Can we govern the ungovernable? Should we even try to contain the advance of algorithms? These difficult questions don’t have a simple answer. However, what is clear is that the world needs a strong governance structure to shape the impact of algorithms and AI on our lives.
At the core of the concerns are the nature and design of algorithms that influence our choices. Online consumptions for instance is not a free choice. Algorithms prod, poke and drive the consumer into a narrow set of choices which they may not have selected otherwise.
“It is important to have ways to oversee the operations of these systems to ensure they are helping, not harming, humanity. The flurry of governance frameworks over the past two years has been crucial in helping leaders to better understand the issues surrounding AI, including potential for fairness and discrimination, disparate impact, and the associated issues of transparency and accountability,” says a recent report by World Economic Forum (WEF). “But much more innovation in the realm of AI governance is needed if we are to keep pace with both the advancement and application of AI-based systems,” says the report titled The AI Governance Journey published in November.
Until recently unfair market practice in the retail sector largely revolved around predatory pricing. In some cases, it involved using market muscle to prevent rivals from expanding their consumer base.
Today, unfair market practices are often baked into the business model using tech-based platforms of e-commerce companies. Anti-trust authorities in most free-market economies including India are trying to peek under the hood of the engines that run e-commerce sales.
Parts of the unfair play in digital markets are easier to see. Some e-commerce companies own a big chunk of a seller and therefore find it in their interest to promote that particular seller.
Other parts of unfair trade practice involve using algorithms that allow collusion between seemingly independent companies or manage reactive pricing which can hurt smaller sellers. The e-commerce may say that algorithms don’t choose for the consumer; consumers choose for themselves. However, the facts say otherwise.
The question now is not whether consumers choose or not. The question is what is their choice? Are the options available to the consumers open and fair? More importantly, do the sellers have equal access to the consumers in the market. Today this paradigm is often decided by the software robots who run the digital markets.
“It will be important to monitor developments in the application of machine learning and Artificial Intelligence to ensure they do not lead to anti-competitive behavior or consumer detriment, particularly in relation to vulnerable consumers,” says the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) of the UK. There are examples where an e-commerce site has shown different prices to different customers depending on their location. A CMA paper notes, “It has been alleged that Staples’ website displayed different prices to people, depending on how close they were to a rival brick-and-mortar store belonging to OfficeMax or Office Depot.” Similar investigations are required in India and other emerging economies to ensure that algorithm-triggered personalized pricing does not become harmful.
Another type of antitrust activity takes place when online rivals decide to use the same pricing algorithm to align the prices of different products. When questioned by regulators or anti-trust authorities, e-commerce companies like to say that the decision taken by an algorithm is not their responsibility. However, authorities including the Competition Commission of India are challenging this.
At their root, anti-trust or anti-monopoly laws aim to ensure that consumers and sellers have the freedom to choose and compete on fair terms. A few sellers should not be allowed to dominate any market to the extent that other sellers are destroyed and therefore consumer choice is undermined.
Most regulators struggle to find proof of such activity as the level of sophistication is increasing constantly. Some are already unleashing their own algorithms to track and understand the pricing software of e-commerce companies. While companies collude on pricing, governments are collaborating on curbing online malpractices. The legal liability of an algorithmic decision will be interpreted as the legal liability of an entity of an individual. Anti-trust activities of algorithms should not go unchallenged in any economy.
Similar governance rules are needed for the algorithms used by social media giants. Privacy and data protection are often the key issues when debating the regulation around social media giants. However, an important dimension that needs more attention is the algorithms that decide, define, and drive online user behavior.
Even as various countries across the world battle social media giants for lack of transparency and accountability, some governments have begun to question the algorithms too.
The US Senate Judiciary Committee recently held hearings on “Algorithms and Amplification: How Social Media Platforms’ Design Choices Shape our Discourse and Our Minds.”
Like many countries, the US is concerned about the algorithms which are designed to addict. “… This advanced technology is harnessed into algorithms designed to attract our time and attention on social media, and the results can be harmful to our kids’ attention spans, to the quality of our public discourse, to our public health, and even to our democracy itself,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), chair of the Senate Judiciary’s subcommittee on privacy and tech
In the same way that India has the social media intermediary rules and laws, US has the Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which offers some immunity for website platforms from third-party content.
The Senate hearings could lead to amendments in Section 230. Another Senator at the hearing said that the business model of “these companies is addiction.”
A legislation called ‘Don’t Push My Buttons Act’ has been introduced in the Senate with Tulsi Gabbard as the bill’s lead co-sponsor. The law would require that platforms with more than 10 million users should get user permissions before offering them content based on past behavior.
Basically, this means that companies can’t access our behavior and drive us further into similar content. This behavior is believed to be particularly harmful during Brexit conversations. Rather than allowing people to explore and stumble upon new content and alternate views on a subject, the algorithms drove users into more of the same. Effectively, it created online echo chambers and prevented people from absorbing other ideas.
The same principle can apply to consumer products or services. Algorithms can drive consumers to certain brands, categories while reducing choice and therefore hurting competition.
The laws will seek changes in Section 230 and remove the protection offered to the giants if they persist with addictive algorithms. Companies including Facebook, Google, and Twitter have testified at the Senate hearings on addictive algorithms.
While the hearings are focused on US citizens, governments in other countries should also be alert about the consequence of addictive algorithms. As the government of India is establishing the rules of play for social media giants, it will be important to scrutinize and question addictive algorithms. With an addressable market of over a billion users, the tech giants will invest a lot of resources to increase their users. The variety of languages and users in the country lend themselves to using algorithms that use personal data for greater effect.
