1. Shifting monsoon patterns
Why are certain regions of the country experiencing higher rainfall than normal? How is the triple dip El Nina effect contributing to this change? Do these changes affect the sowing of the summer crop?
The IMD counts the rainfall between June 1 and September 30 as monsoon rainfall. This doesn’t mean that the monsoon system ceases from October 1. In fact, monsoon-related rain can continue well into the first fortnight of October and only really retreats from India by late October. It is then replaced by the retreating, or northeast monsoon in November.
Central India and the southern peninsula were expected to get 6% more than their historical average but what we’ve seen are rains far in excess of this. These heavy rains are premised on a La Nina, characterised by cooler than normal sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific. La Ninas indicate surplus rainfall. India is seeing an extended spell of the La Nina, called a ‘triple dip’ La Nina which is a phenomenon lasting across three winter seasons in the northern hemisphere.
On the other hand, large parts of U. P., Bihar and Odisha have seen large deficits. The east and northeast of India have reported a 17% shortfall and the northwest 2%. This has impacted sowing of the kharif, or summer crop.
The story so far:
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has said that the monsoon has begun to retreat from Rajasthan.
What is the monsoon withdrawal?
The monsoon is a sea-breeze that has consistently landed in the Indian sub-continent for thousands of years. It enters mainland India between the last week of May and the first week of June — though June 1 is its official onset date over Kerala. The IMD only counts the rainfall between June 1 and September 30 as monsoon rainfall. This doesn’t mean that the monsoon system ceases to pour rain over India from October 1. In fact, monsoon-related rain can continue well into the first fortnight of October and only really retreats from India by late October. It is then replaced by the retreating, or northeast monsoon in November which is the key source of rainfall for several parts of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and north interior Karnataka.
When does the monsoon withdraw?
The monsoon begins its withdrawal from the last State it reaches, which is Rajasthan. Around September 15, cyclonic systems from the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal that fuel the monsoon from June-September are replaced by an ‘anti-cyclone’ circulation which means dry, windless conditions start to prevail over western and northern India. More technically, withdrawal is a cessation of rainfall activity over northwest India for five straight days, an anticyclone establishing itself in the lower troposphere and a marked reduction in moisture content. A day after the IMD announced the withdrawal, torrential rains began in several parts of north India.
How has the monsoon been this year?
Monsoon rainfall in India has been surplus by around 7% this year though with extreme inequity. Central and southern India saw a sharp surge in rainfall. Rains in Central India were surplus by 20% and in southern India by 25%, with the last month seeing several instances of flooding in Kerala, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. On the other hand, large parts of U. P., Bihar, Odisha have seen large deficits. The east and northeast of India have reported a 17% shortfall and the northwest 2%. This has impacted sowing of the kharif, or summer crop. Paddy planting has been impacted with sown area 5.51% lower than last year, according to the Agriculture Ministry. The Centre is expecting a minimum of six-million tonne shortfall in rice production and this is likely to elevate inflation.
What led to excessive rains in southern and central India?
In April, the IMD had forecast ‘normal’ rains over India but by May-end indicated it to be above normal. Central India and the southern peninsula were expected to get 6% more than their historical average but what we have seen are rains far in excess of this. These heavy rains are premised on a La Nina, the converse phenomenon of the El Nino and characterised by cooler than normal sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific.
While, El Ninos are linked to reduced rains over India, La Ninas indicate surplus rainfall. India is seeing an extended spell of the La Nina, called a ‘triple dip’ La Nina which is a phenomenon lasting across three winter seasons in the northern hemisphere. This is only the third time since 1950 that a triple dip La Nina has been observed. This, in part, is why for the third year in a row, India is seeing surplus rain in September, a month that usually marks the retreat of the monsoon.
Are monsoon patterns changing?
Since 2019, monsoon in India has returned surpluses, barring a slight dip last year. The June-September rainfall in 2019 was 10% more than the 88 cm that India usually gets. Though June saw deficit rain, the months of July and August returned extra rain, with September registering 52% more rain than normal. In 2020, India saw 9% more rain with August registering 27% more rain and September 4% more than its usual quota. The rainfall over the country as a whole, in 2021, was 1% less than normal though rainfall in September was a remarkable 35% above what is usual. This year the monsoon is already in surplus by about 6% and a vigorous September is likely to see India post yet another year of surplus rain. Three years of above normal rain in a block of four years is unprecedented in more than a century of IMD’s record keeping, data suggests.
