Thursday, 30 April 2015

Daily News Mail - News of 30/04/2015

100 cities to go smart

  • The Union Cabinet on April 29 cleared one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most favoured projects — 100 smart cities spread across the country — and a new urban renewal mission named after Atal Bihari Vajpayee, replacing the existing one named after Jawaharlal Nehru, with a total outlay of nearly Rs. 1,00,000 crore.
  • The meeting, chaired by Mr. Modi, approved the Smart Cities Mission for development of 100 smart cities and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) of 500 cities, which replaces the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, with outlays of Rs. 48,000 crore and Rs. 50,000 crore, respectively, said highly placed sources in the Urban Development Ministry.
  • The smart cities mission is aimed at “recasting the urban landscape of the country by making cities more liveable and inclusive, besides driving economic growth,” Ministry sources said.
  • Each selected city under the ambitious scheme would get Central assistance of Rs. 100 crore a year for five years. The mission aims to release funding depending on multi-pronged progress of the projects and makes citizen participation an integral part of the planning of these cities.

Minimum pension to continue

  • The government on April 29 decided to continue its Rs.1,000 minimum monthly pension scheme in perpetuity, a move which would benefit over 20 lakh pensioners under the social security scheme run by the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation.
  • The scheme was initially effective only till March.
  • Retirement fund body EPFO had suspended the scheme from April 1 in the absence of any direction from the government to continue with this benefit beyond March 31.
  • The scheme hiking the pension amount to a flat Rs. 1,000 per month was launched last September.
  • “Providing a minimum pension of Rs. 1,000 per month is an effort to provide meaningful subsistence to pensioners who have served in the organised sector. The present proposal is likely to benefit approximately 20 lakh pensioners under EPS 1995,” the release said.
Japan and quake preparedness
This is an article by Hiroaki Takahashi, who is Associate Professor of Seismology, Institute of Seismology and Volcanology, Hokkaido University, Japan
  • The earthquake in Nepal has jolted the world. According to initial estimations by the United Nations, eight million people in 39 districts have been affected. Of them, over two million people live in 11 severely affected districts. Ninety per cent of the houses there have been “flattened”. Heritage buildings are now rubble, thousands are homeless, many have lost livestock, and have little food. On behalf of all Japanese citizens, I extend my heartfelt condolences and prayers to those who have lost their lives, their families and those affected. I hope international help is able to ensure rapid rehabilitation and reconstruction.
  • I recollect how Nepal and India were quick to support Japan when it faced a similar situation in 2011, during the To¯hoku tsunami where more than 20,000 people died.
  • Japan falls in a seismically active region and earthquakes are a part of life. Japanese seismologists and engineers are always working on solutions to mitigate the loss and damage caused by earthquakes. Most difficulties stem from the fact that the occurrence of major earthquakes spans intervals that are generally longer than the average lifespan of citizens. And memory is short. There is a saying here: “When danger passes, even god is forgotten.” For example, memories of the 2011 tsunami have long passed. Therefore, the question is: how long will you remember a disaster? And how do you pass on the lessons learnt? In this article, I would like to address this issue and look at what needs to be done, from the point of view of someone who lives in a seismic zone.
Earthquake forecasting
  • An earthquake is a sudden violent shaking of the ground, typically causing great destruction, as a result of volcanic action or movements deep within the earth’s crust. The Nepal quake resulted from a collision between the Indian crustal block and the Eurasian continent. Geophysicists know that the entire Indian subcontinent is being driven slowly but surely beneath Nepal at a speed of five centimetres a year. This generates a five-metre contraction over a century and results in silent stress build-up in the inner crustal rock. An earthquake occurs when stress accumulation reaches critical point. Over millions of years, the squeezing has crushed the Himalayas, raising mountains and triggering earthquakes on a regular basis. This will continue. This dynamic process will also induce stress accumulation in India. The Gujarat earthquake of 2001 was a result of this process. This shows that a quake is sure to occur in future.
  • Like Japan, Nepal is also located in one of the most seismic active zones. “An earthquake repeats itself”, which is a Japanese proverb, is apt here as well. Earthquake forecasting is a kind of historical science. If you can find documentation of a quake in ancient literature or legend, that place is bound to be earthquake prone. I pose this question next: do you know the earthquake history of your region? But let me not be an alarmist. The India Meteorological Department keeps track of all this. However, I suppose most people don’t know. It is perfectly natural that people do not worry about such things; it’s the same in Japan as well. As scientists, we try to create awareness about earthquake risk in the form of public lectures, mass media campaigns, science shows and governmental meetings. Therefore, “risk recognition” is the first step towards disaster mitigation.
  • In Nepal, researchers did track active earthquake history and issued warnings about a possible and destructive quake. For example, my colleague visited Nepal frequently to research strong ground shaking to help in disaster mitigation studies. Earthquake science still does not have a tool for imminent earthquake prediction. Therefore, being prepared for one is a crucial, and, often, the only step for disaster mitigation.
Disaster and public policy
  • In an earthquake, most of the damage is caused by collapsing buildings. In Nepal, most victims died this way. This is a major problem confronting architects. Recent architectural developments, however, allow for the construction of quake-resistant buildings, but such construction is more expensive than an ordinary building. Therefore, cost-effective solutions are also a challenge.
  • The Japanese believe and agree that anti-disaster investments are lifesavers. If the Indian government makes a public investment in this area, it should first come to some sort of social agreement in disaster mitigation. The role of the mass media is also important because it plays a key role in creating awareness about disaster preparedness. This must be emphasised. We must remember that it is people and commercial companies that are involved in construction and not the government. So, disaster mitigation cannot achieve optimal results unless there is understanding and cooperation. The media should also highlight the benefits of public and commercial investments.
  • Japanese anti-quake construction technology places a premium on high performance. Hence, what is suitable for Japanese conditions may not work elsewhere, in terms of applicability and cost. I suppose the export of such technology may not solve problems elsewhere. Therefore, the Government of India must develop an anti-disaster technology that suits Indian construction and conditions.
Risk evaluation and management
  • Disaster mitigation measures also require risk evaluation for rural and urban areas. In high-risk regions, there must be public investment. Policymakers in India must look at those parts of the country that have high quake potential. Records show that the western, coastal and northern regions are at high risk. Another important factor is “occurrence frequency and probability”. Shorter intervals between quakes indicate a high probability. At the same time, longer intervals also produce high probability. An evaluation of these factors will give one the basic information required. I would also like to add that earthquake research can’t operate on a commercial basis, so government funding is a must for scientific investigation.
  • The Japanese government operates the Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion based on Special Measure Law on Earthquake Disaster Prevention. Its director is a minister and its committees consist of government officers, governors, professors and researchers. The most important role of this special inter-ministry organisation is to publish probabilistic seismic hazard maps resulting from probability evaluation of earthquake occurrences. It also conducts unified national earthquake research — as geological surveys, earthquake monitoring and computer modelling. The results from all these projects produce the probability of earthquake occurrences. For instance, its research has shown that a strong shaking probability for the Tokyo Metropolitan area for next 30 years exceeds 80 per cent.
  • Earthquake risk is defined in the following way — multiplication of earthquake magnitude, probability and social fragility. Scientific data can only estimate magnitude and probability. This shows that if a place is “very fragile”, even a small earthquake can result in disaster. “High fragility” is the state of being unprepared by having non-quake-resistant construction. Mankind has no control over the magnitude and probability of a quake but architectural engineering can help reduce the fragility. Japanese quake-resistant house and building compliance is now about 80 per cent.
Response and supporting technology
  • In a quake, the survival time of someone who is buried is 72 hours. Therefore, rapid initial rescue is crucial. Who does the rescue then? The fire department? The police? The military? In a quake, one must be able to think of how to survive and escape. This is the experience in Japan. What if help is inadequate?
  • A real-time earthquake observation system should support the quick start of a rescue. In Japan, any seismic activity of more than ‘5+’ intensity automatically activates governmental response. There is surveillance by self-defence forces, a disaster countermeasure preparation office starts working, and a medical assistance team is on standby. For any smooth operation, there has to be a drill. So, disaster prevention agencies and governments frequently conduct all kinds of training and simulate situations. But even the best trained rescue operation requires lead time to access sites.
  • In Japan, a real-time Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) is in operation. If a quake is in the sea, the speed of an earthquake wave is about 8 km per second, which is slower than an electric signal. If the epicentre is away from one’s location, an electric signal reaches faster than the shake that gives the lead time before the quake arrives. An EEW alert is automatically triggered whenever any seismometer detects a seismic signal. There are alerts to the public through the media and the Internet. Trains, elevators and industrial machines are stopped automatically.
  • These examples show how earthquake monitoring data might help decrease the impact of a disaster. However, for the full impact of such a system, there needs to be a high ratio of anti-quake construction. How does one minimise the chances of being buried alive? The point is that government investment in anti-quake construction takes precedence over a modern alert system.
  • The annual disaster prevention drill in Japanese schools also plays an important role. Students are taught to hide below their desks in a quake. In their syllabus, they learn about natural disasters, disaster history, and hazard mapping.
Importance of legislation
  • Legislation also plays a most important role in disaster mitigation. The Japanese government has amended the Building Standard Law at regular intervals to reflect the advances in science and technology, and the lessons learnt from the last earthquake that occurred. The present version requires that new constructions should not be damaged in a medium earthquake and must not collapse in a large earthquake. These stringent measures have successfully reduced human toll in recent quakes. There is also a programme of tax incentives for anti-quake construction, that has enabled a higher ratio of anti-quake constructions in Japan. Therefore, economic incentives are also required to achieve actual law implementation.
  • With a proper legal system in place, new constructions will be better adapted for high seismic activity. We should try to develop a legal system, especially a Building Standard Law for earthquake disaster mitigation. Another countermeasure against quake disaster is a city planning policy and advance reconstruction policies. I believe these insights based on actual disaster experiences in Japan will go a long way to help save precious lives.
Industry welcomes move, wants more
  • The sugar industry, which has been faced with falling sugar prices amid a fifth surplus year, has welcomed the Government move to remedy the situation by removing the 12.5 per cent excise duty on ethanol and hiking the import duty on sugar to 40 per cent from 25 per cent.
  • The decision to remove the excise duty on ethanol would increase the net realisation to sugar mills by around Rs.5 a litre of ethanol, which should incentivise some mills to divert ‘B’ molasses or cane juice into ethanol, which will reduce some surplus sugar production from next year.
  • “Benefits of both these decisions would be realised by the industry in the long run,” Abinash Verma, Director General, Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA) said in a statement.
  • He said the immediate need was to reduce the surplus of 3.5 million tonnes of sugar blocking almost Rs.10,000 crore of cash flows. There was the need to improve the ex-mill sugar prices, which are at its lowest in the last six years and will not be addressed by the above decisions.
  • ISMA expects mills to produce 27 million tonnes in the current season (ending September 2015), a surplus of 2.2 million tonnes over estimated consumption and a closing balance by then of 9 million tonnes.
  • The industry carries three months consumption, totalling 6 million tonnes so the surplus would be in the region of 3 million tonnes.
  • ISMA has been pushing for the creation of a 3 million tonne buffer that would take care of the surplus sugar as also reduce the distress levels and help sugar prices to recover.
  • “We would urge the government to quickly decide on our request to buy out 10 per cent of our current year’s sugar production,” Mr. Verma said. “Only this step will help the industry come out of the crisis in the short run and ensure that a major portion of cane price arrears of farmers are cleared before the start of the next sugar season.”