India has to put in place legislation and rules which seek more clarity and transparency from technology companies. Domestic and global companies that use consumer behavior data to enhance addictive behavior must be scrutinized and controlled.
Currently, the intermediary guidelines focus mostly on content management and grievance redressal. However, the underlying software engines that influence online consumer behavior need oversight too.
The WEF report has made some suggestions for the future. The world needs, “Standards providing a framework for responsible AI. Standards for measuring bias, fairness and related technical details – Processes and tools for assessing AI systems.” The regulation of algorithms that define AI and thus our choices will have to be made at several levels. From Multilateral to national to local, depending on the sector, geography, and usage.
The writer is the author of ‘India Automated: How the Fourth Industrial Revolution is Transforming India’. Views expressed are the writer’s personal.
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PRIYANKA NOT AVERSE TO A NON-GANDHI AS CONGRESS PRESIDENT
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who has emerged as the most visible face of the Congress during the past few months, does not appear to be averse to a non-Gandhi becoming the chief of the grand old party. In fact, in an interview with an English News Channel, she said that the family would be open to the idea if that is what the rank and file want. However, this willingness to allow somebody other than the Gandhis to take over the organization at this stage is most unlikely since the controls for all practical purposes are still with the family. Therefore, the only way a non-Gandhi can become the Congress president is if the family backs such a person. The primary reason why there has been no serious challenge to the Gandhis from within the party so far is that senior leaders realise that it would be extremely difficult to dislodge them from their elevated position unless they decide to vacate the office for someone more capable and hands-on.
In the unlikely eventuality of this happening, the chosen person would have to be a politician who would be remote-controlled by them to a large degree. Amongst the current crop of leaders, there are only three who can steer the party out of its current crisis. However, there is no denying that they would need the patronage of the Gandhis who too would assist them only if it is not a long-time arrangement. Former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Kamal Nath who has won nine times from Chindwara and is currently the head of State unit and leader of Opposition in the Assembly is certainly a very capable politician. He has the capacity to pick up the phone and speak to any national leader, across party lines, something which not too many politicians can do. His credentials to lead the Congress which he joined in 1969 are very strong; Chindwara is the only area in the country where the Lok Sabha MP and all the MLAs belong to the party. This is not the case anywhere else. Kamal Nath was a classmate of the late Sanjay Gandhi in the Doon School and has access to the Gandhis. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has the huge organizational experience and has been with Congress since his NSUI days. He has run the state on multiple occasions and has both, expertise and proximity to the Gandhis.
Former Haryana Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda is a mass leader and someone who can collect a a large number of people at a very short notice. His tenure as the CM is considered to be amongst the best in the State. The contributions and the capacity of these leaders are acknowledged by everyone else in the party. Either of them can also get the G-23 or dissidents on board if that eventuality arises. However, the problem that would come in the way cannot be ignored. The Gandhis cannot be wished away and even if they are comfortable with these leaders or someone other than them, their coteries would never allow the transfer of power to take place. The coteries have light weights and shallow people, who are both insecure and lack understanding of the party, its history, and ideology. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have both had long innings of controlling the Congress, directly or indirectly. The general belief within the party is that if the Gandhis have to be at the helm of affairs, it should be Priyanka from out of the three of them. She has displayed maturity and presence of mind during her campaigning in UP, though she lacks consistency and sometimes good political advise. She has been leading from the front despite realizing that the organisation structure in Uttar Pradesh was very weak and is a major obstacle to the success of the party candidates. Amongst several options being considered by her supporters as well as her to resuscitate the Congress could be a contest from Gorakhpur against Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. This is something that would be opposed by her brother and mother. The only way Congress can survive is by reinventing itself. A split after the UP polls may become imminent. The developments could pave way for some drastic measures and could lead to a changed leadership scenario.
Caste, religion and other factors that will decide UP
Religion and caste are the biggest determining factors in the voting preferences of people in India, more so in Uttar Pradesh. It is a fact that out of political compulsions, BJP uses the religious card to woo Hindus, while other political parties ue appeasement to garner Muslim support.
The UP Assembly elections scheduled next month are one of the most defining events in the Modi-Shah era of Indian politics. Its outcome would decide how they could continue on their agenda of changing the very political discourse of the country.
Presently, some of the political pundits are elated over some defectors, claiming themselves to be the ‘mai-baps’ of smaller most backward castes (MBC), joining Samajwadi Party. The event is projected as the ‘might’ of the minorities and backward classes forming a ‘real secular’ coalition. In their understanding, this might cause an incurable injury to BJP fortunes in 2024.
These ‘experts’ argue that the caste alliances forged by SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, given his secular credentials, developmental work, firm support of Muslims and farmers’ disenchantment manifested by the long-drawn agitation as well as failure of Yogi Adityanath in managing the pandemic and lacklustre performance of his regime, might make re-election of Yogi difficult.
Religion and caste are the biggest determining factors in the voting preference of people in India, more so in UP. It is a fact that out of political compulsions, BJP uses communal polarisation to woo Hindus while other political parties use appeasement to secure Muslim support.
Congress with 6.3% vote share and BSP with 22.25% in 2017 elections are totally out of the reckoning. In such a scenario, even the die-hard supporters out of compulsion would shift to other political parties than to allow their vote to go waste and/or provide an opportunity to a party which they totally abhor coming to power.
