News Wrap


An increment of wages of one rupee a day, has been allowed under the rural job guarantee scheme, in many states, by the union government of India, effective 01 April 2017. Eastern states are the worst hit, as the increase is the lowest in the 11-year history of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Wage rates are stuck far below the minimum wages, set by the state governments. Till 2008, the job scheme wage had been equivalent to a state’s minimum wages. Thereafter the central government decided to tie the former to the State’s Consumer Price Index for Agricultural Labourers (CPIAL), a measure of the retail inflation faced by farm workers. The average rise in job scheme wages was 2.7% in  2016-17, because  inflation was down, and was the lowest in the eastern states. The daily wage under the scheme has risen by just Re 1 in Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, by Rs 2 in Odisha, and by Rs 4 in Bengal. The highest increase has occurred in Kerala and Haryana, of Rs 18 each. The daily wage under the scheme in Haryana is now Rs 277, the highest in the country, while Bihar and Jharkhand are tied at the bottom at Rs 168. The present system merely protects the wages from the inflation of goods in the consumption basket. It does not ensure ‘‘dignified living’’ to cover amenities such as quality education, standard health care, access to piped water and electricity and sanitation.

Apart from a dearness allowance in particular, granted to address inflation, government employees are entitled to a revision of their basic salary every ten years. The real wage increase in five states does not reflect the 7% GDP growth, the government is claiming. The latest Economic Survey (2016-17) observes states with large poor population like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh, despite accounting for half the poor in the country, were able to access only a third of the resources spent on the MGNREGS Scheme, during 2015-16.

Private Hospitals
The West Bengal Clinical Establishments Bill, 2017for private hospital in Bengal empowers a regulatory commission to fix rates and charges for treatment. In case a private hospital is found guilty of causing grievous injury or death, the commission may also order cancellation of license, closure of the clinical establishment and forfeiture of property. Violations of registration and license conditions can invite imprisonment of up to three years. If there is deficiency or negligence in treatment at private health care units, the commission will have the power to award compensation of up to Rs 50 lac. The Clinical Establishments Act 2010 has been adopted by only some states, but remains largely unimplemented even there. The West Bengal Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Act of 2010 was toothless. Framed by the previous Left Front Government, it was left untouched during the entire first term of the present Trinamul Congress Government. Of late there were a serises of allegations against Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals and certain other private hospitals, about medical negligence and unethical practices. The commission’s orders cannot be challenged in a civil court. Appeals would have to be filed in the high court. The commission is government appointed and government hospitals and doctors are out of its purview.

104 Satellites
In mid Feb 2017, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, in south India, a record breaking 104 Nano Satellites into orbit on board a single rocket. The launch overtook the 2014 Russian record of 37 satellites, in a single launch. On board  was a 714 kg satellite for Earth observation and more than 100 satellites weighing less than 10 kg each. Three were Indian owned, 96 from US companies and the rest belonged to companies based in Israel, Kazakhastan, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the UAE. Most were owned by Planet Labs, a US-based Earth imaging company. After reaching a height of about 505 km, the satellites separate from the launch vehicle at different times and velocities, to avoid collisions. Though generally the scientific capabilities of India’s craft are narrower than those launched by NASA, India’s lower labour costs and an emphasis on locally sourced equipment contribute to the comparative cheaper cost of India’s space missions.

Baby boom in China
The Chinese Communist Party introduced the one child policy in 1979, to tackle population growth. Following years of warnings from demographers over low birth rates and an ageing population, the one-child policy was axed in late 2015. Since Feb 2017, Chinese authorities are looking at ways to encourge people to have more children in a bid to boost birth rates and stave off a demographic decline. There are miniscule birth rate increases in China’s provinces, overall. The number of women of child bearing age has declined. The potential impact of relaxed policy is limited, but changing social norms also play a part. Women no longer find appeal in the traditional view of ‘‘more children means more happiness.’’ They are pursuing their own education and career development. The opportunity costs of having a second child are large. China’s national crude birth rate was 12.1 births per 1000 people in 2015, down from 21 in 1960. The figures are not published for 2016. Rising costs for housing and education increased the burden of raising children. Traditionally, parents relied on children for support in old age. Presently, the development of a more comprehensive social security system has reduced the impulse towards large families.              

Vol. 49, No.48, Jun 4 - 10, 2017