Negatives should not undermine banking strength

 

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It is a fact that all is not well with the Banking Sector – there has been an upsurge in non-performing assets [NPAs]. The asset quality of banks has deteriorated. Public sector banks account for a disproportionate share of this increase – a matter of big concern indeed!
Time is ripe to extend serious thinking on this score on the part of part of the government as well since it has direct and indirect impact on the financial system. With weak financial sector no economy – developed or developing – can forge ahead.
Needless to say there cannot be easy escape route in as much as problems are not created overnight and as such cannot be solved overnight. The human resource rich Indian banking sector undoubtedly has the inherent force to look forward, which, in turn , has to be fully made use of unlike the past where this very factor was not that attended  especially by some of the minnows.
Though It had been the fact that lending to low yielding short term loan and increase in non- performing- advances resulted in falling interest earning on advances, among others, yet the goings as a whole, must be given good marks in as much as a number of banking business indicators were moving north replenishing a number of other areas where a fall had been noticed. In a number of cases – cost to income ratio dropped, net interest margin had changed along with the cost of deposits, cost of funds and return on assets. The various areas where the Bank registered good growth include, among others, number of total branches shot up Business under CBS has been 100 percent, number of employees went up along with higher business per employee and that of profit per employee.
So the challenge is to bolster the health of assets and ensure high-quality ALM [assets-liabilities management].
Forward Looking Potentialities
Not only in India but also the goings in the developing blocks’ banking sector cannot be underrated especially in this age of innovention [innovation plus invention] where the banks from the developing block are fast catching up the global biggies. In fact, technology has virtually changed the entire banking world – big or small. The way technology has been changing – one replacing the other at jet speed – it can easily be forecast that the future is going to be a different one.
Along with the status of emerging market banks, the recently experienced crisis also transformed the role of the state in banking. In Brazil, India and Russia, state-owned banks had seen a sharp improvement in their fortunes, gaining market share / still holding the large share at the expense of private banks.
According to a report by PwC, the E7 banks (7 emerging countries which include the BRIC nations, Indonesia, Turkey and Mexico) will overtake the G7 banks in assets by 2036, which is 10 years ahead of its pre-crisis prediction. ‘Emerging market banks have set new rules in the business of banking, which developed market banks are trying to adjust to, making large investments from their side unlikely in the near future’.
The reality: customer expectations are going up and positive customer-centric support is being extended in the developing zone. Reflecting the reality, global banks are returning to core competencies and at the same time simplifying new products in order to adapt to a new era of customer expectations. Banks in the developing zone are ably competing with developed market banks by winning over local customers by providing greater access to vital financial services de facto!
Further betterment calls for fostering a number of business development activities for which systematic efforts are to be speeded up. The betterment, in turn, hinges upon two vital wings – minimization of cost [interest plus operating] and maximization of income [interest plus non-interest]. The first area is related to external as well as internal factors, while the second area refers to better picture from the segments.
Banks realistic strategic plans could definitely help achieve higher business growth targets. The business growth process in many respects has started moving north and this year the higher business volume could hopefully be achieved.
Range Is Not Clipped
The natural assumption at the macro and micro level was that the MSME units would be the first to be hit by an economic crisis.  Though so far as the MSME sector is concerned all cannot be said to be in good shape, yet the small enterprises coped well with adversity. By all indications the MSME units fared better than large industries in the post-2008 period. Export-oriented units in the garments and machine tools sector, for example, have been able, among others, to adjust to sudden macro-economic changes by focusing on the domestic market.  A recent RBI paper also notes that MSMEs recorded relatively better performance than non- MSMEs during the slowdown period in at least ten sectors.  In fact, they needed a policy support at a time when the global economic crisis seemed to stay.
Specifically, a number of steps which can be actively followed on this score, among others, are:
* Boosting the overall business
* Intensive recovery drive
* Curtailment of comparatively avoidable expenses
* Customer and risk-centric approach
* Full utilization of existing infrastructure
* Boosting staff productivity / skill up gradation through intensification of the Bank’s training system
* Quality lending – emphasis on agri / SME lending – better yield on advances
* Expansion of distribution channel
* And then, not to neglect the HR factor
A number of  related steps that banks can reinforce on this score at this juncture  to restrict the growth of operating expenses while at the same time increasing the net interest income as well as non-interest income may be thought of:
* Increasing low cost deposits [CASA]
* Increasing quality lending in Retail, SME, Agricultural sectors
* Recovery of NPAs through rigorous follow up inclusive of recovery in Written off accounts
* Restricting avoidable expenses
* Increasing non-interest income through LC / LG business as well as para-banking activities.
It is better not forgotten that profitability is one of the prime business evaluation indexes, simultaneously ranked with other vital indicators like: strength and soundness, credit quality, growth and efficiency and betterment of cost-income ratio.  The latter is rightly considered as one of the top sub-criterion in the arena of profitability and thus occupies the central place.
It goes without saying that utmost importance is to be attached to the various aspects related to customers delighting since today’s customers are much more demanding compared to those even a decade back. It is really the high time to develop as well as practice a truly customer friendly relationship management coupled with personal touch at every sphere of banking services so that ultimately customers are retained and thereafter improved customer value stages are subsequently arrived at.
One has to sharpen ones strength so that business growth becomes spontaneous (e.g. retail sector). The size of the balance sheet should be enlarged without compromising on profitability. Calculated move in the arena of fund deployment is to be there while at the same time ensuring increased mobilization of deposits (CASA, NRE and FCNR, among others). Side by side it should not be forgotten that in the risky areas problems galore especially the human risk factor.
A careful drive could further enhance the prestige of India’s banking sector before the entire world. So, drive cautiously, bumps ahead!