Hindus and Muslims are two major religious groups in UP. Muslims would go to any extent to prevent CM Yogi from securing another 5-year tenure as he has strongly resisted anything was pro-Muslim. They would like to vote for their most trusted party, i.e. Samajwadi Party, to defeat BJP. However, in a particular constituency, if a non-SP candidate is better placed to defeat BJP, they would vote for him. Whereas Hindus, other than the pro-SP Yadavs and the pro-RLD Jats, are also unlikely to support any candidate which would facilitate any SP victory in the state.
Caste wise, 90% Yadavs would vote for SP with only 10% going to BJP. Similarly, despite all the adverse issues, upper castes like Rajputs, Vaishyas, Kshatriyas and a faction of Jats would vote for BJP. For these castes, the “izzat of bahu-beti” (dignity of women) is more important than anything else. The prime motivation for these castes to vote for BJP is the improvement in law and order situation and neutralisation of criminal elements.
One generally hears from the ‘intellectuals’ that Yogi is promoting ‘Thakurwad’ in UP and Brahmins are disenchanted with him and might not vote for him. They argue that Brahmins, who solidly supported BJP, were expecting a Brahmin Chief Minister after the 2017 election and a major share in power. One would like to ask these intellectuals if SP or BSP would nominate a Brahmin as the Chief Minister of UP. Brahmins may be a little disappointed with BJP but are not so foolish to allow UP to revert to its old Wild-West ways. An ordinary Brahmin is also concerned about the “izzat of bahu-beti” and is not going to vote for SP nor would he waste his vote for Congress or BSP. As regards the allegations of indulgence in ‘Thakurwad’, it has no weight as no other caste has any complaint in this regard.
Some political analysts are reading the defection of some ministers and MLAs belonging to MBC and SC and joining SP as a sign of BJP’s OBC and Dalit base cracking and paving the way for SP rule in the state. These individuals left BJP after realising that they would not be renominated. Ask any ordinary person belonging to the Dalit or MBC if he would vote for SP candidate, the answer would be ‘no’ even if he is a Yadav. Dalits and MBCs are generally the victims of Yadav-Jat-Rajput ‘dabangai’ in rural areas and ‘gundai’ of mafias in urban areas. They may criticise Yogi on any other issue but are always appreciative of Yogi for improving the crime situation in the state. It has been BJP’s policy to groom youngsters into leadership role even in the Dalit and MBC communities, and this is the reason that these leaders have been spurned by BJP and forced to leave.
Farmer agitation hardly has any impact anywhere in UP other than in the area of influence of the Baliyan Jat Khap. RLD, which is known to have influence among Jats of western UP, supported the agitation along with all other Opposition parties and is hopeful of performing better this time. The live pictures of the agitation at Ghazipur border shown in the media would show a preponderance of Muslims and Sikhs, though the area hardly has any Sikh farmers. Muslims of western UP are very keen to throw BJP out of power and thus were strong supporters of the farmers agitation and contributed maximum manpower to the blockade at Ghazipur border. The allegation of Khalistani support to the agitation has also been there. Jats, like Yadavs, being land-owning communities compete with the latter and are not enamoured of Yadav rule. A large section of Jats in western UP has become ardent followers of BJP under the influence of Hindutva ideology. RLD is likely to improve its position from 1 to 3. On all the seats where Jat candidates have not been fielded by the RLD-SP combine, Jats would not be voting for the combine but for BJP. Incidentally, farmers of UP are sugarcane growers and have not forgotten how SP left huge sugarcane arrears of farmers unpaid, which were cleared by the Yogi government. Moreover, encouragement to sugarcane farmers by permitting ethanol production is likely to secure Jat votes for BJP.
BJP would be hugely benefitting from the weakened BSP and Congress. While the Muslims supporting them earlier would shift to SP, their Hindu supporters would be moving towards BJP. Jatavs, who are the committed supporters of BSP and dislike BJP, may also shift their vote to BJP to defeat their enemy, i.e. SP.
The direct delivery of benefits like house, gas, electricity etc has won the hearts of the poor, who were always promised big but delivered nothing. Even the so-called allegation of mishandling of the Covid-19 situation has not generated widespread disenchantment with the Yogi government.
In a highly polarised state like UP where most of the contests are going to be bipolar, voters will ultimately decide their vote on their preferred party/candidate and, more importantly, whom they want to keep out from power in all circumstances. On this criteria, those who want to keep SP out far outnumber those who want to see an SP government in the state.
The final tally of Congress is not going to be more than 2, BSP 7, with SP and allies tally being around 60 (+/- 5). BJP would retain its present strength or improve it. For BJP, the polling percentage would be of utmost importance. If polling exceeds 60%, BJP would repeat its previous performance, and if it remains below 51%, BJP would struggle to cross the majority mark.
Rajinder Kumar is a formmer special director of the Intelligence Bureau
Farmer agitation hardly has any impact anywhere in UP other than in the area of influence of the Baliyan Jat Khap. RLD, which is known to have influence among Jats of western UP, supported the agitation along with all other Opposition parties and is hopeful of performing better this time.
