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Showing posts with label English Editorial. Show all posts
Showing posts with label English Editorial. Show all posts

Monday, January 11, 2021

India’s new deal moment (The Indian Express)

Written by Sajjid Z. Chinoy  

A worker unloads sacks of grain at a store in Chandni Chowk market in New Delhi, India, on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's second budget in seven months disappointed investors who were hoping for big-bang stimulus to revive growth in Asia’s third-largest economy.  

India’s economic recovery is being characterised by three distinct forces that need to be disentangled. First, India has broken the link between virus proliferation and mobility earlier and more successfully than many countries. Rising mobility and normalising economic activity, rather than sparking another wave of infections, have coincided with COVID cases falling by 80 per cent since September. India’s cumulative death toll per million is now less than half the emerging market average, and an order of magnitude below developed economies. Consequently, the progressive return towards pre-COVID activity levels has occurred much sooner than expected. Activity jumped back up to 95 per cent of pre-COVID levels by October, and has been inching up since. This is being complemented by the much-awaited pick-up in central government spending, which surged in November and is expected to remain strong for the rest of the year. These dynamics should reduce the full-year growth contraction to 6.5 per cent, less than the NSO’s advance estimate of 7.7 per cent and much less than previously feared.


These are very hopeful developments but, juxtaposed with a stronger-than-expected recovery, is confirmation of labour market scarring. CMIE’s labour market survey still reveals 18 million fewer employed (about 5 per cent of the total employed) compared to pre-pandemic levels. The employment rate gradually improved till September but has weakened since then, even as the economy has progressively opened up. This also shows up in the PMI surveys where employment is lagging activity, and in demand for MGNREGA jobs which are still 50 per cent higher than the previous year. These labour market pressures increase risks of medium-term economic scarring, and are not incompatible with a sharper near-term rebound because the recovery appears to be led by capital and profits, not labour and wages. Even within labour, blue-collar workers are likely to have been disproportionately impacted vis-à-vis their white-collar counterparts.


A third phenomenon is large firms have endured the crisis better and are gaining market share at the expense of smaller firms. To the extent there is a migration of activity from the informal/SME firms to larger firms, tax collections and Sensex/Nifty earnings should get a boost, even holding the economic pie constant. It’s, therefore, important to interpret the data carefully because some variables will reflect this substitution effect as much as the pace of the recovery. Greater scale and formalisation undoubtedly augur well for medium-term productivity but could increase near-term labour market frictions and boost pricing power.


All this, therefore, increases prospects of a K-shaped recovery from COVID, a phenomenon playing out globally. Households at the top of the pyramid are likely to have seen their incomes largely protected, and savings rates forced up during the lockdown, increasing “fuel in the tank” to drive future consumption. Meanwhile, households at the bottom are likely to have witnessed permanent hits to jobs and incomes. These cleavages are already visible. Passenger vehicle registrations (proxying upper-end consumption) have grown about 4 per cent since October while two-wheelers have contracted 15 per cent.


What are the macro implications of a K-shaped recovery? With the top 10 per cent of India’s households responsible for 25-30 per cent of total consumption, one could argue consumption would get a boost as this pent-up demand expresses itself. But it’s important not to conflate stocks with flows, and levels with changes. Upper-income households have benefitted from higher savings for two quarters. What we are currently witnessing is a sugar rush from those savings being spent. This is, however, a one-time effect. To the extent that households at the bottom have experienced a permanent loss of income in the forms of jobs and wage cuts, this will be a recurring drag on demand, if the labour market does not heal faster.


Second, to the extent that COVID has triggered an effective income transfer from the poor to the rich, this will be demand-impeding in the steady state, because the marginal propensity to consume at the bottom is higher than that at the top, just as the marginal propensity to import at the top is higher than at the bottom.


Third, if COVID-19 reduces competition or increases the inequality of incomes and opportunities, it could impinge on trend growth in developing economies by hurting productivity and tightening political economy constraints.


Also in Explained |ExplainSpeaking: Will Budget 2021-22 slay India’s ‘five giants’?

Policy will, therefore, need to look beyond the next few quarters and anticipate the state of the macro economy post the sugar rush. The key, of course, is whether the private sector starts re-investing and re-hiring, and thereby sets the economy onto a more virtuous path. Barring that, the labour-market hysteresis could sustain. With manufacturing utilisation rates below 70 per cent pre-COVID, an investment revival, in turn, will depend crucially on the demand dynamics. Exports should benefit from strengthening global growth as the world gets progressively vaccinated and the Georgia-induced blue wave results in more US fiscal stimulus. But will this be enough to stoke a private investment revival? Or will firms look through the next few quarters and remain cautious given the still elevated uncertainty?


It’s against this backdrop that the upcoming budget presents India with its New Deal moment. An unprecedented infrastructure push under the New Deal in 1935 created millions of jobs and regenerated regional economic development in the US. India must seek inspiration from this. Given the prevailing demand uncertainties, the budget represents an opportune moment for the Centre, in conjunction with the states, to embark on a large physical and social (health and education) infrastructure push. The benefits are self-evident. This will simultaneously boost near-term aggregate demand, crowd in private investment, create jobs to soak up the unemployed, and improve the economy’s external competitiveness. Job creation, health and education, in turn, will be a start to help mitigate COVID-induced inequalities.


The question is: How will this be financed? With the consolidated fiscal deficit projected above 11 per cent of GDP, gradual near-term consolidation coupled with a credible medium-term fiscal plan will be key to anchoring the bond market and underscoring an adherence to macro stability. How then can public investment increase meaningfully if the headline deficit must come down? Only if the public investment push is financed by aggressive asset sales (strategic sales, disinvestment, land and infrastructure monetisation). In this manner, expenditure to GDP can actually rise next year — generating an expansionary fiscal impulse to the economy — while automatic stabilisers (a normalisation of tax revenues next year) are used to reduce the headline fiscal deficit.


India’s faster-than-expected rebound is very encouraging. But given labour market pressures and prospects of a K-shaped recovery around the world, the economy will need to be carefully nurtured and stoked. The budget presents a crucial opportunity to make a big down payment towards this end.


  The writer is Chief India Economist at JP Morgan.


Courtesy - The Indian Express.

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The Savarna Gaze (The Indian Express)

Written by Rehnamol Raveendran  

The poster of Richa Chadha’s upcoming movie, Madam Chief Minister, stands out for its crudity in a world of political correctness. The movie apparently narrates the story of an “untouchable” woman, who becomes the chief minister of a state. The filmmakers decided to communicate their theme of a Dalit woman’s success in the poster by depicting the protagonist holding a broom with the tagline “untouchable, unstoppable”. The poster has aroused the indignation of many for amplifying a stereotypical portrayal of Dalit identity.


The cognitive structures of upper-caste filmmakers, unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, seem unable to think beyond a broom as a fundamental symbol of Dalit identity. The usage of the word “untouchable” in the poster hints not only at the moral bankruptcy of the overrepresented upper-caste folk in the show business but reveals the marketing strategy as one that sells dehumanising words for profit.


The poster has only vindicated the premise of Rajesh Rajamani’s The Discreet Charm of Savarnas, a satire on upper-caste prejudices against Dalits. In the short film, the characters embark on a desperate search for an actor who “looks like a Dalit” and, thus, fits into their imagination of a “Dalit”. Rajamani’s film calls out the deep-rooted, often normalised, caste prejudices and stereotypical attitudes against marginalised communities. By reducing Dalit identity to a broom, the makers of Madam Chief Minister prove Rajamani right.

 

In contrast, mainstream filmmakers represent upper-caste protagonists bereft of any caste prejudices and stereotypes, and as figures with authority and agency. That’s not a coincidence. It is because caste consciousness conspicuously shapes the imagination. Case in point: The Brahmin hero of the movie Article 15. Similarly, the poster of a biopic on former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, Thalaivi, depicts the subject of the biopic with respect and authority.


The Dalit imagination of their own identity, undoubtedly, is different from how the upper castes perceive them. They seek their identities in the portrayal of gallantry, virtuousness, and sacrifices of Dalit leaders and assertive symbols of resistance. Badri Narayan’s 2006 book, Women Heroes and Dalit Assertion in North India, Culture, Identity and Politics, explored how Mayawati’s image as a Dalit leader was built up by identifying her with a long line of historical women figures known for their valour, like Jhalkaribai, Udadevi, Mahaviridevi, Avantibai Lodhi and Pannadhai.


