Wednesday, December 10, 2014

GSAT-16 an more....

India has a new bird in the sky — the communication satellite GSAT-16 that was successfully launched aboard Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket in the early hours of Sunday. GSAT-16 has 48 transponders, the largest number thus far on a communication satellite built by the Indian Space Research Organisation. It will join a constellation of 10 satellites that form the Indian National Satellite (INSAT) system. Its transponders, operating in various frequency bands, will provide much-needed augmentation of the existing 188 transponders on the INSAT system that broadcast television programmes, provide educational and tele-medicine services, carry telephone conversations, and relay data. In addition, close to 95 transponders have been leased on foreign satellites, principally to meet the needs of Direct-To-Home (DTH) television channels. Vikram Sarabhai, who founded the country’s space programme, had the farsightedness in the 1960s itself to recognise how important communication satellites and the services they provide would be to a developing nation. It was a vision that his successors turned into reality, with the first of the indigenously-built INSAT satellites being launched in July 1992.
After the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) became available in the mid-1990s, the country has not had to look abroad to launch its remote sensing satellites. That transition has yet to happen with communication satellites. The current Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) has hitherto been trouble-prone, and the version equipped with an indigenous cryogenic stage replacing an imported Russian one made its first successful flight only in January this year. Even if the GSLV becomes a reliable launcher like the PSLV, it can only carry communication satellites weighing up to about 2.2 tonnes. ISRO has already launched considerably heavier communication satellites on the Ariane 5, including the GSAT-16 that weighs close to 3.2 tonnes. Launching these satellites abroad is expensive. The price tag for the GSAT-16 comes to about Rs.900 crore. Of this, the foreign launch costs come to around Rs.560 crore — not including insurance. Had the next-generation GSLV Mark III, which can take four-tonne communication satellites, been operational, that launch might have cost only about half as much. But the cryogenic engine for the upper stage of the Mark III is still being developed. The rocket’s first experimental launch, scheduled for later this month, will therefore be a suborbital one to test its flight characteristics through the atmosphere. ISRO expects to have the Mark III’s cryogenic engine and stage ready in two years’ time. The sooner that happens, the better.


Green Diesel

A Boeing aircraft has completed the world’s first flight using ‘green diesel’, a sustainable biofuel made from vegetable oils, waste cooking oil and animal fats.
The company powered its ecoDemonstrator 787 flight test airplane on December 2 with a blend of 15 per cent green diesel and 85 per cent petroleum jet fuel in the left engine.
“Green diesel offers a tremendous opportunity to make sustainable aviation biofuel more available and more affordable for our customers,” said Julie Felgar, managing director of Environmental Strategy and Integration, Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
“We will provide data from several ecoDemonstrator flights to support efforts to approve this fuel for commercial aviation and help meet our industry’s environmental goals,” Ms. Felgar said in a statement.
Sustainable green diesel is widely available and used in ground transportation. Boeing previously found that this fuel is chemically similar to HEFA (hydro-processed esters and fatty acids) aviation biofuel approved in 2011.
Green diesel is chemically distinct and a different fuel product than “biodiesel,” which also is used in ground transportation.
With production capacity of 800 million gallons (three billion litres) in the U.S., Europe and Asia, green diesel could rapidly supply as much as one per cent of global jet fuel demand.
“The airplane performed as designed with the green diesel blend, just as it does with conventional jet fuel,” said Captain Mike Carriker, Chief Pilot for New Airplane Product Development, Boeing Test and Evaluation.
On a lifecycle basis, sustainably produced green diesel reduces carbon emissions by 50 to 90 per cent compared to fossil fuel, according to Finland-based Neste Oil, which supplied green diesel for the ecoDemonstrator 787.


