Competition in education and research brought through the evaluation system may drive all in the same direction at the cost of diversity
Feedback is a very important tool to nudge people and organisations to adopt desirable behaviour. Nobel laureate Richard H Thaler and his co-author Cass R Sunstein, in their international bestseller Nudge, suggest feedback as one of the strategies to motivate agents to adopt responsive behaviour. It is against the idea of command and control policies of governments or paternalism of any institution. Nudging human behaviour in a desirable direction without any command and control is what they call “libertarian paternalism.” A nudge in the right direction may be as simple as the laptop warning the users to plug in the charger when the battery is about to die out, or the display screen of a car suggesting that the driver change gears when the gear applied and the speed of the car mismatch. These feedback mechanisms are alarms which nudge people to take corrective measures.
Education, being delivered by organisations, Government or private, benefits from feedback to spearhead in the intended direction. It may be feedback on the course, faculty or educational institute. It helps enhance performance and improve the delivery of education service through the voluntary adoption of corrective measures. In higher academics, the ranking of journals, again based on the feedback on the quality of research work published, is an important mechanism to improve research and publication. Feedback, when made public, increases competition among peers. Then comment works as a mechanism to remove the asymmetry of information in the market. The potential customers or beneficiaries become aware of the quality of goods or services offered. Different agents or stakeholders give comments for all elements of education and research. On the course and faculty, it is students who provide the feedback. It is meant to improve the course content and delivery of the faculty. Educational institutes are given ratings by different agencies, including the Government, national and international bodies and media about their infrastructure, processes and quality of education. The assessment of research journals is obtained by the number of citations of research articles published in them over a stipulated period. In all this, the moot question is how far does the feedback mechanism serve the purpose of delivery of education services in the desired direction?
If we consider that the feedback on the course and faculty is given by the students, then it may be counterproductive. The desired pattern of delivery may not be best determined by students as they are not competent enough to assess. Nevertheless, many renowned educational institutes use their feedback to evaluate faculty performance. It is even considered for promotions. However, there are exceptions. Harvard Business School does not take student response on any course or faculty. When asked about it, one tenured professor replied that “we do not take feedback from amateurs.” If they have to assess a course or faculty, some experts of the area attend the class and appraise the course delivery.
Research is an extremely complicated output which is determined by the methodology, results and overall interest on a particular topic. The citation of the articles may depend on all these factors. The journals in the area of social sciences and management at times may prefer publishing certain types of results. Journals may aim at increasing citation and hence prefer the articles which deal with subjects that are likely to have enough research funding in future. New ideas or results which contradict some existing dominant idea may not receive enough funding and attention. Thus, it creates an endogenous system which encourages a dominant idea and is detrimental to newer, provocative ideas.
This problem is more severe for lesser-known institutes from developing countries. Each research article goes through a peer-review process conducted by the journals. The editors take a decision on publication after taking into account the reviewers’ comments. Nevertheless, the reviewers’ performance is not predictable. In a 2007 study on 306 experienced reviewers, published in PLOS Medicine, researchers found that there is no scientifically-established predictor of reviewer performance. Hence it is not possible to systematically improve the selection of reviewers and implement a routine review rating system.
Sadly, journals do take reviewer ratings from the editors. Furthermore, journal editors may find articles with a very new or provocative idea or result contrary to dominant ideas unacceptable, more so when the researchers are affiliated to renowned institutes, or they themselves are well-known. Hence, the feedback process in research may not always encourage path-breaking discoveries, especially for developing nations.
Ranking or rating of educational institutions is considered as a way of giving feedback on the performance of the institute on certain predetermined indicators. Over the years, ranking and accreditation have gained strength and momentum globally, including in India. Ranking is perceived as an indicator of quality of services offered by educational institutions. There seems to a be growing consensus that ranking influences the perception of stakeholders (students, recruiters and investors) about the prospect of educational institutions. While there is no denying that ranking has made institutes look at the quality of services, it also introduced new practices within the sector. From the viewpoint of organisational research, ranking has offered a new template to educational institutions and codified them in different categories. Post the ranking announcement of the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF), it has been observed that many of the educational institutes have showcased their positions on their websites to demonstrate their skills, achievements and desirability to stakeholders.
The organisational template propagated through ranking carries its own characteristics. For example, under the NIRF, the template is assessed through five parameters focussing on teaching, publications, consultancy, employability and overall perception. Institutes are measured along these parameters to identify the “best” ones scoring the highest marks/points across these parameters. Going forward, these institutes would become a role model and irrespective of their individual values, purpose and origin, all would be in a race to adopt a codified organisational template. This would have a detrimental impact on institutions striving to pursue a niche domain. The codified organisational template would often fail to recognise the unique features of educational institutions by virtue of their values and origin. As a result, such institutes would often fall behind in the so-called performance indicators, creating a poor impression about the quality of education imparted by them. This, in turn, would have a detrimental impact on their ability to attract resources and eventually lead to quivering of the very existence of individuality among organisations.
As the ranking is made public, this feedback mechanism ignites fierce competition among the educational institutes. The urgency to perform well in the ranking exercise has resulted in many adopting the recommended organisational template in a hurried manner. The high-speed diffusion of the template is often facilitated by a new breed of “institutional intermediaries” i.e. entities helping organisations to build capacity so as to adopt the new template. In recent years, the ranking industry in higher education has been populated by intermediaries certifying institutions through their own ranking exercises. Their role was primarily limited to assessment of quality on indicators. We should now expect to see more intermediaries who would be helping the educational institutions to build their capacity to perform well in rankings and adopt a standardised template.
