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Government of India

Haritha Gramam: Story of a Green transformation

Gopakumar Pookkottur

Haritha Gramam is not just any story but it is the story of Peroorkada, a residential locality in Thiruvananthapuram city which went green by practicing effective waste management at its source. Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala now has more than 3000 households which adopted this model as a message for waste management after its successful implementation in Peroorkada. Particularly a total 14 wards belonging to the city have emulated this model.

Haritha Gramam is a unique example for successful waste disposal including plastic and e-wastes. Moreover it is an innovative one because of its implementation of adopting new technology. It is a participatory model because people from all spheres including IT professionals, Doctors, Businessmen etc. have devoted their time for the proper functioning of this venture without any profit.  Besides these, the project provides job opportunities for 30 staff including 22 skilled youths.

“I am satisfied with this odour free waste management system, before using this technique, we suffered a lot to maintain the degradable and non-degradable wastes,” says Simon, IT professional, a beneficiary of Haritha Gramam who lives in Sree Narayana Nagar Residential area. S Sarath, one of the team leaders of Haritha Gramam who regularly visits large number of houses, says that several households are turning to bio-farming by using the bio-fertilizer, produced from waste management unit.

The primary work is the manufacturing of different garbage bins suitable to the households. A single unit includes a Kitchen bin, Bio-clean (specially prepared decomposition mixture) and plastic sack. These are distributed to each household free of cost. For the maintenance and service of the system, they need to pay Rs. 200 per month. Apart from this they also collect plastic wastes once in a month and discarded footwear & bags once in three months. Broken glass & e-wastes are collected once in six months. On 10th day of every month Haritha Gramam workers replace the sack in kitchen bin and collect the compost and give necessary service if needed.  Apart from this, for any enquiry or for finding fault in technology, house holders can contact through helpline numbers.

This project has emerged as an alternative to pipe compost technology which faced so many drawbacks.  Pipe compost creates bad odour in the house due to concentration of water in waste materials, and is very difficult to handle properly.  This unit will take 60 days to complete the decomposition. Finally, they found a solution by replacing pipe with a specially prepared Kitchen Bin (plastic bucket) and adopted a new technology for the decomposition of waste. After implementation of the new system, the period required for decomposition has reduced from 60 days to 6 days.

The specially prepared mixture called bio-clean contains Coco peat and inoculum. It is a microorganism which has the capacity to de-compost the wastes without any bad odour. Coco peat has the capacity to store water. These two things are the key ingredients of the system which makes it more acceptable among the households. Moreover Coco peat is the byproduct of coir industry; hence it is also indirectly boosting the coir industry of Kerala.

Bio-wastes like residual food, rotten vegetables, egg shell, feathers and other meat-fish wastes etc. can be put into the bins.  The process of setting up a waste bin starts with installing of plastic sack in an aerated dust bin. Two inches of specially prepared bio-clean mixture is added in the sack.  The segregated bio-waste is put into the bin and then the bio-clean mixture is added so as to cover the food waste. These processes are repeated every day till the bin is full. Then the sack is sealed and kept in a dark area. Bio-waste will take around 25 days to get converted into bio-fertilizer.

Haritha Gramam activists collect about 10 tons of bio-fertilizer per month which after proper drying is distributed to farmers and other organizations. This bio-fertilizer is very effective and one unit Can be used for 6 grow bags. They have now replaced the old bin with the thickened, holed plastic bucket to tackle the problem of damage by rodents.  They also thought to use steel bin as it is more comfortable in small area of kitchen but the price is very high.  Haritha Gramam activists have created a new and simple model for waste disposal which is being emulated all throughout the city.

Before this waste disposal technique, the households needed to dump the waste in their small area of land which caused several difficulties. And those residing in apartments do not have any space to dispose the waste properly. After implementation of this project, a lot of them have started the terrace and kitchen farming. Besides using bio-fertilizer produced at their own home they also buy grow bags and bio-fertilizer from Haritha Gramam team.

Haritha Gramam is a non-profitable venture focusing not only on waste management, but also on promoting bio-farming. It is quite remarkable that all houses which make use of Kitchen bin technique have started bio-farming. The organization aspires to explore the new techniques and methods to further improve the waste management process.

*Information Assistant, Press Information Bureau, Thiruvananthapuram

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Haritha Graman activists on the way to distribute kitchen Bin & bio-clean mixture
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Kitchen bin filled with bio-wastes and bio-clean mixture

The links between Soil Fertility and Poverty alleviation

Soil Health Card will help rebuild the soil fertility

*Pandurang Hegde   55.jpg

According to Central Soil Water Conservation Research and Training Institute, Dehradun, India is losing 5,334 million tonnes of soil every year due to soil erosion because of indiscreet and excess use of fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides over the years.  On an average 16.4 tonnes of fertile soil is lost every year per hectare.

The non-judicious use of fertilizers has led to deterioration of soil fertility causing loss of micro and macronutrients leading to poor soils and low yields causing low agricultural yields.