Minimum support price for medium- and long-staple cotton for 2014-15 increased by Rs.50

Paper 6 - Indian Polity, Social Justice and International Relation

Indian Polity, Social Justice and International Relation

- Health, 
Health as a component of Human Resource Development. Health Care System in India and Uttarakhand. Health Indicators. World Health Organisation : Objectives, Structure, Functions and its Programmes. Public Private Partnership in Health Care System.
National Rural Health Mission and other related schemes. Health and Nutrition. Food Security Act etc.

India’s health sector is diverse and includes not just modern medicine but also a range of traditional systems like Homeopathy, Ayurveda, Unani. The overall government expenditure on health is rather low at around 1.2 percent of GDP. Communicable diseases continue to be a major public health problem in India. There is also a rising incidence of non communicable diseases, old age diseases and mental health. There is near consensus among experts that the health sector in India is plagued by acute inequity in the form of unequal access to basic health care across regions, inadequate availability of health services and acute shortage of skilled man power. 
Most of the issues pertaining to public health have been acknowledged by the policy makers and have influenced the formulation process of the 12th Five Year Plan. The Approach Paper recognises the need to provide comprehensive health care with greater emphasis on communicable diseases and preventive health care, need for upgradation of rural health care services with districts as units for planning, training and service provisioning and also the need for capital investment and bridging crucial and severe human resources gaps. 

 The High Level Expert Group on Universal Health Care constituted by the Planning Commission has recommended that public expenditure on health should be increased from the current level of 1.1 percent of GDP to at least 2.5 percent by the end of 12th Plan and to at least 3 percent of GDP by 2022. Other recommendations are the universal entitlement to comprehensive health security; ensuring availability of free medicines by increasing public spending on drug procurement; emphasis on public health investment and addressing the problem of human resources and establishment of more medical colleges and nursing schools. Over the years, there has been significant progress in improving life expectancy at birth, reducing mortality due to communicable diseases as well as reducing infant and maternal mortality. One of the major achievements is non-reporting of polio cases from any part of the country for more than 12 months. This is an endorsement of the effectiveness of the polio eradication strategies and their implementation in India. The NRHM launched in April 2005 was started with the stated objective to make health care universal, equitable and affordable in rural areas. The Mission was a policy response to the unequal development of health care across states and reflected the need of the centre to play a more proactive role in setting standards in public health provisioning and shaping state health systems to achieving the goals. Health care services to address the needs of the urban poor by making available essential primary health care services is also an area that requires attention. 

Social and family health issues such as malnutrition of women and children, declining child sex ratio, adolescent health, care of older persons however continue to be areas of concern requiring immediate intervention. 
Nutrition constitutes the foundation for human development and government has accorded the highest priority to combating malnutrition. The key issues are in preventing and reducing maternal and child undernutrition as early as possible. To address the multi dimensional nutritional challenges being faced in the country comprehensive multi sectoral interventions and redesigned institutional arrangements are needed. The need of the hour is to review the linkages between economic growth, poverty, dietary intake and nutritional status. This issue of Yojana deals with all these concerns and authors have outlined the challenges and the path that needs to be traversed to achieve India’s goals of health care for all. 

