Electricity for All

 

power-grid-lInitiatives for electrifying all villages of Assam suffered a low priority for decades. After all, even at the best of times, Assam generated no more than 514 MW of power. Today the State generates about 290 MW even though the population of the State has increased greatly over the last half-a-century. On 15 August 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did well to set a target of electrifying all unelectrified villages in the country within 1,000 days, i.e., by 15 May 2018. On the day of the Prime Minister’s announcement, there were 2,892 unelectrified villages in Assam. Now, with about seven months remaining to the deadline, there has been a significant reduction in the number of villages without electricity. According to official data, there are only 330 of them and 24.13 lakh unelectrified rural households in the State. With about 200 days or one-fifth of the time remaining, Assam has managed to reduce the number of unelectrified villages by 2,562. As many as 2,160 villages in Assam were electrified in the last two fiscal years (2015-16 and 2016-17). But till 30 September of 2017-18, only 277 villages have been electrified. It often becomes difficult to accept some of the figures provided in official statements due to the symmetry and rounded figures.  Even so, many of the smaller States of the Northeast have managed to do much better than Assam. Nagaland now has only four unelectrified villages with 88,000 unelectrified rural households. [Are there 88,000 households in just four villages?] Mizoram has just 11 unelectrified villages with 11,000 unelectrified rural households. Manipur has 60 unelectrified villages with 1.07 lakh unelectrified rural households. Sikkim has no unelectrified village, but even so there are 5,000 unelectrified rural households. Likewise, Tripura has no unelectrified village, but the number of unelectrified rural households is much larger—2.16 lakh. How is one expected to reconcile the number of unelectrified households with the number of unelectrified villages?

 

Published by The Sentinel

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Agri-Marketing: Plugging the Gaps