2. Editorial-1: A ground plan for India’s reformed multilateralism
Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s visit to the United States (September 18-28) has set the stage for an expansive range of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy by India. It is a unique visit as it seeks to achieve a vast list of objectives led by the Indian delegation’s participation in the High-Level Week at the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, which opened on September 13.
Perhaps the only precedent to the Minister’s current 11-day whirlwind diplomacy is his 2019 visit to the General Assembly, followed by a policy outreach comprising seven think-tanks in seven days in Washington DC. Even so, this year’s diplomatic agendas and international setting separate it from earlier years in quite a few ways. Coming just after the recently concluded Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet in Samarkand, which was attended by the Prime Minister, India’s varied multilateral engagements showcase a road map for India’s renewed multilateral diplomacy.
Overhauling the Security Council
At the heart of India’s participation in the 77th General Assembly is the call for a ‘reformed multilateralism’ through which the United Nations Security Council should reform itself into a more inclusive organisation representing the contemporary realities of today. India’s call for this structural overhaul of global multilateral institutions incorporates institutional accountability and a wider representation of the developing countries.
For a global organisation such as the UN, growing stakes of developing countries in the Security Council could foster trust and leadership across the world. The theme of the 77th General Assembly, which seeks “A watershed moment: Transformative Solutions to Interlocking Challenges”, places India right in the midst as a strong partner of the UN.
At least three recent global developments reflective of the UN’s functional evaluation have stood out in India’s quest for a reform of the UN. The COVID-19 pandemic was a weak moment for UN’s multilateralism. It highlighted the UN’s institutional limitations when countries closed their borders, supply chains were interrupted and almost every country was in need of vaccines. Countries of the global South, including India, which stepped up through relief efforts, drug distribution and vaccine manufacturing, have created space for a more inclusive UN, particularly through its Security Council (UNSC) reform.
The UN’s faultlines
Second, UN-led multilateralism has been unable to provide strong mechanisms to prevent wars. The shadow of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war has loomed large over several deadlocks in UNSC resolutions since the war broke out in February this year. With the West boycotting Russia, the veto provision of the UNSC is expected to reach an even more redundant level than in the past. As such, a reformed multilateralism with greater representation could generate deeper regional stakes to prevent wars.
Finally, China’s rise, belligerence and aggression which has been on display through its actions in the South China Sea, the Indo-Pacific region, and now increasingly globally, have also underscored the limitations of the UN-style multilateralism. China’s growing dominance could lead it to carve its own multilateral matrix circumventing the West, economically and strategically. The international isolation of Russia and Iran as well as increasing the United States’ Taiwan-related steps could usher in these changes more rapidly than expected.
China’s control of multilateral organisations, including the UN, is only increasing — most recently seen in the unofficial pressure China exerted on the former UN’s human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, to stop the release of a report by the UN Human Rights Council on the condition of Uyghurs in China. Moreover, China’s unabashed use of veto power against India continues at the UN.
In the most recent case, it blocked a joint India-U.S. proposal at the UN to enlist Sajid Mir, a top Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative involved in directing the 2008 Mumbai attacks, as a ‘global terrorist’.
Consistent with the changing times, India’s call for reform of the UNSC has grown in the past few years. In this regard, Mr. Jaishankar’s hosting of a ministerial meeting of the G4 (Brazil, India, Germany and Japan) holds special significance. Another high-level meeting of the Indian delegation with the L.69 Group, on “Reinvigorating Multilateralism and Achieving Comprehensive Reform of the UN Security Council”, will be critical in the planning of the next steps. The L.69 group’s vast membership spread over Asia, Africa, Latin America, Caribbean and Small Island Developing States could bring about a wider global consensus on the issue of the UNSC reforms.
India’s emphasis on reinvigorated multilateralism coincides with a critical juncture in the UN-led multilateralism. Just as burden-sharing has become integral to evolving multilateralism between regional countries, the UN could integrate such practices within its institutional ambit. In the past few years, the UN’s responses to both global and regional events have evinced a clear space for leadership and representation, as much as they have depicted its institutional inability to lead globally on its own. With starker divisions between countries as result of the Russia-Ukraine war and lingering pandemic-induced restrictions, the need for the UN’s reform is likely to be felt more palpably than ever before.
Beyond the UN, the Minister’s participation in plurilateral meetings of the Quad (Australia, India, Japan, the U.S.), IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa), BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), Presidency Pro Tempore CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), India-CARICOM (Caribbean Community) and other trilateral formats, such as India-France-Australia, India-France-the United Arab Emirates and India-Indonesia-Australia underlines India’s search for new frameworks of global governance, amidst growing frustration with the extant multilateral order. As Mr. Jaishankar has rightly highlighted in his remarks at the UN, at a challenging time for the world order, New Delhi continues to affirm its commitment to “diplomacy and the need for international cooperation”.