Health as a component of Human Resource Development

Health as a component of Human Resource Development

Good health status is an important contribution to economic development and contributes to rapid growth. Improvement in health status contributed in a great way to the economic growth rate in France and Great Britain. On the contrary diminished health status is one of the factors responsible for Africa’s low economic performance.

Health care in shambles (meaning of shambles - a state of total disorder)

In India, despite rapid strides in socioeconomic development, health and education, the widening economic, regional and gender disparities are posing challenges for the health sector. About 75 per cent of health infrastructure is concentrated in urban areas where only 37 per cent of the population lives. The health status of Indians, is still a cause of concern. This is reflected in the life expectancy, Which was used to be 62.3 years for male and 63.9 years for female in 2001-2005 is now 67.3 years for male and 69.6 years for female in 2011-2015infant mortality rate has come down to 42 in 2012 from 58 per 1000 live births in the year 2005; maternal mortality rate has declined from 301 per 100,000 live births in 2001-03 to 212 in 2007-09.
Total Fertility Rate has come down to 2.4 in 2011 from 2.9 in 2005. Adding a new feather in the cap is declaration of India as Polio Free Nation. On the 13th January, 2014, India made history by completing three years without a single case of wild polio. This feat was unimaginable till 2009, when India accounted for more than half of the global polio burden. 

Twelfth Plan outlook towards health care 
The role of health care in economic development has received increasing attention in recent years. Health care can be focused primarily on four growth channels: (a) health and labour, (b) health and education, (c) health and saving and (d) health and labour productivity. Investment in man and health care plays a significant role in fostering economic growth. It is, therefore, in the fitness of things that the Approach Paper of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, whose central theme is “sustainable and inclusive growth”, has presented a comprehensive programme for the sector, aiming at to provide broad-based health care in rural areas. The Approach Paper’s visions of health care are: 
  • Decrease the infant mortality rate and maternal mortality rate. 
  • Provide access to public health services for every citizen. 
  • Prevent and control communicable and noncommunicable diseases. 
  • Improving child sex ratio for age group 0-6 years. 
  • Control population as well as ensure gender and demographic balance. 
  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle and alternative systems of medicine through. 
  • Clean drinking water, sanitation and better nutrition, childcare, etc. 
  • Expenditure on health by Centre and States to increase from 1.3 per cent of GDP to at least 2.0 per cent, and perhaps 2.5 per cent of GDP by end of 12th Plan. 
  • Need targeted approach to increase seats in medical colleges, nursing colleges and other licensed health professionals. 
  • Improve quality of NRHM services vs. quantity of NRHM infrastructure. 
  • Role of PPP in secondary and tertiary healthcare must be expanded. 
  • Health insurance cover should be expanded to all disadvantaged groups. 
  • Focus on women and children; ICDS needs to be revamped. 
Health economics

With 356 million 10-24 year-olds, India has the world’s largest youth population despite having a smaller population than China, a latest UN report said on Nov 18, 2014.

China is second with 269 million young people, followed by Indonesia (67 million), the U.S. (65 million) and Pakistan (59 million), Nigeria with 57 million, Brazil with 51 million, and Bangladesh with 48 million, the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) State of the World’s Population report said.

It said that developing countries with large youth populations could see their economies soar, provided they invest heavily in young people’s education and health and protect their rights. 
India as a country that depends more on its human resources to excel in many streams can make it possible only if the resources are kept healthy. To be precise, economics has taken the centre stage and there is a need for integrating more of economics with health sector by increasing the focus on economics and behavioural economics, etc. 

Healthy labour force increases the participation ratio as well as hours worked. To reap the benefit of education, children must have a sound health. On the other hand medical expenses deplete savings and investment in the education of children. The reduced earning potential of individuals ultimately affects national income. According to Adam Smith, “productivity of labour can only enhance nation’s wealth” and health is the most prominent factor in determining labour productivity. Individual in good health may be able to produce more per hour worked with an efficient use of machinery and technology. They are also flexible and adoptable to change. On the other hand, health condition can set off a downward spiral, causing poverty further ill health and an inability to afford treatment. 

If every human being is treated as a stock in the human capital, than even a day’s loss of productivity will certainly impact the value of the stock and hence the human capital and productivity. Health pushes many a families in the unorganiged sector to below the poverty line status. Over 25 percent of hospitalized Indians fall below poverty line because of hospital expenses and hence health is a major cause of indebtedness, particularly in rural areas. While many of the people in the organized sector have some form of backing in the form of paid leaves, group coverage, etc., the people in the informal sector do not enjoy such privileges. The delay in treatment impacts these people in two ways: (a) capital erosion as their work is mostly semi-skilled or unskilled and depends on their physical health, (b) business continuity, the ability to continue in the business.

Some observations

The Indian economy will continue to be one of the fastest growing economies in the world. However, growth is not enough. What India is needs is growth with equity, especially growth with sustainable livelihood opportunities. In view of the obvious deficiencies in India’s overall rural infrastructure, it is unlikely that the rural areas will have a sufficient number of doctors over the next several decades. Thus, the solution to India’s doctor shortages does not lie in building more medical colleges. A better alternative would be that India must upgrade the skills of existing unlicensed rural practitioners and empower government nurses and pharmacists to take additional tasks. An alternative to the Indian Medical Council Act is the Drugs and Cosmetics Act that empowers States to recognize practitioners other than MBBS-holders to provide a limited range of medical care services. 

Health Care System in India and Uttarakhand

Public Health is a state subject. However, Central Government launched NRHM in 2005 to provide financial support to the States/UTs to strengthen their health systems particularly to cater to the healthcare needs of rural areas. Key steps taken to improve health care in rural areas include the following:
  • Support is provided to States/UTs under NRHM, to strengthen the health system including establishment/up-gradation/renovation of health infrastructure, engagement of Nurses, doctors and specialist on contractual basis based on the appraisal of requirements proposed by the States in their Programme Implementation Plans (PIP).
  • Support under NRHM is also provided by way of additional incentives to serve in remote underserved areas, so that health professionals find it attractive to join public health facilities in such areas. In order to encourage the States to fill up existing vacancies in remote rural areas, the states are being incentivized to ensure rational deployment of health human resource. Manpower deployment is also to be put on the web in public domain,
  • To increase the availability of doctors, several initiatives have been taken to rationalize the norms in medical education, such as, relaxation in land requirements, bed strength, increase in ceiling for maximum intake for undergraduates, enhancement of teacher-student ratio in Post Graduate Courses, etc., which has resulted in substantial increase in number of undergraduate and post graduate seats. Government has also approved setting up of ANM/GNM Schools in different States besides setting up of Institutes of Paramedical Sciences at National and regional levels, 
  • States/UTs are being impressed upon from time to time to make available improved health facilities including free essential medicines in all public health facilities. Accordingly, financial support is being provided for ensuring uninterrupted supply of free essential medicines in public health facilities based on the requirement proposed by the States in their PIPs.
  • An incentive of upto 5% of the NRHM outlay has also been introduced in 2012-13 for states for establishing policy framework and systems for providing free generic medicines to those who access public health facilities.
  • States/UTs are being provided support for focused attention and greater resources per capita to high priority districts with relatively poor composite health index.
  • Financial assistance is provided to the States/UTs for selection and training of Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA), who act as a link between community and healthcare facilities.
  • States/UTs are assisted to constitute Village Health, Sanitation and Nutrition Committees so as to ensure community participation and village level planning and monitoring of health activities. 
  • New initiatives such as JananiShishuSurakshaKaryakram (JSSK), RashtriyaBalSwashthyaKaryrakram (RBSK), Rashtriya Kishore SwashthyaKaryakram (RKSK), ‘National Health Mission Free Drugs Service Initiative’ etc., have also been introduced to inter-alia make health care affordable by reducing out of pocket expenditure. 