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It is better not forgotten that agricultural trade can offer opportunities for the poor, but there are major distributional impacts among countries and within countries that in many cases have not been favorable for small-scale farmers and rural livelihoods. The poorest developing countries are net losers under most trade liberalization scenarios.
It remains a matter of deep regret that in spite of latent potentialities, the developing world cannot make much headway. Ignorance about the main tenants of international marketing, faulty planning and poor implementation of the same, among others, did not allow economies like India to make the desired foray into the vast international markets. The sincerity on the part of the Governments is not questioned on this score in as much as, for example; India’s latest Foreign Trade Policy had some newness indeed. But that what is lacking is absence of a proper regional development plan which could enable the implementation agencies to move systematically.
As things stand now, in the overall sense the reality also is not good to note — a prominent feature of agricultural commodity exports in many developing countries is that relatively few commodities account for a large share of total export earnings. Often they depend, rather continue to depend, on a small number of agricultural commodities for their merchandise export revenues. The sluggish demand for primary agricultural commodities and the recurring conditions of boom and slump in their exports have created problems for commodity-dependent economies. Unstable commodity prices and export earnings are well known to make development planning more difficult and to generate adverse short-term effects on income, investment and employment.
What is more, with slow demand conditions, countries specializing in production of primary commodities can be expected to have a declining share in world trade unless they have a major cost or quality advantage over competitors.
Integrated Scheme for Agricultural Marketing aims to (i) promote agri-marketing through creation of marketing and agribusiness infrastructure including storage, (ii)incentivize agri-market reforms, (iii) provide market linkages to farmers, (iv) provide access to agri-market information and (v) support quality certification of agriculture commodities.
Definitely, fears are not unfounded. Many developing countries complain that their exports still face high tariffs and other barriers in developed countries’ markets and that their attempts to develop processing industries are hampered by tariff escalation (higher import duties on processed products compared to raw materials). They want to see substantial cuts in these barriers.
Side by side, some smaller developing countries have expressed concerns about import barriers in developed countries falling too fast. They say they depend on a few basic commodities that currently need preferential treatment (such as duty-free trade) in order to preserve the value of their access to richer countries’ markets. If normal tariffs fall too fast, their preferential treatment is eroded, they say. Some developing countries see this situation as almost permanent. Others view it as a transition, and are calling for binding commitments on technical and financial assistance to help them adjust, including the creation of a technical assistance fund for the purpose.
A number of countries view that WTO [World Trade Organization — the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations — at its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their parliaments, where the very goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business] should see that arrangements should be more flexible so that developing countries can support and protect their agricultural and rural development and ensure the livelihoods of their large agrarian populations whose farming is quite different from the scale and methods in developing countries. They argue, for example, that subsidies and protection are needed to ensure food security, to support small scale farming, to make up for a lack of capital, or to prevent the rural poor from migrating into already over-congested cities.
At the same time it may be noted that a number of developing countries that depend on imports for their food supply are also concerned about possible rises in world food prices as a result of reductions in richer countries’ subsidies. Although they accepted that higher prices can benefit farmers and increase domestic production, they feel that their concerns about food imports need to be addressed more effectively.
Some developing countries make a clear distinction between their needs and what they consider to be the desire of much richer countries to spend large amounts subsidizing agriculture at the expense of poorer countries. Whatever is: it is clear that subsidy cannot be a lasting solution; at best it can give short term benefits. Once it is stopped there would be hue and cry because the recipients were attuned to that and old habits die hard! So why not to restrict the same at the initial stages only?
The United Nation’s MDG Gap Task Force Report expresses concern about the harmful effects on MDGs of the continued high level of trade-distorting subsidies by OECD countries. Even when subsidies are targeted at locally consumed products, they still represent a barrier to trade and thus limit access for developing country exports. By boosting production in developed countries, subsidies crowd out developing country production and lower commodity prices below their market rate. Furthermore, subsidized agricultural imports from developed countries compete unfairly with local producers. They can therefore contribute to undermining the productive capacities of poor countries, deterring investments in their agricultural sectors. Many of the above factors potentially aggravate food security problems.
The UN recognised that though EU has made progress on subsidies and tariffs affecting poor countries. However, in many areas, market access remains insufficient. Much remains to be done to remove remaining distortions, whilst EU rules and regulations are frequently too complex for producers in developing countries to navigate.
Simultaneously, efforts made to reduce tariffs in order to open doors to imports from developing countries should not be jeopardized by putting in place new non-tariff barriers. For example, stringent standards not fully justified by health and safety concerns should be reviewed since they are often too costly for small farmers from the poorest developing countries to apply and therefore de facto shut them out of European markets.
Of late, however, the silver lining is that WTO statistics, on the other hand, confirms that developing countries as a whole have seen a significant increase in agricultural exports. Agricultural trade rose globally and out of this, developing countries’ share of world agricultural exports increased.
It is also a fact that in case of some individual developing countries agricultural trade balance deteriorated — their imports have risen faster than their exports. It is positive to mention here that the WTO Committee on Agriculture also regularly reviews actions within the framework of the decision, in such areas as technical and financial assistance provided by industrialized countries to least-developed and net-food importing countries to assist in improving their agricultural productivity and infrastructure
Is it not a well known fact that global hunger is not the result of insufficient food supplies but of their uneven distribution across the globe — 1.02 billion people are going hungry entirely unnecessarily?  Still 70 percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas: a healthy agricultural sector is of paramount importance to their sustainable development and food security and to reducing global poverty.

 

Published by The Sentinel

Written by Dr B K Mukhopadhyay

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Shielding the corrupt babu

 

