Sugar tax may be the bitter pill to cut obesity:-
After years of waiting, the World Health Organisation (WHO) finally took a stand on January 25 and urged governments to levy taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages to end childhood obesity. The recommendation was based on a new report commissioned by it. “The Commission believes that there is sufficient rationale to warrant the introduction of an effective tax on sugar-sweetened beverages,” the report notes.
Besides levying taxes, the WHO also recommends a host of other interventions such as increasing the amount of physical activity and improving access to health food.
The impact of taxation measures on purchasing behaviours has been well documented in the case of tobacco. However, in the case of sugar-rich drinks, the WHO acknowledged that strong evidence on the benefits is lacking but underlined that evidence will become available once countries that have been levying such taxes on unhealthy foods and sugar-laden drinks “monitor their progress”.
Hungary, France, Finland and Mexico are among the many countries that have taken to such measures.
While the risks of childhood obesity are greatest in lower socio-economic groups in the high-income countries, data from Brazil and Mexico, which are largely middle-income countries, confirm that levying taxes on sugar-rich drinks achieves the desired results in the target population.
The case of India:-
In the case of India, at the current rate of sales of sugar-sweetened drinks, a 20 per cent increase in taxes will reduce overweight/obesity by 3 per cent (11.2 million cases) and diabetes by 1.6 per cent (4,00,000 cases) between 2014 and 2023, a January 2014 modelling study published in the journal PLOS ONE said.
One of the reasons for the WHO recommending taxation measures to rein in consumption of unhealthy food is the burgeoning number of overweight and obese children younger than five years. In 2014, 41 million children in this age group were either overweight or obese across the world.
India may be one of the biggest contributors to the global pool as obesity in people in the age group of 15-49 has increased steeply during the last few years, as the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2014-2015 reveals.
India faces a double whammy of obesity and underweight children. Though with respect to the last NHFS survey the percentage of underweight children has reduced this time, it is still very high — from nearly 14 per cent in Sikkim to nearly 44 per cent in Bihar. This is a big concern as children who were born with low birth weight are at a greater risk of becoming overweight and obese when they consume energy-rich diets and have a sedentary lifestyle.
This singularly must be the reason why India should seriously consider introducing additional taxes on sugar-laden drinks, besides encouraging more physical activity in schools and other interventions.
Urban and Urbanism and the Imagination there in :-
Urbanisation, driven by the motto that ‘cities are the engines of growth’, has been a key tenet of India’s structural reforms. Since 1993, policymakers have pushed an aggressive urban upgradation and expansion programme through schemes such as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and the recently launched Smart Cities Mission and Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation; by 2030, if not earlier, over 40 per cent of India will be urban.
The City in transition :-
Global cities today find that they are no longer the cities of the organised working class or of that older notion of a bourgeoisie that finds in the city the place for its self-representation and projection of its power (including its civilising power).
In a world transformed by information technology and capital mobility, attracting global fixed capital investment in the form of corporate headquarters, production facilities and downtown skyscrapers, and circulating capital (as transportation, tourism and cultural events) through an international identity has become, as political scientist Darel E. Paul observes, ‘a nearly universal economic development strategy’. Earlier, the competition would have between nations but with privatisation, deregulation and growing decentralisation, cities have acquired greater significance.
The evidence is all around us in India. We see the galvanising force of the pursuit of a global identity in new towering office blocks, flyovers and public transportation systems, in the proliferation of cafes, nightclubs, boutiques, malls, convention centres and hotels, in the drive against slums and ageing buildings, in urban beautification projects and cultural festivals. The trend is pervasive, percolating from the metro to Tier II cities, small towns and even rural districts where one can see apartment blocks often built with the Non-Resident Indian in mind, sprouting next to paddy fields.
The phenomenon of urban gated communities, exclusive enclaves for the rich with their own security and essential supply systems, are now an integral part of cities everywhere.Punta del Este, a beachside city in Uruguay that has become a gated city for the uber-rich, described how the creation of menial jobs for the poor of the city had been accompanied by a steep hike in costs for basic food, clothing and transport.
