Friday, February 29, 2008

February 29th is more than just an ordinary day

Shishir Srivastava

FOR THE unfortunate few who were born on this day (February 29), it means that their next birthday would fall after a gap of four years. Try explaining this to a young kid, who sees his friends celebrate their birthday parties every year but has to wait himself for four long years to throw a big one. Hospitals all over India and the world see an increased number of children being born on February 29 than the other days of the year. Either it is Mother Nature’s way of playing around with the kids or it stands for really poor planning on the parents’ parts. Whichever way you look at it, the poor kid will continue to resent his mom for a long time to come. “Why couldn’t she just hold me for a few more hours?”

In the context of our country, February 29 will stand for more than the yearly budget. Yes, P Chidambaram has been at it and will again come up with a people’s budget so that this government stands tall in the upcoming elections next year. An addition of a day means an addition of $2.74 billion to the Indian economy. Since Mother Nature was generous enough to make this day fall on a Friday, people would be expected to go about their daily work as they normally to. Hopefully, Chidambaram will not throw up anything catastrophic with the petrol or the diesel prices, so people would still afford to go to office without burning a hole in their pockets.
The concept of leap year is itself a tricky one. It wasn’t something, which was taught in school to us. The leap year problems used to be the simplest for calculations. Just divide by four and if you don’t get a remainder, then there is a leap year. Who needs to be a PhD in Mathematics to figure that out? But throwing some light on numbers, not every year divisible with four is a leap year. 2100, 2200, 2300, 2500 are not leap years though they are divisible by four.

Well, the rule is that for all centuries or for the year ending with 00, it has to be divisible by four hundred to be regarded as a leap year. Hence, 2000, 2400 are leap years. But 2100, 2200, 2300, 2500 are not, since they are not divisible with four hundred. This is only in the case of centuries. Now if you really want to know about this strange rule, contact the people who created the Gregorian calendar. And no, you will not find their helpline numbers on the calendars sitting pretty on your desk.
A leap year has an additional day, but what does an additional day mean to us? For a year that has 365 days packed into it, what difference is a single day going to make? 1 day out of 365 days is just 0.0027 per cent. So, probably 0.0027 per cent extra income that year for employers or 0.0027 per cent increase in the gross domestic product (GDP) of every country. Not very impressive.

In India, February 29 brings a smile on the faces of all investors and economists. The Indian GDP registers its maximum growth in the first quarter that is the January-March quarter, and hence an addition of a day would imply more than a 0.0027 per cent increase in the GDP of our country in a leap year. It will not be the same for a country like the United States (US), where the economic growth is in the last quarter every year that is the October-December quarter.

Thus, whatever the advantages may be, the fact remains that this day does not come often in our lives. Just about 15 to 20 times in an average lifetime. Even at Merinews, we will see February 29 making its debut. But hopefully, there will be many more such days to come. We need to make the most of them.

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India has 1645 Gharials

Breeding of Gharials in captivity has been successfully standardized and as and when required, captive bred Gharials are released in wild also. As per the last census conducted in 2007, the estimated number of Gharials in various Sanctuaries has been about 1645.

Around 105 Gharials have been reported dead during the period between 8.12.2007 and 21.2.2008. No particular reason could be attributed to this mortality of Gharials. However, possibility of nephro-toxin entering via the food-chain could not be ruled out.

The Government has taken steps to check the Gharial mortality which are as follows:

(i) The Ministry of Environment & Forests has constituted a Crisis Management Group to coordinate the efforts to control Ghariyal mortality.

(ii) Expertise of international experts has been obtained for the investigation purpose. Tissues/Blood samples have been sent for laboratory investigations.

(iii) Immediate financial assistance to the tune of Rs. 12. 08 lakhs has been provided to the State of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh for mitigation of Gharial mortality apart from grant of Rs. 27.295 lakhs for the National Chambal Gharial Sanctuary, for the year 2007-08.