Realising the severity of the problem Prime Minister Shri Nardendar Modi called for focusing the attention of improving the health of the soils across the country to boost the productivity and increased prosperity. Referring to the song “Vande Mataram” he said that in order to achieve true meaning of ‘Sujalam and Suphalam’ it is necessary to nurture the soil and improve the soil health.

In order to implement the concept of improving the soil health he launched the Soil Health Card Scheme (SHC). The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperation, Government of India has the target of issuing 14 crore SHC across the country. An estimated budget of Rs 568 crore is assigned towards realising this scheme. This is being implemented in collaboration with the state governments from the year 2015-16 under which 253 lakh soil samples will be tested every three years to generate approximately 14 crore SHC.

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The large area of operation and the enormity of collecting data at ground level is herculean task. Nevertheless the Ministry of Agriculture is committed to assess the soil samples and issue SHC.As on 15 November this year, 34.47 lakh soil health cards have been distributed to farmers across the country.

In order to expedite the process of soil testing, 460 new soil-testing labs have been sanctioned under Soil Health Management Scheme. Apart from the mobile soil testing labs, the Ministry of Agriculture has also sanctioned the functioning of 2296 mini soil-testing labs in 2016-17. This will accelerate the process of soil testing in remote areas. It has created employment opportunities for rural youth with technical and educational skills.

How will these soil health cards help to improve the soil fertility?

In the first stage these tests will reveal the status of the farmer’s soil with respect to macro nutrients like N, P and K, micro nutrients and show the presence of pH value.  Using this basic information the farmer can progress to the second stage of how to improve his soil fertility by using specific dosage required realizing the optimal yields. These cards will contain the advisory based on the status of the soil nutrient on the farmers land.  It will also suggest what kind of soil management he needs to undertake to stop the soil deterioration and improve the soil fertility.

These cards will be issued for three cropping cycles, showing the soil status at the end of every cropping season. Thus, the SHC are not a one shot solution, but a continuous process that provides the basic information on the health of soil for the farmer.

The unscientific farming practices and overuse of fertilisers and pesticides is rendering the agricultural soil useless by destroying the soil fertility.  With the impact of climate change, the availability of water for irrigation will be greatly reduced. The low availability of soil organic matter and constant soil erosion due to high temperatures will lead to desertification.

In order to address this problem it is essential to create a sound data base for addressing the crisis. The collection of soil samples and analysis of soils across the country will provide the scientific information about the conditions of soils across diverse ecological zones in the country. Based on this, it becomes feasible to implement the measures to rebuild the soil fertility. It will not only reduce the costs of inputs, but will help the farmer to improve his yields and eventually to alleviate poverty.

There is close link between healthy soils and healthy food. With the indiscriminate use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides, the soils in our country have been heavily poisoned. Poisoned soils will produce foods that will cause health problems. We may produce more yields by applying more chemical inputs, but the final produce is devoid of micronutrients that are essential for building the healthy body.

With 17 per cent of world’s population and just 2 per cent of geographical area, and with high level of poverty, it becomes essential to improve the condition of soil in order to provide food security and employment to 55 per cent of the population engaged in agriculture.images.png

The SHC initiative has been lauded by the UN food body, FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation). On the occasion of International Year of Soils in 2015 the FAO Director Jose Graziano told Agricultural Minister Radha Mohan Singh that the SHC could be model for other countries, to secure food security thorough healthy soils.

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Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has given the slogan of Swastha Dhara, Khet Hara, which means ‘healthy earth and green farms’.  In order to create healthy earth, we need to create healthy soils. The Union Agriculture Ministry is working closely with state governments to create conditions for evolving healthy soils and green farms that will pave the road map to achieve the targets of doubling the farmers’ incomes and address the issue of poverty of soil and farmers.

*Author is an independent journalist and columnist based in Karnataka. Regularly writes on environmental issues.

 

Rights based Empowerment

International Day for Persons with Disabilities, 3rd December

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According to the Census 2011, there are 2.68 crores (2.21%) persons with disabilities in India, though according to some estimates, the actual number may be as high as five per cent of our population. However, there has been a paradigm shift in the approach towards the persons with disabilities (PWDs) during last some years. The government’s focus now is on rights based economic empowerment of PWDs as we observe the International Day for Persons with Disabilities on 3rd of December this year.

In India the first step in moving towards rights based economic empowerment was taken when Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act of 1995 came into being.  The second was India’s ratification of the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (U.N.C.R.P.D.) now a new bill introduced in Rajya Sabha that has provisions for accelerating this process, awaits nod from the Parliament.

Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2014

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Now all eyes are on the   Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill which will replace the 1995 Act.  The provisions in the Bill fulfil a number of demands of the Disabled Rights Groups and Activists who have been pressing for its early passage in the parliament.

Some of the significant  provisions of the Bill include,  making  accessibility a mandatory requirement under the law,  number  of beneficiary categories   proposed to  be increased from  7 to 19,  entitlement of  some benefits to persons with at least 40% of a disability .It also provides  disabled friendly access to all public buildings, hospitals, modes of transport, polling stations, etc. Significantly it also stipulates, violation of any provision of the Act be made   punishable under the law.