The feedback mechanism should nudge desirable behaviour, but it may be counterproductive to education and research when that feedback is made public. Then it becomes a means of increasing competition in a particular direction. Two major problems in the evaluation mechanism in education have been identified. One, when feedback is taken from those whose expertise, capability or eligibility to provide an assessment is questionable. A difficult subject would be eventually dropped from the curriculum or a strict instructor would be penalised. Bias in the assessment of a new idea or contradictory results in research may throttle publication in journals. Second, when assessment is based on a standard set of criteria and is made public, then it nullifies the emergence and growth of educational organisations with diverse ideas and objectives. Competition brought through the feedback system may drive all in the same direction at the cost of diversity.
(De is Associate Professor and Sarma is Assistant Professor, Institute of Rural Management, Anand. Views expressed here are personal)
Fly ash is inevitable while producing thermal power. However, leaving it to pollute the environment is not desirable
Fly ash, a by-product of coal-fired electricity-generating power plants, has always been a predominant challenge for the environment, as its unsafe disposal or ineffective recycling can pose a direct threat to the quality of the air we breathe. Such is our dependence on thermal power plants for energy that apart from the air pollution caused by these behemoths, the fly ash is also compromising other aspects of our environment.
For instance, the breach of the fly ash dyke at the Vindhyachal NTPC Super Thermal Power Station in Singrauli district of Madhya Pradesh in October 2019 led to the seeping of nearly 35 lakh metric tonnes of fly ash into the Govind Vallabh Pant Sagar, popularly known as the Rihand water reservoir. The Essar power plant at Mahan in the same district, too, saw breaches in its fly ash dykes leading to its seepage into the environment.
The huge level of water pollution triggered by the seepage of fly ash into the Rihand reservoir raised a red flag and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) imposed an interim penalty of Rs 10 crore on the NTPC and Essar after reviewing the ground report filed by its committee. Additionally, the NGT also rapped the Lanco-Anpara power plant to stem the excess ash pond flow into the reservoir. The fly ash caused soil pollution, too, due to which agricultural land became infertile and standing crops suffered.
Thanks to the fly ash pollution, the levels of mercury in the soil, air and water spiked besides causing health complications for local communities as the Rihand reservoir is a source of drinking water for many. All these adverse developments took place despite the existence of statutory notifications from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) under the Environment Protection Act (EPA) that mandates a 100 per cent utilisation of fly ash.
However, the full extent of the damage caused by the fly ash pond breach has come to light now thanks to a new report submitted recently by the joint committee comprising the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee. The report estimated that the fly ash breach by Essar Power Limited caused damages worth Rs 7.35 crore while the damage inflicted by the fly ash dyke breach at the NTPC plant was pegged at a whopping Rs 104 crore. The committee based its damage estimations on two parameters: One was the Green House Gas (GHG) emissions caused by the clean-up operations and two the extent of water pollution due to ash overflow.
The use of diesel during the clean-up operations caused the carbon footprint to spike, leading to the damage estimation spiking as well. Similarly, the fly ash infusion into the water bodies led to heavy metals and suspended solids leaching into the water. This, too, was translated into cost and added to the damages.
Thermal power stations are still the mainstay of our power sector with renewable sources of energy being nowhere near the required potential to take over as primary sources of our needs. Moreover, the opening up of the coal sector for mining to private players, besides nixing of the mandatory coal-washing requirements, is set to increase the production of fly ash in the future.
Already the ash ponds are overflowing across the nation due to increasing output and decreasing utilisation. As a result, the dykes are frequently breaking, leading to the ash polluting the nearby fields and water bodies.
The last 10 years saw the ash ponds contain a humongous 627 million tonnes of unused material. This is three times the fly ash being generated per year today, which is 200 million tonnes per annum. The close of 2019 saw an unused fly ash stock quantity of 1,647 million tonnes in India, which is eight times the annual generation quantity.
This is despite the fact that India has the regulations in place that mandate 100 per cent usage of fly ash and there is technology available to put this into action. Yet we are still far from a “full utilisation status.”
The Government-driven initiative to promote the use of fly ash in the construction material industry has not been a spectacular success as red bricks continue to be sold and used in open violation of the Government’s rules that ban them. Bricks are made out of top soil which is a precious part of our environment. An inch of top soil takes 500,000 years to form as it essentially involves the breaking down and erosion of rock.
If the Government cannot shut the countless red brick kilns that can be seen dotting the countryside, it cannot promote the use of fly ash in the building material industry. The buyer will have no option but to continue with the traditional red brick, which is easily available. Once the red brick production and supply chain is broken, it will not only save the top soil but also stem the pollution caused by these kilns as they use diesel and sugarcane waste as fuel.
Fly ash can be successfully used to produce bricks in combination with gypsum or lime. The resultant brick is not only eco-friendly but lighter and stronger. Technologies are available today that use compressed natural gas (CNG), an eco-friendly fuel, to fire autoclaves or huge ovens to manufacture fly ash bricks. Each autoclave can manufacture 22,000 fly ash-lime bricks in an eight-hour span.
So, if the thermal power plants in the country were mandated with a target to produce a certain quantity of bricks using the autoclave technology, then the problem of excess fly ash would disappear. There are ways to ensure full utilisation of fly ash; only a strong political will is required to implement the rules that have been put in place for this.
(The writer is an environmental journalist)
The NEP expects every teacher to develop a comprehensive perspective on life and living and follow an application-based module
For over six decades, one has never witnessed such a strong projection of the national resolve to implement a policy. This rare privilege goes to the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020. The President of India addresses the nation, the Prime Minister addresses twice within a week, the Union Education Minister and his team seem busy 24X7, conducting and guiding national-level webinars on specific topics that would require new initiatives and action at the implementation stage. It’s evident that the nation has realised that for equitable growth, progress and development, it has to be “education, education, and education.” India is now determined to create a pool of teachers who would not only be degree-holders but possess “personalities.” These would be people imbued with a comprehensive multi-disciplinary and multi-dimensional perspective.
