Archive for ‘Economics’

23/09/2016

Shacking up | The Economist

WHEN Da Lin moved in with his girlfriend two years ago, his mother tried to stop them: she feared that their living together unmarried would sully his girlfriend’s reputation and, by association, his too. She will be happy only after they finally marry next year (his family is buying the apartment, hers the car).

That generational clash is replicated in thousands of families across China: cohabitation without marriage was long anathema and officially illegal until 2001. Today it is commonplace.China’s social mores are changing astonishingly quickly. Before 1980 around 1% of couples lived together outside wedlock, but of those who wed between 2010 and 2012, more than 40% had done so, according to data from the 2010 and 2012 China Family Panel Studies, a vast household survey (see chart). Some reckon even that is an underestimate. A recent study by the China Association of Marriage and Family, an official body, found that nearly 60% of those born after 1985 moved in with their partner before tying the knot, which would put the cohabitation rate for young people on a par with that of America.

The number of unmarried couples living together is growing for many of the same reasons it has elsewhere: rising individualism, greater empowerment of women, the deferral of marriage and a decline in traditional taboos on pre-marital sex. Greater wealth helps—more couples can afford to live apart from their parents. Yet Chinese cohabitation has distinctive characteristics. In rich countries, living together is most common among poorer couples, but in China youngsters are more likely to move in together if they are highly educated and live in wealthy cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Shacking up is seen as a sign of “innovative behaviour”, say Yu Xie of Princeton University and Yu Jia of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Elsewhere rising cohabitation represents the fraying of marriage: many couples never bother to wed. In China, however, cohabitation is almost always a prelude to marriage—as for Da Lin and his girlfriend—rather than an alternative to it. Marriage is still near-universal, although the skewed sex ratio resulting from China’s one-child policy and a cultural preference for boys has resulted in a surplus of poor rural men who will remain unhappily single. Some highly educated women in cities forgo marriage too.In some Western countries those who live together for an extended period enjoy some of the same legal rights and obligations as married couples. In China cohabitation carries no legal weight. And it is very hard for a child born out of wedlock to acquire a hukou, or residency permit, which provides access to health care, education or other public services.In the 1980s virginity was considered a woman’s chief asset and few couples dared to date openly, let alone live together. Now China is in the midst of a sexual revolution—some 70% of people have sex before marriage, according to a study conducted in 2012. Many young Chinese, however, still have conservative ideas about how their elders should behave: although cohabitation is also on the rise among the elderly, many of them avoid remarrying because their adult children oppose it.

Source: Shacking up | The Economist

23/09/2016

A glowing future | The Economist

UPON learning (via a terse government statement) that their bustling port city in eastern China had been tipped as the likely site of a plant to recycle used nuclear fuel, residents of Lianyungang took to the streets last month in their thousands. Police, whose warnings against demonstrations were ignored, deployed with riot gear in large numbers but only scuffled with the protesters, who rallied, chanted and waved banners in the city centre for several days. “No one consulted us about this,” says one woman who participated in the protests. “We love our city. We have very little pollution and we don’t want a nuclear-fuel plant anywhere near us. The government says it is totally safe, but how can they be sure? How can we believe them?” she asks.

Such scepticism is shared by many in Lianyungang, which already hosts a nuclear-power plant (pictured), and elsewhere in China, where the government plans to expand nuclear power massively. China started its first nuclear plant in 1994. There are now 36 reactors in operation, and another 20 under construction (see map). A further four have been approved, and many more are in the planning stages. Only one new plant has been built in America, in contrast, since 1994; four more are under construction. By 2030 China is projected to get 9% of its power from nuclear, up from 2% in 2012. In absolute terms, its nuclear generation capacity will have increased eightfold over the same period, to 750 billion kilowatt-hours a year, roughly America’s current level.

After disaster struck Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power station in 2011, the Chinese authorities briefly halted this pell-mell rush toward the nuclear future, announcing a moratorium on the construction of new plants, urgent safety checks on existing ones and a prolonged policy review to decide whether nuclear power would remain a part of China’s energy strategy. The following year, however, the government resolved to carry on with its nuclear-energy programme.

The need is clear. Despite slowing economic growth, energy consumption per person is projected to rise dramatically, with no plateau in sight before 2030. Pollution from coal-fired power plants, China’s main source of electricity, causes widespread respiratory disease and many premature deaths each year, a source of persistent public anger. China has also made ambitious promises to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. If it hopes to meet such targets, it will need to embrace nuclear, “because the only other truly reliable 24/7 source of electric power is coal,” says Zha Daojiong of Peking University.China’s utilities are also keen. The state-owned firms that run all the country’s nuclear plants are thought to earn a good return on their investment (their accounts are too murky to be certain), in part because their official backing allows them to finance new reactors very cheaply, and in part because regulators have fixed power tariffs in a favourable manner. One estimate put the return on nuclear assets between 2002 and 2012 at 7% a year, compared with 3% for coal- and gas-fired plants.