In any of the Dalit imaginations, Udadevi and Jhalkaribai can never be seen with a broom nor can the valour of the Battle of Koregaon be undermined by untouchability imposed on Mahars. The portrayal of a Dalit character in Pa Ranjith’s Kaala displays the intrepidity of the hero. In films such as Ranjith’s Pariyerum Perumal and Nagraj Manjule’s Sairat, both stories of Dalit-savarna love, you will never find Dalits depicted with degrading symbols.


More importantly, the upper-caste imagination appears to promote a culture of gaslighting Dalit voices. It is unfortunate that Chadha dismissed the criticism against the casteist poster as “cancel culture”. Instead of defending the stereotypical portrayal of a hitherto marginalised community and gaslighting the voices of criticism, the actor and others associated with the movie must commit to a genuine introspection.


The content of the poster can’t be insulated from criticism citing the transformative content of the movie. The Discreet Charm of Savarnas could serve as a reference for all those who venture into creative spaces, to unlearn their preconceived notions. Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination should be mandatory reading for filmmakers.


 The writer taught political science at Delhi University


Courtesy - The Indian Express.

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America’s broken democracy (The Indian Express)

Written by Peter Ronald DeSouza

The mobs storming the hallowed precincts of American democracy, on January 6, were not an exceptional lapse but were, in fact, a symptom of a sick democracy. 

One is tempted to see the bizarre rioting in the US Capitol by thousands of Donald Trump supporters seeking to stall President-elect Joe Biden’s certification by Congress as a one-off event, a unique descent into madness by an essentially robust democracy. Such a reading is fundamentally wrong. The mobs storming the hallowed precincts of American democracy, on January 6, were not an exceptional lapse but were, in fact, a symptom of a sick democracy. American democracy is critically ill. It suffers from five disorders.

The first malady, and perhaps the one most difficult to treat, is the breakdown in the culture of bipartisanship that was so intrinsic to American politics. It kept the system working. Difference and consensus, intense competition and compromise, all produced a political pragmatism that was at the heart of American democracy. This has now been abandoned. The speeches delivered by Republican senators on the floor of the house, minutes after the assault on the Capitol, were hostile and unyielding. Instead of closing ranks and accepting the logic of defeat, of embracing the national interest which their leader Mitch McConnell had earlier in the day articulated, a large number of Republican Congressmen chose to pander to the President’s narcissistic delusion of a stolen election. Partisan interest got morphed with the national interest. For them, the enemy was the Democratic party and not the mobs, the electoral system and not the hooligans who were undermining it. Bipartisanship in America is dead, killed by an ideological chauvinism that sees competitors as the enemy within. This is a mindset that is difficult to treat. It is built on a psychology of hate that resides deep in the soul of its proponents. It is incapable of compromise and challenging to cure.


The second malady feeding the first, and perhaps dependent on it, is the rise of the plebiscitary leader. The more appropriate term is to see Trump not as a populist leader but as a plebiscitary one. A plebiscitary leader speaks directly to his followers over the heads of institutions that are supposed to constrain him but have, as shown, little power to do so. A relationship of devotion develops between the leader and followers that is unmediated by the institution’s tempering logic. The leader provides the followers with meaning, with a view of the world that speaks to their anxieties and insecurities. This is essentially Max Weber’s thesis on the charismatic personality. Trump fits it to a T. He built his constituency with phrases and slogans such as “make America great again”, “drain the swamp”, “lock her up”, “stop the steal”, that created a partisan constituency both in the street and within the elected chambers. It was willing to walk with him to the ends of the earth. Social media aided the process of partisan constituency formation. It exaggerated the feeling of grievance and promised that the leader would address the problem. Trump was playing for a “winner takes all” stake since defeat is for losers. In such a politics, institutions get enfeebled, democratic conventions get ignored, and the locus of power shifts from the office to the political leader. Officials, seen as Wilhelm Reich’s “little men”, develop an attitude of complicity with the leader. In Trump’s America, the little men have come to the centre of government.

The third political illness, which thrives in tandem with the above two, is the debilitation of institutions. Institutions are the life and soul of a democracy. They check the excesses of power, socialise elected representatives into the do’s and don’ts of democratic politics. They embody the rules and conventions that maintain the balance between private and public interests. Trump tore into these checks and balances. When his chiefs of staff, and several of his secretaries opposed his views, he just replaced them. When the mainstream media, such as CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post, wrote about his transgressions, he mocked them describing them as purveyors of “fake news”. In his drive to dominate institutions, Attorney General William Barr became his bulldog. The leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, became his praetorian guard and Lindsey Graham his dancing cheerleader. Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who accompanied Trump for a photo-op to a church in Washington, after it had been forcibly cleared of protesters, apologised for this compromise.


One has, over the last four years, watched with horror and disbelief as the custodians of America’s democratic institutions succumbed to the narcissism of their plebiscitary leader. Even small conventions, although symbolically significant, that established the principle of conflict of interest were cast aside by Trump when he appointed family members to high office and refused to release his income tax returns as had been the convention with previous presidents. Trump took a sledgehammer to institutions. They were unable to corral him. He exposed the fragility of their checks and balances. Biden will have to work hard to repair them.


The fourth malaise is the elite capture of not just institutions but of the political discourse. Much has been written about elite capture of institutions, so let me dwell here on the capture of discourse. Gaetano Mosca, the Italian theorist of elites, referred to it as “political formulas”. These are arguments and explanations used by elites to get those over whom they rule to accept their ideas and arguments. Political formulas give legitimacy to elite rule. American democracy today is a textbook illustration of how the political formula of neo-liberalism has been used by capitalist elites to not just accumulate wealth but to make the non-elite feel that such accumulation is in the public interest. From the World Economic Forum to the humble corridors of Niti Aayog, the “political formulas” of neo-liberalism economics rule. As Jean Paul Satre would have said, Davos speaks and Niti Aayog provides the echo. Trump is neo-liberalism’s loudest spokesperson.

 

The above maladies have gained a life, and become possible, because of the fifth malaise in American society — its increasing inequality. It provides the soil for Trumpian mobilisation. This increasing inequality of American capitalism needed a spokesman and a cover, to convert a lie into a truth. Trump provided both. He changed the vocabulary of politics, making it respectable to mock, deride, denounce and heap scorn on one’s political adversaries. Attention had to be distracted from the real challenge of increasing equality. Trump made vigilante politics, especially of the White supremacist variety, a legitimate aspect of American politics. It is worrisome that his model of politics is now available for other plebiscitary leaders. With his politics of hate, in this climate of inequality, it is little wonder that the master of vituperative social media posts brought the Capitol under siege. To heal itself, American democracy will need more than just the replacing of Trump with Biden. It will need to examine why a narcissistic leader, with plebiscitary power, was able to expose the fragility of its institutions and push them to the brink.

  The writer is D D Kosambi Visiting Professor at Goa University. He has just published with Rukmini Bhaya Nair a book titled Keywords for India. Views expressed are personal

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

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A roadmap for the young (The Indian Express)

Written by Amrut Bang


India’s aspiration to become a world leader must resonate more with its youth more than anyone else. Unless the country’s youth take to nation-building, why only India, no country can hope for the development that befits its ambitions. There is no better day than to begin that journey than January 12, observed as National Youth Day.


The youth (18-29 years) constitute 22 per cent of India’s population, which is more than 261 million people — larger than the population of Pakistan. But this advantage, often termed as demographic dividend, will remain only a numerical strength unless India proactively and consciously focuses on their overall development.



India has only 10 years beginning 2021 to hold on to this demographic dividend. The Youth in India report by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation of the Government of India states that the median age of Indian population is around 28 years in 2021 and will become 31 years by 2031.


Unfortunately, as of now we don’t seem to be capitalising on this advantage. The government and industry look at the youth as a vote bank or as potential customers. Even in the social sector, youth development is on the fringes. Apart from the fact that we don’t have many robust interventions targeted at grooming the youth, a major problem is that India does not even have a theory or framework about the healthy growth of this group. What do we mean by a flourishing youth? What are the various aspects to it? How would we know one when we see one?


In the absence of any solid framework related to their flourishing, only the more visible and easily measurable markers like marks, employment, salary, a house, etc. take precedence and qualify as parameters on which to assess how well young people are doing in their lives. While these factors are also important, they are by no means complete. What could be the other elements and features of knowing if a young person is really doing well in her/his life, to know if s/he is in an optimal state of well-being?