In fact, the new approach to teacher preparation would expect every instructor to develop a comprehensive perspective on life and living. They would internalise the higher goals of education. The focus, henceforth, would be on them believing in Sarva Bhut Hite Ratah. And as was the ancient tradition, they would be life-long learners, yavadjeevait adhiyate viprah. It is, in a sense, a revolutionary recommendation that by 2030 all teachers would be prepared in multi-faculty colleges and universities through four-year integrated programmes. As one goes through the various sections of the NEP, this expectation becomes evident to everyone.
The objective of achieving scharyatwa would require a strong support system that must emerge from the establishment and society. There are clear indications to ensure that: “In order to improve and reach the levels of integrity and credibility required to restore the prestige of the teaching profession, the regulatory system shall be empowered to take stringent action against sub-standard and dysfunctional Teacher Education Institutions (TEIs) that do not meet the basic educational criterion, after giving one year for the remedy of breaches. By 2030, only educationally sound, multi-disciplinary and integrated teacher education programmes shall be in force.” This objective of restoring the credibility of TEIs is achievable. The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) had, during 1998-99, successfully exercised this authority, and certain well-known but sub-standard teacher preparation programmes were closed down. Once teacher educators accept this responsibility, they could transform the entire system. Let them never forget that the recommendations on teacher education arise from the expectations and aspirations of the young. But somewhere besides these is also the hidden pain and anguish which was recorded – with a heavy heart – by late Justice JS Verma: “A majority of stand-alone TEIs – over 10,000 in number – are not even attempting serious teacher education but are essentially selling degrees for a price.” One could mention it only with immense pain, as the first chairperson of the NCTE said, that all these 10,000 institutions selling degrees were certified by senior teachers, teacher educators, professors and other academics. The policy has done its part, no more stand-alone colleges. Now it is the responsibility of teachers, teacher educators and professionals in the field to ensure that in future regulatory mechanisms are not trivialised.
This policy suggests alternative regulatory structures, which would transform the manner in which future multi-disciplinary teacher preparations institutions and universities would emerge. The responsibility of teachers at every stage would grow multi-fold as autonomy would be the in-thing. When one goes through the various general recommendations in the policy, one finds serious concern for drastic change in teacher education in content and pedagogy, and the need to achieve an attitudinal transformation among aspiring teachers. It is now learning, learning and more learning. Examinations shall no more be days of nation-wide anxiety and widespread tension. The focus of assessment in schools shifts to application of knowledge gained and internalised.
The present pattern of examinations was transplanted in this country by alien rulers. It had been discarded in Britain much earlier but we still adhere to it in India. Teachers, and teacher educators, have a tremendous task ahead in implementing curriculum load reduction, to ensure that textbooks and textual materials are neither deficient on new knowledge nor too overloaded with obsolesce content. Teaching and learning shall become more interactive, and much would transpire outside the closed classroom. Skill development and bringing in vocational education elements early in schools would require TEIs absorbing them in their own curricula. Those who know the story of Richard Feynman would find it much easier to visualise its great transformative and inspiring impact on the system as a whole. It would be possible only when the promises to ensure the assured recruitment process are put to practice, and the assurances on the professionally acceptable teacher-student ratio is implemented without any aberrations. One must not ignore considerable dilution in the quality of education and decline in the acceptability and credibility of schools funded by the public. The policy realises this.
The ancient Indian tradition of knowledge quest spreads over four stages: adhyayan, manan, chintan and upayog. And its relevance is eternal. It is the essence of the process of transfer of knowledge to generations ahead. Every teacher, henceforth, would be expected to comprehend the essence of Indian philosophy of education that finds reflection throughout this policy. Let me recall three sentences of Sri Aurobindo; first being that the process must begin with “from near, to far”; and hence the mother tongue medium and other aspects. His second principle was that “nothing can be taught.” Every active, alert and vibrant teacher shall have to grasp its essence. It is “learning the treasure within.” It is the perfection within that the child is discovering, and teachers are assisting, supporting, guiding, and much more.
When Sri Aurobindo states that the “mind must be consulted in its growth,” he is emphasising how pertinent it is to “know the child.” It is the comprehension of these basic principles that has led to the restricting of the school education system to 5+3+3+4. The most significant is the addition of initial three years, after the age of 3. India would need very specialised teachers for this age group.
A couple of years ago, India had anticipated the importance of open and distance learning. That experience comes very handy as the global attention diverts to online learning. Creation of digital platforms and e-content had already begun in full swing and has come handy during the corona crisis, as children are confined to their homes. The pedagogy is undergoing unprecedented change, teachers associated with schools will have to gear up to learn new skills. While tools and techniques shall change – sometimes beyond recognition – the pedagogical principles would remain the same.
(The writer works in education and social cohesion)
In the midst of the pandemic, let us not forget about a disaster called human-driven climate change
Silicon Valley, home of many of the world’s most valuable companies, including Apple, Facebook and Google, woke up to some truly apocalyptic scenes. The blue sky had been replaced by an orange haze as wildfires burnt down some of the oldest temperate forests in the world and the US state of California reeled from the worst of such disasters in its history. The fires are so intense that they have now covered the length of the state and are spreading into the north as well, making this late summer the worst blaze season ever recorded. California is not unique. Earlier this year, the south-east Australian seaboard, where three-quarters of that nation’s population resides, literally went up in flames. Thus, two of the most famous bridges in the world, the Golden Gate in San Francisco and the eponymous Sydney Harbour Bridge, were both photographed with an orange background just a few months apart, highlighting how man-made disasters are taking a toll on the planet.