NOT GANDHI’S BUT NETAJI STATUE UNDER THE CANOPY NEXT TO INDIA GATE
The Centre has decided to have a granite statue of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, definitely one of the greatest freedom fighters of this country, under the Canopy near India Gate in the heart of Lutyen’s Delhi. In fact, way back in 1968, when the government of the day removed the statue of King George V which was placed under the Canopy, the explanation that was offered was that the place had been vacated for a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation. There were multiple efforts to get Gandhiji’s statue installed and several top sculptors of that period were requested to come out with their final designs. For some odd reason, the task could not be accomplished but a huge statue of the Mahatma came up in the premises of the Parliament House. However, the Central government has obviously revised the earlier decision by declaring that it would now be Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose who would look through the arches of India Gate towards the Rajpath right up to the Rashtrapati Bhawan at the other end of Raisina Hill. Incidentally, there is a Netaji statue which is already there at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Park near Jama Masjid. This particular statue was installed on the pedestal where at one time the statue of King Edward stood. Interestingly and symbolically when the Netaji statue comes up under the canopy, it shall also mean that he had displaced two British Monarchs from their places in the national capital. The Edward Park, now called Netaji Park has restricted access ever since, walled city strongman, Shoaib Iqbal had during Sheila Dikshit’s tenure as Chief Minister, claimed that before the area was developed, Akbari Masjid existed at that particular place. Consequently, the government decided to shift the location of the Metro Station there to another place nearby. The Edward Park (now Netaji Park) was developed opposite another Delhi landmark, the Victoria Zanana Maternity hospital now renamed as Kasturba Gandhi Maternity hospital. By honouring Netaji, once again, the Centre has tried to restore the iconic freedom fighter’s role in India’s Independence. This correction is also aimed at telling people that Congress was not the sole organisation responsible for pushing the British rulers out but they had primarily left because inspired by Netaji’s valiant stand against the Imperial forces, a mutiny had taken place in the Naval dockyards in Bombay in mid 1940s which influenced their thinking. There are also conflicting reports on whether Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had indeed died in the plane crash on 18 August 1945 in Taiwan or was made a prisoner of war by the Soviets since he was fighting on the side of Japan and against the Allied Forces. Reacting to the Centre’s decision to have Netaji’s statue under the Canopy, his grandnephew Sugata Bose told an English news channel on Friday that the legendary freedom fighter can be best remembered by adhering to his legacy and beliefs which were for a united and strong India where there was equality. This concept can be best explained if hate speeches and divisive politics were put aside and a dream which Netaji saw for India could be made into a reality. Prime Minister Narendra Modi would inaugurate the hologram of Netaji under the canopy on his birth anniversary on Sunday. The granite statue would be placed there subsequently. As a part of its overall plan to provide a new look to the Central Vista and its adjoining areas, the government has shifted the Amar Jawan Jyoti, the eternal flame to honour those who laid down their lives in the 1971 War against Pakistan, to the War Memorial nearby. While several veterans have questioned this decision, there are also innumerable officers and soldiers, past and present, who feel that once the War Memorial was constructed, there should be a single place to pay obeisance to our brave hearts. There are also plans to have a War Museum in the vicinity and in all probability, it shall come up where the Princess Park Officers mess and houses are situated on the Hexagon between the Tilak Marg and the Copernicus Marg. A Netaji statue at India Gate is to say the least, a befitting tribute to the exceptional leader and visionary whose Azad Hind Fauj created history.
Modi 2.0: Empowering financial inclusion
No government in post Independent India has embraced Welfarism, within the larger framework of a Capitalist order, as seamlessly as the Modi government and that speaks volumes about PM Modi’s commitment to a socio-economic order that encourages all three—egalitarianism, free markets, and competition.
“Jan Dhan signifies our determination to end financial untouchability and attain freedom from poverty”
— Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) was launched on 28 August 2014, with the objective to ensure accessibility to various financial services like availability of basic savings bank account, need based credit, remittance facility, insurance, micro-credit and pension to the excluded sections, that is, the weaker sections and low income groups. This deep penetration at affordable cost is possible only with effective use of technology and for this massive step towards financial inclusion, the credit goes to the Modi government. PMJDY is a national mission on financial inclusion encompassing an integrated approach to bring about comprehensive financial inclusion of all the households in the country. The plan envisages universal access to banking facilities with at least one basic banking account for every household, financial literacy, access to credit, insurance and pension facility. In addition, the beneficiaries
get RuPay Debit card, having inbuilt accident insurance cover of Rs 2 lakh. The plan also envisages channeling all government benefits from Centre, state, and local bodies, to the beneficiary accounts and pushing the Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) scheme of the government. The technological issues like poor connectivity and glitches in on-line transactions have been effectively addressed in mobile transactions in the last seven years. In fact, technology has been used befittingly as a big enabler, something that never happened meaningfully, prior to 2014. Also, an effort is being made to reach out to the youth of this country to participate in this program on a mission mode basis.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India, lays out three broad outcomes for technology. These are, technology to transform the lives of citizens, to expand economic opportunities and to create strategic capabilities in certain technologies. Former PM Rajiv Gandhi had said that in India from the 80s, out of 100 paise of benefits, only 15 paise reached the true beneficiary. The remaining 85 paise was gobbled up by middlemen and sarkaari babus. Thanks to Modi’s Digital India, 100% of all benefits reach the beneficiary through DBT. The success of this transformation lies in the vision of PM Modi, in the application of technology, by making use of Aadhaar that has plugged all leakages from the system, eradicated middlemen and prevented endemic corruption that was India’s bane under successive Congress regimes, for decades together.
Savings made to public exchequer owing to use of Aadhaar and DBT, primarily due to weeding out of fake and duplicate beneficiaries, have been estimated to be to the tune of over Rupees 2.24 lakh crore.
In Uttar Pradesh alone, benefits of over Rs 2.8 lakh crore (cumulative) have been transferred directly into the accounts of beneficiaries. A total of around 15 crore people in UP have benefitted under the various Central/State government schemes through the DBT, by leveraging Aadhar. Therefore, Aadhar is not just the world’s biggest digital identity programme but also a tool for empowering people by securing their entitlements.