 

Published by The Sentinel

Written by Dr B K Mukhopadhyay

http://sentinelassam.com/

Flash floods: Dangerous new normal in Bhutan

 

Bhutan2On the evening of June 26, there were two flash floods in eastern Bhutan. Roads, culverts, bridges, paddy fields were damaged. It hardly made news. Flash floods have become so common during the monsoon in recent years that they hardly make news in this tiny mountainous country in the eastern Himalayas.

In July 2016, Bhutan lost one of the oldest commercial settlements in its southern plains. A long downpour and consequent flooding of the local river wiped out the entire Sarpang town in a matter of hours.

In the past decade, Bhutan has witnessed severe floods with frightening regularity. With the exception of the 2015 flood, which was caused by the collapse of the lake at the snout of the Lemthang glacier, torrential rainfall has caused most of the floods. As the flood waters rush down the steep slopes, they destroy just about everything in their path. Bhutan is in a high rainfall zone. The monsoon has always brought 70 per cent of the country’s annual rainfall between June and September. What is new is the increasing frequency of flooding, caused by more and more cloudbursts, perfectly in keeping with the forecast of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that there will now be fewer rainy days but more intense rainfall on those days.

Add to this the glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF), such as the one that occurred at the Lemthang glacier, and the country’s vulnerability has reached a dangerous and chronic level.

The National Environment Commission’s Bhutan State of Environment Report 2016 warns of increasing rainfall in the southern parts of the country. It also warns about the increased risk of GLOFs. Glaciers are receding at the rate of 30-40 metres per year for those covered with debris and 8-10 metres per year for glaciers free of debris, according to the report.

Statistics from the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) show that between 1980 and 2010, glacial lakes in Bhutan increased by 8.7 per cent, while the glaciers shrank by 22 per cent. The Asian Development Bank says that of the 2,794 glacial lakes in the country, 22 are potentially dangerous in terms of GLOF risk.

“Bhutan will see more water-induced disasters in the future,” says Karma Dupchu, Chief of Hydrology and Water Resource Services Division at the National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology. “Flash floods are our biggest threat.”

Experts say global warming is partly to blame for such heavy rainfall, including cloudbursts that cause massive flash floods. This is because warmer air can hold more moisture, which leads to heavier rainfall.

The fifth assessment report (AR5) of the IPCC published in 2014 forecast that, in the long term, Bhutan will experience a five per cent decrease in rainfall during the dry season, and an 11 per cent increase during the monsoon.

A group of scientists from Bhutan, Sweden, Greece, and the US studied temperature variations in and warned in 2014 that Bhutan faces two important and immediate challenges related to climate change.

“Foremost among these threats are altered precipitation patterns and accelerated glacial melt that together trigger mass-wasting events such as landslides, as well as glacial lake outburst floods, endangering life and cultural heritage. “Second, increasing variability and unpredictability in stream discharge creates challenges for hydropower generation — which threatens the foundation of Bhutan’s economic security,” says their report.

Though over 70 per cent of Bhutan’s area is under forest cover, Chencho Norbu, Secretary of the National Environment Commission, says the other important factor leading to flash floods is the loss of vegetation due to development activities. “This exposes our fragile ecosystem to more hazards,” he says. “That’s why a lot of disasters are human-induced, mainly because of land-use change.”