No conditions apply / Renana Jhabvala

Cash in the hands of the poor can transform their lives. With bank accounts and an Aadhaar card for all becoming a reality, it is possible to transfer money directly to the poor and check middlemen who siphon away funds.
Cash transfers (CTs) come in many forms. They may be conditional or unconditional, selective or non-selective, targeted or universal. Some types of CT are as susceptible to misuse as the public distribution system, where, according to the Planning Commission, only 27 per cent of the expenditure actually reaches the beneficiaries.
Conditional cash transfers (CCTs) have become popular internationally. The World Bank has defined them narrowly: “[CCTs] are programmes that transfer cash, generally to poor households, on the condition that those households make pre-specified investments in the human capital of their children.” However, CCTs often have other behavioural conditions, such as the requirement for a pregnant mother to deliver a child in a hospital or to get her child vaccinated. Sometimes, conditions reach ridiculous extremes, as when a mother is supposed to “prove” exclusive breast-feeding before she can apply for a cash benefit. In Mexico, conditions have been associated with a high incidence of exclusion, as people entitled to the cash withdraw when they cannot comply with them.
Conditions are often difficult to implement and monitor. Each condition that requires a certificate becomes a road block and increases opportunities for corruption. Often, conditions beget more conditions, as they are primarily attempts at social engineering, in which a transfer is used as a carrot and stick, to be given or taken away, depending on whether the entitlement criteria are aligned with state-determined norms. This engineering is most often successful when local infrastructure, like schools and hospitals, is available; although in India, where village health clinics often have abysmal hygiene, CTs associated with hospital deliveries have resulted in multiple deaths.
Unconditional cash transfer (UCT) policies rely on people’s own initiative instead of directing them towards particular kinds of behaviour, expecting that people will use cash wisely for their own and their children’s development. A recent book, Basic Income: A Transformative Policy for India, by Sarath Davala, Saumya Kapoor Mehta, Guy Standing and myself, details the results of a survey carried out in 22 villages where UCTs were given to nearly 6,000 men, women and children, sent to their bank accounts and paid individually each month for 18 months. The rigorous study, conducted as a modified randomised control trial, seeks the answers to a number of questions on the effects of such a UCT. The two most commonly asked are: Would unconditional monthly cash payments be an effective tool to reduce economic insecurity and poverty? And would they be likely to lead to wasteful spending on private bads?
A common reaction to the idea of CTs is, “The men will waste all the money in drinking, and will beat their wives to get their money too”. The facts disproved this. There was no increase in drinking among the families who received the transfers, nor was there any anecdotal or qualitative evidence to suggest this. In one tribal village, drinking actually went down. The sarpanch explained, “There is not much employment in these villages so men sit around playing cards and drinking. After the CT, they were able to buy seeds and fertiliser and now they work hard farming their land”.
A heartening finding was that UCTs lead to growth and income-earning opportunities. This was especially true for the poorest tribal families, where 50 per cent said that they had used the transfers to make their lands productive, and the number of livestock in a village increased by over 30 per cent. Overall, more than 20 per cent of the respondents said they had increased their income-earning work. Multivariate analysis suggested that for women, receiving a basic income was strongly associated with diversification into a second income-earning activity combined with a primary one.
Most families in India today, no matter how poor, want better education for their children. The CTs enabled children to go to school, often switching from a non-functional government school to a private one. There was a doubling of enrolment among adolescent girls in secondary schools. Nutrition improved, especially among the poorest tribal and Dalit families, with a substantial increase in food sufficiency. Further, as individuals were able to go to doctors when they got ill and afford regular medicine, serious health incidences in the villages declined.
An emancipatory effect associated with CTs was that, with the increase in liquidity, reliance on usurious debt decreased. It empowered the most vulnerable — Dalits, women, the elderly, the disabled.
UCTs are known as basic income internationally. They give people a choice and rely on individual initiatives to change social conditions. A basic income leads to holistic development and restores people’s dignity. It could be a transformative policy for India.

The writer is national coordinator, SEWA, and board director, SEWA Bank

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New PlanCom may alter structure, focus of Central schemes / Sanjeeb Mukherjee

The new body to replace the five-decade-old  is expected to be structurally different from the existing one. It could bring about a fundamental change in the manner central are devised and implemented in India.