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The Vasundhara Raje-led Rajasthan government has come out with an ordinance that would warm the cockles of a corrupt babu’s heart and make his counterparts in other States go green with envy. It prevents the courts from taking up private complaints against both serving and former judges, magistrates and public servants in Rajasthan from being investigated for on-duty action, without the government’s prior sanction. No public servant during service tenure is liable for questioning for any decision or action in the course of duty (except under the relevant section of criminal procedure code), no FIR can be lodged against him, no magistrate can order a probe against him, nor can anyone move the court against him. So unless the mai-baap sarkar permits, an aggrieved citizen can get no redress against a babu guilty of a fault, acts high-handed, abuses his authority or demands a bribe outright! The ordinance also seeks to bar the media from reporting on accusations till official sanction is forthcoming (within 180 days). Until that green signal comes from the authorities, the media can neither name the babu, nor publicise his photograph or details like his official designation or address. Any violation will invite up to two years in jail. According to Rajasthan Home Minister Gulabchand Kataria, the ordinance is necessary “to save the honest officer”. He argues that honest officials are “afraid to work, apprehending that someone would deliberately make a false complaint by trapping them”. Surely this is an extreme instance of a government going to ridiculous lengths to shield officials who are incompetent, shirk work or are outright corrupt. But the same mindset operates in many other State governments too, including in Assam — what with ministries and departments stonewalling RTI queries endlessly and withholding sanction to prosecute officials accused of graft.

 

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No Law on Refugees

 

story_cover_image1455867395What comes as a major surprise to most people is that our country does not have any legislation on refugees and that it is also not a signatory to the United Nations 1951 Convention on Refugees and the 1967 Protocol on Refugees. This information was furnished by the Deputy Secretary, Home (Foreigners’ Branch) Ravi Chunder on September 13, 2017, in reply to an RTI petition filed by the Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha working president Matiur Rahman. This information is both intriguing and frightening, largely because of the enthusiasm with which India has been accepting refugees from several neighbouring countries over the years. Even today, India has been responding positively to all requests to accept refugees from other countries. Many of the Rohingiya refugees from Myanmar have come well prepared with documents that would make it impossible for India to turn down their request for refugee status. This willingness to accept refugees from neighbouring countries blindly militates against the wishes of the people. But the government seems totally insensitive to the people’s wishes. It has, therefore, become imperative for a hopelessly charitable country like India to have rigid legislation on refugees so that the gratuitous generosity about accepting refugees does run counter to the interests of Indian citizens. The government seems to keep forgetting that India is an overcrowded country with one of the highest population densities.

 

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Chartering roadmap towards sustainable tourism

 

