The HINDU Notes – 14th August 2019 - VISION

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 14th August 2019

📰 Centre sets the ball rolling for Jammu and Kashmir polls

EC meets on fresh delimitation under new Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act

•The earliest possible date for Assembly polls in the new Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is around March next year, officials in the Home Ministry indicated, as the Election Commission (EC) held its first meeting on Tuesday for the delimitation exercise, necessitated under the new Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act.

•The EC held “internal discussions” on the matter and “formal communication was awaited from the Ministry of Home Affairs”, an EC official said.

•Senior sources in the government told The Hindu that the delimitation exercise undertaken by the EC, with help from the Home Ministry, is the first step towards holding Assembly polls in the Union Territory. Details set out in the Reorganisation Act on the strength of the new House etc. will have far reaching consequences for politics in Jammu and Kashmir.

•“First of all, the new Assembly, under the Reorganisation Act is to have 114 seats, of which 24 have been kept aside for areas under Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), which means elections will be conducted for 90 seats. The old Assembly had a strength of 111 seats (again 24 kept aside for PoK) with four seats for Ladakh region. That means seven extra seats will be added to the effective strength of the House. Which part of J&K will these seats be from remains to be decided,” sources said.

Reserved seats

•The delimitation exercise will also take into account reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as provided for under the Constitution, and that could tip the scales in favour of one region.

•There is also a significant population of those who were displaced during Partition in 1947-48 and settled in Jammu, who have had no no voting rights so far in the Assembly polls; a ball park figure puts the number of these persons at around eight lakh.

📰 57.3% allopathic practitioners are not qualified: Health Ministry

Officials say CMs of all States asked to take appropriate action under the law against quacks

•“At present, 57.3% of personnel currently practising allopathic medicine do not have a medical qualification,” states the Union Health Ministry’s data, adding that this puts at risk rural patients who suffer because of an urban to rural doctor density ratio of 3.8:1, and India’s poor doctor-population ratio of 1:1456 as compared with the World Health Organisation standards of 1:1000.

‘A huge skew’

•“There is a huge skew in the distribution of doctors working in the urban and rural areas. Consequently, most of our rural and poor population is denied good quality care, leaving them in the clutches of quacks,” said Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan.

•Section 15 of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 prohibits a person other than a medical practitioner enrolled on a State Medical Register to practice medicine in the State. Any person acting in contravention is punishable with imprisonment and fine, and since health is a State subject, the primary responsibility to deal with such cases lies with the respective State governments.

•“We have requested all Chief Ministers of all the States to take appropriate action under the law against quacks, and also to evolve suitable policies to ensure availability of a quality health workforce in rural areas,” said a senior health official.

•According to government records, a total of 11,46,044 allopathic doctors were registered with the State Medical Councils/ Medical Council of India as on December 31, 2018.

Low ratio

•“Besides, there are also 7.63 lakh Ayurveda, Unani and Homeopathy (AUH) doctors in the country. Assuming 80% availability, it is estimated that around 6.1 lakh AUH doctors may be actually available for service, and considered together with allopathic doctors, we have a doctor-population ratio of 1:884, which is still low,” noted the Ministry.

•Professor K. Srinath Reddy of the Public Health Foundation of India noted that the wide gaps in comprehensive primary healthcare services for many rural areas need to be filled through competent mid-level healthcare providers who are adequately trained, technologically enabled and legally empowered.

•“Even as we must invest in producing more family physicians for primary care, we should not ignore the potential of well-trained non-physician care providers in community settings,” he added.

Mid-level providers

•The Health Ministry states that it is now looking into bringing in mid-level healthcare providers to relieve overburdened specialists.

•“Countries such as Thailand, United Kingdom, China and even [a city like] New York have permitted community health workers/ nurse practitioners into mainstream health services, with improved health outcomes. Since we have a shortage of doctors and specialists, this is vital,” said the Health Minister.

•He added that in India, Chhattisgarh and Assam have experimented with community health workers, and that according to independent evaluations carried out by the Harvard School of Public Health, they have performed very well. “There is no grounds for concern if the quality of personnel is regulated tightly,” said Dr. Harsh Vardhan.

📰 The contours of the Kashmir move

India’s actions were enabled by the unilateralism in global politics and a decline in multilateral arrangements

•The government has defended its twin decisions to revoke operative portions of Article 370 of the Constitution and dividing Jammu and Kashmirinto two Union Territories as “internal policy” that warrant no international comment. While the Prime Minister’s moves have a domestic basis, their manner, or “Modi’s vivendi” as it were, must be studied in their broader global context.