Talking about Aadhaar, over 313 central government schemes have been notified to use Aadhaar for leak-proof delivery of various social welfare benefits like PM-KISAN, PM Aawaas Yojana, PM Jan Arogya Yojana, PAHAL, MGNREGA, National Social Security Assistance Programme, PDS, and the like. Aadhar coupled with PMJDY and Mobile (JAM Trinity) have created a robust platform for accelerating financial inclusion. Aadhar enabled payment services are providing easy access to banking services by use of fingerprint authentication. India has developed tremendous capabilities under the Digital India programme started by the PM Modi in 2015. The indigenously developed CoWIN portal, which has ensured over 155 crore vaccinations that have been given till date, is a model that has been praised globally and is now being emulated by other countries too. It is a vindication of how India has bridged the digital divide, by making financial inclusion and last mile delivery, workable concepts. The Covid management of the UP government as it successfully leveraged technology by tapping a network of around 1.5 lakh Common Services Centre (CSCs) and 4.5 lakh Village level Entrepreneurs (VLEs), to facilitate over 20 crore vaccinations in UP, which is over six times the population of Australia, is a sterling example of digital inclusion by the Modi-Yogi, double engine sarkaar. With the recently commissioned Aadhaar Seva Kendras (ASKs), in addition to the existing ones, at Gonda, Varanasi, Saharanpur, and Moradabad, the citizens of UP will witness the march towards a “Digital Uttar Pradesh”, more swiftly than ever before.
Last year, the proposal to provide monetary assistance to 11.8 crore students (118 million students) through DBT, of the cooking cost component of the “Mid-Day-Meal Scheme”, to all eligible children, as a special welfare measure, is yet another example of digital empowerment. This proposal was in addition to the Modi government’s announcement of distribution of free-of-cost food grains at Rs 5 per Kg, per person, per month, to nearly 81 crore beneficiaries under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY).
This decision/proposal will help in safeguarding the nutritional levels of children and aid in protecting their immunity during the challenging pandemic times. The Modi government will provide additional funds of about Rs 1200 crore to State governments and UT administrations for this purpose. This one-time special welfare measure of the Union government will benefit about 11.8 crore children studying in class I to VIII, in the 11.20 lakh government and government aided schools, across the country.
Coming back to Jan Dhan, more than 44.34 crore beneficiaries banked under PMJDY since inception, amounting to a whopping sum of over Rs 1.55 lakh crore. Over 1.26 lakh Bank Mitras, became a part of the Jan Dhan Yojana scheme, to ensure it reached India’s remotest and the poorest. PMJDY Accounts have grown over three-fold from 14.72 crore in March 2015, to 44.34 crore, as on date.
Over 55% Jan-Dhan account holders are women and over 67% Jan Dhan accounts are in rural and semi-urban areas, showcasing PM Modi’s unwavering commitment to last mile delivery. Out of total 44.34 crore PMJDY accounts, well over 86% are operative, busting the myth peddled by the Opposition, that PMJDY is a dormant scheme. Total RuPay cards issued to PMJDY account holders stand at over 31.23 crore.
Under PM Garib Kalyan Yojana, a sum of over Rs 30,945 crore was credited into accounts of women PMJDY account holders during the Covid lockdown. Over 8 crore PMJDY account holders have received direct benefit transfer (DBT) from the Modi government under various welfare schemes, at some point or the other. Overall, till date, over Rs 18 lakh crore has been disbursed via the DBT to the needy, under the aegis of the Modi government, which is not a mean achievement by any yardstick.
Banking the Unbanked pertains to opening of basic savings bank deposit (BSBD) account with minimal paperwork, relaxed KYC, e-KYC, account opening in camp mode, zero balance, and zero charges. Securing the Unsecured pertains to issuance of indigenous Debit cards for cash withdrawals and payments at merchant locations, with free accident insurance coverage of Rs 2 lakh. Funding the Unfunded pertains to other financial products like micro-insurance, overdraft for consumption, micro-pension, and micro-credit. Jan Dhan accounts opened are online accounts in core banking system of banks, in place of the earlier method of offline accounts. Interoperability through RuPay debit card or Aadhaar enabled Payment System (AePS), have been force multipliers.
The Modi government decided to extend the comprehensive PMJDY program beyond 2018 with some modifications. Focus shifted from ‘Every Household’, to Every Unbanked Adult’. Free accidental insurance cover on RuPay cards was increased from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh for PMJDY accounts opened after 28 August 2018. Enhancement in overdraft (OD) facilities was enabled, with OD limit doubled from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 and with OD upto Rs 2000, given without conditions. The upper age limit for OD was also raised from 60 to 65 years.
PMJDY has been the foundation stone for people-centric economic initiatives. Whether it is direct benefit transfers, Covid-19 related financial assistance, PM-KISAN, increased wages under MGNREGA, life and health insurance cover, the first step of all these initiatives is to provide every adult with a bank account, which PMJDY has been doing on a war footing. One in two bank accounts opened between March 2014 and March 2020, was a PMJDY account. Within 10 days of nationwide lockdown, more than 20 crore women PMJDY accounts were credited with ex-gratia. Jan Dhan provides an avenue to the poor for bringing their savings into the formal financial system, an avenue to remit money to their families in villages besides taking them out of the clutches of the infamous, usurious money lenders. PMJDY has brought the unbanked into the banking system, expanded the financial architecture of India, and brought financial inclusion to almost every adult. In today’s Covid-19 times, we have witnessed the remarkable swiftness and seamlessness with which Direct Benefit Transfer (DBTs) have empowered and provided financial security to the vulnerable sections of society. An important aspect is that DBTs via PM Jan Dhan accounts have ensured every rupee reaches its intended beneficiary, by preventing systemic leakages. Needless to add that, zero tolerance for corruption is not just a slogan or a platitude but an abiding work ethic for the Modi government, with the concept of “Integral Humanism”, embedded in every welfare measure that PM Modi has so tirelessly worked towards relentlessly, in the last seven years.