Experts have found Bhutan ill-prepared to deal with the higher frequency of disasters. In its 2015 country ranking, the Global Adaptation Institute (GAIN) index placed Bhutan at 113th out of 181 countries (with a score of 47.8). The GAIN index further shows that Bhutan ranks 134th (out of 182) in the vulnerability score (higher ranking means less vulnerable) and 91st (out of 185) in the readiness score (again, higher ranking means greater readiness to climate change).

Bhutan’s low readiness score was attributed to the country’s “low financial and investment freedom”.

However, the government is now laying emphasis on developing flood early warning systems along its rivers and building a national network of weather stations. Most weather stations have now been automated to provide near real-time information, and a few prediction models are being tested in selected river basins.

The National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology has a 24/7 monitoring system in place. The Centre’s capacity has vastly improved over the years. Some of its staff have been trained in satellite rainfall estimation methods.

“All this is expected to improve weather forecasting,” says Dupchu, adding that flash flood forecasting could still be very difficult because of several factors, not least the country’s difficult physical terrain.

Flash floods are highly localised, requiring a close network of monitoring stations. In Bhutan, these stations are few and far between. Making things more difficult, most rivers run through deep gorges and ravines, and past events show that flash floods in Bhutan happen mostly in tributaries where a small brook suddenly turns into a thundering monster sweeping huge boulders and other debris downstream. For the 2017 monsoon, the authorities have predicted a good rainfall, mostly as high-intensity short-duration showers. “This kind of rainfall pattern is often responsible for flash floods, but we cannot say for certain if there will be flash floods this monsoon,” says Dupchu. “We will stay alert and try our best to communicate to the public whatever information we can generate.”

 

Published by The Sentinel

Written by Gopilal Acharya

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Fedex rolls on

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When a player has been as masterfully and consistently top of his game as Roger Federer, how does he know when it is time to call it a day? Last tennis season when the Swiss maestro skipped the French Open and later took a six month break from the game to recover from knee surgery, many sportswriters felt the curtains had been quietly rung down on an illustrious career. The last major crown for ‘Fedex’, he of the silky smooth style and swift finishing, had come in 2012 at the Wimbledon Centre Court where he extended his record haul of Grand Slam titles to 17. After that peak, Federer in the next three seasons seemed to have begun moving downhill. From 2013 to 2016, he managed to get into only 3 finals at the Majors, while going out in the semis from another five. As his great rival ‘Rafa’ Nadal too began to misfire while new kids on the block Novak Djokovik and Andy Murray began their own rivalry for the top spot, Federer seemed firmly in his swansong phase. After injuries and embarrassing defeats, the murmurs grew louder why he was hell bent on prolonging the inevitable. The soft spoken genius even began snapping at reporters who hinted he might as well hang up his racquet for good and sit back to contemplate over his great achievements. So this year in January as he began his Australian Open campaign seeded a lowly 17th, there were not many takers ‘Fedex’ would advance far in a tournament he has won 5 times in the past. By the time he was through at Melbourne Park, Federer at the ripe old age of 35, had mauled four top-10 players, slugged it out through three 5-setters, reserved his best for a rip-roaring final against old nemesis Nadal who had earlier beaten him 23 times out of 34 meetings, and clinched Grand Slam title number 18. In his victory speech though, Federer seemed to wonder whether he would be back next year. But judging from his Wimbledon triumph on Sunday, ‘Fedex’ has climbed a pinnacle all his own, not even dropping a set in his favourite tournament. In the Open era, only the great Swede Bjorn Borg has won Wimbledon in as commanding fashion, but then his tally stands at five, albeit consecutive, compared to Federer’s eight crowns at the All England Club.