The U.S.-Afghan factor

•The immediate context is the future of Afghanistan and what the deal between the United States and Pakistan for Afghanistan will mean for India. According to reports, an assessment by Indian intelligence agencies that there would be an imminent settlement was what triggered the discussion within the Modi government about a response that would ensure India was not overlooked.

•The U.S.’s deal for the return of the Taliban to Afghanistan’s mainstream has three specific dangers for New Delhi. First, the deal would most certainly derail the Afghanistan elections planned for September 28, or make their results irrelevant. India’s stakes in a democratic Afghanistan go beyond the process since every one of the 17 presidential ticket aspirants is a leader with ties to India. Second, a deal will bring the Taliban, whose leaders owe allegiance to Islamabad and Rawalpindi, into the central power structures and institutions in Kabul. Third, intelligence estimates indicate that after the deal, U.S. troops will not “zero out” completely but continue to maintain between three and five military bases. In the past, America’s dependence on Pakistan for supply routes and security guarantees led the U.S. seeking concessions from India on Kashmir. The U.S. President’s comments in July, during a media interaction with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan that the U.S. counts on Pakistan to “extricate” it from Afghanistan, accompanied by an offer to mediate on Kashmir, set alarm bells ringing in Delhi and dictated the timing of the recent moves. Facing a fast-closing window of opportunity to consolidate its position in Jammu and Kashmir, the government chose to present the U.S. and Pakistan with a fait accompli before a deal was concluded.

The UN’s limited impact

•The government’s move in Kashmir, which had not been contemplated in all the decades since India signed the 1972 Shimla agreement — India and Pakistan committed that “neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation” — has also been enabled by the prevailing unilateralism in international politics and the concomitant decline in multilateral arrangements. It is clear that the UN and the UN Security Council have few real powers to stop New Delhi.

•Pakistan has itself carried out such a reorganisation in the parts of Kashmir it occupied in 1948: military control and demographic changes in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), or what Pakistan calls Azad Jammu and Kashmir; elections in which its national parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf take part, and an ongoing process to dilute Gilgit-Baltistan’s autonomous status. Pakistan has done all this without any UN pushback. In addition, its sustained support of terror groups inimical to India has discredited its protests on the Kashmir issue. Given that four permanent members of the UNSC have already accepted Kashmir’s reorganisation as an “internal matter” — and China’s dissent is mainly on the issue of the reorganisation of Ladakh and Aksai Chin — there is little expectation that the UNSC petition by Pakistan will make any headway. The Prime Minister can travel next month to New York quite confident that he will not face more than a few uncomfortable moments and perhaps some protests outside the UN, if at all.

•The government has already tested the UN’s will and faced no repercussions. In July 2014, the government declared that the U.N. Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) set up in 1949, had “outlived its utility”, and asked it to vacate its premises in Delhi. In September 2016, after the Uri attacks, the government publicly announced it had crossed the LoC, a line monitored by the UNMOGIP, to carry out what it called “surgical strikes” on terror camps in PoK.

•While such operations have frequently been mounted by the Indian and Pakistani Armies, this was the first such public claim and faced no pushback whatsoever from the UN. In mid-2018, the government also dismissed the first report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation on both sides of the border in Kashmir, accusing the High Commissioner of “individual bias”. And in February 2019, India announced that it carried out air strikes on a terror camp in Pakistan, after which the Pakistan Air Force dropped bombs over the LoC in Kashmir. Aside from warnings to keep the peace, the UN’s reaction was mild, and the UNMOGIP’s role non-existent.

•During this period, the ineffectiveness of the UN has been writ large over many other similar disputes. Russia’s control of Crimea has only strengthened since 2014 despite a UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution, UNSC statements and a “package of measures”. When the U.S. decided, in 2017, to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it lost a vote in the UNGA, but suffered no real action as a consequence of changing the decades-old status quo. Neither has Israel, despite UN censure of the Gaza bombings, and settlements in the West Bank; nor has China changed after UNSC resolutions on Tibet and UNGA petitions on Xinjiang.

