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a) Stress test: the need for water management reforms

On the cusp of the southwest monsoon, several arid States are hoping to revive their rivers and reservoirs with bountiful rain. One of them is Gujarat, which is roiled by the long-tail effect of a deficit monsoon between August and November last year. The State government has embarked on a labour-intensive programme to desilt rivers and waterbodies ahead of the rains. Its predicament reflects the larger reality of drought in India, aggravated by heat waves and significant rain deficits in different regions. This year’s fall in reservoir storage levels to below-average levels has affected farmers who depend on the Sardar Sarovar dam, and 27 other reservoirs including those in Madhya Pradesh. A reinvigorated Congress in the opposition has turned the heat on the BJP government in Gujarat, which is hard put to defend itself against the charge that dam waters were depleted merely to fill the Sabarmati river for a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December, when he undertook a seaplane journey on the river. Its response has been to roll out a campaign to deepen waterbodies on the one hand, and arrange religious events to propitiate the gods on the other. But it has had to prioritise drinking water needs over farming, and suspend irrigation supply from the dam on March 15. This year, Delhi has been at loggerheads with Haryana over reduction of water released in the Yamuna, highlighting growing stresses over a vital resource. Urgent water management reforms must be undertaken to help citizens and avoid losses to the economy. In a normal year, the pre-monsoon phase from March 1 brings some respite and India gets about 130 mm of precipitation before the rainy season begins. This year began with a sharp 50% deficit, but touched near-normal levels, though not in the north western region. The monsoon itself is highly variable. This underscores the need for comprehensive reforms at the level of States, with the Centre helping to conserve hydrological resources. If Gujarat improves rural water storage structures and creates many small wetlands beyond the compulsions of politics, it can ensure long-term prosperity for thousands of villages in Saurashtra, Kutch and the northern region where pumps run dry with unfailing regularity. Farmers will get relief from the monsoon vagaries that affect the Narmada, whose waters are apportioned among four States. There is also the challenge of reducing demand for farming, given that the Mihir Shah Committee estimated public irrigation efficiency to be a low 35%. Farmers need to be helped with the latest technologies to cut water use. The State government is thinking of going in for desalination. Decentralised water storage too will help cities like Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Surat and Vadodara when water supply from large dams and other sources dwindles. If climate change is going to influence monsoon vigour and availability in coming years, the time to take action is now.

b) Ireland’s vote for choice

Ireland has firmly pulled itself into the 21st century by voting overwhelmingly (66.4% vs 33.6%) to repeal the constitutional block on abortions. In a referendum, the Irish voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment that practically prohibits abortions. The amendment, introduced in 1983 to strengthen an older law outlawing abortion, grants an unborn child and the woman carrying it an equal right to life. Consequently, abortions in Ireland have been only permitted when the life of the woman is at risk, including from suicide. This exception too was introduced as late as 2013, after 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar, a dentist from Karnataka, died of sepsis in a hospital after being denied an abortion while miscarrying at 17 weeks. The couple made multiple requests for a termination but were told it was not possible because Ireland was a Catholic country, her husband said during the inquest that followed. The inquest ruled that Halappanavar had died as a result of a medical misadventure and her case helped galvanise the pro-repeal movement. Images of Halappanavar with a beaming smile could be seen on walls and placards in the run-up to Friday’s vote. Those luckier than her are able to travel abroad for abortions; amendments to the law permit travel for such purposes as well as information on abortion processes available overseas. Alarmingly, there were still no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, or when the foetus had a fatal abnormality. In 2016 the United Nations asked Ireland to relax its laws around abortion after a woman’s highly publicised experience of trauma travelling to England to terminate her pregnancy because of fatal foetal abnormalities. The Irish government has indicated that it will now pass laws giving women the right to terminate pregnancies up to 12 weeks. Abortions will be permitted between 12 and 24 weeks when there are fatal foetal abnormalities or risk to the life of the mother or serious harm to her. Beyond 24 weeks, abortions would be permitted when there are fatal abnormalities. Ireland has been fiercely divided over abortion despite making progress to separate Church and State and adopting more open social attitudes. It legalised same-sex marriage in 2015 and elected the first openly gay Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, last year. Mr. Varadkar has been in favour of the repeal, describing it as a ‘quiet revolution’. The timing of the decision is especially significant given that the democratic world has made a noticeable shift to the right, exemplified by Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S., and right-wing populism in continental Europe. Religion is a powerful force in people’s lives but antediluvian ideas have no place in modern-day governance. The referendum is a giant step in the right direction.


1) Cusp

Meaning: The dividing line between two very different things.

Example: On the cusp of adulthood.

2) Arid

Meaning: (of land or a climate) having little or no rain; too dry or barren to support vegetation.

Example: “the arid plains north of Cape Town”

Synonyms: Dry, Thirsty

Antonyms: Wet, Fertile

3) Bountiful

Meaning: Large in quantity; abundant.

Example: “the ocean provided a bountiful supply of fresh food”

Synonyms: Abundant, Plentiful

Antonyms: Meagre

4) Roiled

Meaning: To (cause to) move quickly in a twisting circular movement.

Example: Fierce winds roiled the sea.

5) Long-tail

Meaning: Happening a long time after the start of an insurance agreement, or taking a long time to be decided.

Example: This has paved the way for the company to handle old, long-tail claims.

6) Embarked on

Meaning: To start something new or important.

Example: We’re embarking upon a new project later this year.

Synonyms: Starting, Beginning

7) Labour-intensive

Meaning: Industries and methods that are labour-intensive need a lot of workers.