Visa-MWCThe arrival of foreign tourists into the country has increased from 6.8 percent in 2016 to 16.5 percent in January 2017. Similarly the domestic tourist arrivals in 2017 increased to the massive 15.5 percent over 2015. Obviously, these rising tourist arrivals of both domestic and foreign tourist indicate the success of the tourism policies implemented by NDA government since 2014.
The major factor for increase in arrival of foreign tourist is the policy of introduction of online visa facility that has been extended to more than 180 countries. The reforms of extending e-visa facility for medical and business travelers, and increasing the time period of stay form 30 to 60 days has attracted foreign tourists who are keen to visit India.
The launching of e-ticketing of historical monuments like Taj Mahal, introduction of dedicated tourist trains across India and 24×7 tourist helpline has had positive impact on the arrivals of tourists from foreign countries.
In the period from 2015 to 2017 the foreign exchange earnings from tourism has shown an increase of 13 per cent from 12,000 crores to Rs 13,669 crores.
Tourism sector has enormous potential to grow and contribute towards the higher GDP. It provides employment to 39.5 million people working in hospitality industry. Realizing this potential, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitely in his budget speech of year 2017-18, proposed to set up five Special Tourism Zones, anchored on SPVs in partnership with the States. The Finance Minister underlined the fact that tourism is a big employment generator and has a multiplier impact on the economy. The Minister also announced the launching of Incredible India 2.0 campaign across the world during the year.
The Prime Minister has also made earnest attempt to broadcast the diversity of India through social media and showcasing them to the world. He has also spoken about the cultural diversity and spiritual affinity to tap the potential of country’s spiritual legacy. The Prime Minister has approved liberalizing of this sector permitting 100 percent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in hospitality industry to create basic infrastructure across the country.
Travel and tourism is one of the key sectors that receive special support from the Central government. The government of India launched several schemes to attract tourists. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is the fulcrum under which the tourist destinations are kept clean, like renovation of river ghats in piligrim cities like Varanasi. The slogan of ‘Swachh Bharat Swachh Smarak” given by the Prime Minister indicates the need to keep the heritage sites clean.
Adarsh Smarak in an innovative scheme launched by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to promote basic tourist facilities in well-known historical sites.
Swadesh Darshan is an important scheme of the Ministry of Tourism. The scheme is based on the vision to develop theme-based tourist circuits on the principles of high tourist value, competitiveness and sustainability by synergizing efforts to focus on needs and concerns of all stakeholders. Under the scheme, 13 thematic circuits have been identified across the country for development.
Under PRASAD Scheme, 25 sites of religious significance have been identified for development in India namely Amravati (Andhra Pradesh), Amritsar (Punjab), Ajmer (Rajasthan), Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh), Badrinath (Uttarakhand), Dwarka (Gujarat), Deogarh  (Jharkhand), Belur (West Bengal), Gaya (Bihar), Guruvayoor (Kerala), Hazratbal (Jammu & Kashmir), Kamakhya (Assam), Kanchipuram (Tamil Nadu), Katra (jammu & Kashmir), Kedarnath (Uttarakhand), Mathura (Uttar Pradesh), Patna (Bihar), Puri (Odisha), Srisailam (Andhra Pradesh), Somnathh (Gujarat), Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh), Trimbakeshwar (Maharashtra), Omkareshwar (Madhya Pradesh), Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) and Vellankani (Tamil Nadu).
Sustainable tourism: A tool for development
Tourism is the third largest export industry in the world, with 1.235 million travelers crossing international borders. The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism. It has called for an approach to tourism based on inclusive economic growth, bringing decent jobs to local communities, preservation of environment, addressing climate change and respecting the unique cultural identity of the people.
Thus, tourism development provides unique opportunity to promote better future for people, planet and prosperity. The motto of the 2017 World Tourism Day is the respect nature, culture and respects the host.
The Government is in the process of formulating a new National Tourism Policy (NTP). The salient features of NTP are developing tourism in sustainable and responsible manner, employment generation and community participation.
It aims at promotion of diverse tourism opportunities including showcasing of rich culture and heritage of the country and the niche products as Medical and Wellness tourism. It also emphasizes on skill development and enabling environment for investment in tourism related infrastructure. It also aims at promoting domestic and foreign tourist destinations to experience the diversity of the country.
The Ministry of Tourism has adopted code of conduct for safe tourism, containing safe guidelines for both tourists and local residents that assure basic human rights, freedom from exploitation of women and children.
There are some bottlenecks in implementing the sustainable tourism goals due to the lack of basic infrastructure like roads and providing clean, comfortable accommodation to tourists. In order to address these issues the government is upgrading passenger terminals, improving connectivity to tourist destinations, providing safe drinking water and establishing communication networks in tourist areas to facilitate tourists.
India with her cultural, spiritual and natural richness offers unique experience unparalleled by any other country in the world. Diverse traditions, life styles, colorful fairs and festivals offer a vase variety of choice for the domestic and foreign tourists.
The Government of India is not only aware of how to use the tourism sector as a tool to achieve sustainable development goals, but it is committed to bring and share the benefit of travel and tourism equitably with the local communities. The forests, tribal lifestyles, beautiful coastline and beaches, wild life sanctuaries and national parks provides rare opportunity to the visitors, compelling them to revisit the country to experience this diversity.
The Minister of State (independent charge) for Tourism KJ Alphons has said “We must spread the word about India’s heritage, philosophy, and it’s incredibly diverse cultures which are worth experiencing.”
The enabling environment being created by the Government of India towards making the country tourist friendly is definitely chartering a roadmap towards attaining sustainable tourism, the major goal of International Year of Sustainable Tourism.

