1. Japan PM Kishida to visit India today; G-7, G-20, Indo-Pacific ties on agenda
Synchronising plans for the G-7 summit in Hiroshima in May and the G-20 summit in Delhi in September will be on the agenda for Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s 24-hour visit to Delhi on Monday, a senior Japanese official said.
Mr. Kishida will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and also deliver a major speech on Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy and its new defence posture, more than 15 years since the late Shinzo Abe first spoke about Indo-Pacific cooperation during a visit to Delhi. Mr. Kishida and Mr. Modi will also take a walk together at a park in Delhi to visit a venerated tree with deep roots to Gautam Buddha’s time.
Mr. Kishida has been on a whirlwind spree of meetings with international leaders beginning in January, when he travelled to the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France and Italy, and also hosted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Tokyo this weekend to discuss the G-7 agenda with member countries. He will make the short trip to Delhi to work with Mr. Modi on more cooperation between G-7 and G-20 Presidencies, and is likely to make another attempt at bringing India on board with more tough language on Russia during the Hiroshima G-7 meeting, something India didn’t sign on to during last year’s G-7 summit in Germany.
“As Japan and India assume the Presidencies of the G-7 and the G-20 respectively this year, Prime Minister Kishida looks forward to engaging in candid discussions with Mr. Modi on the roles that the G-7 and the G-20 should play in overcoming such global challenges as regional and international security, food security, climate and energy, fair and transparent development finance,” Noriyuki Shikata, Cabinet Secretary for Public Affairs at the Japanese Prime Minister’s Office, told The Hindu when asked about the visit.
Mr. Kishida’s visit is unusual, as it is not a part of the annual bilateral summits Indian and Japanese leaders have held since 2006. Government sources also said that the visit would focus on “converging priorities on critical global issues, including food and health security, energy transitions and economic security,” indicating discussions on the impact of the Ukraine war and the COVID-19 pandemic were on the agenda for talks.
Mr. Kishida will meet Mr. Modi after laying a wreath at Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial at Rajghat. The two leaders are expected to announce a detailed commitment on coordination between the G-7 and G-20 summits this year. In particular, Mr. Kishida will speak about increasing engagement between the G-7 and the Global South, much like the Indian Presidency of the G-20 has done. In addition, they will discuss bilateral issues, including Japan’s targeted 5-trillion yen public and private investment in India, connectivity projects in the northeast, and the much-delayed Shinkansen high-speed rail project.
Sources said the two sides would also outlook India-Japan cooperation under their “Special Strategic and Global Partnership” over the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP), which will be outlined by Mr. Kishida during his “Sapru House lecture” later in the day. “[PM Kishida] thinks that it was in India where the vision of FOIP was born,” Mr. Shikata said, referencing Abe’s “Confluence of the Seas” speech to the Indian Parliament in 2007. “He looks forward to discussing the future of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ with the people of India on this occasion of his visit to India,” Mr. Shikata added.
Mr. Kishida will also visit Buddha Jayanti Park and see the Bal Bodhi Tree, which is believed to be connected to the “Mahabodhi tree” that Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment under. The tree grew from a sapling presented by former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike and was planted by former PM Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1964.
2. Amid heat over Adani stocks, NSE says all its decisions ‘transparent’
Police personnel standing outside the NSE during the Congress party’s protest against the Adani Group in Bandra on March 1.
The National Stock Exchange, in a statement, defends its indexing and surveillance moves, says there is ‘no human discretion in deciding on inclusion or exclusion of stocks in any of its indices’
The National Stock Exchange (NSE) late on Sunday issued a three-page statement to assert that its surveillance actions on individual stocks and decisions to include or exclude stocks in various Nifty indices are driven by “transparent” policies and rules without “human discretion”.
The statement comes two days after the exchange removed three Adani Group stocks, including its flagship Adani Enterprises, from its short-term additional surveillance framework. Stocks are put under the additional surveillance framework by exchanges to safeguard investors amid high volatility.
The NSE statement also sought to defend its subsidiary NSE Indices’ decisions, and said there was “no human discretion in deciding on inclusion or exclusion of stocks in any of its indices”.
