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1.Using telecom data for development (Live Mint)

2.Crime scenario in India: NCRB data (The Hindu)

3.Finding an optimum system of fiscal transfers (The Hindu)

1.Using telecom data for development (Live Mint)

Synoptic line: It throws light on how Telecom data holds the power to resolve issues—from preventing the spread of dengue to driving financial inclusion. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • There are various impending issues such as- Where to eradicate malaria first? How to increase access to banks and loans? How and where to improve air quality? How to design better public transport? These intractable public problems have been troubling policymakers and city leaders for decades, but a new ally is emerging: telecom data.
  • Every time you make a call, send an SMS or check your social media on the go, you generate data. This data can be anonymized, aggregated and used to reveal the movements of populations and economic and psychological profiles all without putting individual privacy at risk.

Using the telecom data for problem solving

  • By merging telecom data with other relevant data such as the number of new cases of a disease and using visualization tools, governments and development organizations can make better-informed public-policy decisions. New projects, across Uganda, Zambia, Brazil, Haiti and many other countries, are using this method of data analysis.
  • Malaria kills around half a million people every year worldwide. We know that the disease itself can be transported over long distances within human bodies, before being transmitted to other human beings through mosquitoes.
  • Eradicating malaria requires us to understand where people live, how and where they travel, who they meet, and where their acquaintances then go.
  • Mapping the movements of a population across an entire country, matched with malaria-infection data, can help zero in on problem areas. By following this process in Zambia, we identified one crossroad which was facilitating the spread of malaria across the country. With the location pinpointed, public authorities and medical staff were able to effectively prioritize interventions in this area.
  • This approach is being replicated to fight diseases in other contexts as well, such as the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa, Zika virus epidemic in Brazil and dengue in Latin America and Asia, and standardized approaches are being prepared.
  • We are all victims of traffic snarls, and it only seems to get worse with time. The time spent by a person in New Delhi on roads has doubled over the last six years and recent studies show that driving 40km in peak hours can take almost 4 hours. In the US, average commuting time has increased by 20% since 1980.
  • Local governments have been unable to solve this problem for many reasons. One important reason is that most municipalities do not have up-to-date granular data on the movements of populations on and off the roads.

Using telecom data for larger planning

  • Telecom data can be used to map and test the impact of changing or optimizing road infrastructure on actual traffic. For instance, the municipality of Kampala, Uganda, redesigned a key junction in the city. By using telecom data to compare the traffic situation before and after, it was clear that changing the junction had mixed effects on overall traffic.
  • Time spent in traffic jams reduced by 19% for people driving from the Kibuli neighbourhood. However, people living in Nakasero spent 43% more time on the road. This type of insight has helped municipality staff to take informed decisions on adding traffic lights or changing road directions, and eventually change and optimize actions over time.
  • Using data, especially telecom data, for social impact is still a relatively new concept. Trust is the cornerstone of such an approach. It requires securing the trust of the two main contributors: consumers, by protecting their privacy, and telecom companies, by addressing their concerns that competitors may benefit from the strategic insights emanating from their data. This requires four levels of trust-building security measures.
  • First, analysing the data within the databases of telecom operators, rather than extracting it so that it is kept secure within their own networks. Second, anonymizing the data to avoid any possibility of individual tracking. Third, aggregating the data across dimensions like geographies or communities, to prevent any possibility of identifying individual patterns. Finally, ensuring that telecom operators have final approval before any insights or visualizations are released in the public domain.
  • A billion mobile phone users in India and 427 million mobile subscribers across sub-Saharan Africa could shape the future of their countries without even looking up from their phones. Solutions could be tailored to the changing needs of communities through real-time data analysis in a way that has never been possible before. This is the next stage towards increasing automation and introduction of Artificial Intelligence based on digital data. It is now important for the public authorities to help the private sector to accelerate such developments.

Way ahead

  • India is ripe for innovation in using telecom data for social impact. With the world’s second largest telecom subscriber base, professionally run telecom operators with large customer databases, and several social problems waiting to be solved, telecom data in India could unleash a new transformation. Issues ranging from preventing the spread of dengue and chikungunya, to prioritizing the next batch of rural roads, to placing bank mitrasto drive financial inclusion, are all waiting to be solved using the power of telecom data.
  • It is time for India to join the group of countries who are already harnessing the benefits of this approach and show strong leadership. This requires an effort that brings together telecom companies, researchers, regulators and other development actors to come together to begin exploring what is possible.

