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Mismatch between names on MGNREGS job cards and Aadhaar leaves many workers jobless; deletion of names from beneficiary list on the rise

Sugrib Naik, 29, and Singi Majhi, 59, are a generation apart and have never met. They have nothing in common except, recently, both their names were struck out of the beneficiary list under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).

In both the cases, there is a mismatch between their names on the MGNREGS job cards and their Aadhaar card. A missing letter and a differently spelt name were enough to push both to a common destiny — migration to earn a living.

By an order on January 30, the Union Rural Development Ministry made it mandatory that the payment of MGNREGS wages will be Aadhaar-linked. The initial deadline was set for February 1, which, after two extensions, is now set for June 30. As States rush to meet this deadline, the number of deletions is spiralling.

By June 23 this year, names of 61 lakh registered workers had been deleted citing various reasons ranging from unwillingness to work to fake job cards, amounting to net deletion of 1.16%. This amounts to 2.26% of the total registered workers. According to an analysis by research group Lib Tech, financial year 2022-23 saw a 244.3% hike in the number of deleted workers. From 1.49 crore deletions in 2021-22 with a net deletion of 1.8%, it climbed to 5.13 crore in 2022-23 with a net deletion rate of 14.28%. The government claims this is a routine exercise to weed out corruption.

 

Homemakers perform multi-dexterous tasks round the clock without any holiday. They are expected to have managerial skills, culinary penchant and a knowledge of accounts and economics. A woman taking care of a home also performs the role of a doctor by providing basic medical assistance to family members. Therefore, her contributions cannot be discounted as valueless, the Madras High Court has said.

Justice Krishnan Ramasamy has held that a homemaker would be entitled to an equal share in properties purchased by her husband with his earnings, because he could not have earned the money without the support of his wife in looking after the family.

‘Joint effort’

“The property may have been purchased either in the name of the husband or wife. Nevertheless, it must be considered to have been purchased with money saved by their joint efforts,” he said.

He further said: “When the husband and wife are treated as two wheels of a family cart, then the contribution made by the husband by earning or the wife by looking after the family, would be for the welfare of the family. Both are entitled equally to whatever they earned by their joint effort.”

The judge said that a woman could not be left with nothing to call of her own after having devoted herself to taking care of her husband and children.

Second appeal

The verdict was delivered while disposing of a 2016 second appeal filed by an individual against his estranged wife, whom he had married in 1965. The couple had two sons and a daughter and he was working in India till 1982. He had accused his wife of usurping properties purchased with his earnings, and alleged that she had an extramarital affair.

Since the appellant had died during the pendency of the second appeal in the High Court, his children had stepped into his shoes and pursued the property case against their mother.

The General Electric-HAL tech transfer breakthrough for India depends on speed of negotiations, improving manufacturing competence in India; former envoy compare the current deal to the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal, adding that a lot of groundwork was done before the pact was finalised

NEWS ANALYSIS

The jet engine technology deal announced during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the U.S. bears some resemblance to the India-U.S. Civil Nuclear Deal in the manner it was pushed through by Washington and New Delhi. However, experts say it will probably fare better than the nuclear deal in producing an actual commercial deal between General Electric and Hindustan Aeronautical Ltd. (HAL) for the joint production of GE-F414 jet engines in India, given some of the preparatory moves taken, and the strong push by the U.S. administration to provide India technology currently only available to three other countries — Russia, the U.K. and France.

As a result, the jet engine deal could defeat some of the scepticism around previous big-ticket India-U.S. deals that did not result in a deal, like the NPCIL-Westinghouse MoU for six nuclear reactors in Andhra Pradesh first signed in 2009 and held up by Indian regulations, or the Petronet-Tellurian deal for investment in an LNG project in the U.S. signed in 2019, or even the previous round of negotiations between India and the U.S. over jet engine Transfer of Technology (ToT) that were held under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) framework from 2012 to 2019 before being shelved over the U.S. export regulations.

According to former Ambassador Arun Singh, who has been a member of the National Security Advisory Board and is a Fellow at the Carnegie India think tank that works on India-U.S. technology issues, many steps had been taken prior to the GE-F414 announcement that makes this case different from the last round of talks and the nuclear deal.

