The HINDU Notes – 27th November 2021 - VISION

Material For Exam

Recent Update

Sunday, November 28, 2021

The HINDU Notes – 27th November 2021


📰 ₹10,000 crore more for MGNREGA scheme

However, the job scheme’s balance sheets remain in the red in 24 States, UTs.

•The Finance Ministry has allocated additional funds of ₹10,000 crore as an interim measure for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme after it ran out of funds allocated in the budget, according to the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD). More funds may be forthcoming based on the “assessment of demand,” added the Ministry.

•A Ministry spokesperson told The Hindu the extra money was allocated on November 5. However, the scheme’s financial statement on November 25 still reflects a negative net balance of ₹9,888 crore. Despite the additional allocations, the funds available for the scheme stand at ₹76,340 crore, well below the ₹86,229 crore which have been incurred as expenditure, including payments due for wages and materials. The scheme’s balance sheets remain in the red in 24 States and Union Territories.

Pending wages

•“Recently, the Ministry of Finance allocated additional funds of ₹10,000 crore for the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA as an interim measure. Further allocation may be made upon assessment of demand during the revised estimate stage,” said an MoRD statement issued on Thursday. These revised estimates will be included in supplementary budget demands made to Parliament when the winter session opens on Monday.

•In the meanwhile, more than ₹1,170 crore worth of wage payments for MGNREGA workers are still pending. “Lack of funds results in suppression of demand for work and delayed payment of wages to workers. These are violations of the Act; they also constrain economic recovery,” said an open letter from more than 70 economists to the Prime Minister on Wednesday, demanding that additional funds be provided immediately to strengthen and expand the scheme. They noted that 13% of households which demanded work had failed to get the same, adding that the unmet demand is as high as 20% in Gujarat, Telangana and Bihar.

•In its statement, the MoRD acknowledged that the MGNREGA is a demand-driven scheme, meaning that its funding must increase to accommodate increases in demand. “Whenever, additional funds are required, the Ministry of Finance is requested to provide the funds. In the previous financial year, the Ministry of Finance allocated ₹50,000 crore additional funds for the scheme over and above that of BE [budget estimates],” it said.

•“The Government of India is committed to release funds for wage and material payments for proper implementation of the scheme as per the provisions of the Act and guidelines applicable for the Central Government as well as the State Governments,” it said,

📰 Indian agriculture needs a Verghese Kurien

Amul’s success does not seem to have become a catalyst for similar movements across other agricultural commodities

•Many wish for legendary “Milk Man of India” Verghese Kurien’s presence in our midst today as the conflict between the Central government and the farming community on the issue of the farm laws appears to be still unresolved. November 26, 2021 was also Kurien’s 100th birth anniversary. Kurien’s deep understanding of Indian farming and the trust he earned from the farming community could have helped to find a possible solution to the current crisis. His widely cited observation, that “India’s place in the sun will come from the partnership between the wisdom of its rural people and the skill of its professionals”, captures the essence of his life and mission.

•There was a time when Kurien seemed to be an improbable architect of a rural revolution that would eventually transform the lives of millions of farmers in Gujarat. There were many who saw him as an outsider to that world. He hailed from distant Kerala, belonged to an upper middle-class Christian family, and was educated in a western university in a subject like metallurgy which is far removed from agriculture.

Only as a cooperative model

•Yet, quietly and with self-confidence, Kurien won the farmers over with his professional integrity and his vision of a central role for farmers in India’s journey of development. It is on that foundation that Kurien went on to design his idea of Amul as a co-operative, turned it over the years into a global brand, and later launched the White Revolution that would make India the largest milk producing nation in the world. It was all a well-knit plan.

•Central to Kurien’s vision was the co-operative model of business development. He decided that Amul would grow and establish its identity neither as a public sector undertaking nor as a private corporate entity. The co-operative model, he felt, was in the best interests of Gujarat’s milk producers.

•Kurien had a deep distrust of India’s bureaucracy. He saw it as a leftover of the colonial mindset and the product of a western lifestyle. Equally, he had reservations about the social objectives of the private sector. Much of the corporate sector, he felt, was led more by a profit motive than by public good. Kurien’s fascination for the co-operative model was also influenced by Gandhian thinking on poverty alleviation and social transformation. He viewed co-operatives as the closest embodiment of Mahatma Gandhi’s powerful insight that “what the world needs is not mass production, but production by the masses”.

