1. A garbage dump that was recast into a lush mini-forest
Major facelift: Biji Abraham with visiting students at the Christian College’s mini-forest at Chengannur.
Visiting the lush green Shanthisthal at a quiet corner of the 22-acre Christian College campus at Chengannur in Alappuzha district, it is hard to imagine that the place was once a stinking garbage dumping ground.
Today, it resembles a teeming forest ecosystem with trees, plants, small mammals, snakes and chirping birds. Its transformation, which began almost a decade ago, is a source of pride for Biji Abraham, an Assistant Professor of economics at the Christian College, and the institution’s biodiversity club. The mini-forest on 0.15 acres of land is home to 176 trees and plants of 116 species, even several rare, endangered and threatened ones.
“It had become a dead plot after several feet of earth was removed during the construction of the college ground. The people from outside dumped waste there for several years. The dump was close to the women’s hostel and the stench became unbearable. We decided to transform it into a biodiversity grove in 2013 under the Biodiversity Conservation Project of the Kerala State Biodiversity Board,” says Mr. Abraham, who is also the in-charge of the college Biodiversity Club.
Truckloads of waste were removed with the help of the Chengannur municipality. Later, the land was prepared using earth movers. In the initial year, 74 plants with medicinal values were planted. “The following year, we planted trees associated with the 27 ‘nakshatras’ as per the Hindu religious faith. It was followed by planting of flowering plants, exotic fruits and other species,” says Mr. Abraham, who acknowledges the support of students in developing the green patch.
An ardent nature lover, Mr. Abraham lives close to the campus and this helped him maintain Shanthisthal by regularly watering the plants and applying fertilizers until they attained a certain growth.
Apart from students of Christian College, the place is frequented by students and researchers from other colleges and universities. “We are glad that Shanthisthal has become a microhabitat. Researchers arrive here to collect specimens. Students also come to study about fungi and diseases that affect plants. Last year, a group of students from Mahatma Gandhi University visited the grove to separate alkaloids with anti-cancerous properties from Desmodium longipes,” he says.
After the setting up of the mini-forest, the college campus recorded about 30 bird species and several butterfly, ant and spider species.
The club last year set up a vidyavanam based on the Miyawaki concept on 0.05 acres of land. It houses 448 trees and 149 plant species.
2. Only govt. can take call on plea on disqualified lawmakers, EC tells SC
The final ground of disqualification is if an MLA or an MLC is “disqualified by or under any law made by Parliament”.
Poll body maintains distance on the question whether a disqualified lawmaker should be banned from contesting elections for five years
The Election Commission in the Supreme Court has chosen to maintain a distance on the question whether a disqualified lawmaker should be banned from contesting elections for five years.
The commission said it would be “appropriate” to have the Union government deal with the issue. The commission filed a five-page affidavit in the top court in response to a plea by Congress leader Jaya Thakur.
The petitioner contended that an MP or an MLA who has either been disqualified from the House under the Tenth Schedule (anti-defection law) or under Article 191(1)(e) of the Constitution should be barred from contesting elections for five years.
Article 191(1)(e) gives the various grounds of disqualification “for being chosen as, and for being a member of the Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council of a State”.
They include holding an office of profit, being of unsound mind or undischarged solvent or being a non-citizen or voluntarily acquiring the citizenship of a foreign state or being under any acknowledgement of allegiance or adherence to a foreign state.
The final ground of disqualification, and the one highlighted by Ms. Thakur in her petition, is if an MLA or an MLC is “disqualified by or under any law made by Parliament”.
“The issue involved in this matter pertains to the interpretation of Article 191(1)(e) of the Constitution. It relates to matters that do not have a nexus with the conduct of elections in terms of the remit of the Commission under Article 324. Therefore, respondent no. 1 (Union government) is the appropriate party for the adjudication of the prayers made in the petition,” the commission said in the affidavit.
The EC is vested with the authority of superintendence, direction, and control of elections for the conduct of elections to Parliament, State legislatures and the offices of the President and the Vice-President.
Ms. Thakur has highlighted instances in the past when lawmakers resign from legislature parties which brought them to the House, leading to a fall of the government.
3. ‘Just 9.3% of loans under PM SVANidhi given to vendors from minority communities’
A total of 42.7 lakh loans amounting to ₹5,152.37 crore had been disbursed to vendors.
