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Insights Daily Current Events, February 26 – 27 – 28, 2014

February 26 – 27 – 28, 2014

By- DEEPA M

National-

Non-financial challenges to sustainable urbanization in India-

The main causes of urbanization in India are:

  • Expansion in government services, as a result of Second World War
  • Migration of people from Pakistan after partition of India.
  • The Industrial Revolution
  • Eleventh five year plan that aimed at urbanization for the economic development of India
  • Economic opportunities are just one reason people move into cities
  • Infrastructure facilities in the urban areas
  • Growth of private sector after 1990

Challenges:

  • The speed of urbanization poses an unprecedented managerial and policy challenge—yet India has not engaged in a national discussion about how to handle the seismic shift in the makeup of the nation.
  • India will probably continue on a path of distributed model of urbanization because this suits its federal structure and helps to ensure that migration flows aren’t unbalanced toward any particular city or cities.
  • As the urban population and incomes increase, demand for every key service such as water, transportation, sewage treatment, low income housing will increase five- to sevenfold in cities of every size and type. And if India continues on its current path, urban infrastructure will fall woefully short of what is necessary to sustain prosperous cities.
  • Recent reports suggest that India spends $17 per capita per year in urban infrastructure, whereas the most benchmarks suggest a requirement $100. The investment required for building urban infrastructure in India, over the next 20 years, is estimated at approximately US$ 1 trillion.
  • There has been an incomplete devolution of functions to the elected bodies as per 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, possibly because of the unwillingness of the state governments.
  • In general, the capacity to execute the urban reforms and projects at the municipal and state level has been historically inadequate.

Solution (way forward):

India needs to work on several areas to manage its urbanization-

  • Inclusive Cities: The poor and lower income groups must be brought into the mainstream in cities. Regulations intended to manage densities and discourage migration both limit the supply of land and require many households to consume more land than they would choose.
  • Urban Governance: Meaningful reforms have to happen that enable true devolution of power and responsibilities from the states to the local and metropolitan bodies according to the 74th Amendment. This is because by 2030, India’s largest cities will be bigger than many countries today. India’s urban governance of cities needs an over-haul.
  • Financing: Devolution has to be supported by more reforms in urban financing that will reduce cities’ dependence on the Centre and the states and unleash internal revenue sources. Consistent with most international examples, there are several sources of funding that Indian cities could tap into, to a far greater extent than today: Monetizing land assets; higher collection of property taxes, user charges that reflect costs; debt and public-private partnerships (PPPs); and central/state government funding.

Use central schemes such as JNNURM and Rajiv Awas Yojana but eventually India needs to move towards a systematic formula rather than ad-hoc grants. For large cities with deep economies, this might mean allowing them to retain 20 percent of goods and services tax (GST) revenues. This is consistent with the 13th Central Finance Commission’s assessment that GST—a consumption-based tax that creates local incentives for growth and that is therefore well suited for direct allocation to the third tier of government. For smaller cities, however, a better option would be to give guaranteed annual grants.

  • Planning: India needs to make urban planning a central, respected function, investing in skilled people, rigorous fact base and innovative urban form. This can be done through a “cascaded” planning structure in which large cities have 40-year and 20-year plans at the metropolitan level that are binding on municipal development plans.
  • Local capacity building: A real step-up in the capabilities and expertise of urban local bodies will be critical to devolution and improvement of service delivery. Reforms will have to address the development of professional managers for urban management functions, who are in short supply and will be required in large numbers. New innovative approaches will have to be explored to tap into the expertise available in the private and social sectors.
  • Affordable housing: Affordable housing is a particularly critical concern for low-income groups—in the absence of a viable model that caters to their needs, India can meet the challenge through a set of policies and incentives that will bridge the gap between price and affordability.

India accounts 29 per cent of the global deaths of newborns-

Causes of newborn death

The three major causes of neonatal deaths worldwide are infections (36%, which includes sepsis/pneumonia, tetanus and diarrhoea), pre-term (28%), and birth asphyxia(birth asphyxia is the medical condition resulting from deprivation of oxygen to a newborn infant that lasts long enough during the birth process to cause physical harm, usually to the brain) nearly 23%. There is some variation between countries depending on their care configurations.

Why has care for newborns fallen between the cracks?