The NIRMAN programme that I work with at Shodhgram in Gadchiroli aims to facilitate a pro-social purpose of life among the youth and nurture them as social changemakers. Approaching youth development beyond conversations around suicide, unemployment, road traffic accidents, sexual assault, alcohol and drug abuse, we have developed a comprehensive and first-of-its-kind framework for India’s youth.


This framework is based on our observations and learnings from active engagement with thousands of youth over the last 14 years and utilises key aspects of scientific literature on emerging adulthood and positive psychology.


The framework has an expansive scope and consists of seven major domains with a total of 50 diverse parameters that are important and relevant from the perspective of overall well-being of young people and is substantiated by our own experience and the science of youth development.


The seven domains are physical health, psychological well-being, character development, social relationships, professional development, life skills and social contribution.


Physical health is about balanced nutrition, adequate exercise, no harmful substance dependence, safe sexual behaviour, etc while psychological well-being looks at awareness and expression of feelings, positive self-esteem, emotional independence, ownership of views and taking a stand, mental health, etc.


The youth needs not just physical and mental health but also a sound character. Hence, the domain of character development – healthy identity, values, finding a purpose, having role models, cultivating aesthetic and artistic sensibilities — also needs focused effort.


We also need to check on the social relationships parameter to see how a young person needs to relate with various people including parents, partner, friends, mentors, in social groups, at the workplace, to be able to forge ahead in life.


What, of course, is of paramount importance is professional development. For example, understanding of various career options, cultivating professional knowledge, hard skills and competencies, soft skills, workplace ethics and attitude, being constructively engaged and continued capacity building, etc.


Developing life skills, like managing household and financial responsibilities, coordinating multiple life roles, intra and interpersonal skills, exercising autonomy, environment-friendly living, etc is important for the youth’s attainment of their life goals.


And while the youth gain in the above parameters of overall self development, a natural extension of it should also be an inspiration for social contribution, including understanding various social challenges and engaging with civic responsibilities.


We have four types of audiences in mind who might find this framework useful:


One, the youth themselves can now have a solid road map to look at, assess and chart their own growth plan in this light. They should feel empowered to take charge of their flourishing along the various facets.


Two, practitioners of youth development may want to see where do their existing interventions fit in and create new interventions pertaining to other aspects of the framework that they find important.


Three, academicians and policymakers may want to debate, discuss various facets of this framework, add to it, conduct research on specific aspects of it, and include some of these in the literature and policies revolving around the youth in India.


And four, any conscious Indian citizen who engages with the youth, whether as a parent, an uncle or aunt, an elder sibling, a team leader or a boss, a teacher, a friend or a life partner, can make use of this framework to contribute in any possible way towards the development of the young people who come in one’s contact.


We look forward to a future where young people’s growth and progress in life is gauged and facilitated, by themselves and others, on such a diverse framework and does not remain restricted to exam scores, package figures, vehicles owned and square feet of purchased property.


Absence of mental or physical illness does not automatically mean presence of good health. It merely means that we are not on the negative side of the axis but at the zero point. There are myriad possibilities of growing on the positive side of the axis. We hope this framework will serve as a useful guide to the youth of the country.


The writer leads the NIRMAN initiative.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

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Why EPS, OPS should be more than friends, a really small gang (TOI)

Arun Ram

In politics, said 19th century French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville, shared hatreds are almost always the basis of friendships. In the AIADMK, it is also the shared fear of loss.


The ruling party’s general council on Saturday endorsed Edappadi K Palaniswami as its chief minister candidate and authorised him and deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam to decide on poll strategies, alliances and seat sharing “to ensure a resounding victory”. No surprises, as there was no other way the party could go.


The party had, on October 7, chosen EPS for the top post and agreed to OPS’s demand for an 11-member steering committee. As per the party bylaws, OPS should be a joint signatory with EPS on crucial decisions including seat-sharing and candidate selection, or they wouldn’t get the election commission’s approval. For now, they have to be more than friends; they should be like a really small gang.


This functional unity will remain the cornerstone of the party’s electoral prospects. If it remains intact, the AIADMK has a fighting chance; if it cracks, forget the dream of “a resounding victory”, the very continuance of the AIADMK in its present form may be at stake. In this electoral battle, the DMK, which has been out of power for close to 10 years, has its single focus on defeating the AIADMK. The ruling party, meanwhile, has, besides taking on its prime rival, two sides to watch — its internal dissidence and possible challenges V K Sasikala can pose once out of prison.


The first big challenge will begin – if it hasn’t already – when the AIADMK brass sit together to choose the candidates. Both EPS and OPS would want to have more of their respective supporters to contest, keeping in mind the post-poll scenario. Despite OPS being the coordinator, joint coordinator EPS, who enjoys wider support in the party forums, will have a bigger say. It is here the two will have to give and take (OPS may have to give more and take less), considering each one’s strengths and the certain disaster a falling out can invite.


The best way would be to draw up a longlist and soon a shortlist of nominees for each constituency and let an external agency (the party has a consultant) do a fairly objective analysis to select the one with the highest chances of winning. For this, again, the two leaders have to agree. EPS may find this to his advantage, as the list of nominees is likely to be populated by people who have been either his supporters or neo-converts owing to his renewed predominance in the party and the government in the past couple of years. OPS will have to be realistic and get the best he can from a technically fair selection process.


Less tangible is the situation arising out of Sasikala’s release from prison, which is expected on January 27. So far, employing fear and favour, the AIADMK has been able to keep its flock together; it even got some ministers to say Sasikala will have nothing to do with the party. But once she walks out of the gates of Parappana Agrahara as a person with resources, but one who cannot contest an election or hold a public office for six more years, Sasikala may be politically tempting for some. If nothing else, a mildly resurgent AMMK can prove more than an irritant for the AIADMK.


The AIADMK has to meet these two challenges internally to be ready for the ultimate battle with the DMK-led front. And, for that, cohesion holds the key. They may not share much love, but EPS and OPS should remember they share enough fears and hatreds to remain friends in mutual need.

Courtesy - TOI

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To attain success, have faith in yourself (TOI)

By Anup Taneja

Swami Vivekananda said that to attain Self-realisation and success in life, three things are of paramount importance: to have unflinching faith in oneself; to adopt a positive approach to life; and to focus on one idea exclusively at a time.

Have unshakeable faith in yourself. “If you have faith in all the 330 million mythological gods, and still have no faith in yourselves, there is no salvation for you,” said Swami Vivekananda. Have unshakeable faith in yourself, stand upon that faith, and be determined to achieve the targets you set.

Seekers must never lose sight of the fact that they are sparks of the Infinite, Divine fire, and have the power within them to accomplish anything. If you believe that the Infinite Divinity is working in and through you, and that the ‘antaryami’, the Omnipresent, is present in every atom that penetrates your body, mind and soul, there can be no reason why you should not attain success in life.

Merely believing in certain theories and doctrines and understanding these at the intellectual level, opined Swamiji, would lead nowhere; there can be no liberation for man until he sees God; realises his own soul.

Adopt a positive approach to life. It is an irony that even though all powers in the universe are present right within us, we are not able to access these, and continue to live in a state of misery. The main reason for this is the deep-rooted habit of negative thinking that shatters our confidence and impairs our judgment. Negative thoughts like ‘I won’t be able to clear the examination; I am sure I am suffering from a serious disease’, constantly occupy the minds of people with a pessimistic approach to life. To such people, success proves elusive.

Seekers are, therefore, advised to invoke their will power through regular introspection and align themselves with the cosmic current of positive energy that constantly flows within them. This, in turn, will help in cauterising the cells of negative thinking and replacing them with self-confidence, and belief in one’s abilities. “Talk to your mind once a day, otherwise you may miss meeting an intelligent person in this world,” said Swamiji.

Take up one idea at a time. If we carefully observe our thought patterns, we may find that the mind can wander aimlessly, and is engaged in a number of things simultaneously. These scattered thoughts render the mind weak, making it virtually impossible for the seeker to focus on a particular subject. The result is that we are not able to attain success in any task that we undertake.

Swamiji recommends the technique of chanting the mantra ‘Aum’ during meditation and listening to its sound with rapt attention. This technique, if practised on a regular basis, goes a long way in increasing one’s power of concentration. In the words of Swami Vivekananda: “Take up one idea, make that one idea your life. Think of it, dream of it; let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.”

Swami Vivekananda was born on January 12 in Calcutta. He was among the foremost disciples of Sri Ramakrishna.