Make no mistake, while wildfires are a seasonal occurrence and many happen thanks to natural events like lightning strikes, the severity this time was caused by human activity. The irony of the California fires being started after fireworks went awry at a baby “gender reveal party” should not be lost upon the parents. The fires, the destruction of wildlife and the associated dumping of carbon into the atmosphere mean that those parents have made the planet a much worse place for their children. No matter what your opinion is on Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, the fact is that the girl does have a point. We are damaging the planet and despite efforts lasting several years, we are still damaging the planet, albeit slower than before but not by enough. Global climate change is real. There is less polar ice than ever before. The Himalayan glaciers that feed a tenth of all humanity are receding fast. The seasons are changing and extreme weather events are devastating parts of the world not just in terms of human lives but through livelihood loss. Yes, resolving the global Coronavirus pandemic should be humanity’s top priority today as should be preventing the next such pandemic from occurring. But we should not forget the clear and present danger that climate change continues to be for humankind. Our efforts towards lower emissions through renewables and less conspicuous consumption have to be made stronger. Else the next house being burnt down in a wildfire or drowned in a Biblical flood could well be yours.
The curriculum has been responsible for developing much-needed agricultural skills and encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset
The New Education Policy (NEP) focusses on re-orientation of school and higher education in India and inculcation of research-based studies and innovation in our education. However, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) has already been doing this on the ground for years and hence is in tune with the objectives of the NEP. As part of its focus on innovation and research-based learning, the ICAR-Agricultural University (AU) system, through its network of 74 universities, offers degree courses at the undergraduate level in 11 disciplines with emphasis on learning through hands-on-practice sessions and field experience training.
As desired by the NEP, the postgraduate programmes in 96 disciplines and Ph.D. programmes in 73 disciplines make it multi-disciplinary. The AU system has generated the much-needed scientists, technologists, teachers, researchers, technologies and technology transfer systems to transform India from a “ship-to-mouth” nation to a “right-to-food” one. Much in line with the aspirations of the NEP, the curricula has been responsible for developing much-needed agricultural skills and encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset among the students. They are being inspired to take up self-employment, to sustainably enhance rural livelihood security, and to propel agricultural transformation through science-based policy-options and actions.
The Student READY (Rural Entrepreneurship Awareness Development Yojana) programme ensures hands-on experience and practical training, as does the Entrepreneurship Development and Business Management course. Rigorous implementation of the revised curricula has over the years been benefitting local communities, and promoting technology incubation and dissemination, which is one of the objectives of the NEP. Many new courses have been already introduced by the AUs in emerging fields like Precision Farming, Hi-tech Cultivation, Artificial Intelligence, Mechatronics, Nanotechnology, Food Storage Engineering, Emerging Food Processing Technologies and so on which align perfectly with the recommendations of the NEP. The AUs have developed more than 400 virtual classrooms and e-courses for their undergraduate programmes and are being supported through a centralised Academic Management System and shall be further supported for online classes through the recently-launched “Krishi Megh.” The post-graduate courses, too, are being converted into e-courses in all the streams of agriculture education.
Multidisciplinary universities: The AUs in India are modelled on the US land grant university pattern with integration of education, research and extension and have contributed a great deal to propelling agricultural growth in the country. Agriculture is a multidisciplinary science and AUs are based on the philosophy that the farmers need holistic solutions for their problems. However, in recent years, several domain-specific universities in horticulture, veterinary science and fisheries sciences have been established in various States, which may need to be re-oriented to make them multidisciplinary as per the NEP.
The NEP suggests a four-year Bachelor’s programme with multi-disciplinary education as a preferred option. In the AUs, the curriculum of undergraduates has been designed as a four-year residential programme with more than 15 disciplines. This includes both theory and practical classes. The contents of several courses are designed in such a way that practical classes can be simultaneously conducted matching with the topics of the theory classes.
Attracting talent to agriculture education: About 4,500 scholarships are annually granted by the ICAR to meritorious students selected through its All India Entrance Examination for Admission conducted through the National Testing Agency. The National Scholarship Portal proposed under the NEP shall afford students more such opportunities for stipends, boarding and lodging, and not just waiver of tuition fees. In particular, talented students from rural India, who have been exposed to agriculture during their early years and who have deep interest in farm education, will be further encouraged to build their career in the field of agriculture and allied sectors.
Internationalisation: The ICAR facilitates annual admission of over 250 foreign students from more than 20 countries to various degree programmes. To support their higher studies in India, several programmes/fellowships have been initiated like the Netaji Subhas-ICAR International Fellowship, India-Africa Fellowship and India-Afghanistan Fellowship. The campuses of the existing system of AUs shall immensely benefit from various provisions in the NEP to promote HEIs as global study destination hubs and restore India’s role as a Viswa Guru. Continuous professional development: Teachers will be given constant opportunities for self-improvement and to learn the latest innovations and advances in their profession as per the NEP. This fits in well with the ICAR’s schemes through which about 3,500 faculty from AUs are trained every year for their professional development.
The future: AUs have sufficient land available for experimentation, demonstration of various trials to farmers and training. AUs must develop schemes for adequate resource generation and convert themselves into self-governing institutions, which is reflected in the NEP. The AUs need to attain the highest global standards in quality agriculture education through linkages with global universities and provide platforms for research and innovation in frontier areas of research, greater industry-academic linkages and interdisciplinary research, including humanities and social sciences. The universities also need to make provisions of multiple entry and exit systems in their undergraduate programmes. These reforms shall help in meeting the challenges of Global Green Economy, Knowledge Economy, Global Zero Hunger Challenge, Sustainable Development Goals, 2030, and International Agriculture and Development Challenge, 2050.