3. Editorial-2: Over the top
The Govt. must upgrade its thinking on privacy before digital apps control
The draft telecommunication Bill, put out last week for public comments, hints at a disturbing governmental pursuit, for more control over a range of digital applications and over-the-top streaming services that millions of Indians use daily. It seeks to do this by bringing them under the ambit of telecommunication services, the operation of which would require a licence — that is if the draft provisions do go through. This means the likes of WhatsApp, Zoom, and Netflix will be considered telecommunication services. And so would a whole range of digital services that are anyway regulated by the IT Act. This, the Government wants to do, by a wide expansion of the definition of what constitutes a telecom service. The new definition includes everything from broadcasting services to electronic mail, from voice mail to voice, video and data communication services, from Internet and broadband services to over-the-top communication services, including those that the Government may notify separately.
It is all well to state, as the Government has done, that the country requires a new legal framework, and not the existing one that is based on the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, to deal with the realities of the 21st century. But, it is not just technology that has evolved in over a century but also a democratic society’s understanding and expectations of user rights, privacy and transparency. Not long ago, the highest court in the country acknowledged a citizen’s right to privacy as a fundamental right. This draft, however, disappoints on the above counts. According to it, for instance, the Government has the powers to prevent a message from being transmitted “on the occurrence of any public emergency or in the interest of the public safety”. Another clause in the draft Bill requires an entity that has been granted a licence to “unequivocally identify the person to whom it provides services”. A similar clause under the IT rules brought in last year — requiring messaging apps to “enable the identification of the first originator of the information on its computer resource” — has been challenged in the Court. There are enough valid reasons to doubt whether this is even technically possible without breaking encryption and making all communications vulnerable. While this is not to underplay the mounting challenges for ensuring security, the repeated attempts by the Government to be able to tap into all kinds of communication, without making sure the common man has a legal armour in the form of a data protection law, is extremely problematic. The Government needs to upgrade its thinking on users and privacy. This draft needs to go back to the drawing board.
4. Editorial-3: India Inc. needs a neurodiverse workplace
In the last few years, words such as “inclusion” and “diversity” have assumed importance in the vocabulary of most organisations. A 2019 McKinsey study revealed that companies with gender diversity were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability while those with ethnic diversity out-rival their competitors by 36%. Another report titled ‘India’s Best Workplaces in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion 2021’ states that diverse teams perform better, boost leadership integrity, heighten trust in the organisation’s management and multiply revenue growth. It is no wonder then that organisations are building a more inclusive workforce by hiring employees from different ethnic groups, across gender and social backgrounds. Yet, lacking in this exercise is the absence of workers suffering from neurodiversity.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity in the workplace refers to including people with neurodivergent conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and Asperger’s Syndrome. Harvard Health Publishing defines neurodiversity as a notion that every person interacts and experiences their surroundings differently; there is no right way of thinking, learning, or/and behaving. These differences should not be construed as defects or disorders.
It is, therefore, unjust that even with all the necessary skill sets and degrees, these persons are denied a job because they may react to situations differently from non-neurodiverse persons. While part of the problem could be lack of awareness about neurodivergent conditions, it is time organisations created a more accommodating environment.
According to a recent report, nearly 2 million people in India suffer from this neurological and developmental disorder and are therefore identified as autistic. Another study by Deloitte estimates that nearly 20% of the world is neurodiverse. In the U.S., it is estimated that 85% of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed compared with 4.2% of the overall population. Hence, there is an urgency to create a work environment that welcomes neurodiverse individuals.
More efficient and creative
Organisations embracing neurodiversity enjoy a competitive edge in several areas such as efficiency, creativity, and culture. A study by JPMorgan Chase shows that professionals in its ‘Autism at Work’ initiative made fewer errors and were 90% to 140% more productive than neurotypical employees. Moreover, studies have shown that teams with both neurodivergent and neurotypical members are far more efficient than teams that comprise neurotypical employees alone. Neurodivergent individuals possess excellent attention to detail and an uncanny ability to focus on complex and repetitive tasks over a more extended period than their neurotypical peers. A study by the University of Montreal found that in a test involving completing a visual pattern, people on the autism spectrum could finish their task 40% faster than those who were not on the spectrum.