Courtesy - TOI

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Felled by fire: On newborn deaths in Maharashtra hospital (The Hindu)

The deadly fire that snuffed out the lives of 10 infants in the Bhandara District General Hospital in Maharashtra is a shocking reminder that safety norms in several medical facilities in India do not pass muster. The parents of the babies who perished in the sick new-born unit have been plunged into a lifetime of trauma. Some of the victims, a few just days old, had been brought to the hospital for better care from smaller health facilities; seven had a providential escape. There are reports of poorly trained staff failing to respond adequately. The terrible blaze joins the long list of such accidents recorded in government and private hospitals, underscoring a painful reality: safety protocols are yet to be institutionalised even in places where people legitimately expect a high degree of professionalism. Last year, there were devastating fires in COVID-19 facilities in Vijayawada and Ahmedabad, with several casualties, blamed on poor oversight by fire authorities or faulty electrical repairs. The Maharashtra government has ordered a probe into the Bhandara fire to be concluded in three days, and a fire audit of hospitals, but a perfunctory inquiry cannot effectively address the underlying causes. Hospital fires are a distinct entity, and research indicates that there are specific factors that trigger them off and aggravate their impact.


Intensive Care Units, neonatal ICUs and operating rooms are often the site of fires, implicating the presence of a high concentration of oxygen in a confined space. A review of Indian hospital fires published in the Journal of Clinical Anesthesia identified higher oxygen availability in intensive care facilities as the likely primary cause, with motors and electrical units in the room providing the ignition, and plastics fuelling it. It is worth considering, therefore, whether hospitals have been audited with such factors in mind, and to evaluate national building safety codes against international practice. Oxygen monitors for hospital rooms, to ensure that the ambient level is within safe norms — set at a maximum of 23.5% by the U.S. National Fire Protection Association — could help avert an accident. Locating electrical equipment for air-conditioners with sparking potential away from oxygen saturated areas may also reduce the risk. As the health sector expands, it is essential that all new infrastructure conforms to rigorous safety standards, a small premium to stop disasters such as the Bhandara carnage. If the government sets the bar high enough, ensuring full adherence to safety in its buildings, regulatory authorities can compel commercial structures to fall in line. The Centre should also create a public platform for insights gained from inquiries into hospital fires to be shared. Hospitals should mandatorily hold regular safety and evacuation drills which are key to saving lives when disaster strikes.

Courtesy - The Hindu.

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Gearing up: On vaccines and public trust (The Hindu)

India now has a firm date to roll out the biggest vaccination programme in its history. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that from January 16, after the Makar Sankranti and Pongal festivities, doctors, nurses and sanitation workers, who are part of the priority group, would begin getting the vaccine. India has approved two vaccines in emergency-use mode — Covishield by the Serum Institute of India, Pune, and Covaxin by Bharat Biotech Ltd. While it still is unclear who gets which vaccine, there are more doses of Covishield available at present than Covaxin, almost five to one, and it could take a few months before the 30 million prioritised get one of their doses. Others, those in the 50-plus age group and those with comorbidities, will have to wait much longer, especially in a situation where vaccines such as those by Pfizer and Moderna are not made available for import by the private sector.

However, the vaccination begins under a cloud. Covaxin belongs to a league of vaccines that has been approved without establishing its efficacy, namely, the extent to which vaccination protects from COVID-19. There have been differences among scientists such as on the best testing strategy, treatment, extent of infection, but none more divisive than on the approval of Covaxin. Several experts have made the case that the declining rate of infections and low relative mortality meant that India was not in as dire a state of emergency that required it to approve an untested vaccine when more clarity would likely have come by March. Covaxin is best kept as a backup in the event of a sudden surge of cases till its efficacy data are available and acceptable. Also, reports have emerged of trials in Bhopal where volunteers were seemingly under the impression that they were getting a protective shot when some were likely getting a placebo. They also complain of no medical follow-up when some developed symptoms such as fever, body pain and loss of appetite. The vaccine may eventually prove protective and the adverse symptoms reported, seen as part of the variety of the human body’s response — there are 28,500 volunteers after all. However, a vaccine that evokes distrust is self-defeating. With childhood immunisation, India has proven that it has the infrastructural backbone to inoculate millions. The dry runs to test the Co-WIN management software have reportedly given authorities valuable feedback on perfecting the prospective rollout. However, this could be undone if people do not turn up, and worse, if vaccine hesitancy rises. The pandemic gave India an opportunity to examine its dispensation of health care. Along with improving access, the government must seriously examine the conduct of vaccine trials and work hard to bolster public trust in it, and monitor the vaccination process for adverse reactions.

Courtesy - The Hindu.

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A green new deal (The Telegraph)

Mahesh Rangarajan   

As the dust clears after the US elections, the preferred choice of most of its 160 million voters lies clearly with Joseph Biden for president. Among the issues that Biden faces is the place and role of the United States of America in the ecological challenge that confronts his country and the world at large. Not only does the US have the largest economy and scientific base but it also has, since 1945, on some occasions set the tone for international cooperation, often for the lack of it.


The environmental question has been a key theme in the campaign and led to the surge of younger voters to the Democrat cause. It is not about beauty, health and nature as much as a new way of crafting growth to minimize a negative impact on the economy and the ecology.


Varshini Prakash, one of the articulate young campaigners and authors, writes evocatively how a Green New Deal is the “common-sense solution”. It is no coincidence that Franklin D. Roosevelt is evoked even in the name. History shows us why. But it also offers caution in reading too much by way of parallel.


FDR was not only the president of the US from March 1933 till his death in April 1945 on the eve of victory in the Second World War. He was also the architect of the New Deal, an all-out effort to get the country’s economy on its feet in the wake of the Great Depression. From the start, the New Deal had what would today be called an environmental dimension. In March 1933, in his very first month in office, he called for the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which, without interfering with normal employment, would focus on specific tasks. “[F]orestry, the preventing of soil erosion, flood control and similar projects” were singled out by Roosevelt. The “vast army of the unemployed” would diminish in numbers and also find purpose and direction in the service of the common good of all Americans.


The Congress responded positively: after all the Democrats had taken control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. In his first hundred days, over a quarter of a million men were put to work. The historian of the presidency and its relation to environment, Douglas Brinkley, sees the core task of the early days of the Corps as restoring ecological integrity to public lands.


By 1942, when it was finally wound down, the CCC, as it was widely known, had on its rolls over three million men who had planted no less than two billion trees. They also enabled the expansion of state parks, including those in the south in states such as Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina. Afforestation and landscaping meant hard manual labour, but they also implied a wage of 30 dollars a month and resulted in esprit de corps. 


The New Deal went even further after the ‘Dust Bowl’ in the Great Plains in 1934 and led to the creation of the Soil Conservation Service, which outlived the CCC. In his book, The Green New Deal, Professor Fred C. Mahler estimates that over 150,000 miles of contour furrows were laid down by the new service that also built over 300,000 check dams in just under a decade. 


FDR was a hard-nosed politician. In his 1936 re-election bid, he often referred to the work of the Service in planning shelter belts and combating soil erosion in the mid-West. He reached out even further. The jobless planted trees and engaged in public works, the state parks made recreation possible for middle class Americans, while the farmers got price support as well as help to fight soil erosion.


FDR and his plans aroused deep animosity among the defenders of the free market. The interior secretary, Harold L. Ickes, had to feistily rebut those who said that the government action amounted to nothing less than a “Bolshevist threat to democracy”. 


There is no doubt that there were strains in the new rainbow coalition. While many African-Americans were engaged in the CCC, their camps were segregated. This was most so in the Deep South, the former home of the Confederates of the US Civil War. African-Americans did gain enormously from public employment under Roosevelt but it was on unequal terms. The Shenandoah River and the Blue Ridge Valley state parks, developed with federal money, enriched local contractors and voters — all white, of course.


Despite the efforts of the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, few women were enlisted in the Corps, which projected masculine vigour as force for the good. The women numbered less than 10,000 and were paid a fraction of men’s wages in the CCC.


Roosevelt was a man of his times, but he left a mark on America as on the world as he emerged as a key leader in the war-time alliance against the Axis powers. He led America away and out of isolation to the brink of global power by the time of his death. His environmental as well as his political record has long been claimed by American leaders in the hope of carving out a place in history. It was a Texas Congressman and FDR loyalist, Lyndon Johnson, who in the mid-sixties came up with the slogan of “Great Society” to end poverty and race discrimination in the country. Both had key environmental dimensions manifest in access to clean water and sanitation and the siting of chemical dumps in minority neighbourhoods.


