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Government of India

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December 2016

Protection from Tsunami

*Dr. Satheesh C.Shenoi  i2016122611

Where there is a will, there will be a way. India has proven this axiom once more with aplomb.

Cut back to year December 26, 2004, the day world’s one of the most devastating disaster struck killing 2,30,000 people in 14 countries along the rim of the Indian Ocean. Massive waves swept away buildings and people as if they were just pieces of paper. The damage was worst in Indonesia, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka. In India, an estimated 10,749 persons lost their life and 5,640 people were reported missing.

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The disaster led to much soul searching as it soon became clear that much of the casualty could have been avoided if only there had been an early warning system for tsunamis in the Indian Ocean region. There were two tsunami warning centres at the global level. But, they catered to the pacific region only. Nobody expected a tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

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The Tsunami was generated by an undersea earthquake about 250 km south west of the Indonesian city of Banda Aceh and it took anywhere between 15 minutes to seven hours for the fatal waves to reach the various coastlines.

The northern regions of the Indonesian island of Sumatra were hit very quickly. But, east coast of India was affected two hours later and west coast in four hours.

In other words, there was enough time to warn the people in India. Seismologists knew that a massive earthquake with a magnitude of 9.3 on the Richter scale had occurred. But, it was not known that it had generated a tsunami.

As a result, huge tsunami waves swept India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand and other countries along the Indian Ocean with no warning what so ever. In India, the coastal communities in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Andaman and Nicobar Islands were devastated.

Sea change in 12 years

Since then, the situation has undergone a sea change. Today, a  24X7 early warning system is operational.  It has a capability to issue tsunami bulletins in less than 10 minutes after any major earthquake in the Indian Ocean. This provides a response/lead time of about 10 to 20 minutes to regions nearer to the epicentre of the quake and a few hours in the case of regions further away.

The great Indian Ocean tsunami occurred on December 26, 2004 and within a year the Government approved the setting up of an early warning system after detailed brainstorming sessions with experts in the field both within and outside the country. Set up at a cost of Rs. 150 crore, the system became operational on October 15, 2007. Initially, it had a capability to issue a warning within 20 minutes. It has since then been fine tuned and first warning is now available within 10 minutes.

The Indian Tsunami Early Warning System [ITEWS] comprises of a real time network of seismic stations, tsunami buoys and tide gauges. These are linked to a state-of-art tsunami centre – Indian Tsunami Early Warning Centre [ITEWC], where the data are analysed using high power computational systems. Advisories are issued automatically to the various stakeholders beginning from the Ministry of Home Affairs and the National Disaster Management Authority to State and district level disaster management centres for necessary follow up action.

The ITEWC is located at the Union Ministry of Earth Science’s Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services [INCOIS] in Hyderabad.

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The real time seismic monitoring network comprises of 17 broadband seismic field stations transmitting real time data through V-SAT communication to the central receiving stations located at INCOIS and the National Centre for Seismology at New Delhi simultaneously for processing and interpretation. In addition, data from around 300 global seismic stations is received at INCOIS in near real time. These data sets form the basis for determining the preliminary parameters of earthquake epicentre, focal depth and magnitude. The earthquakes are auto-located within 5-10 minutes of occurrence.

The brain of the early warning system is a state of the art decision support system at ITEWC, which has a database of all possible earthquake scenarios for the Indian Ocean.

The moment a tsunamigenic earthquake — an undersea quake with a magnitude of 6.5 and above occurs, the decision support system gets activated and rapidly goes through the database and fishes out the matching advisory.

However, as historical studies have shown clearly, not all underwater earthquakes generate tsunami. There is a need to measure changes in water level in the open ocean with a high level of accuracy in real time to confirm whether a tsunami has actually been triggered. For this, there is need for what are called tsunami buoys.

The ITEWS has a network of seven tsunami buoy systems equipped with the bottom pressure recorders that transmit real time data through satellite communication to INCOIS 24X7. The buoys are strategically placed at locations where a tsunami wave can reach in less than 30 minutes in case an earthquake occurs anywhere in Andaman-Sumatra and Makran Subduction zones.

In addition, INCOIS has established a real time network of 31 tide gauge stations along the Indian coast and receives data from 300 international real time tide gauge stations across the world. The tide gauges supplement the work of the tsunami buoys.