China even harbours ambitions to export its growing expertise in nuclear power. After relying first on Russian designs, and more recently importing American and French ones, China has also developed indigenous nuclear reactors. A recently approved deal with Britain, valued at $23 billion, will see China help finance a French-designed nuclear-power station and possibly build one of its own design later.

But China’s nuclear push has its critics. These include those who live near proposed nuclear facilities. Many, like the protesters in Lianyungang, are happy to have the power they need to run their air-conditioners but want to keep the unpleasant parts of the operation far from their doorsteps. Chinese now has a word for NIMBY: linbi, a fusion of the words for “adjacent” and “shun”. The government has repeatedly backed down in the face of public demonstrations, twice agreeing to relocate a uranium-enrichment plant, for example. It has also put the decision about the reprocessing plant in Lianyungang on hold.

Yet attitudes to nuclear power may be less hostile than in many Western countries. A study published in 2013 found an even split between supporters and opponents of expanding China’s nuclear-power industry. Compared with their counterparts in the rich world, Chinese citizens showed much greater “trust and confidence in the government” as the manager of nuclear policy and operations, the emergency responder in case of accidents and the provider of reliable information about the industry. The lead researcher for that study, He Guizhen of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, says that even protesters like those in Lianyungang are not implacably opposed. “Their message is not really that you can’t build these things no matter what, but that we are concerned about safety, especially after Fukushima, and we demand that you take safety seriously,” she says.

It appears this message is getting through. Early this year the government acknowledged in a white paper that its system for responding to a nuclear accident had “certain inadequacies”. In April officials revealed plans to draft a national nuclear-safety law. In May officials announced 600m yuan ($91m) in funding for six new nuclear-emergency squads, which would be ready for action by 2018. In August—on the same day that protesters marched in Lianyungang—China conducted its first “comprehensive nuclear-security emergency drill”. This week the government said officials must consult locals before settling the location of new nuclear facilities.

Deborah Seligsohn of the University of California, San Diego, says that because China’s nuclear-power industry is centrally run and limited to a handful of companies, authorities are able to keep tight control over safety standards, and that they have not hesitated to slow projects down when seeing signs of strain. Supervision, however, falls to several different agencies and levels of the bureaucracy. The burden of inspecting and managing the growing number of plants, she says, could be better handled by a more independent regulator in charge of its own budget.

In July China Energy News, a newspaper, reported that “quality problems” with domestically manufactured pump-valves were forcing some plants to shut down unexpectedly. (Most plants have since switched to imported valves.) More alarmingly, regulators this month revealed that a radiation-monitoring system at the Daya Bay nuclear-power station, which is within 50km of the huge cities of Shenzhen and Hong Kong, had been turned off inadvertently for three months before anyone noticed. Since no radiation leaked, the government deemed the oversight an event of “no safety significance”—one of several such lapses this year. The residents of Shenzhen and Hong Kong, presumably, would not see it in quite the same way.

Source: A glowing future | The Economist

23/09/2016

Indian-Born Biologist Is Among MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ Winners – India Real Time – WSJ

Manu Prakash grew up folding origami paper frogs and cranes in his hometown in northern India.

Indian-Born Biologist Is Among MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ Winners

So it seemed natural for the 36-year-old Stanford University biologist to build an inexpensive microscope for the developing world that can be put together from a single piece of paper.“

I was inspired by tools like pencils, and what it takes to make those tools available to everyone,” he said. “The goal is to enable and inspire others to do science.”

His Foldscope, which costs less than $1 to produce and includes built-in lenses, is now used in 130 countries to help identify infectious diseases, among other things.

The gadget helped propel Mr. Prakash, along with 22 others, into the ranks of the MacArthur “genius” grant recipients, who are awarded a no-strings-attached $625,000 grant by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for showing exemplary creativity in their fields.

Source: Indian-Born Biologist Is Among MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ Winners – India Real Time – WSJ

17/09/2016

India’s Craze for Ayurveda Is Producing Billionaires – India Real Time – WSJ

A yoga teacher clad in white robes and often seen meditating on the banks of the Ganges is the latest to join the billionaires club in India.