But the sad fact is that the last half century and more have seen a return of not just barely-veiled racism but also fiscal conservatism. It is no coincidence that Ronald Reagan, the leader of the New Right, wanted a leaner government and also less environmental regulation. As governor of California, he had long opposed the expansion of the Redwood National Park. Those who have seen one Redwood, opponents chanted, have seen them all. Such ideas found open expression in the Donald Trump years more than ever before.


Biden, therefore, has a tightrope walk up ahead. His own victory by six million votes owes much to the students, unions, women and minorities who not only turned out to vote but also mobilized and enlisted voters. 


A Green New Deal may be watered down by a Congressional leadership which, in any case, was a late-comer to the idea. Further, there will be voices urging against regulation lest it weakens US industry vis-à-vis China or Europe.


There are two major differences with the 1930s. FDR not only knew the pulse of his people; he also took charge when his opponents had run out of steam. Until the attack on Pearl Harbor, even he was unable to overcome isolationism but on the domestic front his agenda had taken over the public space.


Biden has his work cut out. To reach out to the Rust Belt, working class Americans and do so while wooing business support is hard enough. Is a Green New Deal a bridge too far? The world’s eyes are on Washington.


The author teaches History and Environmental Studies at Ashoka University.

Courtesy - The Telegraph.

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Deep impressions (The Telegraph)

 Sameena Dalwai  

Anandibai Joshi got her medical degree from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1886 which she attained after showing tremendous courage and fortitude in facing opposition, travelling alone to the United States of America at the age of 17, living among strangers for four years and completing a gruelling medical course. Married in childhood, she had suffered a painful childbirth and the loss of her infant son by the age of 12, which had taken a heavy toll on her health. She passed away just before she turned 22 due to tuberculosis, which worsened during the long sea voyage from America to Bombay.

Anandibai Joshi got her medical degree from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1886 which she attained after showing tremendous courage and fortitude in facing opposition, travelling alone to the United States of America at the age of 17, living among strangers for four years and completing a gruelling medical course. Married in childhood, she had suffered a painful childbirth and the loss of her infant son by the age of 12, which had taken a heavy toll on her health. She passed away just before she turned 22 due to tuberculosis, which worsened during the long sea voyage from America to Bombay. 


The first female doctors in Indian history leave a deep impression. From the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, these brilliant women carried the zeal of providing medical assistance to their hapless sisters dying during childbirth. Anandibai Joshi got her medical degree from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1886 which she attained after showing tremendous courage and fortitude in facing opposition, travelling alone to the United States of America at the age of 17, living among strangers for four years and completing a gruelling medical course. Married in childhood, she had suffered a painful childbirth and the loss of her infant son by the age of 12, which had taken a heavy toll on her health. She passed away just before she turned 22 due to tuberculosis, which worsened during the long sea voyage from America to Bombay.


Rukhmabai was the next gynaecology surgeon who had earlier become famous for her refusal to cohabit with her husband as “it was a child marriage and her consent was not asked.” The British court and the conservative Hindu had agreed that kanyadaan means the gifting of a virgin daughter from father to groom; her consent was thus irrelevant. This case was widely publicized in India, England and the US, and was instrumental in the passage of the Age of Consent Act, 1891. Rukhmabai was saved from going to prison by the Sutar panchayat in Bombay after the payment of a hefty fine to the husband. She then went to the Royal Free Hospital in London and became a doctor in 1894.


Rashid Jahan was a doctor, communist and writer. Born in 1905 in Aligarh, she studied in Lucknow and Delhi and was at the helm of the Progressive Writers’ Association and the movement led by the Indian People’s Theatre Association. While practising gynaecology, she witnessed the horror of women’s health and presented it through her stories. Women in her stories speak about unending cycles of cumbersome pregnancies and excruciating deliveries as well as of the obligation of wives to satisfy the sexual hunger of husbands. She had made prostitutes heroines of her poignant short stories before Saadat Hasan Manto did.


All these women faced societal opposition and derision. Apart from her husband, Anandibai had no emotional ties left in India as her decision to study abroad had turned her relatives and well-wishers away. Rukhmabai came back to Maharashtra but was not welcomed. She accepted a medical position first in Surat and then in Rajkot. She returned to Mumbai only after her retirement. Rashid Jahan was named ‘Angareywali’ and received threats that her nose would be cut off after her stories were published in an explosive Urdu book, Angarey (Embers), 1932. Her father’s school for girls was termed as a house of pleasure.


The similarity of their life experiences ends here.


Rashid Jahan lived a full life surrounded by a circle of friends, associates and admirers. Her parents and siblings supported her wholeheartedly. She was married to a fellow communist, Mahmuduz Zaffar, and her house became a space for shayaris, plays and stories. Faiz Ahmad Faiz found his communist moorings along with Jahan. Ismat Chughtai adored her and declared, “Rashidapa spoke about everything boldly and loudly. I just wanted to imitate her.” 


In contrast, our Maharashtrian Hindu heroines lived lonely lives. Even Pandita Ramabai, a dazzling personality, scholar of Sanskrit, the author of High Caste Hindu Woman, had only one friend left in Mahatma Phule. When she converted to Christianity, her circle of reformists disowned her. She started the Mukti mission and the Sharada Sadan ashram near Pune and lived out her life surrounded by orphaned, destitute girls and young widows. 


Women always pay a severe cost for their choices. Either you live as a ‘good woman’ as society ordains or live a lonely life on the periphery. But not Rashid Jahan. While the conservative Muslim community and Urdu press abhorred her, her family and comrades enveloped her in warmth and humour. The communist value system played a role in this, as did progressive Islam. When I read her biography as also those of other women writers in Urdu, I wondered where the myth of the Muslim woman as victim comes from? Each social group has its archaic orthodox faction and the progressive liberal stream. We choose to focus on one or the other.


‘Why do Muslim girls not marry Hindu boys?’ we are asked repeatedly despite no statistical evidence to prove the claim that Hindu women marrying Muslim men are more in proportion than vice-versa. This is because the debate about Muslim women is currently limited to marriage, divorce — triple talaq — and the hijab/burqa. But surely women ought to have more than marriage and clothes? What about their education, health, mobility? The Sachar Committee report shows us that since 1947, Muslims have sunk lower on all development indices; their employment rates in the formal sector are abysmal and access to education is inadequate. The Ajlaf or lower caste Muslims, who were artisans of once flourishing trades, have sunk lower than Hindu Dalits who, in 1947, were severely destitute and exploited. The rapid communalization of politics and public life has further marginalized and terrorized them. How will Muslim women find the mobility and the courage to make their own choices? 


B.R. Ambedkar tried to bring the Hindu Code Bill that gave property rights to women along with the freedom to divorce. He thought that with these rights women would gain the confidence to choose their life partners and, in time, dismantle the caste system with inter-caste marriages. The Brahmin orthodoxy in the Constituent Assembly blocked the Hindu Code Bill. ‘What will happen to our sons, if we give property to daughters?’ they asked enraged. Ambedkar resigned and converted to Buddhism. Jawaharlal Nehru then got the Hindu Code Bill passed in a piecemeal manner as the Hindu Marriage Act, Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act and so on. Hindu women benefited from these as well as from access to education and employment. Many expanded their choices to not marry at all or have children. 


The orthodoxy still wants to curtail them. Thus the attacks on young women drinking alcohol or wearing Western clothes. Hence the wrath against Hindu women marrying Muslim men — how dare they exercise their choices? Especially since, it is alleged, an equal number of Muslim girls are not coming into the Hindu fold. To me this sounds like the ‘exchange of women’ that India and Pakistan organized in 1950. In the mayhem of the Partition, women were the worst casualty: they were abducted, raped or kept in the homes of their captors. Within a few months, some had married their abductors — as is shown in Amrita Pritam’s Pinjar — and had children. Some had already run away with their lovers. Most were certain that they were now too ‘tarnished’ for their families and would only bring ‘dishonour’. As Ritu Menon and Kamala Bhasin write, in the border camps women who did not want to be ‘recovered’ were dragged away from their children to tally the number of women exchanged.


So who are these victimized Muslim women that the Hindu right-wing wants to save? In 2017, the Muslim women’s networks obtained a historic victory in the triple talaq case in the Supreme Court. It looks like they decided to save themselves. They are now determined to save the Indian democracy. Remember Shaheen Bagh and several other places where we saw Muslim women in leadership position while Muslim men — young and old — played supporting roles. We saw hijab-clad young women turning their bodies into shields to protect their comrades from police batons. As Amir Aziz put it memorably in his poem, “Chulho se bandh di gayi chingariya mashaal ban jati hai, Gulam ke bediyon ki awaze azadi ki jhankar ban jati hai, isharon se inkilab karti hai, Jamia ki Ladkiyan (the sparks tied down to the hearth become torches/ the sounds of chains of the slaves become the echoes of freedom./ They do revolt with their eyes, these girls of Jamia).”