A total of 42.7 lakh loans amounting to ₹5,152.37 crore has been disbursed to street vendors under the PM SVANidhi scheme, out of which only 3.98 lakh, or 9.3%, were to hawkers from the minority communities, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs told the Rajya Sabha.
The PM SVANidhi is a micro-credit scheme which was launched in 2020 to provide handholding support to street vendors to tide over the pandemic-induced economic stress. It facilitates collateral-free loans of ₹10,000, with subsequent loans of ₹20,000 and ₹50,000 with 7% interest subsidy.
The data shared by the Ministry in reply to a question by John Brittas, MP, on Monday shows that there was a decline in the share of loans to street vendors of minority communities with 10.23% in 2020-21, 9.25% in 2021-22 and an all-time low of 7.76% in 2022-23.
In 2020-21, 2,10,457 loans were disbursed to minorities, while it was 98,973 loans in 2021-22 and 88,609 in 2022-23.
“The data pertaining to the loans given under PM SVANidhi draws a bleak picture for minority street vendors,” said Dr. Brittas.
“Albeit the minorities constitute around 20% of the total population of the country, their representation amongst street vendors is reported to be manifold owing to myriad socio-economic reasons,” he added.
According to the data, the State-wise disbursal of loans seemed to be aligned with its population, with Uttar Pradesh disbursing the maximum number of loans at 11,22,397, while Sikkim gave out one loan. Uttar Pradesh also gave the largest number of loans — 95,032 — to hawkers from minority communities.
4. Price of 651 essential drugs down by 6.73% from April 1, says Centre
In November 2022, the government revised the list of essential medicines.
The price of 651 essential drugs has come down by 6.73% on average from April 1, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said on Monday.
He said the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) had been able to fix the ceiling prices of 651 medicines so far out of the over 870 scheduled drugs listed under the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM).
Because of the capping of ceiling prices, the cost of 651 essential drugs on an average had already come down by 16.62%, the Minister said. Even if the prices were to go up by 12.12% this year, the capping would help to offset the hike, according to the Minister.
The Health Minister, in a series of counter-tweets to what he called was an “answer to president of the Indian National Congress Mallikarjun Kharge on his misleading tweet about Essential Medicine Price Rise”, said: “A company can increase the price of medicines with effect from April 1, 2023, to the extent of 12.12% of the valid ceiling price of 651 essential medicines linked to Wholesale Price Index (WPI). But even if the company were to increase the price in full, an average reduction of 6.73% is estimated.”
The Minister added that according to the provision under the Drugs (Prices Control) Order, 2013, every year, pharma companies could increase or decrease the prices of medicines according to the WPI.
But in November 2022, the government revised the list and prices of essential medicines. Under DPCO, 2013, the work of revising the applicable ceiling price of such notified drugs had been initiated by the NPPA. “So far, new ceiling prices of 651 out of 870 essential medicines have been notified. Due to which the approved ceiling price of medicines has decreased by an average of 16.62%. As a result, consumers will save an estimated ₹3,500 crore annually,” the Minister said.
He also tweeted that the Janaushadhi campaign had created competition in the market, as a result of which pharma companies did not increase the price to the extent allowed.
The World Health Organization, in its note on Essential Medicines in Southeast Asia, said that an estimated 40% of health budgets in low- and middle-income countries were spent on medicines, with much of the cost borne out-of-pocket by patients. “Widespread health system inefficiencies mean that up to a quarter of spending on medicines is wasted due to poor procurement and irrational use, substandard and expired medicines,” it said.
5. ‘Manufacturing PMI rose to three-month high in March’
S&P Global suvey shows manufacturing firms’ new orders and output advanced even as input cost inflation slid to second-lowest in two-and-a-half years; PMI reading rose to 56.4, from 55.3 in Feb.
New orders and output rose to a three-month high in March even as input cost inflation for manufacturing firms slipped to the second-lowest mark in two-and-a-half years, the S&P Global India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) indicated.
The PMI reading rose to 56.4, from 55.3 in February, signalling the strongest improvement in operating conditions in 2023 so far. The PMI average for the January-March period was 55.7, lower than 56.3 in the previous quarter. New export orders grew at a faster pace in March than the previous month, but remained “slight and historically subdued,” S&P Global noted, based on its survey.
Despite the broader rise in orders and output, manufacturing firms’ outstanding business volumes grew only marginally at a pace that was the weakest in a year, compelling firms to desist from fresh hiring in March after 12 successive months of recording employment increases.