But Acharya Balkrishna is no ordinary yoga teacher. He controls Patanjali Ayurved Ltd., the consumer-products company founded by his guru, Baba Ramdev, and whose Ayurvedic soaps, shampoos and food supplements are increasingly becoming staples in middle-class Indian homes. Indians’ craze for the company’s Ayurvedic formulations has seen Mr. Acharya’s net worth skyrocket to $3.8 billion, according to Hurun’s India Rich List for 2016. That puts him at number 25 in Hurun’s list of richest Indians, ahead of industrialists like Ratan Tata, Adi Godrej and Anand Mahindra.

Such is the demand for Patanjali, which sells creams, cleaners and hair conditioners rooted in Ayurveda, India’s traditional system of medicine, that the world’s biggest consumer-products makers are tweaking their products to compete. India’s traditional system of medicine encourages therapies like yoga and believes everything from the common cold to diabetes can be fixed by certain herbs, foods and oils.

Colgate Palmolive last month launched a toothpaste flavored with basil, clove and lemon. L’Oréal SA in June launched a new range of shampoos infused with eucalyptus, green tea and henna, an Indian herb Patanjali also packs in its shampoo. Unilever PLC recently purchased an Ayurvedic hair-care company.

Mr. Balkrishna is a reclusive figure next to Mr. Ramdev, one of India’s best-known yoga teachers who founded Patanjali in 2006 and has since transformed it into a multi-million dollar consumer goods empire. Mr. Balkrishna controls the business because Mr. Ramdev has sworn off most trappings of wealth.

Messrs. Ramdev and Balkrishna are regularly seen practicing yoga on the banks of the Ganges in Haridwar, the Hindu holy city where Patanjali is based and where they run an ashram.

Ayurveda has produced other billionaires, too. The Burman family which runs Dabur India, another consumer-goods maker that draws inspiration from traditional Indian medicine, is 13th on Hurun’s India rich list.

Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, is the richest Indian with a net worth of $24 billion. Dilip Shanghvi, who heads generics-drug maker Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, is second with $18 billion in his kitty.

Source: India’s Craze for Ayurveda Is Producing Billionaires – India Real Time – WSJ

17/09/2016

The plateau, unpacified | The Economist

AN ELDERLY woman with long, grey plaits, wearing a traditional Tibetan apron of wool in colourful stripes, has spent her day weaving thread outside her home near the southern end of Qinghai Lake, high on the Tibetan plateau. She is among hundreds of thousands of Tibetan nomads who have been forced by the government in recent years to settle in newly built villages. She now lives in one of them with her extended family and two goats. Every few months one of her sons, a red-robed monk, visits from his monastery, a place so cut off from the world that he has never heard of Donald Trump. Her grandson, a 23-year-old with slick hair and a turquoise rain jacket, is more clued in. He is training to be a motorcycle mechanic in a nearby town. Theirs is a disorienting world of social transformation, sometimes resented, sometimes welcome.Chinese and foreigners alike have long been fascinated by Tibet, romanticising its impoverished vastness as a haven of spirituality and tranquillity. Its brand of Buddhism is alluring to many Chinese—even, it is rumoured, to Peng Liyuan, the wife of China’s president, Xi Jinping. Many Tibetans, however, see their world differently. It has been shattered by China’s campaign to crush separatism and eradicate support for the Dalai Lama, their spiritual leader who fled to India after an uprising in 1959. The economic transformation of the rest of China and its cities’ brash modernity are seductive, but frustratingly elusive.

The story of political repression in Tibet is a familiar one. The Dalai Lama accuses China’s government of “cultural genocide”, a fear echoed by a tour guide in Qinghai, one of five provinces across which most of the country’s 6m Tibetans are scattered (the others are Gansu, Sichuan, Yunnan and the Tibet Autonomous Region, or TAR—see map). “We know what happened to the Jews,” he says. “We are fighting for our existence.” Less commonly told is the despair felt by many young Tibetans who feel shut out of China’s boom. They are victims of Tibet’s remote and forbidding topography as well as of racial prejudice and the party’s anti-separatist zeal. They often cannot migrate to coastal factories, and few factories will come to them. Even fluent Mandarin speakers rarely find jobs outside their region.

Yet Tibetans are not cut off from the rapidly evolving culture of the rest of China, where more than 90% of the population is ethnic Han. Mayong Gasong Qiuding, a 26-year-old hotel worker in Yushu in southern Qinghai, listens to Mandarin, Tibetan and Western pop music in tandem. He can rattle off official slogans but can recite only short Tibetan prayers. His greatest wish, he says, is to go to the Maldives to see the sea. Tibetan women in Qinghai use skin-whitening products, following a widespread fashion among their Han counterparts; a teenager roller-skates anticlockwise around a Buddhist stupa, ignoring a cultural taboo. Young nomads frustrate their elders by forsaking locally-made black, yak-hair tents for cheaper, lighter canvas ones produced in far-off factories.

