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New Migrant Jobs, Coalmines, and a Promising Drug

This week, we will talk about new job schemes for returning workers, emerging coal mines, and a new COVID-19 drug that seems to be working.


Rural

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Grant for states

The finance ministry on June 17th released a Rs 15,187.50 crore grant to 28 States as the first instalment of Rural Local Bodies Basic (Untied) Grants for 2020-21. The grant is to help rural local bodies restart their economic activities.

The department said that local bodies can use this grant for location-specific felt needs, such as sanitation and maintenance of open-defecation status (ODF), supply of clean water, and rainwater harvesting. The availability of funds is also said to provide “gainful employment” to migrant laborers who returned to their native places during the pandemic.

The distribution of funds will have the following structure:

•       70-85 % for village/gram panchayats

•       10-25 % for block/intermediate panchayats

•       5-15 % for district/zilla panchayats

In states having a two-tier system with only village and district panchayats, the distribution will be in the bands of 70-85 % for village/gram panchayats and 15-30% for district/zilla panchayats.

The Ministry of Panchayati Raj would also support states in effective utilization of the grants by providing Web/IT enabled platforms for planning, monitoring, accounting, and auditing.

OTHER STORIES THIS WEEK

Joyous harvest

Impressive pre-monsoon showers in April and May along with timely monsoon have raised hopes for a plentiful Kharif harvest.

For Jharkhand, the timely monsoon arrival has proved to be a boon for most districts. A Wadood, a weather scientist and expert at the Birsa Agricultural University said that Jharkhand is expecting a bumper yield of over 50 lakh tonnes of rice. Jharkhand, in regular conditions, only manages to yield 50 lakh tonnes of rice.

1.66 crore students to miss classes

1.66 crore students from rural areas of Maharashtra will miss the next educational year, starting from 15th June. 

The reason behind the mass absence is the lack of power and poor connectivity in rural areas, along with the lack of availability of smartphones among the students.

Currently, the number of schools in remote and rural areas stand at 99,144, which is nearly 75 percent of the total number of schools in Maharashtra. The 1.66 lakh students who go to these schools rarely receive smooth power supply, let alone the internet. 4,949 schools lack electricity, of which 274 students belong to the secondary and higher secondary schools.

Nearly 49 percent of these schools lack computer and internet facilities.

Also read: Here’s how online teaching can reshape education in rural India

New migrant jobs

The government seeks to empower returning migrants by implementing new job schemes. The new 50,000 crore scheme will fund 25 categories of public infrastructure facilities, such as laying fibre optic cable for internet in rural areas, railway infrastructure, sanitation, waste management, farm ponds, and poultry. The Krishi Vigyan Kendras will be responsible for training the workers in horticulture.

The programme, launched from Bihar’s Khagaria district, will cover 116 districts across Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Odisha.

India is planning to launch a new rural jobs programme on Saturday to alleviate the distress of hundreds and thousands of migrants who have lost their jobs and returned to their villages due to the strict lockdown aimed at containing the spread of the new coronavirus.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government would spend 500 billion rupees for the programme.


Environment

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Auctioning 41 coal mines

PM Narendra Modi launched the auction of 41 coal mines for private commercial mining to try and revive the economy after COVID-19. This has raised alarm bells for a variety of reasons, one of which is that the mines are in rich biodiversity hotspots, a few in one of the largest contiguous stretches of dense forest in India called Hasdeo Arand, that spans 170,000 hectares. The Government hopes to see more than Rs 33,000 crore of capital investments in the next five to seven years here. 

The Indira Gandhi government had nationalised mining between 1971 and 1973. This move would now end Coal India LTD’s monopoly. Yet this move now isn’t the first time privatisation has been allowed in the sector, it is just the most appealing form of investment. In 2018, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) allowed for the auctioning of coal mines to any firm. Back then, private sector firms could only mine coal for use in their cement, steel, power and aluminium plants. With this ruling, they would be allowed to sell coal commercially as a product in itself. 2020’s commercial mining auction is very business-friendly with reduced upfront costs, a revenue sharing model, a 100% FDI through automatic route, and liberal efficiency parameters for flexibility. Read more about the issue in this LiveMint piece. 

Coal has seen a fall in demand (From April to October in 2019, coal consumption by thermal power plants went down by 2.3 million tonnes compared to 2018)  since renewable energy has been made cheaper, yet most of India still runs on coal. An analysis by Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis saw that renewables “delivered more than two-thirds of India’s new generating capacity additions in the 2019-20 fiscal year.” While the increased mining activity could raise employment, the same could be used for renewable energies, whereupon investing more in them would yield better longer term benefits and would allow India to read its SDG goals sooner. Jharkhand, the state with the highest reserves in India, has sought to postpone the proposed commercial auction of coal mines due to the pandemic, and the need for proper assessment of social and environmental impact. 