The new urban landscape is particularly hard on the poor, as displacement, a familiar theme in India’s developmental trajectory since the dislodging of tribals from their habitats for the erection of dams, is now played out for the building of glossy towers and beautification projects. But the aesthetic demands of a global makeover throws up new, more minute, forms of displacement. The disappearance of lakes and the replacement of trees — that might have provided sustenance to the poor — with decorative plants are growing trends in Indian cities.
Internationally, there is the spread of ‘hostile architecture’ which includes “anti-homeless” spikes and the Camden bench — a sculpted grey concrete seat designed by a London borough in 2012 to discourage sleeping or skateboarding.
While citification has stirred much public anticipation, the privileging of the global in the new urban imagination needs to be reflected on in urbanising India. At a time when the issue of social justice has been thrown to the forefront, its potential for expanding inequality is of particular concern.
And this indeed throws up the question – Urbanisation – is it worth chasing and Sustainable city – a myth or reality ?
The Gandhian Way – Industrialization , Urbanization and the Machine :-
According to Gandhiji the industrialisation and urbanisation have created multiple problems and miseries for the modern man. In the process, we have tried to explain in detail as to how industrialisation, modern civilisation and rapid urbanisation have created chaos, lop-sided development, rapid depletion of natural resources and danger for natural environment.
Gandhi was critical of modern civilisation, rapid industrialisation and galloping urbanisation. In this context, we find the pertinence of Gandhian ideas.
Long before the modern environmentalists, Gandhi correctly realised that rapid industrialisation can not be the panacea to all ills. Increasing industrialisation in today’s world has not reduced social inequalities, but has rather resulted in further differentiations.
Increasing use of technology has led to greater heterogeneity, greater inequalities and greater un-altruistically oriented behaviour.
Gandhi regarded industrialisation detrimental to growth of a non-violent and eco-friendly society. In his ideal society, as in the classical anarchist model, there would be complete decentralisation of political and economic system and self-sufficient, barter type of village economy would be the desired model.
Machinery has, in his judgement; three-essential attributes. First, it can be duplicated or copied. Secondly, there is no limit to its growth or evolution. Thirdly, it appears to possess a will or genius of its own that operates as the inevitable law of displacement of the labour. Once the machine is created and allowed to operate, it goes more and more out of human control.
Ideally, Gandhi regards all machinery as thoroughly undesirable. Once he commented: “Today machinery merely helps a few to ride on the backs of millions. The impetus behind it all is not philanthropy to save labour but greed. It is against this constitution of things that I am fighting with all my might”.
His arguments against machinery can broadly be divided into two categories: ethical and economic. The arguments of the first category run as follows:-
(i) Labour is a value relative to non-violence and machinery tends to undermine it.
(ii) Machines are repugnant in his thinking to the good life.
(iii) The invention of machinery has led to the growth of the factory system which has reduced the masses of men to the condition of slaves.
(iv) The technological advancement has led to the growth of the monetary exchange system which is characterised by inequality and exploitation.
(v) Machinery has led to the growth of economic competition which undermines the process of cooperation.
The arguments falling in the second category are:
The displacement of human labour is an essential characteristic of a machine and a great argument against it, introductions of machines results in employment of a few and unemployment of many, it saves labour and provides leisure, leisure results in wastage of time, and potential cause of demoralisation.
Machines lead to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.
Machinery inevitably leads to mass production and mass production necessarily leads to over production, storage, transportation. Hence Gandhiji used to say that instead of mass production there should be production by masses.
The application of machinery in agriculture may destroy the fertility of the soil and lead to loss of production.
Machines lead to growth of congested, unhygienic cities, speed of travel, etc. which results in the loss of health.
Gandhi felt that the present industrialisation and use of large scale machinery was not very healthy and resulted in serious economic dislocation. Dead machinery must not be pitted against millions of living machines.
As Gandhi once commented:-
“Mechanisation is good when the hands are too few for the work intended to be accomplished. It is an evil when there are more hands than required for the work, as in India.“
Large scale industrialisation perpetuates war and many other evils and all the naturalness come to an end.
