China gives green light for first downstream dams on Brahmaputra


A draft of China’s new Five-Year Plan (FYP) 2021-2025 has given the green light for the first dams to be built on the lower reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo river, as the Brahmaputra is known in Tibet before it flows into India.


The draft outline of the FYP for 2025 and long-range objectives through the year 2035, specifically mentions the building of hydropower bases on the lower reaches of the river as among the priority energy projects to be undertaken in the next 5 years.

The lower reaches refer to the sections of the river in Tibet before it flows into India.

The inclusion of the projects in the draft plan suggests the authorities have given the go-ahead to begin tapping the lower reaches for the first time.

This marks a new chapter in the hydropower exploitation of the river.

Other major projects include the construction of coastal nuclear power plants and power transmission channels.

The draft is all set to be formally approved.

Concerns for India:

The FYP’s backing for the projects also suggests that a number of long-pending proposals from Chinese hydropower companies to build dams on the lower reaches, including near the border with India, may be given approval.

India has expressed concerns to China over the four planned dams on the upper and middle reaches.

However, Indian officials have said the dams are not likely to greatly impact the quantity of the Brahmaputra’s flows in India because:

They are only storing water for power generation.

The Brahmaputra is not entirely dependent on upstream flows with an estimated 35% of its basin in India.

Dams on the lower reaches and at the Great Bend would, however, raise fresh concerns because of the location across the border from Arunachal Pradesh and the potential impact downstream.



 Railways and a question of transparency


The article analyzes the concerns associated with the functioning of the Indian railways and suggests measures to improve its performance.


The railways are in the midst of financial distress and are faced with fundamental organisational issues.

Depressed freight earnings:

The freight earnings in 2020-21 though more than in 2019-20, would be lower than what was achieved in 2018-19. In fact, the passenger and freight earnings in 2019-20 were less than in 2018-19, indicating that a downslide had started even before the outbreak of COVID-19, probably due to the economic slowdown.

Operating Ratio:

The Operating Ratio (OR), which is broadly the ratio of working expenses to revenues, has been artificially kept below 100% by making less-than-required provision for pension payments during 2019-20 and 2020-21. While the official figures of OR are 98.36% for 2019-20 and 96.96% for 2020-21, the actual OR works out to 114.19% and 131.49%, respectively, if the required provision is made for pension payments.

The Operating Ratio is an important financial performance index to measure the financial viability and sustainability of the Railways.

The railway finances are in the red and the COVID-19 pandemic has nothing to do with it.

Increasing burden of staff costs and pension payments:

A major challenge facing the Railways is the burgeoning staff costs including pension.

Over the years, traffic revenues have been unable to keep pace with the increase in staff costs and pension payments. While the passenger and freight revenues increased by 84.8 % from 2010-11 to 2019-20, the staff and pension costs raced ahead at almost double that rate, by 157%, in the same period.

While in 2010-11, the staff plus pension costs formed 55.7% of the traffic earnings, by 2019-20, they had shot up to 77.5% of the traffic earnings. This, despite the fact that there has been a reduction of about one lakh staff on the roll during this period.

The spike in the staff and pension costs is largely attributable to the implementation of the Central Pay Commission recommendations. The Indian Railway’s finances are bound to be subjected to another fatal body blow by the next Pay Commission around 2025-26.


 Health first, fiscal prudence later


Subsidised LPG prices have increased by a massive 50% in the given financial year.


Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY):

Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) was launched in 2016 to distribute LPG connections to women of Below Poverty Line (BPL) families. It provided an upfront connection subsidy of ₹1,600 for eligible beneficiaries.

Since 2016, PMUY has provided LPG connections to 8 million poor households to reduce women’s drudgery and indoor air pollution.

PMUY has helped expand LPG coverage to more than 85% of households, in comparison to less than a third of Indian households in 2011 who used LPG as their main cooking fuel.

The government is offering 1 crore new connections under Ujjwala 2.0 in Financial Year 22.

Read more on Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) in the link.

Rising prices of LPG:

India determines domestic LPG prices based on imported LPG price as India imports more than 50% of the total LPG consumption in India.

As the pandemic set in, the LPG subsidised price began to rise, even when global LPG prices plummeted, due to higher tax rates which were contributing to the government finances.

Currently, the LPG prices are rising globally and the government move to go in for a 50% reduction in the LPG subsidy budget for FY22 (versus FY21) will only further push LPG prices upwards.


The rising LPG prices could have a detrimental impact on the substantial gains made under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana.

Further reduce affordability:

Multiple studies assessing PMUY have concluded that while access has increased, many new beneficiaries are not consuming LPG in a sustained manner.

Large-scale primary surveys by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) suggest that, on average, recent PMUY beneficiaries consumed only about half the LPG compared to long-standing regular consumers.

Limited uptake of LPG among poor households is due to the inability of the poor households to afford LPG, despite the subsidy.



 China warns U.S. over its Taiwan stand

What’s in News?

China’s Foreign Minister warned the Biden administration to roll back former President Donald Trump’s practice of showing support for Taiwan, the island democracy claimed by Beijing as its own territory.

One China Policy:

The One China policy recognizes the long-held position in Beijing that there is only one China, and that Taiwan is a part of that.

According to the One-China policy: Any country wishing to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing must acknowledge there is only “One China” and sever all formal ties with Taiwan.


 *Janaushadhi is helping the poor, says Modi

What’s in News?

The Prime Minister inaugurated the 7,500th Janaushadhi Kendra at NEIGRIHMS, Shillong.

He urged the people to buy affordable medicines from Janaushadhi Kendras.

Jan Aushadhi Diwas is celebrated on 7th March every year.

The Jan Aushadhi Divas aims to provide further impetus and create awareness about the use of generic medicines.


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