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Daily News Mail - News of 29/04/2015

Sri Lanka adopts 19th Amendment
  • Marking the beginning of a new chapter in the contemporary political history of Sri Lanka, the Parliament on April 28 night adopted the 19th Constitutional Amendment with an overwhelming majority. The legislation envisages the dilution of many powers of Executive Presidency, which had been in force since 1978.
  • President Maithripala Sirisena  and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe thanked all the parties that supported the Bill.
  • Among the important features of the Bill are: the reduction in the terms of President and Parliament from six years to five years; re-introduction of a two-term limit that a person can have as President; the power of President to dissolve Parliament only after four and a half years [unlike one year, as prevalent now]; the revival of Constitutional Council and the establishment of independent commissions.
  • Though the abolition of the Executive Presidency was the major electoral promise of Mr Sirisena, the Supreme Court, in its ruling early this month, held that certain provisions, such as those making Prime Minister the head of Cabinet and empowering PM to determine the size of Cabinet, would require a referendum. So, the President remains the head of Cabinet.  However, he can appoint Ministers on the advice of Prime Minister.
  • Earlier in the day, two issues cropped up — objections to the composition of Constitutional Council and the provision regarding the appointment of Ministers.  
  • Eventually, the government agreed to include seven MPs in the Constitutional Council as against the original proposal of having only non-political members.

Modi, Ghani talk trade, terror
  • India is keen to be included in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement and it will welcome Afghan trucks on the Wagah-Attari border with Pakistan, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he addressed a joint press gathering along with visiting Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani.
  • Mr. Ghani, who is making his first state visit to India, said he hoped to increase regional cooperation where “the energy of Central Asia will flow to South Asia, where pipelines, fibre optics, railways, and connectivity, air, ground and virtual will connect us.” Neither side signed any agreement but announced that they would clear a motor vehicles agreement soon, as well as expedite the development of the trade route from Afghanistan to India via Iran’s Chabahar port, which would allow both countries to circumvent objections from Pakistan.
  • Mr. Modi told Mr. Ghani that India shared Afghanistan’s pain over persisting terrorism and was “deeply grateful” to the Afghan security forces for protecting Indians in Afghanistan “as they would their own.” Mr. Ghani said “we must have a unified approach, we must be united both in the region and globally to contain this terror.”
Modi with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani in NewDelhi

Killing a country’s ecology
  • A battle of epic proportions between the hydroelectric power companies and the people of Uttarakhand has now culminated with the struggle shifting to the office of the Prime Minister of India. It began with the extraordinary and far-sighted 2014 decision of the Supreme Court in the Alaknanda Hydro Power Company case, where the Court said it was concerned with the mushrooming of hydroelectric projects adversely affecting the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi river basins.
  • The cumulative impact of dams, tunnels, blasting, the construction of power houses, garbage creation, mining and deforestation on the eco system has not yet been studied. The June 2013 tragedy that affected the Char Dham area of Uttarakhand, where thousands of people were killed and there was massive damage to property, forced a rethinking on projects. It was now considered important to make a cumulative assessment of bumper-to-bumper projects, where the rivers of the Himalayas are diverted from their normal course and channelled into tunnels, released at a lower level, then re-channeled into another pipeline, which ultimately leaves the main course of the river without water. The mistake made in the earlier environmental assessments — treating each project as stand-alone without going into the cumulative effect of all of them — was questioned by the Supreme Court. The Court, therefore, ordered the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to constitute an Expert Committee to study the cumulative effects of such projects on the environment, on the stability of the Himalayas, and their adverse effect on the Himalayan rivers.
Unreliable assessments
  • The Expert Committee’s report is possibly one of the best ever made on the fragile ecology of the Himalayas. It almost unanimously found that Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) clearances were unreliable, wrongly prepared, made on the basis of false information submitted by the Hydroelectric Projects (HEPs), and that the clearances, in some cases, were motivated. These clearances, therefore, could not be relied upon for the continuation of these projects.
  • The Committee concluded that EIA reports should be done by an independent agency and not by the project proponent, and said that HEPs had an irreversible negative impact on the environment.
  • Five of the six projects now being examined afresh are in the para-glacial zone, rendering them extremely hazardous. As the glaciers recede due to construction activity, the land exposed becomes unstable, and an unusual cloudburst could again result in tragedy. The adverse impact on rivers and water quality and on forests, biodiversity and wild life are set out in detail.
  • The scathing report of the Wildlife Institute of India that pointed to the devastation that would be caused to wildlife in the Himalayas was also relied upon. One chapter deals with the proximity of HEPs to national parks and eco-sensitive areas and the impact on these areas. The report responds to the classic defence of project proponents that they would do compensatory afforestation by concluding that such afforestation was poorly done. The Committee concludes that the negative impacts of HEPs cannot be mitigated. The blasting of rocks, creation of garbage, and the receding of glaciers are a concomitant of all industrial activity in the Himalayas and, if the Himalayas and the Ganga are to be saved, there is no way forward but to scrap such projects.
Government support
  • To its credit, the Union of India initially supported the Expert Committee Report, pointing out that even prior to this report the B.K. Chaturvedi Inter-Ministerial Group, the Planning Commission, the G.B. Mukherjee Task Force Report, the CAG report, the Neeri report, and the Geological Survey of India (GSI) report had all recommended that hydroelectric projects be severely curtailed as they destroyed the environment. The Union of India pointed out that the Gangotri Valley and the Valley of Flowers were in eco-sensitive zones. It agreed that the seven main Indian rivers ought to be kept pristine, that the Himalayas are weak, the rivers drying up, and, in 2013, as against the state claim of 65 per cent forest cover, the actual cover was only 46 per cent.
  • The Union said that earlier environmental clearances had to be reviewed and a cumulative environmental impact approach adopted, with sensitive areas in the Himalayas avoided for development work. Referring to the GSI report, the Union of India said the entire Ganga basin was in Seismic Zones IV and V, which carries the highest degree of catastrophe possibility. A reference was also made to the Planning Commission recommendation that the projects be decommissioned.
  • However, despite the Union of India’s stand, the Minister for Environment and Forests, Prakash Javadekar, does not agree. He has made it his life mission to clear all projects, irrespective of their environmental impact. It is this attitude that has made India a country of toxic rivers, destroyed forests, declining groundwater resources, and the highest degrees of air pollution in the world. After the Union of India took a public stand that fully supported the findings and recommendations of the Expert Committee, Mr. Javadekar has set about clearing all projects. In typical bureaucratic style, a four-member Committee of Experts was appointed to make a report on a report. However, it did not play ball, pointing out that though environmental clearances were granted, the six projects studied would adversely impact aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity and the flow of the river.
  • They would impact the protected areas of the Nanda Devi National Park and Biosphere Reserve, the Valley of Flowers National Park (World Heritage Site), the Kedarnath Wild Life Sanctuary, and the Alaknanda III, Bhyundar and Dhauli Ganga biodiversity-rich sub-basins, which are the habitat of the rare and endangered Himalayan Brown Bear. The diversion of water through the construction of underground tunnels poses a serious risk to water life. The Committee of Experts unanimously noted that environmental clearances have to be reviewed and the six projects must not be taken up as they have the potential to cause a significant impact on the environment.
  • The future of the Himalayas and its rivers are at stake. Indeed, the future of India is in the balance. Within the government, well-meaning officials and Ms. Uma Bharti are fighting to clean up the Ganges, while Mr. Javedkar and his friends in industry battle to finish off what little is left of the Himalayas, its rivers and glaciers. The Prime Minister of India has to decide on which side he stands.
The Centre agreed with the Expert Committee that the 
seven main Indian rivers ought to be kept 
pristine(meaning of pristine - 'clean and fresh as if new').” 
Picture shows the Srinagar dam over river Alakananda.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Paper 5 - Economic and Social Development

