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Admin 2020-02-13

13 Feb 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

1) On Nutrition and the Budget's fine print

  • A few months ago, the Global Hunger Index, reported that India suffers from “serious” hunger, ranked 102 out of 117 countries, and that just a tenth of children between six to 23 months are fed a minimum acceptable diet. 
  • The urgency around nutrition was reflected in the Union Finance Minister’s Budget speech, as she referred to the “unprecedented” scale of developments under the Prime Minister’s Overarching Scheme for Holistic Nutrition, or POSHAN Abhiyaan, the National Nutrition Mission with efforts to track the status of 10 crore households.
  • Plan and allocation: There are multiple dimensions of malnutrition that include calorific deficiency, protein hunger and micronutrient deficiency. An important approach to address nutrition is through agriculture. 
  • The Bharatiya Poshan Krishi Kosh which was launched in 2019 by Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates is a recent attempt to bridge this gap. 
  • Existing schemes can well address India’s malnutrition dilemma. However, where are the gaps in addressing this concern? We analyse Budgetary allocation and the expenditure in the previous year to understand more.

  • First calorific deficiency. The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme provides a package of services including supplementary nutrition, nutrition and health education, health check-ups and referral services addressing children, pregnant and lactating mothers and adolescent girls, key groups to address community malnutrition, and which also tackle calorific deficiency and beyond. 
  • For 2019-20, the allotment was ₹27,584.37 crore but revised estimates are ₹24,954.50 crore, which points to an underutilisation of resources. The allocation this year is marginally higher, but clearly, the emphasis needs to be on implementation.
  • Another pathway to address hunger is the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, to enhance nutrition of schoolchildren. Here too, the issue is not with allocation but with expenditure. The 2019-20 Budget allocation was ₹11,000 crore and revised estimates are only ₹9,912 crore.
  • The second is protein hunger: Pulses are a major contributor to address protein hunger. However, a scheme for State and Union Territories aims to reach pulses into welfare schemes (Mid-Day Meal, Public Distribution System, ICDS) has revised estimates standing at just ₹370 crore against ₹800 crore allocation in the 2019-20 Budget.

  • Next is micronutrient deficiency. The Horticulture Mission can be one of the ways to address micronutrient deficiency effectively, but here too implementation is low. Revised estimates for 2019-20 stand at ₹1,583.50 crore against an allocation of ₹2,225 crore. 
  • In 2018-19, the Government of India launched a national millet mission which included renaming millets as “nutri-cereals” also launching a Year of Millets in 2018-19 to promote nutritious cereals in a campaign mode across the country. This could have been further emphasised in the Budget as well as in the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) which includes millets. 
  • However, the NFSM strains to implement allocation of ₹2,000 crore during 2019-20, as revised expenditures stand at ₹1,776.90 crore. As millets have the potential to address micronutrient deficiencies, the momentum given to these cereals needs to be sustained.
  • Moving to POSHAN Abhiyaan, the National Nutrition Mission which is a major initiative to address malnutrition, had 72% of total expenditure going into “Information and Communication Technology enabled Real Time Monitoring for development and setting up Common Application Software and expenditure on components under behavioural change” according to Accountability Initiative. 
  • The focus of the bulk of the funding has been on technology, whereas, actually, it is convergence that is crucial to address nutrition. The Initiative also found on average that only 34% of funds released by the Government of India were spent from FY 2017-18 to FY 2019-20 till November 30, 2019.
  • Impact of linkage schemes: With underspending, allocations for subsequent years will also be affected, limiting the possibility of increasing budgets and the focus on nutrition schemes.
  • Next is the agriculture-nutrition link, which is another piece of the puzzle. While agriculture dominated the initial Budget speech, the link between agriculture and nutrition was not explicit. 
  • This link is important because about three-fifths of rural households are agricultural in India (National Sample Survey Office, 70th round) and malnutrition rates, particularly in rural areas are high (National Family Health Survey-4). Therefore, agriculture-nutrition linkage schemes have potential for greater impact and need greater emphasis.

  • So how can we bring about better nutrition in India? With the largest number of undernourished people in the world, India needs to hasten to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 of ‘Zero Hunger’ by 2030. The Economic Survey notes that India should give special attention although the Budget has not explicitly spelt out nutrition in greater detail in many ways.
  • The following are suggestions to move forward: Focus on nutrition-related interventions, beyond digitisation; intensify the convergence component of POSHAN Abhiyaan, using the platform to bring all departments in one place to address nutrition; direct the announcement to form 10,000 farmer producer organisations with an allocation of ₹500 crore to nutrition-based activities.
  • The promotion of youth schemes to be directed to nutrition-agriculture link activities in rural areas; give explicit emphasis and fund allocation to agriculture-nutrition linked schemes; and ensure early disbursement of funds and an optimum utilisation of schemes linked to nutrition.
  • Nutrition goes beyond just food, with economic, health, water sanitation, gender perspectives and social norms contributing to better nutrition. This is why implementation of multiple schemes can contribute to better nutrition. 
  • The Economic Survey notes that “Food is not just an end in itself but also an essential ingredient in the growth of human capital and therefore important for national wealth creation”.  Malnutrition affects cognitive ability, workforce days and health, impacting as much as 16% of GDP (World Food Programme and World Bank). 
  • While there are well-equipped schemes to address malnutrition, funding and policy gaps are problem areas. In that sense, while Budget 2020-21 looks toward an ‘Aspirational India’, fixing the missing pieces on the plate, can make a difference not just to better nutrition but to build a wealthier nation too.

