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J&K Economy Paces Up: GSDP DOUBLES, HEALTH SHINES, By Shivaji Sarkar, 22 April 2024 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 22 April 2024

J&K Economy Paces Up


By Shivaji Sarkar 

Jammu and Kashmir is advancing at a pace that may surprise many across the nation, boasting of strong health and social indicators. It stands out with impressive statistics for women and high per capita income particularly remarkable considering it’s a region predominantly inhabited by minorities. 

The Union Territory is making strides forward despite occasional Opposition protests, such as the one in September 2023 against the abrogation of Article 370 and the delay of grassroots elections. The Congress on April 1, 2024, held protests again at Srinagar BJP state headquarters against the Centre over its alleged attempts to cripple the Opposition parties ahead of the general elections. Democratic protests are back. 

It was not easy, but Home Minister Amit Shah, who not only led the scrapping of Articles 370 and 35A but also keepsa close watch on every development, observed and analysed with precision, allows such demonstrations to give a vent to the anguish. This was not possible some years back when none knew from where a terrorist bullet would fly in. Since June 19, Shah has been visiting the Union Territory often and these became more frequent since October to reorganise the affairs.Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha says that the speed of development in the UT has gone up by ten times since the abrogation of Article 370. However, voices within disputethis. 

Kashmir is aspirational as it has better standard of living and aspires to have more investments and strengthen its different indicators. There are impressive data from the administration and the NITI Aayog which show it is progressing on most counts as investments pour in. It has received investment proposals totalling Rs 56,857 crore against a target of Rs 75,000 crore, potentially creating 2.62 lakh jobs. From 1600 investors, 800 have already deposited their initial investments and secured land allotments. However, the full impact is yet to be realised due to gestational issues in the process. Additionally, the administration anticipates an additional Rs 3,000 crore in foreign investment following business delegation visits from the UAE and other countries. Since 2019, gross state GDP (GSDP) has doubled to Rs 2.25 lakh crore from Rs 1 lakh crore.

The Economist magazine writes, “Tourism, it is true, has seen a modest recovery—backed by a government campaign that portrays Kashmir as a peaceful, picturesque place. Visitor numbers in 2022 were roughly the same as in 2018 (more in 2023). Yet tourism, which currently accounts for 6 percent of state’s GDP has taken an almighty leap to be a major driver of growth”. Though political changes thawed some sectors. 

Social welfare and focus on healthcare and education has been the cornerstone of governance in J&K since the mid-20th century. This has improved with government jobs, which are dwindling. There is restlessness as jobs, particularly government jobs, are lagging. Most of 2.62 lakh jobs promised are not in government.The state tops in health indicators, according to National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5). It has a sex ratio at birth of 976 female births against per 1000 male children. This means 47 more female births against all-India average of 929. 

Infant mortality rate, children dying before the age 5, at 18.5 per 1000, is better than the national average of 42. Even the total fertility rate is positive. Against national average of 2, J&K has 1.4. It means 60 fewer births, ensuring better health and living conditions. Most births take place at a hospital or clinic. Against national average of 88.6 percent, 92.4 percent of the women deliver their babies in an institutional facility. But 65 percent women suffer from anaemia against the national average of 57 percent. 

As per NITI Aayog’s 2023 report, the standard of living is higher in terms of use of clean fuel – 32 percent; electricity usage 99 percent and housing. However, it lags behind in access to clean drinking water, 10.37 percent against the national 7.3 percent. 

Women in J&K are relatively more empowered than rest of India. It has less spousal violence; higher age at marriage, female labour force participation, women attaining more than 10 years of schooling and owning phones. Overall social conditions are better than the average living conditions of minorities elsewhere in India. Even it has less polygamy at 1.4 percent.J&K has an average per capita income of Rs 1.36 lakh and is comparable with Punjab’s Rs 1.49 lakh. 