Indian Agriculture and Industry
Syllabus - 
Role of agriculture in Indian economic development-interrelationship between agriculture, industry and service sectors. Problems of Agriculture : Land Reform, Soil fertility, Credit Supply- National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development (NABARD), Farm Subsidies and Minimum Support prices etc. Public distribution system : Objectives, functioning and Issue of Food Security. Industrial Growth and Structure – Public, Private and Joint Sectors, Industrial sickness. Importance of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), PPP Model of Economic Development. Role of foreign capital and Multi National Corporations (MNCs) in industrial development.

Definitions of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises
http://www.dcmsme.gov.in/ssiindia/defination_msme.htm (MSME Act, 2006)

Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (KVI Commission, Coir Board)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ministry_of_Micro,_Small_and_Medium_Enterprises (intro)

National Small Industries Corporation

Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in India (An Overview, nice one)

Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI Act, 1989 ; set up in 2 April, 1990)

Budget 2015: What’s in it for MSMEs?

Credit Link Capital Subsidy Scheme (for technology upgradtion, 2005; providing 15% capital subsidy)

Farm Subsidies and Minimum Support prices etc. Public distribution system : Objectives, functioning and Issue of Food Security
https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B-vITNr-gB79a2ZlWUs4Ym5NU28&usp=sharing (Row -1; col - 5)

Daily News Mail - News of 28/04/2015

Rescue teams short of tools, men
  • The death toll in Saturday’s(April 25) earthquake in Nepal soared past 4,000 on April 27 even as rumours persist that another major earthquake is imminent. About 6,500 people have been injured in the 7.9 magnitude temblor.
  • Thousands of tourists and locals are desperately searching for a way out of Kathmandu, where a roof over their heads and provisions are in short supply.
Capgemini acquires iGATE for $4 billion
  • French IT services company Capgemini on Monday announced the acquisition of US-based IT services company iGATE for $4 billion.
  • Through the acquisition Capgemeini, which has significant presence in the European market, is trying to widen its presence in North America.
  • Apart from getting a strong-hold in the US, the buyout will also give Capgemini’s Indian operations a new scale, allowing it to compete on a par with the US and Indian companies.
  • The company co-founded by Sunil Wadhwani and Ashok Trivedi is listed in Nasdaq. However, majority of its workforce is based in India.
  • “The merger agreement has been approved unanimously by both Capgemini’s and iGATE’s Board of Directors. The transaction has also been approved by the written consent of shareholders holding a majority of iGATE’s shares,” both the firms said.
  • At present, iGATE has a revenue of around $1.3 billion and over 30,000 employees spread across its centres in India, the US, Europe and China.
  • In India, iGATE has centres in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad; while the French major has its centres in nine locations and employs more than 50,000 people.
  • The deal is subject to necessary approvals and is expected to close in the second half of 2015 and iGATE will become the subsidiary of Capgemini North America.
Will not participate in NJAC: CJI
  • A letter from Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu to Prime Minister Narendra Modi categorically refusing to participate in the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) has stalled any immediate chances of constituting the new body.
  • “In response to the call from your office to attend the meeting to select two eminent persons, I have to say that it is neither appropriate nor desirable to attend the meeting or be part of the NJAC till the Supreme Court decides its validity,” Chief Justice Dattu wrote to the Prime Minister on April 25.
  • On April 27, Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi informed a Constitution Bench led by Justice J.S. Khehar of the refusal of the Chief Justice, who is also the chairperson of the NJAC.
H.L. Dattu, Chief Justice of India

Challenge of agrarian distress
  • Everything else can wait but agriculture cannot, said Jawaharlal Nehru. This should have been the talisman for India’s progress. Yet, successive governments have failed to accord agriculture the priority it deserves. The tragic suicide of a farmer during an Aam Aadmi Party rally in New Delhi has brought to the fore the agrarian crisis facing India.
  • Official records reveal that more than 2.96 lakh farmers have ended their lives over the last two decades. This year has been particularly bad because of damage to the rabi crop caused by rain and hailstorms. Extensive damage to cash crops and horticulture has brought even some prosperous farmers to the brink of ruin. 
  • Despite the adverse impact of climate change, non-remunerative prices, lack of adequate irrigation facilities, absence of assured income and paucity of crop insurance, Indian farmers have brought the country up to the ranks of the top global producers of rice, wheat, vegetables, fruits and milk. 
  • Some 85 per cent of India’s farmers are small and marginal, and 65 per cent of farming is rain-fed. But high input costs, low returns, the consequent inability to repay farm loans, and general neglect have made agriculture unviable for the small and marginal farmer. 
  • Government spending here has dwindled over the years to 14.7 per cent, and the private sector has demurred, citing lack of rural infrastructure and modernisation.
  • For all its assertions, the Narendra Modi government has yet to come up with a clear strategy on this front. Barely a few months in power, it came up with some controversial amendments to the 2013 Land Acquisition Act, doing away with the provisions for obtaining consent from landowners and for social impact assessment ahead of acquisition. 
  • The government’s insistence that the changes would facilitate ease of business and speed up its development agenda has not convinced the Opposition parties. Its handling of the impact of unseasonal rain on farmers, slippages in keeping its promise to raise the support price for major crops, and tardy payments to sugarcane growers have given rise to a perception that the government is not farmer-friendly. 
  • A majority of farmers are in the clutches of private moneylenders who double up as sellers of seeds, fertilizers and other inputs. A failed crop pushes growers into deeper debt, from which it is not easy to escape. 
  • The forecast of a deficient southwest monsoon for the second year in a row adds to the worries. In such a situation, the Central government must display political will and come up with urgent measures that will bring the promised “achche din” to farmers. Leaving the task to the States won’t help.