 

Published by The Sentinel

Written by Pandurang Hegde

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India improving, but large ailments remain

 

IndiaIn a respite to the Modi government, which has been facing the heat over dismal economic numbers, the World Economic Forum (WEF) study on global competitiveness for 2017 commended the improving quality of institutions in India, especially in terms of improved efficiency of public spending in the last few years. This was despite the fact that India slipped a place to rank 40 out of a total 137 countries in the Global Competitiveness Index 2017-18.
However, the WEF has clarified that it has changed its methodology this year and the rankings are not comparable with those of last year. Moreover, it also pointed out that this is India’s highest score ever with the new methodology (4.6 compared to 4.5 in the previous year). The country’s score has improved across most indicators of competitiveness, especially infrastructure (66th, an improvement of two points over last year), higher education and training (75th, up six) and technological readiness (107, up two), which is a reflection of recent public investment in these areas.
India has also ranked the highest among all South Asian countries with the next highest being Bhutan and Sri Lanka ranked at 85. Among the BRICS nations, China (27) and Russia (38) rank above India while South Africa and Brazil are placed at 61 and 80. In a major hopeful boost to the dwindling India growth story, the report stated that among the emerging markets that were seen to have great potential in the early 2000s, Brazil and Turkey have lost much of what they had gained before 2013, while China, India and Indonesia continue to grow strong.
The report also gives some useful insights about the growth trends of the Indian economy. First, among the emerging economies, it finds that India and China are gradually developing into major centres of innovation. In a recent study of geographical clusters generating the most patents, three Indian cities appeared in the top 100 with Bengaluru at 43 (with patent activity focused on computer technology), Mumbai at 95 and Pune at 96 (with both registering among the most patents in organic chemistry). Due to such an improvement in the innovative environment within India, the WEF rankings place India at 29 on the innovation pillar for competitiveness.
Since innovation is a major determinant of the long-term growth trends of an economy, these figures bode well for India’s future prospects. However, the improvement comes with a caveat. It has been seen that emerging economies that are doing well in innovation are leaving large sections of the population behind since they are not technologically equipped.
The level of technological readiness of individuals and firms in countries like India and China are relatively low. This indicates that the innovative space in these countries is not quite inclusive in nature. Along with innovation, it is necessary to ensure that more people and firms have the required means to access and make use of the new technology. India fares poorly on that front. As mentioned, India ranks a lowly 107 in technological readiness. As long as there remains such a disconnect between technological strength and technological readiness, the gains from it cannot be shared across the wider economy and will only lead to an unequal society. So, India urgently needs to act upon technological readiness to make its economy competitive on a larger scale.
The second insight from the Global Competitiveness Index is the performance of the health and primary education pillar, in which India ranks at 91 — second-worst only to technological readiness. It cannot be overstated how poor health and education outcomes can affect the competitiveness of a country and its citizens. India has always had a history of poor public investment in health and primary education and it pays a hefty cost for this in terms of its competitiveness. Such a continued trend in the long run will result in an unequal and mostly unproductive society where only the well-off, who manage to provide nutrition and education for their children, will thrive.
Thirdly, the WEF Executive Opinion Survey reveals that the private sector still considers corruption to be the most problematic factor for doing business in India. This finding puts a question mark over the effectiveness of the government’s attack on corruption over the last few years. Lack of access to financing and tax regulations also remain the prime problems for setting up a business in India. The former might gradually subside when the problems of non-performing assets (NPAs) with banks is remedied, while the latter might change once the economy adjusts to the newly-implemented Goods and Services Tax (GST). However, corruption will continue to remain an impediment to the country’s competitiveness and its long-term growth.
Therefore, India might be improving on the competitiveness index owing to high public investment in some crucial sectors, but large ailments within the economy still remain. Problems of corruption and a gross negligence of health and education sectors have always defined India’s competitiveness. A recent growth in innovative tendencies seemed to be a saving grace but as it turns out, there seem to be distributive issues. How India handles these concerns will determine its future.

 

 

Published by The Sentinel

Written by Amit Kapoor

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