(Mohapatra is Director-General and Agrawal Deputy Director-General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research)
Inefficient recycling of construction and demolition waste is indicative of the nation’s disregard for the environment and this can no longer be overlooked
As new commercial skyscrapers and lofty residential buildings continue to be the hallmark of “developed” cities, there is a virtual race among the builders to tear down older structures and replace them with energy-guzzling, steel and glass buildings that trap heat and require enormous air-conditioning input in order to make them liveable. The city skyline no doubt looks impressive but the more the skyline improves, the more the construction and demolition waste (CDW) on the ground level increases, as it is illegally dumped by builders on roadside and in landfills. India produces 150 million tonnes of CDW annually. The generation, management, recycling and finally disposal of this waste is governed by guidelines and rules put in place by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) under the Construction, Demolition and Waste Management Rules 2016. But the implementation and enforcement of the rules is insipid and lax. This is apparent by the dismal recovery and recycling rate of the CDW, which currently stands at about one per cent of the 150 million tonnes generated. The rest of the waste is left lying in residential areas, landfills and other urban spaces, which contributes to air and water pollution, not to mention spoiling the look and feel of our urban living environs. Given the huge gap between generation of the waste and its recycling, it is vital for a third party, such as an NGO, to apply for Government data under the Right to Information Act and appraise the implementation of these rules and compliance by the construction sector. They must also assess what difference they have made on the ground. The already burdened infrastructure is further hobbled by the fact that the recycling paraphernalia available with the Government is sufficient to handle a meagre 6,500 tonnes daily which renders an enormous backlog of CDW that gets illegally and irresponsibly disposed off.
The root cause of this wide gap between CDW generation and recycling is the slow pace in establishment of recycling facilities. As per estimates, 53 cities were expected to set up recycling units by 2017 but only 13 are in place. This alarmingly slow progress is further made worse by the rapid consumption of building materials which indicates that construction activity both in commercial and residential sectors is happening swiftly. As land is scarce, this construction is taking place by demolishing the existing old structures and this is rapidly contributing to the generation of CDW. The Swachh Survekshan 2021 has thankfully started putting emphasis on recycling and management of CDW, but it still needs to be instilled into the urban stakeholder, be it private or Government entities, that how a city fares in the survey will also depend on how it manages its CDW footprint. This can be done at the possible origin of the waste wherein the architects can be encouraged to recycle the demolition waste and use it in the new project. According to estimates, if CDW recycling is in-built into the architect’s plan, then 33 per cent of waste generation can be avoided. Similarly, specialised machines and equipment must be made available by the building contractors to the architects so that on-site waste generation is quickly turned around and converted or recycled into usable building material. This not only saves money for the building project but also confirms to the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) norms that allow usage of concrete made from recycled CDW.
The present COVID-19 crisis has almost brought the construction sector to a grinding halt. This is unwelcome news for the sector but provides an opportunity for India to take stock of the CDW scenario. This lull can enable the Government and allied environmental agencies to rapidly put in place a strategy that ensures the efficient handling of CDW when building starts gaining momentum. As a part of this, it is essential to first spot the regulatory and technical barriers that are hampering the effective handling of the waste being generated. In the same process, it is also critical to ensure on-site recycling of CDW and enable a sustained sale of the recycled material in the market at economical rates. This will help ingrain the practice of CDW recycling at the epicentre of its generation.
The authorities must also set in place robust systems to collect data pertaining to CDW being generated and based on this a protocol must be designed that not only displays the region-wise generation of CDW but also breaks down the waste into sub-categories. This will help design forecasts of how recycled material can be made available in the building material market without any supply disruptions. The Government must also design special categorisation programmes in which those buildings will fall that have a certain certified percentage of recycled CDW used in them. This must automatically qualify these buildings as green buildings and make them eligible for rebates on electricity and property tax charges. Inefficient recycling of CDW is indicative of the nation’s disregard for the environment and this must not be overlooked.
(The writer is an environmental journalist)
A species checklist shows that fish, birds, amphibians and mammals have declined by 84 per cent since 1970
The Living Planet Report 2020 has set off warning bells about the state of the global environment, one that may impact our lives more severely than the pandemic. It seems that the price of our burgeoning population, unplanned and unthinking expansion, selfish consumerism, senseless overconsumption of natural resources and greed is being paid by different species that we are supposed to share the planet with. However, as compared to forest or marine species, it is the freshwater species that are at the highest risk because a gargantuan 85 per cent of the Earth’s wetlands are already lost. So fish, birds, amphibians and mammals have declined by a whopping 84 per cent globally since 1970, threatening one in three freshwater species with extinction. The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London track the abundance of 20,811 populations representing 4,392 species based on a number of data sets available globally. But this edition has got to be their red alert finding. The report on India is pretty damning as the size of our wetlands has shrunk to 0.03 per cent of our total geographic area. Despite all the talk about protecting our water resources and raising awareness, nothing seems to have worked as the number of polluted river stretches went up to 351 in 2018 from 302 in 2016. As a result, there has been a decline in the population of endangered species such as the Gangetic dolphin.
Worryingly, there is a 94 per cent fall in the species survivability index in Latin America and the Caribbean, which, like us, are facing fragmentation by hydropower projects and abstraction of water. There has been a 45 per cent species decline in Asia and Australia. It is high time we begin taking our responsibility towards the environment seriously, if not for the sake of the creatures we are supposed to share it with but for our own selfish selves. Because we may force the hapless species that inhabit this Earth into a corner because of our careless actions but in the end we will have to pay with our lives too. Water, essential for life, will become scarcer if we continue to destroy our riverine systems, wetlands and oceans. As it is we have become a water-stressed world. As more species become extinct, we will face scarcity of food from animal sources and zoonotic diseases like the present Coronavirus and pandemics will become more frequent, killing millions of us each year while destroying the world economy. So it is up to us to decide if we want to continue on this path of self-destruction.
