INDIAN EXPRESS EDITORIALS AND EXPLAINED 21ST JANUARY 2020

ISSUE: REPORT ON INDIA’S EQUALITY

WHY IN NEWS?

A report published on Monday by Oxfam, the international nonprofit focussed on the alleviation of global poverty, underlined what has been said repeatedly by governments, research organisations and a range of multilateral bodies over the past decade or more — that economic inequality, as the report said, “is out of control”, with extremes of wealth existing alongside great poverty.

ABOUT REPORT

The report, titled Time to Care: Unpaid and Underpaid Care Work and the Global Inequality Crisis, released ahead of the 50th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) beginning in Davos on Tuesday, also said that India’s richest 1% hold more than four times the wealth held by the 953 million who make up for the bottom 70% of the country’s population.

How wide is the gap between the richest and the rest?

* 2,153 individuals, the number of billionnaires in the world in 2019, have more wealth among them than 4.6 billion people.

* 22 of the world’s richest men have a combined wealth that is more than the wealth of all the women of Africa.

* The world’s richest 1% have more than twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion people.

* If everyone sat on their wealth piled up in $ 100 notes, most people would be sitting on the floor; a middle-class person in a rich country would be at the height of a chair; and the world’s two richest men would be sitting in outer space.

* If you saved $ 10,000 (about Rs 7.1 lakh) every day since the building of the pyramids in Egypt (about 4,500 years ago) you would have one-fifth the average fortune of the 5 richest billionaires.

* An additional 0.5% tax on the wealth of the richest 1% over the next 10 years can create 117 million jobs in education, health and elderly care, etc.

* From 2011 to 2017, average wages in G7 countries grew 3%, while dividends to wealthy shareholders increased by 31%.

How badly off are girls and women as compared to men?

* Globally, extreme poverty rates are 4% higher for women than men; this gap rises to 22% during women’s peak productive and reproductive ages; that is, 122 women aged 25-34 for every 100 men of the same age group live in extremely poor households, largely due to childcare responsibilities.

* $10.8 trillion is the estimated minimum annual monetary value of the unpaid care work by women aged 15 and above globally — this is three times the size of the world’s tech industry.

* Women do 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day, equivalent to 1.5 billion people working 8 hours a day with no remuneration.

* Globally, 42% of working age women are outside the paid labour force, compared with 6% of men, due to unpaid care responsibilities.

* 80% of the estimated 67 million domestic workers worldwide are women. An estimated 90% of domestic workers have no access to social security such as maternity protection and benefits.

* Worldwide, girls aged 5-9 and 10-14 spend on average 30% and 50% more of their time respectively on unpaid care work than boys of similar ages.

 

ISSUE: LOCUST ATTACK

WHY IN NEWS?

Over the past several weeks, locust attacks emanating from the desert area in Pakistan have struck parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, causing heavy damage to standing crop. The situation is being closely monitored by agri-experts in the states and the Centre.

What are locust attacks, and how does India tackle them?

Locusts are a group of short-horned grasshoppers that multiply in numbers as they migrate long distances in destructive swarms. Only four species of locusts are found in India: Desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), Migratory locust (Locusta migratoria), Bombay Locust ( Nomadacris succincta) and Tree locust (Anacridium sp.). The desert locust is regarded as the most important in India as well as internationally.

India has a locust control and research scheme that is being implemented through the Locust Warning Organisation (LWO), established in 1939 and amalgamated in 1946 with the Directorate of Plant Protection Quarantine and Storage (PPQS) of the Ministry of Agriculture, according to the PPQS.

The LWO’s responsibility is monitoring and control of the locust situation in Scheduled Desert Areas, mainly in Rajasthan and Gujarat, and partly in Punjab and Haryana.

According to the Directorate, locusts damaged crops worth Rs 10 crore during the 1926-31 plague cycle. During the 1940-46 and 1949-55 locust plague cycles, the damage was estimated at Rs 2 crore each, and at Rs 50 lakh during the last locust plague cycle (1959-62).

Although no locust plague cycles have been observed after 1962, during 1978 and 1993, largescale attacks were reported.

India is most at risk of a swarm invasion just before the onset of the monsoon. The swarms usually originate in the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.

ISSUE: XENOBOT

WHY IN NEWS?

Scientists in the United States have created the world’s first “living machines” — tiny robots built from the cells of the African clawed frog, that can move around on their own.

They have named the millimetre-wide robots “xenobots” — after the species of aquatic frog found across sub-Saharan Africa from Nigeria and Sudan to South Africa, Xenopus laevis.

WHO HAS BUILT IT?

Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics expert at the university who co-led the new research said the “novel living machines” were “neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal”, but “a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism”.

The new creatures were designed on a supercomputer at the university, and then assembled and tested by biologists at Tufts University. “We can imagine many useful applications of these living robots that other machines can’t do,” research co-leader Michael Levin of the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts, was quoted as saying in the release. “Like searching out nasty compounds or radioactive contamination, gathering microplastic in the oceans, travelling in arteries to scrape out plaque,” Levin said.

ISSUE: HOW BUDGET CAN STIMULATE THE INDIAN ECONOMY

First, tax concessions can stimulate the economy by giving a fillip to the rural economy. Estimates suggest that a 5 per cent cut in taxes across income buckets can result in a revenue shortfall of only 0.5 percent of GDP.

Second, the idea of a rural push through PM-KISAN scheme is understandable, but efforts must first be made to cover all the farmers under the scheme. It is quite puzzling that despite 92 per cent of the land records being digitised, PM-KISAN still covers only half of the eligible beneficiaries. As was promised in the 2018 budget, a tenancy certificate must be issued to every tenant farmer — 70 per cent of farmland is cultivated by tenant farmers, who are not entitled to any benefit because they do not own land.

Third, the government should think about increasing the Rs 6,000 yearly amount in a calibrated manner (say Rs 500 per year over the next four years) as the incremental cost will be negligible. As this will create a feel-good factor across the farming community, why not start from this year itself?

Fourth,  the budget must announce its intent to bring back trust in the financial system. To this end, a simultaneous recognition of stressed assets of NBFCs and thereafter immediately initiating measures to help them to raise capital by initiating takeovers/mergers if required and giving the rest a clean chit, thereby, increasing the confidence to lend, is required.

 

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