Additionally, people with dyslexia have more robust spatial reasoning — they can think about objects in three dimensions and analyse such objects even with limited information. They have problem-solving capabilities which allow them to see multiple solutions to a problem. They are often out-of-the-box thinkers with average or above-average intelligence.
Companies such as Deloitte, Microsoft, SAP, JPMorgan Chase, and E&Y have introduced neurodiversity hiring programmes. Indian-origin companies Hatti Kaapi and Lemon Tree Hotels have also included a neurodiverse workforce. Human resources and leadership teams must work together to ensure that the workplace is cooperative towards neurodiverse individuals. The process of building an inclusive culture includes customising interviews, ensuring day-to-day assistance for these specially abled individuals, and providing proper infrastructure so that they can perform at their optimal levels. Thus, organisations must not only remove barriers that obstruct the progress of such individuals but also create conducive conditions for them to achieve their true potential.
Mentorship programmes can benefit some, while others might require professional training on shared social and communication skills. Many employees with neurodiversity may find the hustle and bustle of a traditional office disturbing. Therefore, neurodivergent friendly offices catering to the employees’ diverse sensory responses can help ensure that these employees are comfortable in office spaces.
However, creating the right environment is an ever-evolving exercise that requires openness and a will to change on the employer’s part. This flexibility can result in exceptional benefits with minimal or no additional costs. To ensure higher profitability and be respected as a responsible employer globally, companies need to widen their definition of inclusivity by providing higher participation of a neurodiverse workforce.
5. Editorial-4: Mid-day meal-related food poisoning cases at six-year peak
CAG audits blame poor infrastructure, insufficient inspections, irregular licensing and limited reporting
With most students back in school after pandemic restrictions were eased, cases of food poisoning due to the consumption of mid-day meals have resurfaced. In the last 90 days, close to 120 students suffered from food poisoning across schools in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar.
In 2022, 979 victims of food poisoning were reported in schools across India, the highest in the last six years. The number declined during the pandemic years as schools were closed. Chart 1 shows the number of food poisoning cases due to the consumption of mid-day meals at schools between 2009 and 2022 (till September 14).
In the last 13 years, data suggest that at least 9,646 such cases of food poisoning were reported. This figure is a conservative estimate based on data from the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme and news reports. Close to 12% of such victims became ill after consuming mid-day meals in which lizards, rats, snakes and cockroaches were found. Chart 2 shows the number of such victims between 2009 and 2022. Most such cases were recorded in Karnataka (1,524), Odisha (1,327), Telangana (1,092), Bihar (950) and Andhra Pradesh (794). Map 3 shows the State-wise split.
In 2016, 247 students fell ill after eating khichdi as their mid-day meal at a Zila Parishad school in a village in Palghar district, Maharashtra. Map 4 shows 232 such incidents of food poisoning due to consumption of mid-day meals in schools between 2009 and 2022.
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India has audited several States in the past decade and has cited many reasons that could lead to low standards of mid-day meal preparation such as poor infrastructure, insufficient inspections, irregular licensing, limited reporting and absence of feedback mechanisms.
In 2019, in Madhya Pradesh, the CAG found that the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India did not notify doctors to report food poisoning cases. The Food Safety Commissioner did not have information relating to food poisoning cases that occurred during the 2014-19 period. The CAG found that one such missed instance involved 110 food poisoning cases that occurred in August 2014, in a school in Hoshangabad district. As data were not collected, action was not taken against Food Business Operators (FBOs) responsible for preparing the meal.
In 2015-16, in Madhya Pradesh, the CAG found that around 14,500 schools did not have a kitchen shed for preparing mid-day meals. In 2016, in Arunachal Pradesh, 40% of the schools did not have a shed. In Chhattisgarh, a CAG survey between FY11 and FY15 found that the mid-day meal was cooked in open areas in unhygienic conditions in 8,932 schools.
Food delivered from centralised kitchens to schools should have a minimum temperature of 65°C when it is served. In 2018, during a field visit of schools in Valsad district in Gujarat, the CAG observed that the food served by the NGOs was not hot and none of the schools the CAG had visited had the facility to check temperature. In five districts of the State, the CAG also found that there was over 80% shortfall in inspections of schools carried out by Deputy Collectors due to shortage of staff.
In 2014, in Jharkhand, the CAG found that a grievance redressal mechanism was absent in many schools and so, reports about children falling sick were not addressed and rectified.
In 2017, in Himachal Pradesh, the CAG found that license and registration certificates were given to 97% and 100% of FBOs, respectively, without inspecting their premises.