News & Events
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1.Welcome revisions by Bihar and Maharashtra – as better death data saves lives
India has reported an average of 2,000 deaths a day since March 1 and it is possible that the coming days will see this number rise, even as the second wave and its fatalities are declining. This is because a reconciliation of old deaths in the overall tally is ongoing, with the Bihar government for example adding 3,951 such deaths on Wednesday and Maharashtra adding 1,522 on Thursday.
Pre-existing weaknesses of India’s death registration system, where particularly in rural India many deaths are not recorded, have been compounded during the pandemic with complexities of identifying the cause of death. Experts also point to a failure to activate either the Sample Registration System or push the municipal corporations to regularly publish total death counts.
By now there is no doubt that good data is a central tool in battling Covid-19. A more accurate and real-time mortality map of India would allow authorities to track the intensity of outbreaks much more effectively. They could then divert resources to affected areas in a timely way. Even with increased pace of vaccination the pandemic is going to be with the world for the foreseeable future. A truer estimate of its toll will allow us to understand its behaviour better, and implement checkmating strategies detailed to the district level.
2.Whither opposition: BJP is at a difficult moment. But with Congress’s slide continuing, there’s no national challenger in sight
Fresh rumblings within Congress underscore why a convincing opposition interrogation of BJP remains a nonstarter. Troubles in Rajasthan and Punjab, Jitin Prasada’s defection to BJP, and the party’s never-ending soul search about leadership yet again demonstrate that, nationally, Congress is one of BJP’s key advantages. GOP’s ineffectuality on the national stage is complemented by the inability, thus far, of any regional leader to play a pan-Indian role. Mamata Banerjee’s frequent jousts with the Modi government are a delight for national political reporters, they are considerably less meaningful when it comes to national political strategy. Neither Trinamool nor her political rhetoric travel well outside Bengal.
The irony, for the opposition, is that BJP is far from being at its confident best right now. Covid’s second wave battered India, questions on vaccination abounded, income and job losses are widespread, both the poor and the middle class have been hit, fuel prices look like a gifted batsman’s career average. True, not all of it is Centre’s fault. Opposition-governed states aren’t paragons of governance. But that’s not how national politics works – the party at Centre gets blamed the most. If BJP is not copping most of the blame it’s partly because even in the governing party’s most difficult moment since 2014, there are no opposition figures who can do what BJP in opposition did so effectively mid-way through UPA-2’s term – constant, coordinated criticism and carping.
The national political map is also not as saffron as it used to be – another advantage the opposition is unable to leverage. Despite BJP’s dominance of Parliament, state legislatures are nearly evenly split between NDA and non-NDA parties. The sum of all these parts is so much less than the whole because in many states regional parties have grown fighting Congress and state Congress leaders see regional parties as rivals to be beaten, not necessarily as allies in a grand anti-BJP national alliance. Still, if Congress were a fighting political unit nationally, the fact that it’s more or less head-to-head against BJP in around 150 Lok Sabha seats across nine states (MP, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Assam, Haryana, Uttarakhand and HP) would have given it the heft to effectively lead the opposition.
And the opposition should remember, bruised BJP may be, but its current avatar remains an election fighting mean machine. No doubt we will see it deployed in UP next year. How the opposition is planning to fight in UP is a very good question.
3.Not quite masterful: Cities are India’s economic engines. They need more flexible plans to grow
Cities are India’s economic powerhouses and a magnet for a large rural population seeking a better life. Delhi, which is expected to accommodate almost 30 million people in the next two decades, has just prepared a draft master plan 2041 (MPD41). Master plans in India generally cover 20-year periods and provide a blueprint to coordinate urban development based on population projections. Other big cities such as Mumbai and Kolkata are also periodically guided by master plans or urban development plans.
But for all the urban planning done in India, results have been dismal. There are three reasons for this. First, around half the population of a typical Indian city is in slums, seeking a livelihood in informal jobs. Urban planning has strangely glossed over this core feature. Second, documents such as master plans that cover two decades are too rigid and don’t allow enough room for play of market forces. The nature of economic activity can transform dramatically in this time. Finally, while master plans are important because they play a coordinating role in urban growth and adaptation, the defining feature of Indian cities is the lack of coordination between institutions that oversee urban development.
MPD41 promises to set right some of these flaws. The plan aims to address three big challenges common to many Indian cities. Affordable housing is to be ramped up, there’s an attempt to disincentive private transport, since poor air quality is a public health hazard, and the planning process prioritises economic activity. The means to achieve them include land pooling and densification of core areas through enhanced floor space index. On paper, these are sensible. Delhi is the main economic engine in one of the most populous parts of India. But if MPD41 isn’t to be as underwhelming as earlier plans, execution will have to radically improve.
4.For the BJP, the post-poll challenge
But while post-electoral disequilibrium is often understandable in a party, the way out is to go back to the roots, review the reasons for defeat, let an elected government function while remaining a vigilant opposition, and get its house in order. That may be a lesson for the BJP in the south and the east.
Electoral defeats are hard. During a campaign, a party invests all its energy, resources, networks and organisational might in securing victory, vote by vote, polling booth by polling booth, constituency by constituency. To keep up the morale of workers and to sustain a degree of motivation, a party also convinces itself that it is on the verge of victory. And that is why when the results are adverse, and a party confronts a loss or less-than-optimal performance, all equations get unsettled. There is a familiar blame-game between units of the party. Top leaders are questioned on strategy and tactics. Others begin weighing their future prospects and shift allegiances. Workers worry about protection in politically competitive, even violent, settings. And the party in power, emboldened by victory, deploys all means to crush a party that is already bruised to be able to weaken a competitor when the time is ripe.
This is a familiar story in Indian politics. And the prime example, nationally, is the Congress after its 2014 and 2019 losses. But since its defeat in West Bengal and rout in Kerala, the BJP appears to be going through a similar pattern. In Kerala, the party faces questions about its sources and modalities of funding and charges of bribing of candidates, with the police officially pursuing investigations against the party’s state unit chief. In West Bengal, the BJP first bore the brunt of post-electoral violence by Trinamool Congress cadres, witnessed internal fractures among state leaders, and went on a collision course against the newly elected state government.
5. A vision for Delhi-2041
With its focus on environmental degradation, the draft master plan hits the right notes by focussing on environmental degradation and mitigating strategies
The draft Master Plan of Delhi (MPD)-2041, which was put up for public scrutiny on Wednesday, envisages building sustainable infrastructure that will help the national Capital reduce local sources of pollution such as dust from construction sites and vehicular emissions. It also aims to redevelop the city’s “green and blue” assets by protecting forest cover, rejuvenating the Yamuna and preserving its flood-plains, securing and recharging other water bodies, and restricting development near and on such ecologically critical sites. MPD also aspires to tackle the depleting number of trees (Delhi is yet to have a tree census) and identify unique tree corridors or precincts, heritage trees, precincts with high carbon storage, and sequestration rates. The document, which will provide a “strategic” and “enabling” framework to guide the growth of the city till 2041, builds on the lessons learnt from implementation of the previous plans of 1962, 2001 and 2021. The Delhi Development Authority is the anchor agency for MPD.