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india-trade-facilitation-hurts-poor
Due to lack of progress on food security to help India’s poor, India has refused to accept the World Trade Organization’s, or WTO, trade facilitation agreement. This deal was achieved in Bali in December 2013 and India’s refusal prevents the adoption of the Bali agreement.

India’s refusal has been criticized by trade officials around the world. Diplomats have noted that it may hamper the WTO’s Doha Round of trade negotiations.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party won a decisive victory in the spring election where they promised to develop the economy and tell the world that India is welcoming to business.

However, the new government is sticking by its previous position that the WTO is limiting their agricultural support programs.

Food security is important concern for India’s poor because 450 million people in India survive on less than $1.25 per day. The government has been arguing that the value of subsidies for food stockpiles has to be changed to more than 10 percent of a country’s total food production.

Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the issue of food security is critical for the country’s small farmers. India’s position on the trade facilitation agreement is probably due to political pressure from India’s poor.

India’s government argues that wheat and rice are more expensive than market prices. Their agricultural programs protect farmers’ livelihoods and provide reasonably priced nutrition to India’s poor and vulnerable. However, WTO rules only allow governments to stockpile food if they acquire those stocks at market prices.

The Bali agreement will only take effect if it is approved by all 160 member governments. Unless the World Trade Organization relaxes restrictions on a countries’ ability to subsidize farmers, the agreement will not come into effect.

“India has a decision to make about where it fits in the global trading system,” John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State, said. “India’s willingness to support a rules-based trading order and fulfill its obligations will help to welcome greater investment from the United States and from elsewhere around the world.”

Colleen Moore

Sources: Gulf Today, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal
Photo: Washington Post

free vaccines
The Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi stated India will now provide four new vaccines in order to reduce child mortality. With these added four free vaccines, the country now has 13 vaccines that are a part of India’s Universal Immunization Program (UIP), provided to 27 million children annually.

The four vaccines are for rotavirus, which causes dehydration and severe diarrhea, killing nearly 80,000 children in India each year, rubella, which causes severe congenital defects in newborns like blindness, deafness and heart defects, polio–although India was declared polio free in March, this is to create long lasting protection against it and Japanese encephalitis, which kills hundreds of children each year.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “The introduction of four new life-saving vaccines will play a key role in reducing childhood and infant mortality and morbidity in the country. Many of these vaccines are already available through private practitioners to those who can afford them. The government will now ensure that the benefits of vaccination reach all sections of society, regardless of social and economic status.”

One of the most recent vaccines to be added to the UIP is the pentavalent vaccine, which protects against five different infections: diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B and Hib.

UIP has become one of the largest vaccination programs in the world in terms of number of vaccines used, amount of beneficiaries, number of immunization session organized, geographical spread and diversity of areas covered.

In 1978, the national policy of immunization adopted the distribution of DPT, OPV and BCG to children in their first year of life. In 1985, UIP was phased in, adding a measles vaccine and later Vitamin A supplements.

The UIP has a vaccination schedule, in which a child can be given certain vaccines during the appropriate time frame of their life (birth, six weeks, 10 weeks, 9-12 months, etc.).

Since the UIP’s launch in 1985, the country has seen more and more preventative vaccines added to secure the health of their citizens.

So far, they have still had issues with 100 percent vaccinations, one of the reasons being citizens not knowing the need or not knowing where to go for the vaccines, showing the lack of awareness has become one of the greatest barriers to universal immunizations.

India has future plans to combat this. One of the methods is to find ways to bring the immunization programs further into living areas rather than just in hospitals or clinics that many citizens do not know about. Immunization booths are to be placed from the center of urban areas to the middle of any slum where access would seem impossible otherwise.

India also plans on monitoring the program, giving accountability and oversight to ensure the quantity and quality of care is assured. The impact and output are to be recorded throughout each vaccination mission.

The programs implemented so far have helped India immensely, and with the future plans to make the universal immunizations more universal, it will only be a matter of time until everyone has full access to proper coverage.

– Courtney Prentice 

Sources: BBC, Hindustan Times, NHP, IAPCOI, Indian Pediatrics
Photo: BBC

adivasis
A great deal has already been written, discussed and predicted about India’s newly elected leader, Narendra Modi, and his Bahratiya Janata Party. A tremendous amount of implications arise from his election, but one that has slid under the radar has been his and his party’s policies toward the indigenous population — the Adivasi people.