Reflecting a trend

•Finally, while “Modi’s vivendi” on Kashmir is aimed at his domestic base, it mirrors the prevailing trend of populism worldwide, much like the demonetisation decision in 2016 did: recapturing the national narrative, startling opponents with an unexpected move, and thrilling voters with forceful action. In his treatise “What is Populism?”, Princeton professor Jan-Werner Müller recounts how populist regimes frequently frame their actions as representing the will of the “real people”, a group they exclusively represent. By extension and example, those who dissent are deemed to be not “Real Poles” (prawdziwi Polacy) in Poland or “Real Hungarians” in Hungary. In the same vein was the retort by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to his opponents: “We are the people. Who are you?”

•In populist moves worldwide, such actions are “authorised by the people”, and therefore no blame accrues to the government if anything goes wrong. By contrast, says Müller, democratic accountability would actually mean that the burden is on the government to justify just how it uses its political judgment to ensure desired outcomes.

The Kashmir line

•In the Kashmir case, the government’s actions, which have included the pouring in of troops, a clampdown on communications and the arrest of local leaders, have all been justified through the expressions of euphoria the decisions have elicited among its supporters nationwide. The populist assessment is that any negative consequences — violence in Kashmir, resistance in Jammu and Ladakh to the freeing up of property rights, for example, or the larger impact of worsening India-Pakistan ties on the Kartarpur corridor, Kulbhushan Jadhav’s fate, and trade and transport arrangements — will not hurt the government as they were authorised by “the will of the people”.

•The prevailing narrative is that the government’s Kashmir decisions have finally allowed ‘Realpolitik’ to prevail over the woolly-headed idealism of the past that has not benefited the nation in all these years. Furthermore, an influx of investments and non-Kashmiri residents into the Valley will “normalise” it and usher in an age of prosperity. While the term Realpolitik is used today in a positive sense, it is important to remember the context in which its earliest proponent, Athenian general Thucydides introduced it, In the ‘History of the Peloponnesian War’; here he states: “Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must.”

📰 Writing out a clean Bill on health

Medical education needs continuous reforms; the National Medical Commission Bill could be the first step towards this

•Over the past few days, there have been expressions of concern in various fora over a few clauses of the National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill, now enacted. Even medical professionals have protested. According to media reports, there are five primary concerns. These pertain to the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET)/National Exit Test, empowering of community health providers for limited practice, regulating fees for only 50% seats in private colleges, reducing the number of elected representatives in the Commission, and the overriding powers of the Centre.

On examinations

•First, a focus on the examinations. For the past few years, a separate NEET is being conducted for undergraduate and postgraduate courses. In addition there are different examinations for institutes such as the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research. This Act consolidates multiple exams at the undergraduate level with a single NEET and in turn avoids multiple counselling processes. NEXT will act as the final year MBBS examination across India, an entrance test to the postgraduate level, and as a licentiate exam before doctors can practise. It aims to reduce disparities in the skill sets of doctors graduating from different institutions. It would also be a single licentiate exam for graduates across the world. Thus, the government has in effect implemented a ‘One-Nation-One-Exam’ in medical education.

•Second, concerns have been expressed over the limited licence to practise for community health providers. We have to appreciate that even with about 70% of India’s population residing in the rural areas, the present ratio of doctors in urban and rural areas is 3.8:1; 27,000 doctors serve about 650,000 villages of the country. A recent study by the World Health Organisation shows that nearly 80% of allopathic doctors in the rural areas are without a medical qualification. The NMC Act attempts to address this gap by effectively utilising modern medicine professionals, other than doctors in enabling primary and preventive health care. Evidence from China, Thailand and the United Kingdom shows such integration results in better health outcomes. Chhattisgarh and Assam have also experimented with community health workers. Further, the Act requires them to “…qualify such criteria as may be specified....” thereby ensuring quality.

Fee structure

•The next issue relates to the capping of fees. It is an open secret today that private medical colleges are capitation fee-driven, resort to a discretionary management quota and often have charges of corruption levelled against them. The Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 has no provision for fee regulation. Until now, ‘not-for-profit’ organisations were permitted to set up medical colleges, a process involving enormous investments and a negotiation of cumbersome procedures. The NMC Act removes the discretionary quota by using a transparent fee structure. It empowers the NMC to frame guidelines for determination of not only fees but all other charges in 50% of seats in private colleges to support poor and meritorious students.