Courtesy - The Telegraph.

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Court review of farm laws welcome (The Economic Times)

Quick takes, analyses and macro-level views on all contemporary economic, financial and political events.


One proposal from the Centre in the course of discussions with the agitating farmers is for the farmers to challenge in the Supreme Court the constitutional propriety of the farm laws. This proposal is welcome. There is little dispute that the validity or otherwise of the policy on farm trade and production underlying the new laws is the government’s business and not the court’s. However, whether the Centre has the right to frame laws on trade in farm produce, given that agriculture is in the State List of subjects, is a question that the Supreme Court is best placed to answer.


The government relies on Entry 33, Clause b of the Concurrent List, to assume the authority to make the laws in dispute. Entry 33 (b) is foodstuffs, including edible oilseeds and oils. A petition before the court challenges introduction, in 1954, of Entry 33 in the Concurrent List, because it infringes on the states’ right to frame laws on, under Entry 14 of the State List, agriculture, and, under Entry 26, trade and commerce within the state. However, Entry 26 is qualified by the phrase, subject to Entry 33 of the Concurrent List. Whether trade in farm produce other than oilseeds, raw cotton, raw jute and cattle fodder, all of which are specifically mentioned in Entry 33, falls in the Concurrent List depends on whether foodstuffs can mean raw produce such as rice and wheat. The Supreme Court is best placed to pronounce on this, and it should be asked to.


There is another matter of constitutional propriety in the farm laws. This pertains to the exclusion of disputes under the laws from the ambit of the courts, intended as they are to be resolved by committees of civil servants. The farmers should take up the Centre’s offer to put these questions before the court while leaving the aspect of policy choice to the government. The Centre has the duty to form policy to end mindless production of unwanted grain. Whether it is best discharged by the new laws, or crop diversification policy should be added, is not for the court to decide.

Courtesy - The Economic Times.

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Norms for competitive capital markets (The Economic Times)

Quick takes, analyses and macro-level views on all contemporary economic, financial and political events.


The Securities and Exchange Board of India’s discussion paper proposing new and liberal ownership rules for stock exchanges, clearing corporations and depositories makes eminent sense. This will bring in greater competition in a sector where profit margins are, at present, liberal. The new rules abandon the fiction that unassociated individuals would suddenly be caught by the urge to form a stock exchange and serendipitously meet and jointly form an exchange in which each holds 5% stake at the most, or 15%, in the case of an institution. It allows resident promoters to hold 100% stake in stock exchanges to begin with, but have to bring the stake down t 51% or 26%, in 10 years.


Allowing new entrants to start with concentrated ownership — just as in private banks and insurance companies — and achieve distributed ownership (like in banks) over time would bring in fresh capital and technology in the sector and give promoters skin in the game It would drive mergers and acquisitions of existing entities and encourage fintechs to enter this space. More competition will lower costs, improve services for investors, foster innovation and help develop different segment. Four companies own and operate America’s 13 exchanges. With fintech players foraying into the space in mature markets, deploying blockchain technology to overhaul the trading processes and supervisory mechanisms, Sebi’s case to encourage these firms to set up market infrastructure institutions (MIIs) in India is valid. And easier entry norms will help.


Most jurisdictions see MIIs as commercial entities that have to be economically viable while in India these first-level regulators are seen as public utilities. Strengthening the governance of MIIs to ensure better supervision and accountability is a must.

Courtesy - The Economic Times.

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Saturday, January 9, 2021

The Point is to Invest and Grow (The Economic Times)

Quick takes, analyses and macro-level views on all contemporary economic, financial and political events.


When the chips are way down, things can only look up. Amidst pandemic-constrained economic activity, in its first advance estimate of national income for 2020-21, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) has pegged GDP growth contraction at 7.7%. Clearly, the way forward is a bold policy-push to proactively shore up the growth momentum.


The way ahead is to fast-forward large infrastructure projects, complete with a robust project governance structure, via a national-level project management agency to aid collaboration between Centre and the states, and for gainful public-private partnerships. Foreign capital can be drawn into infrastructure. Notice that at current prices, gross fixed capital formation (GFCF), or the investment rate, is down to 24.2% of GDP, which is over 10 percentage points lower than that in the high-growth years of 2003-08.


Also, while growth in agriculture is put at a credible 7.3%, at current prices, it does point to supply-constrained price rise. Further, the steep contraction in manufactures, construction and trade, transport, hospitality and allied segments surely calls for sustained fiscal support to purposefully broadbase recovery going forward. We do need to duly step up government expenditure and shore up public investment to boost demand. Targeted fiscal incentives are warranted to kick-start growth. With a well-planned vaccination drive, we can surely better manage the risks at hand.


Along with a massive investment programme, we need to objectively improve procurement processes for bigticket investments in the pipeline, and strengthen contracts management in the bargain. Further, we need to streamline mediation and conciliation systems for large projects, for instance, by designating special courts for prompt resolution of infrastructure disputes. Note that under the Specific Relief (Amendment) Act, 2018, there is a provision for mandating civil courts to settle project disputes, and all states do need to be involved for speedy resolution. Focused policy action would better coagulate funds on the ground. The built future is now.

Courtesy - The Economic Times.

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Optimism unbounded: On signs of an economic recovery (The Hindu)

The first advanced estimates of economic output for the current financial year posit a picture of an economy rebounding robustly in the second half from the pandemic-induced slump of the preceding two quarters. The National Statistical Office on Thursday projected that GDP in the 12 months ending March would total almost ₹134.4-lakh crore in constant prices, reflecting a 7.7% contraction from the preceding year’s figure. To reach that level, the NSO has assumed that output will recover vigorously in the third and fourth quarters. After contracting by almost 16% in the April-September period, it sees GDP being just a mere ₹10,400 crore short of the year-earlier second half’s figure. It is this mathematical projection that is hard to square with the economic reality revealed in both the NSO’s more detailed sectoral output forecasts as well as other emerging trends from ground-level activity. Both the expenditure side and gross value added (GVA) across various industries point to the high degree of optimism implicit in the NSO’s assumptions. Private consumption expenditure — the single biggest component propelling GDP, at well over 50% — is estimated to shrink 9.5% in the full year, after contracting nearly 19% in the first half. This presupposes that consumers have largely shed their wariness to spend in the face of COVID-19 and have begun to set about consuming goods and services at close to pre-pandemic levels, the dampening impact of lost jobs and reduced incomes notwithstanding. GVA data for manufacturing and services, however, seem to belie this postulation.

While the NSO expects manufacturing to shrink 9.4% this fiscal, albeit narrowing from an almost 20% contraction in the first half, it sees the crucial GVA services component of trade, hotels, transport, communication and broadcasting contracting 21.4% (the most among all the GVA constituents) over the 12-month period. Clearly, with the mandated social distancing norms having taken the highest toll on high-risk indoor activities, it is this omnibus services sector which contributes almost a fifth to overall GVA that is bearing the brunt of the pandemic-related restrictions. The forecast for government spending also appears far too upbeat. The NSO sees government final consumption expenditure (GFCE) jumping 17% in the second half, erasing the first-half’s contraction and buoying the annual figure to a growth of 5.8%. The end-November fiscal deficit data show the government lagging well behind its budgeted revenue and capital expenditure targets, and with just four months to go and revenue receipts continuing to underwhelm, it is hard to fathom how the GFCE can increase so appreciably in the second half. True, the NSO has furnished a caveat that its estimates are likely to undergo sharp revisions. The upcoming Economic Survey could move away from these overly optimistic assumptions with a more sober assessment of the economy.
Courtesy - The Hindu.
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Night and day: On sexual assault cases in U.P. (The Hindu)

Unnao. Hathras. And now Budaun. The dirge continues as news of another horrific alleged rape and murder emerged from Uttar Pradesh on Sunday. A 50-year-old anganwadi worker, who visited a temple, was found brutally battered outside her home at a village in Badaun district. After she succumbed to the injuries, a depressingly similar pattern came to light: the police had dithered with both the post mortem and in registering an FIR. The culprits, a priest and his two associates, were arrested by Thursday night, with the State government saying that stern action would be taken. What came as a shocker, however, was the reaction of a senior member of the National Commission for Women who visited the family. Chandramukhi Devi was quoted as saying, “I tell women again and again that they should never go out at odd hours under anyone’s influence… I think if she had not gone out in the evening or was accompanied by any child of the family perhaps this incident could have been avoided.” Such remarks worsen the situation for women who have to battle against skewed societal gender conditioning. When insensitive utterances emanate from a national commission actually meant to uphold women’s rights, it reeks of a primitive mindset wherein lawlessness is overlooked and responsibility pinned, perversely, on the woman for ensuring her own well-being.