Unlike Borg who retired at 26 due to burnout, Federer seems to have found his second wind at 36 in an age when the tennis circuit is packed round the year. But he seems to recognise the end would be coming sooner than later. No wonder Federer has been talking lately about staying healthy and playing smart — of striking the right balance between “enough practice, enough matches, enough time off”. He will be cutting down on tennis fixtures for sure, though he has promised to play in the US Open this year and defend his Wimbledon crown next year. But listening intelligently to the body is one thing, staying immune from the delusions of the mind is another. Many a great sportsman have ended up spoiling wonderful career records by forgettable endings. Even Muhammad Ali, ‘The Greatest’ who won the world heavyweight boxing crown three times, should have known better than try coming back yet again against former sparring partner and rising star Larry Holmes. Closer home, many feel Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev put off their retirement a tad late. However, Sunil Gavaskar crossed 10,000 Test runs in his last series and was dismissed just 4 runs short of what would have been a battling century against Pakistan in Bangalore in 1987. But then it was Gavaskar who had once said that one should retire when people ask “Why?” instead of “Why not?” The phenomenal Michael Phelps, who did all that a swimmer can only dream of with 8 swimming golds in 2008 Beijing Olympics, came down to 4 golds in what was touted as his farewell Olympics in London in 2012, and stared at an ignominious exit two years later after suspension by the US Swimming Association for driving under influence of alcohol. But he was not to be denied a fairytale ending in 2016 Rio Olympics with 5 golds to take his overall gold haul to 23, having first successfully convinced his sceptical coach that he wasn’t “training for history, for the medals or for all the fans, but because he now wanted to swim for himself… and enjoy the journey”. On Sunday, Roger Federer said something on similar lines when he told reporters: “I don’t mind the practice. I don’t mind the travel. I always felt like I played my best on the biggest courts.” So with his Grand Slam tally up to 19 now, Federer still has the love for the game and its big stage to keep him going. And how does he guard himself from delusions of yet more glory that may not be forthcoming? This is where his support team comes in handy. They have been instructed to tell him honestly how well they rate his chances of willing majors against the best on a regular basis. And so far, they have given him well considered assessments, that “anything is possible if he remains 100 percent healthy”. Which is why Fedex is teaching the sports world about how to last the distance, to adapt, leverage one’s experience, avoid burnout and enjoy it while its lasts.

 

Published by The Sentinel

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Dealing with ‘Cow’ Cadres

 

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In recent months, those claiming to be the protectors of cows in India, managed to create a secure niche for themselves, regardless of the absence of specific provisions in our Constitution to declare the cow a protected or privileged animal in the country. What many people in India tend to overlook is that despite being a Hindu-majority country, India has chosen not to be a theocratic state like its neighbours, but to be a secular democratic republic. This decision has placed a heavy burden of responsibility on the nation of having to take a stand on all major issues that is free of bias about religious or cultural preferences in matters of food and related spheres of human activity. Over the decades, the Indian ethos has evinced exemplary tolerance in adopting a catholic and liberal approach to cultural or gastronomic differences among different communities. And considering that there are a few Christian-majority States in the Northeast, over the years there has been the desired tolerance even about the consumption of beef among certain communities. Lately, this tolerance over dietary preferences had been threatened and a few deaths had resulted from the kind of intolerance that erupted. There was, for a time, an impression that such intolerance about dietary preferences had the tacit support of the BJP. The impression managed to gain ground because of the Prime Minister’s silence on such issues. People who had such impressions have now been reassured by the Prime Minister’s recent call for “stringent action” against cow vigilantes. “All political parties should collectively denounce hooliganism in the name of cow protection. The State governments should take stringent action against such anti-social elements,” the Prime Minister said in a recent series of tweets.

 

