Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Daily News Mail - News of 19/02/2015

Centre in no hurry to reduce the number of PDS beneficiaries for subsidised food grains

  • With several crucial Assembly elections in this and next year and  the resurgence(an increase or revival after a period of little activity, popularity, or occurrence) of Aam Aadmi Party, which is waiting to spread its wings in Punjab and Bihar, Center in no hurry to accept the recommendation of Shanta Kumar committee on restructuring of Food Corporation of India.
  • Shanta Kumar panel has recommended to reduce the number of public distribution system(PDS) beneficiaries from 67% (75% population in rural areas and 50% in urban areas) to 40% under the National Food Security Act.
Defence is at the heart of the ‘Make in India’ initiative : Modi
  • Stressing on the need for domestic manufacture of defence equipment to equip the country for the future, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called upon foreign defence manufacturers to become strategic partners as he inaugurated “Aero India 2015” in Bengaluru.
  • He said defence is at the heart of the ‘Make in India’ initiative.
  • “We need their [foreign firms] technology, skills, systems integration and manufacturing strength. The nature of industry is such that imports will always be there. In turn, they can use India as part of their global supply chain,” PM Modi said.
  • India has an annual defence budget of about $40 billion of which 60 percent is spent on capital expenditure for purchase of equipment. But having failed to build a domestic defence manufacturing base the country has the distinction of being the world’s largest defence importer.

Focus on supply, while ignoring demand, is an approach that has often failed
This article has brought in focus the loopholes of India's social development programmes and also discussed remedy for this. (Source - The Hindu)
  • Governments in India have always launched big social development programmes with ambitious goal. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan aims to make India open defecation-free by 2019. The Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana’s financial inclusion programme set a target of opening 10 crore bank accounts by January 26, 2015. But are ambitious targets enough for achieving desired outcomes on the ground?
  • Most governments across the world run social development programmes that focus on increasing supply. So, the emphasis is on building toilets, creating bank accounts, providing loans and so on. It is harder to assess if these programmes are really achieving the results that matter and whether they are improving the lives of the poor.
  • The focus on supply, while ignoring demand, is an approach that has often failed. For example, will toilets be used if they are built?
  • Low usage of toilets is clearly an issue. Are the toilets that are being built improving sanitation and child health by reducing diarrhoea — a highly preventable condition that is the leading cause of death of children under five? The answers to these questions are not forthcoming(planned for or about to happen in the near future; available; ready). Nor can they be without rigorous evaluations.
Need for evaluation
  • Flagship development programmes in India have not been designed or modified based on evidence from evaluations. There has been a continuity of some social programmes over decades, although governments may have given them different names and made a few changes in design. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan builds on Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (2012), the Total Sanitation Campaign (1999) and the Central Rural Sanitation Programme (1986). But politics rather than evidence is the key driver for programmes getting closed, changed or renamed.
  • A more recent impact evaluation in Odisha showed a substantial increase in latrine coverage at the village level. But this increase was also insufficient to reduce child diarrhoea, most likely because the villages in the study were not open defecation-free. It is well established that open defecation supports various transmission channels by which children consume faecal matter: direct contact or indirectly from pets or other animals, and through flies crawling on both excrement and the food children may eat. According to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, diarrhoea causes the deaths of more than 7,50,000 children under the age of five every year. A study published in the Lancet in 2012 reports that in India alone, an average of 2, 12,000 children under the age of five die of diarrhoea every year.
  • Global evaluation evidence on sanitation interventions highlights the need to emphasise behavioural factors for promoting the use and sustained adoption of water, sanitation and hygiene technologies. Making people pay even a very small fee has put them off from using water treatment technologies. Changing behaviour can take years and decades. Sanitation programmes in India need to take this evidence into account.
  • In the same vein, financial inclusion programmes also need to consider evaluation evidence. Evidence shows that just opening bank accounts in someone’s name, as the Jan Dhan programme is doing, doesn’t work. Many people don’t even access the account to take out the initial deposit placed there for them. Jan Dhan’s goal of opening accounts for 10 crore poor people is not enough by itself. There are many reasons people don’t use bank accounts: lack of trust in financial institutions, distance to the bank, illiteracy and reliance on informal and traditional banking sources. In addition to tackling these issues, there may be a need for complementary activities to ensure that the poor can benefit from having bank accounts.
  • The challenge for the Modi government now is to evaluate what works in development programming before making large spending decisions. This would mean putting in place rigorous evaluations of the new programmes it is launching. Existing programmes need to also be evaluated before major decisions are made about their future. 
Randomised controlled trials**

  • There is plenty of inspiration that can be found for this from other countries, particularly those in Latin America. Mexico is widely known in the international development community for its system of evaluating social programmes. In the mid-90s, the Mexican government launched Progresa, one of the world’s first conditional cash transfer programmes. Progresa handed out cash to poor families on the condition that they send their children to school and young mothers seek antenatal(before birth; during or relating to pregnancy; prenatal) care. Giving cash directly to the poor was not the only innovative aspect of Progresa. The government put in place a rigorous randomised evaluation of the programme. Just as clinical trials have informed evidence-based medicine, randomised controlled trials of social programmes provide rigorous evidence of whether programmes are working or not.
  • The impact evaluation showed that Progresa increased school enrolments and use of health services and reduced poverty. Given the strong evidence on the programme’s impact, the new government that came into power soon after the evaluation decided to retain the programme — although they renamed it as Opportunidades. It continues to survive today as one of the world’s largest social programmes.
  • India can have the same reputation as Mexico. It is home to many bold social development programmes. But the failure to evaluate them is a lost opportunity. It is a lost opportunity for governments to achieve recognition for what they are doing. A lost opportunity for those working for social programmes to know they are making a difference. Most importantly, it is a lost opportunity for the millions of poor to have better lives.

**Randomised controlled trials - A randomised controlled trial is a type of scientific (often medical) experiment, where the people being studied are randomly allocated one or other of the different treatments under study. The RCT is the gold standard for a clinical trial. RCTs are often used to test the efficacy or effectiveness of various types of medical intervention and may provide information about adverse effects, such as drug reactions.

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