21&22, May 2017

Wheels of luxury

With the much-awaited Tejas Express, being flagged off on the Mumbai-Goa route

  • Indian Railways introduced the high speed, air-conditioned Tejas Express (Train No 22119/22120) between Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Mumbai and Karmali for the first time.
  • Tejas Express is a state of the art train capable of running at the speed of 200 kmph with ultra modern amenities run between Mumbai and Karmali (5 days a week during Non-monsoon period and 3 days a week during monsoon period).

1.From the Archives: Modernity of Ram Mohan Ro

Source: The Hindu

245th birth anniversary of Raja Ram Mohan Roy.

Long resistance to change

  • The secret of this modernity of this great man lies partly in his comprehensive racial outlook and in the intrepid and resolute action that marked his remarkable career touching almost every aspect of life, and partly in the slow progress of events in social and political upheaval for the greater part of the century following his death.
  • The mere abolition of Sati did not change many aspects of life and Sati was not followed with the same rigour in all parts of the country.
  • The furtherance of the Brahmo Samaj movement by an advanced party of reformers who succeeded Ram Mohan Roy in the city of Calcutta – seceding from the orthodox fold – prevented no doubt conversions to Christianity on the part of those who desired greater freedom from the trammels of Hindu society; but the Brahmos virtually ceased to be regarded as a part of the bulk of the Hindu community and failed to influence it somewhat in the same way as converts to Christianity or Mohammedanism fail to do.
  • There were many in Calcutta in the halcyon days of Brahmoism who wavered between the new dispensation, in a wider sense, and the old orthodoxy — and finally returned to the ancient order.
  • Calcutta was not even all Bengal and even the Brahmos were not all Calcutta. So, Ram Mohan Roy’s ideas remained as such after the lapse of decades even in Bengal; and the bitter opposition to an amendment of the Indian Penal Code as demanded by Social Reform parties in Bombay and Madras, led by Mr. B. M. Malabai and Dewan Bahdaur R. Ragunatha Rao to discourage too early consummation of marriages showed how the Brahmos were like an engine that had disconnected itself from the rest of the train and sped away from it.
  • The Hindu Social Reform movement both in South and West India turned on this crucial idea and the energising effects of such a movement were realised within two decades.
  • From 1833 to 1893, a period of nearly sixty years we have a comparatively barren period in the realm of social changes within the parent community itself, if we omit two notable movements which were in the nature of effecting a root and branch separation from the main trunk in Bengal and the Punjab.
  • They showed no doubt the vitality of the sap that still circulated in the social order and their secessional nature was of course inevitable in as much as any other course was doubtless too much of an uphill task. But the result remains the same and throws some light on the modernity of Ram Mohan Roy.

Change without secession

  • Another great stimulus to change without secession came from the gigantic undertaking of Swami Vivekananda who showed that Hindu religion was not worship of stone and wood as images, and that there were some things even in Hinduism to be learnt by men of modern education.
  • At the same time, he strove to liberalise Hindu society by sundering the leathern thongs of irrational customs and by letting in a flood of light in hoary crevices.
  • Society has been moving onward consciously since these attempts to assert from within — without resorting to the formation of separatist groups.
  • This process may be designated as one of the changes without secession and it began only as late as about sixty years after Ram Mohan Roy’s death.
  • As observed so often, when an old order is confronted by a new ideal, the former tries to preserve itself and then tries to realise the new ideal and then come back to what was good in the old with what is good in the new.
  • India is now still moving towards the new ideal, but with the influence of such master minds over it as that of Vivekananda it will neither become an unrecognizable stranger to its heritage nor will it consent to be condemned to a process of petrifaction bereft of life and adaptability.
  • Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Dayanand Saraswathi amongst several others furnish proof of this statement in one aspect and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Vivekananda in another aspect.
  • All these are modern in their own way and the good of India lies in the modernity of one type supplementing the modernity of another type.