Last month, the subsidiary had announced the addition of five Adani Group firms into 14 of its indices, effective March 30, while retaining Adani Enterprises and Adani Ports and SEZ in its flagship Nifty 50 index.
While the reconstitution of the indices was based on trading data for the six-month period ending January 31, financial experts had sought a review of the move to protect investor interest in the midst of themeltdown in the Group’s stocks since January 24, when U.S.-based Hindenburg Research released a report alleging several misdemeanours by the Group.
“NSE surveillance actions on eligible stocks are applicable as per transparent rules. These rules are non-discretionary, pre-announced and automatically applicable,” the exchange said, adding the norms were in the public domain, “common across exchanges” and were “implemented automatically and no human discretion is allowed”. The exchange also underlined that “the overall Risk Management Framework put in place for trading in secondary market has been designed to provide robustness to capital market ecosystem, especially in volatile times”.
“Similarly, inclusion and exclusion of stocks in various Nifty indices on periodic basis has been as per transparent policies,” it said.
Asserting that the subsidiary followed “a strong index governance practise through various governance committees to monitor index criteria policy changes or policies related to index constituent changes”, the NSE said these committees also included external independent members. “Thus given the current pre-announced, transparent, rules based, automatic, non discretionary regulatory framework for surveillance measures and for index inclusion/ exclusion at NSE, no human discretion is possible,” the NSE underlined.
Late last month, the Congress had protested outside the NSE headquarters against the move to include and retain Adani Group stocks in its indices.
3. Background radiation higher in Kerala, but no risk: study
Rare minerals: A sand-mining area at Vellanathu Thuruth in the Kollam region.
Higher radiation levels in Kollam are attributed to monazite sands that are high in thorium; study found that average natural background levels of gamma radiation in India was 94 nGy per hr
In parts of Kerala, background radiation levels, or that emitted from natural sources such as rocks, sand or mountains, are nearly three times more than what’s been assumed, a pan-India study by scientists at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) has found. This does not, however, translate to an elevated health risk.
Radiation results from the disintegrating nucleus of an unstable element and these can be from anywhere, including from inside our bodies to the constituents of matter.
Gamma rays are a kind of radiation that can pass unobstructed through matter. Though extremely energetic, they are harmless unless present in large concentrated doses. It’s similar to heat from a fire feeling pleasant until a sustained, concentrated burst can scald or worse, ignite.
Especially around nuclear plants, gamma radiation levels are monitored as also the average quantity of radiation that plant workers are exposed to.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) specifies maximum radiation exposure levels and this has also been adopted by India’s atomic energy establishment.
Public exposure should not exceed 1 milli-Sievert every year, those who work in plants or are by virtue of their occupation shouldn’t be exposed to over 30 milli-Sievert every year.
The present study found that average natural background levels of gamma radiation in India was 94 nGy/hr (nano Gray per hour) (or roughly 0.8 milli sievert/year). The last such study, conducted in 1986, computed such radiation to be 89 nGy/hr. 1 Gray is equivalent to 1 Sievert, though one unit refers to radiation emitted and the other to biological exposure.
However, the 1986 study measured the highest radiation exposure at Chavara, Kerala at 3,002 nGy/year. The present study found that the levels in Kollam district (where Chavara is situated) were 9,562 nGy/hr, or about three times more. This computes to about 70 milliGray a year, or a little more than what a worker in a nuclear plant is exposed to.
“This doesn’t mean that those at Kollam are being exposed to higher, dangerous levels of radiation. There have been extensive studies in the past that have checked for higher rates of cancer or mortality and nothing out of the ordinary has been found,” Dinesh Aswal, senior scientist at the BARC and among the authors of the study, told The Hindu.
The higher radiation levels in Kollam are attributed to monazite sands that are high in thorium, and this for many years, is part of India’s long-term plan to sustainably produce nuclear fuel. In southern India, because of the presence of granite and basaltic, volcanic rock has higher levels of radiation from uranium deposits.