Without integrating forestry with water management, the goals of climate change cannot be achieved
Water is the fundamental requirement for sustaining life, agriculture and the overall economy. With an exponential rise in the world population and diversified use of water, coupled with deforestation and increasing climactic vagaries, fresh water sources are under tremendous pressure globally. During the last 100 years, there has been a six to seven-fold increase in the demand for fresh water.
However, at the macro level, though the availability of fresh water is constant, at the micro level, due to overexploitation and indiscriminate use, lopsided planning in human settlements, changes in the hydrological cycle and pollution, water resources are dwindling very fast. Though we have plenty of rainfall in India to recharge the aquifers, it is unevenly distributed and unsustainably used to meet the demand for agriculture and industry. According to the Central Ground Water Board, more than 70 per cent districts are water-stressed and many cities and towns are critical from the point of view of availability of safe drinking water. And on top of this, 70 per cent of the agriculture sector uses groundwater for irrigation. In a nutshell, “blue” as well as “green” water management has been suffering a lot.
Many experts have been raising red flags about the impending water crisis for the last many years but various Government bodies have made fragmentary attempts which did not bring much relief on the ground. One classic case of failure was the watershed scheme which succeeded in very small patches and that, too, with the help of people in villages, who were feeling the pinch of scarcity. One such example was in Hiware bazaar in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra where community-based water management tremendously boosted agriculture and milk production, drawing back the people who migrated to Mumbai after recurrent drought.
Now, the Centre has created the Jal Shakti Ministry to tackle the issue of water scarcity in the country in a focussed and planned manner. The Prime Minister announced the launching of the Jal Jeevan Mission with a projected expenditure of more than Rs 3.5 lakh crore. For the first time, the Jal Shakti Ministry is dealing with most matters relating to water in different Ministries in an integrated manner. The first priority of the Ministry was to ensure potable water to 15.70 crore households as out of 18.93 crore homes in the country, only 3.23 crore had tap water in 2019. It was started as a peoples’ programme and involved citizens in water resources management at every level, right from supply, to reuse, to recharge.
The guidelines issued under the Jal Jeevan Mission stressed on service delivery and involved the people at every step of its execution. The Gram Panchayats, Self Help Groups (SHGs), NGOs and Village Water and Sanitation Committees were involved in planning, implementing, managing, operating and maintaining their own water supply systems.
This bottom-up approach has started paying dividends and 84.84 lakh households were given tap water connections. The programme is picking up fast as now one lakh families are being covered daily. The Ministry, during 2019-2020, provided safe drinking water to 71 lakh people in arsenic-contaminated areas and 5.35 lakh people in fluoride-contaminated areas. One of the innovative technologies to monitor water supply and use was the use of “sensor-based Internet of Things solution” in which a smart water meter tracks the quality, regularity of water supply, quantity and quality of water. It also tracks flow across distribution channels and thus helps in checking leakage and minimising water wastage.
According to Water Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, in the post-lockdown period, 32 lakh households were provided with piped water by July 28 under the Jal Jeevan Mission, which also helped in creating employment for over 42,000 people in six States. Under the Jal Shakti Abhiyan, the Ministry has started a massive water conservation movement with the help of communities in 1,592 water- stressed blocks in 256 districts. It focussed on water conservation through rain water harvesting, renovation of traditional water bodies, renovating and maintaining bore wells and watershed management and afforestation activities.
The experts on groundwater are working in most of the water-stressed districts of the country. One of the most outstanding achievements of the Modi Government was the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). More than six lakh villages were declared open defecation free and 60 crore people were helped, with more than 10 crore toilets constructed.
In phase two, the objective is to consolidate and perpetuate the gains of the SBM, including waste management. Under the PM’s Krishi Sinchai Scheme, more than 21.7 lakh hectares were irrigated during the last three years.
Apart from this, innovations and international cooperation on water management need to be pursued vigorously. However, a major shift is necessary to revamp forest management with water management in order to ensure water in our aquifers, dams and rivers. Without integrating forestry with water management, the goals of climate change cannot be achieved. The additional benefit will be in the form of regeneration of minor forest produce primarily animal foods and medicinal plants. There is no better time to focus on changing the objectives in COVID-19 times. Will the Environment Minister, Prakash Javadekar, take the initiative in this direction? One hopes so.
(The writer is a former civil servant)
Apart from conventional teachers we have some unorthodox ones amid us now who must get recognition and appreciation
We have different categories of teachers, depending upon the stages in our lives and the vocations we pursue. So, we have school teachers, lecturers, professors, research guides, trainers, instructors, tutors, coaches, mentors and so on. However, we have another set of teachers who don’t qualify in the strict sense, yet impart valuable lessons. The most important among them are parents. The foundations of intellectual, emotional and ethical grooming in a child are laid at home by the parents. In a joint family even grandparents play a positive roles as guides.
Again, at workplaces, bosses, seniors, corporate leaders are another set of educators. Equipped with knowledge, skills, expertise and experience, they often act as advisors, counsellors or mentors and help their juniors and colleagues progress in their careers.
Then, we have religious and spiritual gurus who preach from the scriptures and holy texts and offer guidance to their disciples and others on how to lead life well. However, apart from these obvious ones, we have some unorthodox and unconventional teachers amid us now who must get recognition and appreciation.
Children: In the digital age, it is important to be familiar with new age systems, processes and apps. Be it the smartphone, internet, video-conferencing/chatting, video games and other modern gadgets, we need to learn their operations to use them. These learnings help in vital activities like money transfer, booking tickets, ordering food or non-food items, or viewing streaming channels, all of which are now increasingly done online. In adaptation to new learnings, age being a factor, children have a distinct edge. They quickly adapt and learn. Their aptitude, familiarity and knowledge of the digital and online platforms are now much in demand at home, all the more during the lockdown. As digital tutors, they offer lessons to their grandparents, parents and senior citizens to make them digital savvy. Indeed, without their hand-holding, many of the older generation find themselves handicapped in adjusting to the virtual space.
