covid-19 were being reported across states, Tablighi Jamaat had organised a congregation that saw the participation of thousands of believers, including hundreds who had come from other countries.

Several cases of Covid-19 were detected at the Nizamuddin Markaz of Tablighi Jamaat, triggering a blame game accusing the Muslim community of spreading the virus.

NBSA has said that the manner in which the three news channels reported the incident was highly objectionable and based on conjecture.

“The tone, tenor and language (of the programmes) was crass, prejudiced and disrespectful. The programmes were prejudiced, inflammatory, and crossed all boundaries of good taste without concerns for feelings of a religious group. It was aimed at promoting and inciting hatred between communities,” the NBSA has said in its order.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Biodiversity touches every aspect of our lives – so why has its loss been ignored? image:several species of birds in a wetland in Kaziranga,Chandan Kumar Duarah
From our environment to our economies, our security to our societies, biodiversity is vital. But preserving it will require transformative change

The evidence is unequivocal: biodiversity, important in its own right and essential for current and future generations, is being destroyed by human activities at a rate unprecedented in human history.

Governments around the world recognised this at the Earth summit in Brazil in 1992 and established the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect and conserve biodiversity. But the situation has become more and more dire. I have chaired or co-chaired three international assessments on the state of knowledge of biodiversity, and all have repeated the same message – we are destroying it at an alarming rate. Each time we have called for action, only to be largely ignored.

The continued loss of biodiversity is not only an environmental issue. It risks undermining the achievement of most of the UN sustainable development goals. It is central to development, through food, water and energy security. It has significant economic value, which should be recognised in national accounting systems. It is a security issue in so far as loss of natural resources, especially in developing countries, can lead to conflict. It is an ethical issue because loss of biodiversity hurts the poorest people, further exacerbating an already inequitable world. And it is also a moral issue, because we should not destroy the living planet.

In addition to playing a critical role in providing food, fibre, water, energy, medicines and other genetic materials, biodiversity is equally important in regulating climate, water quality, pollution, pollination, flooding and storm surges. It has vital social value, providing wellbeing when walking through forests or by rivers, or green spaces in cities.

Since 1970, human activities have destroyed and degraded forests, grasslands, wetlands and other ecosystems and significantly altered 75% of the ice-free land surface. Most oceans are polluted with plastics, and over 85% of wetland area has been lost. This destruction of ecosystems has led to a million species (500,000 animals and plants and 500,000 insects) being threatened with extinction, although many are preventable if we improve our management of biodiversity.

The largest driver of biodiversity loss on land in recent decades has been land use change, primarily the conversion of pristine native habitats into agricultural systems to feed the world, while oceans are over-fished . This has been driven in large part by a doubling of the world’s population, a fourfold increase in the global economy, and a tenfold increase in trade.

The challenge is to transform our agricultural and fishing practices, many of which are unsustainable today, into ones that produce the food we need while conserving biodiversity. For agriculture, this means using sustainable agroecological practices; less chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides; and protecting soils and pollinators.

The climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity are issues that affect each other. Global heating adversely affects genetic variability, species richness and ecosystems. Loss of biodiversity can adversely affect climate – deforestation increases the atmospheric abundance of carbon dioxide for example, a greenhouse gas. So it is essential that the issues of biodiversity loss and the climate crisis are addressed together.

To date, climate crisis has received most of the attention. The limited attention on biodiversity tends to focus on saving large charismatic animals, rather than informing the public of the importance of biodiversity to human life.

In 2010, governments around the world agreed to a set of 20 targets for 2020 to protect biodiversity – the Aichi targets. Unfortunately, most countries, including in Europe, will not achieve them. Governments will meet in Kunming, China, next year to establish a plan of action. It will be a critical milestone to see whether there is the political will to implement the transformative changes needed. The challenge is immense, but can be met if countries act individually and collectively.

Business as usual and scenarios that focus on economic growth and regional competition will lead to continued loss of biodiversity. Sustainable consumption practices can slow, but not completely eliminate, future loss of biodiversity, in part because warming will continue in all scenarios.

Incremental changes will not suffice.

Concerted efforts are needed to address the causes of nature deterioration – poor governance, unsustainable economic systems, inequalities, lack of cross-sectoral planning and incentives, unsustainable social narratives and values. We need to steer away from the limiting paradigm of economic growth that prioritises GDPand recognise the social values of biodiversity and the social costs of environmental degredation. We also need to eliminate harmful agricultural, energy and transportation subsidies and incentivise sustainable production.

Governments, the private sector and civil society must work together to address the human-induced climate crisis and biodiversity loss.

Is there room for optimism? Yes.

The youth of today are standing up and demanding action. School strikes and marches are sending a loud and clear message: “You are destroying our future, we demand action now”. Every one of us who lives in a democratic society must vote for politicians who care about these issues.

Robert Watson is the former chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

Defence, Development

China Conducts Final Trials On New Rail Line In Tibet Close To Arunachal Border
By Swarajya Staff

The Lhasa-Nyingchi rail line will enable the PLA to bring trainloads of troops and equipment from other theatres in a very short time.