Published by The Sentinel

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For that clean drop…

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Now that the current wave of floods is letting up somewhat, the problem of clean drinking water for people in flood-devastated areas and relief camps is coming to the fore. With wells and handpumps not safe to be used at present, it is hardly surprising that lakhs of people are thirsting for that clean drop. In a State visited by this annual curse, the powers-be in Dispur are yet to formulate effective action plans to supply safe drinking water during natural calamities. In most relief camps, inmates are clamouring for water along with food rations. While tubewells are being sunk in such camps and water tankers sent, there are complaints that camps in remote areas are not being properly served. So where will their inmates access drinking water in this hot season, apart from other people sheltering in high areas? The dangers of drinking raw, untreated rivers from swollen rivers and ponds with thousands of rotting carcasses of drowned animals — is too well known to bear repetition. Water-borne diseases like cholera and gastroenteritis can be better prevented only if people get to avoid drinking contaminated water in the first place. But supply of safe drinking water has been reduced to such a sick joke by successive governments in Assam, that leave alone often flood-hit rural areas, the situation is alarming even in large parts of capital city Guwahati in other times of the year. This has come out in a research conducted under Assam Engineering College that made media headlines recently. The study found very high levels of untreated or less treated arsenic and lead in the drinking water supplied by six water treatment plants in Guwahati — 3 plants of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) in Panbazar, Satpukhuri and Kamakhya, 2 plants of Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) in Panbazar and Jalukbari and one plant of Assam Urban Water Supply and Sewerage Board in Zoo Road area. Water samples of untreated and treated wastewater-laden Brahmaputra were analysed for contaminants like arsenic, fluoride, chloride, lead, iron and other chemical parameters, apart from harmful bacteria and turbidity. All the six plants fared poorly in terms of arsenic, chloride and sulphate removal, while showing mixed results in case of other contaminants.
Clearly, water purification even in core areas of Guwahati city leaves much to be desired. This is a serious shortcoming, even as the city awaits the four much delayed water supply projects funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Asian Development Fund (ADB). The water from Brahmaputra will have to be effectively treated first, before it is piped to households. If this is the scene in the capital city, the situation can be imagined in places far off from Dispur. The thrust of PHED schemes in other parts of the State is to access groundwater through hand-pumps and ring wells, but what about districts known to have high arsenic levels in groundwater like Jorhat, Bagsa, Nalbari and Barpeta, or high fluoride contamination like Dhubri, Udalguri and Nalbari? The PHED claims 6,191 out of its 8,009 drinking water supply schemes across the State are ‘fully functional’, but the ground reality does not support this tall claim. Over the decades, thousands of crores of Central funds have been given to this department; its contractors are supposed to have laid a dense network of water pipes criss-crossing the State and installed large numbers of water treatment plants. But less than 10 percent people of the State, and of Guwahati less than 30 percent of its denizens, have benefited of these schemes. Under the 15-year Congress rule in this State, the Public Health Engineering Department was a cesspool of corruption, a miserable non-performer. By all accounts, the incoming BJP-led coalition government is having a hard time getting this department do some meaningful work for a change. Reportedly, PHED could submit to the Centre a proposal for 1,438 habitations only last month, even as it has begun work on 500 habitations since last year. But this is one department that needs to pull up its socks fast, particularly during natural calamities like floods. It is learnt that around one-third of its costly mobile water purification plants are in various states of disrepair or outright defunct. Because of this tardiness, flood-ravaged Lakhimpur district has had to bear the brunt this time, as replacements could not be rushed there fast to provide drinking water to flood-hit residents. It is high time the State government makes an inventory of such costly equipment lying uselessly in PHED store, root out anomalies and hold those responsible to account.

 

Published by The Sentinel

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Long-drawn repair makes travel on VIP Road hellish!

 

30regroadThe VIP Road connecting Six Mile and Narengi via Chachal, Barbari, Bortilla and Pathar Quarry has long been accident prone for the past four months. A road repair work that should take not more than 15 days is taking around four months now. And nobody knows when the work will be over.

Repair of the road is going on at many stretches. And the repair has been left incomplete at most of the stretches, as though to make those who use the road suffer. A long stretch of the road from Bortilla to near Pathar Quarry has been long been unused. Simply this stretch of the road is not fit for vehicular traffic. The digging of the drains in one side of the road was going on till a few weeks back. Now though no digging activities go on in that stretch, water has got accumulated there as the stretch is low-lying. The monsoon rains add to the woes.

The repair of that stretch of the road, according to the PWD, cannot be completed due to paucity of stone chips and sand. Though the PWD says that the repair of the stretch of the road will be over in two months, the assurance cannot be taken at its face value. For the department can complete the work subject to the availability of stone chips and sand. The moot question is: will the construction material be available soon so as to let the department complete the work in two months?

Talking to this reporter, a contractor who does not want his name to be disclosed said: “We need to buy stone at Rs 10 which we bought at Rs 2 earlier. We’re at the receiving end in the blame game between the PWD and the Forest Department. Since there are rains, digging takes much of the time. When we block the drain for digging the water accumulates and overflows to the other side of the road. We’ve to spend much of the time by pumping out the water that gets accumulated.”

The road has been made one-way at that very stretch. However, movement of vehicles on the one-way is far from being smooth as there is a big crater at Bortilla. This stretch experiences the plying heavy trucks on it every day. The situation of the road gets worse in every passing day.

On the scarcity of stone chips, the contractor said: “We’ve procured stones in advance, fearing scarcity. If stone chips are not made available even in two months hence, we can continue our work with the stock we’ve.”

Published by The Sentinel

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Confronting the challenge of mounting waste

 

india-swachh-abhiyan-_810502527Mini-mountains of accumulated untreated urban waste are common sights in most big and medium cities and towns in the country. Waste dumps greet visitors to any city, reflecting the rapidly rising prosperity in each bit of trash at the waste dump. With cities having literally failed to develop effective ways to dispose of their waste, the resulting mountains of waste in almost all cities have become a serious health hazard.

