20th November 2018
Answer questions in NOT MORE than 200 words each. Content of the answer is more important than its length.
Links are provided for reference. You can also use the Internet fruitfully to further enhance and strengthen your answers.
GS III: ENVIRONMENT
Q1. Faecal sludge treatment is a growing concern in India and has serious implicatins such as child stunting. Discuss how reinvented toilet and omni processor waste treatment plants can help solve this problem.
- According to UNICEF, 2% of children, or 151 million, under five years were stunted globally in 2017. The World Bank says annual healthcare costs from lack of sanitation in developing countries is a staggering $260 billion. That is because faeces containing pathogens lie exposed. Open defecation has a high health cost. It spreads disease, stunts children and prevents them from achieving normal physical and mental development. To many observers India is further behind on sanitation than on other issues, which is reflected in the high levels of stunting.
- India’s record in treating urban sewage is poor at 30%, and a third of about 847 large sewage treatment plants are not functional. The priority should be to put all these plants to full use, and equip them to handle faecal sludge by adding omni processors to them. The Swachh Bharat Mission has brought faecal sludge treatment within its ambit, and many Chief Ministers want FSTPs. Put together, their orders total 415 such plants this year.
- Even in an advanced State such as Tamil Nadu, which is working to upgrade its infrastructure, only 30% of urban sewage is treated. On the other hand, in 3,500 small cities, very little gets treated. There are some promising signs. Odisha wants 115 faecal sludge treatment plants. Andhra Pradesh has taken the lead and funded 33 plants, and, importantly, tendered for omni processors for these. Tamil Nadu has announced that it will build 48 plants out of its own funds, estimating that 80% of the faecal sludge problem can be managed across the State at a cost of less than about ₹200 crore.
- The solution lies the reinvented toilet and omni processor waste treatment plants.The technology teams now have working prototypes. It is now up to politicians and policymakers to make decisions to adopt them, especially because the Sustainable Development Goal of sanitation and clean water for all by 2030 is not far away.
- Innovation involves a shift away from the gold standard of flush toilets connected to sewers. In the new order, there will be stand-alone facilities that are aesthetically designed, finely engineered and equipped with reliable chemical processes that produce nothing more than ash from solids, while reusing the liquid as non-potable water after treatment. The prototypes are undergoing trials in far-flung centres such as Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu and Durban in South Africa. The technologies that run inside them have been developed by research institutions such as California Institute of Technology (Caltech), University of South Florida, and Duke University. Some products are ready for prime time. Caltech’s partnership with toilet-maker Eram Scientific will help induct the technology and deploy it at scale. There may also be a mix-and-match approach, leveraging the best technologies from the individual prototypes.
- What makes these reinvented toilets special is that they expel nothing. They turn liquid waste into clear water for flushing, and solids into pellets or ash that is fertilizer. Success will depend on making large community deployments, and developing cost-effective models for individuals. While the reinvented toilet gets optimised, India should, in parallel, look at omni processors for faecal sludge treatment plants (FSTP). These “zero emission” processors will end dumping of faecal sludge taken from septic tanks into rivers, lakes, farms and open spaces. They can also prevent the death of workers in septic tanks. Some models also attach a gasifier that can use municipal solid waste, providing a solution to handle that urban waste stream as well. Large and often idle sewage treatment plants can be put to dual use, by adding an FSTP, preferably with an omni processor. In the case of small towns, a cluster approach will help, and two or three of them can come together to share treatment plant capacity.
GS II: SOCIAL: WOMEN
Q2. An increase in the number of sexual harassment cases in India shows the lacunae in our education system. Discuss.
- Over the past few weeks, many women have spoken about their experiences of sexual harassment. Some have named the accused. Many of these accounts have been of incidents at the workplace and by co-workers, and expose the prevalence of deep-seated sexism across professions. There have been various responses by the accused to these testimonies: unconditional apologies, resignations, stepping away from duties until further investigation — but also denial, intimidation and even further harassment. Some of these were immediate responses to mounting public pressure and questions; whether they reflected repentance or realisation on the part of the accused is debatable. Some other responses, such as intimidation through defamation cases, show the entitlement that many men in power enjoy. Both sexual harassment and the kinds of responses from the accused lay bare a critical failure of our education system. It will not be sufficient to say that it is society that allows, or even conditions, men to behave the way they do. Education, an important part of the socialisation process, is also to blame.
- The education that we are imparted needs to be held accountable at this juncture because of its failure on fundamental grounds. The purpose of education is not to only ensure that people secure employment or rise to coveted positions of power alone, it is also to ensure that they learn and practice equality and mutual respect. Many of the accused are qualified, educated men. Their actions compel us to ask whether those years spent in school, college and university have been unsuccessful in instilling basic values. It seems as though rising to top positions and enjoying power have emboldened men to behave in unacceptable ways, and the education system has done nothing to prevent this.
- It is not uncommon to hear of incidents of sexual harassment being justified as “casual flirting” or being attributed to the offender’s “glad eye”. Using these terms to explain away or even justify these acts reflects the depth and expanse of the problem
- Today, many of us are not surprised at the volume of complaints of sexual harassment. This is because it has been normalised. Sexism is not casual, it is systemic. That our education system is failing to teach boys and men to recognise, challenge and refrain from sexist and even unlawful behaviour must be acknowledged and tackled.
- This is not to say that sexual misconduct or gender inequality is a by-product of a lack in education. The spotlight is not to be put on the educated alone, but on the system too. Among other things, education has the basic duty of ensuring that we become socially aware and sensitive beings who know how to interact and engage with people of different genders, castes, classes and communities. We must teach students that consent is an essential component of any interaction and that decisions, even of refusal, must be respected.
- While there is considerable discussion on the need to change mindsets, efforts to actually bring about such long-term structural changes are rare. Gender equality must not be limited to newsroom debates, stand-up themes or films, although these are necessary.
- There must be efforts to incorporate a gender curriculum in all school and college classrooms, establish anti-sexual harassment cells, organise regular awareness programmes on consent across the country, and formulate measures to address incidents of sexual harassment. The police should initiate community engagement drives so that students know how to report sexual harassment. Campaigns like Operation Nirbheek, initiated to improve safety and security of girls in schools, have proven to be successful to a large extent. Interventions in educational institutions will be a much-needed start to strengthen voices against sexual harassment and make homes and workplaces safe. It is imperative that we begin early if we are to secure a closure to our #MeToo experiences.