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10th February 2021 – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Content

  1. India must return to traditional diplomacy
  2. Glacial lakes — risks, solutions

Editorial: India must return to traditional diplomacy

Context:

  • Global Social Media and Changing directions of Indian Foreign Policy

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 2: Indian Foreign Policy

Mains Questions:

  1. The new combative strategy to ‘push back’ requires sober analysis, with the issue being how and against what and whom. Discuss the statement in context of changing foreign policy. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Foreign Policy in 21th Centaury
  • New, assertive norms
  • Self-assurance, past and now
  • Suggestions to Indian diplomacy moving forward
  • Way Forward

Foreign Policy in 21th Centaury:

  • Targeted Groups: The target audiences of Indian diplomacy’s public articulation and responses are changing radically as shown by the statement of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), of February 3, on singer Rihanna’s tweet.
  • The Direction of Indian diplomacy: The direction of Indian diplomacy’s external publicity is no longer confined to other governments, international organisations, external and domestic political and business elites, and conference halls and negotiating tables.
  • Diversifying: It now extends to international “celebrities”, some of whose status is determined very largely by their pop star status. It also seeks to take into account apparent and latent sentiment on the Indian streets not only to clarify India’s diplomatic positions or refute allegations and misperceptions but also to whip up sentiment on issues important to the government.
  • Finally, it aims to forcefully convey to foreign audiences, India’s unwillingness to accept perceived or real interference in the country’s domestic affairs.

New, assertive norms

  • Reasons for adopting new norms: External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar — the need to take risks to advance Indian positions and interests. Thus, new and assertive norms are being adopted which, at least till now, have demonstrated a disdain for international liberal opinion. It is beyond dispute that new directions for Indian diplomacy, in form as well as in substance, should be constantly sought.
  • Role of social media in Foreign Policy: The social media explosion has had an effect for every individual and every industry, it’s left nothing untouched by its globalizing force and although many may initially dismiss the idea, social media has been playing a powerful role in International Relations for some time now. Social media has created an environment which both empowers citizens, and puts diplomats under public scrutiny in a way that the mainstream media was unable to do previously.

Self-assurance, past and now

  • Self-assurance: Mr. Jaishankar’s assertion that the India of today is self-confident to hold its own is of course true, but it can be argued that right from Independence, India has displayed the self-assurance not to take things lying down; only the methods may have been different.
  • Criticism from liberal sections abroad: In this context, a look at the way the Narendra Modi government handled criticism from liberal sections abroad, of the administrative steps taken in Jammu and Kashmir after the constitutional changes of August 2019 and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), and the protests that followed, are instructive.
    • India then refused to purposefully engage its international liberal critics though it publicly asserted security concerns for the administrative steps and laid stress on the point that the CAA did not impinge on the rights of the Indian minorities.

Suggestions to Indian diplomacy moving forward

  • Greater realism: The purposeful pursuit of national interest in shifting global dynamics may not be easy but it must be done.
  • Economic drivers to guide diplomacy a lot more than earlier, instead of old dogmas like economic autarky, self-reliance, import substitution.
  • Multi-polar world has emerged and all the pillars (e.g. US, China, Russia Japan etc.) have to be managed without compromising with anyone.
  • Need of calculated risk-taking to take a quantum jump in global positioning. E.g. Uri and Dokhlam issue.
  • Need to read the global discourse right: E.g. growing multipolarity, weaker multilateralism, need of larger economic and political rebalancing needs to be carefully analysed.
  • Giving up the dogmas: India cannot be dogmatic in approaching a visibly changing global order.

Way Forward

The government would be now conscious of engaging international liberal opinion rather than merely dismissing it. This does not imply coming under pressure on matters of critical importance to Indian interests. But it does mean taking recourse to traditional diplomacy even if it is stodgy and unappealing to sections of nationalist Indian opinion.


Editorial: Glacial lakes — risks, solutions

Context:

  • The staggering collapse of part of a glacier in Uttarakhand’s Nanda Devi mountain and the ensuing floods that have claimed many lives come as a deadly reminder that this fragile, geologically dynamic region can never be taken for granted.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 1: Critical geographical features, flora, fauna (changes and effects thereof);  Important Geophysical phenomena (earthquakes, tsunami, volcanoes, cyclones); Geographical features and location;

Mains Questions:

  1. The Uttarakhand glacier burst should prompt a review of how the Himalayas are treated. Discuss. 15 Marks
  2. Flash flood incident in Uttarakhand is another warning of the dangers that a Himalayan state like Uttarakhand faces from natural processes like landslides, snow avalanches cloudbursts or lake bursts. Discuss. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • What caused the flood
  • How big is the threat of such incidents continuing?
  • Others causes of floods in India:
  • Government’s efforts towards flood management
  • Measures to control floods in Himalayan Regions
  • Way Forward

What caused the flood

  • Glacial Burst: A glacial burst was widely considered the main reason for the incident, with reports citing cloudburst as another possible one.
  • Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF): Glacial lakes are formed when a glacier retreats, and are usually dammed in by moraines—deposits of soil and rock left behind by a moving glacier. If the dam bursts because of increasing pressure from a growing lake (or other external reasons), it can cause widespread flooding and destruction downstream. The 2013 floods of Uttarakhand was caused by a GLOF.