The Government of India is seized of this exacerbating problem, more so having embarked on the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) and the Smarts Cities Mission (SCM) to turn things around by driving growth to improve the quality of life through area-based development and city-level smart solutions. In developing Three-Year Action Agenda (2017-18 to 2019-20), the Niti Aayog has drawn a broader framework for addressing the issue of municipal solid waste (MSW).

To align the development strategy with the changing reality, the Niti Aayog has been tasked with developing tools and approaches for impacting policy change within the three year period. It will back up its Three Year Agenda with Seven Year Strategy and Fifteen Year Vision for taking the agenda to its logical conclusion. Given the enormity of the situation, the Agenda has recognized the need for speeding up action on managing municipal solid waste.

It is a timely assertion by the Niti Aayog to develop a time-bound agenda, given the fact that 377 million inhabitants (Census 2011) residing in 7,935 urban centers generate 1,70,000 tons of solid waste per day. Left unresolved, the nature and magnitude of urban waste will be insurmountable by 2030 when the cities will burst at its seams with 590 million inhabitants. The social and economic reality calls for quick-fix technological solution and NITI Aayog’s Agenda seeks to address the issue. The solution being suggested by the Action Agenda is twin-fold: waste-to-energy incinerators for bigger municipalities and composting method of waste disposal for small towns and semi-urban areas. It further suggests establishing a new Waste to Energy Corporation of India (WECI), akin to the National Highway Authority Of India (NHAI), ‘to speed up the process of cleaning up municipal solid waste’ by developing public-private partnerships to build the plants.

Once established, the proposed corporation would play a key role in fast-tracking waste to energy incineration plants across 100 smart cities by 2019. The Sub-Group of Chief Ministers on Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has already recommended setting up of such plants in its Aug 2015 report. This hi-tech solution finds widespread favor as these plants, while reducing the volume of waste, will generate 330 megawatts of electricity by 2018 and 511 megawatts by 2019.

While proposing incineration as a solution, the Niti Aayog has also assessed the benefit-cost ratio of thermal pyrolysis and plasma gasification technologies. Both of these are costly options. It must be noted that the proposed Niti Aayog Action Agenda is suggestive in nature, and much will depend on how the States respond to it. But given the fact that the incinerator option was proposed by the Chief Ministers, the proposal is likely to find favour with most states.

There are, however, mixed reports on existing waste to energy plants operating in the country on technical and environmental grounds. At the core of the problem is the nature of urban waste in the country, it contain a mix of materials that is unsuitable for efficient incineration. Since 80 per cent of urban waste consists of organic materials such as damp food scraps, the existing plants have found it difficult in meeting prescribed air quality standards.

However, existing waste disposal methods are no better. City municipalities spend between Rs 500-Rs 1500 per ton on waste management. Since 60-70 per cent is spent on waste collection and remaining 20-30 per cent on transporting collected waste to the landfill sites, there is almost nothing that gets spent on treatment and disposal. And to top it all, setting aside shrinking urban spaces for unhealthy dump sites remains a formidable challenge.

The Action Agenda has highlighted the constraints of space in discounting the option of large-scale composting and biogas generation from waste. In reality, however, composting is currently being inefficiently tried at several dumping sites. The government may now consider re-examining the feasibility of composting as an option and converge it with National Skill India Development mission to generate alternate sources of employment for uneducated youth.

These are still early days to arrive at a consensus. However, it is clear that there cannot be one-size-fits-all for diverse socio-economic realities in the country. But the Government must be credited for initiating timely discussions on a pressing social and environmental problem. With Swachh Bharat Abhiyan being the leitmotif to make the country clean and green, the proposed Action Agenda, containing among others a prescription for Waste Management, by the Niti Aayog is a step in the right direction.

 

Published by The Sentinel

Written by Sudhirendar Sharma

http://sentinelassam.com/

PGCIL begins ‘Power for All’ scheme in NE

 

feThe Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL) has started executing an ambitious project to ensure “Power for All” in the Northeastern States, including Sikkim, at an estimated cost of over Rs 8,300 crore.

To be completed in the next three to five years, the project will see major improvement and strengthening of the intra State transmission and distribution system in all the NE States. Barring Arunachal Pradesh, the scheme will be implemented with assistance from the World Bank and the Union Ministry of Power. In Arunachal Pradesh, the Centre will exclusively sponsor the project.

Sources told The Sentinel that considering the weak intra-State transmission and distribution system in the NE States, the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) has developed a comprehensive scheme for the region in consultation with PGCIL and State governments concerned. The project will be implemented by PGCIL in association with the States. After commissioning, the project will be owned and maintained by the respective State governments.