Generally located at the land-sea interface, tide gauges are the ones that physically detect the tsunami waves. Though they provide little advance warning to the place where they are located, they are of great importance as they provide coastal areas where the waves have not yet reached an indication of its speed and strength.

The ITEWS has a unique Standard Operating Procedure (SOP. The criteria for generation of tsunami advisories (warning/alerts/watch) for a particular region of the coast are based on the available warning time. The Indian warning criteria are based on the premise that coastal areas falling within 60 minutes travel time from a tsunamigenic earthquake source need to be warned based solely on earthquake information, since enough time will not be available for confirmation of water levels from the tsunami buoys and the tide gauges. Coastal areas falling outside the 60 minute travel time can be initially placed under a watch status and upgraded to a warning or given an all-clear message depending on the water level data.

The tsunami warning centre disseminates the advisories to the various stakeholders through multiple modes simultaneously such as email, fax, phone, GTS and SMS . The earthquake information, tsunami bulletins as well as the real time sea level observations are also made available on INCOIS website for officials, public and media.

The centre serves not only as a national facility but also as a regional tsunami advisory service provider responsible for providing tsunami advisories to all the countries in the Indian Ocean region. This responsibility was formally handed over to it by UNESCO on October 12, 2011.

ITEWC has been organizing national & international workshops, trainings and seminars to create awareness about tsunamis in general public, school children and disaster management community. To test the communications links with disaster management authorities, the centre conducts Communications test every 6 months.

ITEWC regularly conducts tsunami mock drills to test the efficiency of communication links and evaluate the readiness of the disaster management system and the local community to handle emergency situations. The latest tsunami mock drill IOWave16 was conducted on September 7-8, 2016. For the first time, around 40,000 people participated from about 350 villages from 33 Coastal Districts of 8 States/UTs.

In line with consistent improvements to the tsunami warning services, ITEWC is currently establishing a network of 35 strong motion accelerometers and GNSS receivers at Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The major objective of the exercise is to improve the capability to characterise the rupture direction and area as to enable quicker estimation of the tsunamigenenic potential of an earthquake. In addition to this, a national network of near real time seismic and GNSS stations has been established.

The new geospatial technologies such as 3D GIS  has transformed the way in which coasts can be mapped and managed, which in turn can be used for improving the accuracies of coastal inundation modelling.

INCOIS has, among other things, initiated preliminary work on cutting edge research areas such as: (i) Multi-hazard Vulnerability Mapping, (iii) Real-time tsunami inundation modelling as well as (iii) 3-D GIS. The broad scientific methodologies have been established and pilot work has been successfully completed for a few areas.

*The author is Director, ESSO-Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services [an autonomous body under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India]

 

Cultivating Rural Technology for Development

*Ratnadeep Banerji i2016122602.jpg

Simple ideas make lofty technology. Rural traditions of life and workmanship need a scientific revamp still maintaining its rural identity. The second annual event of India International Science Festival (IISF) this year towed along several such instances of profound ideas.

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Drinking water often remains contaminated with microbes and particles. Who has thought of making a earthen pot subjected to a compression that minimizes its pores that let in contamination? A simple strategy with profound effect costing barely 350 to 450 Rs! A baked clay technology for microbial filtration as well as for turbidity removal in drinking water at point-of use was on display at the Unnat Bharat Abhyan pavilion at IISF 2016.

The contaminated drinking water is filled in the frustum (upper-half of inverted cone) shaped filtering container made of baked salty clay, having micro- pores of nano size through which water percolates due to gravity. An average of 8 liters percolates in 10 hours. The percolated water filtrate remains free from contaminants of sizes larger than 10-6m to 10-9m. ‘The microbial test of E.Coli strains of MC4100 and W3110 showed 99.99% removal efficiency conforming to the required standards of drinking water set by the World Health Organization. Approximately 90% reduction in turbidity and 50% reduction of total dissolved salts and electrical conductivity is also achieved.’ asserts Prof A.K. Plappally from IIT Jodhpur. It has also been tested by National Test House, Jaipur.

This technology is the outcome of doctoral research performed by mechanical engineering students of IIT Jodhpur, Mr.Sandeep Gupta, Ms.Amrita Kaurwar and Mr. Raj Kumar Satankar under the guidance of Prof. A.K. Plappally. The research was supported by a seed grant from IIT Jodhpur. A Jodhpur based NGO called Rupayan Sansthan is enabling the technology transfer and dissemination to the individual potters by conducting small workshops.

