1.Smartness isn’t enough (Indian Express)
2.A policy on Internet shutdowns (Live Mint)
1.Smartness isn’t enough (Indian Express)
Synoptic line: It throws light on the need to factor in climate resilient strategies in the domain of smart city project. (GS paper II)
- Ninety cities are now under the ambit of India’s Smart Cities Mission. However, bold policy measures and big infrastructure investments are likely to fall short if they don’t factor in climate change.
Smart City project
- There is no universally accepted definition of a smart city. It means different things to different people. The conceptualisation of Smart City, therefore, varies from city to city and country to country, depending on the level of development, willingness to change and reform, resources and aspirations of the city residents.
- Salient features of smart city project in India will include:
- urban renewal and retrofitting program
- mission to develop 100 cities (109 to be precise)
- Union Ministry of Urban Development is responsible
- Smart cities challenge, in which cities will compete
- 90 cities have been selected for upgrade
Need to factor in climate change
- As Indian cities are becoming smarter, they are also getting hotter, facing erratic rainfall and experiencing extreme events.
- The deluge-like situation in parts of Gujarat, heavy flooding in Assam, heatwaves across northern and eastern India over the last two months, underpin the vulnerability of urban areas to changing climate.
- A recent analysis by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), shows that temperatures in the smart cities of Madhya Pradesh are likely to increase by 1-1.5°C by the middle of the century. These changes will test the capacity of urban infrastructure and associated services.
Impacts of climate change on infrastructure
- A long life time, design and material considerations as well as sensitivity of performance to climate makes infrastructure vulnerable. For instance, heat may adversely impact the power output of gas-turbine and steam-based electricity generation, thereby creating a demand-supply gap.
- This could result in the need for installing additional capacity to meet power requirements when conditions are hotter.
- Similarly, high temperatures can damage road surfaces, bridges and railway tracks. It’s, of course, well-known that heavy rainfall disrupts road and rail transportation services.
Possible steps to mitigate climate related risks (Way ahead)
- The Smart City proposals show that these urban centres will rely much on information and communication technology (ICT). Energy use, transport, water, sanitation and solid waste management are also core elements of these proposals. Protecting infrastructure investments against a changing climate will entail at least four steps:
- Carry out regular risk assessments: In the context of infrastructure, this means addressing questions such as the likelihood of buckling of railways under a 4°C temperature rise or a one-in-hundred year rainfall event.
- It also involves assessing the impacts on emergency services associated with electricity disruptions due to extreme heat.
- The answers to such questions will help cities refine risk management programmes. Though climate risk assessments have been carried out for selected cities, there is apprehension that these would be one-time exercises.
- Given the dynamic nature of climate risks, the assessments need to be updated regularly.
- Adopt technical standards that consider climate change: City governments often share a request for proposals (RFPs) as part of the procurement process for various services.
- These RFPs could specify technical parameters (for example, heat-resistant pavement materials) or standards (for example, ISO) that align with climate transitions.
- For instance, private companies bidding for road contracts could use polymer modified bituminous materials that can typically withstand temperatures in excess of 40°C. Or, information on future rainfall extremes could be used while designing city drainage systems.
- Address interdependencies. Infrastructure components are highly interconnected: Electricity failures could disrupt transport or ICT services, transport disruption, in turn, could affect emergency health services.
- The failure of one set of infrastructure can amplify risks across other sectors. It is important to map these interconnections as well as study whether current governance structures are adequate to address the associated risks.
- Develop innovative financial instruments: Very often, infrastructure project finance does not account for future climate risks as part of the risk portfolio. New debt instruments such as climate-resilience bonds could be used to insure infrastructure against specific climate risks.
- Such bonds would spread risk across multiple investors while borrowing money from the debt market. Investors would receive market or higher rates of return until the onset of an adverse climate event, after which they would forfeit capital up to their investment liability.
- Prudent use of financial instruments could hedge against future climate risks.