At present, the NE States are connected to transmission network at 132 KV and below. The 33-KV system is the backbone of power distribution system in the region. Sources said in order to reduce the gap between requirement and availability of the intra-State transmission and distribution system, it is necessary to provide 132 KV/220 KV connectivity to all the States of the region for proper voltage management and lower distribution losses.

Similarly, the distribution system in the States, which mainly relies on 33-KV network, will be strengthened substantially under the ambitious scheme, sources said. Under the scheme, all existing power lines will be modernised and upgraded. Several new power sub-stations will be set up across the States, including three in Guwahati.

Sources said successful implementation of the project will create a reliable State power grid and improve its connectivity to the upcoming load centres, and thus extend the benefits of the grid connected power to all the consumers.

The project will also provide the required grid connectivity to such villages and towns of the States where development of distribution system at the downstream level has been taking place under various Centrally-sponsored schemes.

This project is a major step towards meeting the national objective of “Power to All” through enhancement in access of consumers to grid connected power supply through improving its availability and reliability, thereby facilitating inclusive growth, the sources said, adding that the States of the region are currently receiving 25% less electricity due to transmission and distribution losses.

 

Published by The Sentinel

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Highly fraught with risk!

 

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He that cannot obey cannot command! The ferry service between North and South banks in Guwahati is in for such a situation. If the sailors do not obey the safety norms meant for them, how can they make passengers obey the rules?

The situation is very close to the danger level on Monday. The water level of the Brahmaputra is rising fast, about to cross the danger level tonight. It read 49.15 metres at 4 pm in Guwahati on Monday. The danger level is 49.68 metres. However, the situation is fraught with risk as safety rules are not being followed. Though it is not clear as to who is to be blamed for the non-adherence to rules, it is certain that in the event of any vessel or boat mishap, passengers and crew members will be at the receiving end. That may stir up the hornets’ nest – one passing the buck on the other.

There are a lot of rules that have to be obeyed so as to make water transport safe. Such rules are very important for water transport in a river like the Brahmaputra whose masculine current leaves little chance for survival in the event of boat and vessel mishaps. What is seen now in the ferry service makes one get goosebumps. The passengers are supposed to sit on seats meant for them under the roof. According to safety norms, under no circumstances they should be allowed to travel by standing on the roof. However, in case of the State Water Transport Department such rules are bright only in the rule book, not for their application on the ground. As if these are a set of ‘ground rules’ not meant to be applied ‘on the ground’. Stretching rules, bending rules and dumping rules are very common in Assam.

However, it is yet to be ascertained as to who are responsible for this utter non-adherence to rules in ferry service – the department concerned or the passengers themselves. Be that as it may, it is certainly a major failure on the part of the department to adhere to safely norms.

Not following rules looks like a fashion these days for a section of passengers. When asked on their sitting atop the roof instead of sitting on seats meant for them, one of the passengers, said: “We feel more secure to stand on the rooftop of the boat than sitting on seats arranged under it. Standing here, we can at least try to save ourselves by swimming or otherwise. If we sit on the seats under it, we may drown along with the boat, and may not come out.”

Strangely enough, none of the passengers was seen wearing life-jacket – which is a must for every passenger. Should one blame the passengers, the crew members or the department for this?

The State Inland Water Transport Department has only 13 vessels with it in the five main parghats in the city. However, there are around 45 private motorboats ferrying passengers between North and South banks in Guwahati.

An official source said: “People have to be conscious. There was a time when a number of boats, licensed or otherwise, were allowed to ferry passengers. Gone are those days. License and insurance are strictly checked nowadays. Equipment like lifejackets, lifebuoys, etc., are mandatory for every vessel or motorboat. We work in accordance with the means given by the department. If we’re to catch a motorboat ferrying passengers without following safety norms, we need to have a vessel that runs faster than the motorboat. We did take the service of river police also to check the menace, but to no avail. If the police can’t control the violation of traffic rules on roads, how come one expects us to control the erring sailors in water? One needs to look at things from such angles as well. Keeping a watch on the rising water level of the river, the ferry service may be banned tomorrow. Meanwhile, the Guwahati-Kuruwa ferry service has been banned.”

Published by The Sentinel

http://sentinelassam.com/

Dalits who converted to Buddhism better off

 

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There are more than 8.4 million Buddhists in India and 87% of them are converts from other religions, mostly Dalits who changed religion to escape Hindu caste oppression. The remaining 13% of Buddhists belong to traditional communities of the northeast and northern Himalayan regions.