Financial inclusion is a national priority of the Modi government, as it is an enabler for holistic growth The journey of PMJDY led interventions undertaken over a short span of seven years have in effect, produced both transformational as well as directional change, thereby making the emerging financial ecosystem, capable of delivering financial services to the last person of the society and the poorest of the poor. The underlying pillars of PMJDY, namely, Banking the Unbanked, Securing the Unsecured, and Funding the Unfunded, have made it possible to adopt a multi-stakeholders’ collaborative approach, while leveraging technology for serving the unserved and underserved areas as well. No government in post Independent India has embraced Welfarism, within the larger framework of a Capitalist order, as seamlessly as the Modi government and that speaks volumes about PM Modi’s commitment to a socio-economic order that encourages all three—egalitarianism, free markets, and competition.
Sanju Verma is an Economist, National Spokesperson of the BJP and the Bestselling Author of ‘The Modi Gambit’.
REMEMBERING BANGABANDHU’S GLORIOUS RETURN TO INDEPENDENT BANGLADESH
10 January 1972 will always be remembered as a golden day in the history of Bangladesh. On this day, Father of the Nation ‘Bangabandhu’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahman retuned to the land free from tyranny and anarchy. The reign of terror and destruction, aimed at wiping off the very identity of the Bengali people at the brutal hands of the West Pakistani military establishment, which was predominately Punjabi, in connivance with the local collaborators, had finally ended. He came back to the sacred soil of Bangladesh after spending a whole day under execution threat since he was arrested by the West Pakistani establishment.
Bangabandhu was first flown to London, then to Delhi – where he was given a reception accorded to a head of the state, before arriving back. In Delhi, he met Indian Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi, who stood with the Bangabandhu through the thick and thin and the Bengali people at their darkest hour ever in the recorded history. Even the so-called liberal and enlighted superpower stood alongside the Junta of West Pakistan, with a myopic, convoluted version of the genocide which was going on unabated with active patronage. It was the Iron Lady of India who held her ground, deploying all her arsenal, in solidarity with the people of East Pakistan. It is believed that the Indo-Soviet alliance not only deterred the aggressive 7th Fleet from entering the Bay of Bengal during the decisive days of the war of liberation, the diplomatic offensive also ensured that the West Pakistani establishment was prevented from carrying out the death sentence of Bangabandhu.
The Guinness Book of Records, March-December 1971, lists the atrocities on Bengalis as one of the five largest genocides of the twentieth century. Senator Kennedy wanted to visit East Pakistan at the height of the crisis. His visa was refused by the West Pakistani administration. Senator Kennedy however visited the refugee camps in India and was appalled by the conditions there. He also surveyed the bordering areas of East Pakistan to see for himself the condition of the mass exodus. USA officials working in diplomatic institutions within Bangladesh used the terms ‘selective genocide’ and ‘genocide’ (Blood telegram, from Archer Kent Blood who was last American Consul General to Dhaka, East Pakistan 1971) to describe events they knew of at that time, especially during the beginning of Operation Searchlight in March-April 1971.
However, these reports were deliberately downplayed by President Nixon, so advised by Henry Kissinger. The reason behind it was primarily because the USA wanted to protect the interests of West Pakistan as Kissinger was apprehensive of India’s friendship with the USSR, and he was seeking a closer relationship with China. The Chinese supported the West Pakistani administration in 1971 wilfully aware of the campaign of genocide in East Pakistan. Faced with insurmountable losses, the West Pakistani military capitulated in less than a fortnight. On 16th December 1971, the Pakistani forces stationed in East Pakistan surrendered. The Instrument of Surrender was signed at Ramna Race Course in Dhaka at 16:31 hours IST (Indian Standard Time) by Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Eastern Command of the Indian Army, and Lieutenant General A.A.K. Niazi, Commander of Pakistani forces in East Pakistan. After a gruesome and bloody nine months’ struggle, a free Bangladesh was born, thus effectively burying the hypothetical two-nation theory at the bottom Bay of Bengal.
Bangabandhu’s charismatic and iconic leadership had consolidated the focal points of the aspirations of the Bengali people. People of East Pakistan wanted freedom from the clutches of the deep state and being treated as a second-class citizens subjected to catastrophic marginalisation and exploitation. Upon his return, approximately half a million people came to greet him at the Race Course Ground, interestingly this was the same venue of the historic 7th March 1971 speech after which he came to be known as ‘Bangabandhu’ (friend of Bengal).
The year 2022 marks the golden jubilee of Bangabandhu’s return, and presently under the capable leadership of his daughter Prime minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh is determined to achieve and maintain the ‘Pluralistic Principals’ as laid down by Bangabandhu himself.
Tackling global temperature rise with simple innovations
People must abandon eating beef and the reasons are not belief-based. There is a direct link between shooting demand for beef and increase in earth’s temperature as beef consumption creates too much carbon footprint.
To begin with, ‘manmade’ climate change should not have happened. If it has, then easy solutions exist and it is certainly not as difficult as is being made out by the polluters.
Global powers, who manage perception management around the world frequently, insert too much information including false or misleading ones in digital and physical environments to alter the truths. They are the first ones to discard solutions, and that makes climate change a topic of politics more than anything else.
