Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Daily News Analysis, 06th October 2015 - IndianCivils

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Sources : The Hindu, Indian Express

Drones to help gauge crop damage
The Centre has decided to use satellite and drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) over farmers’ fields to collect crop yield data and to assess damage from natural calamities.The high resolution imagery of crop assessment from drones will be collated with satellite imaging and other geospatial technology to get accurate data to enable crop insurance companies to give proper compensation to affected farmers. The experiment will help develop index-based data for insurance companies.Launching the new programme called “Kisan” (Crop Insurance using Space Technology and Geoinformatics), Minister of State for Agriculture Sanjeev Balyan told journalists on Monday that the scientific data collected by drones and collated with satellites imagery will be matched with traditional crop cutting experiments to arrive at a foolproof data. Among the drone companies active in India are SkyMet, Amigo Optima, Precision Hawk, Quidich and Techbaaz.“The crop insurance claim is calculated on the basis of crop cutting experiments. However, there has always been a problem in getting timely and accurate data, due to which payment of claims to farmers were getting delayed. A new programme "Kisan" is being launched on a pilot basis to address this issue,’’ Mr. Balyan said.At the same time, the Minister launched an Android mobile phone application to assess large-scale damage to crops from hail. Farmers with Android and smart phones will download the application which will allow them to immediately send photos of their crop damage to officials concerned for immediate relief. This will cut the red tape in reaching assistance to farmers, the Minister said.Initially, "Kisan" will be tried out as a pilot study in identified districts in Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Studies will be done during the ongoing kharif season in rice crop in Kurukshetra (Haryana), Shimoga (Karnaraka), Seoni (Madhya Pradesh) and in cotton in Yavatmal (Maharashtra).Next rabi, pilot studies will be carried out in wheat yields in Hissar and Karnal (Haryana), Ahmednagar (Maharashtra) and Vidisha and Hoshangabad (Madhya Pradesh). Studies will be done in sorghum in Gulbarga (Karnataka) and Solapur (Maharashtra) and in rice in Raichur (Karnataka).The programme will be jointly conducted by Mahalanobis National Crop Forecast Centre, Indian Space Research Organisation, India Meteorological Department, State Agriculture Departments and Remote Sensing Centres, Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

Nuclear energy not viable, says German economist
India will do better to invest in solar and in wind power than in nuclear energy, said German green economist Ralf Fücks. Nuclear energy was economically unsustainable and needed government subsidies to survive, he added.“We should not consider nuclear power as green. We are even more confident that nuclear energy is the wrong path, and that we don’t need it. It is inherently high-risk. If something goes wrong then it can be catastrophic like Chernobyl and Fukushima,” Dr. Fücks, president of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, said.There was also the problem of nuclear proliferation, he added, saying there was a very thin wall between civil and military nuclear applications.The most important issue with nuclear power, Dr. Fücks said, was the cost of plants. “The cost is growing. Nuclear power will not be able to survive without government subsidies. If you let the market decide, then nuclear is out,” he said. Dr. Fücks said this in answer to a question on India’s increased trade in civil nuclear equipment with France.
Smart cities
Regarding the Narendra Modi government’s plan on smart cities, Dr. Fücks said they were a promising development but that they should not be limited in scope. “Self-sufficient smart cities are a very promising development. However, they should not be limited to data management and smarter technology, but must also include high-tech urban farming, powered by solar and wind energy, so as to increase employment in the cities, reduce fertilizer and pesticide usage and put a check on water consumption,” he said.According to Dr. Fücks, smart cities must also be made more accessible for commuters who choose to walk or cycle. In addition, urban transport must be based on alternative, renewable energy.Dr. Fücks lauded the Indian government’s National Solar Mission. “This is quite a promising task. Globally, you see a dramatic reduction of cost in this sector. Solar module costs have come down by 80 per cent. It is becoming cheaper every month, and the energy is virtually unlimited. For developing countries, renewable energy provides great opportunities for all those not connected to the central grid,” he said.However, India was experiencing a contradiction in policy. “India is trying to increase its coal capabilities as well as its solar. This can work in the short term, but they are fundamentally different energy systems and India will have to choose in the longer term,” Dr. Fücks said.
Volkswagen scandal
In the light of the Volkswagen scandal surrounding the company’s cheating on emission tests, Dr. Fücks said companies must be responsible for not only their revenues but also their environmental impact. “The company’s environmental footprint must be included in the accounting system, and so this requires a change in regulation.” ‘If something goes wrong then it can be catastrophic like Chernobyl and Fukushima’.