Clay pots compatible for microwave ovens is an intriguing thing. Dr Lalithambika is a retired scientist from CSIR with expertise in Clay Science and Technology. ‘Clay has a lot of metal presence, mostly iron and lead. We use density separation and particle separation to get rid of their presence. And then the baked pot can withstand heating in a microwave oven.’ explains Dr Lalithambika about her heat-resistant pots.

“We are providing training to potters on how to apply France’s ‘decoupage’ technique to decorate finished products, mainly those in terracotta category. Customer-specific decorations can be made on clay products using the technique. ” informs Dr Lalithambika who has been working with potters for over three decades.  “We have already trained over 200 potters in Palakkad and they all feel that the value addition is beneficial. It helps them regain lost markets,” she says.

The state of Kerala has a sizeable potter population of over 650 colonies who were practicing traditional methods impinging upon efficacious production. The Department of Science and Technology of Government of India has been sponsoring the core support program of, ‘revamping of traditional pottery’. Integrated Rural Technology Centre (IRTC)timthumb.jpg under the Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP) has launched a major value-addition initiative by blending traditional Kerala pottery with French aesthetics, to ensure livelihood security for potters sponsored by Khadi and Village Industries Commission of Government of India. The value-added products are helping the potters find newer markets and earn better revenue. IRTC is also sending the products to retail networks in Delhi, Mumbai, and other major cities. The Department of Science and Technology of Government of India has also been sponsoring the initiative of, ‘value-addition of terracotta materials by modernization of techniques and introduction of innovative products’ and also the initiative of, ‘decorative pottery as an income generating activity for the weaker sections of the society’.

In the hilly regions above 6000 feet in the Himalayas, domestic fuel wood consumption tantamount to 10 metric tons per household of 5 to 6 members. 70% of this fuel is used up solely for heating house space and water. Dr Lal Singh surveyed this fact in Himachal Pradesh while running his NGO called Himalayan Research Group, a core group under the Department of Science & Technology of Government of India. According to him, solar water and space heating collectively mitigates around 5 metric tons of carbon emission per household per annum. Besides, indoor pollution is cut down and there is remarkable amount of forest conservation.

‘These areas have sunny days for most of the period in a year. We went on to install 200 solar water heating panel and 100 space heating panels in Shimla, Manali and Kullu districts of Himachal Pradesh. Now installing of 160 such panels is underway in remote and tribal valley of Zanskar in Jammu & Kashmir under DST-TIME-LEARN programme’, declares Dr Lal Singh.  About the efficiency he says, ‘Solar water heating panel achieves 900 C water temperature in full sun initially in 35-45 minutes and successively in 20-25 minutes. It can provide 100-200 litres of water per day on sunny days. Space heating panel blows air maximum at 650C and improve 100-150 C temperature of living space inside house and some warmth remains far beyond sunset lasting up to 10 pm. The entire installation can be made by a local carpenter and its cost hovers around Rs. 35,000 and after subsidy it comes down to below Rs. 20,000.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Development has been goadingbcLgCznb.jpg scientific transformation through Unnat Bharat Abhiyan. Rural Technology Action Group (RuTAG) is located in eight IITs and coordinated by the Office of the Principle Scientific Adviser (PSA) to the Govt. of India. The National Innovation Foundation has also been giving fillip to innovative ideas at the inception level and has success stories appreciated worldwide.

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Water heating panel
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House space heating panel
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Decoupage  on earthenware
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Heat-resistant earthen pots for microwave-ovens
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Earthern pot filter named G Filter

*The writer is a senior journalist, author and a radio documentary maker.

Digital and Cashless Economy : A New Way of Life after demonetization

*Deepak Razdan   i2016121702.jpg

Pay Digital and Win Prizes! As India moves towards a digital and cashless economy, the Government announced on 15th December, 2016 two schemes Lucky Grahak Yojana and Digi-Dhan Vyapar Yojana to give cash awards to consumers and merchants who utilize digital payment instruments for personal consumption expenditures.lucky-grahak-yojana-digi-vyapar-yojna-scheme.jpg

The prizes range from Rs 1000 to Rs 1 crore and the transactions permitted are from Rs 50 to Rs 3000 to keep the focus on the common man. The schemes will not only give a boost to cashless transactions, but will particularly bring the poor, lower middle class and small businesses into the digital payment fold, and new way of life.

