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The Hindu Editorial Analysis | Free PDF Download

Date: 05 March 2019

Alarming spread

  • With H1N1 now a seasonal flu strain, care workers and others at risk must be vaccinated short span of 55 days (till February 24) this year, the number of influenza A (H1N1) cases and deaths reported from India reached an alarming 14,803 and 448, respectively.
  • The highest numbers were from Rajasthan (3,964), Delhi (2,738) and Gujarat (2,726). Uttar Pradesh was next, with 905.
  • While Rajasthan and Gujarat had the highest number of deaths, at 137 and 88, respectively, Delhi recorded seven deaths despite recording around the same number of cases as Gujarat.
  • There appears to be no let-up, with the number of cases and deaths steadily rising. What is more disturbing is that the number of cases reported till February 24 is nearly the same as that recorded in the whole of 2018 (14,992). At about 450, the number of deaths till February 24 is nearly half the total reported in 2018 (1,103). The actual number of cases and deaths this year is likely to be higher as West Bengal has not reported the data to the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme. Moreover, the IDSP data are based only on
    laboratory confirmed cases and deaths. The H1N1 virus, which caused a pandemic in 2009, has since become a seasonal flu strain globally, including in India, and causes fewer deaths. According to the WHO, in 2009 the number of laboratory confirmed deaths caused by the pandemic strain was at least 18,500. But a 2012 paper in Lancet Infectious Diseases mentioned 2,84,000 deaths, which was 15 times more than the number of laboratory confirmed deaths
  • On February 6, the Union Health Ministry had reviewed the preparedness and action taken by States to deal with influenza cases when the number of H1N1 cases and deaths stood at 6,701 and 226, respectively.
  • Despite the number of cases and deaths more than doubling in less than 20 days since the review, the Ministry has made no additional effort to contain the spread.
  • It has issued a guidance “recommending” vaccines for health-care workers, and deeming them “desirable” for those above 65 years of age and children between six months and eight years. Surprisingly, people with preexisting chronic diseases, who are most susceptible to H1N1 complications according to the WHO, have been ignored — though its own statement released on February 6 had said more deaths were seen in people with diabetes and hypertension. With H1N1 becoming a seasonal flu virus strain in India even during summer, it is advisable that health-care workers and others at risk get themselves vaccinated. Despite the sharp increase in cases and deaths, the vaccine uptake has been low. Besides vaccination, there needs to be greater awareness so that people adopt precautionary measures such as frequent handwashing, and cough etiquette.

SOLAR POWERHOUSE

  • For residential consumers to see rooftop solar as a viable electricity option, building awareness is crucial
  • In February, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved phase 2 of the grid-connected rooftop solar programme, with a focus on the residential sector. India has set an ambitious target of achieving 40 GW of rooftop solar capacity by 2022. However, while there has been progress on rooftop solar installations among industries and commercial consumers, the uptake among residential consumers has been slow.
  • Urban residential electricity consumers are still hesitant to consider rooftop solar power for their homes. This is because they don’t have enough information about it, according to a 2018 study by the World Resources Institute in five cities — Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Chennai, Jaipur and Nagpur.