Example: A lot of farming techniques have been abandoned because they were too labour-intensive.

8) Desilt (River)

Meaning: Desilting refers to the removal of earthy materials, fine sand etc., carried by running water and deposited as a sediment. … Dredging refers to the clearing of the bed of rivers or are of water by scooping out mud, weeds like unwanted materials.

9) Predicament

Meaning: A difficult, unpleasant, or embarrassing situation.

Example: “the club’s financial predicament”

Synonyms: Mess, Difficulty

10) Aggravated

Meaning: Make (a problem, injury, or offence) worse or more serious.

Example: “military action would only aggravate the situation”

11) Reinvigorated

Meaning: Give new energy or strength to.

Example: “we are fully committed to reinvigorating the economy of the area”

12) Depleted

Meaning: Use up the supply or resources of.

Example: “fish stocks are severely depleted”

Synonyms: Exhaust, Consume

Antonyms: Augment, Increase

13) Seaplane

Meaning: An aircraft with floats or skis instead of wheels, designed to land on and take off from water.

14) Roll out

Meaning: To make a new product, service, or system available for the first time.

Example: A media campaign is expected to roll out early next year.

Synonyms: Introduce, Start

15) Propitiate

Meaning: Win or regain the favour of (a god, spirit, or person) by doing something that pleases them.

Example: “the pagans thought it was important to propitiate the gods with sacrifices”

16) Loggerheads

Meaning: To strongly disagree (with someone).

Example: The party is at loggerheads with the president over public spending.

Synonyms: Disagree, Arguing

17) Respite

Meaning: A short period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant.

Example: “the refugee encampments will provide some respite from the suffering”

Synonyms: Interval, Intermission

18) Precipitation

Meaning: Rain, snow, sleet, or hail that falls to or condenses on the ground.

Example: “these convective processes produce cloud and precipitation”

19) Underscores

Meaning: To emphasize the importance something.

Example: The need for fire detectors in cargo bays was underscored by some accidents in the 1980s.

20) Comprehensive

Meaning: Of large content or scope; wide-ranging.

Example: “a comprehensive collection of photographs”

Synonyms: Inclusive, Complete

Antonyms: Partial, Selective

21) Prosperity

Meaning: The state of being prosperous.

Example: “a long period of peace and prosperity”

Synonyms: Wealth, Success

Antonyms: Hardship, Failure

22) Vagaries

Meaning: An unexpected and inexplicable change in a situation or in someone’s behaviour.

Example: “the vagaries of the weather”

Synonyms: Quirk, Oddity

23) Apportioned

Meaning: Divide up and share out.

Example: “voting power will be apportioned according to contribution”

Synonyms: Allocate, Distribute

24) Desalination

Meaning: The process of removing salt from seawater.

Example: “the newly constructed plant for the desalination of seawater remains inoperative”

25) Decentralised

Meaning: Transfer (authority) from central to local government.

Example: “Canada has one of the most decentralized governments in the world”

26) Dwindles

Meaning: Diminish gradually in size, amount, or strength.

Example: “traffic has dwindled to a trickle”

Synonyms: Diminish, Decrease

Antonyms: Increase, Flourish

27) Vigour

Meaning: Effort, energy, and enthusiasm.

Example: “they set about the new task with vigour”

Synonyms: Good condition, Robustness

Antonyms: Weakness

28) Pulled

Meaning: Move in a specified direction with effort, especially by taking hold of something and exerting force.

Example: “he pulled himself into the saddle”

Synonyms: Move, Extract

29) Overwhelmingly

Meaning: To a very great degree or with a great majority.

Example: “the country voted overwhelmingly for independence”

30) Outlawing

Meaning: Ban or make illegal.

Example: “secondary picketing has been outlawed”

Synonyms: Ban, Prohibit

Antonyms: Permit, Allow

31) Inquest

Meaning: An inquiry by a coroner’s court into the cause of a death.

Example: “they held an inquest into the death of her daughter”

Synonyms: Enquiry, Investigation

32) Misadventure

Meaning: Death caused by a person accidentally while performing a legal act without negligence or intent to harm.

Example: “the coroner recorded a verdict of death by misadventure”

Synonyms: Accident, Problem

33) Galvanise

Meaning: Shock or excite (someone) into taking action.

Example: “the urgency of his voice galvanized them into action”

Synonyms: Jolt, Impel

Antonyms: Demotivate

34) Beaming

Meaning: Used to describe a smile that is very wide and happy, or someone who is smiling in this way.

Example: A beaming smile.

Synonyms: Laughing, Smiling

35) Fatal

Meaning: Causing death.

Example: “a fatal accident”

Synonyms: Deadly, Mortal

Antonyms: Harmless, Superficial

36) Trauma

Meaning: A deeply distressing or disturbing experience.

Example: “a personal trauma like the death of a child”

37) Fiercely

Meaning: In a savagely violent or aggressive manner.

Example: “the army clashed fiercely with militants”

38) Exemplified

Meaning: Illustrate or clarify by giving an example.

Example: “he exemplified his point with an anecdote”

Synonyms: Illustrate, Demonstrate

39) Populism

Meaning: The quality of appealing to or being aimed at ordinary people.

Example: “art museums did not gain bigger audiences through a new populism”

40) Antediluvian

Meaning: Extremely old-fashioned.

Example: My mother has some hopelessly antediluvian ideas about the role of women.

Synonyms: Out of date, Outdated

Antonyms: Modern, Up to date

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