The poorest of poor will be eligible for rewards by using USSD, (the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) System that is applicable to ordinary GSM mobile phones. People in village and rural areas can participate in this scheme through Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AEPS). The scheme will become operational with the first draw on 25th December, 2016 (as a Christmas gift to the nation) leading up to a Mega Draw on Babasaheb Ambedkar Jayanti on 14th April 2017.

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The Lucky Grahak Yojana for Consumers provides a daily reward of Rs 1000 to be given to 15,000 lucky consumers for a period of 100 days; and weekly prizes of Rs 1 lakh, Rs 10,000 and Rs. 5000 for Consumers who use the alternate modes of digital Payments. This will include all forms of transactions viz. UPI (Unified Payment Interface), USSD, AEPS and RuPay Cards, but will for the time being exclude transactions through Private Credit Cards and Digital Wallets.

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The Digi-Dhan Vyapar Yojana for Merchants provides Prizes for Merchantsfor all digital transactions conducted at Merchant Establishments and weekly prizes of Rs. 50,000, Rs 5,000 and Rs. 2,500.

There will be a Mega Draw on 14th of April – Ambedkar Jayanti. This will give three Mega Prizes for consumers worth Rs 1 crore, Rs 50 lakh, Rs 25 lakh for digital transactions between 8th November, 2016 and 13th April, 2017 to be announced on 14th April, 2017. For merchants too, there will be three Mega Prizes worth Rs 50 lakhs, Rs 25 lakh, Rs 12 lakh for digital transactions from 8thNovember, 2016 to 13th April, 2017 to be announced on 14th April, 2017.

The National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI), a not for profit company, which hasnpcilogo.png the mandate to guide India towards a cashless society, is the implementing agency for the schemes. The NPCI has been directed to ensure a technical and security audit of the same to ensure that the technical integrity of the process is maintained. The Government shall incur an estimated expenditure of Rs 340 crores on the first phase of the scheme (up to 14th April, 2017).

The Centre has approved a slew of initiatives in February 2016 to encourage digital payments and a transition to less-cash economy in a strategic manner. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had highlighted these measures in his Man Ki Baat address in May 2016. Urging people to adopt cashless transactions, he said “If we learn and adapt ourselves to use cashless transactions, then we will not require notes. Under-hand dealings will stop; the influence of black money will be reduced. So I appeal to my countrymen, that we should at least make a beginning. Once we start, we will move ahead with great ease. Twenty years ago who would have thought that so many mobiles would be in our hands. Slowly we cultivated a habit and now we can’t do without those. Maybe this cashless society assumes a similar form. But the sooner this happens, the better it will be.”

Towards this end, the Government had launched a major drive for financial inclusion inpmjdylogo.png terms of opening Jan Dhan accounts, giving a statutory basis for Aadhaar, implementation of Directs Benefits Transfer, introduction of RuPay Cards and Voluntary Disclosure Scheme for unaccounted money. Demonetization of 500 and 1000 Rs. notes on 8th November was another important milestone in this endeavour. Following demonetization, there has been a spurt in the digital payments across the country and both the volume and amount of money transacted through digital methods saw seen manifold increase since 9th November.

Yet, as on date, nearly 95 per cent of India’s personal consumption expenditure transactions are cash-based giving rise to a  very large informal economy, limiting the ability of State to levy and raise taxes. The daily Ru-Pay Cards transactions in the country have risen from 3.85 lakh on 8th November to 16 lakh on 7 December; the e-Wallets transactions have increased from 17 lakhs to 63 lakhs; the UPI transactions from 3721 to 48238; the USSD from 97 to 1263 and PoS (Point of Sale) transactions from 50.2 lakh to 98.1 lakh.

To further accelerate the surge in digital transactions, the Government announced on 8th December an attractive package to promote the use of cashless payments through various concessions like a discount at the rate of 0.75 per cent of the sale price to consumers on purchase of petrol or diesel, if payment is made through digital means. To expand the digital payment infrastructure in rural areas, the Central Government through NABARD decided to extend financial support to eligible banks for deployment of two PoS devices each in one Lakh villages with population of less than 10,000.  These PoS machines are intended to be deployed at primary cooperative societies, milk societies and agricultural input dealers to facilitate agri-related transactions through digital means and serve 75 crore population.