4. EDITORIAL-1: Spectre of stagflation
Higher credit costs may further dampen consumption
The latest global financial developments and recent economic data in India are together raising fears that several major economies worldwide, including India’s, may be headed for a spell of debilitating stagflation. Last week’s retail inflation reading for February from India’s NSO, at 6.44%, clearly belies the RBI’s most recent forecast for Q4 inflation of 5.7%. With January having logged CPI-based price gains of 6.52%, prices will have to soften so sharply in March as to drag the headline number down by more than 230 basis points to about 4.1% for the RBI’s projection to come true. A look at the components driving inflation shows that core inflation, which strips out the impact of food and fuel prices, still remains stuck at 6.2% for a third straight month, and continues to hover almost at or above the 6% level since May 2021. That core inflation remains persistently elevated despite the RBI having raised its benchmark interest rate by 250 basis points since last May reveals the difficulty monetary authorities are facing in tamping down on price gains by increasing credit costs so as to dampen demand. Governor Shaktikanta Das and the RBI’s two other members on the Monetary Policy Committee all cited the worrying persistence of core inflation at their last policy meeting in February as justification for deciding to continue tightening monetary policy.
Queering the pitch further is price gains across the food basket too showing disconcerting trends despite a marginal deceleration of five basis points last month in the composite food price index. Prices of four key categories in the food basket that together account for more than a fifth of the Consumer Price Index continued to register significantly high year-on-year inflation, as well as sequential hardening. If the key staple of cereals and products saw inflation accelerate to 16.7% in February, the headline reading for milk and products quickened to 9.65%, that for fruits surged to 6.38% (from January’s 2.93%), with only the reading for spices slowing a tad to 20.2% (from 21.1%). With the prediction of a likely El Niño this year, the outlook for food prices is hardly reassuring. While policymakers will, therefore, need to stay focused on containing inflation, the rising uncertainty about the growth momentum sustaining in the face of the heightened risks of a recession in advanced economies raises the risk that higher credit costs may further dampen consumption. Yet, failure to engender enduring price stability could lead to stagflation. Unless supply side measures such as GST rationalisation and fuel price cuts are expedited, the overall macroeconomic outlook appears worrying.
5. EDITORIAL-2 Playing with fire
Kerala must discard centralised waste-processing, reduce its trash
The landfill fire in Brahmapuram, on March 2, has turned the spotlight on the State’s ineffectual solid-waste management practices — from a widespread lack of waste segregation at source to discrepancies between contractors’ actions to maintain the landfill and their obligations. This was not the first fire at Brahmapuram. Studies by the CSIR-National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology, in 2019 and 2020, concluded that the many fires released highly toxic substances into their surroundings; they are also likely to have been released in this fire. These facts indicate two problems — solid waste accumulated at the site, and it was not removed quickly enough. And, also, two kinds of failure. First, Kochi’s solid-waste management apparatus is too tenuous for the amount of waste it produces and the Brahmapuram waste-to-energy plant is dysfunctional. The former is a pan-India problem, due to overconsumption, low resource-use efficiency, and not handling such waste properly. Solid waste can be biodegradable, when it is composted, or nonbiodegradable, when it is repurposed, combusted, or landfilled. Such waste does not go anywhere else; so, if any of these three channels are clogged, waste will collect in the others. This is why landfills are signs of urban dysfunction. The second kind has to do with waste not being removed efficiently from stockpiles — by feeding it into waste-to-energy plants and by recovering commercially important metals, refuse-derived fuel, and bio-soil — and by storing the flammable waste in a way that would not prevent fires.
The Brahmapuram plant appears to have been in the State’s blind spot. Such facilities work only when the relatively more expensive power they produce will be purchased; the amount of combustible waste they receive is proportional to the amount of purchasable power they can produce; and the waste they receive has sufficient caloric content to produce that power. The plant is dysfunctional: the State must explain why and revive it. Also needed are answers about the landfilling and biomining contracts, why contractors failed their obligations, and why course-correction was not effected sooner. It is of concern that the State overlooked Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal orders to prevent such fires. Corruption in the face of the climate crisis beggars cynicism. Finally, Kerala needs to discard centralised waste-processing in favour of the decentralised mode encouraged by its Solid Waste Management Policy. The State is unlikely to meet its goal of being waste-free by 2026 if it does not achieve its circular economies, which it will not unless its trash mountains dwindle instead of becoming climate pollutants in their own right.