A number of other agreements signed between India and the U.S. over the past decade, including the declaration of India as a “major defence partner” in 2016, the Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 (STA-1 Status) in 2018, the signing of four “foundational agreements” between the two militaries, have built trust between them. The launch of the Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET) between National Security Advisers (NSAs) and Strategic Trade Dialogue set up between the two governments would help resolve any issues that crop up, he added.

“Even over this jet engine deal, there was the usual bureaucratic questioning and scepticism. But a push came from the U.S. National Security Council [NSC], basically saying that the President [Biden] wants this done. So like in the case of the civil nuclear agreement that President Bush himself had to push through, this time it was Mr. Biden and the U.S. NSC saying that they want to take the relationship with India to a different level,” said Mr. Singh, who served as Ambassador to Washington (2015-16) and was the Deputy Chief of Mission there (2008-13) as well.

Former NSA Shiv Shankar Menon said that much will depend on how quickly GE and HAL are able to hammer out an agreement on manufacturing the jet engines.

“Most of the major technology transfer and manufacturing agreements listed in the [India-U.S.] joint statement are aspirational- whether it is the GE jet engine ToT or the Micron plan to set up a semiconductor plant in India. They still have to work out details. Apart from the U.S. regulatory framework another potential roadblock is ourcapability to absorb technology. For a partnership in joint manufacturing to be successful, both sides should be as competent,” said Mr. Menon, who as NSA (2010-14) and Foreign Secretary (2006-09) had worked on the nuclear deal as well as the original DTTI talks.

Mr. Singh said the facilitation of the jet engine deal was part of a larger “message” by the Biden administration to the U.S. establishment and to other countries that the U.S.-India relationship was headed towards more high-tech and tech-transfer deals.

“This will enthuse businesses, who are not involved in this sector to say, let’s look at high-level technology partnerships in other areas,” he said.

He added that the U.S.’s decision to offer ToT to India despite India’s contrary position on Russia and dependence on Russian hardware means that the U.S. “has come to accept” India’s strategic autonomy, and that a stronger India is in the U.S.’s interest as it can pose a deterrent to China. The next step in the jet engine deal negotiations will begin once the U.S. Congress notification is cleared, the experts said, which will come through in 30 days, so long as no objections are raised in the House.

As part of the process to conclude the deal for procurement of 31 MQ-9B armed High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), the Defence Ministry is expected to issue the Letter of Request (LoR) to the U.S. by first week of July. This would initiate acquisition through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme of the U.S. government.Meanwhile, discussions continue to increase the indigenous content and sourcing as part of the deal, according to Ministry officials. The deal is expected to take a few months to be concluded.

“The current indigenous content proposed in the MQ-9B deal is 8% to 9% while India is hoping it can be increased up to 15% to 20%. Discussions are on and General Atomics is positive to it and the U.S. government has to agree to it,” a senior Defence Ministry official said.

Some of the components will be manufactured here which can be scaled up and some of the electronics, sensors and avionics can also be manufactured here, the official said adding discussions are continuing on it. General Atomics is also in talks with several Indian companies as part of the deal, officials said.

Assemble in India

The U.S.-India joint statement issued after the talks between U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the MQ-9Bs, which will be assembled in India, will enhance the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities of India’s armed forces across domains.

“As part of this plan, General Atomics will also establish a comprehensive global Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility in India in support of India’s long-term goals to boost indigenous defence capabilities,” the statement said.

On June 15, days before Mr. Modi’s U.S. visit, the Defence Acquisition Council chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh accorded Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for the 31 MQ-9Bs — 15 for the Navy and eight each for the Army and the Air Force. As per process, once the LoR is sent to the U.S. Department of Defence, a Letter of Acceptance (LoA) will be issued followed by commercial negotiations with the company. The U.S. administration will have to notify the U.S. Congress of the potential sale, which is expected to be a formality. In the penultimate step, the deal has to be approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security after which the contract can be concluded.

According to its manufacturer General Atomics, the MQ-9B can provide roughly 80% of the capability of a large human-flown maritime patrol aircraft at about 20% of its cost per hour. This is the primary reason the Indian Navy is particularly keen on these UAVs as they will significantly enhance its ISR capabilities to monitor the wide expanse of the Indo-Pacific.

