Politics & the Nation
  • Know anything about Swavalamban?
    • Launched by the Finance Minsiter Mr. Pranab Mukherjee in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district, the scheme floated by the Centre is for the unorganised sector. The scheme was launched as part of a broader plan for financial inclusion.
    • As per the scheme, the central government will contribute Rs. 1,000 a year for four years to every Swavalamban account holder who can deposit up to Rs. 12,000 a year into his pension account.
    • Reportedly only about 13% of the working population in our country is eligible for some kind of retirement pension.
  • Some statistics and findings about the state of our country's health
    • Excerpted from today's op-ed on the subject.
    • According to the World Health Statistics 2010 India has the highest number of tuberculosis (23% of world’s patients), diphtheria (86% of world’s patients), leprosy (54% of world’s patients), pertussis (29% of world’s patients), polio (42% of world’s patients), tetanus (22% of world’s cases) and malaria (55% of world’s patients) cases. It is the second highest in measles, the fourth highest in Japanese encephalitis and the 14th highest in cholera. It has the highest percentage of underweight children below the age of five years (43.5%). This is all far in excess of the percentage of the world’s population (17%) that India supports. To no other country goes the dubious distinction of being first in so many arenas.
    • The density of doctors per 10,000 of population is about six, while the average for SEAR (South-East Asian Region) is only five. The global average is 14. Similarly, the density of nurses/mid-wives is 13 per 10,000 population compared with the SEAR average of 11 and the global average of 28.
    • Lack of availability of human resources is not a cause of poor healthcare but a result of lower healthcare expenditure.
    • In the pharmaceutical field, manpower at a density of six per 10,000 people beats the SEAR and global average of four. This is because almost 75% of health care expenditure is on drugs.
    • Though well below global averages, India spends higher at 4.1% of its GDP on healthcare compared with 3.6% in SEAR. In purchasing power parity terms, per capita annual expenditure on healthcare is about $109 in India compared with $104 of SEAR. So, our health indices should have been better.
    • Evidently, the issue is not about the money; it is about how and where the money is spent, especially in the rural areas where over 70% of India resides. Intriguingly, there is a gross urban bias in government expenditure on district hospitals and urban tertiary centres.
    • The latest National Health Accounts (NHA) 2004-05 places the government expenditure on rural healthcare services and family welfare at Rs.52,970 million, the urban counterpart getting the lion’s share at Rs.92,408 million. It is around Rs.71 per capita for rural against a far higher Rs. 289 for urban people. Private out-of-pocket expenditure (OOPE) works out to Rs. 777 per capita for rural and Rs. 1,099 for urban people in that year.
  • Govt floats green mission
    • The government is setting up a new body, with a corpus of up to Rs.200 crore, that will help companies develop environment friendly technologies for hybrid and electric vehicles.
    • The National Electric Mobility Mission will try to promote ecofriendly technologies as an alternative to use of non-renewable fuels such as petrol and diesel that dominate the Indian car and twowheeler market. This will also help control air pollution in the country.
  • Today is World Tourism Day
    • The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) forecasts that international tourism will continue growing at the average annual rate of 4 percent.
    • Taking tourism towards its tech-age dimension will be the space tourism which is expected to resume in 2012 with better technical advancements. Although compared with traditional destinations, the number of tourists in orbit will remain low until technologies such as a space elevator make space travel cheap.
    • A recent UNWTO report (which assesses highest annual tourist footfalls) points out the top 10 global destinations as: France with 67,310,000 tourists United States with 47,752,000 tourists Spain with 43,252,000 tourists Italy with 34,087,000 tourists United Kingdom with 25,515,000 tourists China with 23,770,000 tourists Poland with 19,520,000 tourists Mexico with 19,351,000 tourists Canada with 17,636,000 tourists Hungary with 17,248,000 tourists.