  • Lack of continuum of care from maternal to child: a lack of continuity between maternal and child health programmes has meant that care of the newborn has fallen through the cracks. More than half the neonatal deaths occur after a home birth and without any health care.
  • In many countries there is no record of neonatal deaths: until recently, there has been little effort to tackle the specific health problems of newborn babies. Most of their deaths are unrecorded.
  • Neonatal mortality and gender: reduced care-seeking for girl babies compared with boy babies has been reported, especially in South Asia.

What can be done?

  • Effective care can reduce almost 3 of the 4 million deaths of babies under-one month: the package of essential care includes antenatal care for the mother, obstetric care and birth attendant’s ability to resuscitate newborns at birth. Most of the infection-related deaths could be avoided by treating maternal infections during pregnancy, ensuring a clean birth, care of the umbilical cord and immediate, exclusive breast-feeding. For infections, antibiotics are life-saving and needs to be available locally. Low birth weight babies need to maintain body temperature through skin-to-skin contact with the mother. Several of the above interventions would also help save the lives of mothers and prevent stillbirths.
  • Empowering families and communities to close the gap of postnatal care: healthy home practices and empowering families to recognize problems and access care will quickly save many lives. In high mortality settings with low access to care, some interventions may need to be provided closer to home.
  • The gap for care of mothers and babies in the first few days of life is important even where women do deliver in facilities. New approaches are required to reach a large majority of these families.
  • Political commitment and social visibility. Communities and decision makers need to be informed that neonatal deaths are a huge portion of child deaths, and need therefore to receive adequate attention. Improved registration and increasing the availability and use of relevant information in programmes and to decision makers is essential if health care for newborn babies and their mothers is to be given adequate attention. Stillbirths should also be counted.

Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Boys –“Saksham”-

Saksham (the self-reliant individual) aims at all-round development of Adolescent Boys (ABs) to make them self-reliant, gender-sensitive and aware citizens, when they grow up. The scheme will cover all adolescent boys (both school going and out of school) in the age-group of 11 to 18 years subdivided into two categories, viz. 11-14 & 14-18 years. In the first phase, Saksham scheme shall be implemented in 20 selected districts in seven States on a pilot basis benefitting nearly 6 lakh adolescent boys annually

The scheme will have the following objectives –

  • To make the Adolescent Boys gender sensitive.
  • To create sensitized Ahimsa Messengers to address Violence against Women.
  • To enable ABs for self-development and empowerment.
  • To address the health needs i.e. the physical, mental and emotional health of ABs.
  • To promote awareness about health, hygiene, nutrition and Adolescent Reproductive & Sexual Health (ARSH) and family and child care.
  • To provide appropriate information and vocational skills for ABs above 16 years through National Skill Development Program (NSDP) for future work-participation.
  • To provide necessary life skill education and to provide information/guidance about existing public services.
  • To channelize the energies of ABs for nation building.

International-

New trade facilitation deal signed by WTO members at Bali in 2013- After more than nine years of negotiations, WTO members finally reached consensus on a Trade Facilitation Agreement at the Bali Ministerial Conference in December 2013, as part of a wider “Bali Package”.

  • The final agreement contains provisions for faster and more efficient customs procedures through effective cooperation between customs and other appropriate authorities on trade facilitation and customs compliance issues
  • It also contains provisions for technical assistance and capacity building in this area
  • A newly established Preparatory Committee was mandated to ensure the expeditious entry into force of the agreement and to prepare for its efficient operation.

Bali Package-

  • The Bali Package is a trade agreement resulting from the Ninth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization in Bali, Indonesia on 3–7 December 2013. It is aimed at lowering global trade barriers and is the first agreement reached through the WTO that is approved by all its members. The package forms part of the Doha Development Round, which started in 2001.
  • The package includes provisions for lowering import tariffs and agricultural subsidies, with the intention of making it easier for developing countries to trade with the developed world in global markets.
  • Developed countries would abolish hard import quotas on agricultural products from the developing world and instead would only be allowed to charge tariffs on amount of agricultural imports exceeding specific limits.
  • Another important target is reforming customs bureaucracies and formalities to facilitate trade

The Bali package consists of ten separate decisions by the Ministerial Conference, covering four areas as follow-

  • Trade Facilitation- Agreement will reduce red-tape and streamline customs. It will be legally binding, require some expense and a certain level of technology. LDCs will be supported in building capacities to implement the changes.  Although, some critics worry governments may have to prioritize funds for trade facilitation over other important areas such as public health or education
  • Agriculture- Covers food security in developing countries.
  1. General Services
  2. Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes
  3. Understanding on Tariff Rate Quota Administration Provisions of Agricultural Products, as Defined in Article 2 of the Agreement on Agriculture
  4. Export Competition
  • Cotton
  • Development and LDC issues– Covers measures Least developed countries (LDCs) and developing countries, including preferential treatment and market access.