Han migration, encouraged by a splurge of spending on infrastructure, is hastening such change. Although Tibetans still make up 90% of the permanent population of the TAR, its capital Lhasa is now 22% Han, compared with 17% in 2000. Many Tibetans resent the influx. Yet they are far more likely to marry Han Chinese than are members of some of China’s other ethnic groups. Around 10% of Tibetan households have at least one member who is non-Tibetan, according to a census in 2010. That compares with 1% of households among Uighurs, another ethnic minority whose members often chafe at rule by a Han-dominated government.

Core features of Tibetan culture are in flux. Monasteries, which long ago played a central role in Tibetan society, are losing whatever influence China has allowed them to retain. In recent years, some have been shut or ordered to reduce their populations (monks and nuns have often been at the forefront of separatist unrest). In July buildings at Larung Gar in Sichuan, a sprawling centre of Tibetan Buddhist learning, were destroyed and thousands of monks and nuns evicted. Three nuns have reportedly committed suicide since. Of the more than 140 Tibetans who have set fire to themselves since 2011 in protest against Chinese rule, many were spurred to do so by repressive measures at their own monastery or nunnery.

Cloistered life is threatened by social change, too. Families often used to send their second son to a monastery, a good source of schooling. Now all children receive nine years of free education. “The young think there are better things to do,” says a monk at Rongwo monastery in Tongren, a town in Qinghai, who spends his days “praying, teaching [and] cleaning”. New recruits often come from poorly educated rural families.

Mind your language

In the TAR (which is closed to foreign journalists most of the time), the Tibetan language is under particular threat. Even nursery schools often teach entirely in Mandarin. A generation is now graduating from universities there who barely speak Tibetan. Some people have been arrested for continuing to teach in the language. In April last year Gonpo Tenzin, a singer, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for his album, “No New Year for Tibet”, encouraging Tibetans to preserve their language and culture.

In some areas outside the TAR, however, the government is less hostile to Tibetan. Since the early 2000s, in much of Qinghai, the number of secondary schools that teach in Tibetan has risen, according to research there by Adrian Zenz of the European School of Culture and Theology at Korntal, Germany. The range of degrees taught in Tibetan has expanded too. Unlike elsewhere, someone who has studied mainly in Tibetan can still get a good job in Qinghai. A third of all government roles advertised there between 2011 and 2015 required the language. Despite this, many parents and students chose to be taught in Mandarin anyway, Mr Zenz found. They thought it would improve job prospects.

Karma chameleon

But work can be difficult to get, despite years of huge government aid that has helped to boost growth. Government subsidies for the TAR amounted to 111% of GDP in 2014 (see chart), according to Andrew Fischer of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Eleven airports serve Qinghai and the TAR—they will have three more by 2020. A 156-mile train line from Lhasa (population 560,000) to Shigatse (population 120,000), which was completed in 2014, cost 13.3 billion yuan ($2.16 billion). A second track to Lhasa is being laid from Sichuan, priced at 105 billion yuan.

Better infrastructure has fuelled a tourism boom—domestic visitors to the TAR increased fivefold between 2007 and 2015—but most income flows to travel agents elsewhere. Tourists stay in Han-run hotels and largely eat in non-Tibetan restaurants (KFC opened its first Lhasa branch in March). Tibetan resentment at exclusion from tourism- and construction-related jobs was a big cause of rioting in Lhasa in 2008 that sparked plateau-wide protests. Other big money-spinners—hydropower and the extraction of minerals and timber—are controlled by state-owned firms that employ relatively few Tibetans. The Chinese name for Tibet, Xizang, means “western treasure house”. But Tibetans have little share in its spoils. The rehousing of nomads has helped provide some with building jobs, but has also brought suffering: those relocated sometimes find it harder to make a living from herding.

In most other parts of China, villages have been rapidly emptying as people flock to work in cities. In the country as a whole, the agricultural population dropped from 65% to 48% as a share of the total between 2000 and 2010. On the plateau it fell only slightly, from 87% to 83%. It is hard for Tibetans to migrate to places where there are more opportunities. Police and employers treat them as potential troublemakers. In 2010 only about 1% of Tibetans had settled outside the plateau, says Ma Rong of Peking University. They cannot move abroad either. In 2012 Tibetans in the TAR had to surrender their passports (to prevent them joining the Dalai Lama); in parts of Qinghai officials went house-to-house confiscating them.

Karma chameleon

For university graduates, the prospects are somewhat better. There are few prospects for secure work in private firms on the plateau. But to help them, the government has been on a hiring spree since 2011. Almost all educated Tibetans now work for the state. A government job is a pretty good one: salaries have been rising fast. Few Tibetans see such work as traitorous to their cause or culture. But the government may not be able to keep providing enough jobs for graduates, especially if a slowdown in China’s economy, which is crimping demand for commodities, has a knock-on effect on the plateau.

