News Wrap


The proportion of the poor in India has declined between 2004-05 and 2011-12. However, the gap between the poor and the rich has risen for the first time in rural areas, in about 35 years, and to an all-time high in urban areas. Inequality, computed from household consumption expenditure, is measured by the Gini coefficient, a measure of statistical dispersion. The coefficient ranges from 0 to 1, with 0 representing perfect equality, and 1 showing perfect inequality. More the coefficient, more the inequality. In rural areas, the Gini coefficient rose to 0.28 (2011-12) from 0.26 (2004-05), and to an all-time high of 0.37 from 0.35 in urban areas. Even though the government has expanded welfare programmes in villages, there has been a rise in the gap between rich and poor in rural areas. This indicates that jobs are being created outside the agricultural sector, too, in the rural areas. Consumption pattern of agricultural workers is stagnant, growth in consumption expenditure in rural parts is unequally distributed, benefiting only the better-offs. Since the 1990s, inequality has been on the rise with job creation and income distribution being unequal. The proportion of poor below the poverty line in villages declined from 42% (2004-05) to 25.7% (2011-12), and from 25.5% to 13.7% in urban areas, as per Planning Commission data.

Submarine Fire
In the second week of August 2013, an explosion sank a Russian built submarine, INS Sindhurakshak at the Mumbai harbour, killing at least 18 sailors, including three officers. The multiple explosions ripping through the Torpedo compartment of one of India’s mainstay kilo class submarines implies that 20% of India’s underwater fleet is now inoperable. The submarine was built in St Petersburg, and had returned only seven months ago from Zvedochka shipyard after a Rs 480 crore upgrade. Six Scorpene submarines being built at the Mazagaon Docks in Mumbai are expected to be ready by 2017, when according to initial plans the first should have been commissioned in 2012. While the Indian Air Force struggles with the available fleet of outdated combat aircraft, the process to procure 126 multi-role combat aircraft began in 2001. The deal worth Rs 82,000 crore went to Dassault Rafaele in January 2012. Nothing has moved on this yet.

Singapore Wealth Management
Singapore is a global centre for managing money. The assets under management in the city state rose by nearly quarter in the last one year, placing it close to Switzerland, as a wealth management hub. Asia is the biggest destination of investments, from funds handled out of Singapore, accounting for 70% of all assets under management, a rise from 60% the previous year. Benefiting from growing wealth of a new generation of Asian business people, Hong Kong and Singapore are closing the gap with Switzerland and London. The funds managed in Switzerland have increased 22%, in comparison to a year previously. Some Swiss banks have an alleged complicity in tax evasions by US citizens. Recent regulatory lapses in Switzerland are a factor behind Singapore’s growth, but they have merely served to accelerate a trend that started after the 2008 financial crisis. Singapore is also a crowded market, with costs high and returns lower than in Switzerland.

Bangladesh Boat Schools
Densely populated Bangladesh, with 152 million people, is a delta formed by the confluence of major rivers, and is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Annual flooding can disrupt schools for hundreds of thousands of students in Bangladesh. In some areas, roads are impassable during the rainy season (July to October), when rivers rise as much as 4 metres (or 12 feet). Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, a non-profit organization, runs twenty free ‘‘floating schools’ on wooden boats moored to river banks, that has reached almost 70,000 children. Shidulai’s founder and executive director, grew up in the country’s northwest, where his organization operates. The boat schools were designed by modifying Bangladeshi wooden boats called ‘Noka’. They are about 15 meters long, and 3 metres wide (or about 50 feet by 10 feet), with main cabins that can fit 30 children and a teacher. Weather proof roofs withstand heavy monsoons rains, and are supported by arched metal beams instead of columns, which would obstruct the classrooms. Local boat builders take three or four months plus about $18,000 to refurbish an old vessels. To pay for salaries, supplies, fuel and other costs, an additional $6500 a year is needed. Shidhulai has received generous funds from Global Fund for Children (USA), the Levi’s Foundation, part of the clothing company that has factories in Bangladesh, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations. Grants have helped the organization to build more boats, buy computers and create a central library. The off-shore learning now has 20 schools, mostly for the young children of landless families, 10 libraries, and 7 adult education centres, all on boats. There are also five floating health clinics, that transport medical staff to remote areas. The floating schools are combination of school bus and school house. The students board at rural pick-up points, and they attend classes for two or three points, and they attend classes for two or three hours, six days a week. This could be all the education they obtain. Free adult classes to women focus on practical issues, with slide shows. Agricultural experts teach use of organic insecticides made of neem tree leaves, increase of crop yields, and cultivation of variety of vegetables. Shidhulai plans to add 100 more boats in the next five years, to reach an additional 100,000 people.

Vol. 46, No. 12, Sep 29 -Oct 5, 2013

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