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Unemployment Benefits, Srisailam Plant Fire, and ASHA Protests

This week, we bring details on India’s unemployment benefits, concerns over the government’s housing scheme, updates on the flood situation and its industrial complications, and the continuing ASHA workers’ strike, among other stories.

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Rural

File:Dyfiharipadarally (32).jpg
Image for representation via Wikimedia Commons.

India’s unemployment benefits

Workers who lost their job during the pandemic — between March 24 to December 31 this year  — are entitled to receive 50 percent of their average wage of three months as their unemployment benefits.

The condition is that the workers should be covered under the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC).

The benefit has been increased 50 percent for the pandemic. Earlier, workers could only claim 25 percent wage for a period of 90 days.

The scheme is applicable for only those who have insurable employment for a period of two years and have contributed at least 78 days before unemployment. They are also to be engaged in work in the timespan of 2 years before getting unemployed.

The ESIC is said to cover around 3.49 crore workers with a monthly salary of up to Rs 21,000. Hence, the benefits will be capped at Rs 31,500.

Read more on India’s unemployment benefits by the Deccan Herald report by Sangeetha G.

Meanwhile, India’s unemployment rate has touched a nine-week high and now stands at 9.1 percent, according to data provided by the Centre of Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).

Other rural updates this week:

Who gets to host the tricolor?

A TV journalist was assaulted in Chennai while covering a story about a Dalit panchayat president who was stopped from hoisting the tricolor by members of the dominating caste on independence day. 

The news surfaced from Athupakkam village in the Gummidipoondi Taluk where people were invited to hoist the flag. The school’s headmistress was allegedly persuaded by members of the dominating cast to not invite a certain Amrutham to house the flag.

Later when a journalist named M Ezhilarasan tried to cover the incident, he was allegedly beaten up and locked in a room. Later, the police and reporters arrived on the spot, and both the parties filed FIRs against each other.

The police later arrested the accused duo — Sasikumar and Vijaykumar — who are the panchayat’s secretary and vice president’s husband on charges of rioting, obscenity, causing hurt, wrongful confinement, and criminal intimidation.

It was reported that around 50 people had gathered in support of the accused Sasikumar.

Read more on this by Sahaya Novinston Lobo for The New Indian Express.

Concerns over the slow pace of housing scheme

The Union Rural Development Ministry has expressed concerns over the “drastic slowdown” of the Pradhan Mantri Aawas Yojana (PMAY) which provides housing aid for the poor.

The ministry has asked for an “intense follow-up” on the scheme by states and UTs. 

During the second phase of this housing program, the gap between completed and sanctioned homes stood at around 3.12 million.

The scheme has been carried over from the UPA era and works in sync with India’s rural employment scheme — the MGNREGA. The scheme helps the homeless get their pucca house as well as guaranteed labor of 90 days to build them.

The states that are lagging the most are Bihar with 988,000 incomplete houses, followed by West Bengal with 573,000.

The factors leading to such a lag have been attributed to the COVID-19, floods, and a shortage of labor.  

Since 2014, 17.2 million homes have been built under the scheme.

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Read more on the scheme and the reason behind its slowdown in the HT report by Saubhadra Chatterji.

Working the basics: water and toilet

The Jal Jeevan Mission which was launched to provide every rural household with tap water connection needs to expand quickly to meet its 2024 deadline, says an analysis for government data.

Till Aug. 16, 27% — 51 million — households were provided with the connection under the scheme launched by the central government in collaboration with the state governments. 

With 51 million homes covered, authorities must provide a connection to another 138 million homes by 2024 to fulfill the promise. The percentage of piped water supply in India has also increased from over 18 percent in 2018 to around 27 percent in 2019, and this is a 9 points jump.

Read more in the HT report by Zia Haq.

Meanwhile, the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) is said to have constructed nearly 10.87 crore household toilets and 85,784 community toilets. 

India may not have yet been defecation free, but that doesn’t stop the Swachh Bharat Mission to progress to the next stage where it’s set to focus on waste management and introducing new parameters from sludge management and zero dumpings of waste in the open. Read this LiveMint report by Pretka Khanna for more on this.