6. EDITORIAL-3: Moving forward with a newer concept of UHC
Dr. K.R. Antony is Independent Monitor, National Health Mission, Government of India, a former Director, State Health Resource Centre, Chhattisgarh, and a former Health and Nutrition Specialist, UNICEF, India
Do we believe in health as a basic human right, which India’s Constitution guarantees under right to life? In contrast, we believe in the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of health: a certain totality of health to the realms of mental and social well-being and happiness beyond physical fitness, and an absence of disease and disability. This means that we cannot achieve health in its wider definition without addressing health determinants. This necessitates a need for an intersectoral convergence beyond medical and health departments such as women and child development, food and nutrition, agriculture and animal husbandry, civil supplies, rural water supply and sanitation, social welfare, tribal welfare, education, forestry.
We all subscribed to the slogan “Health for All by 2000” that was proposed by Halfdan Mahler and endorsed by the World Health Assembly in 1977. This slogan had an inherent implication, i.e., “for All”, which means universalisation. Thus, nobody is denied this and everybody is eligible without being discriminated against on the basis of financial status, gender, race, place of residence, affordability to pay or any other factors. Universal Health Care/coverage (UHC) was implied as early as 1977. India, through its National Health Policy 1983, committed itself to the ‘Health for All’ goal by 2000.
A focus on primary care
When and where then did partial coverage of the population and partial responsibility of the ruling government to pay for health care come in? The International Conference on Primary Health Care, at Alma Ata, 1978, listed eight components of minimum care for all citizens. It mandated all health promotion activities, and the prevention of diseases including vaccinations and treatment of minor illnesses and accidents to be free for all using government resources, especially for the poor. Any non-communicable disease, chronic disease including mental illnesses, and its investigations and treatment were almost excluded from primary health care. When it came to secondary and tertiary care, it was left to the individual to either seek it from a limited number of public hospitals or from the private sector by paying from their own pockets. There were not enough government-run institutions for the poor (who cannot afford exploitative and expensive private care). This abdication of responsibility, i.e., to provide secondary or tertiary care by the state, ensured the dominant, unregulated, profit-making private sector and also health insurance sector were kept happy and thriving. This created a dichotomy between peripheral primary and institutional-referred specialist care at the secondary and tertiary levels.
Realising that even the poor do contract chronic illnesses and non-communicable diseases such as cardiac, neural, mental and metabolic disorders, and also require investigations and management at peripheral primary health institutions, a Primary Health Care (PHC) Version 2 or Comprehensive PHC was defined. A sensible move, it was operationalised through the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) in India from 2013. The second half of the last decade saw the operationalisation of the Health and Wellness Centre as a model of implementation of Comprehensive Primary Health Care.
Every individual has a right to be healed and not have complications, disability and death. That right is guaranteed only by individualism in public health, the new global approach to UHC, where “nobody is left uncounted and uncared for”.
The Alma Ata declaration of primary health care can be left behind as a beautiful edifice of past concepts. Let us move forward with a newer concept of UHC which encompasses primary, secondary and tertiary care for all who need it at affordable cost without discrimination.
The Universal Health Coverage slogan must be avoided as it is deceptive. This is because it is neither universal in its implementation nor comprehensive in its coverage of services and never assures accessibility or affordability as its financing is conditional to insurance premiums paid either by the individual or state. WHO should not have yielded to the World Bank and the Rockefeller Foundation during the period of 2004-2010 towards pro-market driven reform guidelines such as reducing state regulation and selectivity of uneconomical service coverages. This backtrack from “Health For All” dilutes the UHC concept. However, the consolation is that the World Health Assembly resolution of 2011, urges countries for timely finance of the health sector to reduce out-of-pocket expenses and a catastrophic expenditure in health resulting in the impoverishment of families.
The Astana declaration of 2018 calls for “partnership” with the private sector, though alcohol, tobacco, ultra-processed foods, and industrial and automobile pollution contributed by the commercial private sector are well established. Also, poorer countries miserably fail or are unwilling for “private sector regulation”. It never addressed poverty, unemployment and poor livelihood, but eulogises quality PHC only as the cornerstone for Universal Health Coverage and ignores broader Universal Health Care.
A globally accepted health systems concept since the Beijing Health Systems Research Conference 2012 is that of a multi-nodal system of varied sectors, professional streams and specialities with a variety of staff to deliver Comprehensive Universal Health Care.
