The HINDU Notes – 13th February 2020 - VISION

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Thursday, February 13, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 13th February 2020

πŸ“° Bill to regulate pesticide trade gets green light

It provides for compensation due to losses

•The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the Pesticides Management Bill, 2020, which, the government claims will regulate the business of pesticides and compensate farmers in case of losses from the use of spurious agro chemicals.

•“Today, the pesticide business is regulated by 1968 rules which have become age-old and need immediate rewriting,” said Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar.

•Mr. Javadekar said farmers would also be empowered to get all information as the data would be in open source and in all languages.

•In February 2018, the Centre released a draft of the pesticides Bill that aims to replace the existing Insecticides Act of 1968.

•A key proposal in the 2018 version was to raise penalties on the sale of prohibited or spurious pesticides to Rs. 50 lakh and up to five years’ imprisonment, from the current Rs. 2,000 and up to three years’ imprisonment. It is unclear if these provisions have been retained in the latest version of Bill that was cleared by the Union Cabinet.

‘Central fund likely’

•“If there is any loss because of the spurious or low quality of pesticides then there is a provision for compensations ... If required, the government will form a central fund which will take care of compensation,” Mr. Javadekar said.

•The Centre for Science and Environment, in 2018, had criticised the Bill. “The existing draft provides inadequate representation to States ... The States should have a say in final decision making on pesticide, as they have the best understanding on the agro-ecological climate, environment and soil conditions,” it said in a statement.

πŸ“° Centre clears Major Ports Authority Bill

The Bill, approved by the Cabinet at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will replace the existing regulations under a 1963 law, he said.

•The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the Major Ports Authority Bill 2020, which will be introduced in the ongoing session of Parliament, Shipping Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said.

•The Bill, approved by the Cabinet at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will replace the existing regulations under a 1963 law, he said.

•He said there had been many changes in the manner ports were operated since the 1960, including private players and public private partnership (PPP) model being used.

•The 12 major ports in India would get a boost through the new law, he said, adding that disputes with private companies and PPP operators had been cropping up, but the existing law had no provisions to deal with them. The new law would also help in improving infrastructure, he added.

πŸ“° WHO to decide on emergency status of Ebola in DR Congo

•UN health agency experts meet on Wednesday to decide whether the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo should still be considered a global health emergency, following a sharp decline in reported cases.

•The World Health Organization last July declared it a “public health emergency of international concern” — a designation that gives the WHO greater powers to restrict travel and boost funding.

•The outbreak was first identified in August 2018 and has since killed more than 2,300 people in eastern DR Congo.

‘Situation improving’

•WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday said he was “encouraged” by an improvement in the situation, with only three cases reported in the past week. But he added: “It’s not over. Any single case could reignite the epidemic.”

•For the epidemic to be declared over, there have to be no new cases reported for 42 days — double the incubation period.

•“We cannot and must not forget Ebola,” Mr. Tedros said, adding that he would travel to DR Congo on Thursday to meet President Felix Tshisekedi.

•The decision is ultimately up to the WHO’s Emergency Committee that meets every three months once an emergency has been declared.

πŸ“° Inflation climbs, industrial output contracts yet again

Retail inflation climbed to an almost six-year high of 7.59%

•A day after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman listed a recovery in industrial output as one of the “green shoots” in the economy, government data showed industrial production contracted again in December 2019, even as retail inflation surged to an almost six-year high of 7.59%.

•This is the highest inflation rate since the NDA government came to power at the Centre in May 2014.

•The Index of Industrial Production (IIP) recorded a negative growth of 0.3% in December in comparison to the same month the previous year, according to the National Statistical Office (NSO). The IIP had shown a positive growth of 1.8% in November, after three consecutive months of contraction. IIP contraction came largely on the back of a 1.2% slump in the manufacturing sector. In fact, 16 out of 23 industry groups in manufacturing saw negative growth. The production of capital goods fell by 18.2% in comparison to the previous year.

•The electricity sector also contracted marginally. The mining sector, on the other hand, saw growth of 5.4%.

•NSO’sConsumer Price Index (CPI) data showed retail inflation had surged from 7.35% in December 2019 to 7.59% in January 2020, mostly due to costlier food items.

•The last time the inflation rate were higher than this was in May 2014, when retail inflation stood at 8.33%.

Food inflation lower

•Food inflation for January 2020 was 13.63%, slightly lower than the previous month’s rate of 14.19%.

•Vegetables remained costly, showing a 50% inflation rate, despite the recovery in onion prices. The high prices of proteins — pulses, meat, fish and eggs — also contributed to the high rate of food inflation. This is the fourth straight month that retail inflation has crossed the Reserve Bank of India’s medium term target of 4%.

