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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 30 May 2024

  1. The Threat of Building Fires
  2. Open Access is Crucial for Self-Reliance in Science


Context:

The catastrophic fires at a gaming center in Rajkot, Gujarat, and a newborn nursing clinic in Delhi, occurring within 24 hours of each other and resulting in over 30 fatalities, highlight a persistent issue in India: widespread negligence regarding building fire safety by various stakeholders, including builders, owners, and regulatory authorities.

Relevance:

  • GS1- Disaster Management
  • GS3- Urbanization

Mains Question:

In the context of building fires in India, list out the causes that have led to a recent rise in their number. What are the provisions that govern fire safety in India and how successful have they been? (15 Marks, 250 Words).

Current Provisions Regarding Fire Safety in India:

  • Fire service, a critical emergency response service, falls under the 12th schedule of the Indian Constitution, which pertains to municipal functions.
  • Currently, fire prevention and firefighting services are managed by the respective States, Union Territories (UTs), and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs).

National Building Code (NBC) of India, 2016:

  • Published by the Bureau of Indian Standards, the NBC is a “recommendatory document.”
  • State governments are expected to integrate its guidelines into their local building by-laws, thereby making the recommendations mandatory.
  • The NBC includes administrative regulations, general building requirements such as fire safety measures, and provisions for structural design and construction safety.

Model Building Bye Laws, 2003:

  • According to the Model Building Bye Laws 2003, fire clearance is the responsibility of the Chief Fire Officer.
  • The Development Authority must submit building plans to the Chief Fire Officer for fire safety clearance.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA):

  • The NDMA provides guidelines that stipulate fire safety requirements for public buildings, including hospitals.
  • These guidelines cover maintaining a minimum level of open space, exit mechanisms, stairways, and conducting evacuation drills.

Associated Shortcomings:

  • Despite the Bureau of Indian Standards detailing comprehensive fire safety protocols in its National Building Code of India (NBC) 2016, the document is only advisory since fire services fall under state jurisdiction and are enforced at the municipal level.
  • The blatant disregard for India’s fire safety norms is evident from the introductory lines on the ‘About Fire Service – Background’ page of the Director General, Fire Services website under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • It states, “The fire services are not well organized in India,” and further notes, “in recent years, the requirements for fire safety cover have increased manifold, whereas the development of fire service has not made much headway.”
  • The National Disaster Management Authority recommended a ₹7,000 crore allocation to the 13th Finance Commission for overhauling India’s fire and emergency services.
  • However, the Commission recognized a need for nearly ₹90,000 crore at the municipal level for a tailored revamp and restructuring of fire and emergency preparedness.
  • A 2019 Home Ministry response to the Rajya Sabha revealed that India had only 3,377 fire stations, whereas a 2012 national report on fire hazards and risk analysis called for more than double that number.
  • The shortage of personnel is even more alarming, with only about 55,000 fire servicemen in 2019, compared to a requirement of about 560,000 seven years earlier.
  • In response, the Centre allocated ₹5,000 crore last July and asked States to contribute another ₹1,400 crore to modernize emergency services.
  • This followed the 15th Finance Commission’s recommendation to allocate 12.5% of all funds towards the National/State Disaster Response Funds.

Conclusion:

With increasing heatwaves and extreme weather events, it is clear that synchronizing the 2016 National Building Code with the Energy Conservation Building Code is necessary for a comprehensive approach to fire safety. Standards for construction materials, electrical wiring, air conditioning, and other cooling materials need an overhaul. More importantly, India’s political leaders, bureaucrats, policymakers, and entrepreneurs must urgently address this critical threat.



Context:

A recent editorial in Nature praised India’s rise as a scientific powerhouse, mirroring its growing economic influence. India’s science ecosystem is on a remarkable path, now ranking third globally in research output and eleventh in quality, according to the Nature Index. However, achieving significant scientific discoveries and innovation depends on robust infrastructure and resources, which remain inadequate in India’s research landscape.