Germany won’t sign MLAT, cites death penalty
Germany has expressed its inability to sign the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) with India, citing its provision for “death penalty” for heinous crimes and terror activities.India has signed MLAT with 39 countries, including the United States. This is perhaps the first time a country has refused to sign the treaty on grounds of the death penalty provision.Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju signed a memoran-dum of understanding (MoU) with Gunte Krings of the Federal Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Germany on security cooperation and disaster management. Dr. Krings is part of a delegation which has come to India with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.An MLAT is an agreement between two or more countries for gathering and exchanging information to enforce public or criminal laws.Mr. Rijiju is learnt to have told the German officials that the two countries had been negotiating on the MLAT in criminal matters since 2007 and it had not progressed on account of differences on the issue of “death penalty”. “We informed the delegation that death penalty is only handed in the rarest of the rare cases in India,” he said.India also discussed “violent extremism” with Germany and the activities of the Islamic State (IS). The Minister told Germany that individuals linked to terrorist organisations, particularly Sikh extremists based in Germany, often used their places of worship to support extremist organisations in India through propaganda and financial help.“The flag of Khalistan and photographs of armed terrorists are openly displayed in many Sikh religious places in Germany to incite hatred and anger against India,” he said.The two countries also signed an MoU for deployment of armed marshals on flights operating between the two countries.Mr. Rijiju requested his German counterpart to establish a mechanism for real-time cooperation in the area of “cyber security.” The Foreign Ministries are holding Cyber Dialogue next week.

Road Safety Bill will give govt power to order recall of vehicles: Gadkari
In the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal, Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari on Monday underscored a clause in the pending Road Safety Bill that allows the government to direct a manufacturer to recall motor vehicles if a defect in that particular type of vehicle may cause harm to the driver or occupants or road users.“The government is committed to removing faulty designing in road projects and is identifying black spots to prevent accidents. The Bill has provisions for automobile sector too in view of the safety concerns to prevent accidents,” Mr. Gadkari said, while speaking at a conference on road safety organised by the International Road Federation.
Vested interests
According to the Bill, a manufacturer can be ordered to recall a particular type of motor vehicle if a specified number of users complain about a defect that can cause harm to them, their passengers, or any other road users. Mr. Gadkari added that there were vested interests opposed to the passage of the Bill.
Concurrent list
“Despite our best efforts the Bill which we made could not be introduced in Parliament. This is a difficult problem for us. The Act falls in the purview of concurrent list and both state governments and the Centre have rights. Different lobbies are there who are opposing the Bill,” he said.He added that the government was committed to increasing road safety and is targeting an ‘accident-free India’. India accounted for one of the highest numbers of road accidents with 5 lakh road accidents a year and 1.5 lakh fatalities. The initial target is to reduce the number of road accidents by half.“We need to educate our children to create safety awareness. We are preparing lessons for school children besides cartoon films. Celebrities also have been requested to come forward for the noble cause,” he said.The Bill, he said, proposes strict fines of up to Rs.3 lakh along with a minimum 7-year imprisonment in the case of the death of a child in certain circumstances. It also proposes a fine of Rs.50,000 per vehicle and up to 3 months of jail time for the head of a company for manufacturing and selling faulty vehicles.