How big is the threat of such incidents continuing?

  • There are over 1,000 glaciers in Uttarakhand. Almost all of them are receding. Most of the glaciers also have debris cover. When glaciers retreat due to rising temperatures, the snow melts but the debris remains. This debris aids in the formation of lakes.
  • Over the years, the frequency of formation of these lakes has increased. But despite that, there are not many GLOF (glacial lake outburst flood) events happening in Uttarakhand. Not as many as in Sikkim, for example. The is because Uttarakhand has very steep slopes, and the water manages to find a way out.

Others causes of floods in India:

  • Topographical and Hydrological factors: Overflowing Rivers is the primary cause of floods in these regions. Brahmaputra and Barak and their tributaries in Assam and Kosi River in Bihar are responsible for majority of floods. The flooding situation in these rivers is often aggravated by:
    • erosion and silting of the river beds, resulting in a reduction of the carrying capacity of river channels
    • earthquakes and landslides leading to changes in river courses and obstructions to flow
    • synchronization of floods in the main and tributary rivers
    • inflow from neighboring states
  • Meteorological factors: 80% of the precipitation in India takes place in the monsoon months from June to September. Concentrated rainfalls in a short span of time and events such as cloud bursts, glacial lake outbursts etc. often cause floods in Himalayan Rivers.
  • Anthropogenic factors: These include deforestation, drainage congestion, encroachment of natural water bodies, unsustainable mining of river-bed, poorly planned development works and climate change induced extreme weather events.
  • Flaws in Flood management strategies:
    • Construction of embankments without proper assessment: Embankments have been used extensively in Assam and Bihar for managing flooded rivers. Some studies have concluded that in certain cases embankments have enhanced the flood problem.
    • Absence of an integrated approach by the Centre and the state: The Brahamaputra Board formed under the Brahmaputra Board Act, 1980, lacks coordination with the state government. Similar lack of coordination can be seen between the Assam Disaster Management Authority and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
    • Unrealized potential of multipurpose dams: The dams in Assam and Bihar mainly focus at the hydropower benefits and lack storage space for flood control.
    • Trans boundary management of rivers: Absence of real time sharing of hydrological data and poor coordination among river basin nations about river flow management is an issue.

Government’s efforts towards flood management

  • Rashtriya Barh Ayog (RBA) was constituted in 1976. It submitted its report in 1980 recommending various measures of flood control.
  • National Water Policy-2012: It emphasizes construction of large storage reservoirs and other non-structural measures for integrated flood management.
  • Setting up Ganga Flood Control Commission (GFCC) at Patna in 1972 and Brahmaputra Board in 1980 for advising the Ganga Basin States and North EasternStates respectively on Flood Management measures.
  • The Central Water Commission (CWC) was set up in 1945: It performs flood forecasting activities on major rivers and their tributaries in the country and issues flood forecast at 175 stations.

Measures to control floods in Himalayan Regions:

Monitoring

  • The first step in tackling the threat from these glacial lakes is to start monitoring them and the glaciers more actively and regularly. We do not need to monitor every glacier.
  • Glaciers in one basin do not have remarkably different properties. If we identify one or two benchmark glaciers in every basin, those that are more easily accessible, and do detailed studies, then the results can be extrapolated to the rest of the glaciers in the basin or the state.
  • The government of Uttarakhand itself takes a lead in this effort, and not be entirely dependent on outside agencies for monitoring or data. Afterall, Uttarakhand is the most vulnerable to natural disasters like these, and it must build capacities to reduce the risk.

Planning

  • Construction-related activities in the state might not have a direct link to Sunday’s incident, but these are not entirely benign. The Himalayas are very young mountain systems, and extremely fragile.
  • A minor change in orientation of the rocks can be enough to trigger landslides. It is important to include glaciers in any environment impact assessment for major projects such as construction of dams.
  • The entire catchment areas should be made part of the impact assessment. In fact, project owners must be asked to invest in such studies. After all, their own assets are also at stake.

Mitigation

  • If we monitor the glaciers regularly, it would enable us to identify the lakes that need mitigation solutions. Several structural and geotechnical measures can be applied, and there are successful examples where the threat from these lakes have been reduced.
  • It is possible to construct channels for gradual and regulated discharge of water from these lakes, which will reduce the pressure on them, and minimise the chances of a breach.

Way Forward:

The need is to rigorously study the impact of policy on the Himalayas and confine hydro projects to those with the least impact, while relying more on low impact run-of-the-river power projects that need no destructive large dams and reservoirs. Unlike what the NITI Aayog seems to think of environmental accounting, this would be a sound approach.

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