Shah notes an improvement in the Valley’s situation, projecting J&K as a leading economic state. Intense combing operations before his visits have now become routine drills. Terrorism is nearly eradicated in the Valley, although sporadic incidents of migrant killings occur in the Rajouri-Poonch area. This region, part of the Anantnag constituency, is divided by the PirPanjal range, forcing candidates to undertake a 500 km detour to reach voters. Traversing the constituency poses a significant challenge for political parties and candidates during campaigning. 

The National Conference of Farooq Abdullah with ally Congress is contesting all the seats as they could not reach an agreement with PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti. She is contesting from Anantnag. The NC-Cong is contesting Baramulla, Anantnag, and Srinagar in the Valley, and Udhampur and Jammu. Since the Valley politics has become volatile, the BJP is not contesting or even supporting its supposed allies like the Democratic Progressive Azad Party of Ghulam Nabi Azad and Apni Party. Azad though was keen but has not filed his nomination. Similarly, ApniPary is also in the lurch. 

Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided the party would not contest the seats in the Valley to involve the local people more in the parliamentary system and governance. The Centre is sending vibes that Kashmir would do better with the support of its own people as their trust deepens. 

Regional parties express their discontent, attributing it to a portion of their supporters who insist on further improvements in the security situation. Despite this, there remains a persistent demand for the reinstatement of Article 370, which appears unattainable. Many individuals still express discomfort with the extensive security presence, now more covert, which is reportedly targeting migrant populations. Economic growth, reflected in job opportunities and business development, remains stagnant, affecting the average income per family. Approximately 22 percent of the population remains unemployed. Following the Lok Sabha elections, there is optimism among the people for broader prospects and opportunities.----INFA 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)


India Votes: 1st PHASE SEES BOYCOTT, By Insaf, 20 April 2024 Print E-mail

Round The States

New Delhi, 20 April 2024

India Votes


By Insaf 

The biggest democratic exercise in the world kicked off yesterday. Of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, 102 went to the polls in the first phase across 21 states and UTs. While the Election Commission was reeling out polling percentages, as 40% odd around 1 p.m. across the board, it would be upset with its tally by the end of the day, given chunks of voters chose to boycott instead. In six districts and 20 Assembly segments of 60 in eastern Nagaland not a single vote had been cast. This is in response to call by Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO) asking for a complete shutdown for the solitary Lok Sabha seat given the Center’s failure to keep its promise of creating Frontier Nagaland Territory. Apparently, state CEO show-caused the ENPO asking why action shouldn’t be taken against it for interfering or attempting to interfere with free exercise of any electoral right and thereby committing undue influence. Pat came the reply: “shut down was voluntary initiative by people” and call was given for maintaining law and order situation! In down south Tamil Nadu, the story is similar. In nine places, the voters did not go to polling stations either as a protest against a greenfield airport coming up, or for a railway bridge not being built, or non-resolution of their long-pending demands for basic facilities. However, no action can be taken against the voter. The blame lies elsewhere. The voters make their point, and it must be corrected.    

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Rajputs To Boycott BJP

Should the BJP be worried on western UP front? At a ‘mahapanchayat’, on Tuesday last, Rajputs decided to boycott the saffron party candidates in Muzaffarnagar, Kairana and Saharanpur Lok Sabha constituencies. Their grudge is that the community has been neglected in the distribution of party tickets. And thus, in these areas, the community will not vote for BJP candidates, ‘but will opt for another strong candidate from other parties.’ Interestingly, while the boycott is for BJP candidates, the Rajputs said it wouldn’t apply to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who ‘was their voice, but wasn’t being heard by central BJP leadership’! Intriguing indeed for the voter as in UP, it’s not Prime Minister Modi alone which holds sway, but Yogi too, who has come to be seen as a good administrator. The region has helped BJP per se win majority of seats in the past due to a consolidated Hindu vote. But now the big question is whether the ‘mahapanchayat’ decision ‘will become the reason for BJP’s downfall in Western UP,’ as claimed.