World Bank estimates show fall in India’s poverty rate
12.8 per cent of the global population live in extreme poverty. The World Bank has revised the global poverty line, previously pegged at $1.25 a day to $1.90 a day (approximately Rs. 130). This has been arrived at based on an average of the national poverty lines of 15 poorest economies of the world. The poverty lines were converted from local currency into U.S. dollars using the new 2011 Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) data.In its latest report ‘Ending Extreme Poverty, Sharing Prosperity: Progress and Policies’, authors Marcio Cruz, James Foster, Bryce Quillin, and Phillip Schellekkens, note that world-wide poverty has shown a decline under these new estimates.The latest headline estimate for 2012 based on the new data suggests that close to 900 million people (12.8 per cent of the global population) lived in extreme poverty.With the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in September, seeking to end all forms of poverty world over, the World Bank Group has set itself the target of bringing down the number of people living in extreme poverty to less than 3 per cent of the world population by 2030.
Multi-dimensional poverty
The report also notes that the global poverty line does not currently take the multiple dimensions of poverty into account. There are many non-monetary indicators — on education, health, sanitation, water, electricity, etc. — that are extremely important for understanding the many dimensions of poverty that people experience.The 2015 Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) counts 1.6 billion people as multi-dimensionally poor, with the largest global share in South Asia and the highest intensity in Sub-Saharan Africa.These multiple indicators are an important complement to monetary measures of poverty and are crucial to effectively improving the lives of the poorest, the report notes. However, the recently-established Commission on Global Poverty is currently assessing how we measure and understand poverty and how to improve this going forward. According to a WB spokesperson, the CGP recommendations are expected in April 2016.
India poverty figures varies with method
Though home to the largest number of poor in 2012, India's poverty rate is one of the lowest among those countries with the largest number of poor, the latest World Bank report notes. Also in the case of India, with large numbers of people clustered close to the poverty line, poverty estimates are significantly different depending on the recall period in the survey, the authors note.Since 2015 is the target year for the Millennium Development Goals, the assessment of changes in poverty over time is best based on the Uniform Reference Period (URP) consumption method, which uses a 30-day recall period for calculating consumption expenditures, as per the report. This method, used to set the baseline poverty rates for India in 1990, shows India’s poverty rate for 2011/12 to be 21.2 per cent.By comparison, the Modified Mixed Reference Period (MMRP), which contains a shorter, seven-day recall period for some food items leads to higher estimates of consumption and therefore lower poverty estimates. “We expect that the MMRP-based estimate (currently at 12.4% for India) will set the baseline for India and global poverty estimates, going forward,” a World Bank spokesperson told The Hindu.More country specific details will be available once the Global Monitoring Report, using the new estimates, is launched in Washington DC on October 7.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Daily News Analysis, 05th October 2015 - IndianCivils

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Sources : The Hindu, Indian Express

Next door Nepal: Blaming it on India
The state-sponsored celebrations to welcome the constitution were cut short and anti-India rhetoric and protests have now become routine.
Huge queues in front of gas stations, phenomenal price rise and looming scarcity close to the Hindu festival of Dashain as well as an Eid celebrated by Muslims with much less than the usual pomp and splendour — these are the realities Nepal has been facing since the promulgation of the constitution on September 20.The big political parties allege that it’s an undeclared blockade by India, after Kathmandu refused to entertain theconcerns New Delhi voiced, especially about enhanced autonomy and a larger parliamentary role for Madhes, Nepal’s plains.The state-sponsored celebrations to welcome the constitution were cut short and anti-India rhetoric and protests have now become routine.“Countries may be smaller or bigger in size, but sovereignty means the same thing for every country,” said K.P. Oli, in response to India’s cold response that it had taken “note” of a constitution having been promulgated. Madhesi leaders have now specified their demand that at least 83 of 165 seats, in the first-past-the-post category, in the House of Representatives should be from Madhes. They justify it on grounds that Madhes has 51 per cent of the total population. But this also means leaving less than 50 per cent seats for the rest. No serious debate ever took place in the Constituent Assembly to generate better understanding on crucial matters.The much trumpeted “consensus”, since 2006, only meant power-sharing among the eight parties that came together under the India-mediated 12-point agreement to form, basically, an anti-monarchy front. They consciously stonewalled any dissent, calling it regressive. Due process in political reform and constitution-writing were ignored. But the rapid fragmentation of that front has produced two groups fighting each other in favour of and against the constitution.India now stands accused of micro-managing Nepal’s affairs by the powerful group that has controlled the government and parliament. For the first time since 2006, Nepal’s major actors have overruled India’s suggestion — to take the Madhesis on board — before promulgating the constitution. “It’s not India. We have caused the blockade to press our demands,” said Upendra Yadav, leader of the four-party Madhes front, clearly exaggerating their strength. Maoist chief Prachanda claimed, “India and Madhesi groups have joined hands against the constitution, an outcome of our sovereign exercise.”Prachanda’s anti-India stance has become more strident, especially since Baburam Bhattarai — Prachanda’s deputy for nearly three decades, who’s also considered “trusted by India” since 2006 — quit the Maoist party and declared his support for the Madhesi cause. Prachanda may claim a pyrrhic victory for now, as India has become the majority’s target as a “hegemonic force”. Indian public opinion, too, seems divided as leftist activists and a section of the bureaucracy, who together played a role in bringing the Maoists and other parties together, are supporting Nepal’s big parties.Indian PM Narendra Modi also remains a suspect for being a “manipulator” trying to torpedo the three goals set by the Manmohan Singh regime, under heavy pressure from the CPM and what’s called the “JNU lobby” in Nepal.But in reality, the crisis Nepal’s new constitution faces is largely caused by the compromise Nepali leaders made with due process — the short cut to secularism and republicanism, without any debate or inv-olvement of the people.Now that the constitution has been promulgated and parliament summoned, it’s mandatory to elect a new prime minister within two weeks (by October 15), followed by a speaker and a new president. All of this must happen by October-end. Failure to do these will lead to a breakdown of the constitution from the top.Next, the tricky question that must be answered is the one raised by the Madhesis and ownership of the statute has to be enlarged. This will have a bearing, also, on Nepal-India relations, wherein cordiality is crucial for Nepal’s stability.