Apart from the proposed legislation, government has taken several measures towards empowerment of the persons living with disabilities.

Accessible India Campaign :Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan

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The campaign was launched almost a year back on the 15th of December. A flagship programme of the government, it is aimed at achieving universal accessibility of persons with disabilities and to create an enabling and barrier free environment. It is focussed on three objectives, accessibility of built up environment, transport system accessibility and accessibility of knowledge and ICT ecosystem.  According to Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, audit of   1092 buildings out of 1098 across 31 cities has already been completed in order to convert them into fully accessible buildings. .

Sugamaya   Pustakalaya

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In August this year, the government launched ‘Sugamaya Pustakalay’ an online platform where a person with disabilities can access books in the library at a click of a button.

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He can read the publications on any device of his choice mobile phones, tablets, computers, DAISY player or even in braille using refreshable braille displays. He can also request for a braille copy through member organizations that have braille presses.

The Secretary General of  World Blind Union and President of All India confederation of the Blind, Mr A.K Mittal  is of the view that situation  with regard to availability  of  basic writing material and mobility aides like canes for the visually challenged has improved significantly. Appreciating the government initiative with regard to liberal grants related to production of books in Braille, he told this author that if  the scheme for  modernization and setting up of  new Braille presses is implemented properly this will increase and ease the production of books.

UDID CARD

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The government proposes to roll out a web-based unique disability identification (UDID) card. The initiative will help in a big way in ensuring the authenticity of disability certificates and eliminate the hassle of having to carry certificates for different purposes, as various details, including the type of disability, would be made available online.

Scholarship Scheme

The government has also initiated scheme for pre matric, (46000 slots) post matric (16650 slots) and the students seeking top class education (100 slots).

SWAVLAMBAN 

A National Action Plan for Skill Training of Persons with Disabilities was launched last year. The Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities in collaboration with NSDC, proposes to set an ambitious target of skilling 5 lakh persons with disability in next 3 years (1 lakh in first year, 1.5 lakh in second year and 2.5 lakh in third year). The Action plan is aimed at skilling 25 lakh persons with disabilities by end 2022.

Samajik Adhikarita Shivir

The Department organizes Camps to distribute aides and appliances to the persons with disabilities (Divyangjans).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi distributed Aids and Assistive Devices to more than 11000 Divyangjans at one such camp in held September in Gujarat. Similar Camps have been organized across the country to meet the needs of Divyangjans residing in remote areas.

Areas of Concern     

More than a decade after  the first law on persons  with disabilities came into effect, despite  special recruitment drives  from time to time, by government’s  own admission   only  a little over one per cent of the vacancies could be filled against  three per cent reservation in  jobs in government. Over 14,000 identified vacancies remain to be filled. The backlog for the visually challenged is about ten thousand. A report by the International Labour Organization in 2011  said that over 73% of the disabled in India are still outside the labour force and those with mental disability, disabled women and those  in rural areas are the most  neglected.

More than half of the children with disabilities are out of school despite the fact that the government has taken a number of steps to encourage these children to be admitted to schools. Activists hope that if the Right to Education is implemented in letter and spirit, this situation is likely to improve considerably.

Activists also plead for enhanced research and development with regard to aids and appliances for the PWDs to ensure that their accessibility to various facilities is made easy.

Hopes and Aspirations

With the fast-tracking of several schemes and programmes which have been initiated during last two years, the objective of creating an inclusive and equitable world could become a reality.

*Author is a New Delhi based independent Journalist and writes regularly in Newspapers on social sector issues.

Yes, India can have less-cash economy

The prime minister has struck a chord with the poor

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*Shivaji Sarkar

India economy has been the pride of world. It has been showcased as the only growing economy – a proud moment for Indians particularly under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However a section of media and political parties differ. There have been some stories in the foreign media also sceptical of the decision. Has the worldview changed? Is that correct?

But despite all this, one surprising aspect is quite visible that those standing in the queues or facing the sudden withdrawal of cash are vocally supporting the decision and seem to be fully in agreement with Prime Minister Modi that this would prove to be a decisive step to eliminate corruption and black money from the country.

Demonetisation was never dreamt to be an option to fight black money, terror funding or money laundering. It is an out of the box solution. It led to a withdrawal of over Rs 14 lakh crore currency notes or 84 percent in circulation. It led to a sudden thaw in many activities, queues at banks and ATMs.

But surprisingly those in the lower end of the economy almost in unison said that they were not unhappy as those having stacks of untaxed money have huge suffering.

The prime minister has struck the chord with the poor. India’s poor are the happiest today. They feel they have found a leader who really cares for them. They also feel that most leaders make poll promises, but at least one delivers it. As the penalties on undeclared income are now considered to be enhanced and the huge sum is to be used for development and poverty alleviation.

This explains why despite so much of hullaballoo, the nation continues to function in a quiet atmosphere. It is a period of transition and everybody wants to be at the right side.