Question– Smart city project apart from entailing huge economic costs, also binds the livelihood fate of millions of people, hence there is urgent need to make them climate resilient. What should be government’s strategy in this regard?
2.A policy on Internet shutdowns (Live Mint)
Synoptic line: It throws light on the much needed policy on internet shutdowns as absence of such policy may have huge socio-economic implications (GS paper II)
- The government’s response to control the violent situation has repeatedly been to suspend internet services in the sensitive regions. Meanwhile, in Jammu and Kashmir, a pre-emptive internet shutdown was put in place as security was being beefed up for the first death anniversary of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
- This is the seventh such shutdown in the state this year alone, followed by Haryana (which has had five shutdowns), Rajasthan (three), and Uttar Pradesh and Odisha (two each
Can internet shutdowns provide solutions?
- The frequency of internet shutdowns some has been increasing over the years. From just three in 2012, the number has gone up to 31 in 2016. In 2017, just about halfway through the calendar year, there have already been 26 shutdowns across India.
- This upward trend is to be expected. As internet literacy and penetration increase, the use of the internet for mischief and malice will also increase.
- But the internet’s increasing centrality in India, both social and economic, means that the current response of shutting it down every time there is a law and order problem is untenable for several reasons.
- Internet shutdowns are not particularly effective—people always find other ways to communicate, and studies have shown that such censorship in times of political unrest actually leads to more violent uprisings as the information void fuels uncertainty and causes panic.
- Second, the rising economic cost of such shutdowns also needs to be factored in. A 2016 study by Brookings Institution that looked at 81 instances of internet shutdowns across 19 countries between July 2015 and June 2016 found that they had cost the world economy a total of $2.4 billion. India, at a conservative estimate of $968 million, was one of the biggest losers.
Increasing reliance on Internet
- There is also another, more basic, question that needs to be considered: Does a democratic government have the right to shut down the internet? After the Gujarat government suspended internet services for almost a week during the Patidar protest in 2015, the matter was taken to the courts. The petitioner argued that the shutdown was a violation of fundamental rights, but the Supreme Court eventually held that the government was right to suspend internet services to keep the peace.
- It will be interesting to see if the courts hold the same opinion, say, a decade from now when the Internet of Things (IoT) will have taken root, networking everything from cars to refrigerators. Already, more devices are linked to the internet than people, and a recent Deloitte study estimates the number of IoT units will grow to 1.9 billion in India by 2020.
- In the meantime, there is still enough reason to question the legitimacy of internet shutdowns—especially in open societies such as India.
- Indeed, it does not require a stretch of the imagination to see how internet shutdowns can erode democratic institutions and values. For example, if citizens are using the internet to mobilize themselves, then how is shutting down the internet any different from suppressing dissent? The choice between maintaining democratic freedoms and public order is a complex one, and India needs a framework that allows a government to shut down the internet in only the most rare cases, rather than as a first response.
- One may argue that just as there are reasonable restrictions on fundamental Constitutional rights, and existing laws allow for curbs on individual freedoms in the interest of the larger good, the state is also within its rights to restrict internet access in troubled times so as to maintain peace and security. This in turns feeds into the larger debate of protecting civil liberties while also ensuring public safety and security that is happening the world over.
- A solution can be found in renegotiating our law enforcement approaches in keeping with the changing times and technologies. For example, police and government agencies could increase their presence online so that they can actively fight back against rumour-mongering.
- Also, in India, internet shutdowns are mostly imposed by invoking Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code which, in emergencies, empowers local authorities to prohibit the assembly of more than four persons. In contrast, Section 69A of the IT Act lays down a tougher set of rules and procedures, through petitions, permissions and reviews from multiple authorities, before such a shutdown can be implemented.
- This isn’t perfect, but it creates a system of checks and balances which brings us one step closer to ensuring that if such shutdowns must happen, they do so only in case of grave emergencies that justify a temporary—and only a temporary—compromise with our democratic freedoms.
Question Right to internet is akin to right to speech and expression under article 19. In this context what should be government’s strategy to control internet?