TACKLING CO2 EMISSIONS IS SIMPLE
With 2020-21 witnessing the world’s largest halts, people have realised the need to slow down the pace and conserve our environment. During the pandemic, suppressed social and economic activities led the global carbon dioxide emissions drop by 6.4% or 2.3 billion tonnes. But, with people adapting to the new normal, things are getting back to motion.
Isn’t it ironic that the so-called ‘leaders’ of global warming travel around the world in their energy-guzzling jets to assemble and suggest to the hapless citizens of the world to cut down on emissions? Isn’t it something that they themselves hypocritically do not follow?
Simple solutions are available that require no major investment to resolve global warming. These solutions come with added holistic answers to other facets that the common man might not even understand. Let us take a look at a few such practices that can bring down manmade climate change.
Global warming can be tackled using simple natural systems. In an energy-intense society, we generate energy to produce more energy. This is a perpetually unsustainable system where we create problems to solve existing ones.
Assuming that humans will keep living in an energy-intensive society, we will have to stop producing pollutants and greenhouse gases (GHG). To achieve targets for mitigating global warming, we require large-scale removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
There are four ways in which carbon withdrawal can take place and none of them include conferences, travelling for million miles, preaching without practice and manipulation. These are: (i) using carbon storage, (ii) growing seaweeds, (iii) Kelp farming and (iv) accentuating basalt weathering.
Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) occurs when carbon dioxide (CO2) is captured by natural systems. CCS gets retained in the soil, vegetation, peat bogs, forests, wetlands, geological reservoirs, rivers, and seabed sediments. A whole array of technology options are available that capture and cut off CO2 artificially.
They help cut down emissions from coal and gas-fired power plants, industrial processes like cement production and natural gas processing facilities. CCS in natural systems should be encouraged and improved upon to lessen the effects of climate change. A massive improvement is needed in the management of our natural systems.
SHIFT IN FARMING METHODS
We have to move away from intensive farming to increase the amount of carbon held in soils. Tilling should halt and growing practices should move towards ‘cover cropping’. Cover crops are specific crops grown solely for fertilising and building the soil as they improve the physical properties of soil in just one growing season. Biomass that is being used as fuel to produce electricity or heat should return to the soil. Non-chemical herbicides must replace glyphosate-based ones. Crop rotation is an age-old method to keep soil fertility and productivity in check.
During an energy-intense future, renewable energy deployment should replace carbon reliance. Solar, wind, hydropower and bioenergy sources will have a significant impact on reducing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. On a positive note, wind and solar have outpaced investments in fossil fuels for the last three years running. They now offer electricity at a cost close to or equal to that of fossil fuels. Solar is the future of energy as electric energy is the future fuel.
CONSERVING & EXPANDING AREAS OF WETLANDS
Wetlands are one of such natural systems that can completely disrupt sin carbon in a store. Wetlands cover about 6% to 9% of the earth’s surface and have sequestered approximately 35% of the global terrestrial carbon.
Wetlands capture and store carbon in several ways that include the accumulation of organic matter in soils and photosynthesis. Carbon enters the leaves in gaseous form as carbon dioxide, where it is converted through photosynthesis into sugars and starches. This has served to slow the rate of accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere and thus the rate of climate change. Wetland soils tend to remain “waterlogged”, thereby inhibiting the diffusion of oxygen. Decomposition rates slow down leading to the accumulation of large amounts of carbon within wetland sediment profiles.
Wetlands are unique in their own way. The Irrawaddy dolphin is the flagship species of Chilka Lake while the Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan is a centre of environmental tourism and picnicking! Some wetlands even possess the ability to distribute carbon horizontally to adjacent wetland environments. Distinct wetlands like peatlands capture and store more carbon than others.
Wetlands International estimates that though peatlands cover just 3% of the earth’s surface area, they currently store about 30% of the world’s terrestrial carbon. Other wetland ecosystems that play a key role in carbon sequestration include seagrass meadows and mangrove swamps.
SEAWEED IS THE NEW SAVIOUR
Forests were considered the best natural protection against climate change. Recent research shows that seaweed is the most effective natural way of absorbing carbon emissions from the atmosphere. Seaweed has a huge role to play in fighting climate change. They absorb carbon emissions, create biofuel and renewable plastics, regenerate aquatic ecosystems and produce marine proteins.
India has launched a farming project off the Lakshadweep archipelago that aims to produce 30,000 tonne of seaweed a year. It has the technical support of the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) and will soon become the seaweed farming hub of India. CMFRI studies revealed an enormous potential for the production of quality seaweeds around pollution-free lagoons of Lakshadweep for high-end utilisation in food processing, pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals.
Oceans are major sinks of carbon and seaweeds are well known for their carbon sequestration properties. Such a scale of seaweed farming would sequester nearly 6,500 tonne of carbon dioxide each day. This would add huge carbon credits to our nation and provide a climate-resilient livelihood to the islanders.
Seaweeds add a lot of advantages. Unlike trees, seaweed does not require freshwater or even fertilisers. They grow at a faster pace than trees, often extending up to 2 feet a day. Seaweed contains a small amount of Asparagopsis Taxiformis, a red algal species. Cows burp the greenhouse gas methane that develops from their foregut fermentation. However, if only a tiny percentage of their diet is Asparagopsis Taxiformis, methane gets hugely diminished. When added to cattle feed, it has the potential to reduce methane production from beef cattle by up to 99%.
