Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe will be laying the foundation stone of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail (MAHSR) project, popularly known as the bullet train, on September 14 in Ahmedabad.
Since they were commissioned more than five decades ago, bullet trains have been the symbol of Japan’s engineering prowess. This ambitious project demonstrated Japan’s significant engineering skill and expertise, and its success transformed the way Japan was viewed by the rest of the world.
Similarly, China has focussed on the development of its high-speed rail network as a symbol of its engineering capabilities.
This project could be one of the catalysts in transforming India. India has already experienced success in major projects in the past, which includes building the Golden Quadrilateral and upgrading its national highways, which has added to GDP, created efficiencies in transportation, provided jobs and improved rural development through enhanced connectivity.
Some have raised the question whether the MAHSR is an effective use of resources. However, resourcing is only one of the issues being faced by the Railways. We heard a similar debate about the Indian space programme, which has seen some remarkable achievements.
Possible benefits of HSR project:
Boost to Make in India:
The project will provide stimulus for advanced components’ manufacture and construction. One of the stated objectives of the project is “Make in India”.
As per the agreement between the two governments, the MAHSR Project has “localised manufacture” and “transfer of technology” as twin, complementary objectives.
Under the guidance of the task force comprising of the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) and Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO), action is being initiated as per the agreed guidelines.
It is instructive to recall how an investment by Suzuki in the automobile industry spawned a new generation of Indian auto-component manufacturers from the early ’80s.
Investment in infrastructure development has always acted as a catalyst in the economic growth of India.
This project could provide an important boost to public investment.
The soft funding of the project by the Japanese government is an additional advantage, which brings the two countries together and provides significant economic benefits. India is getting the loan for the MAHSR at close to almost zero cost. This saves any strain on existing financial resources, as more than 80 per cent of the project cost is being funded by the government of Japan in this way. It is for the first time that an infrastructure project of this size and magnitude is being funded on such favourable terms.
In addition to creating demand for local industry, the project would also generate significant employment.
The construction sector in India is also expected to get a big boost not only in terms of works contracts but also with respect to new technology and work culture.
This project is likely to generate employment for about 20,000 workers, who will then be equipped to take up construction of more such projects in India. The new areas where construction skills would be developed are ballast-less track, under sea tunneling et al.
Reduction in carbon footprint:
The HSR system is more energy- and fuel-efficient. Studies show that HSR systems are around three times more fuel-efficient than aeroplanes and five times more fuel-efficient than cars.
Given the traffic density in the Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor, this project could lead to a significant reduction in India’s carbon footprint.
Ushering in technology:
A large part of this project will be focussed on bringing new technology to Indian companies.
India is getting cutting-edge operational technology in totality.
The Shinkansen technology is renowned for its reliability and safety. The train delay record of Shinkansen is less than a minute with zero fatalities. Thus, the project is set to provide reliable and comfortable service with high standards of safety.
The technology regarding disaster predictions and preventions will also be acquired as part of the project.
Indian companies will in this way imbibe the new technologies and potentially also become suppliers to HSR contracts worldwide
Professional capacity building:
A dedicated High Speed Rail Training Institute is being developed at Vadodara. This institute will be fully equipped with equipment and facilities, such as a simulator, as exist in the training institute at Japan. This institute will be functional by the end of 2020, and have facilities to train about 4,000 staff in the next three years, who will then be utilised for operation and maintenance. They will also serve as a backbone for the development of other high speed corridors in India.
In addition, 300 young officials of the Indian Railways are being trained in Japan to give them exposure in high speed track technology. As these young professionals absorb the latest technologies, they will then be able to manage other high speed corridors which are under consideration.
The “rapid train” would complete the journey in 2 hours and 7 minutes, while the slower service would take 2 hours and 58 minutes. Thirty-five daily services will be operated on the line, with three services per hour during peak times and two services per hour during off-peak times.
Through a demonstrated ability to implement large projects and improve safety.
The success of this project, however, will lie in its execution. Its successful and timely completion could act as a powerful catalyst to create a culture of efficient project implementation in India.
Similarly, there should be a focus on leveraging the post-implementation synergies, which could make this a transformational project for India.