The National Health Mission with concurrent intersectoral thrusts on Poshan Abhiyan, National Food Security, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, water sanitation, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, etc. is a better model of fully tax-funded Universal Health Care, but the Ayushman Bharat Jan Arogya Bhima Yojana damages that approach.
It must encompass primary, secondary and tertiary care for all who need it, and at affordable cost without discrimination
7. EDITORIAL-4: A dump fire that raises a stink
The smoke from Brahmapuram has cleared, but the concerns it fuelled remain
STATE OF PLAY
The March 2 fire at Brahmapuram was not the first at the waste processing plant — a euphemism for a sprawling 110-acre open dumping yard with a failed windrow composting facility and a yet-to-begin waste-to-energy plant. The yard has been witnessing fire outbreaks at almost the same time every year in the last few years. The Kochi Municipal Corporation, which runs the plant, initially provided a typically listless response. But this proved calamitous as the blaze raged on and a blanket of fetid smoke soon shrouded the city and nearby areas.
There was no dearth of warnings about this impending disaster. When it followed up on a major fire incident in 2019, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had found glaring lapses in solid waste handling at the site and had asked the State to show urgency in clearing the ‘legacy’ waste at Brahmapuram. As per a 2021 estimate, Brahmapuram had about 5.5 lakh metric tonnes of legacy waste dumped over an area of 40 acres.
In May last year, the Kerala government told the South Zone Bench of the NGT that Zonta Infra Tech Private Limited had begun the process of ‘biomining’ — segregation and conversion of old dump yard waste into reusable resources — at Brahmapuram in January 2022, and that 28% of the work was over by May.
But with talks veering towards a new waste-to-energy plant at the site, which would require a regular supply of huge quantities of waste, the Kochi Municipal Corporation slipped into a slumber and failed to ensure that the fire hydrants at the yard remained operational. This along with the toxic smoke emanating from the mounds of garbage proved to be a double whammy for the firefighters.
It is small wonder that the State Pollution Control Board has now imposed a fine of ₹1.8 crore on the Municipal Corporation. The NGT, on its part, asked the civic body to deposit a penalty of ₹100 crore with the Chief Secretary. Meanwhile, the State government launched a health survey in the smoke-hit areas of Kochi.
But there are deeper concerns about prolonged exposure to compounds such as dioxins that are carcinogenic. When the Thiruvananthapuram-based National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology conducted studies at Brahmapuram in the aftermath of the fire episodes in 2019 and 2020, alarming levels of dioxin were detected in the air. The institute recommended a deeper study of environmental contamination — in soil, sediment, and water — in and around Brahmapuram. Delaying such a study is inexcusable.
The yard is located in a land-filled wetland abutting a river, which supplies drinking water to a few panchayats in the vicinity, and leachate from the garbage has already polluted the Kadambrayar river. The landfill is where more than half a dozen local bodies dump their waste. A fair share of the 326 tonnes of refuse generated by Kochi daily makes it to the landfill.
The latest fire has triggered a political blame game and allegations of corruption in awarding the contract for biomining. A High Court-appointed committee audited the yard premises and found the facilities inadequate. The crisis has given an opportunity to the State administration to review its waste management practices and replicate in Kochi what it has tried out with a great degree of success elsewhere — decentralised management of waste. This would mean processing biodegradable waste in situ (at home) to the extent possible, with the rest treated at community-level treatment facilities. Thiruvananthapuram and Alappuzha have already made strides in this direction and several former dumping yards in the State have been turned into recreational public spaces.
A move in the right direction in the aftermath of the fire, as enunciated by the Chief Minister, is augmenting the Haritha Karma Sena (green army of volunteers) for 100% collection of plastic and other non-biodegradable refuse for safe disposal and recycling under the public sector Clean Kerala Company. The key to good waste management practice is the segregation of waste into as many categories as possible at all levels so that it is easy to handle.
In the backdrop of Brahmapuram, biomining at the nearly 50 garbage dumping sites in the State is set to gather momentum. But what’s concerning is the government’s resolve to go ahead with unproven, polluting, and unviable solutions such as waste-to-energy plants which Kerala can do without.