No service tax will be charged on digital transaction charges for transactions upto Rs.2000 per transaction. Railway through its sub urban railway network shall provide incentive by way of discount upto 0.5% to customers for monthly or seasonal tickets from January 1, 2017, if payment is made through digital means. Government has waived service tax charged while making payments through credit card, debit card, charge card or any other payment card; limiting the waiver to payments up to Rs. 2,000 in a single transaction

On 6th December, the Government, as part of the plan to expand the digital payments eco-system and facilitate the move towards cashless transactions, decided that an additional one million new PoS terminals should be installed by 31st March 2017. The Ministry of Labour & Employment and States’ Administration organized 2,73,919 camps to open 24.54 lakh bank accounts for unorganized workers.

Recommending a medium term strategy to promote the growth of digital payments, the Committee on Digital Payments constituted by the Ministry of Finance on 9th December submitted its Final Report to the Finance Minister and wanted the benefits to cover the financially and socially excluded groups.

Explaining the Government policy before the Finance Ministry’s Parliamentary Consultative Committee meet on 15th December, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that digital transactions were a parallel mechanism, not a substitute, for cash transactions and cashless economy was actually a less cash economy, as no economy could be fully cashless. The Finance Minister said that the Government was trying to encourage digitization as much as possible because an excessive cash economy had its own social and economic costs and consequences. The Government incentives to people had evoked a positive response to shift to digital mode of payment. Cyber security measures, he said, were being taken by the banks under RBI supervision.

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*Deepak Razdan is a senior journalist and presently Editorial Consultant with The Statesman, New Delhi.

Making of AIIMS: The Parliament Debate

AIIMS Diamond Jubilee Celebrations conclude this month

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9th May 1956: Rajya Sabha had concluded the marathon 4 day debate on the AIIMS Bill 1956. Rajkumari Amrit Kaur in her reply to the debate spoke thus – “I want this Institute to be a unique Institute, and to be able to give our people – the young men and women doctors – the opportunities for study for post graduate education that they have not uptil now been able to have in their country. I want this to be something wonderful, of which India can be proud, and I want India to be proud of it.” The Deputy Chairman Rajya Sabha posed the Question “that the Bill be passed”. The motion was adopted, and thus AIIMS was born fifty years ago.

Introduction

The AIIMS Act 1956 provided for the establishment of the All India Institute of MedicalAll_India_Institute_of_Medical_Sciences_(Logo).jpg Sciences. It was enacted by Parliament as Act no 25 of 1956 and has a mere 29 Sections. The Business Advisory Committee of Lok Sabha had allocated only 60 minutes for discussion and passage of the Legislation. The Bill aroused tremendous enthusiasm amongst Members of Parliament and was debated for 3 days from 18th to 21st February 1956 in the Lok Sabha and 4 days from 3rd May to 9th May 1956 in the Rajya Sabha. The Parliamentary records of the debate run into over 800 pages.

Moving the Bill in Lok Sabha

18th February 1956: When the Minister of Health Rajkumari Amrit Kaur rose in the Lok Sabha to move the Bill, she did not have a prepared text of her speech. She spoke from the notes that she carried and from her heart. “It has been one of my cherished dreams that for post graduate study and for the maintenance of high standards of medical education in our country, we should have an institute of this nature which would enable our young men and women to have their post graduate education in their own country. It will provide under graduate study to only a very limited few. The major emphasis will be on post graduate study and specialization.” The two special features of the Institute, which is the first of its kind in India and the first of its kind in Asia, are prohibition of private practice of every form and to pay the doctors reasonably high salaries to compensate them for the loss of private practice. The doctors of AIIMS would devote their whole time not only to teaching, not only to serving the patients who come to the hospital but also to research. All the staff and students were to be housed in the campus of the Institute in the best traditions of the Guru-Sishya ideal to stay in close touch with each other.

The Debate

The Members of Parliament across party lines in the Lok Sabha overwhelmingly supported the revolutionary changes in medical education envisaged by the AIIMS Bill 1956. Commencing the debate Dr. Rama Rao Member of Parliament from Kakinada, said the Institute should have more under-graduate seats, given that very limited opportunities were available in India. T.S.A.Chettiar Member of Parliament from Tiruppur said that the composition of the Institute should provide that the majority of the members should be non-officials. In addition to accounts being submitted to Parliament, the Institute should lay an annual report of its activities in both the Houses of Parliament. This proposal of T.S.A.Chettiar was incorporated in the AIIMS Act by a subsequent amendment. He further said that practical training for doctors in rural and urban areas cannot be provided on the campus of the Institute and the Institute should have a hospital where practical training can be provided. This is reflected in the Community Health Centre at Ballabhgarh, (in the vicinity of Delhi) which is administered by the Institute where undergraduate doctors are sent for practical training.