Charting a path and questions

•Notwithstanding his reservations, it must be said to Kurien’s credit that he saw a great deal — that he could borrow from the ideas and the practices of the corporate world. In areas such as innovations in marketing and management, branding and technology, the private sector excels and sets benchmarks for businesses across the world to follow and adopt.

•At the same time, Amul was steadily emerging as a laboratory, developing significant innovations and evolving technologies of its own, and these have strengthened its competitive power against multinational corporations. Its biggest success came when under the leadership of H.M. Dalaya, a distinguished dairy engineer, Amul achieved a breakthrough in converting buffalo milk into skim milk powder and condensed milk. It was one single innovation that gave Amul a distinct competitive advantage and profoundly changed the lives of milk producers in Gujarat and beyond.

•Two questions are central to evaluating Verghese Kurien’s legacy and his contributions to India’s growth story.

•One, how has Amul performed in the years after its iconic founder left the world in 2012?

•Second, how far has the cooperative movement in general met its professed objective of an economic transformation at the grass-roots level.

•Amul has grown steadily on the strong foundation laid by its visionary leader, diversifying its product range and adding new ones. Amul continues to remain one of India’s best-known food brands and is an inspiration to other dairy cooperatives such as Nandini in Karnataka, Aavin in Tamil Nadu and Verka in Punjab.

Focus on digital revolution

•Sadly, Amul’s success has not been the catalyst for similar movements across other agricultural commodities in India. For millions of farmers, life is still a struggle for survival.

•India’s digital revolution has bypassed the agriculture sector. India talks about smart cities, not smart villages, nor even liveable villages. Farmers’ suicides are not uncommon, weighing heavily on the nation’s conscience.

•The cooperative movement in India is in a state of flux. It has suffered due to lack of professional management, adequate finance and poor adoption of technology.

•In the meantime, the pandemic has deepened the urban-rural divide. While the corporate sector is reaping billions on the crest of a stock market boom, incomes are drying in rural India and the nation seems to be facing a grave human tragedy. This is truly a moment to reflect on Verghese Kurien’s remarkable legacy and the unfinished task he has left behind.

📰 A close reading of the NFHS-5, the health of India

Given how little the country spends on health and education as a share of GDP, the improvements seem remarkable

•The national health and demographic report card is finally completely out. The results from the first phase (conducted between June 2019 and January 2020) of the fifth round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) were released in December 2020. We now have the key results from the second phase (conducted between January 2020 and April 2021).

•How did India fare? It is a mixed verdict, containing both cheer and alarm in abundant measure. Before going into details, we should note that the results of the NFHS are worthy of our attention because it is not a hastily put together state-of-health index. Together, the two phases provide a detailed, comprehensive, multi-dimensional report card on the state of India’s demographic and health trajectory.

Population has stabilised

•There are many pluses in the report card. A comparison of NFHS-5 with NFHS-4 (2015-16) reveals improvement in several dimensions such as educational attainment, institutional deliveries, vaccinations, infant mortality and much more. We can debate later whether the improvements are good enough given the scale and depth of what needs to be done. For now, we need to appreciate the progress, especially given the abysmal state of India’s health infrastructure, which has been tragically apparent since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Given how little India spends on health and education as a share of GDP, these improvements are particularly remarkable.

•The biggest positive headline news from NHFS-5 is that the total fertility rate (TFR), which is the average number of children born to a woman during her lifetime, has been falling over time and is now just below the replacement rate of 2.1. This is true across all States of India. This means that the total population has stabilised. Therefore, politicians can strike one thing off their to-do list and devote their energies to urgent health matters, instead of raising the bogey of population explosion to justify coercive population policies. There is absolutely no evidence to justify tying welfare support measures or holding elected office to the number of children.

Data on sex ratio

•Another headline reveals that nationally, there are 1,020 adult women per 1,000 men for the first time. Does this mean that Indian women are no longer “missing”, i.e. does this signal the beginning of the end of another tenacious problem — that of deep-rooted son preference which leads to illegal but pervasive sex-selective abortions as parents repeatedly try for at least one son?

•To gauge this, the key metric to examine would be the sex ratio at birth (SRB). The natural SRB is 105 boys to 100 girls, which typically stabilises to a 50-50 adult sex ratio. If there are pervasive sex selective abortions, leading to a masculine SRB (i.e., more than 105 boys to 100 girls), a part of this imbalance would carry forward into adulthood. But adult sex ratio is shaped by many factors other than sex selective abortions. In household surveys, the adult sex ratio might also be affected by sampling errors, arising, for instance, from undercounting migrant males.