Successful and timely completion of the bullet train project will be a game changer. This visionary project will herald a new era of safety, speed and service and help the Indian Railways craft a pathway to becoming a global leader in scale, technology and skill. We should be careful not to confuse leapfrogging technology development with elitism — whether it is mobile phones, satellite launches, regional air-connectivity or high-speed rail.
Connecting the dots:
Successful and timely completion of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project will be a game changer. It will herald a new era of safety, speed and service and help the Indian Railways craft a pathway to becoming a global leader in scale, technology and skill. Elaborate.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
TOPIC: General Studies 3
Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.
Artificial Intelligence can be transformative: But only with right public policy
Automation, a product of recent advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), has been recognised as a harbinger of a different era of socio-economic relations. Studies by Deloitte in UK and McKinsey in the US are estimating that currently demonstrated technologies will kill from a third to a half of all jobs within a decade. In this scenario, what should be India’s national policy towards AI?
Indian labour will face a deep crisis in the wake of AI:
Over 90 per cent of the Indian workforce is organised informally and is vulnerable to sweeping economic upheavals.
As AI proliferates, the contractual/gig economy will expand, amplifying precarity and triggering a downward spiral in wages.
Construction and manufacturing labour, already atomised and benighted by the contractual system, will not be able to collectively bargain against an industry when it starts adopting 3-D printing technology.
Farm labour, already in peril due to pricing, will suffer due to the glut of imported cheap food produced by automated farming and the agricultural robotics industry being conceived in East Asia. Vehicle assembly line production is already being replaced by robots.
In IT, hiring has decreased by more than 40 per cent in the last year with sharper cuts predicted. Large parts of the IT sector are dependent on outsourcing and those jobs are at risk. Job creation figures in the non-farm formal sectors have fallen by half from 2011 to 2016.
How AI can be transformative?
Automation presents an interesting opportunity as a means to transform agriculture. It is easier to allot land to a smaller farming population (only 10 per cent farmers in India own land), and teach them how to use automated machines to get higher, more consistent yields in conjunction with other improved farming practises.
But freeing of agricultural labour should be done only after launching a national industrial and infrastructure-centric public works programme, augmented with automated machinery and processes, for the benefit of rural communities, which will absorb the freed agriculture labour.
Technologies like 3-D printing, earlier mentioned as a peril for construction workers, could become a catalyst for getting the sort of productivity needed for such ambitious projects.
Transforming distribution and management:
AI would open doors to consider alternate ownership models. Machine learning processes can be used for enhancing logistics and operations.
Better distribution and management will help in following ways:
It allows worker run co-operatives to become efficient enough to compete against traditional corporate structures, allowing the government to incentivise such formations, in turn increasing worker prosperity. AI-based cooperatives can be the bedrock of a more just economy.
It necessitates creating governmental agencies to use AI, under public oversight, to run PSUs better.
Structures of governance could be strengthened and improved:
Statistical analysis can be used to detect malpractices, fraud, and corruption.
Already, AI is being used to combat propaganda and spurious news.
Computational linguistics can be used to preserve the vast cultural heritage of our marginalised peoples, and AI could be a boon for understaffed but vital agencies.
The impoverished conditions of India present an opportunity for the government to consider public works (works needed to raise living standards) distinct from jobs (work which the market will provide) as a means to ensure employment.
The government must invest heavily in large infrastructure and development projects, and liberally use automation to free up sections of the workforce to work on them.
Simultaneously, the government must encourage horizontal cooperatives based around AI to ensure knowledge-worker controlled decentralised progress in AI on the ground.
AI like every other productive force in the past, is a tool. It will affect social relations depending on who wields it and how. An enlightened education policy that recognises the paramountcy of quality education in an age of automation is called for. In a future economy dominated by AI, education must be free, universal, and of high quality. AI, in the hands of a visionary Indian government, instead of being an implacable foe of labour, can become its stalwart defender. It can unite the goals of development and public prosperity.
Connecting the dots:
AI, in the hands of a visionary Indian government, instead of being an implacable foe of labour, can become its stalwart defender. It can unite the goals of development and public prosperity. Discuss.
Automation driven by AI is a major threat to Indian labour workforce as it is majorly unorganized. Discuss how to tackle this challenge.