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TN in Focus

Tamil Nadu this time round has surprised many an election watcher. Campaigning in the state had been hitting national headlines. This, given the fact that BJP has kept a sharp focus on the south and longs to make inroads. And that’s why this election is seeing a three-cornered contest: the ruling DMK-led alliance which includes Congress, two Communist parties and Muslim League; BJP and opposition AIADMK, which parted company from NDA. While the DMK and team is confident that it shall rule the roost, the margin victories may not be as easy as was in 2019 and that it is facing an inti-incumbency factor. For the BJP, state president K Annamalai has kept the party’s presence in the state, but it is star campaigner Modi and his popularity which the party is banking upon, given his repeated campaign visits in past year, especially the past couple of months. BJP, which has raised the stakes seeks to change the arithmetic, by relegating AIADMK to the third spot, managing the second for itself. Recall, the state has in the past voted one-sided: in 2019 of 39 seats, DMK-Congress got 38 and in 2014, AIADMK got 37. Will BJP be a new entrant in Dravidian politics?

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Chhattisgarh ‘Surgical Strike’

Naxalism will see an end in five years in Chhattisgarh if BJP comes to power, were words of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, seeking votes during last November’s Assembly polls. He is determined as on Tuesday last, the BJP-ruled state witnessed the biggest encounter in the state’s history of fighting Left Wing Extremism, with 29 Maoists killed in Kanker district and 3 security personnel injured in a joint operation of BSF and state police’s District Reserve Guard. It’s being said senior cadres of outlawed CPI-Maoist Shankar, Lalita, Raju and others, may have died in the operation launched and a huge cache of weapons, including AK-47, SLR, Insas and .303 rifles, were recovered. Since 2024, 79 Maoists have been killed in their stronghold of Bastar region, which goes to polls yesterday. Polling in Kanker district will be held on April 26. Hailing it as a ‘surgical strike’, Deputy CM and state home minister Sharma reached out to the Maoists saying ‘We want talks…whether they do it in a group or through representatives. Bastar needs peace. We are committed to this.’ Will his offer be taken up after this encounter?

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States Laxity On Mob Lynching  

State governments must pull up their socks. With most not filing their affidavits in a writ petition filed in July last regarding action they have taken in incidents of mob lynching and cow vigilantism against the Muslim community, the Supreme Court has issued a deadline of six weeks and shall take up the case after summer break. The petition was filed by National Federation of Indian Women seeking directions to States to take immediate steps viz the top court’s verdict of 2018 to effectively deal with such cases. Notices were issued to the Centre and DGPs of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Orissa, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana. While the latter two states filed their reply, the petitioner pointed out that in MP there was an incident of alleged mob-lynching, but the FIR was for cow slaughter against victims and likewise in Haryana FIR was registered for transporting beef but not mob lynching. All incidents, not selective, must be reported as states have principal obligation to ensure vigilantism, be it cow vigilantism or any other vigilantism of any perception, doesn’t take place, had said the court. It issued guidelines for authorities to deal with such incidents, but so far it’s been in vain!

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Relief For Dog Lovers

Dog lovers will be relieved but must be watchful. The Centre’s notification banning sale and breeding of 23 breeds of ferocious dogs, including American Bulldog and Pit-bull Terriers has been a no-go in two courts. Karnataka High Court quashed it with no such power available under Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 or Animal Birth Control Rules, New Delhi had no such authority. A week later, petitions challenging the directive in Delhi High Court were disposed, after Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying admitted it was put out without consulting or inviting objections and suggestions from private entity or stakeholders. Agreeing it wasn’t possible to give an oral hearing to every dog owner, the Centre was directed to issue “a public notice on its official website and one national daily inviting objections to the proposed draft notification/amendment to the rules.” These, it said, shall be considered before finalising fresh notification. The Dept must listen lest it finds itself in the doghouse! ---INFA

(Copyright, India News Feature Alliance)


Indian Parliament Elections: IS FOREIGN POLICY AN ISSUE?, By Prof. (Dr.) D.K. Giri, 19 April 2024 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 19 April 2024

Indian Parliament Elections


By Prof. (Dr.) D.K. Giri

(Secretary General, Assn for Democratic Socialism) 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in an interview that elections in India are festivals of our democracy. It is true that across the country, people are in a festive mood and are excited about exercising their fundamental right, i.e. to vote for a candidate of their choice. An avid political commentator had put it in different, slightly derisive words, “Indian politics is electionised not much democratised”. His observation pointed to elections round the year in some part of the country or the other. As India has three-tier governance – Centre, states and local governments, elections for any one of the tiers is happening somewhere in the country throughout the year. 