•It would be simplistic to assume that a rise in unethical practices in this profession is solely the result of private medical education. While a cap on fees is necessary, there is also a need for incentives to attract private investors. In any case, the transparency that NEXT provides would lead to fee regulation through market forces. The Act also provides for rating of colleges. Thus, reducing entry barriers for setting up medical colleges, along with their rating, is expected to benefit students. They would be able to make an informed decision before seeking admission.

•The next issue is of representation in the NMC. A report of the then vice-chancellor, NITI Aayog, on reforms in medical education says: “The current electoral process of appointing regulators is inherently saddled with compromises and attracts professionals who may not be best suited for the task at hand. Indeed, there is ample evidence that the process has failed to bring the best in the field in regulatory roles. The process is based on what is now widely regarded as a flawed principle whereby the regulated elect the regulators.” The Act, therefore, provides for a transparent search and selection process with an eclectic mix of elected and nominated representatives, both in the search committee and the commission itself. The government has further addressed the concern of preponderance of selected members in the commission by adding members from State medical councils and universities.

•Finally, we need to view the issue of overriding powers of the Centre in the context that the Medical Council of India, even if directed by the government on critical matters, may not always pay heed. In public emergencies, citizens expect the government to address issues. In the current set-up, it may not be possible all the time. Also, the government should be able to give directions so that NMC regulations align with its policy. Hence, these powers. The use of such authority would follow the principle of natural justice: the NMC’s opinion would be sought before giving directions.

In a nutshell

•While some sections of people have sought to create a negative perception about select clauses of the Act, they have not highlighted other features. The Act establishes the Diplomate of National Board’s equivalence to NMC-recognised degrees — a long-pending demand. It also promotes medical pluralism. Then, there is a paradigm shift in the regulatory philosophy from an input-based, entry barrier for education providers without corresponding benefits, to its becoming outcome-focused. Both the number of doctors and their skill sets are expected to improve. Autonomy to boards and segregation of their functions will avoid a conflict of interest and reduce rent-seeking opportunities. And ‘quacks’ are liable to face imprisonment or be fined or both. The Act ends inspector raj.

•The efforts of successive governments have now culminated with the NMC Act replacing the IMC Act. There is no denying that medical education needs continuous reforms in order to usher in improvements in health care. There cannot be just one solution. The NMC Act is a serious attempt to meet the primary need of more medical professionals in the country; it is a beginning.

📰 CJI Ranjan Gogoi advocates more autonomy to CBI

•Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Tuesday recommended a comprehensive legislation to make the Central Bureau of Investigation functional as an efficient and impartial investigative agency.

•Delivering the 18th D.P. Kohli Memorial Lecture, Chief Justice Gogoi listed legal ambiguity, weak human resource, lack of adequate investment, accountability, and political and administrative interference as key concerns.

•“The CBI should be given statutory status through legislation equivalent to that provided to the Comptroller & Auditor General. The legal mandate of the CBI must be strengthened by having a comprehensive legislation addressing deficiencies relating to organisational structure, charter of functions, limits of power, superintendence and oversight,” he said.

•“Further, to address an increasing incidence of inter-State crimes, an argument could be made for including ‘public order’ in concurrent list, for the limited purposes of investigating such crimes,” he said, advocating administrative and financial autonomy for the CBI.

•In the context of political and administrative interference, he said that in the Vineet Narain v. Union of India case, the Suprme Court had expressed concern over the state of affairs and laid down explicit guidelines for protecting the integrity of the force.

•“However, given that the superintendence and control of the agency continues to, in large measure, lie with the executive by virtue of Section 4 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, the possibility of it being used as a political instrument remains ever present. I have no doubt that there is more than enough strength within the organisation to deal with any such situation,” he said.

•The Chief Justice said that time and again, the Supreme Court had utilised its constitutional authority to ensure that the CBI functioned without any fear or favour, and in the best public interest. As a multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary investigative agency, it had for the most part of its existence enjoyed tremendous public trust, he said.

•“Unfortunately, attention is more often than not drawn to failure than success of any public institution. True, in a number of high-profile and politically sensitive cases the agency has not been able to meet the standards of judicial scrutiny. Equally true is that such lapses may not have happened infrequently. Such instances reflect systemic issues and indicate a deep mismatch between institutional aspirations, organisational design, working culture, and governing politics,” he said.

•Under the DSPE Act, the CBI required consent of the State concerned for investigation, he pointed out. “Given vested interests or bureaucratic lethargy, such consent is often either denied or delayed, severely compromising the investigation. Additionally, a patch work of legislations governing the functioning of the CBI adversely affects inter-institutional coordination, both horizontally and vertically,” he said.