Many of the problems faced by Tibetans are common in traditional pastoral cultures as they modernise. But those of Tibetans are compounded by repression. They are only likely to increase when the Dalai Lama, now 81, dies. The central government will try to rig the selection of his successor, and no doubt persecute Tibetans who publicly object.

In private, officials say they are playing a waiting game: they expect the “Tibetan problem” to be more easily solved when he is gone. They are deluding themselves. They ignore his impact as a voice of moderation: he does not demand outright independence and he condemns violence. Tibetan culture may be under duress, but adoration of the Dalai Lama shows no sign of diminishing. Poverty, alienation and the loss of a beloved figurehead may prove an incendiary cocktail.

Source: The plateau, unpacified | The Economist

15/09/2016

Britain approves China-backed Hinkley Point nuclear plant deal after review of scheme | South China Morning Post

The British government said on Thursday it was giving the green light to a controversial new nuclear project at Hinkley Point after Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a review.

“Having thoroughly reviewed the proposals for Hinkley Point C, we will introduce a series of measures to enhance security and will ensure Hinkley cannot change hands without the government’s agreement,” Business Secretary Greg Clark said in a statement.

Beijing calls for British nuclear project financially backed by China to proceed.

“Consequently, we have decided to proceed with the first new nuclear power station for a generation.”

The board of French state-owned power company EDF approved its participation in the project in southwest England on July 28, only for Britain’s new government under May to announce hours later that it wanted to review it.China has a one-third stake in Hinkley Point and analysts have warned that Britain would have risked its relations with the world’s second-largest economy if it cancelled the costly deal.

Source: Britain approves China-backed Hinkley Point nuclear plant deal after review of scheme | South China Morning Post

15/09/2016

Why water war has broken out in India’s Silicon Valley – BBC News

On Monday afternoon, a school bus was stopped in the Banashankari area in southern Bangalore. Three drunk men got into the bus and asked aloud: “Which child belongs to Karnataka and and which child belongs to Tamil Nadu?”

The 15-odd students, aged between 10 and 14, were stunned. Their school had asked them to leave early because the situation was tense, with violence and arson breaking out in many parts of the city.

“Luckily the driver handled it tactfully. He told the intruders that everyone was a native of Bangalore and that their families supported Karnataka on [water sharing with] Cauvery,” said a parent, not wanting to be identified.

Battle for access

By dusk, dark smoke had filled the Bangalore skies. Some 35 buses had been set on fire by protesters, just because the buses belonged to a travel agency whose owner is Tamil.

Is India facing its worst-ever water crisis?

India to ‘divert rivers’ to tackle droughtEarlier this month India’s Supreme Court ruled that Karnataka must release 12,000 cubic feet of water per second to Tamil Nadu from the Cauvery river until 20 September. Both states say they urgently need the water for irrigation and a battle about access to it has raged for decades.

Karnataka says water levels in Cauvery have declined because of insufficient rainfall

India’s water war

The Cauvery originates in Karnataka and flows through Tamil Nadu before joining the Bay of Bengal.

The dispute over its waters originated in the 19th Century during the British rule between the then Madras presidency (modern day Tamil Nadu) and the province of Mysore (now Karnataka).

Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have both argued that they need the water for millions of farmers in the region.

The Cauvery river water tribunal was set up in 1990 after the failure of several rounds of talks between the two states.

Dozens of meetings have been held to find a settlement to the century-old dispute.

In 2007, the tribunal ruled Tamil Nadu state would get 419bn cubic feet of water a year. Karnataka would get only 270bn.

Karnataka says water levels in the Cauvery have declined because of insufficient rainfall – 42% of the 3,598 irrigation tanks in the state are dry – and that it cannot therefore share water with Tamil Nadu. So Tamil Nadu went to the top court demanding 50,000 cubic feet of water per second.

When the Supreme Court on 2 September asked Karnataka to “live and let live”, the state softened and offered to release 10,000 cubic feet of water per second to Tamil Nadu every day for five days.

On 5 September however, the top court ordered Karnataka to release 15,000 cubic feet of water per second for 10 days. This ruling was later modified to 12,000 cubic feet of water per second until 20 September.

This would mean that nearly a quarter of the water now available in the Cauvery basin will flow into Tamil Nadu.

A truck from neighbouring Tamil Nadu set on fire in Bangalore

Tamil Nadu says it badly needs the river water for irrigation. Drought-hit Karnataka argues that most of the river water is now needed for drinking water supplies in Bangalore and some other cities, leaving no water for irrigation at all.