Shrimati Jayashri MP from Bombay Suburban said that the nursing college of AIIMS should be a path bearer for the other nursing colleges of the Nation. Shri Narayan Das MP from Darbhanga said that the Government must provide adequate finances to the Institute. Mohanlal Saksena who represented Lucknow in the House, said that the AIIMS was going to be an autonomous body and Parliament will not have much control over it. Several members also raised the need to incorporate Ayurveda, Homeopathy and other indigenous systems of medicine into the AIIMS which was a recurring theme in the Rajya Sabha debate also. Even as the Bill was put to clause by clause voting, Joachim Alva Member of Parliament from Kanara expressed concern that the Director who is to be appointed by the Government could perhaps be a retired politician – “a Khushamadi” who may not have done any teaching or operative work or anything of that sort for nearly two decades.

In her reply to the debate in Lok Sabha, the Health Minister, said that the Governing body would comprise of a majority of non-officials. She maintained that the name All India Institute of Medical Sciences was all inclusive and apt.  She assured the members that the selection of Professors by a Standing Selection Committee has been agreed to by UPSC. She further clarified that while Rules will be made by Government, Regulations dealing with a wide variety of subjects pertaining to administration will be formulated by the Institute. The AIIMS Bill was thus passed by Lok Sabha with a single amendment that AIIMS shall lay an annual report through Central Government in both Houses of Parliament.

The Bill’s Journey in Rajya Sabha

3rd May 1956: Introducing the Bill in the Rajya Sabha, the Union Health Minister Rajkumari Amrit Kaur said “The future of the Institute will lie in the hands of the Director, of the Professors and other Members of the teaching staff and students. I believe that it will be their devotion to duty, their desire to promote their work and their spirit of altruism that will actuate them to subordinate their personal considerations as I believe the noble profession of medicine should do to the fulfillment of the objectives in view, that will eventually create and maintain an atmosphere which is necessary for an Institute like this. I do therefore, hope that in presenting the Bill for acceptance by the Rajya Sabha today, the legal structure that is crafted may facilitate the progressive realization of improved methods of medical education in this Institute and through its influence the standards of different courses of professional training in the field of health throughout this country will be raised.” She informed Members that Dr. B.B.Dixit has been appointed as the first Director of the Institute given his research experience at the Haffkine Institute and the administrative experience as Surgeon-General of Bombay.

Concluding her introductory remarks, the Health Minister maintained that “Subject to such minimum control as the Government of India may exercise through its rule making power, the Institute will enjoy a very large measure of autonomy to fulfill its objectives.”

The Debate in the Rajya Sabha

Though the Members of the Rajya Sabha were overwhelmingly in support of the Bill, for establishing an All India Institute of Medical Sciences facilitating for higher instruction in modern medicine, yet many felt that the legislation lacked clarity and envisaged excessive delegation to executive authority in the Rules. Members said that out of 30 clauses in the Bill as many as 25 clauses contained the provision, “prescribed by Rules” and 11 clauses contained the provision “prescribed by regulations”. While delegated legislation comes with every Act, the AIIMS Bill sought extraordinary delegation to executive authority. The powers of the Medical Council to grant degrees and diplomas and the powers of the UPSC to conduct selections were delegated to the Institute. Several members expressed concern at the total omission of references to indigenous systems of medicine in the Bill and felt that the focus should also be on Ayurveda, Homeopathy and Unani systems of medicine. Biswanath Das Member of Parliament from Orissa said that the Health Minister who received inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi was making Ayurveda an untouchable system. Some Members also felt that the Dental College and Nursing College were not required at AIIMS and the focus should be on high-end research work.

Commencing the debate P.N.Sapru Member of Parliament from Uttar Pradesh said that “We cannot agree to the suggestion that the shaping of the Institute in its technical aspect should be entrusted to the Director and the Professors of the Institute acting as a medical faculty. There is danger, under a constitution of this character, of the academic faculty of the Institute developing into a closed corporation of mutual admiration. There must be representation of an expert character – representation of an outside expert character – provided in the constitution itself.”