It is no wonder that Rs 8.5 lakh crore demonetised notes have come back to the bank coffers till November 24. The bankers say it is over 55 percent of what was in circulation. Only Rs 33000 crore worth notes are exchanged.

The new currency in circulation is about Rs 1.36 lakh crore. There remains a huge cash shortage. That is reflected in the continuous demand at banks as their stacks are to be filled with new notes. The problem persists in the market as well.

It has led to emergence of new credit system at localities, villages and even in the farm market. That is a partial relief.

Indian market system relies on cash transaction. The wholesale business works on a low cut of 1 to 1.5 percent and cash deals help in fast turnover. The cash also has its problem. There is a perception that it leads to evasion of tax and consequent creation of black money.

The prime minister in his Man ki Baat on November 27 gave a call to go cashless and transact through various electronic modes, bank transfers, cheques and e-wallets.

It is a plausible system. There are over 71 crore debit cards and 2.6 crore credit cards. Considering that many have multiple cards, the actual may be around 65 crore cards. Over 80 crore people have mobile phones, which can work also as a wallet. The wallets are being used by the youth and it is solving the problem of small coins as well.

The people are still less comfortable with electronic transfers. They are apprehensive of security issues. The banks recently blocked six lakh debit cards as they said the data were compromised. This also increases the concerns. An e-wallet also has to suspend operation recently as the authorities pointed out to certain shortcomings in its security systems.

In many cases people avoid it as the sellers demand an extra payment of 2 to 2.5 percent for card usage. Besides, the payments stations (POS) are also not available everywhere. Of late, there is a demand and now the banks that over 5000 such demands have been placed with them.

It takes time to solve the issues. If these are solved the chances of using the e-payment system is likely to increase. The government is trying to remove the bottlenecks. During the last over 20 days the usage of e-payments have increased.

Banks have come out with massive advertisements – cash nahi to hum hai na. They have also launched micro ATMs to popularise the e-payment option.

No society however is cashless. The people need to listen to the prime minister. He also says that let it be less cash. The cashless system has a cost that either the banks have to bear or the customer. The banks are finding dealing not easy with huge cash arrivals. The RBI has also understanding the problem of high liquidity with banks has increased the cash reserve ratio (CRR).

The country also has to reduce the tax rates and the bureaucracy and bankers have to be more understanding and rational. An economy that is in cash going to less cash and then cashless would take some time. It can happen gradually. The expanse of the country is vast and there are also problems in remote areas and hinterlands. There has to be a mix of all the different payment modes. One system alone would not suffice and could have its problems as well.

And finally howsoever critical the opposition or section of media might be, despite problems, India is poised for growth.

*The author is a senior journalist based in Delhi. Regularly writes on Socio-political issues.  

47th IFFI creates history with the new beginnings

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 Pradeep Sardana

The nation bids adieu to its biggest film festival- Indian International Film Festival, with numerous pleasant and golden memories, on 28th November 2016. The festival which has been there for 9 days, was started on 20th November, and showcased 275 films of 88 countries. This 47th IFFI will be remembered for its many good films on the one hand, whereas for its remarkable incorporations of various new additions, on the other. Few of these initiatives, would prove to become the Milestone for Film makers, and create history.

One of the most appreciated initiatives, being the Centenary Award for Best Debut Feature of a Director, selected out of some of the outstanding directorial debuts of 2016 from across the world of cinema. This new competition category has the Silver Peacock and Rs 10 lakhs cash prize, as award.

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Next new thing being, presenting ‘ICFT- UNESCO Gandhi Medal’ to the film that has reflected the Gandhi’s principles of Peace and Non Violence. The ICFT –UNESCO Gandhi Medal was given to Turkish film maker Mustafa Kara’s ‘Cold of Kalandar’.  The movie is about a man whoearns his living by breeding a few animals, while passionately looking for a mineral reserve on the mountains.

Also, this time a new section called BRICS Films section was introduced in the Festival, which has screened the Films from BRICS countries. This would surely play a vital role in strengthening the mutual relationships among these countries. Another important initiative had been the screening of three films for specially-abled children with unique audio described technology under ‘Sugamaya Bharat Abhiyan’. Another highly recognized initiative was the showcasing of 20 award winning short films from NFDC’s ‘Swachh Bharat Film Festival’.

The last and most talked about initiative had been the introduction of Film Promotion Fund, with the purpose to stimulate Indian cinema across the globe. Directorate of Film Festivals would implement this plan, of providing financial aid to the films which would be selected in any competition section of an International Film Festival or being India’s official nomination under Foreign Film Category. The best and interesting part being, that even after these new additions, the duration of festival has been decided as 9 days from this year, instead of 11 days as previous years.

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Best Film award with the Golden Peacock Trophy and Rs. 40 lakhs cash prize was bagged by the Movie ‘Daughter’, received by its Director Reza Mirkarimi. Iran’s film ‘Daughter’ brings out intergenerational conflict between a strict father and a young daughter.

2.JPGThe Best Director award was given to Baris Kaya for Turkey’s film ‘Rauf’, who collected the Silver Peacock Trophy and Rs. 15 lakhs cash prize.