Obviously, several issues and features of Indian politics come up during elections. The issues that matter to voters, and the features, mainly the organising principles, are manifested during elections. But does foreign policy issues figure in the campaigns of political parties, at least the national parties? From the reports in the press, opinion polls, voters’ surveys, it is evident that foreign policy is not a priority. This contradicts with India’s aspirations of becoming a Vishwa Guru or a Vishwa Bandhu, the latter epithet is mentioned in the BJP’s manifesto under the section on foreign policy. 

Before we scan the issues in the manifestoes of the political parties, we should learn why voters are not interested in foreign policy. Indian voters like those in many developing countries do not have much interest in internationalism for a variety of reasons. I will list only a few. Many Indians, for lack of adequate resources, cannot travel and explore the world. As it is said, you cannot feel for something, you have not seen. Second, the lack of enough international outlook, many people in India do not comprehend that international communities comprising both state and non-state actors influence each country including India in multiple ways. 

The external influence over the countries has intensified under the ongoing process of globalisation. So far, the global outlook has been the prerogative of the big powers – Europeans, Americans and Russians. This is because of their superior economic and military might. Chinese and Indians are new entrants. Ironically, China has the resources but not many likeable ideas that will enable it to play a credible international role. India has the ideas drawn from its rich civilisation and enduring democracy, but lacks resources. Also, India, a vast country with the biggest population in the world, consisting of 28 states, is like the European Union of 27 countries. Both Union of India and the European Union get too embroiled in their internal matters with little enthusiasm and energy left for internationalism. 

The foreign policy making is left to an elite club of bureaucrats and so-called experts. Voters hardly influence the making of foreign policy. New Delhi like Brussels fails to realise that playing an international role will enhance the internal strengths. It is a truism that foreign policy of any country is a function of its domestic strengths which are also called determinants. An improved international engagement, which New Delhi seems to seek, requires the backing of domestic heft – economic, political, demographic, developmental and technological. Likewise, a diminished role in the world will level down the internal initiatives, reforms and rejuvenation. India, therefore, needs to internationally position itself which is commensurate with its national strengths and strategies. 

From the above premise, let us look at the issues raised by political parties in their manifestoes. We will take two parties for the purpose – the BJP, which ran the government for the last ten years and the Indian National Congress, the main Opposition party. Other political parties are not so consequential in foreign policies. Although Left parties do talk about it, their electoral strength is limited to one state government. 

BJP’s manifesto reflects the foreign policy the government has been following: securing the permanent membership of UNSC; putting neighbourhood first; using the Indian Diaspora for investment and diplomatic support; becoming the voice of Global South; creating a global consensus on fight against terrorism, strengthening Indo-Pacific region for security and growth; establishment of India-Middle East-Europe Corridor and so on. BJP seeks to elevate Bharat as a global soft power. 

An ambitious but desirable promise that BJP makes is to be the First Responder Bharat. This means, building on its success of providing emergency relief material mainly vaccinations during Covid, India seeks to promote its reputation as a trusted global partner and a first responder in extending humanitarian assistance in disaster-relief programmes. Equally promising is the focus on building cultural centres across the globe to showcase Bharat’s rich culture and offer training in yoga, ayurveda and classical music etc. BJP promises to present Bharat as the mother of democracy. If they do so, it may silence the Indian as well as international critics of the health of Indian democracy. 