πŸ“° Direct tax Bill to include DRTs in ambit

•The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved changes in the ‘Direct Tax Vivad se Vishwas Bill, 2020’ with a view to increase its scope to cover litigation pending in various debt recovery tribunals (DRTs). The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha earlier this month with the aim of reducing litigation related to direct taxes.

•It was proposed to cover tax disputes pending at the level of commissioner (appeals), Income Tax Appellate Tribunals, high courts and the Supreme Court.

•Briefing reporters here, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said it had been decided to cover disputes pending in DRTs also. He said cases involving over ₹9 lakh crore of direct taxes were pending across various fora.

πŸ“° Nutrition and the Budget’s fine print

While there are well-equipped schemes to address malnutrition, funding and policy gaps are problem areas

•A few months ago, the Global Hunger Index, reported that India suffers from “serious” hunger, ranked 102 out of 117 countries, and that just a tenth of children between six to 23 months are fed a minimum acceptable diet. The urgency around nutrition was reflected in the Union Finance Minister’s Budget speech, as she referred to the “unprecedented” scale of developments under the Prime Minister’s Overarching Scheme for Holistic Nutrition, or POSHAN Abhiyaan, the National Nutrition Mission with efforts to track the status of 10 crore households.

Plan and allocation

•There are multiple dimensions of malnutrition that include calorific deficiency, protein hunger and micronutrient deficiency. An important approach to address nutrition is through agriculture. The Bharatiya Poshan Krishi Kosh which was launched in 2019 by Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates is a recent attempt to bridge this gap. Existing schemes can well address India’s malnutrition dilemma. However, where are the gaps in addressing this concern? We analyse Budgetary allocation and the expenditure in the previous year to understand more.

•First calorific deficiency. The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme provides a package of services including supplementary nutrition, nutrition and health education, health check-ups and referral services addressing children, pregnant and lactating mothers and adolescent girls, key groups to address community malnutrition, and which also tackle calorific deficiency and beyond. For 2019-20, the allotment was Rs. 27,584.37 crore but revised estimates are Rs. 24,954.50 crore, which points to an underutilisation of resources. The allocation this year is marginally higher, but clearly, the emphasis needs to be on implementation.

•Another pathway to address hunger is the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, to enhance nutrition of schoolchildren. Here too, the issue is not with allocation but with expenditure. The 2019-20 Budget allocation was Rs. 11,000 crore and revised estimates are only Rs. 9,912 crore.

•The second is protein hunger: Pulses are a major contributor to address protein hunger. However, a scheme for State and Union Territories aims to reach pulses into welfare schemes (Mid-Day Meal, Public Distribution System, ICDS) has revised estimates standing at just Rs. 370 crore against Rs. 800 crore allocation in the 2019-20 Budget.

•Next is micronutrient deficiency. The Horticulture Mission can be one of the ways to address micronutrient deficiency effectively, but here too implementation is low. Revised estimates for 2019-20 stand at Rs. 1,583.50 crore against an allocation of Rs. 2,225 crore. In 2018-19, the Government of India launched a national millet mission which included renaming millets as “nutri-cereals” also launching a Year of Millets in 2018-19 to promote nutritious cereals in a campaign mode across the country. This could have been further emphasised in the Budget as well as in the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) which includes millets. However, the NFSM strains to implement allocation of Rs. 2,000 crore during 2019-20, as revised expenditures stand at Rs. 1,776.90 crore. As millets have the potential to address micronutrient deficiencies, the momentum given to these cereals needs to be sustained.

•Moving to POSHAN Abhiyaan, the National Nutrition Mission which is a major initiative to address malnutrition, had 72% of total expenditure going into “Information and Communication Technology enabled Real Time Monitoring for development and setting up Common Application Software and expenditure on components under behavioural change” according to Accountability Initiative. The focus of the bulk of the funding has been on technology, whereas, actually, it is convergence that is crucial to address nutrition. The Initiative also found on average that only 34% of funds released by the Government of India were spent from FY 2017-18 to FY 2019-20 till November 30, 2019.

Impact of linkage schemes

•With underspending, allocations for subsequent years will also be affected, limiting the possibility of increasing budgets and the focus on nutrition schemes.

•Next is the agriculture-nutrition link, which is another piece of the puzzle. While agriculture dominated the initial Budget speech, the link between agriculture and nutrition was not explicit. This link is important because about three-fifths of rural households are agricultural in India (National Sample Survey Office, 70th round) and malnutrition rates, particularly in rural areas are high (National Family Health Survey-4). Therefore, agriculture-nutrition linkage schemes have potential for greater impact and need greater emphasis.

•So how can we bring about better nutrition in India? With the largest number of undernourished people in the world, India needs to hasten to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 of ‘Zero Hunger’ by 2030. The Economic Survey notes that India should give special attention although the Budget has not explicitly spelt out nutrition in greater detail in many ways.