(iv) All efforts have been made by the State Governments to stop illegal sand mining thus avoiding any damage to the habitat of Gharials. Further, inter-state collaboration amongst the States of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are taken up for conservation & management of Gharials and their habitats.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

India’s economic survey projects 8.70 % growth rate

The Economic Survey tabled today at the Parliament by the Finance Minister of India states that the Indian economy will grow at 8.7% in 2007-08, compared to 9.6% in the previous fiscal year. The Survey, a report on the state of India's economy with suggested policy prescriptions in areas ranging from government finances to external trade, was tabled today in Parliament. The survey highlighted a slew of other challenges facing India to put it on track to higher growth. It added that new roads are urgently needed to help ease transport bottlenecks seen as a big impediment to growth, it said. There is also a major need to boost crop productivity to help contain food prices, the survey said. Farm growth in the current year is seen falling to 2.6 percent from 3.8 percent the previous year. The farm sector is crucial as it provides a living for two-thirds of India's population.

Press Information Bureau, a Government of India press release states that if India can get the skill development act right, the country will be harnessing a “demographic dividend”. It adds -

In India the “demographic dividend” which manifests in the proportion of working age group of 15-64 years will be increasing steadily from 62.9 per cent in 2006 to 68.4 per cent in 2026. For actual tapping of the “demographic dividend”, it is necessary not only to ensure proper health care but also a major emphasis on skill development and encouragement of labour intensive industries. The projected decline in the dependency ratio (ratio of dependents to the working age population) from 0.8 in 1991 to 0.73 in 2001 is expected to further decline sharply to 0.59 by 2011. This decline sharply contrasts with the demographic trend in the industrialized countries and also in China, where the dependency ratio is rising. Low dependency ratio gives India a comparative cost advantage and a progressively lower dependency ratio will result in improving competitiveness.

The Survey says that a thrust is required on creating a pool of skilled persons in appropriate numbers with adequate skills in line with the requirements of the ultimate users such as the industry, trade and service sectors. Such an effort is necessary to support the employment expansion envisaged as a result of inclusive growth including in particular, the shift of surplus labour from agriculture. However, the Survey cautions that if skills are not adequately created India could well be facing a “demographic nightmare.”

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bird flu outbreak in Bangladesh

The authorities in Bangladesh have culled nearly 70,000 fowls and destroyed 2,35,408 eggs in Mymensingh, Pabna and Chittagong districts following detection of the deadly bird flu virus, PTI reports. According to the report, at least 69,862 fowls were culled and 2,35,408 eggs destroyed in the last two days in Mymensingh, Pabna and Chittagong districts after detection of Avian influenza virus.

The administration in the districts have been put on high-alert after the detection, official sources said. The livestock department personnel culled 58,130 chickens including 37,000 chicks and destroyed 2,26,813 eggs from one single poultry farm in Mymensingh. The infection was detected at a farm, Keari Hatchery Process Ltd, in Trishal on February 23, the Daily Star reported quoting bird flu control room sources. Since February last year, 10,58,778 fowls have been culled and 14,56,551 eggs destroyed in 44 districts of the country, according to sources.

In Boalkhali subdivision of Chittagong, a team from the livestock department culled 2,333 chickens, pigeons and ducks from a farm owned by Shahidul Islam. The team also destroyed 140 eggs from neighbouring houses, the bird flu control room sources added. According to another report from Pabna, 2,804 fowls and 8,455 eggs were destroyed from a farm in Atghoria subdivision.

164 tehsils drought hit in Madhya Pradesh

As many as 164 tehsils spread over 39 districts in Madhya Pradesh have been declared drought-hit so far with seven more tehsils in four districts notified in the list.
Shahpur tehsil of Betul, Teekri tehsil of Badwani, Agar, Barod and Susner tehsils of Shajapur and Kannod and Khategaon tehsils of Dewas were also notified by the Revenue department as drought affected, official sources said on Saturday.

