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Save Trees: Is it wise to plan a complex in a 7,914 square meter area with a high density of trees?

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The new complex of Irrigation and Public Health Headquarters on Shimla bye-pass was planned in an area which requires clearing of near about 40-50 trees
While we witness the violation of 118 of HP Land Reforms and Tenancy Act, 1972 and cry over the grave of hundreds of trees in Kanlog Shimla, the government have again come out with a troublesome plan.Prof. Prem Kumar Dhumal, Chief Minister laid foundation stone of a new complex of Irrigation and Public Health Headquarters on Shimla bye-pass on 9th of July 2012, that is estimated to be built in an area of 7,914 square meter, which also have a 4,319 square meter parking, that is enough for approximately 80 light vehicles. The project is estimated to cost Rs. 24.03 crore.

That means another 40 to 50 trees are sure to be sacrificed to make space for the new government office building. We already know HPSEB, who has been helping deforestation by damaging trees with their stay wires and iron rods for streetlights. On the other hand, MC Shimla used these trees efficiently to serve well for nailing unauthorized private and party hoardings/billboards. In addition to ignoring the environmental issues in Shimla, the public too have contributed by setting the forest on fires every summer.

We wonder, wethere isn’t it a better idea to chose a location for buildings that require least cutting of trees. Have a look at the photographs. The density of trees in the area is high and there are many other places in Shimla with lesser tree density. May be perhaps those lands are being booked for private firms to avoid controversy that we witnessed in DFL’s luxury villa site. Moreover, for the construction of new ISBT, the area was cleared and many trees were axed. However, the location was suitable and had lesser tree density and the project can be justified as it was for the development of public transport.But, choosing another site for construction in the same area sounds idiotic as it can cause a great damage to the environment by reducing the density of the forest. Every tree is precious and the developed countries have already realized it and are promoting ‘save trees’ attitude.

Please spare some time to think about the change in the pattern of snowfall in Shimla. According to a study conducted by Meteorological Department, the snowfall has constantly been eluding during the last two decades. In 1991, Shimla witnessed 49 cm of snowfall on Christmas’ Eve and it was the last time it happened, except 2010. The Christmas Eve is no more white now.

Further, another study published in the Journal of Agro-meteorology concludes that the average overall precipitation from December to March has dropped from 283.9 mm (1991 to 2001) to 235.1 mm (2002 to 2010-11) and the percentage of snowfall to the total precipitation has declined to 30 from 39. Now the month of December is no more the favorite of tourists,rather the snowfall trend has changed to February. During 1994-1995 the average number of days with snowfall was recorded to be 20 days and now it has dropped dramatically to 8.2 days. If we talk about the interval between the first and last snowfall, which dropped down from 58.6 days during1991-2000 to 44 days during 2001 – 2011, then the issue sounds more serious than you would expect. The study holds deforestation as one of the main reason for all the climatic mess up. in Shimla

The increase in the number of vehicles on road, which run on fossil fuels,has caused greater carbon emission in Shimla and government’s careless and corrupt practices are making it more drastic by clearing the forests.Each and every tree is precious and the present deforestation rate in Shimla poses a great risk to the natural beauty and the pleasant climate of Shimla. We doubt, our next generation would see snow clad mountains anddeep forest in pictures only.

Madan has studied English Literature and Journalism from HP University and lives in Shimla. He is an amateur photographer and has been writing on topics ranging from environmental, socio-economic, development programs, education, eco-tourism, eco-friendly lifestyle and to green technologies for over 9 years now. He has an inclination for all things green, wonderful and loves to live in solitude. When not writing, he can be seen wandering, trying to capture the world around him in his DSLR lens.

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Indian Economic Slowdown: Path to Recovery May go Through Dusty Rural India

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Shimla-After the release of economic growth figures for the April-June quarter of FY20 by Central Statistics Office last week, at least we have a consensus on one sobering fact: Indian economy is in the doldrums, and we no longer are the fastest growing economy in the world.

A sizable slowdown has been reported across most segments-manufacturing, farm, mining, construction, real estate, financial, professional services IT, auto, etc. The data on display is alarming considering the huge bearing these sectors have on employment. The slowdown of such enormous scale is likely to increase India’s unemployment rate in the coming months that stood at 6.1% in FY18- the highest in the last 45 years. For some time now, there has been a manifest lack of demand and investment sentiments in the market.  

In the thick of all this, disconcerting is the lowest consumption growth in the last 18 quarters – remember the consumption growth was the major driver behind the rapid growth story of the Indian economy and it accounts for significant  55-58% of the GDP.  