Moreover, the overall level of positive sentiment slipped to an eight-month low due to concerns surrounding competitiveness and general inflation.
6. EDITORIAL: 01 Time to put a price on carbon emissions
Vinod Thoma is the author of a new book, ‘Risk and Resilience in the Era of Climate Change’
In the absence of a price for the use of natural resources such as air and forests, environmental destruction has been part of every country’s recipe for boosting GDP growth. But the consequence of this approach has been the relentless emission of carbon, causing runaway climate change. It is time, starting with the biggest economies of the G-20, to agree on valuing nature, including by pricing carbon effluents. India can take the lead, as president of the G-20 this year, in carbon pricing, which will open unexpected avenues of decarbonisation.
Ways of pricing
Three ways of pricing carbon are: the establishment of a carbon tax domestically, as in Korea and Singapore; the use of an emissions trading system (ETS), as in the European Union (EU) and China; and the application of an import tariff on the carbon content, as the EU is proposing. Some 46 countries price carbon, although covering only 30% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and at an average price of only $6 a ton of carbon, a fraction of the estimated harm from the pollution. The International Monetary Fund has proposed price floors of $75, $50, and $25 a ton of carbon for the United States, China, and India, respectively. It believes this could help achieve a 23% reduction in global emissions by 2030.
The economy-wide benefits of carbon pricing in terms of damages avoided (plus revenue generation) generally outweighed the cost it imposed on individual industries in the EU, British Columbia, Canada, and Sweden. A key dynamic is that carbon pricing, by signalling a price for cleaner air, makes investment in renewable energy such as solar and wind, which has huge prospects in India, more attractive.
Impact on India
Among the three ways of pricing, India could find a carbon tax appealing as it can directly discourage fossil fuels, while raising revenues which can be invested in cleaner sources of energy or used to protect vulnerable consumers. It could replace the more inefficient scheme of petroleum taxes which are not directly aimed at emissions. By the way, Saudi Arabia and Russia are at the low end of gasoline prices (including taxes and subsidies), China and India in the mid-range, and Germany and France at the high end. In most countries, including India, fiscal policy has set in place the basic structures needed to implement a carbon tax. For example, they can be woven into road-fuel taxes, which are established in most places, and extended to industry and agriculture. Policymakers have to choose the tax rate, which varies widely from Japan’s $2.65 a ton of CO2 to Denmark’s $165 a ton set for 2030.
India could start with the IMF figure of $25 a ton. The main obstacle is the argument by industrial firms about losing their competitive advantage to exporters from countries with a lower carbon price. It would stand to reason, therefore, for all high, middle and low-income countries to set the same rate within each bracket.
It might also make sense to allow companies to use high-quality international carbon credits to offset up to a certain percentage of their taxable emissions. The EU excludes transport, where higher costs would have been passed on to consumers directly, Singapore provides vouchers for consumers hit by utility price rise, and California uses proceeds from the sales of carbon permits partly to subsidise purchases of electric cars. Some make a case for exempting “emission intensive trade exposed” enterprises from the carbon tax, but output-based rebates would be superior ways of doing the same.
Communication is important
All said, any type of carbon pricing faces stiff political opposition. When a new, conservative government took office, Australia repealed the 2012 tax just two years after it was instituted. Recent months have revealed the political pressures on decarbonisation: soaring energy prices led the EU to sell millions of emission permits, causing a 10% drop in carbon prices. Sweden may have handled some of these political constraints as well as any by presenting the carbon tax as part of a bigger fiscal package that lowers other taxes and includes new social safety nets. Communicating the idea of wins at the societal level, even in the presence of some individual producers’ losses, is vital.
A high enough carbon tax across China, the U.S., India, Russia, and Japan alone (more than 60% of global effluents), with complementary actions, could have a notable effect on global effluents and warming. it could also pave the way to seeing decarbonisation as a winning development formula. as carbon pricing gains acceptance, the first movers will be the most competitive. India, as president at the G-20 summit this September, can play a lead role by tabling global carbon pricing in the existential fight against climate change.
This article draws on work with the Centre for Social and Economic Progress
A high enough carbon tax can pave the way for decarbonisation as a winning development formula; India, as the G-20 chair, can play a lead role in this
7. EDITORIAL-02: Why India should cut down on its salt intake
Bibek Debroy is Chairman, EAC-PM.