Many districts particularly in Bundelkhand region received scarce rains this monsoon, resulting in severe drought. The state government had sought Central assistance of Rs 1500 crore for drought relief works, besides a special package of Rs 24,000 crore to create permanent assets for irrigation.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

India to popularise tribal folk medicine

India will document, validate and popularise folk medicine practices of tribals across the country and even start institutes for their study to save these traditions from extinction. There are over 130 tribal groups in India, many from north eastern states.

As per official of the health ministry of GOI it has been decided to establish a North Eastern Institute of Folk Medicine at Pasighat, Arunachal Pradesh. The state government has already given over 40 acres of land for the purpose and the institute will come up at a cost of nearly 330 million. The institute will dedicate itself to the cause. Research and scientific validations will also be done there. The institute may soon have branches in states like Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh among others.

Water crisis in MP warrants immediate attention

Chhatarpur is one of the 37 districts of Madhya Pradesh, which are reeling under a water crisis and facing drought. This is winter and the worst is yet to come - the summer is yet to set in.

BHARAT SINGH of village Doriya, in Chhatarpur district, had to sell the land to repay a loan he had taken last year for buying seeds and fertilisers. He sold off two bigas of agricultural land for Rs 80,000. The money he got was divided into three parts, as three brothers, including Bharat, jointly owned the land. He used his share of the money to repay the loan he had taken earlier. The stock of food grains in his house will hardly last for a month. He is unsure of his future. His sons have migrated to other cities to earn, which hopefully will help him and his family survive the present crisis, but what will happen in the months ahead? Chhatarpur is one of the 37 districts of Madhya Pradesh, which are reeling under water crisis and facing drought (The state boasts of 48 districts). This being winter, the worst obviously is yet to come during the summer. According to information available on the website of the relief commissioner of Madhya Pradesh, 151 tehsils in the 37 districts have been declared as affected.

But this is not an abrupt development. Media reports and reports coming in from various parts of the state had anticipated the crisis. But urgent action from the government has been conspicuous by its absence and now the push has come to shove.

Recent media reports have expressed grave concern over the water crisis in Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur, Damoh and Panna districts. Rabi crop in the said districts will be definitely affected and a shortfall in wheat production is feared. If one interacts with the village communities of these districts, this is evident. Farmers are sowing pea, chickpea and mustard, which require lesser water. They are not sure even raising these crops will be possible given the water crisis. The rich and the powerful would be able to survive this crisis but the poor are already suffering and for them, the worst is yet to come.

Migration has started, though many interpret it as the usual migration, which these districts witness. But this time, the problem it is more acute and many are migrating to towns owing to financial problems occasioned by the drought. Children somehow don’t get noticed but are amongst the first and the most affected by the crisis. Uday Bhan, a young student who studies in eighth standard in a school in Chhatarpur district, is worried about the water shortage his village is facing. His family sold off part of the land to survive through the crisis. His parents may migrate in search of jobs, which could help in keeping the wolf from the door. He may not go with them since he wants to attend school, but some of his friends have already migrated and hence dropped out of school. He misses them. He is still lucky as many in Panna and Tikagrah districts have moved out with parents and hence have dropped out of school. Kids not only drop out of school but also get uprooted from their natural environment. They have to rebuild their lives in the new environment they find themselves in.

Khusboo, a second standard girl, may not speak much but her little eyes do. Before going to school she has to fetch drinking water from the hand pump in the company of her mother, if possible, for the entire family. It is water, which worries her more than her studies. Though the state has provided some relief and sought relief from the centre, communities, especially the vulnerable ones including women and children, are suffering. Some intervention from the powers that be is needed to tackle water and food shortage. There is a need to address long-term issues too. The situation warrants urgent attention else the State may be heading for a crisis that could impact millions.

Contributed by Anil Gulati

Monday, February 25, 2008

Say NO to eggs from hens in battery cages.