While the negotiations targeted for a universal and multilateral agreement without exceptions, India was able to introduce an exception for its agricultural subsidy programme by threatening to stifle the negotiations. However, it had to agree to a number of limitations.

The G-20 group- The Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (also known as the G-20, G20, and Group of Twenty) is a group of finance ministers and central bank governors from 20 major economies: 19 countries plus the European Union, which is represented by the President of the European Council and by the European Central Bank.

Collectively, the G-20 economies account for around 85% of the gross world product (GWP), 80% of world trade (or if excluding EU intra-trade: 75%), and two-thirds of the world population.

The G-20 was proposed by former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin as a forum for cooperation and consultation on matters pertaining to the international financial system. The group was formally inaugurated in September 1999, and held its first meeting in December 1999.

It studies, reviews, and promotes high-level discussion of policy issues pertaining to the promotion of international financial stability, and seeks to address issues that go beyond the responsibilities of any one organization

The G-20 Summit was created as a response both to the financial crisis of 2007–2010 and to a growing recognition that key emerging countries were not adequately included in the core of global economic discussion and governance.

The G-20 Summits of heads of state or government were held in addition to the G-20 Meetings of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, who continued to meet to prepare the leaders’ summit and implement their decisions.

To decide which member nation gets to chair the G-20 leaders’ meeting for a given year, all 19 sovereign nations are assigned to one of five different groupings. Each group holds a maximum of four nations.

A G20 Agenda for Growth and Resilience in 2014- The challenge for 2014 is to turn that commitment into results. To be effective, these growth strategies will need to include practical actions to improve productivity and competitiveness, strengthen investment in infrastructure, encourage trade, make it easier to do business and boost employment. Individual country reforms will need to be complemented and strengthened by similar actions by all G20 members.

Nature of relationship between India and Saudi Arabia- India cherishes its cordial and friendly relations with Saudi Arabia, which are deep-rooted in history and based on the foundation of close people-to-people contacts

  • Relationship between India and Saudi Arabia to one of strategic partnership
  • MoU signed between the two sides would help defence personnel of the two countries to work closely and learn from the experiences of each other
  • Both countries are vulnerable to the menace of terrorism. India shares many security concerns with Saudi Arabia. He expressed happiness that the two countries have been cooperating in the fight against terrorism, including exchange of information relating to terrorist activities on money laundering, narcotics, arms and human trafficking.
  • Bilateral trade between India and Saudi Arabia has grown significantly to exceed US$ 43 billion in 2012-13.
  • There is need to diversify trade relations to non-oil trade sectors. Indian globally reputed companies, with expertise and competence in infrastructure development, are keen to work in upcoming projects in Saudi Arabia.
  • India invites Saudi investors to actively participate in development of its infrastructure, especially construction projects for highways, ports, airports, metros, supply chains and warehousing and power plants which are being regularly launched in India
  • Saudi-India cooperation is mutually beneficial and of benefit to all countries of the world. India has its own weight on the world stage. Relations must be solidified and strengthened.
  • There is need to transform the buyer-seller relationship, into one of deeper energy partnership with investments in petro-chemical complexes, modernization of refineries, and joint ventures.
  • Both the Ministers pointed out the need to ink a free trade agreement between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and India for boosting trade. The GCC countries – Oman, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia – and India have identified sectors like petroleum and oil, gas and fertilizers and information technology among other to be given focus.
  • India’s export to Saudi Arabia mentioned the list of items of potential export for India i.e. pharmaceuticals, automobiles, textiles, sugar and wheat etc. The Saudi side, on the other hand, highlighted the need for logistics and transportation under the services sector on their part.
  • India had withdrawn anti-dumping duties from two items i.e. Polypropelene and Pentaerythritol.

Open skies policy in aviation sector- Open skies is an international policy concept that calls for the liberalization of the rules and regulations of the international aviation industry—especially commercial aviation—in order to create a free-market environment for the airline industry. Its primary objectives are:

  • to liberalize the rules for international aviation markets and minimize government intervention as it applies to passenger, all-cargo, and combination air transportation as well as scheduled and charter services; and
  • to adjust the regime under which military and other state-based flights may be permitted

For open skies to become effective, a bilateral (and sometimes multilateral) Air Transport Agreement must be concluded between two or more nations.