Congress begins its foreign policy promises by strongly criticising BJP government’s handling of Chinese intrusions in Ladakh, Galwan clash in 2020 and Indian forces not having access to 26 out of 65 patrolling points, which is equivalent to 2000 sq mtrs in Eastern Ladakh. Congress repeats their age-old approach of ‘continuity and change’ in India’s foreign policy. Other references to India’s foreign policy made by Congress, sound rhetorical except that they make a strong claim on restoring status quo with China, a different approach to the conflict in Gaza, and closer relationships with the neighbouring countries. Also, Congress emphasises on building consensus on foreign policy. They claim that this was the case since independence until BJP made notable departures from this consensus. 

Communication between political parties – Ruling and the Opposition is essential in a democracy. Respect for dissent in domestic and foreign policy is a hallmark of a robust democracy. That said, there could be divergent opinions and approaches in policies including the foreign policy. The consensus the Congress Party is referring to, perhaps existed when Congress party was predominant with smaller opposition parties in Indian politics. 

At any rate, it is advisable to make foreign policy an issue in elections. This will enhance the domestic determinants of India’s foreign policy. There is no dearth of information available to voters through the new media, the internet. It is just that political parties should be willing to share their foreign policy strategies with their voters. Before they do so, they need to educate themselves on the world affairs. Many parties do not have a foreign policy cell in their party structures. Congress party has one but not functional, what to talk of other smaller and regional parties. Voters should also demand that political parties should commit themselves to positions in India’s foreign policy. 

Let us note that Prime Minister Modi made a reference to Katchatheevu, an Islet between India and Sri Lanka; the latter possessing it. That is the way to mobilise voters on a foreign policy issue regardless of whether it was the right cause to take up since it is not being reclaimed nor is it mentioned in BJP’s manifesto. Implementation of CAA is another. These are the examples of how to use foreign policy in a competitive electoral process. And this is the way to become a world power.---INFA 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

POLL, CONGRESS-I & OPPOSITION UNITY, By Inder Jit, 18 April 2024 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 18 April 2024


By Inder Jit

(Released on 13 June 1989) 

The poll battle is hotting up. Everything is being said or done with an eye on winning supporters and influencing people. Nothing is being left to chance. The stakes are once again high, indeed very high. The battle is not just a quest for continuing in power for the Congress-I leaders. Even physical survival is involved in a tragic situation in which Punjab still awaits a solution and continues to bleed and suffer. What the outcome will be at the time of the poll in October at the earliest or in the first week of January at the latest --- lies in the lap of the Gods. Much will depend on the popular mood or the hawa on the eve of the election. Anything could happen between now and then in a country where the public easily goes euphoric and its opinion and mood are known to swing from one extreme to another. We have made heroes of ordinary mortals and raised them to glorious heights one day and denounced and dumped them the next day.

The Congress-I hopes to "sweep the poll and win an overwhelming majority", according to an assessment Mr H.K.L. Bhagat gave me at the Pioneer's 125th year celebration at the Vigyan Bhawan on Wednesday last. "Don't give me what is fit only for a bhashan," I said. He responded: "I am serious. Our people know what is good for them and the country." The Opposition, for its part, is no less optimistic, no matter what you and I think and feel in the metropolitan or other urban centres -- or in our ivory towers. Said Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee: "As things stand at present, the Opposition parties should get an overwhelming majority. I give the Congress-I a maximum of 200 seats out of a total of 544 seats." This assessment, as Mr Vajpayee clarified, "is based on the expectation that the Opposition parties will ultimately be able to fight the Congress-I on a one-to-one basis. All of us are keen to avoid splitting of the anti-Congress-I vote this time."

The Congress-I assessment is based mainly on the failure of the Opposition thus far to project itself as a credible alternative. In sharp contrast, the Congress-I sees itself acknowledged once again as India's best bet for stability and unity. The Janata Government in Karnataka and its impressive record posed a problem. But this has since been resolved --- rightly or wrongly. In addition, the party hopes to capitalize in a big way on Mr Rajiv Gandhi's new deal on Panchayati Raj. Not a little store is also laid by the Rs 2,500-crore Jawahar Rozgar Yojana, which is expected to swell the ranks of its supporters. Asserted a Congress-I leader: "Our voters go by broad impressions. Remember, Indira Gandhi won her battle against the old guard by declaring: ‘They say Indira hatao. I say garibi hatao’. Rajivji has now given a new slogan: 'Power to the people’. The masses are happy, who is bothered at the grassroots about constitutional niceties and the autonomy of the States?"