But even farmers in Tamil Nadu are unhappy with their share.P Ayyakannu, president of the local South Indian Rivers Interlinking Farmers Association, called it “akin to giving pigeon feed to an elephant”.

Rising violenceFeeling let down by the top court’s order, Karnataka is boiling.

The main city of Bangalore is the worst affected: the violence in the technology hub forced the closure of many offices and much of the public transport system. Police have imposed an emergency law that prohibits public gatherings, and more than 15,000 officers have been deployed across the city.

One person was killed when police opened fire on protesters on Monday evening. Buses and trucks bearing Tamil Nadu number plates have been attacked and set on fire. Schools and colleges are closing early and many businesses are shut.

A group of activists belonging to a fringe pro-Karnataka group assaulted an engineering student because he had ridiculed Kannada film stars for supporting the strike on Friday, by posting memes on Facebook. The student was hunted down and forced to apologise.

Across the border, in Tamil Nadu, petrol bombs were hurled at a popular restaurant owned by a resident of Karnataka in Chennai while the driver of a vehicle with Karnataka number plates was slapped and ordered to say “Cauvery belongs to Tamil Nadu”.

Normal life has been disrupted in Bangalore

Protests have shut down Bangalore city

The latest violence brings back memories of the anti-Tamil riots in Bangalore in 1991 over the same issue.

Then, some 200,000 Tamils were reported to have left the city, after incidents of violence and arson targeting them.

There was a proposal in 2013 to set up a panel comprising representatives from the two warring states to resolve disputes over river water sharing.

But successive governments have dragged their feet on this, and the two leaders – Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah and his counterpart in Tamil Nadu, Jayaram Jayalalitha – have not reached out to each other to resolve the crisis. And with Delhi reduced to being a reluctant referee, the onus has fallen on the Supreme Court to crack the whip.

Source: Why water war has broken out in India’s Silicon Valley – BBC News

15/09/2016

Can India really halve its road deaths? – BBC News

For a crash course in India’s car-crash culture, go to Mumbai. There are more accidents here than any other Indian city. You’ll witness a dangerous mix of pedestrians, scooters, cars, buses and lorries jostling through choked junctions. Many ignore both signals and the traffic police.Officers can do little about such rampant law-breaking.

“We can catch a maximum of two offenders at a time – maximum,” one shouts at me above the horns and revving engines at one particularly busy junction. “The rest,” he says flicking his wrist, “just go. There are no consequences.”

Mumbai: “A dangerous mix of pedestrians, scooters, cars, buses and lorries”

Mumbai’s commissioner of traffic police, Milind Bharambe, says this will soon end. From his cool office, flanked by monitors with live CCTV feeds of notorious accident spots, he explains how cameras will enforce the law electronically, targeting those who speed and run red lights. Combine that with the recent introduction of stiff new fines and within six months, he promises “a sea change” in driver behaviour.

Milind Bharambe, Mumbai’s commissioner of traffic police

But bad driving and weak enforcement are only part of the problem. Another aspect of it is the rapidly growing number of vehicles – a new one joins the chaos every 10 seconds. It adds up to almost 9,000 new vehicles a day, or more than three million a year.

This means that the streets are increasingly choked. It’s almost impossible to leave a safe distance between vehicles, and when space does open up, frustrated drivers often respond by putting their foot down.

Neal Razzall presents Fixing India’s Car Crash Capital on Crossing Continents, at 11:00 BST on Radio 4 – catch up on BBC iPlayer Radio

The problem is perhaps most acute in Mumbai, which is surrounded by water on three sides and has little room to grow. Officials here have in the past responded to the crush of cars by tearing out pavements to make room for more.”The government still thinks the major issue is ‘How do we move people in cars faster and quicker?'” says Binoy Mascarenhas from the pedestrian advocacy movement, Equal Streets. In reality, he says most journeys are local and, in theory, can be done on foot.

Pavements are often non-existent on Mumbai roads

In theory. He grew up in Mumbai, and used to walk to school. His daughter now goes to school in a car because it’s too dangerous to walk. Pavements, where they exist, are often in such a poor state people have to walk on the roads. No wonder then that pedestrians account for 60% of road deaths in Mumbai.

There are dangers outside the city, too.

India’s first expressway, between the cities of Mumbai and Pune, opened in 2002. It has three wide lanes and room to move at high speed – a relief after the congestion of the city. But drive it with one of India’s few professional crash investigators, Ravi Shankar, and a quiet terror settles in. He’s studied thousands of crashes on this road and can point to dangers all around.

“There are small, man-made engineering problems that are actually killing people,” he says. Instead of rumble strips to warn drivers they’re at the road’s edge, there are black and yellow curb stones embedded into the concrete. Hit one of those, Shankar says, and your car can flip over. Then there are cliffs with no barriers, and guard-rails with tapered ends, which, he says, can send cars into the sky “like a rocket launcher”.