 

Economy-

New ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR)2% of the profits earned by a company should be invested in socially relevant projects

The CSR activities will have to be within India, and the new rules will also apply to foreign companies registered here.

Funds given to political parties and the money spent for the benefit of the company’s own employees (and their families) will not count as CSR.

The CSR rules will take effect from April 1, as part of the new Companies Act. They will apply to companies with at least Rs 5 crore net profit, or Rs.1000 crore turnover or Rs.500 crore net worth.

For the purpose of deciding the CSR spending eligibility of a company, profit from overseas branches and dividend received from other companies in India will be excluded from the net profit criteria.

The CSR policy of a company should also specify that “surplus arising out of the CSR projects or programmes or activities shall not form part of the business profit of a company.’’

The CSR activities will have following-

  • Promoting preventive health care and sanitation and making available safe drinking water.
  • Setting up homes and hostels for women and orphans; Setting up old age homes, day care centers and such other facilities for senior citizens and measures for reducing inequalities faced by socially and economically backward groups.
  • Ensuring ecological balance, protection of flora and fauna, animal welfare, agro-forestry, conservation of natural resources and maintaining quality of soil, air and water.
  • Livelihood enhancement projects.
  • Protection of national heritage, art and culture including restoration of buildings and sites of historical importance and works of art; Setting up public libraries; Promotion and development of traditional arts and handicrafts.
  • Measures for the benefit of armed forces veterans, war widows and their dependents.
  • Training to promote rural sports, nationally recognized sports, Paralympics sports and Olympic sports.
  • Contributions or funds provided to technology incubators located within academic institutions which are approved by the Central Government.
  • Rural development projects..

 

Science & Tech-

Algae-based biofuels- the environmental photobioreactor (ePBR system) — is the world’s first standard algae growing platform, one that simulates dynamic natural environments.

The ePBR system is like a pond in a jar that helps identify, cultivate, and test algal strains that have the potential to make the leap from lab to pond — proliferate in real-world, real-pond settings and produce the most oil.

The bioreactors are about the size of coffee makers and can induce changes in light, temperature, carbon dioxide, oxygen, evaporation, nutrient availability and more.

algae as a source of biofuels pump nutrient-rich water through plastic or borosilicate glass tubes (called “bioreactors” ) that are exposed to sunlight (and so-called photo bioreactors or PBR).

It replaces home-built growing platforms made from flasks, tubing, aluminum foil and grow lights and gives researchers a tool that can consistently replicate conditions and reproduce results.

Many scientists around the globe are looking for strains of algae that could become a sustainable source of alternative energy.

Algae fuel or algal biofuel is an alternative to fossil fuel that uses algae as its source of natural deposits. Several companies and government agencies are funding efforts to reduce capital and operating costs and make algae fuel production commercially viable

Harvested algae, like fossil fuel, releases CO2 when burnt, but unlike fossil fuel, the CO2 is taken out of the atmosphere by the growing of algae and other biofuel sources.

Algae used as a source of biofuels are a relatively newly discovered use, but algae have been used in numerous other applications for many years. The other components in algae, including carbohydrates, natural dyes and pigments, antioxidants and other bio-active compounds, can all be used in various processes ranging from the industrial to pharmaceutical sectors

Many of the byproducts produced in the processing of microalgae can be used in various applications. Some of the products not used in the production of biofuel include natural dyes and pigments, antioxidants, and other high-value bio-active compounds. These chemicals and excess biomass have found numerous uses in other industries. For example, the dyes and oils have found a place in cosmetics, commonly as a thickening and water-binding agent.

Disadvantages

Commercial Viability

Algae biodiesel is still a fairly new technology. Despite the fact that research began over 30 years ago, it was put on hold during the mid-1990s, mainly due to a lack of funding and a relatively low petroleum cost

Stability

The biodiesel produced from the processing of microalgae differs from other forms of biodiesel in the content of polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats are known for their ability to retain fluidity at lower temperatures. While this may seem like an advantage in production during the colder temperatures of the winter, the polyunsaturated fats result in lower stability during regular seasonal temperatures

Low throughput

The most efficient microbial fuel synthesis techniques are tens of thousands of times slower than abiotic synthesis.

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