Participating in the debate, Dr Radha Kumud Mookerji, nominated Member of Parliament, sought clarifications on Clause 5 of the Bill which says that “AIIMS will be an Institute of National Importance”. He felt that the scope of National importance must be wide enough to cover all systems of medicine prevailing in the country – systems of medicine which have survived the onslaught of the ages. Similar views were expressed by H.P.Saksena Member of Parliament from Uttar Pradesh on clause 5. He said that the Institute of National Importance should demonstrate a high standard of medical education to all other medical colleges and other allied institutions in India. Dr. W.S.Barlingay an MP from Madhya Pradesh laid emphasis on the Objects of the Institute to develop patterns of teaching in medical education as a critical component of the Institute’s focus areas. He felt that the Institute could be attached to Delhi University which could grant diplomas and degrees as also get grants from University Grants Commission.

Passing of the historic Motion

In her reply to the debate, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur provided answers to the concerns expressed by Members. She argued that the Institute shall have the power to grant medical degrees, diplomas and other academic distinctions and titles under the Act of 1956. She maintained that Dentistry was has been a very neglected science in India and dentists have to go abroad to get first class qualifications. Hence a Dental College was attached to the Institute. Similarly she said, Nursing was the most neglected limb of the medical profession though it was an important hub. She said she had consulted UPSC on the recruitment to faculty posts. UPSC was of the view that because AIIMS will be a statutory non-government institution, recruitment will be outside the purview of UPSC. With regard to excessive delegated legislation being taken by Executive, she said that Parliament should give as much autonomy as it can to this Institute, which is going to be a pioneer venture. “Let us have elasticity and let us have autonomy…after all you are going to have an extremely good Governing Body which will lay down the policies which will be followed by the Institute and the regulations must be left to the discretion of the Institute itself…the Government will be in very close touch with the Governing Body. Trust your Government, Trust your Scientific People…”. She promised to develop an All India Institute for Ayurveda at Jamnagar and al All India Institute for Homeopathy in future as also a chair for History of Medicine.

The Bill was put to vote on the 4th day of the debate on 9th May 1956. Clearly, the Health Minister was exhausted by the 4th day of the debate. Even as the Bill was about to be passed Members continued to press for amendments in the clauses and it appears from a reading of the debate that the Health Minister showed some irritation in the House. Dr. Seeta Parmanand Member of Parliament from Madhya Pradesh said that “Sir, after all it is the right of this House, if at all they feel that something should be done by the Ministry, to criticize the Ministry. She called herself the Chief Servant of her Ministry. She is there to reply.”  Despite these moments of acrimony, the Bill received support from all the Members of the House and the motion to pass the Bill was adopted leading to the establishment of AIIMS,

*Author is a senior civil servant, an IAS officer of 1989 batch, presently serving as Deputy Director Administration, AIIMS New Delhi.

Pulses : The Nutrient-rich Grains for a Sustainable Future

International Year of Pulses 2016 Concludes this month-end

*Santosh Jain Passi & Akanksha Jaini2016121601

Pulses and legumes are nutrient-rich grains central to agricultural systems and culinary use throughout the world.  As critical part of the food basket, they contribute substantial amounts of plant-based proteins, dietary fibre as well as various minerals (iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulphur and zinc), vitamins (B1, B3, B6, B10 & vitamin E) and phytochemicals. While some pulses may contain anti-nutritional factors, in certain individuals, excess consumption may cause bloating/flatulence.However soaking, cooking, germination and fermentation help in overcoming these adverse effects.

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Germination and fermentation not only enhance their digestibility but also improve protein quality and bioavailability of the minerals. There is increased synthesis of many of the vitamins; while germination helps in an upsurge of vitamin C, fermentation enormously raises the level of B-group vitamins. Apart from nutritional enhancement, germination reduces cooking time and helps in fuel conservation.

Pulses being rich in soluble and insoluble dietary fibre, prevent constipation and help in decreasing blood cholesterol as well as controlling blood sugar levels. Being saturated fatty acid and cholesterol free, pulses are superior to animal-protein foods. In view of their low glycaemic index, low fat and high fibre content, pulses should form an integral part of a healthy diet particularly for the individuals suffering from diabetes, cardiovascular disease and overweight/obesity. Pulses are rich in several bioactive compounds (phytochemicals; antioxidants) which confer anti-cancer properties and promote bone health. Being gluten-free, these are highly suitable for celiac disease patients.