📰 Jammu and Kashmir delimitation process kicks off

Jammu and Kashmir delimitation process kicks off
2011 Census to form basis for redrawing constituencies with seven extra seats

•As the Election Commission held internal discussions on the delimitation of constituencies ahead of elections to the new Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, former Chief Election Commissioner and ex-officio member of the Delimitation Commission N. Gopalaswami said the increase in the number of seats was “an issue which is a political decision of Parliament”.

•After that, he said, the Delimitation Commission would start the process as per the law.

•He said the total population would be divided over the 114 seats to get an average number of electors per constituency. The boundaries of the constituencies would then be drawn while ensuring that administrative units are not split as far as possible.

•According to the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of the UT of J&K would be increased from 107 to 114. The Act also specifies that delimitation will be based on the 2011 census till 2026.

•Sources in the government were very clear that the EC will be asked to commence the delimitation exercise soon.

•The BJP has been the first off the block, telling its State unit to prepare for polls.

•The party is also doing a large scale outreach to the scheduled tribe Gujjar-Bakarwal communities, to ensure their support. The changes in the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir are set to signal a seismic shift in local politics in the new Union Territory.

📰 Biodiversity in the time of deluge

As it weathers repeated floods, Kerala needs to take steps to protect its fragile ecology

•In mid-August 2018, Kerala experienced severe floods and is still struggling to deal with their devastating impact. It is a matter of deep concern that, a year later, the State is facing a similar situation. This only shows that there is a considerable human-induced natural imbalance in the State, making it vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change.

•Such floods impact the poorest strata of the society the most, causing a loss of lives, livelihood options and assets. They also place an enormous burden on the government in terms of reconstruction budgets. In this context, a broader assessment of floods from a ‘sustainable development’ perspective, by limiting economic growth options to within the carrying capacity of the ecosystem, is the need of the hour.

•True, the root cause of such floods, not only in Kerala but elsewhere, is the high precipitation levels. However, one cannot discount the role of anthropogenic factors like unscientific development and over-exploitation of nature in aggravating the damages.

Impact of climate change

•In recent decades, the global climate has been changing in an unpredictable manner. As per an IPCC report, the Global Green House Gases emissions grew by 70% between 1970 and 2004. Global warming has had critical effects on the hydrological cycle and water is the primary medium through which the climate change impacts trickle down to the people.

•The changing precipitation alters the hydrological systems, resulting in floods and droughts in different regions. With the certainty that climate change is already impacting most countries, there is no option but to take adequate precautions through dam management and timely public alerts.

•In the case of Kerala, a structural transformation and changing patterns of land use are affecting its environment. Agriculture is becoming insignificant (11.3% of State GDP) and services (63.1%) and industry (25.6%) sectors dominate the State’s economy. Further, a high population density — as per the 2011 census, it was 860 persons per sq. km, much higher than the Indian average of 382 — the shift from a joint family system to a single-family one and a greater inflow of money, particularly from Gulf countries, has resulted in an increased construction of luxurious houses and resorts.

•The government, on its part, has also been developing extensive infrastructure to support the booming services and industry sectors.

•Speaking of construction, it is important to take the appropriate decision on the type and size of the structure, its location, materials it proposes to use, and permissible damages it will cause to the nature. One cannot just replicate the Gulf model of construction in Kerala’s fragile and ecologically sensitive landscapes. Land transactions suggest that people in the State have bought land from farmers over the decades not for cultivation, but for construction. If this trend continues, vast tracts of paddy fields and other low-lying places will get converted to plots or buildings. A loss in wetland area will naturally impact the State’s ability to handle floods.

•People fail to account for the damage done to natural ecosystems while estimating losses suffered due to natural disasters. Floods also wash away top soil and substantial biodiversity of the area, resulting in a reduced river-water flow, death of earthworms and spread of viral and bacterial diseases among crops. There is, at present, a lack of clarity on how best these natural assets could be restored. However, the urgency to devise suitable corrective measures has never been greater.

📰 Sanguine amidst slowdown

Despite stagnant incomes and increased joblessness, Indians are hopeful about the economy’s future

•Any major country in the world would give an arm and a leg for a growth rate of 6% per annum. But, in India, we lament such an achievement as a ‘slowdown’. This is because, somehow, today we perceive any growth below 7% to be unsatisfactory. And not so long ago, we perceived any growth rate below 8% to be less than satisfactory.