•The following are suggestions to move forward: Focus on nutrition-related interventions, beyond digitisation; intensify the convergence component of POSHAN Abhiyaan, using the platform to bring all departments in one place to address nutrition; direct the announcement to form 10,000 farmer producer organisations with an allocation of Rs. 500 crore to nutrition-based activities; promotion of youth schemes to be directed to nutrition-agriculture link activities in rural areas; give explicit emphasis and fund allocation to agriculture-nutrition linked schemes; and ensure early disbursement of funds and an optimum utilisation of schemes linked to nutrition.

•Nutrition goes beyond just food, with economic, health, water sanitation, gender perspectives and social norms contributing to better nutrition. This is why implementation of multiple schemes can contribute to better nutrition. The Economic Survey notes that “Food is not just an end in itself but also an essential ingredient in the growth of human capital and therefore important for national wealth creation”. Malnutrition affects cognitive ability, workforce days and health, impacting as much as 16% of GDP (World Food Programme and World Bank). In that sense, while Budget 2020-21 looks toward an ‘Aspirational India’, fixing the missing pieces on the plate, can make a difference not just to better nutrition but to build a wealthier nation too.

πŸ“° Riding on data for mobility

Data-based governance can assist in reducing traffic congestion, as illustrated by a pilot study in Hyderabad

•The digital revolution has made interactions between humans and machines, and among citizens, governments and businesses, seamless and efficient. Today, e-governance enables and empowers citizens to directly engage with the state, thereby eliminating barriers in the delivery of public services. The next wave of transformation in digital governance is at the intersection of data and public good. The key to this transformation lies in incorporating data as a strategic asset in all aspects of policy, planning, service delivery and operations of the government.

•Transportation is one such critical area, where data-based governance is expected to provide a solution to the ever-growing threat of congestion to urban economies. Congestion caused an estimated loss of $87 billion to the U.S. economy and $24 billion to the four metro cities in India in 2018. Given the limited land resources available, the key to solving congestion lies in improving the efficiency of existing transportation systems.

Multiple sources

•An efficient transportation system would help ease congestion, reduce travel time and cost, and provide greater convenience. For this, data from multiple sources such as CCTV cameras, automatic traffic counters, map services, and transportation service providers could be used.

•A study by Transport for London, the local body responsible for transport in and around the U.K. capital, estimates that its open data initiative on sharing of real-time transit data has helped add £130 million a year to London’s economy by improving productivity and efficiency. In China, an artificial intelligence-based traffic management platform developed by Alibaba has helped improve average speeds by 15%.

•Closer home, the Hyderabad Open Transit Data, launched by Open Data Telangana, is the country’s first data portal publishing datasets on bus stops, bus routes, metro routes, metro stations, schedules, fares, and frequency of public transit services.

•The objective is to empower start-ups and developers to create useful mobility applications. The datasets were built after an intensive exercise carried out by the Open Data Team and Telangana State Road Transport Corporation to collect, verify and digitise the data.

•Hyderabad has also begun collaborating with the private sector to improve traffic infrastructure. One such partnership followed a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Telangana government and Ola Mobility Institute. Under this collaboration, Ola has developed a tool, Ola City Sense, to provide data-based insights that can monitor the quality of Hyderabad’s roads and identify bad quality patches.

•The data is provided to city officials on a dashboard, and updated every 2-3 weeks to capture the nature of potholes/roads. The information thus given is useful not only for carrying out road repairs, it also helps officials take initiatives to improve road safety, monitor quality of construction, and study the role of bad roads in causing congestion.

Planning road repair work

•A pilot was implemented in a municipal zone to gauge the efficacy of the data in supporting road monitoring and prioritisation of repairs. The early results of this pilot project were encouraging. The dashboard helped city officials plan the pre-monsoon repair work and budget for repairs last year.

•The pilot also demonstrated the willingness of government departments to apply data-based insights for better decision making. This tool is now being adopted across all municipal zones under the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. This could also serve as a model for other cities to emulate.

•The Hyderabad example shows that governments can make their departments data-centric by institutionalising data collection, building technology platforms and helping the departments develop capacity to handle the insights generated from the data. Command and control centres under the ‘smart cities’ initiative can be an ideal starting point. Such interventions, however, also need to address genuine concerns around data security and privacy.

•The Telangana government has declared that the year 2020 will be the Year of Artificial Intelligence. It aims to run hackathons and masterclasses with AI as the theme. Discussions are on to include AI for Traffic Management. At the core of AI-based algorithms is good data, and partnership with key stakeholders can only help build such algorithms. Insightful data will be the key to transform Hyderabad into a ‘world-class city’ in terms of mobility.