2) On Riding data for mobility

  • The digital revolution has made interactions between humans and machines, and among citizens, governments and businesses, seamless and efficient. Today, e-governance enables and empowers citizens to directly engage with the state, thereby eliminating barriers in the delivery of public services. 
  • The next wave of transformation in digital governance is at the intersection of data and public good. The key to this transformation lies in incorporating data as a strategic asset in all aspects of policy, planning, service delivery and operations of the government.
  • Transportation is one such critical area, where data-based governance is expected to provide a solution to the ever-growing threat of congestion to urban economies. Congestion caused an estimated loss of $87 billion to the U.S. economy and $24 billion to the four metro cities in India in 2018. 
  • Given the limited land resources available, the key to solving congestion lies in improving the efficiency of existing transportation systems. Data-based governance can assist in reducing traffic congestion, as illustrated by a pilot study in Hyderabad.

  • Multiple sources: An efficient transportation system would help ease congestion, reduce travel time and cost, and provide greater convenience. For this, data from multiple sources such as CCTV cameras, automatic traffic counters, map services, and transportation service providers could be used.
  • A study by Transport for London, the local body responsible for transport in and around the U.K. capital, estimates that its open data initiative on sharing of real-time transit data has helped add £130 million a year to London’s economy by improving productivity and efficiency. 
  • In China, an artificial intelligence-based traffic management platform developed by Alibaba has helped improve average speeds by 15%.
  • Closer home, the Hyderabad Open Transit Data, launched by Open Data Telangana, is the country’s first data portal publishing datasets on bus stops, bus routes, metro routes, metro stations, schedules, fares, and frequency of public transit services.
  • The objective is to empower start-ups and developers to create useful mobility applications. The datasets were built after an intensive exercise carried out by the Open Data Team and Telangana State Road Transport Corporation to collect, verify and digitise the data.
  • Hyderabad has also begun collaborating with the private sector to improve traffic infrastructure. One such partnership followed a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Telangana government and Ola Mobility Institute. 
  • Under this collaboration, Ola has developed a tool, Ola City Sense, to provide data-based insights that can monitor the quality of Hyderabad’s roads and identify bad quality patches.
  • The data is provided to city officials on a dashboard, and updated every 2-3 weeks to capture the nature of potholes/roads. The information thus given is useful not only for carrying out road repairs, it also helps officials take initiatives to improve road safety, monitor quality of construction, and study the role of bad roads in causing congestion.
  • Planning road repair work: A pilot was implemented in a municipal zone to gauge the efficacy of the data in supporting road monitoring and prioritisation of repairs. The early results of this pilot project were encouraging. The dashboard helped city officials plan the pre-monsoon repair work and budget for repairs last year.
  • The pilot also demonstrated the willingness of government departments to apply data-based insights for better decision making. This tool is now being adopted across all municipal zones under the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. This could also serve as a model for other cities to emulate.
  • The Hyderabad example shows that governments can make their departments data-centric by institutionalising data collection, building technology platforms and helping the departments develop capacity to handle the insights generated from the data. 
  • Command and control centres under the ‘smart cities’ initiative can be an ideal starting point. Such interventions, however, also need to address genuine concerns around data security and privacy.
  • The Telangana government has declared that the year 2020 will be the Year of Artificial Intelligence. It aims to run hackathons and masterclasses with AI as the theme. Discussions are on to include AI for Traffic Management. 
  • At the core of AI-based algorithms is good data, and partnership with key stakeholders can only help build such algorithms. Insightful data will be the key to transform Hyderabad into a ‘world-class city’ in terms of mobility.


3) On Trump-Modi chemistry: Birds of a feather

  • When he visits India for the first time later this month, U.S. President Donald Trump can expect thronging crowds in Gujarat and perhaps a substantive discussion on trade policy in New Delhi. 
  • But more than anything, it is his growing bonhomie with Prime Minister Narendra Modi that is expected to steal the limelight. Indeed, this chemistry was evident during the four times that they met in 2019. 
  • The pinnacle of those encounters for Mr. Modi was undoubtedly the public relations victory that he won when Mr. Trump graced the ‘Howdy Modi!’ event in Houston before some 50,000 Indian-Americans. 
  • Now Mr. Modi is returning the favour perhaps, as he has, in Mr. Trump’s words, promised an attendance of five to seven million, from the airport to the new Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel cricket stadium, the world’s largest; here, they will address the “Kem chho Trump!” event before an expected 1.25 lakh people. 

  • While there will always be areas of untapped potential in bilateral cooperation, things could hardly be better between the two nations at this time of global turbulence, in trade and security.
  • On the former issue, despite skirmishes surrounding tariffs in specific sectors, such as medical devices, and counter-tariffs following the U.S.’s termination of its Generalised System of Preferences toward India last year, there is hope for at least a limited trade deal - pegged at $10-billion - that could take a measure of stress out of the protracted closed-door negotiations. 
  • Prospects look brighter still on defence cooperation. India is reportedly moving toward approving a $2.6-billion deal for 24 Lockheed Martin-built MH-60 Seahawk helicopters. An agreement to buy a $1.867-billion integrated air defence weapons system is also on the cards.
  • Notwithstanding this slew of positive, if incremental, cooperative advances, it is the deeper fault lines across the two countries’ domestic polities that could, in the longer-term, impact the prospects for smooth cooperation in the bilateral space. 
  • For instance, the Indian government’s recent policy shifts regarding special status for Kashmir as well as the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register have spooked some U.S. Democrats, including Senators and lawmakers in the House of Representatives. 
  • Some have explicitly voiced concerns about the impact in terms of India’s commitment to remaining a tolerant, pluralist democracy. In this context, if the November 2020 presidential election puts a Democrat in the White House, it could potentially impact some of India’s plans. 
  • Even if Mr. Trump wins a second term, deepening Congressional opposition to India-friendly White House policies could endanger bilateral prospects. In this sense, there are limits to how much India can peg its strategic plans on the personal chemistry between its leader and the U.S. President.