Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sorry for the lack of posts - again !! (newspaper articles included)

Apologies for the lack of posts – again !!

Have been doing a bit of travelling over the last two weeks. I have lots of photos to share so stay tuned.

In the meantime, here are a few articles I found. The first talks about the onion crisis here in India.

Did you know that yesterday was “World Toilet Day” ?? That’s what the second article talks about.


Tears as India's onion prices soar

Date: November 20, 2013 - 12:55PM

Annie Gowen

A labourer sorts onions inside a storehouse in Lasalgaon. Photo: Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg News

Can a country of 1.2 billion people really come undone over a lowly vegetable? In India these days, the answer is yes.

Onion prices, often volatile here, have soared in recent weeks, sending a country that views the vegetable as a culinary staple into a tailspin.

Some have blamed darker forces, suggesting that traders are fixing prices or that hoarders - ''onionnaires'' - are keeping the bulbs tucked away.

Cable news reporters do breathless stand-ups from local markets. Special onion vans have been dispatched to affected areas. Onion jokes pepper Twitter and Facebook. Protesters have taken to the streets wearing garlands of the pungent vegetable.

A worker carries a bag of onions at a wholesale market in Nashik, Maharashtra. Photo: Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg News

The governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Raghuram Rajan, was even asked about onions during a recent news conference.

"We have no immediate capacity to bring down onion prices," he said with a slight smile.

"The Great Indian Tearjerker," as one local newspaper dubbed the saga, began in August, when the price of onions nationwide inexplicably began to rise. In the weeks that followed, onion prices in the capital and other major cities have at times topped 75 cents a pound, a 278 per cent increase.

Workers harvest onions near Chandwad, Maharashtra. Photo: Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg News

The reason for this is as multi-layered as the veggie itself. Rajan has suggested that rising consumption may be a factor. Weather - a drought followed by an overlong monsoon season - is also an issue.

Other public officials have blamed darker forces, suggesting that traders at the big vegetable markets are fixing prices or that hoarders are keeping the bulbs tucked away in cold storage until the prices rise. (One blogger nicknamed these folks "onionnaires".)

Delhi's chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, who rose to power during a previous onion crisis, in 1998, has held news conferences in recent days to ask for patience and plead for the black-marketing to stop.

"We are trying our best to see that prices come down," Dikshit said. (She later told reporters that she had eaten onions with her bhindi, or okra, for the first time in many weeks, prompting the opposition party to send her a condolence basket of the bulbs.)

Indians have grappled with rising inflation for months, with food prices up 18 per cent this year over last - a major contributor to the country's slowing economic growth. Even if the economy rebounds next year, as many analysts predict, high food prices are likely to remain a central campaign issue ahead of parliamentary elections in the spring. Prices of tomatoes and potatoes are rising, as well.

Recently, billboards have popped up around New Delhi showing Narendra Modi, the opposition party's prime ministerial candidate, posed before a heap of onions and tomatoes, shaking his fist in indignation at the "waist-breaking inflation".

"We will change India!" the poster declares.

In the meantime, many of India's poor and even middle-class citizens have been forced to cut down on onions or stop eating them altogether, which has been a tough change for some. In farming communities in the northern states of Haryana and Punjab, many of the field workers come to work with nothing more than a roti (Indian bread), a raw onion and a green chilli pepper. That's lunch.

Narendar Singh, 47, a petrol station employee, said he has not been able to buy fruit for his family of five for four months and has cut down on vegetables, buying the cheapest gourds and chickpeas available.

"We cannot afford to buy onions to spice up the meal, either," he said. "Instead of tomatoes, we now use tamarind pulp to sour the curry."

His dream, he said, is to educate his three children so they can afford fresh fruit and vegetables - and motor scooters.

Indian officials say they expect onion prices to drop in the coming weeks because of increased imports and other measures.

One recent morning in Delhi's vegetable market, as a cool November rain began to fall, a group of onion farmers who sell to wholesalers said they had bought about half as many sacks of onions this year as they did last year because the extended monsoon had spoiled their crop. Even now, they were nervously monitoring the weather back home in the eastern state of Rajasthan via their mobile phones; it was raining again, they said, and if it didn't stop, the rest of the onions would rot in the field.

They said that they would get a fair price for their wares but that they were not to blame for the rising prices, pointing the finger at the middlemen and wholesalers.

"They buy it from us for 30 rupees and sell it for 100 rupees. What can we do about it?" lamented Nizamuddin Khan, 30, one of the farmers.

He said onions had been unfairly singled out in the country's ongoing debate about rising food prices.

"Everybody's talking about onions - why can't they talk about tomatoes and potatoes?" Khan said. "Their prices are also touching the sky. Onions have become a political issue."

Washington Post

This article was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/world/tears-as-indias-onion-prices-soar-20131120-2xun3.html


India 'missing' 37 million lavatories, campaigners claim

The Indian government claims it has installed 37 million lavatories to improve sanitation, but campaigners say they exist only on paper

Campaigners take to the streets of New Delhi to mark World Toilet Day Photo: SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP
3:16PM GMT 19 Nov 2013

India has 37 million 'missing lavatories' its government claims to have built in villages throughout the country but which do not exist, campaigners have said.

The claim was made on 'World Toilet Day' on Tuesday by sanitation campaigners who compared figures claimed by the government's rural development ministry and official data from India's census.

The allegations are embarrassing for India where more people are reported to have mobile phones than access to a lavatory. According to the World Toilet Day organisation 2.5 billion people do not have access to a clean lavatory, and more than 600 million of them are believed to be in India.

Campaigners called for an inquiry into the discrepancy and said it called into question the government's Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan scheme to build lavatories throughout the country.

Advisers had already called on the government to halt its lavatory building programme after it emerged that many of the lavatories were in fact being used by store rooms, guest rooms and kitchens by villagers who preferred to do their ablutions in the open.

But according to Rajesh Upadhyay of the National Confederation of Dalit Organisations which has led the campaign, the 'ground reality' in India's villages is far worse. He and his colleagues discovered official figures for homes with lavatories had been vastly exaggerated.

"We compared data provided by the Census department and Rural development ministry and found a discrepancy in their figures. The census says 31 per cent of the population have lavatories whereas the Rural Development Ministry says over 50 per cent have lavatories. We conclude that 37 million lavatories are missing on the ground and are only on papers," he said.

In some villages his team discovered fewer than one in six had access to a lavatory and those that did were unable to use them.

He called for an inquiry to establish the number of Indians without a lavatory and called for new legislation to make sure every home has one.

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