Limited access to information

  • For residential urban consumers, one of the key barriers to installing rooftop solar systems is that they do not know who to contact to understand the processes to be followed and permissions required. There is no single source to access information, evaluate benefits and disadvantages, and examine if any government support (such as a financial subsidy) is available. Most of the technical information provided by various sources, including the government, tends to be Internet-based. The study shows that less than 20% of respondents rely on the Internet to make a decision concerning rooftop solar systems. A significant majority of consumers seek face-to-face discussions and recommendations from friends and family.
  • Devising simple, well-designed and creative ways to disseminate information is important to help consumers make informed decisions. Information must be made easily available to the consumers on the amount of shadow-free roof area needed for generating a unit of electricity and pricing; operating the system, after-sales maintenance and support; and reliable rooftop solar vendors.
  • The local electricity linesmen, electricity inspectors, and other nodal officials in the electricity department also have key roles to play. Building their capacities to disseminate such information and handle consumer queries and concerns, and providing basic training in billing and metering for solar power can go a long way in improving consumers’ experience.
  • Objective information must be put out through various avenues, so that it is accessible to all segments of the population and in local languages. Such awareness drives will reach larger audiences. Information kiosks can be set up in public institutions like banks to offer information on the technology, as well as on practical issues such as guidance on selecting vendors.
  • A robust feedback mechanism can be put in place for consumers to share their experiences with others.
  • Consumer rights groups, rooftop solar system vendors, and resident welfare associations (RWAs) in larger cities are beginning to organise campaigns and workshops to generate awareness and create a dialogue with consumers. In November 2018, for instance, the Bangalore Apartments’ Federation held a workshop on residential rooftop solar to sensitise their members. Several RWAs have initiated discussions with residents to explore collective installation of rooftop solar, starting with common facilities like lifts and water pumps.

Lessons to learn

  • Since the market for residential rooftop solar power is nascent, there are opportunities to learn from more mature consumer durable markets. For example, RWAs can tie up with vendors to organise demonstration programmes, so that consumers can observe, operate and understand how the system works.
  • It is important to also acknowledge that enthusiasm for rooftop solar energy largely comes from those with higher disposable incomes and who live in their own houses. This is one of the several reasons that electricity utilities are not very supportive of consumers generating their own power, as this would impact their revenues. Rooftop solar is a promising energy source for everyone, including socio-economically weaker consumers. However, awareness building sessions need to be socially inclusive and should take place during periods when consumers are likely to be at home.
  • The uptake of rooftop solar across economic categories is also contingent on policies that make it more accessible and affordable.
  • Consumer groups and development organisations have a significant role in systematically following key policies and institutional procedures and ensuring that consumers’ concerns in accessing reliable information are addressed. Raising awareness and building consumer capacity to engage with the sector are crucial for ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all and for India to achieve its rooftop solar targets.

 

The loss of intellectual autonomy

  • To define one’s identity or community in terms of an exclusive religion is a vexed European notion
  • No person in today’s world likes to be told what to do or what to think. The young are particularly keen to have the freedom to decide which beliefs to form. Intellectual autonomy is widely considered to be an important value. This was probably not true in the past when large numbers of people were illiterate, knowledge was produced and stored by a few, and there was wider social legitimacy for submission to those with power and authority.
  • However, even then, poets and philosophers routinely felt that intellectual autonomy is smothered by temptations of power. Asked by his pupils on how to relate to rulers, the medieval philosopher-saint Al Ghazali said, “It would be disastrous to go to a ruler to offer unsolicited advice. It is acceptable to offer your opinion if the ruler sought you. But it is best if he goes his way and you go yours.”