•The natural SRB translates to 952 girls per 1,000 boys. Nationally, the SRB has improved from 919 in 2015-16 to 929 in 2019-21, but it is still short of the natural SRB. Major States with low SRBs are spread all over the country: Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Bihar, Delhi, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Maharashtra. While many States have seen an improvement in their SRBs, some have also witnessed a worsening, e.g. Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Odisha. Therefore, we need to recognise that the move to a small family size combined with persistent son preference is likely to impede the improvements in SRB.

Anaemia and malnutrition

•A key health indicator that has worsened is the incidence of anaemia in under-5 children (from 58.6 to 67%), women (53.1 to 57%) and men (22.7 to 25%) in all States of India. Anaemia has debilitating effects on overall health, which is why the World Health Organization characterises it as a serious public health concern; 20%-40% incidence is considered moderate. Indian States show variation: from 39.4% in Kerala to 79.7% in Gujarat: but barring Kerala, all States are in the “severe” category. It is tempting to think of the worsening as the COVID-19 effect.

•However, comparing the changes in anaemia in Phase 1 States (survey done pre-COVID) to Phase 2 States, we see that if anything, the increase in the former (which include Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Kerala, Maharashtra, West Bengal, among others) is on average higher than the increase in Phase 2 States (Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab, among others). The discrepancy between Phase 1 and Phase 2 could reflect differences in actual incidence or survey-related issues.

•There are other instances of clear differences between Phase 1 and Phase 2 results. The three indicators of malnutrition: stunting (low height-for-age), wasting (low weight-for-height) and underweight (low weight-for-age): show an overall improvement. These conditions often occur together. Together, these reflect chronic or recurrent undernutrition, usually associated with poverty, poor maternal health and nutrition, frequent illness and/or inappropriate feeding and care in early life. These prevent children from reaching their physical and cognitive potential.

•However, the overall reduction in national estimates of these three measures masks an anomaly. In Phase 1, several States revealed a worsening in one or more of these, whereas in Phase 2, none of the States showed a worsening. It would be good to understand if the novel coronavirus pandemic affected the survey in Phase 2, leading to undercounting of incidence, or whether by pure chance, all States in Phase 2 happen to be better performers on the malnutrition count (something that could not have been known at the start of the survey in 2019).

•Also, along with an improvement in these three indicators, we see an increase in the proportion of overweight children, women and men. Being overweight also reflects malnutrition, with serious health consequences in the form of non-communicable diseases.

•In addition to anthropometric measures, lack of adequate nutrition is also measured by micronutrient deficiencies, i.e. lack of vitamins and minerals that are essential for body functions such as producing enzymes, hormones and other substances needed for growth and development. While the NHFS does not have data on this, the issue of micronutrients is related to diets. It would be good to note here that Indian diets display a rich diversity.

•Many traditional diets reflect both local climatic conditions as well as a multiplicity of sources of essential nutrients, such as proteins. Policing of diets, by imposing an unnatural uniformity, and preventing access to animal protein for large sections of Indians that are not traditionally vegetarian is likely to reduce micronutrient diversity and contribute to poor health outcomes.

Notes of caution

•Some analyses have suggested that the rate of progress has slowed down, based on comparisons between NHFS-4 and NHFS-5 to the improvements between the two previous rounds. We would not be able to claim this yet, since comparing changes over a 10-year interval (between NFHS-3 in 2005-06 and NFHS-4) to a five-year interval (between NFHS-4 and NFHS-5) is misleading.

•Some have argued that the poor health outcomes reflect the effect of COVID-19. The data for the second phase of NFHS-5 have been, to a large extent, collected during the highly unusual conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, but as the evidence on anaemia shows, the deterioration in public health indicators cannot be attributed entirely to the pandemic. COVID-19 might have added fuel to the fire of poor public health, but it did not cause the fire.

•There is much more in the NHFS-5 survey that needs more than a short piece. The survey focuses on women’s empowerment, autonomy and mobility indicators. It shines a spotlight on women’s reproductive health, and reveals, for instance, that caesarian births have increased dramatically. In private health facilities, 47.5% births are by C-section (14.3% in public health facilities). These figures are highly unnatural and call into question unethical practices of private health providers who prioritise monetary gain over women’s health and control over their bodies.

•The overall evidence is compelling and clear: health ought to be a matter of concern for all political parties and all governments: national and State. The survey highlights deep inequalities in health outcomes. An action plan to improve India’s health needs to be inclusive, firm in its commitment, and backed by solid resources.