•What has changed now? It is not as if our per-capita income levels have suddenly shot up to a point where a lower growth rate can be considered satisfying. We are still a lower-middle income country.

•What has really changed is our perception of what a satisfactory growth rate will be. Such perceptions do matter as they reflect the mood of the times that influences economic decisions. For instance, usually, growth in discretionary spending is a function of growth in income. But, if income expectations change, then the relationship between income and discretionary spending could also change. Similarly, aspirations and social norms impact decisions. If the mood turns sombre, if aspirations are diluted and if social norms turn less upbeat, economic decisions would be less enthusiastic even if income growth remains unchanged.

Seeking consumers’ opinion

•Further, if changes in perceptions of individuals result in synchronised waves of optimism or pessimism, such shifts could well determine whether an economy moves towards accelerated expansion or a slowdown. Hence, it makes sense to ask consumers about their perceptions of expected well-being and then derive an aggregated sense of the mood to anticipate future economic trends.

•According to George Katona, who pioneered work on consumer sentiments at the University of Michigan, discretionary spending depends on the ability and willingness of a consumer to spend. While ability is reflected in the consumers’ income and assets, willingness to spend is reflected in the consumers’ perception of future prospects.

•How have Indians perceived their future in the recent past? There are two regular surveys which answer this question. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has been conducting a Consumer Confidence Survey since 2010 and the Centre For Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) has been conducting a Consumer Sentiments Survey as a part of its Consumer Pyramids Household Survey (CPHS) since January 2016.

Expectations of income increase

•Both show that during 2018, a rising proportion of Indians felt that their incomes would rise over a one-year horizon. Both show that this increase in income-growth expectations of 2018 was of a distinctly sharper gradient than seen earlier.

•According to the RBI survey, around the end of 2017, 46.5% of households expected their incomes to increase and 12.7% expected a decline. On a net basis, 34% expected an increase. By end-2018, the net figure had gone up to 57.3%, signifying a major improvement in income expectations during 2018.

•The CMIE’s CPHS shows a similar rising trend but at a different level. The net proportion of households that expected an increase in income increased from less than 5% in February 2018 to 23% in May 2019.

•Both surveys show that this rising optimism about household incomes has declined in 2019. The RBI’s survey shows that the decline began in the first quarter of 2019 while the CPHS shows it began in the second quarter. Interestingly, both showed pessimism on jobs during 2018. The consistent contradiction in both surveys is noteworthy. Households did not see an increase in jobs in 2018 but they did expect incomes to improve. This means hopes were high even in the face of job losses.

•Received wisdom on consumer sentiments tells us that people have an uncanny way of revealing their assessment of change in prospects. Bad news during sustained bad times is not really newsworthy and it does not attract much attention. On the other hand, good news or news of hope during a bad patch can change perceptions. Such a hope could have been provided by one-time cash transfers to households last year.

•The RBI survey quantifies this eloquently. While 9.5% households, on a net basis, believed that employment conditions had worsened in 2018, 28.5% households believed employment conditions would improve in a year.

•Their faith in the future remained intact even in the face of adverse outcomes compared to expectations. In December 2017, 9.4% of the households believed employment levels were worse (on a net basis) than a year ago but simultaneously, 33.6% believed they would improve in a year. A year later, in December 2018, 8.7% still believed the employment levels were worse than a year ago. Yet, a larger proportion — 37.6% believed these would improve in a year.

•Optimism continued to prevail even in the latest July 2019 RBI survey, where 13% of households believed that employment conditions had worsened over a year but 31% of them believed that these would improve in a year. Such optimism is seen in income expectations as well. As of July 2019, on a net basis, only 3% of the households believed their incomes were higher compared to a year ago but 48.5% believed these would be better a year later.

Divergent findings on spending

•How does this optimism on income and employment translate into a willingness to increase spending on discretionary or non-essential items? Here, the RBI and CMIE surveys diverge significantly. The RBI survey is prescient in anticipating a slowdown in the automobile sector. It shows that while households are optimistic on jobs and income in spite of current adverse conditions, they are not similarly gung ho about spending on non-essentials. In mid-2018, on a net basis, 53% of the households expected to spend more on non-essentials a year ahead. By July 2019, this proportion fell to 15%.