Dr. Vivek Lall, Chief Executive of General Atomics Global Corporation, said Mr. Modi and Mr. Biden have significantly enhanced the defence relationship between the two countries by announcing the decision to acquire MQ-9B for the Indian armed forces. “This is a breakthrough moment for India-U.S. strategic and defence partnership and General Atomics is pleased to be a major contributor in taking it to the next level,” he said in a comment to The Hindu.

Indian Navy already operates two MQ-9As on lease from General Atomics since November 2020. In November 2022, the two UAVs completed 10,000 flight hours during a period of two years, and covered over 14 million square miles of operating area, according to General Atomics.

At Aero India in February this year, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and General Atomics announced an understanding to formulate a comprehensive engine MRO programme to support HALE UAVs in the Indian market.

India’s first indigenously developed mRNA vaccine against the dominant Omicron variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus will cost ₹2,292, Sanjay Singh, CEO, Gennova Biopharmaceuticals, said at a press conference on June 24.

The vaccine will for now only be available as a booster or “precaution dose”, that is, somebody who has already been vaccinated thrice will be ineligible as the relevant expert committees, which recommend vaccines for public administration, have not permitted companies to administer a fourth dose in India unlike, for instance, in the United States and Europe.

This price, however, is the retail price of the vaccine and the government currently has no plans to make a bulk purchase, as it did in the case of Covishield and Covaxin in 2021 that enabled these vaccines to be available free at government health centres. “We expect to make this vaccine available as a booster in private healthcare centres as well as export it to several international markets,” Dr. Singh added.

Only mRNA vaccine

GEMCOVAC-OM is the only mRNA vaccine currently approved in India, under “emergency use authorisation”, that has been made specifically to counter the Omicron variant.

So far, only 28% of India’s population has taken a third or precaution dose, and slackening demand for booster doses means that the existing vaccines are not easily available at health centres, either privately owned or government-run.

Monovalent vaccine

The mRNA vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna are ‘bivalent’, meaning they contain synthetic spike proteins that are effective against both the older Wuhan strain as well as the newer Omicron strains.

“The World Health Organisation’s latest recommendation is very clear that a monovalent vaccine is the need of the hour and we have been able to produce that,” Dr. Singh said.

Child and maternal nutrition in the western Assam district gets a boost after many farmers started cultivating

mushrooms and the State government included them in midday meals in varied forms as soups, biscuits, noodles

Nutrient-loaded mushrooms introduced into the midday meals in western Assam’s Kokrajhar district, as soups, biscuits, fortified noodles, or mixed with regular food, appear to have had a positive nutritional effect on children in schools. Mushrooms were one of the major ingredients introduced for children and mothers, in addition to vitamin and mineral supplementation.

Data provided by the district authorities revealed that the number of underweight (up to 6 years), wasted, and anaemic children in Kokrajhar district reduced by 56%, 55%, and 76% from 2021 to 2023.

The maternal mortality rate also decreased in the district by 72.37% to stand at 89.79 per lakh live births, less than half of Assam’s average of 205. Similarly, the infant mortality rate decreased by 30.56% to 15.97 per 1,000 live births (the State’s average is 36).

The results — riding on a team of Anganwadi workers, accredited social health activists (ASHA), and field workers of departments such as education, health, and horticulture — did not come overnight.

The seeds of the transformation were sown by Bodoland University’s Department of Biotechnology in 2012. Its experiments on making 23 species of mushrooms such as oyster, shitake, and cordyceps economically viable and affordable, made many farmers start cultivation in their backyards, some- times even under beds.

Big push

Its farming received a big push when the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) launched the Mushroom Mission in 2021, the year when the local administration had the primary product of Kokrajhar changed from Eri silk to mushroom under the Centre’s ‘one district one product’ (ODOP) initiative.

“Practically nothing was being done on Eri. Stakeholders voted for mushroom given its potential to engage the masses, its nutritional benefits, low input cost, and ease of handling by women,” Kokrajhar’s Deputy Commissioner Varnali Deka said. More than 21,500 mushroom cultivators, including members of 503 self-help groups, are women.

“The mission was aimed at ensuring livelihoods at home so that our youth, including girls, do not migrate for low-pay and hazardous jobs that hardly sustain their families,” BTC’s chief executive member Pramod Boro told said. “We saw a future in the ground-breaking work on mushrooms done by Bodoland University and there was no looking back.”

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