In conclusion, Gandhi rejected the modern industrial-urban concept of development for its anti-democratic, anti-humanitarian, and exploitative features. In its place Gandhi offers the ideal of the economically self-sufficient, politically self-governing and culturally non-violent village republic as the guarantee of genuine democracy, true humanism, civilising non-violence and lasting peace. Thus Gandhiji was in favour of technology and development of cottage and small scale industries at village level because these industries are localised, energy saver, job intensive and less polluting. According to him cities should as store and forwarding houses and no production in cities to prevent congestion and pollution.
Gandhi was beyond his times and a true visionary. In this context , it is indeed a dilemma who is right – the policy makers and thinkers of our times or Gandhi ? Is it worth chasing urbanisation ? And above all – can we try the Gandhian model and succeed in ensuring a better living condition and better life for the denizens ?
The questions are indeed mind-boggling and there can not be a compartmentalization of ideas and hence can the mix of two ideas in certain degree help us realize our goal as a society , and above all – What is the middle path in this regard ?
The question demands an immediate answer , yet it is far too difficult to provide one, and this will remain the dilemma of our times.
Indian Village and E-Commerce:-
One of the primary agendas of the liberalization which began in 1991 was to improve competitiveness and reduce the transaction costs which largely restricted India’s trade with the rest of the world. But a quarter century after economic reforms were initiated, this Coasean problem of transaction costs remains more relevant than ever. The World Bank’s latest World Development Report, or WDR, points to the potential of Internet and communication technology (ICT) in pruning these.
The Coase theorem (named after British economist Ronald Coase) states that if trade in an externality is possible and there are sufficiently low transaction costs, bargaining will lead to an efficient outcome regardless of the initial allocation of property. Since the digital revolution, the virtual world has increased the possibilities of trade in the real world, minimizing these transaction costs. Transaction costs include search and information costs, bargaining and decision costs, and policing and enforcement costs.
The WDR cites the example of the Taobao villages in China to show the extent to which the Internet can induce development. Taobao, a consumer-to-consumer portal established by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, allows entrepreneurs to open online stores and sell their products to interested consumers. A Taobao village is a cluster of rural e-tailers where at least 10% of village households engage in e-commerce.
It’s worth looking at the potential benefits of such a model in India. Over half of India’s population depends for its livelihood on an agricultural sector that cannot support it adequately. Structural reforms may improve the sector’s viability, but the only long-term solution is enabling the rural population’s access to other forms of economic activity. An e-retail model that aims at incorporating rural households could offer some utility here.
As matters stand, e-commerce in India is almost entirely an urban phenomenon. Clustering rural retailers as the Taobao model does creates the volume necessary for incentivizing at least some portion of the logistical and financial support urban retailers enjoy. And it could have the secondary benefit of providing a boost to artisans who lack access to a wider market, making traditional crafts unsustainable.
E-commerce ventures structured along similar lines such as ITC e-choupal, Craftsvilla and Kerala’s Kudumbashree have had moderate success in the past.
The major obstacle, of course, is the lack of rural Internet access. India has the ironic reputation of having the second largest number of Internet users and the largest offline population in the world. Internet usage is highly skewed in favour of men and urban households compared to women and rural households.
Digital India initiative aims at resolving this bottleneck. Its goal of connecting rural areas with high-speed Internet networks is laudable, as is its focus on digital literacy. How such a mammoth undertaking will play out remains to be seen. And to be successful—particularly in the context of the Taobao model—it must form robust linkages with other government initiatives that range from providing a cradle-to-grave digital identity to universal access to banking services.
Other hurdles wait further down the road. Judging by the government’s Start-up India push, the infant industry syndrome is an occupational hazard in the Indian policy environment. Rural e-commerce should not fall into the same trap. If the Internet has to become an effective catalyst for efficiency and innovation, competition is essential. Alibaba’s Taobao advanced so much on the efficiency frontier due to intense competition from eBay.
The last thing the rural economy needs to add to the protectionism the agricultural sector enjoys is a subsidized, protected retail segment.
ICT alone accounted for one-fifth of global growth from 1995 to 2014. In 1990, American economist Paul Michael Romer said, “Economic growth occurs whenever people take resources and rearrange them in ways that are more valuable… History teaches us that economic growth springs from better recipes, not just from more cooking.” Technological change is an endogenous factor in growth and Internet is technology at its best.