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Farhad Aslani won the Best Actor award for again the film ‘Daughter’, Elina Vaska won the Best Actress Award for the film ‘Mellow Mud’.

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Both received the Silver Peacock Trophy and Rs 10 lakhs cash prize each. ‘Rauf’ is the story of a search under the shade of a war and in tough natural conditions, and Latvia’s ‘Mellow Mud’ depicts the story of a young girl who must come to decisions that even a grown woman would find difficult to make.

Special Jury award was given to Lee Joon-ik for the Direction of the Korean movie ‘The Throne’, which is the story about the most tragic and iconic eight days in the history of Joseon Dynasty disclosing what forced a father to kill his own son. Lee got the Silver Peacock Award and a cash prize of Rs. 15 lakhs.

The Centenary Award for Best debut film of a Director was given to Argentina’s ‘Rara’, which reveals the relationship conflicts among the two sisters, their mother, and the mother’s female partner. The director Maria Jose collected the Silver Peacock Trophy with Rs 10 Lakh cash prize.

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In addition to these, Im Kwon Taek, the Well Known Korean Film maker was honoured with Rs 10 lakh and a Shawl as The Lifetime Achievement Award, and SP Balasubrahmanyam, the renowned singer, was honoured with Silver Peacock Trophy and Rs 10 Lakh, as the Centenary Award for Indian Film personality of the year, in 47th IFFI.

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The closing ceremony of IFFI 2016, was graced by the splendid speech of Col Rajyavardhan Rathore, Minister of State, I&B. He eloquently spoke about the Single window system to promote India as a filming destination, films on Mobile screen as the part of Digital India, and revolutionary movement of Mutiplexes in India. He also talked about the power and role of Cinema in the country, as the medium for betterment of society. He has proudly mentioned about Amitabh Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra, Anil Kapoor, Irfan Khan, Gulzar and AR Rehman, who have made Indian cinema popular, across the globe.

Six Essentials of a successful International Film Festival

After closely covering various International Film Festivals, from last 30 years, my experience has led me to write the ‘Essentials of a successful International Film Festival’, which could be mentioned in six points. High the focus would be on these points; higher would be the success rate of that Film Festival. First, the globally acknowledged film makers should be keen to send their films for the festival. Second, the festival should have world premier of maximum films. Third, the popular personalities from the cinema worldwide should come to participate or attend the festival. Fourth, no one should doubt or question upon the merit of the films that are to be awarded in the festival, and such decisions should be widely accepted. Fifth, the festival should showcase some Classic and Memorable films, which have become scarce in their availability, and are rare to watch otherwise. Sixth and last, is the overall administration of the festival. This includes a High Tech venue, and the facilities for the guests, representatives and media, which make them at ease to do their respective work. While the schedules for screening of films should be systematic, the festival also should have good arrangements of accommodation and food for all.

This is the matter of proud for India, that our International Festival has been meeting these high criterions, to a great extent, thus getting popularity, respect and appreciation worldwide.

*Author is a senior journalist and regularly writes in major Newspapers on a wide The Views expressed in the Article are his personal.

Demonetization: Queues Getting Shorter

Farmers allowed to buy seeds in old currency notes

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*Devsagar Singh

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bold move to demonetize high value currency notes to curb black money and corruption signals his resolve to take on high and mighty ignoring political minefield. When the Prime Minister suddenly announced demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes on the evening of November 8 leaving people stunned, including his staunch supporters, there were much fears and misgivings. Almost two weeks since, there is slow but steady realization among people, especially the poor and the middle class, that the move is for cleaning the mess of black money and corruption which seriously affected the nation.

Queues outside banks and money dispensing ATM machines are getting shorter and frenzied reactions of people are giving way to reasoned conversations about the long term benefits of the measure. It is not to say that the Government has been able to sort out all issues concerning demonetization and that everything is falling into place. Although there are still some grievances of the common man, yet the government continues to address all the issues one by one to mitigate their difficulties. For instance, at the time of writing this article the government has announced another relief measure for the farmers who were finding it difficult to buy seeds for the current Rabi season. Now the government has announced that farmers can now purchase the seeds in old currency notes of 500 rupees for the current Rabi crop from the Seeds centers belonging to State or Centre’s PSUs.

As Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said, the initial difficulty was only to be expected because advance arrangements could not have been made on account of the highest level of secrecy involved in the move. Immediately after the announcement, however, the Government got engaged in providing necessary infrastructure like moving new bank notes to remotest places as also recalibrating the ATM machines across the country. Banks immediately got down to a massive operation of exchanging old notes and dispensing with new ones with all resources at their command.

True, the exercise is gigantic in proportion to the problems that the measure is seeking to address. According to all official estimates and studies by the academic and professional bodies, there has been a parallel economy of black money in the country for a long time now. The Government loses revenue on account of this parallel economy and ordinary law abiding citizens bear the brunt in term of increased taxes and intermittent inflationary pressures. Yet another serious malaise afflicting the country was that of counterfeit currency. It aided and abetted the terror financing from across the border.