Digital India needs to go local
Digital infrastructure may not be of much help in addressing governance and development concerns unless it is integrated into the wider structural and institutional reformsDigital India is the flavour of the season, and not without any reason.Digital technologies have permeated into more and more aspects of our private and public life spaces. A lot of us increasingly depend on them to order groceries, book a taxi ride or train and flight tickets, file tax returns and apply for a passport. The entire basket of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), which include laptops, tablets, smartphones, broadband and Wi-Fi connectivity, are seen to represent a new wave of general purpose technologies, similar to what electricity was in the early 20th century and steam engines were in the early 19th century. On the other hand, India, home to the second largest population in the world and witness to relatively higher economic growth rates in the past few years, is seen as an important market, still untapped in terms of usage of digital technologies. All this leads up to the, not so unsurprising, optimism and euphoria that engulfs our current set of policy makers and large global corporates that sell and, often control, important components of these digital technologies.
Flawed picture
The India story of the past couple of decades, however, is seen to have its own set of blemishes. There are many within the country, and outside, who are growing increasingly impatient with the reality that we are not anywhere close to global benchmarks when it comes to the state of our basic physical infrastructure — roads, water and electricity and also those related to sanitation, public health and primary education.The frustration manifests more amongst those who see themselves connected, or having a potential to connect, to important global networks and supply chains, such as, for software and financial services and commodity trading, and for whom the aforesaid blemishes negatively affect their bargaining power vis-à-vis other constituents of these networks.There is another set of people who could be equally concerned with the state of basic infrastructure but they may look at the solution more from its utility in addressing the inequities, some of them historical, in access to and distribution of resources. This set may not be as impatient given that the change they look forward to is also with respect to deep-seated exploitative relations and institutions in our society.The former group of people would see Government of India’s flagship Digital India programme as an opportunity to include digital infrastructure in the same category of public goods as roads and electricity and, hence, push for laying more broadband cables, creating more Wi-Fi hot-spots and freeing up more spectrum for commercial data exchange. The assumptions that are carried here are somewhat similar to trickle-down economics: that availability of a digital infrastructure — in the present instant, smartphones and data connectivity, and also unique digital identity — with every citizen of the country will lead an ‘invisible hand’ to direct its use for addressing the governance and development challenges we face as a nation.Framers of development policies worldwide, and in India, have realized that an explicit recognition of the pathways through which the poor and marginalized contribute and benefit in the economic growth process is important. The entire human development discourse derives from such an understanding. More recently, it has also played a key role in informing the newly formulated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly during the SDG summit in New York on September 25, 2015. The event was attended by over 150 heads of states, including the Indian Prime Minister, though the relevance of it was overshadowed by his visits to corporate headquarters in California.While one cannot deny the importance of digital infrastructure, such as the ones mentioned above, in the present age, it is equally important to understand that they may not be of much help in addressing governance and development concerns unless they are integrated into a wide reforms agenda, which could often involve not-so-popular, structural and institutional change. One such could be the long-called-for, real and effective devolution of functions, finances and functionaries to local government bodies, which has, in most instances, continued as a mere lip-service even after Constitutional Amendments of the early 1990s.
Sorry record
The Indian experience of using ICTs in governance for the past 15 years is not something that we can be proud of — amongst 193 countries, India ranks 118 on the e-Government Development Index as per the United Nations e-Government Survey 2014. Many studies have been conducted by researchers from reputed academic institutes in India and across the world on the problems that plague Indian experiments in using ICTs for governance and development, and they point to the need of bringing a greater understanding of local contextual realities into project designs.Amidst the ongoing endorsements by global corporate heads of the Digital India programme, we should not forget that unless use of digital technologies is appealing and makes sense to an Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) in a village health sub-centre, an anganwadi worker, a teacher in a government primary school, a village accountant in the revenue department, an agriculture assistant, a fair-price shop owner and a food inspector and similar such frontline service providers, who are the face of the state for many of our fellow citizens, the promise of leveraging digital technologies for achieving sustainable development may continue to elude us. I hope the torchbearers of the Digital India programme will also attach equal importance to this latter constituency as they march forward in their journey of integrating digital technologies in Indian life spaces. Studies on the problems plaguing Indian experiments in using ICTs for governance and development point to the need for a greater understanding of local realities in project designs.