Strategy of intellectual control

  • Since the end of the 18th century, as technologies of knowledge production became increasingly available to larger sections of society, intellectual autonomy has been threatened not only by state power, but in other invidious ways.
  • Colonialism is a case in point. The British strategy of intellectual control was implemented by crafting a system of education rather than brute coercion. Although the best of our thinkers outmanoeuvred this system — after all our most original thinker of this period, Gandhi, was a product of this very education — it created acute anxiety among self-reflexive thinkers. For example, Sri Aurobindo lamented the “increasing impoverishment of the Indian intellect” in the face of new knowledge imposed by European contact. “Nothing is our own, nothing native to our intelligence, all is derived,” he complained. “As little have we understood the new knowledge; we have only understood what the Europeans want us to think about themselves and their modern civilisation. Our English culture — if culture it can be called — has increased tenfold the evil of our dependence instead of remedying it.”
  • A more catastrophic malady resulting from this “well meaning bondage” was the loss of intellectual autonomy. The watchword of Indians, he argued, has become “authority”, blind acceptance of ideas coming either from outside, from Europe, as was the case of the then English-educated Indians, or from inside, from fossilised traditions, as was the case of traditional pundits. It was as if the only choice before Indian intellectual elites was a hyper-westernised modernism or ultra-traditionalism. Some elites would have every detail of their life determined exclusively by Western ideas. Others would have them fixed only by shastra, custom and scripture. Each wanted to reform the other, which was nothing but a call to substitute the authority of “Guru Sayana with the authority of Max Mueller” or the “dogmatism of European scientists and scholars” with the “dogmatism of Brahmin Pandits”. The absence of real choice was a symptom of an undermined capacity to think on one’s own, the power of humans to accept or reject nothing without proper questioning.
  • Much the same conclusion was reached, a decade later, by the Indian philosopher, K.C. Bhattacharya. In ‘Swaraj in Ideas’, Bhattacharya feared that Indians might suffer from a subtler form of domination “when one’s traditional cast of ideas and sentiments is superseded without comparison or competition by a new cast representing an alien culture which possesses one like a ghost.” To be sure, when two cultures come into sustained contact with one another, there is bound to be give and take. One culture might even give to the other more than it takes from it. However, all creative assimilation involves a real conflict of ideas, and elements of an alien culture can be accepted only after “full and open-eyed struggle has been allowed to develop” between the two encountering cultures.

Two alien ideas in India today

  • I am afraid we have allowed two deeply problematic alien ideas to penetrate our collective consciousness without thorough questioning or proper comparison with ideas emanating from our intellectual traditions.
  • One is the idea of religion, and the second, a particular conception of the nation. Religion, as a demarcated system of practices, beliefs and doctrines, is largely an early modern European invention and begins its existence in and through the theological disputes of the 16th and 17th centuries. Under the impact of colonialism, this category came to India and obliged Indians to think of themselves as members of one exclusive religious community, not just different from but opposed to others. It is of course true that gods and goddesses, ethical norms and prescriptions, rituals and practices did exist in some form in the past. But these were not thought to be part of one single entity called Hinduism, so that those who owed allegiance to any one of these sets of practices did not think of themselves as belonging to a single system of belief and doctrine in competition with and opposition to all others. Indeed, mobility across communities and multiple allegiances were common. As a result, most people refused to be slotted into rigid, compartmentalised entities. They were religious but did not belong to a religion. This has virtually ceased to be the case.
  • Second, religious belief or practice, or adherence to a doctrine, was never viewed as a condition of membership in a wider national community. One’s religious or linguistic identity made little difference to one’s belonging to the nation. Alas, now, for many inhabitants of our territory, a nation cannot but be defined in single religious or linguistic terms. An exclusivist conception of the ethnic nation — entirely against the spirit of local Indian religions or conceptions of nationhood — devised first in Spain in 1492, developed further during the European wars of religion, and perfected in the 18th or 19th century has seized the Indian mind. Thanks to narrow-minded education institutions and now the electronic media, the idea was first disseminated and then unquestioningly accepted by Indians as if it were a long-held indigenous Indian idea. In accepting this alien idea of religion and nation without proper comparison or competition with Indian ideas of faith and community, we have sacrificed intellectual autonomy and gone down the road to hell from which Europe has itself yet to recover.
  • To define one’s identity or community in terms of a single, exclusive religion — Hindu, Muslim or any other — is a perverse European notion, a mark of our cultural subjugation, a symptom of the loss of our intellectual autonomy. To have done so is to have uncritically abandoned our own collective genius for something ill-suited to our conditions. Can this be reversed? Is it too late to heed Sri Aurobindo’s warning or follow Gandhi’s example? Can we recover our collective intellectual autonomy? Mains Practice India was a world guru for intellectual learning in the ancient past . Putting the present condition of the country in perspective, in terms of original ideas and intellectual analytical ability of a citizens comment on our gain and losses as civilization.