•The CMIE’s CPHS asks a related but somewhat different question, on whether households considered current conditions to be a good time to buy household durables. It shows that till July 2018, respondents who believed that it was a good time to buy consumer durables roughly equalled those who believed it wasn’t. Both numbers were at about 22.6%. By March 2019, the proportion of pessimists declined to 17% and that of optimists increased to 30%. The CMIE survey shows an improvement in the mood to spend on discretionary goods. This reflects the fact that sales of domestic appliances began a recovery in the June 2018 quarter and grew at double-digit rates during the December 2018, March 2019 and June 2019 quarters.

•Evidently, there isn’t any widespread consumer goods slowdown. The slowdown is prominent in the automobile sector but not in other industries. The RBI survey reflects the former and the CMIE survey reflects the latter. It may be worth noting here that the RBI survey is based on a survey from 5,451 respondents from 13 towns while the CMIE’s CPHS is based on over 40,000 respondents from over 300 towns and nearly 3,000 villages.

•Different parts of the Indian economy are moving in divergent directions but, Indian households maintain hope in a future that will bring in more jobs and more income.

📰 ‘Panchamirtham’ of Palani temple gets GI tag

First prasadam in T.N. to get the status

•The famous Palani panchamirtham, given as ‘prasadam’ at the Murugan temple there, has been granted the Geographical Indication (GI) tag.

•This is the first time a temple ‘prasadam’ from Tamil Nadu has been bestowed with the GI tag. The application was filed by the Joint Commissioner/Executive Officer, Arulmigu Dhandayuthapani Swamy Thirukkoil, North Giriveethi, Adivaram, Palani.

•Chinnaraja G. Naidu, Deputy Registrar of Geographical Indications, confirmed that the GI tag had been given for the panchamirtham.

•“The certificate will be posted on the GI website soon,” he said.

•The panchamirtham is a combination of five natural substances — banana, jaggery, cow ghee, honey and cardamom. Dates and diamond sugar candies are added for flavour.

•The panchamirtham is an ‘abhishega prasadam’ (food that is a religious offering), which is served in a semi-solid state. It is sweet in taste and one of the main offerings for Lord Dhandayuthapani Swamy, the presiding deity of Arulmigu Dhandayuthapani Swamy Temple, situated on Palani Hills.

•Not even a single drop of water is added during the preparation of the panchamirtham. This gives it its classic semi-solid consistency and taste. No preservatives or artificial ingredients are used.

•As per the GI application, the geographical area for production of panchamirtham is Palani town in Dindigul district, Tamil Nadu. It lies within latitude of 10.44 ° and longitude of 77.52 °.

•According to the GI application filed, the Palani panchamirtham is prepared under the guidance given by the CFTRI (Central Food Technological Research Institute) Mysore, a government of India undertaking.

•The whole process of producing the panchamirtham is automated. It is doubly ensured that the hygienic aspects are maintained. Devotees who visit the temple are offered the panchamirtham as a prasadam in the hill temple as well as in stalls run by temple administration at Adivaram. Is is believed that the panchamirtham cures diseases of devotees.

•Chennai-based IP attorney P. Sanjai Gandhi pointed out that the GI tag would boost the local economy in Palani. He added, “Tamil Nadu has so many temples, mosques and churches. Each of them has a unique historic origin.”

📰 RBI issues final norms for regulatory sandbox

‘FinTech should highlight existing gap’

•The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Tuesday issued the final framework for regulatory sandbox in order to enable innovations in the financial technology space.

•A regulatory sandbox usually refers to live testing of new products or services in a controlled/test regulatory environment for which regulators may permit certain regulatory relaxations for the limited purpose of the testing.

•RBI said the objective of the sandbox was to foster responsible innovation in financial services, promote efficiency and bring benefit to consumers.

•“The proposed FinTech solution should highlight an existing gap in the financial ecosystem and the proposal should demonstrate how it would address the problem, and bring benefits to consumers or the industry and/or perform the same work more efficiently,” the banking regulator said.

Minimum networth

•RBI will launch the sandbox for entities that meet the criteria of minimum net worth of ₹25 lakh as per their latest audited balance sheet.

•The entity should either be a company incorporated and registered in the country or banks licensed to operate in India.

•While money transfer services, digital know-your customer, financial inclusion and cybersecurity products are included, crypto currency, credit registry and credit information have been left out.