    • India has emerged as one of the fastest leading travel, tourism, aviation and hospitality powers in the world. According to a survey, passengers annually travelling by railways are 5.8 billion, by domestic airlines 15 million, and by international airlines 7 million. Over the next decade, World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates a demand hike of 8.8 percent annually which is the highest projection across the world.
Finance & Economy
  • The state of the economy
    • Take a look at this graphic.  It gives a very good picture how the economy of the country is faring at the moment.  Very good one.
  • RBI tells states to stop new biz to pvt banks
    • The Reserve Bank of India has asked several state governments not to give new businesses, which could generate thousands of crores of income, to private sector banks.  The move is suspected to be driven by the private banks' comparatively lower lending in government-sponsored programmes.
    • Currently, private banks handle a slice of the overall tax and excise collection and certain payments of ministries like health, civil aviation and urban development.
    • Private banks are obviously unhappy with the move.  They aver that the tax money that took two-to-three weeks to reach government coffers became possible in a few days with the entry of private banks. In electronic payments, funds are transmitted within a day. Earlier, banks charged more than 11 paise for transferring every 100 of tax collected and this has dropped to a flat rate of 45 per challan now. The commission earned by banks on government business was Rs. 2,800 crore last year, of which around one-tenth went to private banks.
    • The entry of private banks started in April 2001, when HDFC Bank was allowed to handle tax collection, followed by three institution-backed banks — ICICI Bank, UTI Bank (now Axis Bank) and IDBI Bank which was then a private bank — in November 2003.
  • A bit about LEDs
    • The high-lumen light emitting diodes (LEDs) consume very less power -- as low as half a watt, as against 7-10 watt for compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Also, LEDs are ‘install and forget’ systems, providing up to 1,00,000 hours of illumination or, at six hours of usage per day, have a life of 45 years! LEDs are also perfect for lighting up with solar power, requiring as they do DC supply, very unlike, say, CFLs.
    • However, LEDs remain pricey, although costs have been tumbling following economies of scale in production worldwide.
  • India inks rider-free trade pact with Japan
    • India has clinched a bilateral trade pact with Japan, the world’s third largest economy, without taking on iron clad commitments on opening government purchases to foreign companies and agreeing to tighter intellectual property rules.
    • The final agreement is scheduled to be signed during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Tokyo next month, opening greater trade opportunities for India.
    • India ran up a trade deficit of $3.1 billion with Japan in 2009-10.
    • Japan has been running a trade surplus against India for a number of years. India exported $3.63 billion worth of goods to Japan while imports from the country added to $6.7 billion in 2009-10.
  • Developments on the TAPI pipeline front
    • Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India have agreed to rope in a global energy major to execute and manage a $7.6-billion natural gas pipeline running on their land, brightening the prospect of a steady flow of gas from central Asia to energyhungry South Asia.
    • The decision was taken after Afghanistan assured to secure the pipeline through the Taliban heartland and Pakistan in-principle agreed to do so in its territory.
    • The pipeline will start from the Dauletabad gas field in southeast Turkmenistan and after 145 km stretch in the country enter Afghanistan. After traversing 735 km in Afghanistan and 800 km in Pakistan, the pipeline will cross into India. The 1,680 km pipeline will have a capacity to transport 90 mmscmd (million standard cubic metres a day) gas. Asian Development Bank (ADB), the development partner of the TAPI project, had estimated its cost at $3.3 billion about 10 years ago.
    • The Afghanistan government has already guaranteed the security of the pipeline by burying it underground and paying local communities to guard it.
    • India is expected to get about 38 mmscmd gas, the same as Pakistan. Balance gas will go to Afghanistan.
Language lessons
  • slumming: Verb
    • Spend time at a lower socio-economic level than one's own, motivated by curiosity or desire for adventure; usage considered condescending and insensitive
  • causerie: Noun
    • Light informal conversation for social occasions
  • diorama: Noun
    • A picture (or series of pictures) representing a continuous scene