Many of the laws currently in place in India already fall short of international standards regarding human rights and indigenous persons. This problem is only compounded by the nationalist platform adopted by the BJP, and has caused concern for people both inside and outside of India’s borders.

While on the campaign trail, Modi took several opportunities to debunk claims from the opposition Congress party that he would take advantage of the Uniform Civil code to take away rights of Adivasis. Furthermore, Modi went on to claim that BJP rule in states with prominent Adivasi populations has already helped protect their rights and increase their living standards. But as is natural with most political campaigns, what is said on the campaign trail does not always match up with reality.

The indigenous population of India has historically had a negative relationship with the state and companies based in the country. Amnesty International has already called for Modi to bring to justice those who have committed prior crimes against Adivasi population, referencing riots that took place in 2002 and 1984. While there have been acts of violence against the indigenous population, the most common crimes have been committed against the Adivasi’s rights to give businesses the free reign they need to make a profit. This information is particularly frightening considering that one of the central components of Modi’s platform was reinvigorating the Indian economy.

So the question remains — are the Adivasi people about to find themselves in the crosshairs yet again? Recent legislative efforts indicate this might not be the case. However, many of these need to be passed by Parliament in order to be ratified into law.

One recent draft bill proposes that in order to use land on constitutionally protected indigenous territories, you would need the consent of village assemblies. However, this draft bill still needs to get passed before becoming a law. The recent Parliament also passed a temporary law making wrongful possession of Adivasi land a criminal offense. But similar to the draft bill, this law will expire unless it gets passed within six weeks of Parliament reassembling.

While these laws and bills certainly are a step in the right direction, more work still needs to be done. One of the main criticisms lobbied at the bills is that while they protect the Adivasis from private companies, there is very little mention of intervention done on behalf of the state. But before more comprehensive bills can be written and laws can be passed, these important first steps need to survive the political process. It is now Parliament’s turn to take action. With any luck, they will make the right decision and protect India’s indigenous population.

— Andre Gobbo

Sources: Amnesty, Indian Express, The Guardian
Photo: Forbes

poverty_in_india
India is the world’s largest democracy, and on May 12 it concluded a month-long national election process in which 814 million eligible voters went to the polls and selected 543 members of the lower house of parliament. In the election, Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party claimed victory as the decade of dominance by the Congress Party came to an end. The high rate of political participation and voter enthusiasm amongst India’s population is promising, but the looming issue of poverty remains.

With a population of over 1.2 billion people spread out over 1 million square miles, India is the second most populous country in the world. However, according to many reports, poverty in India is widespread and nearly a third of the population is living in poverty. India’s Planning Commission estimated in 2013 that there were over 270 million people living under the poverty line. Other studies put that number closer to 310 million, but it is clear that no matter what the criteria, poverty remains a defining issue for India in the 21st century.

The World Bank estimates that 77 percent of India’s poor live in rural areas with 60 percent of Indians living in small villages with fewer than 5,000 people. The 77 percent in rural areas is comprised of nearly 240 million people, with the remainder of India’s impoverished amounting to over 70 million in urban areas. In recent years, rates of rural poverty in India have been declining, though the change has been attributed to urban migration and negligible advances in living standards. Similarly, India’s population growth has led to an increased poor population despite decreases in overall poverty rates.

Part of the problem seems to be Indian citizens’ relatively low access to health care. According to the World Health Organization, the life expectancy for Indian citizens, 64 years for males and 68 for females, is below the global life expectancy of 70. India’s infant mortality rate and education system is also a point of concern. Attendance at primary schools has become increasingly common for Indian children over the past decades but the adult literacy rate is 62.8 percent.

India’s government reported earlier this year that its economy grew by 4.6 percent in the first quarter of 2014. Positive economic growth has become common in recent years, but this figure is far from the regular 8 percent annual growth rate which India experienced before the global financial crisis of 2008. In the time since the crisis, investment has stalled and the rupee’s value has decreased as India’s national deficit has continued to grow steadily.

With the installment of a new prime minister with a pro-business mindset, only time will tell if India regains its pace for economic growth. The future looks promising but the reality of India’s alarming poverty is omnipresent. Nearly 70 years after gaining independence, India has attained political stability and is in the midst of coaxing economic stability to follow suit.

– Taylor Dow

Sources: Daily Mail, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, World Bank, WHO
Photo: The Independent India