Editorial Notes

Editorial Notes 25th October 2016

What is the Hicklin test? Hicklin test in India; Current status of India’s water need; Impact of unsustainable water management.
By IT's Editorial Notes Team
October 25, 2016


GS (M) Paper-3: “Conservation”
GS (M) Paper-3: “Different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage”


Is water our weakest link?


Current status of India’s water need

  • India has 17% of the global population and only four per cent of the world’s available freshwater resources.
  • For each Indian, 1,116 cubic metres of renewable internal freshwater is available annually — low but not fatal.
  • According to the UN, global freshwater withdrawals are expected to increase by 50 per cent between 2000 and 2050, but maximum increase in withdrawals will occur in emerging economies.
  • India is centrally dependent on the “third pole”: The Himalayan-Hindu-Kush region spanning eight countries, 54,252 glaciers and 10 major river systems.

Challenges India facing:

  • Tensions over transboundary waters;
  • Water management within borders matters more.
  • Although agriculture accounts for well over 80% of water use, there will not be a smooth shift to industrial and commercial sectors.
  • All sectors in India will grow, resulting in proportionate inter-sectoral (and inter-state) competition for water (both quantity and quality).

Energy-Water nexus:

  • Energy is central to water supply. Farmers evade against poor quality power supply by over-pumping groundwater.
  • This results in lower water productivity, lower incomes and farmer dissatisfaction, which compound the political economy of low electricity tariffs, poor finances of utilities and continuing poor electricity service.
  • The success of the Ujjawal DISCOM Assurance Yojana (UDAY) depends on breaking this vicious cycle.
  • Energy used to pump water in urban areas will also increase. Per unit energy consumption for urban water supply in India is 0.3 kWh/m3 against 0.51 in the US.
  • Further, end-use energy intensity for drinking water was more than double that for wastewater treatment, a 2013 study of 16 Indian cities found. Developed countries display an inverse pattern.
  • As the Swachh Bharat and Smart Cities missions gain momentum, significantly greater energy will be needed for water and sanitation and wastewater treatment: Water and energy efficiency are imperatives for urbanising India.
  • The International Energy Agency had estimated that the power sector would account for 95 per cent of additional water withdrawals in India between 2010 and 2035.
  • Thermal power is threatened in many regions by stressed water resources, our low-carbon development objectives (via gas, nuclear or concentrated solar power) would also need less water-intensive cooling technologies.

Impact of unsustainable water management:

  • The crisis in groundwater lies at the heart of the challenge.
  • Indian agriculture has become a groundwater economy, fuelled by more than 19 million electric and 10 million diesel pumpsets.
  • In Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan, annual groundwater demand well exceeds availability; other states are approaching threshold-breaching limits.
  • India consumes about 251 billion cubic metres of groundwater annually, against 112 in China and the US.
  • As Make in India gathers pace, pressure on groundwater resources from industry will rise: Industry consumes 26 per cent of groundwater in China; only two per cent in India.
  • Shifting demand patterns across sectors must create new opportunities for efficiency improvements.

Mitigating strategic threats:

  • Climate change is a threat multiplier. Thanks to population growth alone, approximately 750 million people in South Asia will face extreme water shortage (1.8 billion facing chronic shortage) by 2050.
  • This is compounded when, on a high emissions pathway, the incidence of extreme drought affecting cropland could increase by about 50 per cent in South Asia.
  • Yet, what is now a “30-year flood” could become six times more likely in the Ganga basin.
  • Coastal flooding will impact power plants, new cities, ports, railways, etc.


  • All infrastructure investments must be mandated to assess climate resilience.
  • Alongside annual economic surveys, India needs periodic climate risk assessments, which can be reported to Parliament.
  • Building groundwater storage capacity across India could partially improve this situation, for short-term fluctuations in precipitation and longer-term resource pressures.
  • Fixing agricultural price signals, which distort farmers’ choices and cropping practices, is also necessary.
[Ref: BS]


GS (M) Paper-2: “Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.”


Double talk on free speech



  • In 19th century England, for example, sedition was a mere “misconduct” or lesser offence which attracted a maximum sentence of only two years in prison, but a person convicted of sedition under the Indian Penal Code could be sent off or “transported” to an overseas prison for life.
  • However, not all speech-related laws in British India were repressive.
  • The colonial law of obscenity, for instance, was very similar to its counterpart in the England.

What is the Hicklin test?

  • In 19th century England, obscenity was punishable with a maximum sentence of three months in prison. What was obscene there was authoritatively defined in a case decided in 1868, Regina v. Hicklin.
  • In England, the Hicklin test underwent modification in the 1950s. In R v. Warburg (1954), for example, Justice Stable informed the jury that a work could not be considered obscene merely because it dealt with acts of sexual passion.
  • Like England, the offence of obscenity in British India attracted a maximum sentence of three months’ imprisonment.

Hicklin test in India:

  • The Hicklin test was also readily followed by the High Courts in British India.
  • In one of the first cases to deal with obscenity, the Allahabad High Court in Empress v. Indarman (1881) held that obscenity must be judged from the standpoint of “ordinary and decent-minded persons.
  • In other words, contrary to the Hicklin test, it was the reasonable person, not the perverted adult or immature adolescent, from whose eyes the obscenity of a work was to be assessed.
  • Eventually, most of the Hicklin test has been discarded by the Supreme Court of independent India.

Political vs Non-political speech

  • Sedition questioned the legitimacy of the British Empire and threatened the foundations of the colonial state.
  • It was therefore natural for the colonial government to heavily crack down on seditious speech.
  • Political writings were heavily penalised in “vernacular” or Indian language newspapers, newspapers like Lokmanya Tilak’s Kesari, because colonial courts unfairly presumed that those who read them were ignorant and unintelligent, and therefore more susceptible to seditious influences.
  • While subversive speech was heavily restrained in British India, non-political art and literature were assessed through the same legal lens as they would have been in England at the time.
[Ref: The Hindu]


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