China is conducting final trials on its new high-speed rail line linking Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, with Nyingchi, a town opposite India’s Tuting sector in the Upper Siang district of Arunachal, a Chinese journalist said on Twitter.

Posting the video of the trials on the micro-blogging site, the Beijing-based journalist revealed that China spent $4.8 billion on the 435-km rail line.

Nyingchi is located 40 km away from the border in Arunachal Pradesh, and the rail line itself runs much closer to the border than that at some points.

The Lhasa-Nyingchi rail line is part of the longer, 1,600-km long Sichuan-Tibet line that will link Lhasa with Chengdu, a city east of Arunachal Pradesh. The headquarter of China’s Western Theatre Command, which is responsible for the frontier with India from Arunachal to Ladakh, is located in Chengdu.

Sichuan-Tibet rail line. (@detresfa_/Twitter)Sichuan-Tibet rail line. (@detresfa_/Twitter)
China has also built a 250-km-long highway linking Nyingchi with Lhasa, which, like the Lhasa-Nyingchi rail line, runs close to Arunachal.

Construction of the Lhasa-Nyingchi rail line, nearly 75 per cent of which is either over bridges or under tunnels, began in 2015, and track laying was completed over five years, in December 2020. China plans to open the rail line for traffic by the end of June, amid tensions with India along the Himalayan frontier.

The remaining 1,100-km long section of the line, a part (Chengdu-Ya’an section) of which is already complete, is expected to be ready by 2030.

The Lhasa-Nyingchi rail line project has received consistent attention from the top echelons of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), including President Xi Jinping himself, who linked it to ‘border stability’ as recently as November 2020, during the standoff with India in Ladakh.

Although the dominant narrative in the Chinese state media about the Lhasa-Nyingchi rail line is linked to economic development on the Tibetan Plateau, the CCP apparatus has pointed out that it will act as a “fast track” for the “delivery of strategic materials” to Tibet “if a scenario of a crisis happens at the border”.

The rail line will not only ease the movement of troops within China’s Western Theatre Command but also enable the PLA to bring trainloads of troops and equipment from other theatres in a very short time, a scenario that can’t be ruled out after China’s massive mobilisation along the LAC in Ladakh in 2020.

Environment

Why Rainwater Harvesting is Crucial to Solving India’s Water Woes

India is reeling under the most severe water crisis in its history for several reasons including two consecutive monsoons that failed.

According to a Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) report released by NITI Aayog nearly 600 million people, which is almost 50% of the country’s population, are facing water shortage issues right now.

One of the many options that we have to ease the water shortage issue is implementing rainwater harvesting. Given the critical situation that we are in, it’s now more important than ever to install rainwater harvesting systems and make it a mandatory fixture in houses and apartments.

In this post, we explore the reasons behind the water crisis and how rainwater harvesting can help.

Why is India facing a severe water shortage?
In addition to inadequate monsoons, there are several reasons why India’s water supply is diminishing rapidly.

Depletion of groundwater
According to the UNESCO World Water Development Report, India is the biggest extractor of groundwater in the world, drawing 260 cubic km per year, which is more than China and the US combined. That comes up to 25% of the groundwater extracted globally. With 21 Indian cities expected to run out of groundwater, India is faced with an alarmingly dry future with the need to not just replenish its water sources but also change the way it sources water.

India’s shoddy infrastructure has led to improper distribution and large amounts of water being wasted. Statistics from the Central Water Commission reveal that India receives as much as 4,000 billion cubic metres of rainfall, but only a mere 8% of that is captured efficiently. Leaky pipes, limited or ageing storage infrastructure like dams, and lack of recycling systems like rainwater harvesting have worsened India’s water crisis.

India’s pipelines are notorious for not just being old but also for not being present in hilly terrains or rural areas. Even if there are connections, the supply is highly restricted and is time-bound, making it challenging to access. This, in turn, has given rise to the water mafia, which ensures that water reaches only those who can afford it.

India is fast losing its water bodies to rapid real estate development, environmental degradation, and industrial pollution. The lack of proper wastewater treatment systems has also compounded the issue.

How rainwater harvesting can help
Recycling and reusing water is important, but it needs to be amply supported by rainwater harvesting. No doubt, contaminated lakes and ponds are a big source of precious water, but it is much easier to simply store rainfall. It is more affordable, less time-consuming, and easier to implement than the complicated systems that are required for wastewater treatment.

There are myriad ways in which rainwater can be captured and stored like installing rain barrels with pipes, hanging rain funnelling chains, rooftop containers that channel rainwater into sumps and borewells, and if you have space, then setting up a mini-reservoir in your garden.

Following any of these simple DIY processes can drastically reduce or even eliminate your water bills, and cushion the impact as well as slow down climate change. Most importantly, it can help an entire country quench its thirst with unlimited water.

In her previous life, Swati was a writer and editor for 12 years in the corporate world. She has experience crafting content for various industries ranging from financial services to senior executive hiring to lifestyle. Currently, she is enjoying the challenges that come with being a freelance content professional and entrepreneur. She also finds more time for her passions that include reading, photography, travelling, and running.