One of the major reasons for the decline in consumption growth is the shrinking rural wages, which is the result of the unacknowledged farm crisis going across the country for a few years now. As per the World Bank collection of development indicators report, the rural population in India was 66.46% of the total population in 2017. The constant decline in rural wages resulted in a substantial decline in disposable income, hence, the demand too weakened. The constant decline in food prices bedevilled agriculture income and subsequently lowering the spending and hurting the rural demand. In economic, high inflation hurts the end consumers, similarly, low inflation impacts the producers. The lower inflation rate impacted the farm producers tormenting rural India badly.  

The favorable demographic profile (65% of the population in India is below the age of 35) of India, initially, acted as a stimulus for attracting investments. As the younger population of a nation aspire their own house, car, yearly holiday, white goods, electronic gadgets, etc. But, as India’s much-touted growth story has failed to generate enough jobs, sagging the aspirational spirits of the youth. Thus, resulting in the slackening of demand, in return, this affected the confidence and sentiments of the investors in the Indian market.

 It has a cascading impact in an economy, as an investor invests in anticipation of demand and keeping in view the market sentiments; at present both these factors are lacking in the India economy. 

Another reason for the economic slowdown is the decline in the saving rate from 34.6% to 30% over five years in India; the worst dip is in the household savings-the biggest source of Investment and accounts for 61% of the total savings- dropping to 16.3% from 23.6% over the same period.  The 18% & 28% GST slabs, that covers 43 % and 19% of the good and services respectively also took a toll on the disposable income, weakened the demand and eating up the savings among the great Indian middle-class.

The credit household debt has also increased manifold in last decade. This has reduced the purchasing power and reduced saving of the household in India.

The credit growth over the years has remained weak- in spite of successive rate cuts by the RBI- owing to the problem of NPA plaguing the banks. The recent liquidity woes in the Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFC) – shadow banking – have also fuelled speculation, instability, and stress in the financial market. This mess in the financial sector has impacted the investments as reflected by the subdued CAPEX cycle also.  

The gig economy (responsible for 96% of the employment in the country) is yet to recover from the double whammy of demonization and GST. A testimony to this is the high unemployment rate prevailing in India. Gig in India is too big to be ignored.  

Besides this, weakening currency and decline in export only piled up the concerns in the economy, in spite of favorable crude oil prices and low inflation. The aftermaths of the trade war and global slowdown have also started to reflect on the Indian economy.

In India, the richest 10% owes 77.4% of the national wealth; the poorest 60% have 4.7% only. This represents the widening cleavage between the rich and the poor, the growing plutocracy is a concern for developing nations like India. As more and more wealth is concentrated in few hands, instability in the economy increases, making the macroeconomic parameters vulnerable. For such economies with rising plutocracy, a gloomy economic prognosis beacons.

The next few months will be critical for the Indian economy, as demand and investment sentiments need to be spiked up. The disposable income must be increased immediately by revamping at the multiple tax slabs under the present GST regime and replacing them with a simpler lower single tax slab. The technical issues with the input tax credit software should be addressed immediately. This will sort out the delay input credit and reduce its proceeding time too. We need a simpler GST rather than the labyrinth one.

A major part of Rs 1.76 lakh crores given by the RBI to the government can be used on the public expenditure, this will revive the infrastructure projects and boost disposable income and revive demand. This will also bolster the credit demand which has been facing a massive downturn.  

For decades now, the Indian growth story was riding on factors like a demographic dividend, a huge market for consumption and a strong base of saving to stimulate investment. But, the time has proved that such a model can’t work for long only on these factors. All these factors are favorable for economic development but, it has to be buttressed with policies that produce high enough economic growth with sufficient jobs; cultivate a conducive investment climate and boost confidence in the system. At present, there is a perceptible lack of these elements.

 In developing nations, an economic model driven by consumption growth can’t work for long, rather economic model should be driven by continuous investment. 

In India, unfortunately, all the limelight is hogged by urban India, whereas rural India remains unnoticed. Few quarters of stress in the auto industry becomes front-page news; on the contrary years of farm stress does not get any mention. Although, the path to the economic recovery may go through dusty rural India and foster on the sweat, toil and hard work of the prosaic gig economy. Albeit, it may not make a beaming headline. Rural India, for one more time, will not mind; as it never did earlier. 

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Reaping the Digital Dividend for Improving the State Capacity

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Digitization of India report 2019

Shimla-To the developing nations, digitization offers a range of opportunities to build and strengthen its state capacity and solve the numerous problems that plague them. State Capacity of a nation is its ability to effectively design and implement public policies, so the objectives of such policies are achieved.

As per the Digital Adoption Index of McKinsey, Digital India report, India is digitizing second-fastest in the world- second only to Indonesia. Besides, telecom and internet penetration are improving at the rapid speed putting India on the cusp of digitization revolution.

