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Cash as a response to humanitarian distress

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Men thrashing grain in IndiaIn the context of the subsidies regime in India, there is an ongoing debate on the suitability of cash transfers. With the much talked about JAM trinity – the Jan Dhan zero-balance bank accounts, Aadhar and mobile phones, it certainly appears that the state-sponsored welfare system is set to see a significant shift. While this shift may well fall short of being transformative, we could still expect an improvement in how benefits are delivered with reduced leakages to recipients. The use of the JAM model to extend the welfare net and to improve its efficiency implies a decisive move towards cash transfers, and therefore, one may be closer to settling the debate, at least in terms of favoured government policy.

But the argument in favour of cash is not new. I recently came across a 1986 United Nations University WIDER paper by Amartya Sen where he elegantly outlines five arguments in favour of direct distribution of cash in times of food crises. In this paper Food, Economics and Entitlements, Sen tackles this question in the context of a famine. First, Sen demonstrates how even in contexts where aggregate food output is plentiful, the ability of the poor to acquire this food is a whole different matter. Localised food shortages and famine-like situations can arise due to various reasons – at times when the prices of staples rise sharply, or when the prices of products the poor sell fall sharply. However, this isn’t obvious to policymakers as long as they view food sufficiency through the lens of per-capita food production alone.

When famines manifest themselves, there could be multiple policy response options. Sen talks of direct food distribution as the favoured method in those times. Three decades down the line, food relief continues to be popular in times of distress, even as direct cash transfers (as described above) are gaining ground as a favoured instrument of social welfare policy. Policy responses in these times is meant to enhance the ability of those affected, to ‘acquire’ more food. Both market-based solutions that begin with greater availability of cash, and direct distribution are potential paths to this end.
 

Rediscovering the Potential of the World’s Oldest Highways - Bangladesh Waterways

Diep Nguyen-Van Houtte's picture
River crossing in Bangladesh
Boat passengers in rural Bangladesh. Photo credit: Erik Nora

When my team and I saw this boat passing by us in July 2013 in rural Bangladesh, near the border with Mizoram, Northeast India, and Myanmar, I felt immediately empathic.

How many people are on that boat? Eighty? Does it have a motor? Can those people swim, especially the women? No lifejackets! I wondered how long their trip was, and then I thought: What if they needed a bathroom break? Memories of my family's escape from Vietnam by boat in 1981 flashed back—34 refugees jammed into a traditional fishing boat normally home to a family of seven, with no motor, no life jackets, and no toilets! We floated around the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean for 16 days. Most of us could not swim, certainly not the women and girls.

What does “Good Governance” really mean in higher education?

Jessica Lee's picture
Photo: WorldSkills (under Creative Commons)


Visiting a technical institution (one that is focused on science and engineering) in India can be a mixed experience. I have been to campuses that have state-of-the-art lab equipment with dedicated staff, and I have also been to others that barely have enough textbooks in their libraries and lab equipment from the 1960s.

Regardless of the type of institution, one thing is certain – even if the buildings are brand new and WiFi abundant, without good governance practices technical institutions in India would be less able to provide good higher education services to students.

To provide some more practical advice on how to embody good governance in the higher education sector, I visited seven institutions in two different states (Maharashtra and Karnataka) to explore best practices, which are summarized below:  

Six stories show renewable energy underpins a climate-friendly future

Andy Shuai Liu's picture

Also available in: Arabic | French | Spanish


In 2015 the world saw great momentum for climate action, culminating in a historic agreement in December to cut carbon emissions and contain global warming. It was also a year of continued transformation for the energy sector. For the first time in history, a global sustainable development goal was adopted solely for energy, aiming for: access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
 
To turn this objective into reality while mitigating climate change impacts, more countries are upping their game and going further with solar, wind, geothermal and other sources of renewable energy. As we usher in 2016, these stories from around the world present a flavor of how they are leading the charge toward a climate-friendly future.  
 
 World Bank Group

1: Morocco is rising to be a “solar superpower.” On the edge of the Sahara desert, the Middle East’s top energy-importing country is building one of the world’s largest concentrated solar power plants. When fully operational, the Noor-Ouarzazate power complex will produce enough energy for more than one million Moroccans and reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels by 2.5 million tons of oil.

Twelve energy stories you enjoyed reading in 2015

Andy Shuai Liu's picture

What are some stories that caught your attention in 2015?
 
They are ones that focus on people, data and events tied to sustainable growth, climate action and efforts to end energy poverty.
 
As we look ahead to 2016 we’d like to recap 12 popular stories that many of you read and shared in 2015. Thank you for a year of continued and growing readership. Tell us in a comment what you’d like to hear more of in the next year.  
 

What are Schools Worth? That Depends on the General Equilibrium Effects - Guest post by Gaurav Khanna

Large-scale educational expansions represent substantial investments of public resources and benefit households by increasing education levels, and therefore productivity in the local economy. However, since they impact both individual behavior and labor markets, convincing causal estimates of their overall benefits are hard to generate.

Supporting India’s next generation of bright tech and science minds

Jessica Lee's picture
Ajay (third from right) was a Mitacs Globalink research intern at the University of Toronto.


With the Indian economy poised to be among the fastest growing economies in the world, there is great demand for world-class engineers to drive domestic value-addition, innovation and make the economy even more competitive globally. In this context, the Indian government’s Technical/Engineering Education Quality Improvement Project (TEQIP), supported by the World Bank, has been working with engineering colleges across the country to make them more responsive to a rapidly changing technical environment.

Solar energy to bring jobs and prosperity back to parched villages

Amit Jain's picture
 
Villagers in Pavagada Taluk, Karnataka, India. Photo by Amit Jain / World Bank

Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Bala who was born in a small village in Pavagada Taluk, Karnataka, where, agriculture was the main source of income—much like in many other villages in India. But as he grew up, he saw most of his friends choosing to move to cities, because scant rainfall had made it impossible to pursue agriculture and make enough money to make ends meet at home. Village elders turned to superstition to explain the phenomenon, while others blamed climate change for the drop in rainfall. Eventually, Bala also moved to the city of Bangalore, but always dreamed of bringing prosperity back to his village.

Looks like Bala’s dream will come true in 2016. Early next year, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will break ground for one of the largest solar parks (2 GW) in the world—in Pavagada Taluk.

Pitfalls and stumbling blocks: the challenge to being a social enterprise (part 2)

Dr. Shelly Batra's picture
Ask anyone who has started a social enterprise what their biggest challenge would be, and I bet they would mention something about a regulatory framework. As mentioned in my previous blog, government regulations can be tedious, burdensome, and difficult to wade through.

Will India leapfrog toward universal health coverage?

Somil Nagpal's picture



It’s that time of year again, when we observe a day dedicated to the most ambitious health goal of all: universal health coverage, or UHC. On UHC Day (Dec. 12) we commemorate the date in 2012 when the United Nations unanimously endorsed a resolution urging governments to ensure that all people can access health care without financial hardship.


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