An average Indian’s sodium consumption is more than double the physiological need and dramatically exceeds the WHO’s recommended daily intake
The seemingly innocuous act of consuming salt can have dangerous repercussions when taken in excess. Excessive sodium intake contributes to the rise of hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. The dangers often lurk undetected, warranting urgent attention and a revaluation of our dietary choices. An average Indian’s sodium consumption is more than double the physiological need and dramatically exceeds the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended daily intake of <5 g of salt for adults.
The WHO recently published the ‘Global Report on Sodium Intake Reduction,’ which sheds light on the progress of its 194 member states towards reducing population sodium intake by 30% by 2025. Regrettably, progress has been lethargic, with only a few countries making considerable headway towards the objective. Consequently, there is a proposal to extend the deadline to 2030.
India has enacted voluntary measures to decrease sodium in food supply and promote healthier food choices. The WHO devised a sodium score, ranging from 1 (least implementation) to 4 (highest implementation), for each member state based on factors such as the extent of implementation of sodium reduction and other related measures. India’s score of 2 signifies the presence of at least one voluntary policy, emphasising the need for more rigorous efforts to address this health concern.
Reducing sodium intake
But why is it essential for India to reduce its sodium intake? First, empirical evidence highlights the strong correlation between reduced sodium intake and decreased blood pressure. As per a seminal paper in the The BMJ, lowering sodium intake by 1 gram per day (2.5 grams of salt) leads to a 5 mm Hg reduction in systolic blood pressure (BP) for individuals aged 55, causing an estimated 22% decrease in stroke incidence and a 16% decrease in myocardial infarction incidence. This evidence suggests that salt reduction is a cost-effective and practical approach to preventing cardiovascular disease.
Second, elevated BP is a critical risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the foremost cause of mortality worldwide. In 2001, it contributed to approximately 54% of strokes and 47% of coronary heart diseases globally. This statistic has gone up since then.
Third, the staggering economic impact of cardiovascular disease on low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is estimated at $3.7 trillion between 2011 and 2025 due to premature mortality and disability. This figure represents an alarming 2% of the GDP of LMICs. Notably, the World Economic Forum projects that the Indian economy alone faces losses surpassing $2 trillion between 2012 and 2030 as a consequence of cardiovascular disease. This highlights the urgent need for effective interventions to mitigate the economic and health consequences of cardiovascular disease in LMICs.
Cardiovascular disease and hypertension pose significant challenges in India, primarily due to four reasons. First, as per data from the Registrar General of India, WHO, and the Global Burden of Disease Study, cardiovascular diseases have emerged as the primary cause of mortality and morbidity. In the last 25 years, the age-adjusted cardiovascular disease mortality rate has risen by 31%. Hypertension has been identified as the leading risk factor for such diseases in India.
Second, data from the National Family Health Survey-5 reveals that hypertension is more prevalent among men aged 15 and above compared to women in the same age group. Hypertension is more common in southern States, particularly Kerala, while Punjab and Uttarakhand in the north also report high incidence rates.
Third, the pre-hypertensive population, defined by systolic blood pressure levels of 120-139 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure levels of 80-89 mmHg, warrants attention. At the national level, 38.5% of women and 49.2% of men are pre-hypertensive, with a higher prevalence in the northern States. There is sufficient evidence to confirm that Indians with BP readings between 130 and 139/80-89 mmHg face significant risks of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and premature mortality. Many Indians classified as pre-hypertensive are now included in the newly defined stage-I hypertension by the American guidelines.
Fourth, the 2020 Report on Medical Certification of the Cause of Death shows that circulatory system diseases account for 32.1% of all documented deaths, with hypertension being a major risk factor.
The Union government has initiated several voluntary programmes aimed at encouraging Indians to decrease their sodium consumption. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has implemented the ‘Eat Right India’ movement, which strives to transform the nation’s food system to ensure secure, healthy, and sustainable nutrition for all citizens. In line with this goal, the FSSAI launched a social media campaign called ‘Aaj Se Thoda Kam.’ However, the average Indian’s sodium intake remains alarmingly high. Evidence shows an average daily consumption of approximately 11 grams.
India needs a comprehensive national strategy to curb salt consumption, as current measures have fallen short. A multi-pronged approach, engaging consumers, industry, and the government, is crucial. Collaboration between State and Union governments is essential to combat hypertension, often caused by excessive sodium intake.