Daily News Mail - News of 27/04/2015

Badrinath shrine opens for pilgrims
  • The portals of the Badrinath shrine, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, opened amid chanting of mantras at 5.15 a.m. on April 26.
  • Thousands of devotees thronged the snow-covered premises for worship. The turnout, according to Chief Minister Harish Rawat, who attended the ceremony, was “more than the administration had expected.”
Low footfall
  • The shrine received fewer footfalls last year owing to the 2013 disaster that had destroyed much infrastructure, especially the roads leading to the shrine.
  • “The State government is still working on making the Char Dham yatra more convenient for the pilgrims,” Mr. Rawat said.
Road repair under way
  • Even after the commencement of the yatra, the road repair work on some patches on the way to Badrinath is under way. Bulldozers have been placed at critical spots where landslips are a probability.
  • “The road from Pandukeshwar to Badrinath is still under repair…However, I assure the pilgrims that the yatra to Badrinath will not be affected because of the condition of roads as work on various damaged patches is under way,” Mr. Rawat said.
  • With the opening of the Badrinath shrine, the Char Dham Yatra, which involves pilgrimage to all the four Dhams of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath, and Kedarnath, has begun.
  • The Kedarnath shrine opened for pilgrims on April 24, and Gangotri and Yamunotri shrines on April 21.
Devotees at the Badrinath temple in Chamoli, Uttarakhand

Ukraine marks 29 years since Chernobyl
  • Ukrainians on April 26 marked 29 years since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, laying wreaths and candles near the plant where work to lay a new seal over the reactor site has been delayed. The explosion of reactor number four on April 26, 1986, spewed poisonous radiation over large parts of Europe, particularly Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.
  • At the site of the plant itself, around 100 km from Kiev, Ukraine’ President Poroshenko laid a wreath on April 26 at a monument to the victims.
Site of Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster, 26 April, 1986

Monday, 27 April 2015

Daily News Mail - News of 26/04/2015

1,500 killed in Nepal quake
  • A massive earthquake of 7.9 magnitude on the Richter scale and a series of aftershocks hit several parts of Nepal on April 25 morning, leaving over 1,500 people dead and many others injured. Roads and buildings, many of them historic landmarks such as the Dharahara Tower in Kathmandu, were destroyed.
  • The government said 1,500 bodies had been recovered. An equal number of people are said to be injured. The death toll is mounting and rescue operations have proved difficult given the mountainous terrain. A clearer estimate of casualties and damage could take days.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicentre was Lamjung district in western Nepal. The quake hit at 11.56 a.m. Nepal Standard Time (11.41 a.m. IST).People took shelter in open spaces, fields, the palace venue and schools. Many foreign tourists are stranded at Thamel.
  • The residents of the capital are out on the streets. The government has opened the gates of the Singha Durbar for people to take shelter.
Emergency meeting
  • The Cabinet held an emergency meeting and declared an emergency in the quake-hit areas.
  • The most affected districts. besides the three districts of the capital, Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur, are Kavre Gorkha, Nuwakot and Makwanpur in central Nepal and Ramechhap, Okhaldhunga and Bhojpur in the east. Some 40 of the 75 districts have been affected. Tremors through the afternoon lasted as long as 45 seconds. The last strong tremor occurred around 3.15 p.m. local time (3 p.m. IST).
  • The Dharahara Tower, in the heart of the capital and built in 1832, collapsed, trapping people. The Kalomochan temple at Thapathali was destroyed, as was the King Mahendra statue at Tripureshwar.
Disaster by earthquake in Nepal

How safe is Uttar Pradesh from quakes?
  • Even as the massive tremors shook large parts of Uttar Pradesh, it was the alluvium cover in the Indo-Gangetic Plain, which acted as a cushion and prevented large-scale damage in the State. In geological terms, the State falls in the “safe” zone as the alluvium cover acts a “shock absorber.”
  • Since the affect of earthquakes is more on the rocky surfaces, as was evident in the 1991 Uttarkashi and the 1995 earthquake in Chamoli (now in Uttarakhand), its impact was not felt much in Uttar Pradesh.
  • But the intensity of Saturday’s tremors have led experts to rethink on how safe is the State from quakes. There is an opinion which says that the magnitude of the tremors could have left an impact on the rocky surface below the alluvium cover. Many are of the view that tremors of this magnitude perhaps visited Uttar Pradesh for the first time in 80 years. “Though Uttar Pradesh is safe, thanks to the rich alluvium surface which acts as a cushion, the possibility of even the shock absorber being shaken by the magnitude of the tremors cannot be ruled out,” said A.R. Bhattacharya, an eminent earth scientist and an expert in Himalayan Geology.
  • Professor Bhattacharya said the “faults,” or cracks in the rocky surface below the alluvium cover could have been activated by the magnitude of Saturday’s tremors. The north-western belt seems to have been affected by the high magnitude of the tremors.

Daily News Mail - News of 25/04/2015

RS passes Bill on transgender rights
  • In a rare action, a private member’s Bill protecting and providing rights for transgenders was passed by the Rajya Sabha on April 24. The Bill also guarantees reservation in education and jobs, financial aid and social inclusion. This is the first time in 45 years that a private members' Bill has been passed by the House.
  • The Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014, paves the way for a law on the matter in the near future. The government assured the House that it would bring an updated Bill in the Lok Sabha. Sources later said that while the government “accepts the spirit and sentiment of the Bill, it has infirmities that need to be removed.”
  • A Union minister said the government would bring a fresh Bill “after removing the impractical clauses.”

Land, development and democracy
This is an article written by Mihir Sen, who  has lived and worked with the Adivasis of central India for the last 25 years.