Digitization, in the near future, will have far-reaching implications on the Indian society. It can help India to build upon its existing state capacity to tackle the issues of reducing poverty, improving healthcare facilities, removing corruption & illiteracy, finding energy solutions, better traffic management, offering affordable housing, waste management, reducing crime, bridging inequality and generating new avenues of employment for our youth.

Embracing digitalization improves efficiency immensely, as we have seen in the services and manufacturing sector worldwide. India’s own Direct Benefit Transfer scheme proved how digitalization prevents chronic corruption and massive subsidy leakages. In financial institutions, digital payments have improved flexibility, revamped financial inclusion and provided prevention against fraud. In e-commerce, digitalization has streamlined supply chains and logistics issues exceedingly.

In organizations-both government and private-digitalization has improved transparency by providing a single touch interface and has made officials more accountable by real-time basis monitoring of the work.

Also, Digitization not only offers data faster but, the data that was not at all available hitherto to the policymakers. Such data can help policymakers to frames better polices and target them even better hence, achieving the set objectives.

Digitalization will require, both government and organizations, to keep abreast with fast-paced technological developments. Moreover, a lot will depend on how the government deals with the mounting pressure of security challenges, cyber-attacks, data privacy, societal issues such as the Internet of things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). To tackle these issues new laws and regulation will have to be made. For Government, countering such complex and new issues successfully will require a whole new approach and a revamped decision-making process.

In India, the challenge remains whether we have equipped and skilled manpower to reap the dividend of digitalization boom. No doubt, digitalization comes with the potential to transform millions of lives but will require a workforce with adequate skills too. The existing workforce will also have to be retrained and redeployed.

Another critical challenge digitalization has thrown up is of fake news, especially in societies of developing nations. As we have seen in India, fake news on social networking platforms spread at lightning speed and fuel tension among the groups, sometimes even leading to human deaths. Such incidents make societies fragmented and lead the nation to nationalistic isolation impacting regional peace and harmony. This probably is the biggest challenges for all stakeholders of digitalization.

The response of the Government to these above challenges will either strengthen people’s certitude in digitalization or altogether undermine it. All they need to do is update their policies and institutions to address challenges and seize the opportunities brought about by digitalization.

If we tap the potential that digitalization offers, state capacity of our nation will certainly augment. In turn, some of the critical development challenges our country is facing: providing access to information, overcoming remoteness, exclusion and offering economic opportunity will be soon addressed. We must recognize the tremendous potential of using digital technologies for economic development, empowering the weak and bringing the fruits of democracy to every doorstep.

How governments and people respond to digitalization in the near future will impact not only our democracy, economy, freedom, rights, governance, society and the but also the digitalization itself. As nature of technology neither pro nor anti, it’s neutral.

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A Harrowing Challenge of Drug Menace in Himachal Pradesh

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drug abuse in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla- The drug menace, predominant among the younger generation, has been haunting the state of Himachal Pradesh for a while now. Inadvertently, an incipient problem of drug use has transformed into a full-blown problem. Over the past few months, minatory incidents such as the arrest of people in possession of contraband drugs became quotidian, and several mysterious deaths of students left the parents in despondency. The faces of the parents are masked with discernable worry and panic, albeit their stony silence on the issue, fails them in downplaying the issue.

If education is driving our children to indulge in drugs, in that case, it’s better not to send them to school/colleges and keep them illiterate,

said a man remorsefully, after reading news about the arrest of a college goer in possession of “Chitta”. The statement reflects the manifest distress and uneasiness among parents.

How dismal the situation is, can be fathomed from the fact that in the year 2018, so far, 151 cases have been registered under the Narcotics Act, and 204 people have been put behind the bars in connection to drug peddling. In addition, 94 kg of Charas, 3 kg of opium, 116 kg of poppy husk, 0.496 kg of ganja, 480 grams of heroin and 39135 tablets/capsules were seized in the state from April to June 2018, as per the report of the state Government submitted before the Hon’ble High Court in the month of August.

In response, the state cabinet under the Chief Minister, on 30 November 2018, decided an amendment in the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances(Himachal Pradesh Amendment Bill) 2018, which will be moved in the upcoming winter assembly session in Dharamshala, in order to make the offense non-bailable. The opposition has welcomed the move-not surprising, as they had been making a clarion call for change in law for some time now.

Ergo, the Drug trafficking or smuggling of narcotics in the state of Himachal will become a non-bailable offense once the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Himachal Pradesh Amendment Bill), 2018 is passed by the assembly in the upcoming session.