Question– How telecom data can be merged with big data analytics to resolve day by day problems?

2.Crime scenario in India: NCRB data (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the the recent Report of the NCRB report with regard to criminal activity. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • According to National Crime Records Bureau data for 2016, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar record the maximum number of murders. The national tally on crimes against women, which includes rape, abduction, assault and cruelty by husband and relatives, is up by 2.9% over that of 2015.

Geographical anomaly in the data

  • Going by the data, there is a distinct urban geography as well for violence against women, with Delhi and Mumbai appearing the least safe: Delhi recorded a rate of crime that is more than twice the national average.
  • As several studies have shown over the years, the annual data is useful in reviewing trends of extreme events, such as murder, but less so in the case of other offences that tend to be underreported. Viewed in perspective, the murder rate today has declined to the level prevailing in the 1950s, which was 2.7 per 1,00,000 people, after touching a peak of 4.62 in 1992.
  • But that macro figure conceals regional variations, witnessed in U.P. and Bihar, where 4,889 and 2,581 murder incidents took place during 2016, respectively, while it was 305 in densely populated Kerala. 

Overburdened police

  • Under the Constitution, police is a subject governed by states.1 Therefore, each of the 29 states have their own police forces. The centre is also allowed to maintain its own police forces to assist the states with ensuring law and order.2 Therefore, it maintains seven central police forces and some other police organisations for specialised tasks such as intelligence gathering, investigation, research and record- keeping, and training.
  • The primary role of police forces is to uphold and enforce laws, investigate crimes and ensure security for people in the country. In a large and populous country like India, police forces need to be well-equipped, in terms of personnel, weaponry, forensic, communication and transport support, to perform their role well. Further, they need to have the operational freedom to carry out their responsibilities professionally, and satisfactory working conditions (e.g., regulated working hours and promotion opportunities), while being held accountable for poor performance or misuse of power
  • While state police forces are responsible for maintaining law and order and investigating crimes, central forces assist them with intelligence and internal security challenges (e.g., insurgencies). Expenditure on police accounts for about 3% of the central and state government budgets.
  • State police forces had 24% vacancies (about 5.5 lakh vacancies) in January 2016. Hence, while the sanctioned police strength was 181 police per lakh persons in 2016, the actual strength was 137 police. Note that the United Nations recommended standard is 222 police per lakh persons.
  • Crime per lakh population has increased by 28% over the last decade (2005-2015). However,
    convictions have been low. In 2015, convictions were secured in 47% of the cases registered under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The Law Commission has observed that one of the reasons behind this is the poor quality of investigations.

Government efforts

  • In the years since the Delhi gang rape case of 2012 that shook the country, the definition of the heinous offence has been broadened, police forces have been directed to record the crime with greater sensitivity, and some measures initiated to make public places safer for women.
  • This approach could lead to a reduction in violent crime over time. A focussed programme to universalise education and skills training would potentially keep juveniles from coming into conflict with the law.
  • Last year’s data indicate that there is a rise in the number of cases involving juveniles. There are also basic issues that need urgent reform, such as modernising the police, recruiting the right candidates and teaching them to uphold human rights.

Way ahead

  • The orders of the Supreme Court on police reforms issued in 2006 have not been implemented in letter and spirit by all States. With genuine measures, Ministerial superintendence over the police would become more transparent and socially accountable, eliminating political interference in its working.
  • This would lead to a reduction in crimes committed with impunity and raise public confidence in the criminal justice delivery system. As a measure of data improvement, it should be mandatory to record not just the principal offence in a case, as the NCRB does, and list all cognisable offences separately. Rather than view the available data passively, governments would do well to launch serious studies that result in policies and measures for freedom from violence.

Question– Police reforms are an integral part in reducing the incidences of crime. What should be the strategy of government in this regard?