  • The current debate on the land law is important because it affords us a chance to reflect more deeply on the nature of India’s development process and the experience of democracy for a majority of our citizens. 
  • To the perception of millions of our people that while India’s economy was booming over the last two decades, they were not part of the growth story.
  • Indeed, many people feel that development has happened at their cost. Official estimates place the number of people displaced due to development projects since Independence at 60 million, less than a third of whom have been properly resettled. Most of the displaced are the assetless rural poor, marginal farmers, poor fisherfolk and quarry workers. Around 40 per cent of them are Adivasis and 20 per cent Dalits. Official statistics testify that on all indicators of development, Dalits and Adivasis have been the worst off groups. Already at the bottom of the development pyramid, being deprived of their land and livelihoods has completely pauperised(One living on or eligible for public charity) them, forcing many to move and live in subhuman conditions in our metros. The last two decades have also seen unprecedented agrarian distress, with more than two lakh farmers committing suicide, as per the National Crime Records Bureau. This is something that had never happened before in Indian history.
A sense of hurt
  • It is in this backdrop that we need to understand the heightened sensitivities and palpable anger over forcible land acquisition. Given that 90 per cent of our coal, more than 50 per cent of most minerals, and prospective dam sites are mainly in Adivasi regions, there has been, and is likely to be, continuing tension over issues of land acquisition. Through these tensions, not only has a question mark been placed over our development strategy, the delicate fabric of Indian democracy has become terribly frayed at the edges. In the remote Adivasi heartlands of India, people feel such a deep and abiding sense of hurt, alienation and cynicism that they have allowed themselves to be helplessly drawn into a terrible vortex of violence and counter-violence, even when they know in their heart of hearts that it will lead to their own destruction.
  • The 2013 land law tried to reach out to these people, by undoing a draconian colonial Act more suited to a 19th century empire than to a 21st century vibrant democracy. At the heart of the 2013 law was the provision of seeking the consent of those whose lands were to be acquired and of caring for those whose livelihoods would be destroyed in the process. Undoing these provisions is a virtual resurrection of undiluted powers of “eminent domain”, which the 1894 law conferred on the state.
Listening to the farmer
  • I do not dispute the fact that there can be many situations where land is needed for a development project that could actually benefit those whose lands are being acquired. What could be the possible harm in seeking the prior, informed consent of these people, after making the effort of explaining to them how they would stand to benefit? There are those who argue that farmers would be better off giving up farming. Indeed, they say farmers do not want to farm any more. Why would these farmers conceivably say no if we were to propose more attractive and tangible alternative options to them in return for their land? Is it not for farmers to assess whether the project will actually be of benefit to them and whether the recompense offered to them is a fair bargain? And allow them to be parties in working out what could be regarded as a fair deal for all? But all this will happen only if we are willing to talk to farmers and listen to them, who, I dare say, based on my experience of listening to them for 25 years, have a great deal to teach us.
Importance of SIA
  • This is the essence of Social Impact Assessment (SIA), which was again at the heart of the 2013 law. SIA is an instrument meant to assess the positive and negative impacts of the project and also to assess whether the objectives of the proposed project could not be achieved in some other manner, especially by acquiring significantly less fertile, multi-cropped land, a crucial requirement of national food security. When we look back at the history of land acquisition in India, we find it riddled with instances of far too much land being acquired and not being put to use. Just one look at the huge amounts of unused land in possession of many of our universities today would make you see the point. 
  • And as a recent study by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) reveals, of the over 60,000 hectares of land acquired for Special Economic Zones (SEZs), from 2006 to 2013, around 53 per cent has not been put to any use. Just because it was possible to bully uninformed village people, we continued to do so.
  • SIA is an attempt to check these kinds of malpractices. It is also a way of making sure that land acquisition is not an easy way for the real estate mafia to make a quick buck in the name of development. 
  • The CAG study found many instances of land acquired at rates much below the market value being diverted to private builders in urban areas for commercial exploitation after denotification. The 2013 Act provided for the return of unused land to the original owner in cases where the land has not been used for the purposes for which it was acquired within five years. This is a key provision that should be retained.
  • SIA is an attempt to restore the declining faith in the democratic process, by reaching out to those who believe all decisions affecting their lives are made in distant, uncaring corridors of power, leaving them without any say. Incidentally, SIA is also best practice in development projects across the world. The 2013 law was a belated attempt to catch up with what other nations have been doing for long. Doing away with SIA would destroy a very powerful means of what is globally termed “conflict prevention”, a variety of activities aimed at anticipating and averting the outbreak of conflict.
  • Many people are rightly concerned about the slow pace of decision-making in development projects. They wish to do away with democracy-building, consent-seeking processes. But repeated experience shows that the attempt to push through projects without the consent of local people only results in massive delays, costing huge sums of money to the project developer. For an enlightened capitalist, it would be far more sensible and expeditious to conduct business in a peaceful, consensual atmosphere, rather than being repeatedly prevented from functioning due to endless strife and conflict. The 2013 law has proposed a time-bound SIA, which could be a powerful means of conflict prevention by taking local communities on board and making them integral partners in development. There are many instances of this across the world, as also in India.
Need for debate
  • The enactment of the 2013 law was a real struggle, with many, across partisan divides, fiercely opposing it. A key role in its passage was played by Parliament, which instilled the law with necessary balance. The extraordinary leadership provided by the present Speaker of the Lok Sabha was crucial in seeing the Act through with complete unanimity. Her sagacity and consensus-building skills, as Chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, helped reconcile conflicting arguments into a seamless whole.
  • It is the very same spirit that the nation seeks today from Parliament, for balance and compromise are the hallmarks of a democracy. This has not been an empty debate. All sides have had powerful points to make. All the concerns being expressed are genuine national concerns. 
  • The country needs industrialisation and urbanisation. But their specific forms need to be debated. Surely, we cannot continue with a pattern of industry that yields so few jobs, and one that has such a large ecological, especially water, footprint. We also cannot be excited by the urban nightmares that our cities are today. The debate on the land law is a great occasion to move the dialogue forward on these key national agendas. If we want to acquire the land of farmers to serve larger goals, surely the projects in which they are embodied must not be of the kinds that repeat the mistakes of the past. The people of this country, who are being asked to make sacrifices for the larger national good, must know and be convinced that what they give up will indeed serve a meaningful “public purpose” and not involve the injustices and malpractices of the past. That is why the consent and SIA clauses need to be retained in the land law that Parliament eventually passes. Let us not reduce it to a National Democratic Alliance (NDA) vs. United Progressive Alliance (UPA) issue. Let us hope Parliament will rise above narrow partisan politics and seize this opportunity to provide an appropriate response to the utterly tragic suicide of Gajendra Singh.
Monsoon concerns
  • In contrast to last year, the initial outlook for the southwest monsoon looks hardly promising. According to the first-stage forecast issued on April 22 by the India Meteorological Department, the southwest monsoon seasonal rainfall is likely to be 93 per cent of the long-period average with a margin of error of 5 per cent. For the June-September season, both the deficient (less than 90 per cent of long-period average, or LPA) and below-normal (between 90 and 96 per cent of the long-period average) categories have a nearly equal probability of 33 and 35 per cent respectively. 
  • The forecast probability of both deficient and below-normal categories is double the climatological probability, which is based on how the monsoon fared in previous years. While the chances of excess rainfall occurring are non-existent, initial indications are that the monsoon this year will be subnormal or deficient. However, the initial forecast made in April cannot be the basis for arriving at any firm conclusions; at best, it may serve as a pointer. 
  • For instance, as seen last year the El Niño conditions over the Pacific did not develop into a phenomenon that was strong enough to retard the southwest monsoon over the country and fizzled out swiftly. Of late, El Niño characteristics seem to change quickly. Hence, a true picture will emerge only by the end of May or in early June. The June forecasts will also be more comprehensive in terms of monthly rainfall over the country and seasonal rainfall over the four regions.
  • The El Niño conditions currently prevailing over the Pacific Ocean are stronger compared with last year. These have been particularly notable in the central Pacific Ocean. An increase of 0.5° C in the sea surface temperature has been recorded in the Pacific region, and in all likelihood the warming will increase and mature during the monsoon period. These have already been factored in to arrive at 93 per cent of the LPA with a margin of error of 5 per cent. A strong El Niño can play an important role, but it is just one of the factors that could affect rainfall. 
  • As witnessed in 1997, a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) has the potential to largely offset the adverse influence of even a strong El Niño and ensure above-average rains across India. Though slightly negative IOD conditions are now indicated, these can be largely ignored. Unlike in the case of El Niño, the IOD prediction is far from good; the Indian Ocean processes and how they develop are not quite well understood. Hence, the initial indications are that the IOD may neither support the impact of El Niño nor neutralise it. As in the case of El Niño, a better picture of the IOD will emerge only from the next round of the forecast.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Daily News Mail - News of 24/04/2015