All the hard work put in by women in all spheres including science and technology comes undone by such crude statements. The equal rights movement means nothing if women are stopped from going out whenever they want to or need to, day or night. But it is also imperative that with society steeped in gender prejudices, the government, police and family must step up to provide a safe environment. In 2019, the NCRB data show 88 rape cases were recorded every day in India with U.P. reporting the second-highest number at 3,065 cases. But records never tell the whole story for many rapes are not reported due to social stigma. Although after the Nirbhaya incident in 2012, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act laid down the rules for stringent punishment, crimes against women continue, pointing at other issues that should be addressed from patriarchal mindsets to poor policing. For gender parity, more women must join the workforce, but thereby hangs another sorry tale. According to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy data, women accounted for 10.7% of the workforce in 2019-20 and many lost jobs due to the pandemic. By November 2020, the CMIE reported that men recovered most of their lost jobs but not women. It is a matter of shame that even in 2021, women are asked to stay indoors at night instead of reaching for the moon.

Courtesy - The Hindu.

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The post-Covid priority (The Indian Express)

Written by S Mahendra Dev  

India is committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, and social sector development is important in reaching them. Progress in this sector has intrinsic (for its own sake) and instrumental (for higher growth) value. It is needed even to build a $5 trillion economy faster. Inequalities in India have been increasing over time. COVID-19 has further widened them. In this context, focus on social sector spending and efficiency in delivery systems is essential. India has somewhat progressed on bijli, sadak and paani, but it is essential to invest in the social sector. The Union Budget for 2021-22 can give medium-term direction to the social sector by increasing allocations, particularly in health and education and for social safety nets. No country has progressed without investing in the social sector.


India’s progress in the social sector has been much slower compared to its GDP growth. The two primary factors that adversely affect India’s human development are low levels of health attainments and education: India ranks 131 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index.


A look at the social sector expenditure over the last few years (see table) shows that the share of education as a percentage of GDP has been stagnant around 2.8-3 per cent during 2014-15 to 2019-20. In the case of health, the expenditure as a percentage of GDP increased from 1.2 per cent to 1.5 per cent. This is lower than the required 2-3 per cent of GDP. There seems to be an increase in expenditure on “other” services like sports, art and culture, family welfare, water supply and sanitation, labour and labour welfare etc.



The expenditures are inadequate in comparison to the problems in the sector. India’s social sector in general, and health and education in particular, encounter significant regional, social and gender disparities, slow growth in public expenditures and problems in delivery systems.


An increase in health expenditure is also important to take care of the present and future pandemics. Given the constraints, health workers did exceptional work during the pandemic. The experience of COVID-19 has also shown that during pandemics we tend to neglect non-pandemic related patients. Health insurance is an important component of health coverage. But, there is no alternative to universal health coverage including a focus on primary health centres to achieve the goals of the health sector. There are supply side problems regarding the health infrastructure. It is essential to have a huge increase in public expenditure on health and provide accessible, affordable and quality health coverage to all.


Another important issue in the social sector is that of undernutrition. The NFHS-5 report shows that malnutrition level has reduced marginally in a few states and has worsened in some other states, although some other indicators have improved between 2015-16 and 2019-20. We can’t have a society with 35 per cent of our children suffering from malnutrition. Apart from undernutrition, obesity seems to be increasing in both rural and urban areas. Access and affordable diversified food intake is important for reducing both undernutrition and obesity. There is a need to raise allocations for ICDS and other nutrition programmes. The determinants of nutrition are agriculture, health, women’s empowerment, including maternal and child practices, social protection, nutrition education, sanitation and drinking water. The Poshan Abhiyan is a good programme, but has to cover all these determinants with a multi-pronged approach to reduce undernutrition. The cost of ignoring hunger and malnutrition will be high for the country.

 

Similarly, quality education is key for raising human development. The pandemic has enhanced inequalities in education and has revealed the widening digital gap. Equality of opportunity in terms of quality education is the key for raising human development and for reducing inequalities in the labour market. Several committees have recommended that public expenditure on education should be at 6 per cent of GDP.


In the last few years, the government has done well in providing cooking gas (Ujjwala Yojana) and electricity (Saubhagya Yojana), introducing programmes such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and initiatives for housing, financial inclusion and providing loans to the self-employed. These programmes have helped the vulnerable sections, particularly women. Another initiative of the government was to facilitate direct benefit transfers (DBT) for welfare schemes. These initiatives have to be continued.


The COVID-19 period also offers some lessons on safety nets. It is known that migrant workers were the most affected during the pandemic and that they do not have any safety nets. There is a need to have safety nets like an employment guarantee scheme for the urban poor and facilities for migrants. Similarly in rural areas, allocations to MGNREGA have to be increased because of the reverse migration.


The government should give more focus to the social sector with better policies and implementation. It has to work closely with the states in revitalising the social sector as major expenditures particularly on health and education are met by them. The 15th Finance Commission also seems to have mentioned that health expenditure should be increased to 2.1 per cent of GDP. The Commission may also suggest some incentives for states to increase health expenditure. Both Centre and states should have a five-year vision on the social sector with bold measures.


We cannot have a society with slow progress in health and education. India, aspiring to be a global power, should have a harmonious and inclusive social sector development. This is also important for achieving the SDGs, reducing inequalities and building a $5 trillion economy faster. Hopefully, more attention will be given to the social sector in the forthcoming budget. Higher social sector funding with better implementation and outcomes are needed.


 The writer is director and vice-chancellor, IGIDR, Mumbai.


Courtesy - The Indian Express.

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The post-Covid priority (The Indian Express)

Written by S Mahendra Dev  

India is committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, and social sector development is important in reaching them. Progress in this sector has intrinsic (for its own sake) and instrumental (for higher growth) value. It is needed even to build a $5 trillion economy faster. Inequalities in India have been increasing over time. COVID-19 has further widened them. In this context, focus on social sector spending and efficiency in delivery systems is essential. India has somewhat progressed on bijli, sadak and paani, but it is essential to invest in the social sector. The Union Budget for 2021-22 can give medium-term direction to the social sector by increasing allocations, particularly in health and education and for social safety nets. No country has progressed without investing in the social sector.


India’s progress in the social sector has been much slower compared to its GDP growth. The two primary factors that adversely affect India’s human development are low levels of health attainments and education: India ranks 131 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index.


A look at the social sector expenditure over the last few years (see table) shows that the share of education as a percentage of GDP has been stagnant around 2.8-3 per cent during 2014-15 to 2019-20. In the case of health, the expenditure as a percentage of GDP increased from 1.2 per cent to 1.5 per cent. This is lower than the required 2-3 per cent of GDP. There seems to be an increase in expenditure on “other” services like sports, art and culture, family welfare, water supply and sanitation, labour and labour welfare etc.



The expenditures are inadequate in comparison to the problems in the sector. India’s social sector in general, and health and education in particular, encounter significant regional, social and gender disparities, slow growth in public expenditures and problems in delivery systems.


An increase in health expenditure is also important to take care of the present and future pandemics. Given the constraints, health workers did exceptional work during the pandemic. The experience of COVID-19 has also shown that during pandemics we tend to neglect non-pandemic related patients. Health insurance is an important component of health coverage. But, there is no alternative to universal health coverage including a focus on primary health centres to achieve the goals of the health sector. There are supply side problems regarding the health infrastructure. It is essential to have a huge increase in public expenditure on health and provide accessible, affordable and quality health coverage to all.


Another important issue in the social sector is that of undernutrition. The NFHS-5 report shows that malnutrition level has reduced marginally in a few states and has worsened in some other states, although some other indicators have improved between 2015-16 and 2019-20. We can’t have a society with 35 per cent of our children suffering from malnutrition. Apart from undernutrition, obesity seems to be increasing in both rural and urban areas. Access and affordable diversified food intake is important for reducing both undernutrition and obesity. There is a need to raise allocations for ICDS and other nutrition programmes. The determinants of nutrition are agriculture, health, women’s empowerment, including maternal and child practices, social protection, nutrition education, sanitation and drinking water. The Poshan Abhiyan is a good programme, but has to cover all these determinants with a multi-pronged approach to reduce undernutrition. The cost of ignoring hunger and malnutrition will be high for the country.