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Environment

An Indian youth walks during heavy rain showers in Mumbai on June 18, 2013. The monsoon, which India’s farming sector depends on, covers the subcontinent from June to September, usually bringing some flooding. But the heavy rains arrived early this year, catching many by surprise. The country has received 68 percent more rain than normal for this time of year, data from the India Meteorological Department shows. AFP PHOTO/ PUNIT PARANJPE

Flood, cyclone, and monsoon update:

In Assam, the State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) reported that 56.9 lakh people have been affected in 30 districts in the current floods.

In Bihar, the floods continue, with an additional 1.13 lakh people being affected on Friday, taking the number of affected people to 82.92 lakh. 

The formation of another low-pressure area over the Bay of Bengal has seen rains hit Odisha, which submerged many low- lying areas and claimed five lives. Fishermen have been advised not to venture into the sea along and off Odisha coast from August 24 to 26.

IMD has also predicted heavy rainfall in Mumbai, Thane, and the Raigad and Palghar districts, East Rajasthan, Gujarat, Goa, and the Konkan region. 

Mousuni, an island in West Bengal’s Sundarbans region, was severely impacted between August 20 and 21, having been hit for the third time after Cyclone Amphan and Bulbul. The landfalls of both were within 20 km from the island — a rarity globally. Around 3,000 people are severely affected. 

The southwest monsoon hit Kodagu in the first week of June this year, and in July, the rain was 47% lesser than usual. However, this changed in August when the region saw 647 mm of rain between August 1 to August 11. According to the KSNDMC data, in the 24 hours ending at 8:30 am on August 6, Kodagu had received 116 mm rain which is a 454 percent departure from normal.

The reasons behind these excessive rains and landslides have been shown to be a combination of a crack that had developed near the mid-slope of Brahmagiri Hill and the district’s status as a tourist hotspot leading to changing infrastructure and deforestation in the coffee regions. You can read the in-depth study of the region in this report by Arathi Menon in Mongabay-India

The desert is changing too. Unequal rainfall, with fewer days giving more rainfall instead of little rainfall, spread out over the days, is leading to the changing landscape of the Thar desert. The pastures across Bikaner are also reducing due to the growth of agricultural farms and expansion cities because of population changes. Read more in this report by Rishika Pardikar.

Other environmental updates this week:

Hydroelectric plant fire kills 9, 3 injured

Oil India Limited is still trying to cap the blowout at Baghjan after three unsuccessful attempts to douse the fire since June 9. More details about their trials are explained here. 

A fire in the Left Bank Power House at Srisailam hydroelectric plant, Telangana, claimed the lives of nine people and injured three. The right bank plant is run by Andhra Pradesh Power Generation Company and the left bank by the Telangana Power Generation Company. Located close to Hyderabad, the city has the highest demand for power in the state. The deceased were in the process of putting off the fire that eventually claimed their lives. CID has taken over the investigation. 

Dealing with the human-elephant conflict

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar released a document stating some of the best practices to deal with human-elephant conflict, yet the methods prescribed have received flack from conservationists and wildlife experts. They say that the method of using concrete and iron fences, which have been stated as ideal in the booklet, are measures that have previously proved fatal for the animal, and ignores the ethos of coexistence. Read about the critiques in this article by Mayank Aggarwal for Mongabay. Our report on the policies around dealing with elephants can be found here, written by Vinay Kumar

Could Uttarakhand’s draft ecotourism policy threaten biodiversity?

The Uttarakhand government has prepared an eco-policy draft that aims to promote forest conservation and ensure livelihood to local people.

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65 percent of the state’s area located in the hills is covered with forests, but the new policy aims to open larger areas for ecotourism while aiming to protect wildlife and biodiversity. 

Experts, however, have warned that the draft policy in its final form will be driven by bureaucrats and will hamper the rights fo people living in the forests against the ongoing claim of protecting them.

Read more on this by Mayank Aggarwal for Mongabay.

Eco-swaraj to fight destructive development

This article, by Mary-Rose Abraham for Deutsche Welle, shows how the Gandhian approach of Swaraj, for self-governance, has led to “Eco-swaraj” – a movement described as that where hundreds of initiatives across India are fighting destructive development as well as those building sustainable alternatives. One result of this has been the Indian agricultural NGO Deccan Development Society (DDS) which has led to 3,000 women members turning into organic farmers, growing up to 35 different crops.