Ironically, there has been a lot of talk about the malaise of black money in the country and the resultant corruption. However, it is only now that someone has dared to take any serious action in this regard. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, therefore, needs to be complimented for daring to take the bull by the horns. He promised to take action against black money and corruption during his election campaign. Even after taking over as Prime Minister, he reiterated his resolve and finally did it.

There has been all-round support for the Prime Minister for taking this bold step. However, in this article we would like to mention what Shri Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, has said about the move. Welcoming the demonetization move, Shri Yadav termed it as a revolutionary step by the Prime Minister.  Expressing his gratitude on behalf of the poor, the farmers, the labourers, the backwards and Dalits, Shri Yadav, a former union minister and five-time member of Parliament said that the measure would strengthen the country’s economy by better financial discipline and generate employment for the needy and the dispossessed. He said it would “create the India which Mahatma Gandhi, Ram Manohar Lohia and Deendayal Upadhyaya had dreamt of.”

There may be several pros and cons of the measure and several experts may have different views about the measure but in the ultimate analysis, all seem to agree that the step in the right earnest with good intent.

 The enormity of the task can be gauged from the fact that the total demonetized banknote numbered 2300 crore pieces. According to estimates, the printing itself could take at least three months. Add to this the job of transporting them to all corners of the country.

By all accounts, it is more than the proverbial Herculean task. The Prime Minister has sought just 50 days to bring the situation to normal. In the interest of the nation of 123 crore people and its economy, the second largest in Asia, it is time for every patriotic person to give a helping hand. This is an unprecedented situation and cannot be compared to the demonetization exercise undertaken by the Government in 1978 because of the sheer size of the economy.

Parliament is in session seized of the matter. Political sagacity and maturity political parties have never been in doubt when it comes to tackling issues of national interest.

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*Author is a senior journalist and regularly writes in major dailies on economic issues.

The views expressed in the Article are author’s own.

HUNAR HAAT : Show Casing India’s Rich Heritage, Empowering Minorities

i2016111902.jpgAuthor: Sarira Brara

Naseem Bano was an amateur and a beginner when she had come to the trade fair in Delhi to display her craftsmanship in 1995. This time with over two decades of experience and a national award in her kitty, NaseemBano has a wide variety of chiken work to show case at the Hunar Haat organised for the first time, at the International Trade Fair in Delhi to encourage the artisans from minority communities from across the country. She has brought kurtas and other apparels done in excellent chicken work with innovative designs and colour combinations.

“I have put all my savings into it and hopefully, I will be able to earn a decent amount of money on my investment,” says optimistic Naseem Bano who has also been teaching this art to poor girls and women in a locality near Lucknow where she lives. She wants them to learn this art when they are young, so that they too are able to employ themselves gainfully. Naseem feels that despite having won a National Award for her skills in this craft, and having had sufficient exposure at various levels, her earnings do not match the talent, hard work and toil that goes into creating high standard chiken work. She says that though her young son has a lot of interest in this art and also has a flare for creative designs, he did not opt for it and chose to study biotechnology instead of expanding this family business. Naseem says that weavers artisans ad craftsman and woman like her need all the help, encouragement and incentives from the government and the civil society to display and market their creative traditional wares at all possible platforms which may help them improve their sale. “Otherwise, how do you expect us to compete with large business houses who aggressively sell their products in big malls and even online”, she asks.

Platforms like Hunar Haat and other incentives are needed for craftsmen and women to give a boost to their earnings but also to keep traditional arts alive, says Islam Ahmed who makes exquisite lac bangles and other jewellery. Adept at making lac bangles in a matter of minutes, Islam Ahmed displays his talent and creates lacbangles in the colour chosen by his customers right in front of their eyes. He however, laments that it is becoming difficult to keep such arts alive because it is getting very difficult to earn enough to match today’s life styles. It is for this reason that both his sons, he says, refused to carry on their art work that has been going on for generations.

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These two master craftsmen came across this author at the Hunar Haat which is currently going on at PragatiMaidan in New Delhi and has been organized under the USTTAD scheme (Upgrading the Skills & Training in Traditional Arts&Crafts for Development) of Ministry of Minority Affairs. About a hundred stalls have been set up at this Haat which will be on till 27th November. Several State and National Awardees representing as many as 26 states and Union Territories have come from Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Bihar, North Eastern states and even Kerala are displaying their and craft work at the Hunar Haat pavilion.

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Echoing the sentiments of most of the artisans at the Hunar Haat, Naseem Bano says that the arrangement arereally good this time. They have got free stalls, daily allowance to meet their expenses and their travel to and fro Delhi too has been borne by the government.

Usttad: Promoting Tradional Arts And Craft

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USTTAD-Upgrading the Skills and Training in Traditional Arts Crafts for Development

Although minority communities are known to hold a rich heritage of traditional skills, arts and craftsmanship, in today’s world of competitive market, globalization, and the deteriorating socio economic condition of master craftsmen and artisan , as many of the craftsmen pointed out, young generation is not keen to pursue the traditional arts . It was in this backdrop that the USTTAD scheme was worked out.