Relevance:

GS2-

  • Education
  • Government Policies & Interventions

GS3- Indigenization of Technology and Developing New Technology

Mains Question:

With the evolving landscape of academic publishing, investing in an all-encompassing subscription model is not prudent. Discuss. (10 Marks, 150 Words).

India’s Research Landscape:

  • From 2014 to 2021, the number of universities in India increased from 760 to 1,113, yet many lack essential resources such as access to advanced instruments, sophisticated labs, and necessary research literature.
  • To address this gap, the pioneering I-STEM initiative has been launched to catalogue all publicly funded research facilities nationwide and make them accessible to researchers based on need, aiming to democratize advanced research infrastructure.
  • Additionally, the ‘One Nation, One Subscription (ONOS)‘ initiative proposes a centralized subscription model for scientific journals, making them universally accessible to all publicly funded institutions.
  • Access to these commercial journals is costly, with institutions in India spending an estimated ₹1,500 crore annually on journal and database subscriptions. However, this expenditure primarily benefits only the top institutions.
  • The government is currently negotiating with the five major commercial publishers who dominate the market to implement ONOS.

Is ONOS the Optimal Solution?

  • Is the ‘One Nation, One Subscription’ (ONOS) model the best solution for accessing scientific literature? When ONOS was first conceptualized around 2019, many scholarly articles were behind paywalls.
  • However, a significant shift has occurred, with a larger portion of articles now available via Open Access (OA), meaning they are freely accessible online.
  • An analysis of publications indexed in the Web of Science indicates that the global share of OA publications rose from 38% in 2018 to 50% in 2022. This trend questions the necessity and efficiency of paying for content that is increasingly available for free.
  • There is currently strong advocacy for OA by the U.S. and the European Union. In 2023, the U.S. released an updated OA policy requiring immediate open access for all publicly funded research articles by 2025.
  • Given this trend, it’s reasonable to argue that we should be paying less for access to scientific literature.
  • The academic publishing market is dominated by a few powerful publishers in the global north, which allows them to set stringent terms, making any negotiation on ONOS challenging.
  • The established reputation and authority of these publishers also hinder discussions about alternatives.
  • In other areas of government procurement, the use of public funds is strictly regulated to ensure maximum cost efficiency and benefit.
  • Why should the procurement of academic journals be any different? If a significant portion of research is already freely accessible, the rationale for a unified, costly subscription becomes less compelling.
  • Additionally, ONOS would not make Indian research globally accessible; rather, it would primarily provide Indian researchers access to journals owned by major publishing oligarchs.
  • Moreover, subscribing to journals does not guarantee continued access. Most academic journals are now only available digitally, and while articles have digital object identifiers (DOIs), these do not ensure long-term preservation.
  • A recent study found that “approximately 28% of academic journal articles with DOIs appear entirely unpreserved,” suggesting that millions of research papers are at risk of disappearing from the internet.
  • For instance, over 17,000 research papers from a chemistry journal distributed by Elsevier globally, except in Japan, vanished when the journal was discontinued in December 2023.

Green Open Access:

  • Given that commercial publishers have not ensured the long-term availability of the content they profit from, it makes sense that every article authored by Indian researchers and funded by taxpayer money should be archived in publicly funded open access (OA) repositories.
  • This practice is known as Green Open Access, allowing authors to deposit a version of their work in a university repository, making it freely accessible worldwide.
  • Although Indian funding agencies have long mandated green OA, it has not been enforced effectively. Recent issues should prompt a stronger push for green OA.
  • Major publishers such as Elsevier (Netherlands), Thomson Reuters (Canada), Taylor Francis (U.K.), Springer Nature (Germany), and Wiley and SAGE (U.S.) are headquartered in the global north and are highly profitable enterprises.
  • Much of their profit comes from the unpaid labor of researchers who perform peer reviews and editorial work.

Conclusion:

For India to become atmanirbhar (self-reliant), it needs to improve its own journal system, ensuring no payment burden on authors or readers. With its strong capabilities in digital technology, India should also lead the global south by creating and sharing digital public infrastructure for low-cost, high-quality scientific publishing.


June 2024
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