 

Similarly, quality education is key for raising human development. The pandemic has enhanced inequalities in education and has revealed the widening digital gap. Equality of opportunity in terms of quality education is the key for raising human development and for reducing inequalities in the labour market. Several committees have recommended that public expenditure on education should be at 6 per cent of GDP.


In the last few years, the government has done well in providing cooking gas (Ujjwala Yojana) and electricity (Saubhagya Yojana), introducing programmes such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and initiatives for housing, financial inclusion and providing loans to the self-employed. These programmes have helped the vulnerable sections, particularly women. Another initiative of the government was to facilitate direct benefit transfers (DBT) for welfare schemes. These initiatives have to be continued.


The COVID-19 period also offers some lessons on safety nets. It is known that migrant workers were the most affected during the pandemic and that they do not have any safety nets. There is a need to have safety nets like an employment guarantee scheme for the urban poor and facilities for migrants. Similarly in rural areas, allocations to MGNREGA have to be increased because of the reverse migration.


The government should give more focus to the social sector with better policies and implementation. It has to work closely with the states in revitalising the social sector as major expenditures particularly on health and education are met by them. The 15th Finance Commission also seems to have mentioned that health expenditure should be increased to 2.1 per cent of GDP. The Commission may also suggest some incentives for states to increase health expenditure. Both Centre and states should have a five-year vision on the social sector with bold measures.


We cannot have a society with slow progress in health and education. India, aspiring to be a global power, should have a harmonious and inclusive social sector development. This is also important for achieving the SDGs, reducing inequalities and building a $5 trillion economy faster. Hopefully, more attention will be given to the social sector in the forthcoming budget. Higher social sector funding with better implementation and outcomes are needed.


  The writer is director and vice-chancellor, IGIDR, Mumbai.


Courtesy - The Indian Express.

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For Biden to solve inequality, he’ll need good Wi-Fi (Livemint)

Determining precisely who in the country has internet and who doesn’t would greatly improve upon the scattershot approach employed thus far, but it’s still an unknown


Last year was painful for many. Along with those who lost loved ones to Covid-19, perhaps no one felt that pain more than the essential worker, the low-income single parent, the isolated, the marginalized. Often they were the same person. Whether Black and poor in a densely populated city, or White and secluded in a rural area, large numbers of Americans who were already struggling before the pandemic came under even further strain. Adding to the distress, these people were deprived of a lifeline that allowed many of the rest of us to endure the lockdowns and limitations on our routines without undue difficulty: internet access.  


Compared to health care and running water, internet connectivity may not seem so vital. But the pandemic showed why that thinking is wrong. Quarantined households have relied on laptops and tablets to stay connected to work, school and other humans — as well as file for unemployment, search for and apply to jobs, visit a virtual doctor appointment or schedule a Covid-19 test. Those who can’t connect are at a severe disadvantage. While the lucky ones treat the new year as a milestone — celebrating the end of 2020 through TikTok dances and Instagram memes — the virus and the economic gaps it blew wide open haven’t resolved just because the calendar changed. The story of kids without Wi-Fi doing homework from a Taco Bell parking lot that went viral in August shouldn’t be thought of as a snapshot in time, but rather a constant.


When Joe Biden takes office as president later this month, the four policy areas that he and his White House transition team have said they’ll prioritize are Covid-19, the economic recovery, racial equity and climate change. Tackling these interconnected yet discrete crises depends in part on ensuring that every American has access to high-speed internet. This is achievable, but it will require a high degree of collaboration between the public and private sectors as well as careful planning of resources — both of which are lacking from the US government’s effort now. Biden has the opportunity to change that. 


To begin with, officials actively working to close the so-called digital divide need to be able to answer this most fundamental question: Where is it? Determining precisely who in the country has internet and who doesn’t would greatly improve upon the scattershot approach employed thus far, but it’s still an unknown. Biden has already promised $20 billion for rural broadband infrastructure (and related job creation), and that’s a good thing; however, “rural" ignores half the problem, which is that plenty of urban dwellers don’t have affordable access, either.


The need for more accurate broadband mapping has been a continuing frustration for the industry and its regulators. The Federal Communications Commission estimates that 18 million people in the country don’t have broadband access, and yet almost no one believes that number to be correct. It relies on census-block-level data that by the FCC’s own admission is flawed. Even if just one household in a census block has internet, that counts. And even if an internet provider doesn’t offer service somewhere but says it “could" in the future, that counts, too. BroadbandNow dug into this discrepancy, and after checking service availability for more than 11,000 random addresses, it estimates that 42 million Americans don’t have a way to purchase broadband internet. That’s more than double the FCC’s count.


The cohort that probably has the best sense of the true picture are companies with which the government has a notoriously tenuous relationship: technology giants whose devices and software are ubiquitous. The Justice Department sued Google’s parent Alphabet Inc. last year over antitrust violations, while another lawsuit was brought by dozens of state attorneys general. Likewise, the Federal Trade Commission sued Facebook Inc., alleging that it, too, is an illegal monopoly. House lawmakers have also accused Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc., along with Google and Facebook, of anti-competitive behavior. 


Data from Microsoft Corp. (which hasn’t found itself in the same regulatory crosshairs of late) has provided the most eye-opening look at the digital divide. Rather than access, Microsoft pulled anonymized data from its various consumer services — such as Windows, Office, Bing, MSN news, sports and weather — to study usage. As of November 2019, it found that about 157 million people in the US weren’t using the internet at broadband speeds of 25 megabits per second. That’s roughly half the population. 


Last year, Congress passed the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act, requiring the FCC to collect more granular data to be able to make better funding decisions while calling for a crowdsourcing process that can challenge service providers’ claims. But that’s only the tip of what needs to be done. The urgency of the country’s broadband needs, especially during the pandemic, calls for appointing a czar dedicated to this mission, according Bhaskar Chakravorti, dean of global business at Tufts University’s Fletcher School and founder of its Digital Planet research initiative. 


Blair Levin, who directed the writing of the 2010 National Broadband Plan for the FCC, agrees that someone needs to supervise the effort more directly. “For every problem there has to be someone who goes to bed thinking about the work and feeling like their professional reputation is on the line if good things don’t happen. I don’t know who that person is today," said Levin, who is now policy adviser to New Street Research LLP.


The effectiveness of a digital czar or any such strategy may be helped by this week’s Senate runoff election in Georgia, where Democratic victories flipped the chamber, leaving fewer roadblocks to Biden’s policies. That said, internet access is largely a bipartisan issue, and red states have some of the biggest holes to fill. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico and Texas each had at least seven “internet desert counties" where more than half of residents don’t have broadband and at least 30% of families with school-age children live below the poverty line, according to a July report from BroadbandNow.


Individual states and tech and communications companies have their own projects aimed at getting more Americans online, and all of that helps. But a more collaborative approach utilizing technologies from a variety of industry sources would be better. The costly process of running a fiber-optic cable to every home in the US is an impractical solution, according to Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith. “That’s how you turn a $15 billion problem into an $80 billion problem," he said. Microsoft’s Airband initiative uses television white space, the unused frequencies between channels, to transmit signals that travel far enough to cover spread-out rural communities. Other technologies include low-Earth-orbit satellites, which Amazon and Apple have invested in. Google also has fiber assets.


The political pressure on tech companies gives lawmakers and regulators unique leverage to make a harder push in these directions. While the concerns of tech overreach are legitimate, framed differently, there’s a substantial portion of the country for which those issues are beside the point because they don't have internet. “You’ve got these tech companies under a microscope right now, and each one has the capability to close a significant portion of the broadband gap in the US," Chakravorti said. “Start these conversations now."


This is hardly a thorough list of what the next administration could do better — there’s also the chance to fix the shortcomings of federal subsidy programs such as Lifeline (that’s a story for another day). But ending digital inequity has the potential to be the most meaningful pursuit of the Biden White House, as it would ensure more equal access to education, employment, health care and ultimately, wealth. The process can be patchwork, but it needs to start with honest data showing the areas of biggest need and then not just reaching across the aisle, but across the entire tech landscape.


This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

Courtesy - Livemint.

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