This initiative is one of the many steps taken by the government to improve the lot of the minority communities in India. It is not limited to giving incentives to traditional artisans and craftsmen but also building their capacities in every which way to withstand the competition and preserve and promote their art. USTTAD was launched last year in May in Varanasi with a multi-pronged objectives. This includes building capacity of master craftsmen and artisans and training the young generation ,standardising of identified arts and crafts and their documentation.

For facilitating and promoting marketing of the traditional art and craft products, USTTAD also helps establish linkages of traditional skills with the global market. The scheme also provides for institutional support for up-gradation of Skills and Training in Traditional Arts/Crafts. USTTAD Fellowship for Research and Development is another step towards promoting the Hunar of our traditional craftsmen.

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Documentation and marketing

The scheme also envisages setting up of Craft Museums for curating traditional arts and crafts. In order to support to minority craftsmen and artisans for marketing their products. the Ministry of Minority Affairs seeks the help of national level prestigious institutes like NIFT ( National Institute of Fashion Technology), NID (National Design Institute and IIP (Indian Institute of Packaging) for helping in designing, developing the range of products, packaging and organising exhibitions, tying up with e-commerce portals to increase the sale, building brands and working in are and craft clusters.

USTTAD scheme is expected to help not only in preserving and promoting our traditional art and craft but also give a dignified life style and higher standard of living to our crafts men and women endowed with unmatched talent, expertise and passion to take forward India’s rich heritage.

*Author is a New Delhi based independent Journalist and writes regularly in Newspapers on social sector issues.

Demonetization – Modi’s Proud Socialist Moment

Move to correct unacceptable level of inequality between rich and poor

Role of big money and black money in politics will come down

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*Dr R. Balashankar

November 8, 2016 will perhaps go down in history as the day India ushered in the most comprehensive finance sector reform that transformed the country as never before. Now, ten days later, it can be said, that it has almost been pulled off with aplomb with the least possible hardship to people.  There is no doubt that there are queues in front of the banks, the rural economy has to get used to the fast changing monetary reform and that there is going to be a temporary fall in the demand in the retail sector.

Making 86 per cent of the currency in circulation illegal in one stroke, the secrecy and shock in a country where still half of the population is outside the banking system and habitually hoard hard earned income and loathe the idea of going to the bank, is itself revolutionary. And of the 14.90 lakh crore high denomination notes almost 70 percent was kept as black money, hidden away from the banking system by those who have stashed away the national wealth.

Those opposing the demonetization in the name of the suffering of the poor have not produced a single coherent argument to support their dissent. All agree that corruption has to be fought. They also agree that black money is the biggest source of corruption. It leads to inequality and price rise and devaluing the currency.  Equally worrying is the presence of huge chunks of counterfeit currency funding terror, crime and subversion in the country. All agree that the share of counterfeit money in circulation is almost equal to the black money in circulation. The fact that Kashmir has been peaceful for over ten days with 100 per cent attendance in schools for exams and the stealth wealth of Maoists has been reduced to mere paper bolster the purpose of the surgical strike.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clean-up operation has been hailed as a bold and long overdue step by most well meaning economists including former RBI governors K. Subba Rao, Rangarajan, Dr Meghnad Desai and Dr Surjit Bhalla. The opposition says that people in remote areas who have no access to the banking system are the worst sufferers. Here it is worth mentioning the unique manner in which Assam government tackled the problem of over a million tea garden workers in the remotest area.

The tea garden employees have traditionally been averse to become account holders. In the area spread over thousands of miles some four million people working in sprawling tea gardens have been getting weekly wages in cash for centuries. When Modiji announced demonetization and restrictions on cash transaction, the biggest concern for the state government was the tea garden employees, said Mr V K Pipersenia, Chief Secretary of Assam. With the help of the centre, he said, the state government got special permission to withdraw sufficient money to pay for the tea garden workers in cooperation with the private tea companies. The companies were asked to deposit their cheque in the state government account and equal amount was withdrawn by the state government and facilitated the uninterrupted disbursal of wages to the workers. In fact, within a couple of days things became normal in the entire Assam on the currency front. This unique example is a lesson for other States also. Pipersenia says soon all these people will become bank account holders taking a big leap towards financial inclusion. Over a thousand outlets of banks in various forms will come alive in the area. In fact, under Jan Dhan Yojana more number of bank accounts were opened in the last two years than the number of accounts since independence.

If the concern is the welfare of the people, demonetization is the most people friendly step ever taken by any government ever in history. In a society where 59 per cent of the national wealth is in the hands of just one per cent rich people and the poorest 10 per cent of the population’s share in the national wealth is only 0.2 per cent and the gap between the rich and the poor rose from 1480 times to 2450 times between 2004 and 2014, according to a recent study, Narendra Modi acted as a great leveler. The gap, the unacceptable level of inequality in the society has to be corrected, and this is a solid step in that direction.

With this, the Prime Minister has proclaimed his commitment to what Dr. B R Ambedkar called “social and economic equality” along with political equality enshrined in the constitution. With this, the role of big money and black money in politics will come down. It will become a level playing field for all political aspirants – attracting better talent in politics.