And above all, kelp can really transform carbon storage in the world. Kelp is actually a type of seaweed. Kelp farming is considered to be a remedy for all the ills associated with global warming. The tremendous potential of seaweed farming as a tool to combat environmental change was described back in 2012.
Kelp’s miracle is hidden in a lot of advantages. Carbon dioxide acidifies seawater. Kelp absorbs carbon dioxide using the same principle as land plants take out CO₂ from the air. In the oceans, it also de-acidifies the water making it less acidic. By drawing CO₂ out of the waters they allow our oceans to absorb more CO₂ from the atmosphere. This is how kelp helps fight climate change.
These waters make it easier for anything with a shell to develop and that makes kelp important for shellfish production. Kelp in itself has value as feedstock in agriculture and has various industrial purposes. Kelp cleans wastewater from fish processing plants and does not require fertiliser to grow. They grow very fast, 30 times quicker when compared to land-based plants.
Methane is the simplest hydrocarbon. It is a principal component of natural gas and a powerful greenhouse gas. Biogas is a mixture of methane, CO2 and small quantities of other gases produced by bacteria that break down organic matter in an oxygen-free environment. Methane is the principal gas in biogas and is also the main component in natural gas, a fossil fuel.
If 9% of the ocean were to be enveloped in seaweed they could generate 12 gigatonnes of bio-digested methane each year. Biogas production is carbon-neutral and does not add to GHG emissions. This could be burned as a substitute for natural gas, coal or firewood. The seaweed growth would further capture 19 gigatonnes of CO₂.
A further 34 gigatonnes per year of CO₂ could be taken from the atmosphere if the methane is used to generate electricity and the CO₂ generated is captured and stored. Seaweed can produce enough biomethane to substitute all of today’s needs in fossil-fuel energy. It can potentially remove 53 billion tonnes of CO₂ per year from the atmosphere.
Basalt weathering has never been thought of. The world’s largest basaltic accumulation in the form of Deccan Basalts can actually alter the world’s carbon storage management. When silicate material like crushed basalt is combined with soil, it slowly dissolves and reacts with carbon dioxide to form carbonates. These carbonates either remain in the soil or move towards the oceans.
This method would allow between 0.5 billion and 2 billion tonnes of CO2 to be separated from the atmosphere each year. This rate of removal is comparable to that of other land-based approaches like carbon trapping and sequestration in geological deposits, the accrual of organic carbon in the soil and adding biochar (a carbon-rich material) to the soil.
Enhanced basalt weathering in soils has important technical and economic potential and can be part of a global strategy to extract atmospheric CO2. Enhanced rock weathering could lead to the large-scale removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In terms of cost and CO2 removal, this approach is as promising as other potential strategies.
Yet even under optimistic assumptions, enhanced rock weathering will sequester only some of the annual global carbon emissions from fossil-fuel use. The other method is prevention by enforcement and inducement.
LIFESTYLE CHANGES & A SHIFTING DIET
It may be hard to believe that the Butterfly Effect also functions directly or indirectly on our lifestyles! It’s all about driving small changes for large differences! So the choices we make about the food on the plates of our family determine what happens in the farmlands. Celebrities influencing the demand for leather jackets or fur hoodies tend to topple the balance of the wild animals in the Polar regions. It’s a Domino Effect! You become what you consume – the consumption in food or clothing being equally influential on the global market trends.
Let us take an example of how beef consumption creates too much carbon footprint. Why should people abandon eating beef or at least reduce it drastically? The reasons for this suggestion are not belief-based. Carbon reduction methods are needed to achieve a sustained future for feeding the growing population in the coming years. There is a direct relationship between how the shooting demand for beef increases the temperature of the earth.
People consume far too much protein than they require for their daily needs and this is a waste. This is roughly true across all the world’s regions and is the highest in developed countries. An average adult weighing 62 kg needs no more than 50 g of proteins per day.
An average American, European, Russian or Canadian eats up to 75 to 90 gram of protein per day (about 30 g from plants and more than 50 g from animals). In comparison, Indians and other Asians consume around 52- 55 g/day. Their proteins originate largely from legumes, fish and poultry. So do the Sub-Saharan Africans, though they eat a bit more meat than the world does.
Beef-eating in the US has dropped, thanks to health concerns about eating “red meat.” But the problem now is that more people from emerging economies like Brazil or China are now aping the West and adding more beef to their diet. The global demand for beef may increase by a whopping 95% by the year 2050.
Cattle breeding impacts the temperature on earth and contributes to global warming. It takes up a lot of land for pasturing and it is estimated that 25% of the earth’s landmass (minus Antarctica) would be needed for pasture. It is also estimated that a third of the global water is used for farm animal production.
HOW MUCH IS ‘TOO MUCH’?
How much do we really need to get through our day? Most of us are misinformed and hence eat more or starve ourselves for a lean physique! The first suggestion is not to overeat or simply put, reduce the overconsumption of calories. Second is limiting protein consumption by cutting down the consumption of proteins and we should include more plant-based proteins and lesser meat-based ones. Why consume 75-90 gram when we need only 55 gram of protein per day?
The third is compulsively undergoing lifestyle change – The basis of bringing a lifestyle change would be to reduce, reuse and recycle. We should include changes in design to make it sustainable by commuting habits towards sprawls and farmhouses, along with our weekend spending.
A check on our day-to-day living will harmonise the miscalculated spending on food, fashion and lifestyles. Incidentally, this is all enshrined in Sanatan Dharma, the eternal religion of humanity and lifestyle.
The writer is a strategic thinker, educationist, earth scientist, author, mentor, and advisor to various governments. Views expressed are the writer’s personal.
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