If the presentation made by the Commission to the chief ministers is followed in letter and spirit, central sector and sponsored schemes will no longer be the domain of central ministries alone. Instead, these would be an amalgam of priorities laid down by state governments, which, in turn, would also have the powers to tinker with the schemes according to their local needs. Whether or not this would signal death of central schemes remains to be seen.
How schemes will be conceptualised and implemented in the new set-up, according to a presentation made by Planning Commission Secretary Sindhushree Khullar:
  • Overall scheme priorities may be agreed by consensus in a meeting between the Prime Minister and Council of chief ministers
  • Based on the agreed priorities, a basket of schemes may be finalised in consultation with the ministries
  • States may decide to seek assistance under selected schemes that are relevant to their strengths, potential and needs
  • In partnership with the ministries concerned, scheme design to be tailored to the state’s requirement to achieve the agreed outcomes

Simply put, a Grameen Sadak Yojana or a rural drinking water programme, for instance, might either get scrapped or reformed, if state governments unanimously say such a focus is no longer required.

So far, central schemes were primarily designed by the Planning Commission in consultation with line ministries and in keeping with the priorities of the ruling party of the time. So, a National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), for instance, came to reflect the priorities of the Congress-led government at the Centre then, irrespective of whether or not all states benefited from it.

If the proposed changes are implemented, it will be the state governments that will decide if the current model of is uniformly suitable for all states.

Problems between the Centre and states over Central schemes, first identified in 1998, got further entrenched into the system over subsequent years. It was felt transferring funds to state treasuries for implementing central schemes was not yielding the desired result, as the treasuries were in a mess in most states and the transferred funds more often met only the salary needs.

Around 10 years ago, a mechanism was devised for Central schemes through which funds from the central government flowed directly to societies or panchayats, under overall supervision of the local administration, bypassing state treasuries. After state governments repeatedly raised concerns over this, it was decided at one of the meetings that funds allocated for central schemes would be transferred to state treasuries. The plan finally got implemented in the interim Budget for the current financial year.

Another set of problems in Central schemes arose with states complaining the schemes were too rigid and their priorities were not in tune with the needs of the state concerned, and reflected only the vision of the central government. For instance, Gujarat complained it had built adequate number of rural roads, so the funds allocated to it under the Gram Sadak Yojana was of no use it; instead, it required funds for drinking water projects.

However, because of the rigid nature of central schemes, funds allocated for rural roads were not allowed to be spent on drinking water. Also, there was little operational flexibility within the schemes, which states resisted. “If we take the example of the Gram Sadak Yojana, it says funds will be allocated if roads of certain width are built. Now, states in the Northeast have always complained this has little relevance for them as they cannot build wide roads because of the terrain,” a senior official said.

Former member-secretary of the Planning Commission, Sudha Pillai, said the mechanism for consultation with the states has been grossly inadequate.

“The Planning Commission  also remained a central government organisation. This will change  for the better. One important difference  among  states is the presence or absence of a healthy resource base. This aspect has to be factored in while discussing a differentiated approach. The new body should structurally be able to do so,” she told Business Standard.

The existing Planning Commission had tried to solve some of these issues by providing 10 per cent flexible funding in centrally sponsored schemes, as recommended by a committee headed by former Cabinet secretary and Planning Commission member B K Chaturvedi, but that was not seen as sufficient.

But the new mechanism for devaluation of Plan funds, some experts point out, might face some big challenges. The first could be in arranging for funds. Any scheme or programme or broad outlook devised in consultation with states is most likely to overshoot its budgetary allocation.

In the current mechanism, the schemes and their funding are devised in consultation with Central ministries, so managing with low funds is not a big problem. As soon as states get involved and a broad priority is decided, the budget will jump.

“Evolving a consensus among states for identifying a common priority could be tricky affair,” said the official quoted earlier. The central ministries need to be in tune with the changed format.

Former Planning Commission member Saumitra Chaudhuri, however, said: “Taking the power of Central ministries in fund allocation for Central schemes is challenging, but involving state governments in designing schemes and programmes is a good idea.” said.

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