Health

Vaccine syringe
Image: Flickr Commons

The ASHA strike

The six lakh ASHA workers went on a two-day strike on the 7th of August 2020. This strike, after failed negotiations for better pay and protective equipment for their protection against the COVID.

The protest launched by the All India United Traders Union Centre had been extended up to the 21st. The Delhi Police last week on Tuesday filed an FIR against more than 100 of them for staging a protest at Jantar Mantar for not wearing masks and staging a non-socially-distanced protest.

India has 1,00,000 ASHA workers, 1.3 million Anganwadi workers, and another 1.2 million Anganwadi helpers — all women from impoverished backgrounds: Dalit, Adivasi, single mothers. They have been pivotal in controlling the spread of COVID, with raising awareness in rural areas and ensuring protocols are followed.

Other healthcare updates this week:

Image: Pixabay commons

Vaccine update

The Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan on Saturday stated that India is in line to get the first vaccine against COVID ready by the end of the year. The Oxford vaccine is also due to hit India by December, with Serum Institute of India producing it.

One vaccine is said to be in phase three trials while the other two are in phase one and two, although which is where hasn’t been specified. Saturday recorded the highest-ever single day peak of 63,631 recoveries, with the recovery rate standing at 74.69 percent. In the off-chance that you want to take part in a vaccine trial, here are some details on the qualifiers. Volunteers aren’t paid any money, though. 

Shortage of medics, doctors on strike

The medical field is also being reformed due to a shortage of medical personnel. Read the details in Ruchir Kumar’s report for the Hindustan Times on the doctors’ strike in Bihar, where amid rising cases in Bihar, 600 junior doctors have threatened to boycott work from August 27, demanding a raise in stipend and relaxation in the government bond for post-graduate medical students.

Additionally, this article by Vivek Gupta for IndiaSpend highlights how part of the reason why India is short on doctors is due to medical education being expensive. For example, in Punjab, the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery course fees in state-run medical colleges have been increased by 78% – from Rs 4.4 lakh previously to Rs 7.81 lakh – for the 2019-20 session.

However, a gazette notification by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has now introduced a post-graduate diploma course pathway in eight medical specialties after MBBS. The famous cardiac surgeon Dr Devi Shetty has termed it a “radical reform”. Approximately 1,70,000 doctors write the NEET exam to apply for about 50,000 post-graduate seats. This leads to 1,20,000 doctors who do not get one of these seats and therefore are out of jobs for at least five years while they try to retake exams and such. Through a few thousand seats in the new post-graduate diploma pathway, these doctors can go back to patient care in accredited government or private hospitals. Read more here in Anuradha Mascarenhas’s article for The Indian Express.

The medical field is also being reformed due to a shortage of medical personnel. Read the details in Ruchir Kumar’s report for the Hindustan Times on the doctors’ strike in Bihar, where amid rising cases in Bihar, 600 junior doctors have threatened to boycott work from August 27, demanding a raise in stipend and relaxation in the government bond for post-graduate medical students.

Additionally, this article by Vivek Gupta for IndiaSpend highlights how part of the reason why India is short on doctors is due to medical education being expensive. For example, in Punjab, the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery course fees in state-run medical colleges have been increased by 78% – from Rs 4.4 lakh previously to Rs 7.81 lakh – for the 2019-20 session.

However, a gazette notification by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has now introduced a post-graduate diploma course pathway in eight medical specialities after MBBS. The famous cardiac surgeon Dr Devi Shetty has termed it a “radical reform”. Approximately 1,70,000 doctors write the NEET exam to apply for about 50,000 post-graduate seats.

This leads to 1,20,000 doctors who do not get one of these seats and therefore are out of jobs for at least five years while they try to retake exams and such. Through a few thousand seats in the new post-graduate diploma pathway, these doctors can go back to patient care in accredited government or private hospitals. Read more here in Anuradha Mascarenhas’s article for The Indian Express. 

Amazon in the e-pharmacy game

Amazon has moved to set up an online pharmacy in India, making its debut in Bangalore. It shall offer prescriptions, over-the-counter and traditional Ayurveda medication as well as basic health devices. However, the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD) plans to hold a meeting of its executive committee to finalise an action plan on legally contesting the decision of Amazon entering their market. Read more on this move impacts India pharma companies here.


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