Social media: We have been used to learning the dos and don’ts from the traditional set of teachers, professional or otherwise. Now WhatsApp, Facebook and so on are potent learning platforms where we get free advice on topics ranging from money, health, nutrition, fitness, to culinary arts, home décor, farming to even immunity boosting during the pandemic. The medium being popular, all these tips and learnings are widely read, shared and followed. The social media platform, as a teacher, is helping us to learn and share information. The only caveat is the tips or instructions need to be followed by us with fact-checks, particularly in the matter of health.
Siri and Alexa: Digital Voice Assistants like Siri and Alexa are the new teachers in the digital sphere. Like a friend, kids can unhesitatingly ask anything they want to know from Siri and Alexa. Not surprising, devices with Digital Voice Assistants are being installed even in remote tribal areas to infuse fun and excitement in learning and improve school enrolments. In smart classrooms, the Digital Voice Assistants act as the teacher. In the future, such devices and AI-assisted humanoid robots, as smart, interesting and trendy teachers, are likely to gain more popularity among children and schools.
Nature: Mother Nature has always been part of our existence. But we have forgotten to look at nature as a “healer” and “teacher” up until recently. Now, with the adverse effects of climate change ravaging us, coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic, we are realising the hard way the critical importance of nature as our sustainer, healer and teacher. In the collective confinement, we found to our great relief how nature is our constant friend and can lift our hearts and give us so much joy. It would indeed have been much tougher to deal with the pandemic, hadn’t nature been around us.
Nature teaches us the rhythms and cycles of life, selfless giving, continuous growth and generation, and the essence of sustainability, harmony and oneness. It also teaches us to consume wisely and responsibly. Now in close communion with nature, thankfully, we have discovered a friend, philosopher and guide.
Pandemic: Life itself is a teacher and we always knew that. But now, a catastrophe unleashed by the Coronavirus is teaching us novel lessons in life. Starting from coping with crippled businesses, loss of livelihood to handling enforced loneliness, an emotional see-saw, topsy-turvy routines, we are learning unique lessons and reinventing ourselves. The crisis has taught us to appreciate nature, create new networks, leverage the virtual world, look for new engagements, explore new hobbies, pursue passions, experiment with new ways and ideas, act collectively for the common good, and, last but not the least, to have a better world view and perspective. Welcome to all these unconventional teachers.
(The writer is former General Manager, Bank of India, Learning and Development and an author)
There needs to be a sustained campaign to spread awareness about water reuse, recycling and conservation
The provision of safe water is essential to protect humans from waterborne diseases. Sadly, more than 600 million Indians are facing high to extreme water stress and 75 per cent of households do not have drinking water, according to the NITI Aayog. At least 163 million people are without access to treated piped water and approximately 70 per cent of the water supply is contaminated, resulting in nearly 2,00,000 deaths each year. India ranks 120th out of 122 nations in the water quality index.
This disproportionate water access, especially in rural areas and peri-urban slums, demands the creation of drinking water security, especially for women and girls who are burdened with the responsibility of collecting water for their families. According to a report, Small Water Enterprises: Transforming Women from Water Carriers to Water Entrepreneurs 2019, which was released at the World Water Week organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) in Stockholm, women collect as much as 80 per cent of water consumed by households, in addition to their other responsibilities.
The report has been prepared by Safe Water Network India, an NGO working with USAID. The report further reveals that India has a dismal gender empowerment record and is currently ranked 108th out of 149 countries. Domestically, women are grossly under-represented in the Indian economy, comprising only 26 per cent of the workforce. It would be pertinent to note that globally, women spend over 200 million hours collecting water daily.
Under the Jal Jeevan Mission scheme, around 84.83 lakh rural households were provided with tap connections. Post the Corona unlocking, around 45 lakh tap connections have been provided so far. On an average, daily about one lakh households are being provided with tap connections across the country. Although the scheme promises piped water in every rural household by 2024, unfortunately most of the water systems are rife with operational issues due to poor maintenance. While the Government has set itself a target of providing treated and safe 24x7 piped water supply at 135 litres per capita per day (LPCD) in the cities, its efforts are hampered by raw water availability, a debilitated and old piped water supply infrastructure and the inability to create new infrastructure in slums.
The global decentralised water market is expected to grow to $22 billion by the end of 2021. Most community water players are currently focussing on the drinking water market as it represents the highest yield per litre compared to other end-use applications. According to Frost and Sullivan, smart Internet of Things (IoT) and digitised sustainable solutions will be the two major growth drivers in the water industry in the future.
For 2020-21, a sum of Rs 23,500 crore has been allocated for the implementation of the Jal Jeevan Mission. Under this scheme, rural women will be trained to test water quality, repair hand pumps and fix broken taps. Women will also be trained to test piped water for biological and chemical contamination and use field test kits to know the extent of contamination. The Ministry of Jal Shakti has tied up with the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Kendra for skilling women so that they can participate at all levels, starting from planning to implementation, management, operation and maintenance of the in-village water supply.
However, safe water is a collective mission. We need to recognise the role of Small Water Enterprises (SWEs), decentralised water treatment plants that provide 24x7 affordable safe water, also called Water ATMs, as integral sources to mitigate the issue of poor water quality while providing affordable safe drinking and cooking water reliably. We need to understand that SWEs are cost-effective and can provide customisable drinking water solutions specifically at places where flagship Government schemes such as the Jal Jeevan Mission cannot reach or are yet to reach.