The Opposition expects to win mainly on the basis of what it describes as the Rajiv Government's present image of being "corrupt and rotten", arguing: "The Opposition is seldom voted to power. Only the Government is voted out!" Mr V.P. Singh, for instance, is not unduly worried that the Bofors and the Submarine scandals no longer dominate the proceedings of Parliament or the front pages of newspapers. He told me not long ago: "The people are now well aware of the truth. The chowkidar has turned into a chor." At any rate, the Opposition is not without more ammunition. This is expected to be used at the right moment. They also hope to cash in on what they describe as the failure of the Government's economic policies, as reflected in two things which concern the masses most: unemployment and prices. The Jawahar Rozgar Yojana, they feel, will only highlight the Government's basic failure --- and "its attempts to fool the people through stunts."

All out efforts are, therefore, under way on both sides to improve the image of their top leaders and to sully those of the opponents. Mr. Rajiv Gandhi turned up in the Lok Sabha to announce personally the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana and also to introduce the historic Panchayati Raj Bill, even as he was greatly conspicuous by his absence time and again when the House was plunged into disorder. (As the Leader of the House, Mr Gandhi is required to ensure that Parliament functions smoothly.) Everything possible is being done to damn the Janata Dal leader, Mr V.P. Singh. In the bargain, all norms and ethics have been cast to the winds. Even a newspaper article by Mr Madhu Limaye, who himself never made it to the big league as a controversial socialist, was quoted at length by Doordarshan to denigrate both Mr V.P. Singh and the Janata Dal. Obliging newspapers have also been roped in to denounce Mr Singh and put across the official pro-Rajiv line.

On the other hand, Mr V.P. Singh has been persuaded by his close aides and supporters to give greater attention to his popular image and to be careful about what he says. (Remember, following his triumph in the Allahabad by-election, Mr Singh openly stated that he would be "a disaster as Prime Minister." This, as he told me, was intended to stop people from talking of him as Prime Minister. But the statement is now being quoted against him!) Mr Singh has, therefore, asserted himself on the choice of the Janata Dal Chief in Bihar. He was far from happy at having appointed Mr Raghunath Jha at the pressing instance of Mr Chandra Shekhar and Mr Devi Lal. Now, he has removed Mr Jha and appointed Mr Ram Sundar Das, who has a much better image. In the process, he has shown that he can also be tough and decisive. Those who attended the Janata Dal's recent meet in Bangalore also speak highly of his conduct of the conclave.

Simultaneously, the Janata Dal is also working patiently to ensure the position unity at the polls and a one-to-one contest against the Congress-I, especially in the Hindi heartland which accounts for 221 seats. This is sought to be done through the National Front and through seat adjustments with the BJP, notwithstanding CPM Opposition. The CPM maintains that any adjustment with the BJP would drive the Muslims, who constitute 16 per cent of the voters, into the arms of the Congress-I. But the Janata Dal disagrees and asserts that adjustments are tactical and wholly distinct from an alliance. The Janata Dal and the BJP are also clear that adjustments are a must if the Congress-I is to be humbled. Consequently, Mr Vajpayee and Mr Devi Lal have not only met to hammer out adjustments, but their efforts hold out promise of unexpected success, proving the well-known adage: if there is a will there is a way.