Things like this are happening all the time. The expressway is just 94km (58 miles) long but about 150 people die on it every year.

“That’s serious. That’s a very bad number,” Shankar says.

He and his colleagues at JD Research have identified more than 2,000 spots on the expressway where relatively simple engineering fixes, from better barriers to clearer signs, could save lives.Jump media playerMedia player helpOut of media player. Press enter to return or tab to continue.

“Road engineers are not serious about this problem,” Shankar says. “So we keep fighting with them on this point. How many deaths are you going to wait for, until you really understand that this is a serious concern?”

In this context, Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s plan for the biggest expansion of roads in Indian history is unnerving. In the next few years he wants to pave a distance greater than the circumference of the earth and there’s a particular push to build highways and expressways.

Piyush Tewari, CEO of the safety charity Save Life India, says without putting the country on a “war footing”, including a complete overhaul of road safety legislation and a modern road-building code, Modi’s new roads will only add to the number of dead.

“Road crash deaths will increase at the rate of one death for every 2km of new road that is constructed. That’s the average death rate on Indian highways – one death every 2km, annually. So if we don’t fix any of this, if we’re constructing 100,000km of highways, 50,000 deaths is what the average maths tells us will be added to the total,” he says.

Piyush TewariImage copyrightROLEX AWARDS/JESS HOFFMAN

Image captionPiyush Tewari believes the planned new roads could lead only to more fatalities

Modi’s government insists the new roads will be safer. “We are improving the road engineering; we are improving the traffic signal system; we are making crash barriers”, transportation minister, Nitin Gadkari, tells me.

There is progress in other areas too. When Mumbai’s commissioner of traffic police predicts a “sea change” in driver behaviour he is partly putting his faith in a new motor vehicle bill, now before parliament, which if passed would increase fines, toughen vehicle registration requirements and mandate road-worthiness tests for transport vehicles.

And earlier this year, a Good Samaritan Act came into effect which ended the crazy situation whereby people who helped crash victims could be held liable for the costs of treating them or even accused by police of causing the crash in the first place. That alone, campaigners say, will save thousands of lives.


More from the Magazine

A busy road in Delhi

When a road accident occurs, bystanders will usually try to help the injured, or at least call for help. In India it’s different. In a country with some of the world’s most dangerous roads, victims are all too often left to fend for themselves.

If no-one helps you after a car crash in India, this is why (June 2016)


Save Life India estimates that half of all road deaths are the result of treatable injuries. That means 75,000 lives could be saved every year just with better medical care.

One man trying to save some of those lives is Mumbai neurosurgeon Dr Aadil Chagla, who is working with volunteers to build a series of clinics along Highway 66, south of Mumbai – many of them in rural areas – to prevent victims having to be driven for hours to the city.

The first is more than half-built. It looks out over rice paddies and lush hills, but Dr Chagla estimates it will be treating victims from “one or two crashes a day, every day”.

“If I can have an ambulance service and trauma centres every 50 to 100km run by the locals it would make huge difference to this entire highway – with or without government support,” he says.

Dr Chagla's as-yet-unopened clinic

Image captionDr Chagla’s as-yet-unopened clinic to treat victims of road accidents

Since Dr Chagla started practising in the 1980s, the number killed on India’s roads has increased by 300%.

“I waited all this time and nothing has really come through so it’s important that I should do something about it,” he says.

So if transportation minister Nitin Gadkari is to make good on his promise to cut road deaths from 150,000 to 75,000 per year in two years, it will be thanks in part to the efforts of volunteers.

The state corporation that owns the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, meanwhile, says it will reduce deaths to zero – yes, zero – by 2020. It has accepted the list of essential improvements identified by crash investigator Ravi Shankar and authorised them to be made and then audited by Save Life India.

But there’s a snag, which suggests India is not yet on a “war footing” when it comes to safety.

Battered motorway barrier on the Pune-Mumbai expressway

The state government owns the road, but a private company runs it in exchange for collecting tolls. The two sides dispute who should make the safety upgrades. The official in charge of the expressway says the work will be done, even if it requires litigation to recover the costs.

While the dispute drags on, 100,000 vehicles use the expressway every day in its current, dangerous state. In the past week, it claimed six more lives.

Source: Can India really halve its road deaths? – BBC News

13/09/2016

China’s Industrial Output, Retail Sales Accelerate in August – China Real Time Report – WSJ

China’s economy strengthened in August, with a slew of data, from factory production to retail sales, beating estimates Tuesday. The improved performance is a fresh sign that stepped-up government spending and strong property sales are helping to stabilize growth in the world’s second-largest economy.