10 years later, YouTube is a hit but faces challenges
  • Ten years after its launch, YouTube has become a household name for online video but faces an array of rivals in the market and lingering questions about its business model.
  • The first video uploaded April 23, 2005 — an 18-second clip of co-founder Jawed Karim at the San Diego Zoo — offered little indication the service would become the leader in Internet video and a key part of the Google empire. A decade later, YouTube has more than one billion users, with localized service in 75 countries and 61 languages.
  • Some 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and “every day people watch hundreds of millions of hours on YouTube and generate billions of views,” according to the YouTube statistics page. Google is reserving its 10-year anniversary celebration for May 10, marking the day the site went public, a spokesman told. But analysts and others were talking about the milestone.
  • YouTube played a key role in the Arab Spring uprisings and other political movements. It has faced bans in some countries, notably for the distribution of a film about Muhammad which offended some Muslims, and has faced criticism for being used to distribute unauthorized copyrighted content.
  • Rayburn said that even though YouTube was immensely popular around the world, it was not clear if it had a real business model.
  • Google bought YouTube in 2006 for some $1.6 billion in stock — raising eyebrows about what was then the Internet firm’s biggest acquisition — and now generates considerable revenue, but also has high costs. “Even today, Google will not say if YouTube is profitable,” Rayburn noted. “But 90 per cent of analysts say it is not profitable.”
  • Rayburn said that even though YouTube popularised the idea of online video, the videos are mainly “user generated content” that does not attract revenue from users or advertisers. “To stream premium content like films and television programs, people go to Netflix or Hulu or iTunes,” he said. “YouTube has struggled to find its core business. The vast amount of content on it cannot be monetised.”
  • But a report by Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburne earlier this year said YouTube was “a high-growth, valuable asset” for Google with tremendous potential. The report said YouTube generated some $4.7 billion in revenue in 2014, and that it could do even better by investing in premium content — such as the paid video channels it recently unveiled and other kinds of subscriptions.

BSNL offers free landline calls at night
  • The State-owned BSNL on April 23 introduced unlimited free calls during night hours.
  • The scheme, effective from May 1, allows one to make calls free of cost to any operator, including of mobile phones, anywhere in the country between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. It covers all types of connections, BSNL said in a statement.
  • “We are modernising our landline business and want to resurrect it,” said BSNL Chairman and Managing Director Anupam Shrivastava.
  • “There is no end date fixed for this scheme. We will review it after six months,” said Mr. Shrivastava.

Alam back in jail
  • The Jammu & Kashmir government on Wednesday evening booked Hurriyat leader Masarat Alam under the Public Safety Act (PSA), rendering irrelevant his pending bail plea which was to come up in court on April 25.
  • Alam was released last month after being detained for four-and-a-half years under six consecutive PSAs.
17 years in jail
  • This is the 26th time Alam is being booked under the Act since 1990. According to senior police officials, in the last 25 years, Alam has spent more than 17 years in jail under the PSA, which allows detention of a person for two years on mere suspicion.
  • The Peoples Democratic Party on April 23 defended the use of this ‘extra-judicial law’, the one they were critical of during their time in the Opposition. “We are not backing away from our claims of ‘battle of ideas’, but Alam did not deserve anything but PSA,” PDP spokesperson Waheed Parra told The Hindu . “We have to see that nothing derails the tourism industry.”
  • Alam was arrested on April 17 for participating in a pro-Independence rally where pro-Pakistan slogans and flags were raised.
Hurriyat Leader, Masarat Alam

Gorkha Rifles complete 200 years of valiant service
  • The famed Gorkha Rifles of the Indian Army known for their Khukris and their ‘Aayo Gorkhali’ battle cry complete 200 years of their raising on April 24.
  • The Gorkhas were first recruited by the East India Company and later fought under the British in several battles including World War I and II and continued in the Indian Army after Independence.
  • The first regiment was raised by Sir Robert Colquhuon on April 24, 1815 with men from Gorkhas, Kumaon and Garhwal regions. Two battalions, 1/1 GR and 1/3 GR, were raised.
  • “Only a few others including the Madras and Grenadiers Regiments (1758), Punjab Regiment (1761), Rajputana Rifles (1775), Rajput Regiment (1778), Jat Regiment (1795) and Kumaon Regiment (1813) are among the other native infantry regiments that preceded them,” said an officer.
  • Currently there are about 30,000 Nepalese Gorkhas serving in the seven Gorkha regiments of the Indian Army with their motto being: “ Kafar hunu bhanda marnu ramro! (It's better to die than be a coward!)”.
  • The Gorkhas are highly decorated having earned 117 gallantry and distinguished awards since Independence including an Ashoka and Kirti Chakra, two Shaurya Chakras and a Padma Bhushan among others.
  • India’s first Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw belongs to this regiment as does the current Army Chief General Dalbir Singh.
Clinton, Rubio lead in 2016 U.S. poll survey
  • Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio are early frontrunners to become the next president of the United States, according to a well-regarded poll released April 23.
  • Clinton -- a celebrity former secretary of state, first lady and New York senator -- who is bidding to become America's first female president, is head-and-shoulders above her 2016 Democratic party rivals according to a Quinnipiac University poll.
  • She has the backing of 60 percent of Democrats, according to the survey, with her nearest potential rival, Vice President Joe Biden trailing on 10 percent.
  • At first blush, that would appear to be superb news for Clinton supporters, who were shocked to lose the party nomination to Barack Obama in 2008.
  • But Clinton's seemingly unassailable lead has the party faithful worried that a meek primary campaign will leave her far from battled hardened by the time the general election campaign against the Republican nominee begins.
  • Perhaps more concerning for Clintonites will be Quinnipiac's finding that more than half of all voters polled say the 67-year-old is not trustworthy.
Unequal scales for juveniles

  • It is unfortunate that the government seems determined to introduce legal provisions to ensure that children between the ages of 16 and 18 are tried as adults if they commit heinous offences such as murder and rape. 
  • Ever since a juvenile offender was given a ‘light’ sentence in the Delhi gang rape case of 2012 under the existing child-friendly laws, there has been a clamour to treat juveniles involved in heinous crimes as adults. 
  • A fresh Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha last year contained clauses that many child rights activists and groups disapproved of.
  •  A Standing Committee of Parliament recommended a review and reconsideration of all clauses that sought to carve out an exception for children in the 16-18 age group and subject them to the rigours of regular criminal procedure. 
  • However, the amended Bill now cleared by the Cabinet retains the clause that provides that when a heinous crime is committed by one in this age group, the Juvenile Justice Board will assess whether the crime has been committed as a ‘child’ or as an ‘adult’. The trial would take place on the basis of this assessment. The present framework classifies offences as petty, serious and heinous and treats each category under a different process. 
  • The government claims that since this assessment will be done with the help of psychologists and social experts, the rights of the juvenile would be protected. It remains to be seen if enough numbers of such professionals would be available across the country to make this work.
  • It should not be forgotten that making children face an adult criminal court would mar the prospect of their rehabilitation. The Supreme Court has not seen any special reason to amend the present juvenile law. Nor did the Justice J.S. Verma Committee, which made far- reaching recommendations on the legal framework for treating sexual offences, suggest such changes. The government should stick by the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which treats everyone up to 18 as a child. 
  • To the government's credit, it has held some consultations with stakeholders before finalising its latest draft. It has heeded the Parliamentary Committee’s objection to Clause 7, and dropped the arbitrary provision that a person who had committed an offence when aged between 16 and 18 but was apprehended only after crossing the age of 21 would be treated and tried as an adult. However, this is not enough. The government would do well to drop its attempt to have a differential system for those involved in ‘heinous offences’. Instead, it should pursue the other forward-looking aspects of the bill, which has welcome features for the care and protection of children that can help them significantly through provisions such as those for foster homes and a better-regulated adoption mechanism.