Though energy value of pulses is similar to that of the cereals/millets, nutritionally these are far better!! When added to cereals, pulses help to enhance protein quality of the mixture by virtue of mutual supplementation.

WHO reports that a sizeable NCD burden can be lowered by promoting healthy eating practices with special emphasis on appropriate amounts of pulses. To quote FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, “Pulses have been an essential part of the human diet for centuries, yet, their nutritional value is not generally recognized and is frequently under-appreciated.”

International-Year-of-Pulses-logo.jpgThe 68th UN General Assembly declared 2016 as the International Year of Pulses (IYP) and nominated FAO to facilitate its implementation in collaboration with various Governments, relevant organizations, NGOs and other stakeholders. The aim was to enhance public awareness regarding nutritional benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production for achieving food/nutrition security. It was envisaged that IYP will create a unique opportunity to encourage appropriate network across the food chains for better utilization of pulse-based proteins as well as enhance pulse production and address trade related challenges. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had remarked that pulses contribute significantly towards addressing hunger, malnutrition, environmental challenges, food security and human health; and can thus, help to achieve the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals. Despite numerous health and nutritional benefits, pulse consumption remains low in many of the developing/developed nations.

Since pulse production leaves much lower carbon footprint (than many animal protein sources), they greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These short-duration multi-use crops (food, fodder, fuel) can help to improve livelihood of farmers and pave way for crop diversification/intensification. Improved cropping patterns using pulses can help to overcome long-term food insecurity due to soil degradation. CO2 equivalent for 1 kg pulse is merely 0.5kg as against 9.5kg for beef; this has a great bearing in the light of climate change.

India is the world’s largest pulse producing country and contributes nearly 28% of global production; yet, the total availability is far lesser than the domestic requirement (estimated pulse production during 2015-16 was 17 MT). For meeting the domestic needs, 5.79 MT of pulses were imported resulting in escalated pulse prices. In 2010, while globally the estimated average yield of pulses was 819kg/ha, it was far lower in India (600kg/ha). To quote Ranjit Kumar, ICRISAT –“The shortfall in pulse production can be achieved by tapping nearly 6-7million hectares of rice fallows in Eastern India”.

For escalating pulse production, various governmental efforts include: India and Mozambique’s long-term deal for importing pulses (for plugging the shortfall and containing prices). In addition, fixing of Minimum Support Price (MSP) for pulses and declaring a bonus of Rs 200/quintal (Kharif pulses; 2015-16) and Rs 75/quintal (Rabi pulses; 2016-17) beyond the MSP as well as government’s approval for enhancing the buffer stock (up to 2 MT) is expected to stabilize the pulse prices and encourage the farmers to increase pulse production.

Launch of Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana and crop insurance portal/Mobile app as well as pan India electronic trading platform to integrate the regulated markets with single license validity/single entry point market fee shall greatly benefit the farmers.
Soil Health Cards indicating soil fertility status along with the advise on use of fertilizers is another initiative. The Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojna for promoting organic farming and marketing of the produce and Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana for efficient usage of water is another move.

NFSM focuses on improving production/productivity of pulses. Nearly a sum of Rs 1100 crore has been allocated for improving pulse production during 2016-17. Organizing quality seed production-cum-awareness field days to highlight the importance of quality seeds as well as allocation of Rs. 20.39 crore to ICAR/Agriculture Universities for increasing the availability of new pulse-variety breeder seeds is another positive step.  Inter cropping of pulses with other crops is being encouraged. A number of schemes have been launched for the development of agriculture and farmers’ welfare. In view of good monsoon, following two drought years, current pulse output is estimated to reach 20 MT (2016-17) which is still lower than the domestic demand (23-24 MT). Therefore, the BRICS nations have been approached and it was commented that India would like to seek cooperation from member countries (BRICS) in helping to meet our production shortfall in crops like pulses and oilseeds.

In addition, it is envisaged that generating awareness regarding nutritional value of the pulses can help the consumers to adopt healthier dietary patterns. Pulses – the nutrient rich smart food are good for human health, the planet and the farmers, particularly those with small-holdings!!

*Dr Santosh Jain Passi – Public Health Nutrition Consultant; Former Director, Institute of Home Economics, University of Delhi

Ms Akanksha Jain – Ph D Scholar, – works in the field of Public Health and Nutrition.

 

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.  

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