Efforts on to make tea industry climate-smart
At a time when climate-change is impacting tea-cultivation in a major way, efforts are on to make tea estates climate-smart so that the industry develops resilience to uncertain and negative climate change impact.A project has been launched by the Tea Research Association along with Southampton University on climate — smartening tea plantation landscapes, which would run for two years. It is funded by the U.K.-India Research Initiative.The project is investigating the impact of climate change on tea production and livelihoods in North-East India, revolving around climate variability, land-management practices and climate-smart agriculture practicesIt may be mentioned here that tea is a rain-fed perennial crop, which provides the main ingredient for one of the world’s most important beverages. It supports livelihoods across the humid regions of south and south-east Asia and east Africa. The physiology of tea plants is closely linked to external environmental and climatic factors (elevation, precipitation, temperature, soil moisture, temperature and fertility, light duration and intensity, humidity, shelter, shade and CO2 concentration) and any adversity in these conditions can significantly impact yield, revenue and livelihood security. Rainfall has traditionally been plentiful for growing tea, especially in India but with recent changes in the climate, surface and ground water are becoming important irrigation systems.Climate-risk is high in Assam, ranging from annual flooding of the Brahmaputra river due to intense monsoon rains and soil water-logging, to winter precipitation deficits with seasonal droughts. Regional trends indicate annual mean minimum temperatures have increased and annual mean precipitation has decreased, particularly in Assam. Such impacts will have a significant effect on tea crop productivity and directly affect the livelihoods of dependent communities as Assam contributes 50 per cent of India’s 1,200- odd million kg.The effects, which were noticed over the last few years, seem to have become pronounced over the last three years or so leading an industry honcho to say: “it is no longer climate change...it is climate chaos”. ITA officials said that the weather was hardly following any pattern.Crop-loss has become almost the norm across the world’s tea growing regions. India too has suffered. What worries the industry most is that although it has so far not experienced any major crop loss, tea quality is suffering and pest-attacks are increasing. Due to climate change, there has been crop loss during seasons when some of the best teas are harvested (spring and early monsoon).However, broad-scale climate-landscape modelling predicts that tea yields in north-east India are expected to decline by up to 40 per cent by 2050. As yield is directly associated with revenue, changing climate is also likely to impact economic structures of those reliant on tea, particularly the smallholders given their increased vulnerability to changes in the system.Rainfall has traditionally been plentiful for growing tea, especially in India but with recent changes in the climate, surface and ground water are becoming important irrigation systems.