This will bring prices and lending rates down. This is bound to encourage investment. This will stop the use of black and fake money in crime and terror activities and make life safer for the common man. The drive on black money will bring more revenue to the government’s kitty making it possible to spend more on infrastructure, welfare schemes, health and education. The days of capitation fees are over. Education will no more be business as usual. Modi’s dream of house for all and 50 million free gas connections to BPL families would not have been possible with the existing levels of inflated realty prices. Modi has positioned as the messiah of the poor.

The road map the government has aims at creation of an egalitarian social structure, eliminating power brokers, black money and corruption with a focus on equitable distribution of wealth. Demonetization marks the beginning of transparency in public spending and end to splurge and vulgar extravaganza of a few at the cost of the rest.

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*The author is a senior Editor, and regularly writes on economic issues. He can be reached at Balashankar12@gmail.com, and on Twitter @drbalashankar 

The views expressed are those of the author.

Currency Demonetisation: Boon for the Real Estate and Housing

Demonetisation move to bring correction in property prices

This will help realize the dream of ‘Housing for All’

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The Modi government’s surgical strike against black money by way of demonetisation of high value currency notes, is set to shake up the real estate sector, marked by transactions involving unaccounted money. The landmark move, may initially hit the sentiment of the sector facing slowdown, but in the medium to long term, the trailblazing initiative to stamp out black money and bring in transparency, will prove to be a boon for real estate.

*Vinod Behl

Real estate is an asset class which has been significantly absorbing black money. Because of the big gap between the official rate and the market rate, there is a substantial cash component in the property transactions. Though the cash dealings in primary market, especially residential sector are far and few, due to home financing through banks, the secondary market has a significant cash component of 30 percent or more. The cash transactions are also there in high value luxury homes deals. In land, the cash component can be as high as 40-60 percent. The real estate developers encourage cash pay-out by offering discount on property price. Investors with hordes of black money, have been resorting to speculative buying, which in turn, has been leading to artificial price hike and profit booking. Over the years, this practice, had made homes unaffordable and out of the reach of masses.

However, the government’s onslaught against black money through demonetization, will push speculators with unaccounted money out of the system that will in turn result in correction in property prices. As a precursor to this, there is a big drop in property transactions. Over the last two years, the government has been undertaking a series of reforms in the real estate and housing sector, with a view to make this sector more credible, transparent and investor- friendly on one hand and on the other hand to make housing affordable for the masses. It is keeping in view this broad objective that the government launched its flagship programme, ‘Housing for All by 2022″ Under this programme, the government has an ambitious target to build 6 crore homes. And in order to achieve its objective, the government is promoting affordable and low-cost housing, as maximum shortage is in this segment. The government made a budgetary allocation of Rs 4000 crore to National Housing Bank to promote affordable housing and brought housing for economically weaker sections and slum redevelopment under CSR. The exemption for built up area and capitalisation requirements was made for better access to FDI. For low cost homes up to 10 lakh, a subsidised interest rate of 6 percent was introduced.

Lack of easy and cheap funding has been the bane of real estate sector. In order to boost funding to the sector, the government took to FDI easing, Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and other initiatives like allowing foreign investments in Alternate Investment Funds (AIF) and doing away with distinction between various kinds of funding. Besides these reforms, the government ushered in the landmark, ‘Real Estate Regulation Act’ (RERA) which has been stalled for long time. This is a historic legislation to make property transactions more transparent and secure, in order to safeguard the interests of property buyers, especially home buyers who were getting short-changed at the hands of unscrupulous developers. RERA, will put an end to malpractices, bringing sanity in real estate, much to the benefit of end- consumers. Further the historic GST Bill, making tax system more transparent and predictable, together with the proposed single window clearance system, will promote ease of doing business.

The government’s demonetisation move, together with  Benami Property Act, has to be seen in this backdrop, as government’s multi- pronged policy to create institutional and regulatory architecture for speedy growth of economy .All this will improve investor confidence and sentiment and make real estate as an attractive asset class for investment by foreign investors. The impact is already visible with global pension funds committing billions of dollars in real estate and infrastructure.

Another visible impact of demonetisation, is further reduction in interest rates which have already seen a cut of 150 bps in the last about 18 months. The demonetisation has boosted the liquidity in banking system and with lowering inflation, bankers and financial analysts, are expecting 25- 50 bps cut in repo rate by RBI in December policy review, bringing the effective interest rates below 9 percent.

In the New Year, we may well be heading towards Vajpayee government era, when interest rates were in the range of 7-8 percent. This dual impact of demonetisation,  bringing down property prices and lowering interest rates , will  make homes affordable, realizing the dream of  ‘Housing for All’.. And once the initial instability owing to demonetisation gets over, the real estate sector will emerge much stronger, with greater stability and affordability towards sustainable growth.

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*Delhi based senior journalist. Regularly writes for major dailies on real estate and infrastructural issues.

Views expressed in the article are author’s own.

 

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