Ram Mohan Roy in a Wider Frame

  • It may also be noted that Ram Mohan Roy cannot but be “modern” in Indian politics — when unfettered liberty of the Press is yet in the coming.
  • In matters of administration would it be believed that a reform that he had advocated – separation of the judicial and executive functions – is still in the womb of the future! If Ram Mohan Roy appears to be modern it is not only because he was even so long ago a clear and rational thinker, a bold and consistent conformist to his conventions, but because the pace of reform within the bulk of the community was dead slow for decades after he had lived and died. But this is just the time when the liberalising influence of Ram Mohan Roy’s intellect should be brought to bear on all classes in India — as it has taken all these years for the theatre to be made ready for staging his great drama of a renovated India.
  • He stands easily pre-eminent and first amongst those who may be described as “Indians first and foremost” and continues, even after a hundred years, the brightest in that brilliant constellation.
  • In his outlook and ordering of life he was an unblemished cosmopolitan whom every part of the world might have been proud to count amongst its distinguished citizens. He was born with the stamp of modernity and was ahead of the times in his own country very easily indeed and would have been equally regarded so amongst westerners as well.
  • If his countrymen will try not to visualise him all in all and almost entirely as the inspirer of an era of social and religious secession, however fruitful in many directions that movement has been, they will allot him a much larger space in their esteem and affection.
  • If they will summon to their mind a great and consistent thinker, a resolute and courageous man of action, a valiant and sweet-tempered evangelist to reason and harmony in life, they will be doing him and themselves a greater service than by picturing a suffocating hall of Brahmo Samajists as soon as his name is mentioned.
  • His many-sidedness has yet to sink in the minds of his countrymen and his memory has to be rescued from too close an association with later-day one-sided polemics. His culture and high character, his love of liberty and singular freedom from bias of all kind and his breadth of view as a citizen of the country will be of utmost value to a generation torn by dissensions on almost every conceivable pretext.

2.Why did India boycott China’s road summit?

Source: The Hindu

Why is India staying away?

  • Four years after it announced to the world that it was planning a mega project to revive the old Silk route for trading, with a corridor for infrastructure, trade, energy and telecommunications, China brought together leaders and officials of 130 countries, 68 of which they claimed had already signed on to the Belt and Road Initiative (B&RI) project.
  • Several participant countries sent their heads of state, others like Japan and the U.S., who aren’t part of the initiative, sent senior officials, but India sent no one, not even a local embassy official to take notes. Directives were also issued by the Ministry of External Affairs that anyone from think-tanks, business chambers, and other Ministries would have to take clearance if they were travelling for the B&RI Forum.

Just hours before the forum was due to open in Beijing, the MEA issued a comprehensive statement on its objections to the B&RI, which were three-fold:

  1. The corridor includes projects in land belonging to India;
  2. The projects could push smaller countries on the road into a crushing debt cycle, destroy the ecology and disrupt local communities; and
  3. China’s agenda was unclear, with the implied accusation that this was more about enhancing its political influence, not just its physical networks.

All of India’s neighbours, with the exception of Bhutan, have entered the B&RI, and India’s concerns have been heightened by the growing presence of China in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

What is the main objection?

  • India’s main objection is on the principle that the B&RI includes projects in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that are located in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’s Gilgit Baltistan, including the Diamer Bhasha Dam, 180-MW hydel power projects, and more expressways and economic zones along the Karakoram Highway built in the 1970s.
  • Ever since the announcement of the CPEC in April 2015, India has made those concerns felt, beginning with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China just weeks after and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj raising the issue at the UN General Assembly that year.
  • However, India didn’t explicitly say it would not join the B&RI, leaving room for speculation that there was place for talks on the issue, if the Chinese were willing to discuss alternate routing. If not, India made it clear during talks in February 2017 that it couldn’t either join the project or even attend the forum with the B&RI map showing Gilgit Baltistan in Pakistan as part of a ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.’

Did China try to talk?

  • India claims that China has not only been insensitive to its sovereignty, but has never fully explained its plan for the Belt and Road (formerly called One Belt One Road) initiative.
  • China’s reply has been that none of the other countries in the project has complained about lack of transparency. Chinese and Indian officials have spoken about the project a few times, but India remains unconvinced.
  • China’s Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui gave a speech at a military think-tank with a four-point initiative to improve tense ties between India and China, including a suggestion that China was open to renaming the CPEC if that would resolve India’s B&RI problem.
  • That if sovereignty alone was the issue, China could work around it as it had during the China-Pakistan border dispute of 1963, in which they agreed that all negotiations were subject to re-negotiation after the “settlement of the Kashmir dispute.”
  • China also pointed out that India is a co-founder of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which will support many B&RI projects, and also remains committed to the Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar economic corridor, which connects to the B&RI. But it was possibly too late by then, and India’s decision was made.

What now?

  • At the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) next month, Mr. Modi will meet President Xi Jinping, as India officially becomes a member of the grouping.
  • It remains to be seen whether the SCO, which also officially endorses the B&RI, or Mr. Xi himself are able to allay India’s fears over the project.

SCO currently has China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan as members

3.Mapping the universe with quasar positions

Source: The Hindu

Astronomers have created the first map of the large-scale structure of the universe based entirely on the positions of quasars.

Quasars are the incredibly bright and distant points of light powered by super-massive black holes.