OTHER STORIES THIS WEEK

Assam pollution board steps in

Update on the Assam blowout situation: The fire continues to blaze. As per The Indian Express, “Assam’s pollution watchdog has told Oil India Ltd (OIL) to shut down production and drilling at all installations in Upper Assam’s Baghjan oilfield after discovering that the company had allegedly started operations “without obtaining prior consent to establish/consent to operate” from it. OIL’s set-up in Baghjan, where a well has been burning for days after a blowout, is said to have been functioning since 2003.” OIL stands in violation of the provisions of the Water Act, 1974, Air Act, 1981 as well as Environment Protection Act, 1986. Residents who were moved from their homes staged peaceful protests around the functioning of Oil India in the greater Baghjan area over the alleged “slowness” and “indifference” of the administration. Read more here

Trees for roads

The Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) is now trying for 25 acres of forest land in the Jarakabande Kavalu near Yelahanka for the Peripheral Ring Road (PRR) project. The initial EIA report, however, said that only 3.7 acres of forest land would be needed. With this revised number, it is said that around 16,000 trees would be cut in one of the prime reserves in Bengaluru. 

Food for birds

The silver lining of the locust attack has been that the endangered Great Indian Bustard (terestrial bird) have had a feast, along with other biodiversity having their bellies full. To Down To Earth, YV Jhala, dean of WII and head of the GIB conservation project, said, “Locust is a very important food for GIB. Due to the high nutritional status of locusts, the fecundity of the bird has become high. Usually, there are four-five eggs laid every year, but last year we found 15 eggs.” While most of the swarm seems to have reduced, Telangana anticipates a swarm in the coming week. 


Health

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The underdog drug

Dexamethasone, a low-dose steroid treatment, has been a major development in the fight against coronavirus, according to UK experts. 19 out of 20 patients suffering from the coronavirus, who were not admitted to a hospital, had recovered after taking the drug. The drug does not help with those patients that show milder symptoms of the virus and require no help with breathing. Since Dexamethasone is an established drug that is commonly used, this brings hope to severe cases of COVID. 

Unreported COVID deaths

Nearly 451 COVID-19 deaths have gone unreported by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in Maharashtra. According to an unnamed civic official, “reporting all deaths at once may trigger panic” and a decision was taken to include a few of the unaccounted numbers every day. The BMC and the State said the discrepancy was the result of a time lag in recording and reporting the details on the CV Analytics platform, which is the main database. The mismanagement has been reported by Frontline in detail. 

Increasing recovery rate

While the cases rise on the daily, India’s recovery rate is shown to be increasing. Read this Hindustan Times piece on how it has been doing so. 

Mental Health insurance

The Supreme Court issued a notice to the Union government and the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority (IRDA) on June 16, 2020 over a plea to provide health insurance for mental health issues. Read Down To Earth’s piece on what has happened. 

Fund for the disabled

The Telangana High Court waits to hear back from the State government on whether it is ready to allocate a separate fund of ₹10 crores as requested earlier by the Director and Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities during the pandemic.

Cases rising in China again

With the lockdown over in China, cases are shown to be increasing slowly. Beijing has shut down Xinfadi wholesale food market, along with other several markets after six new domestically-transmitted coronavirus cases were reported last Saturday. On Wednesday, Beijing cancelled hundreds of domestic flights and trains. The city’s tally rose upto 137, with 31 new cases being reported by it.

TN extends lockdown, Delhi doesn’t

Tamil Nadu’s CM Edappadi K Palaniswami has also announced a complete lockdown in Chennai, Thiruvallur, Chengalpet and Kancheepuram on Monday. These districts will be facing the lockdown from June 19th to June 30th. Essential places such as shops shall remain open between 6 am and 2 pm during the lockdown. Delhi, however, with its constantly increasing cases, has ruled out another lockdown


.LIFE

Stories that we have been reading this week.

Is India Fighting COVID-19 or Its Own Doctors?

For India to overcome inequality, reservations are key. BJP government must stop diluting OBC quota

Denied in life, India’s lower-caste Dalits fight for land in death

What the cruise-ship outbreaks reveal about COVID-19 

Baghjan blowout shows why we need to fix liabilities

The Peshwa’s tax holiday: How the Mughals and Marathas dealt with distress migration

What caused a spike in extreme heat events in Northeast Asia