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Editorials/Opinions Analyses For UPSC 17 January 2022


  1. Storm warnings of a megacity collapse
  2. Friend in need

Storm warnings of a megacity collapse


The unpredicted spell of staggering rain over Chennai on December 30, 2021 capped a season of repeated monsoon inundation and urban paralysis, coming as a stark reminder to political leaders that they are underestimating the risk of urban collapse due to extreme weather events.


GS Paper – 1: Geographical Features and their Location. GS Paper – 3: Disaster Management, Environmental Pollution & Degradation

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Catastrophic 2015 flood in Chennai
  2. Sustainable and equitable urban development
  3. Report of Niti Aayog
  4. Multidimensional Approach to Tackle Climate Change
  5. Need for affordable Housing
  6. Way Forward

Catastrophic 2015 flood in Chennai:

  • It is an unprecedented event, raised expectations of a major shift in priorities for urban development.
  • That deluge was similar to the great flood of 2005 in Mumbai, which too raised hopes that policies would be redrawn.
  • In spite of immense community support and active mobilisation for change, both cities witnessed a regression, as informality remained dominant, laws were just on paper, and unsustainable changes were made to the urban environment.
  • Permanent, elite constructions were favoured at the cost of ecology.

Sustainable and equitable urban development:

  • Would urban development be more sustainable and equitable if the guiding principle is climate change?
  • This new approach would prioritise ecological and sustainability concerns over aesthetics, and reject market-oriented ‘fantasy plans’
  • While green roofs, electric vehicles and solar power would be welcome, they would not replace conservation of natural flood plains, rivers, mangroves, marshes and gardens.
  • It would be the future-proofing that India’s cities need, to avert sudden dysfunction caused by climate events.

Report of Niti Aayog:

  • Findings: In its report on ‘Reforms in Urban Planning Capacity in India’ (September 2021), NITI Aayog cites the COVID-19 pandemic as a revelatory moment that underscores the dire need for all cities to become healthy cities by 2030.
    • Climate impacts are certain to affect cities even more fundamentally and permanently.
  • Recommendations:
    • Consistent with the approach of the present Central government, it recommends 500 priority cities to be included in a competitive framework, adopting participatory planning tools, surveys and focus group discussions to assess the needs and aspirations of citizens.
    • There is considerable importance given to technological tools, private sector talent and mapping strategies to identify a city’s assets and to plan spatially.
    • But to ensure greater inclusion and a sense of community, the central role for democratically-elected local governments is essential.
      • For example: In Tamil Nadu, urban local bodies have not had elections for a decade, while the long coastline of the State has been hit by cyclones that have crippled Chennai and other towns.

Multidimensional Approach to Tackle Climate Change:

  • All dimensions of a city’s growth, starting with affordable housing, play a central role in adapting to future climate change. 
  • They can lower carbon emissions growth even during infrastructure creation if biophilic design and green materials are used.
  • Less than half of all cities have master plans, and even these are ruled by informality, since both influential elites and the poor encroach upon commons such as wetlands and river banks, as Chennai and Mumbai have witnessed. 
  • Encroachment: After a catastrophic flood, the emphasis is on encroachment removal directed almost entirely at the less affluent.
    • In Chennai: The focus after every flood has been on the storm water drain network, while commercial encroachment of the vast marshland in Pallikaranai, a natural sponge for the city, gets insufficient attention.
    • In Mumbai: This experience echoes the fate of encroachments along Mumbai’s Mithi river, where the Mithi River Development and Protection Authority, after the 2005 flood, favoured removal of dwellings, while sparing ‘permanent structures’ that were too big to touch.
  • A top-level department for climate change adaptation: It is best suited to serve as a unifier, bringing all relevant departments in a State, such as housing and urban development, transport, water supply, energy, land use, public works and irrigation to work with elected local governments that set priorities and become accountable.
  • Greater role of Municipal councils: Neglect of municipal councils, lack of empowerment and failure to build capacity among municipal authorities have produced frequent urban paralysis in extreme weather.