  • Quasars, also called quasi-stellar radio sources, are the most energetic and distant members of a class of objects called active galactic nuclei (AGN).
  • Their spectra contain very broad emission lines, unlike any known from stars, hence the name “quasi-stellar.” Their luminosity can be 100 times greater than that of the Milky Way.
  • They are very bright objects. The amazing brightness of quasars is due to the supermassive black holes found at their centres.
  • Quasars also emit visible light, ultraviolet rays, infrared waves, X-rays, and gamma-rays.

How to use the map to understand the expansion history of the universe?

  • During the first two years of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s Extended Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (eBOSS), astronomers measured accurate three-dimensional positions for more than 147,000 quasars.
  • The telescope’s observations gave the team the quasars’ distances, which they used to create a three-dimensional map of where the quasars are. However, to use the map to understand the expansion history of the universe, they had to go a step further, using a clever technique involving studying “baryon acoustic oscillations” (BAOs).
  • BAOs are the present-day imprint of sound waves which travelled through the early universe, when it was much hotter and denser than the universe.
  • However, when the universe was 380,000 years old, conditions changed suddenly and the sound waves became “frozen” in place.
  • These frozen waves are left imprinted in the three-dimensional structure of the universe today.
  • The results of the new study confirm the standard model of cosmology that researchers have built over the last 20 years. In this standard model, the universe follows the predictions of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity – but includes components whose effects we can measure, but whose causes we do not understand.

4.Ecological concerns over combustible ice

Source: The Hindu

Commercial development of the globe’s huge reserves of a frozen fossil fuel known as “combustible ice” has moved closer to reality after Japan and China successfully extracted the material from the sea floor off their coastlines.

The fuel was successfully mined by a drilling rig operating in the South China Sea. Chinese Minister of Land and Resources Jiang Daming declared the event a breakthrough moment heralding a potential “global energy revolution”.

Combustible ice

Combustible ice is a frozen mixture of water and concentrated natural gas. Technically known as methane hydrate, it can be lit on fire in its frozen state and is believed to comprise one of the world’s most abundant fossil fuels.

Where it is found?

  • Methane hydrate has been found beneath seafloors and buried inside Arctic permafrost and beneath Antarctic ice.
  • Estimates of worldwide reserves range from 280 trillion cubic metres up to 2,800 trillion cubic metres, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That means methane hydrate reserves could meet global gas demands for 80 to 800 years at current consumption rates.
  • Yet efforts to successfully extract the fuel at a profit have eluded private and state-owned energy companies for decades.
  • Methane hydrate is an attractive energy source due to its high energy density: one cubic meter of combustible ice contains about 164 cubic meters of regular natural gas.
  • This high energy density is due to the fact that methane is trapped within the hydrate crystal structure and greatly compressed.

Environment concerns:

If methane hydrate leaks during the extraction process, it can increase greenhouse gas emissions. The fuel also could displace renewables such as solar and wind power.

5.In NTD fight, the end in sight

Source: The Hindu

Around the world, nearly 1.6 billion people are affected by a group of diseases so ignored that the term used to refer to them is called neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).


  • Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a diverse group of communicable diseases that prevail in tropical and subtropical conditions in 149 countries and affect more than one billion people, costing developing economies billions of dollars every year.
  • They mainly affect populations living in poverty, without adequate sanitation and in close contact with infectious vectors and domestic animals and livestock.

What are the problems?

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) affect over 1.5 billion of the world’s most impoverished people, including 875 million children.

They cause severe pain, long-term disability, and are the cause of death for over 170,000 people per year. Amongst children, infection leads to malnutrition, cognitive impairment, stunted growth, and the inability to attend school. Adults suffer from social isolation and are unable to work, and anemia caused by NTDs increases the risk of maternal mortality.

Target of elimination:

  • The Indian government has set itself the target of eliminating kala-azar and filariasis by 2017, and leprosy by 2018. With such ambitious targets, sustained research must remain an integral component of disease elimination programmes. Besides basic research — the discovery of new facts about a disease, vaccines and drugs — new strategies are needed to make an impact.
  • For programmes to succeed, it is important to maintain constant vigilance through robust surveillance and reporting mechanisms.
  • Partnerships with diverse stakeholders including the private sector, community-based organisations, and community leaders are specifically useful in creating awareness, improving case detection, treatment completion and, most importantly, managing stigma associated with these diseases.
  • While tackling NTDs, it will be important to remember that along with timely diagnosis and treatment access in unreached areas, focussing on the fundamentals of preventive interventions, nutrition, safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene are essential in fast-tracking the ultimate goal of elimination.

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