The drug menace is not only unpalatable but if it is not quelled timely, it could become inveterate, jeopardizing the prosperity and stymieing the progress of the region. Clearly, the government was left with very few options, apart from making the crime non-bailable but this step might take care of the demand side of this complex issue. In doing this, the policymakers may be overlooking the overriding concerns on the supply side: as the amendments in the law may end up punishing the drug consumers only, whereas the supplier or the producers/manufacturer (in case of Chitta) of contraband drugs may never be nabbed. And the danger is– considering the inordinate delay and pendency of cases in our courts-the miscreants, especially the youth, may never get the second chance to redeem themselves.

After all, we all make mistakes in life, but, the key is to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them.

Hitherto, we have failed to underscore the crucial factors that festered drug use and it’s peddling. Be it the permeable border, high disposable income, lack of employment opportunities, temptation to make easy money or lack of awareness about the heinous repercussion of drug menace- high-risk behaviour, HIV/Aids/Hepatitis-C, violence, child abuse, risky sexual behaviour, the stigma of social exclusion, incarceration and list is endless. There are issues which require a far greater attention of the policymakers and the government.

First and foremost, we need to identify the conduit of these contraband drug and target it indiscriminately. The various studies show that once the European countries stopped the entry of drugs from “Balkan Route-the conduit of the drug trade to Europe” their problem of drug menace was half solved. Our state should follow the same approach.

With the advent of social media, the tricks of the drug trade have also changed; most of the drug sales nowadays are done on “Dark Net”. The state needs to ensure that our intelligence and police are abreast with all the latest technological advancement to nab the big fish of the drug trade. Only then this legislation will bring the desired results, or else our effort to curb the menace may belie the desired results.

Unsolicitedly, we all should provide, whatever little information we have about the drug buccaneers and miscreants in this trade to the police. The silence of the society on social evils don’t help in overcoming them but only fester them to the worse. Embrace meliorism!

We need to fight this menace from all quarters by spreading awareness about the pitfall of drug use. From parents, teachers, students, association, legislators, police, to NGOs, each one of us has a role in this battle against drugs. We, as a society, need to understand that it’s the higher socioeconomic groups that have a greater propensity to drug use, but it’s the society as a whole that pays the price.

The society, as a whole, needs to be emphatic to those who have fallen in the trap of drug use. The state also will have to ensure drug addicts are administered proper treatment-be it in prisons or in rehabilitation centers. Such an attitude for one and all will help drug addicts in overcoming the drug problem and social stigmatization.

The state also needs to usherradical reforms in sectors like education. At present, numerous youth get disillusioned when they get rejected for a job or don’t find a job. In frustration, they feel disheartened by the system and take up drugs. Whereas the real problem is, a majority of them lack the skill set and are often unemployable. The skill set is correlated with quality of education imparted to the students. The reform in the education system should commensurate with the requirement of the modern day age. It’s sad that we have commodified the education system, which further exacerbates the problems of the society, instead of remediating it.

Our policymakers need to introspect whether they have been able to formulate the policies that promote job creation and environment that thrives on an idea of innovation and technology.In absence of both these, youth is like to become susceptible to drugs to find solace. The policymakers need to avoid this trap and make sure the policies cultivate an environment on which our society can prosper for the best, not for the worst.

A bit of lateral thinking will also help. We need to create more options for our youth to have fun and frolic. Let’s understand, if we can offer an environment full of alternative activities to our youth, it will prevent the youth from falling prey to drugs. More parks, health clubs, library, reading rooms (sadly reading habits are declining in society worldwide), playgrounds will certainly help. Our pedagogy and parents can help immensely in this, by encouraging the youth to develop different interest and hobbies. Remember the old adage: An idle brain is a devil’s workshop.

Interestingly, most of the towns in the state or villages for that matter have a painful story related to the drug menace to tell- some certainly veracious, some may be apocryphal. The imminent challenge is to overturn the predicament. In the future, the tales from the state should be about drug survivor who fought his way back to health, not about the one who languished all his life in the hope of emancipation.

We are blessed with a young population but the asset has to be preserved by creating an environment that gets the best out the youth. If we err in doing so, the same asset can easily turn into liability and spell doomsday for the state. It would be a tragedy if we allow our youth to embrace the darkness.

Let’s get our act together; it’s high time! Let’s build a bulwark in the path of slow death by presenting new avenues of life to the youth. They deserve this much, if not better.

Author: Sunny Grack

About Author: Sunny Grack is a former banker. Interested in matters on economy, globalisation ,financial market and public policy; an Economic and Management graduate. He lives in Shimla.

Disclaimer: Himachal Watcher may not necessarily share the same opinion as expressed by the author.

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