Need for affordable Housing:

  • The encroachment of important commons reflects the extreme dependence on market forces to supply affordable urban houses.
  • In Chennai, speculative values have outpriced the middle class and young workers aspiring for their first home, sending them out of the city to relatively cheaper suburbs.
    • These investments do not reflect their true value even if they are layouts ‘approved’ by the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, because outlying town panchayats have little capacity or funds to create even basic infrastructure such as water supply, sanitation and roads.
    • For many residents, monsoon 2021 was no different from others before it. They may live in gated towers along the IT corridor but they struggled to stay afloat, using boats or trucks to get supplies and to travel.
    • Such images rarely get media play, as they represent the unflattering reality of high house prices.
  • Suburban home buyers should transfer some part of the price for infrastructure building, rather than let it be cornered solely by speculators
  • CurrentlyChennai is working on a new master plan and a climate action plan, with planned investments in infrastructure including Metro rail links to the western and southern suburbs, it should introduce regulation to ensure value capture.
  • Population growth at the peripheries: Loose metropolitan boundaries with little control over neighbouring local governments produce amorphous building regulations.
    • In Chennai’s case, unplanned densification is occurring in three neighbouring districts which are linked to the core city by local transport and are hence part of a larger metropolitan area.
      • Here, traditional natural assets such as wetlands, reservoirs and watercourses are being lost rapidly.
    •  This is typical of other major Indian cities as well, where population growth at the peripheries has been accelerated by anomalous land and housing price increases at the core and absence of adequate good rental housing.

Way Forward:

  • India’s cities will continue to be drivers of economic growth with significant production and consumption, but that sunrise story is threatened by unsustainable urban development in the era of climate change.
  •  The experiences of Mumbai earlier and Chennai recently are storm warnings, and greater centralisation of governance can do little to address this. 
  • The need today is not for flashy retrofitted ‘smart’ urban enclaves but sound, functional metropolitan cities that can handle floods, heat waves, pollution and mass mobility to keep the engines of the economy running.
  • Urban India would otherwise turn into a subprime investment.

-Source: The Hindu

Friend in need


In the recent meeting, India has assured Sri Lanka that it will support Sri Lanka “in all possible ways for overcoming the economic and other challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic”. India’s response was significant and timely. 


GS Paper – 2: India and its Neighbourhood, Bilateral Groupings & Agreements, Groupings & Agreements Involving India and/or Affecting India’s Interests, Effect of Policies & Politics of Countries on India’s Interests

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis
  2. Indian assistance to Sri Lanka
  3. India and Sri Lanka – concerns
  4. Way Forward

Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis:

  • A crucial week lies ahead for the Sri Lankan economy, when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa must make a decision on whether to service debts to bonds with an instalment of $500 million or to default for the first time ever, given the island’s precarious finances.
  • This includes:
    • A credit crunch
    • A slump in GDP spurred by COVID-19 losses to tourism,
    • Decrease in exports and remittances,
    • Decreasing foreign reserves and
    • Pending debt repayments of more than $7 bn expected in 2022. 
    • The most immediate problems come from rising unrest.
  • In the preceding weeks, the Rajapaksa government reached out to India and China, which are most likely to help given their respective interests in the island.
  • China: It has also extended a currency swap arrangement of $1.5 billion.

Indian assistance to Sri Lanka:

  • It was to India, however, that Mr. Rajapaksa turned with a humanitarian appeal and SOS. 
  • India decided on a “four-pronged” initiative, that included Lines of Credit (LoC) towards the import of fuel, food and medicines, currency swap and debt deferrals from India to Sri Lanka, as well as the conclusion of the Trinco-oil farms project.
    • India has extended $400 million under the “SAARC currency swap” arrangement
    • It has agreed to a partial deferral of a $500 million settlement from Sri Lanka by two months.
    • The $1.5 bn Lines of Credit for essential imports is reportedly under way. 
    • The Trincomalee project MoU was signed earlier this month after decades of delays.

India and Sri Lanka – concerns:

  • It would be naive to assume that New Delhi’s assistance will paper over other problems in the complex relations between India and Sri Lanka. 
  • The Fishermen Issue: Amongst other issues, the friction over fishermen’s rights and pending political solution for war-torn Tamil areas remain sticking points.
  • China-Sri Lanka Ties: Concerns over Sri Lanka’s strategic ties with China have often led to open disagreements. 

Way Forward:

  • It is important to note, however, that in times of peril, India and Sri Lanka have established a robust channel of communication and demonstrated an ability to act on promises quickly, proving that adage about friends (and neighbours) in need.

-Source: The Hindu

July 2024