Across India, approximately 100 million laying hens are living out their lives in small, wire battery cages. These cages are so tiny that the birds cannot fully stretch their wings, walk, or engage in many other natural behaviors. The majority of the eggs produced by these suffering birds are destined for the plates of middle and upper class consumers in urban areas. Consuming battery eggs is cruel and unnecessary.There are less inhumane, cage-free systems for producing eggs. There are also many vegetarian alternatives to consuming eggs. You can help stop the use of battery cages and greatly reduce the suffering of millions of egg-laying hens.Sign the "no battery eggs" pledge and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Working together, we have the power to make a difference for animals.

Contributed by Ragini

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Youth take to smoking under Family Influence : Study

PTI reports - As the government mulls pictorial warnings on tobacco products, a new study has shown that most people take to smoking in their youth under the influence of family members. In fact, 35 per cent have one or more parent who smoke thus conditioning their mind towards a casual attitude towards smoking, according to the study by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Another 6.1 per cent may feel encouraged to smoke in the company of friends who smoke. Besides the tobacco advertisements on bill boards and smoking in movies are the main influencers. The data shows that smoking prevalence amongst youths in 2000 was 4.8 per cent which catapulted upto 15.9 per cent in 2006. The study estimates that at least 30 per cent of future cancer burden is potentially preventable by tobacco control.

"Given that teenagers are the most likely victims of tobacco addiction and that the risks of tobacco use are the highest among those who start smoking early and continue for prolonged periods, it is of paramount importance that successful prevention efforts are implemented," according to Dr P C Gupta, Director, Healis Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health.

India reports 8,00,000 new cancer cases every year with tobacco related cancer itself contributing 40-50 per cent of the cases. "Children are the worst sufferers from exposure to tobacco smoke. They suffer from the disease when they are children and are at an increased risk of cancer when they reach adulthood," Gupta said.

"We urgently need smoke-free adulthood to prevent cancer and other diseases and smoke free childhood even more urgently because children cannot protect themselves," he said. Though there is no direct evidence to link smoking in children with cancer, studies show that kids who are from smoking families have the highest risk of succumbing to cancer later in life.

"The studies are based on the National Data Base and show that cancers of lung, kidney and bladder are the highest in people who were exposed to passive smoking in their childhood," Dr Deepak Sarin, cancer surgeon with the Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon, said.

According to him, apart from cancer, there are a host of problems associated with children who come from smoking families. "Some of these are lung diseases like asthma and other Upper Respiratory Tract diseases". Such children also have chances of five times more presence of toxins in their body than normal children, he added.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

150 jobs cards but no jobs in a village in Chhattarpur district of Madhya Pradesh

It is reported in media that in implementation of National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme State of Madhya Pradesh is said to be doing better than many other states, probably is on the top of the ladder. As per the NREGA website funds amounting to Rs 1361.31 core have being spent to give employment to 37.08766 Lakhs households in the state and 224320 are the total works taken up under NREGA in the state. National Rural employment Guarantee schemes is an Act to provide for the enhancement of livelihood security of the households in rural areas of the country by providing at least one hundred days of guaranteed wage employment in every financial year to every household

But somehow the impact of this Act has not been able to reach communities of village Chokhra in Nowgaon block of the Chhattarpur district of the State of Madhya Pradesh. About 150 households in the village have jobs cards. They were issued to them quite some time back, but till date none of these cards ever had a single entry. All were just blank. As per people of the village none of them had ever had got any jobs inspite of holding proper job cards. They questioned the credibility of the card. Though rule says that household having job card will have to make an application for getting an employment. Raja Ram, a community member from the village said ‘quite vocally’ ‘that they have done it number of times but is of NO use’.

At present the village is facing acute water crisis, all of its wells have gone dry. They are in hour of crisis which is going to augment and create major hardships in coming months which means that the need of the job is more than ever before. The people of village Chokhra have got missed out in the process and are not even on records, not sure what will happen to them?.

NREGA website on status of implementation of NREGA in District Chhattarpur reports that more than 1.52 lakh households had demanded the work under NREGA and 100 % of households had been provided with the same. Rs 94.53 crores have been spent by the district from the available NREGA funds and 8838 works have been competed. But none of this has reached Chokhra village which need the same except job cards. A fact which needs immediate reversal..

Contributed by Anil