17.08.2009

Environment
  • On depleting ground water resources
    • NASA satellite data shows groundwater levels in northern India depleting by as much as a foot per year, over the past decade.
    • Therefore it is clear that India faces a turbulent water future. So what should be done about it? Can you throw some suggestions?
    • Take a look at what an ET editorial suggests:
      • The far too much reliance on placed on groundwater (about 70% of India’s irrigation needs and 80% of domestic water supplies) has to be reduced.
      • Our water infrastructure for storage and supply is sorely inadequate. This has to be improved.
      • Policy distortions in artificially underpricing key agri-inputs like power have perversely incentivised cultivation of water-intensive crops like paddy in traditionally wheat growing areas. Such distortions have to be done away with pronto.
      • We need to step-up building bunds, check-dams and other small and medium-sized reservoirs for rain-water harvesting. This can be taken up under the auspices of the NREGA.
      • India can store barely about 30 days of rainfall, compared to as much as 900 days in the major river basins abroad.
Finance & Economy
  • CRISIL to foray into grading stocks
    • CRISIL, the country’s biggest rating agency and the Indian arm of global rating giant Standard & Poor’s (S&P), is stepping into uncharted territory with plans to grade listed stocks — an experiment that will be the first of its kind in the world and sure to have its own share of controversies.
    • At present, local rating agencies like Crisil and Icra confine themselves to grading initial public offerings (IPOs), which many investors make a mental note of before investing.
    • But unlike IPO grading, which is mandatory under SEBI regulations, Crisil’s proposed grading of listed stocks would be optional for a company. A company keen to grade its stock will have to hire the services of a rating agency, a process similar to getting a rating for a bond or debenture. The methodology that will be used here would be in many ways similar to IPO grading rather than debt rating.
    • How will investors be benefited from such grading?
    • Though the price part won’t be answered, insights into issues like ‘is the business good’, ‘are financials robust’, ‘is the governance strong’ and most importantly, ‘is the company poised for healthy earnings growth’ will be given.
  • Titbits on bank nationalisation
    • In 1969, when banks were nationalised, the population per bank branch was 82,000 in the rural areas and 33,000 in urban areas. By 2007 that number had fallen to 17,000 in rural areas and 13,000 in the urban areas.
    • In 1969, just 17% of the branch network was in rural areas; today that number is 32%, thanks almost entirely to PSBs.
    • Yet, there is a large section (41%) of the population that is still without access to modern banking.
  • Mortage fund to help urban poor
    • The Union government, which recently announced a grand plan to make India slum-free in five years, is considering a Rs 15,000-crore mortgage fund to encourage lenders to give home loans to the urban poor, usually the last in banks’ preferred list of borrowers.
    • The ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation has proposed to the Planning Commission to set up the fund to act as a guarantee to lenders in case such loans go bad.
    • Earlier this year, the government had announced a 5% interest subsidy for the urban poor — defined as those earning up to Rs 7,300 a month — availing home loans up to Rs 1.6 lakh. That is, if a loan is sanctioned at an interest rate of 8%, the borrower will have to pay only 3%. But the government felt the subsidy alone may not be enough to prod financial institutions to lend to the urban poor. Hence the mortgage fund.
    • The move is in line with the government’s massive push for social development and inclusive growth through a slew of measures ranging from the much-appreciated rural job guarantee scheme to the newly-announced plan to wipe out slums from urban India.
  • Green shoots det to defy drought
    • IT’S a drought all right, but there is no need to panic as far as India’s economic growth is concerned. For, even though various state governments have declared 177 of the 600-odd districts across the country as droughtprone, nudged down the country’s GDP growth by almost a percentage point and readied its war room to deal with the impending agriculture-led humanitarian crisis, the jury is still out on the impact of lower farm growth on the overall economic well-being of the country.
    • Apart from the much-commented fact that the economy has sharply diversified beyond agriculture—to the extent that it accounts for just a shade over 40% of rural income now, compared to over half in early 2000s, the last time India faced a drought of such intensity— analysis of drought-hit districts and the prognosis by a few independent forecasters like Morgan Stanley and Standard & Poor’s offer hope that economic growth this year will remain robust, and, at worst, the impact would be marginal, giving credence to the theory that growth is now fairly decoupled from agriculture, all other things remaining the same.
    • Let's hope the economists would prove right this time.
International
  • India opposes linking trade with emission caps
    • Waxman-Markey climate change legislation, which was passed by the US House of Representatives seeks to impose trade penalties on countries that do not commit to specific action against greenhouse gases.
    • At the Bonn negotiations, the developed countries have suggested introducing trade penalties unless developing countries accepted emission caps under the UN framework convention on climate change.
    • India has expressed its objection to such a move.
    • The talks will be resumed in September in Bangkok, with the aim of reaching an agreement by the December conference in Copenhagen. The clause included by India will now be part of the 200-page document on which negotiators from 180 countries will have to arrive at an consensus. This agreement will succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
    • The Kyoto protocol requires 37 industrial countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a total 5.2% from the 1990 levels by 2012, but made no obligations on developing countries.
Science & Technology
  • IBM to use DNA in next-gen microchips
    • Artificial DNA nanostructures, or ‘DNA origami’ may provide a cheap framework on which to build tiny microchips.
    • IBM is reportedly looking to the building blocks of our bodies — DNA — to be the structure of next-generation microchips.
Language lessons
  • d├ęcolletage: Noun
    • A low-cut neckline on a woman's dress

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