The Congress-I, for its part, is trying its best overtly and covertly to prevent the Opposition from coming together. Quiet moves have been on to persuade the CPM to stay out of the National Front. At the same time, the Left has also been attacked publicly by Mr Rajiv Gandhi for continuing in a front in which its principal member, the Janata Dal, is "in alliance" with the "communal BJP". The CPM would, no doubt, be happier if the Janata Dal agreed not to seek adjustments with the BJP. But, to quote Mr Harkishan Singh Surjeet, "the CPM is clear that the Rajiv Gandhi Government today stands isolated from the common man and the masses and must be given a crushing defeat." Further, the CPM has hardly any following of its own in the Hindi heartland. It is, therefore, not terribly keen on making an issue of the Janata Dal-BJP talks and walking out of the National Front, something which would help only the ruling Congress-I.

One issue remains. What does the proverbial common man think and feel? Some quiet soundings over the past few weeks have yielded interesting results. The weaker sections of the community are exercised most of all over the continuous price rise, which has made their "lives miserable." (They assert: "What do our Ministers know of the price of atta, daal and other basic needs.") Corruption scandals relating to Bofors guns and HDW submarines undoubtedly bother them. But what has angered them most is the hard fact that corruption now afflicts all levels of administration down to the panchayat. Nothing moves even at the grass-roots without bribery. "Both have made the weaker sections anti-Rajiv Government," to quote more than one person. But they have a problem. They do not yet see a credible alternative and feel disgusted by the infighting (real or created) in the Janata Dal. Both the Congress-I and the Opposition would do well to pause --- and take note.---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

Heat Wave Conditions: FATAL IMPACT ON HUMAN HEALTH, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 17 April 2024 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 17 April 2024 

Heat Wave Conditions


By Dhurjati Mukherjee 

The past year, 2023 was the hottest year on record with mean temperature nearing the critical 1.50 Celsius threshold over a 12-month period and the trend continued in the first two months of this year. For India, 2023 was the second warmest year on record in the country since 1901. Projections reveal the current year may surpass this record as apart from April, the next two months may become unbearable in western, northern and eastern parts of India. Moreover, the coastal cities with high humidity as also the desert regions may give a feeling of anything around 42 to 45 degrees Celsius. 

Given the forecast,Prime Minister Modi called a meeting last week to take stock of the preparedness for heatwave conditions and advised that governments at central, state and district levels must work in synergy. 

The annual ‘State of Climate Report’of World Meteorological Organisation(WMO), says the global mean temperature in 2023 was 1.450C -- 0.2 degree Celsius above 1850-1900 average, turning it the warmest year in 174-year history of record keeping. Besides, it broke records in all climate indicators, including greenhouse gas levels, ocean heat, sea level rise, Antarctica sea ice loss and glacier retreat. 

It’s distressing touching the critical 1.50Celsius threshold so early has negated projection of Paris Agreement, hailed globally. “Never have we been so close to the 1.50 C limit of the Paris Agreement on climate change”, observed WMO Secretary General Celeste Saulo, sounding the red alert to the world. Thus, the question now would be whether warming would reach 2 or 2.50 C in the next two decades. 

India observed a significant mean temperature increase of 0.15 degrees C per decade since 1950, according to a 2020 Ministry of Earth Sciencesassessment. The observed warming is not occurring evenly across India. Warm days and warm nights have also increased at about seven and three days per decade, respectively, during 1951-2015 and even later. Currently, 23 States, mainly of plain and coastal regions, are considered more vulnerable to widespread heat impact. However, that doesn’t mean hilly states are safe. Although their maximum temperatures do not reach heatwave threshold levels of 45 degrees C, the population is experiencing higher temperatures compared to previous decades.  

The warming has been in focus for quite some time. A UN report about two years back, says India would become the worst climate-affected region in the world, specially applicable to the cities. Even this report could not contemplate that global warming of 1.5 degrees centigrade would be reached by 2023. 

At same time, the report predicted various trends which include: Rise in weather and climate extremes led to some irreversible impacts as natural and human systems are pushed beyond their ability to adapt; Approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live under climate threat; Beyond 2040, climate change will lead to numerous risks and multiple climate hazard will occur simultaneously; Coastal cities are under severe climate risk which includes Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bhubaneswar etc. 