Today, these converts to Buddhism, also called neo-Buddhists, enjoy better literacy rates, greater work participation and sex ratio than Scheduled Caste Hindus, the group from which most converts emerge, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of 2011 Census data.

Given that converts make for 87% of the Buddhist population in India and most of them are Dalits, our analysis goes with the assumption that the benefits of growth in the community accrue mostly to the Dalits.

Buddhists have a literacy rate of 81.29%, higher than the national average of 72.98%, according to Census data. The literacy rate among Hindus is 73.27% while Scheduled Castes have a lower literacy rate of 66.07%.

“Most Dalits at the senior levels of administration are Buddhists,” said Satpal Tanwar, a leader of Bhim Army, the activist organisation accused of the Saharanpur violence of May 5, 2017, and now mulling mass conversion of Dalits to Buddhism. “This is because Buddhism lends them self-confidence as compared to the caste system which tends to rationalise their low social status through vague concepts like bad karma.”

It is only in the traditional communities of the northeast, especially in Mizoram (48.11%) and Arunachal Pradesh (57.89%), that Buddhists have a lower literacy rate than the population average.

On the other hand, Chhattisgarh (87.34%), Maharashtra (83.17%) and Jharkhand (80.41%) have the most number of literate Buddhists. The conversion movement has been the strongest in Maharashtra, followed by Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Uttar Pradesh.

Maharashtra’s story is unique because it has the highest proportion (5.81% or over 6.5 million) of Buddhists in its population. It was the home state of BR Ambedkar’s where he, along with 600,000 followers, switched to Buddhism in 1956. This form of protest against casteism continues to this day though the growth rate of such conversions is declining.

In Uttar Pradesh, 68.59% Buddhists are literate, higher than total population average (67.68%) and nearly eight percentage points higher than the figure for other Scheduled Castes (60.88%).

Female literacy among Buddhists in India is also considerably higher (74.04%) than the total population average (64.63%), data shows. Among neo-Buddhist states, only Uttar Pradesh (57.07%) and Karnataka (64.21%) show female literacy rates lower than total population averages, but these are still considerably higher than Scheduled Castes in these two states.

In 2011, the sex ratio among Buddhists was 965 females per 1,000 males as compared to 945 for total Scheduled Castes. The national average sex ratio was 943. Buddhists also tend to have fewer children.

The Census 2011 data shows that there are 11.62% children in 0-6 year age group among Buddhists compared to 13.59% national average. This means, for every hundred population, Buddhists have two children less than the average.

But can it be said that neo-Buddhists are more inclined towards education than Dalits? Or is there a greater possibility that Dalits turn to Buddhism after attaining education?

Around 43% of Buddhists stay in urban areas as compared to total population average of 31%, which also increases their chances of being educated. But the reality is not as simple.

Around 80% Buddhists are from Maharashtra, which has better literacy and urban ratio than the national average. Within Maharashtra, the literacy rate, urbanisation levels and child ratio among Buddhists is slightly better than for other groups.

The development among Maharashtrian Buddhists can be attributed to Ambedkar’s call for education and certain social conditions.

Ambedkar was from the Mahar community which had little agricultural land and no fixed traditional occupation in a village society. They often stayed on the periphery of their villages and acted as watchmen, messengers, wall menders, adjudicators of boundary disputes, street sweepers and so on.

This flexibility of profession ensured that Mahars were more mobile than others. Many of them, including Ambedkar’s father, joined the British Army. Even before Ambedkar embraced Buddhism, he asked Dalits to take to education.

“Lack of farm land or traditional occupation made it easy for Mahars to take to education as the means for gainful employment,” said Nitin Tagade, assistant professor, Savitribai Phule Pune University, who has studied the economic condition of Maharashtra’s neo-Buddhists. “So, they had a head start as compared to other communities in attaining education and moving to cities.”

Around 47.76% Buddhists stay in cities compared to the Maharashtra state average of 45.22%, according to Census 2011. Among those in rural Maharashtra, most working Buddhists continue to be agricultural labourers (67%), which is much higher than the rural population average of 41.50%.

Their improved social status through education has helped neo-Buddhists contribute more to the national economy than the Scheduled Castes. Their work participation ratio (43.15%) is higher than that of total Scheduled Castes (40.87%) and higher also than the national average (39.79%).

Published by The sentinel

Written by Manu Moudgil

http://sentinelassam.com/