As for the numbers themselves, as reported by the government, industrial output rose 6.3% last month from a year earlier. Investment in buildings and other fixed assets outside rural households climbed a better-than-expected 8.1% year over year in the first eight months of 2016, while retail sales grew 10.6% in August from a year ago.

Economists generally cheered the numbers, but wondered how long the better times would last. Following are excerpts from economists’ views on the latest data, edited for length and style:Better-than-expected data out of China today raise hopes that policymakers’ efforts to reverse the slide in investment growth are seeing some success. Stronger industrial activity last month appears to have been partly driven by a recovery in investment spending, especially in the state sector. The delayed impact of earlier policy easing means that a stronger second half of this year is likely. The latest evidence of a pick-up suggests that recent concerns that policy easing had failed to provide any noticeable boost to the economy were likely somewhat premature.  Julian Evans-Pritchard, Capital EconomicsToday’s data suggest that the downside risk for third quarter GDP is significantly reduced. Investment in manufacturing industry increased only 3% in Jan-Aug, while investment in services picked up to 11.2%, showing economic rebalancing continues to take place. The uptick in industrial output is consistent with the rebound in the August official manufacturing PMI. However, the divergence of PMI performance between large corporates and small- and medium-size enterprises remains a concern.

Louis Lam and David Qu, ANZ ResearchWe expect investment to remain under pressure for the rest of the year because of slower real estate construction and spare capacity in key sectors. But with industrial profits recovering recently, and investment also up in August, the downward pressure should diminish. Meanwhile, export momentum should improve along with global trade, while we expect consumption to hold up. In all, while further stimulus is necessary to reach the government’s GDP growth target of at least 6.5% this year, the outlook has improved slightly after the August data.  Louis Kuijs, Oxford EconomicsChina needs to nurture an initial economic stabilization with continued fiscal support. Today’s data show economic growth seems to have stabilized a little last month, but it is not on a solid footing yet.  Measures such as tax cuts and increased government spending can not only help spur growth but also help restructure the economy by boosting consumption. Fiscal expenditures rose 10% in August from a year earlier, much faster than July’s 0.3% increase.  Liu Xuezhi, Bank of Communication

Source: Economists React: China’s Industrial Output, Retail Sales Accelerate in August – China Real Time Report – WSJ

09/09/2016

Indian Domestic Flights Are the Cheapest in the World – India Real Time – WSJ

Air fares in India are the lowest in the world, according to a global transportation study, underscoring the intense competition between carriers in the South Asian country.

In India, it costs an average of just $2.27 to fly 100 kilometers (62 miles) on domestic routes on a budget airline and $2.67 on a full-service carrier, according to a survey conducted by Kiwi.com, a Czech Republic-based online travel agency.

The most expensive place to fly domestically is the United Arab Emirates where flights are 80 times costlier than India. It costs $181.38 for 100 kilometers on a budget airline in the UAE and $220.36 on a full-service airline, according to website’s 2016 Aviation Price Index, which analyzed more than one million flights worldwide.

Domestic budget airline fares in India are similar to those in Malaysia—the second least expensive country–which cost $2.32 per 100 kilometers. Fares on full-service carriers in the Southeast Asian nation are however more expensive, at $5.81 for a similar distance.

Indian fares are cheaper thanks to strong competition and comparatively lower jet fuel prices. The country also has a number of budget airlines, including InterGlobe Aviation Ltd.’s IndiGo and SpiceJet Ltd.

A Boeing Co. 737 aircraft operated by SpiceJet Ltd. approaches to land at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, India, Oct. 26, 2015. Spicejet is among a number of budget carriers in India.

Prices in India have fallen as competition increased with the arrival of new carriers. Malaysia’s AirAsia Bhd. started a budget airline venture with India’s Tata Sons Ltd. while Singapore Airlines Ltd. began a full-service carrier with Tata Sons.

Russia is ranked third least expensive for domestic air travel, with prices at $7.02 for budget airlines and $6.32 for full-service, the survey showed.

On the steep side, Finland — where it costs $39.61 and $130.80 to fly 100 kilometers on a low-cost and a full-service airline respectively — is the second most expensive. Qatar is the third-most expensive costing $64.36 for a budget airline ticket and $85.31 for a full-service airline ticket for the same distance.

The website said China offered the least expensive international flights on both budget and full-service airlines, at $1.22 and $2.84 respectively for 100 kilometers of travel. International flights from Canada are the most expensive at $43.70 and $94.66 on low-cost and full-service airlines respectively.

Source: Indian Domestic Flights Are the Cheapest in the World – India Real Time – WSJ