Human health exposure to severe or continuous heat, leads to heat stress. When uncompensated, heat stress manifests as heat-related illnesses. Such illnesses range from superficial/mild and manageable (e.g. prickly heat, heat-related swelling, heat cramps, heat exhaustion) to a medical emergency (i.e. heat stroke). Heat stroke is the most severe of heat-related illnesses as it impairs brain function (i.e. stroke) due to uncontrolled body heating. It may turn into a critical condition that often turns fatal if there is a delay or failure in reducing body temperature by rapid, active cooling. Besides neurological impairment, high core body temperature (at least 40 degrees C), or hot, dry skin are other heat stroke symptoms. 

Heat-related illnesses are not the only cause of emergency or mortality during hot summer days. Normal human body temperature stays within a narrow range of 36.3-37.3 degrees C. It maintains thermal balance through radiation (40%), evaporation (30%), convection (27%), and conduction (3%). Any external or internal condition that increases body temperature invokes various physiological responses changing cardiovascular, kidney, and metabolic systems, driven by increased blood flow to the skin and dehydration. Various studies have indicated that 90% of India is found to be vulnerable to heatwave impact. 

Epidemiologically, it is important to note; in current scenario, whichever threshold is used to announce heatwaves, the health impacts of heat do not begin to occur only after those threshold temperature levels are crossed. Health impacts begin much before, even at moderate temperature levels. In terms of external factors, humidity plays a crucial role in creating heat stress by limiting our body’s major cooling mechanism: sweating. 

Even at moderate temperatures, like 35 or 36 degrees C, if the relative humidity is 70%, it will feel like 50 degrees C to us. In terms of internal factors, heat’s impacts depend on the acclimatisation and build-up of heat stress in the human body. Acclimatisation is a gradual physiological adaptation (short-term) that increases heat tolerance as a person incrementally exerts in a hot setting for a few days. Air conditioning and comorbidities reduce our heat tolerance. Similarly, long-term adaptation occurs in people living in hotter regions over the years. Therefore, tourists from colder regions are particularly at risk of heat stroke. 

The Union Health Ministry cautioned amid weather forecasts of excess days of heat waves across the country during Lok Sabha elections. The National Programme on Climate Change and Human Health (NPCCHH) advisory on extreme heat underlined that physical exertion, direct sun exposure and difficult access to shade and water may worsen the health of vulnerable people. Infants, and young children and people with cardiovascular diseases or high blood pressure are among the vulnerable populations. Not just stroke but heat related illnesses include heat rash, heat oedema (swelling of hands, feet and ankles) and fainting. 

A study conducted in Kolkata for2021-22 summer found that indoor heat index levels in urban slum dwellings were 5.29 degrees C higher than outdoors. Dangerously high heat and humidity (at least 45 degrees C) remained for an average of about nine hours/day in urban slum dwellings compared to 2 hours a day in rural houses. These differences were particularly notable at night. During the coolest time of night, the insides of urban dwellings recorded a 6.4 degrees C higher heat index than outdoors, while the insides of rural houses recorded 1.3 degrees C above outdoor levels. Cement walls, clay tiles, corrugated tin roofs, fewer rooms, and crowding made urban slums dangerously hot. 

Similarly, a study from Ahmedabad recorded an average 6.7 degrees C higher heat index at the locations where patients with acute heat illnesses were picked up by emergency medical services compared to what was recorded by the nearest weather station during the summer of 2016. At city level, such differences translate into an increase in all-cause mortality with daily city temperature. Hence, city-level temperature-mortality study has become vital for heat-health action planning. 

Adaptation measures to extreme heat are essential as the situation has the potential to change the course of irreversible planetary consequences. Due to rise in greenhouse gases, global warming has reached alarming levels. Even with all the commitments made by different nations and the very recent aim of targeting net zero emissions, large numbers of people in tropical countries, including India, will find it hard to live. Thus, a health-centric adaptation focus should be seriously followed in every sector to tackle the ongoing heat wave. This will also help us stay on course for achievement of the SDGs.---INFA 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)


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