Water is an integral part of our lives and SWEs should be recognised as a support to the Government. They not only provide livelihood but also save lives and contribute to the economy. The lockdown following the Coronavirus outbreak has hugely impacted operations of the SWEs located in rural and urban India. The inability to set up new plants, the reduced consumer footfall, affected distribution systems, delay in resolving technical issues due to restrictions on movement, and the consequent loss of revenue for local entrepreneurs as well as on-cost recovery on operations are some of the major challenges faced by SWEs.
Although, post-lockdown, footfall has increased, consumption has reduced, leading to sustainability challenges. Financial sustainability has become the most important determinant for the survival and scaling up of SWEs as water is priced within certain socio-economic parameters to reach all.
Although there is a provision for the private sector to invest in SWEs, this brings its own set of challenges such as delayed infrastructure delivery, complex institutional frameworks with multiple regulatory authorities, politicians offering free water leading to lower probabilities of recovering capital investment, and high operating costs. Reforms are required at the policy and implementation levels. There is an increasing need for holistic collaboration with the Government in terms of technology, monetary and resource-sharing partnerships, single window clearance and development of an ecosystem.
“There should be GST exemption on equipment and water delivery services for cost-effective operations. Further, Corporate Social Responsibility funds should be allocated towards strengthening decentralised community water systems,” says Madhu Krishnamoorthy, Head of Business Development, WaterHealth India. The critical role of SWEs in providing access to water needs to be acknowledged besides a sustained campaign to spread awareness about water reuse, recycling and conservation. The SWEs can make a lasting social and economic impact by improving health, creating jobs, improving vocational skills and bringing new technologies to bridge the existing gaps in the water supply chain.
(The writer is vice-president, Safe Water Network)
When faced with an existential crisis during the pandemic, primary education for children inadvertently doesn’t make it to the priority list
Ankita Ramteke,13, who lives in Bhandara, a small district town in Maharashtra, waits for a text message regarding a fund transfer on her mother’s archaic Nokia 1100 every month, waiting for her share of happiness that would mean another month of remaining in school and learning the things she loves. But who is Ankita? As of now she is a blip in this world, an invisible demographic detail who sits like an ornament on all Grameen Foundation of India’s (GFI’s) endless pleas and presentations. As long as the benevolent donors continue to sponsor her education, Ankita and her needs won’t be looked upon as a liability by her family. But truth be told, girls like Ankita accumulate a growth and nutrition deficit in the formative years of their lives. By the time they reach adulthood, aspirational deficit is systematically inculcated in their psyche, leading to another much graver deficit: Ambition. Most of the families living on the margins of poverty in any part of the country are usually just one health shock away from being sucked into the poverty trap all over again. Traditional gender norms and the lack of a consistent income source in Ankita’s family have pushed her to become a full-time care giver leading to irregular attendance in school. If not addressed, it will lead to her eventual dropping out of school altogether. But Ankita is not alone. Today, 62.1 million children in India are out of school. For every 100 elementary schools in rural India, there are just 14 offering secondary and only six schools offering higher secondary grades. Not to forget that most of the secondary schools are private ones, with exorbitant fees.
COVID-19 has brought an unprecedented crisis with devastating consequences for the girls of the country. A survey of vulnerable households revealed that 60 per cent mothers, who either worked in the farms or as housemaids, haven’t earned any salary in the last five months and 67 per cent of the fathers, who worked as daily wagers, are not just struggling financially but are also feeling emotionally drained. As much as 33 per cent of the families talked about pressing mental health issues plaguing children as well as adults in the household. Under these trying circumstances, it is very difficult for families to focus on the education of their children, particularly the girl child. However, there are always some who break the mould. For instance, 12-year-old Shrawani Choudhari’s parents dipped into all of their savings to buy their daughter a smartphone, so that she could continue her studies. “Our collective income has gone down in the last six months. I am out of work, while my wife is now working in only two houses as a maid, as opposed to eight houses before the pandemic”, says Choudhari, a daily wage worker in Bhandara. While we are witnessing an avalanche of innovative ideas being tried in the rural hinterland to help such marginalised children continue their education, the cost of smartphones, aka “dream enablers” in the post-pandemic world, remains an uphill task.
Most of these households in Bhandara have witnessed reverse migration. Family members who were working in big cities had returned because of lack of opportunities owing to the lockdown. “I stayed back in Mumbai even after the lockdown was imposed because I thought that when this gets over, they will need people like me to finish their work. But they still haven’t opened the factories and most of the acquaintances from my village have now gone back to farming”, says 39-year-old Ramesh Banapurkar, a father of three. It is no surprise then that the situation of primary and secondary education in Nawada is abysmal. With Government schools shut, children in these schools haven’t seen a book since March. Some cash support from donors has helped some of these families to sail through in this time and others to revive their small businesses. Some have even used the money to invest in Personal Protective Equipment for the elders in the family, but none of these families have invested in their child’s education, yet. Simply because it’s not a priority. Nawada, located between the historical districts of Nalanda and Gaya, is one the poorest districts in Bihar. The per capita income of Nawada is Rs 9,560, which is one-seventh of that in State capital Patna. The Scheduled Castes, the forgotten people standing at the bottom of the economic pyramid, are facing an unparalleled struggle. Acute caste discrimination and the pandemic-induced unemployment have left them far more vulnerable. Agriculture is the mainstay for 78 per cent of Nawada’s population and a significant chunk of youth is forced to migrate to cities in search of livelihood. The reverse migration back to smaller districts like Nawada has put unprecedented pressure on these migrants, who are now living in their homes in extreme poverty and without even basic amenities. When faced with an existential crisis, primary education for children inadvertently doesn’t make it to the priority list.
(Bhattacharyya is Manager, Communications and Deo is Senior Programme Manager, Grameen Foundation India)