3.Finding an optimum system of fiscal transfers (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the need of an optimum system in the fiscal transfer process. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • The Constitution clearly defines the role and activities of central and state governments by specifically enumerating them in the central list, state list and concurrent list. While there is no ambiguity with regard to the central list and state list, activities falling under the concurrent list are subject to the overlapping jurisdiction of the Union and states.
  • States are primarily responsible for maintaining law and order, defining and ensuring property rights and providing key social and economic services covering health, education, employment and economic infrastructure, etc. which often involve large public expenditure.
  • Most of the services and activities which have an interaction with people are in the domain of a state. In contrast, the powers to raise resources are largely biased in favour of the Union government.

 Fund transfers

  • If we consider developmental expenditure (the expenditure on social and economic services), the share of states together has averaged around 66% during the last 25 years and, except for some years, this share has generally been stable.
  • The increase in the share of expenditure in the last two years is largely due to an accounting adjustment as the expenditure incurred on schemes where funds were earlier transferred directly to implementing agencies was included in the state budget and accounts.
  • In contrast, the share of the states in aggregate revenue receipts (excluding the tax devolution and non-tax transfers from the centre) averaged only 37% during the same period.

Asymmetry in transfers

  • asymmetry in resources has been to an extent deliberate and designed. Recognizing the higher resource requirements of the states relative to their resource-raising powers, the Constitution, therefore, has mandated transfer of funds to the state governments through statutory and other transfers in the form of tax devolution and allocation of resources for specified schemes/programmes.
  • The rationale of our cooperative fiscal federalism has been the belief that the multilevel governments, through cooperation, competition and collaboration among themselves, can have optimal solutions to these issues of resource availability and needs within the constitutionally-mandated framework of a set of well-defined rules.
  • Resource transfers from the centre to states have two dimensions. In the first instance, they relate to the vertical transfer from the centre to states, or the size of the divisible pool, and in the second, it is horizontal transfer, or transfers across states.
  • Successive finance commissions have looked at both these aspects and tried to have the vertical share of states at an appropriate level and ensure that the allocations to individual states provide some kind of convergence in delivery of basic services across states. The commissions have recognized that as the services and programmes which are at the core of a more equitable social order are with states, realignment of resources in their favour may be necessary.
  • The report of the 14th Finance Commission, which raised the share of states in the centre’s tax receipts by 10 percentage points to 42%, was in a way giving expression to these expectations. But the overall transfer of resources, taking together the transfers from the finance commission and other transfers for schemes and programmes, as a proportion of the centre’s gross revenue receipts, did not change, only the modes of transfer did.
  • The centre has already effected a change in 2013-14 in its release of funds to states for centrally-sponsored schemes (CSS). Nearly 20% of the total transfer of funds during 2007-14, which were transferred directly to the implementing agencies, began to be re-routed through the treasury route. Though there have been some delays, this mode is robust, transparent, has a well-defined system of tracking and cash management, and is duly validated by the accountant general and audited by the comptroller and auditor general (CAG).
  • This, together with the compositional shift in finance commission transfers from grants to tax devolution, did not result in any additional fiscal burden to the centre and did not result in any augmentation of resources for There was, in effect, a decline in the share of states from around 53% in 2011-12 to an average of 49%. The commission considered this compositional shift desirable since it is formula-based and conducive to sound fiscal federalism, though it did not deny it would need to be supplemented by grants-in-aid to fiscally-stressed states in a fair manner.
  • In its recommendations for distribution of resources among states, it assigned a 50% weight to income distance, taking cognizance of the capability of states to raise resources on their own. The commission’s rationale in vertical distribution was affordability for the centre; while the implicit assumption in the horizontal distribution was a kind of convergence or a move towards some kind of uniformity in delivery of core services across states.
  • As the 2017 Economic Survey points out, there is strong evidence of convergence on two health indicators life expectancy and infant mortality rates across states, but in income and consumption, there is evidence of an increasing divergence. This divergence could be due to a variety of reasons, but the importance of education, skill development, availability of infrastructure and civic facilities continue to be the contributing factors.

Way ahead

  • Unequal access and poor delivery of services, including their quality across states, may partly be contributing to this lack of convergence in income and consumption parameters. This raises the issue that while a compositional shift in resource transfers is indeed desirable in core services, scheme-specific transfers, together with independent monitoring, areequally necessary.
  • On the ability of the centre to afford resource transfers to states, opinions will differ, and that may be left for the consideration of the next finance commission.

Question– What is the need to do reengineer the transfer process for the centre and the states? What effective strategy can be adopted in this regard?