There is an urgent need to encourage corporate bodies to invest in building up the infrastructure facilities for storage and exports of foodgrains
In order to support the Food Security Act, the Ministry of Agriculture has estimated that the essential foodgrains in India, to the extent of 53 million tonnes be maintained as a buffer stock. This is based on the assumption that it is safe to have this divided into three categories. A three month buffer stock, at the rate of 5.1 million tonnes (mt), three months reserve and a strategic reserve of 7.5 mt would be sufficient, as a start, as per Tejinder Singh, a well known foodgrain trade analyst.
Also, we must remember that as fresh supplies are coming in, stored materials are also being despatched continuously for daily consumption. The foodgrains in overflowing godowns are stored, in large quantities, outside under plastic sheets, tarpaulins etc, which are subject to heavy climatic damage, besides being vulnerable to pilferage and act as a regular storehouse for rodents! Any excess inventory of even 13 to 15 mt are estimated to be worth Rs32,500 crore to Rs37,500 crore!
According to information available in the media, as of December 2013, the stock level of foodgrains with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) stood at 45 mt, some 20 million more than required, based on the estimation of 5.1 mt per month. This figure varies from time to time, based on consumption pattern, arrivals and despatches. We must also bear in mind that most state governments have their own food subsidy schemes, and there is no uniformity on a national scale.
Our foodgrains should be sold, on export basis, at the best possible prices in the overseas market, and our own minimum "floor price" rules have no bearing on the purchaser. Fresh supplies to the godown are simply placed on the top of the heap of the lot already in, which causes irreparable damage at the bottom!
Take the question of wheat stocks in the country and the overseas demand pattern, apart from the aggressive activities of our competitors. At this point of time, cold weather conditions in the US, prime and leading grower and exporter, are indicative of shortfall in their supplies.
Indian wheat stocks, as on 1st December, stood at 31 mt, which is the statutory requirement for buffer stock. Agricultural experts estimate a bumper crop this season, amounting to over 95 mt, as wheat acreage in the current rabi season is estimated to be over 302 lakh hectares, thanks to various state schemes in operation. In Madhya Pradesh, the government had announced a bonus of Rs150 per quintal over the minimum support price (MSP) and it appears more farmers increased the wheat acreage! The central government had announced a MSP of Rs1,400 per quintal, an increase of Rs50 over the previous year, to encourage production.
As a sequel to the bulging stocks of wheat, export efforts by government authorities, besides private exporters, are bearing fruit. Fortunately, in line with the international market, the government had to reduce the floor price from $300 per tonne to $260 per tonne to push up exports and to literally get rid of the stocks, and to make way for the new crop to come in. Preferred supplies from Black Sea producers were fetching $305 per tonne, while both US and French supplies were quoted at about $ 300 per tonne. However, with the cold wave, there has been interest in the tenders called for by India, prices above the floor price of $260 per tonne has been obtained, such as $282.62 per tonne from Vitol Group, for shipment from Mundhra port, while Al Ghurair of UAE bid $ 283.60 per tonne for shipment from Chennai. India thus plans to export at least two million tonnes of wheat before the new crop starts arriving in April, with hopes to reach four million this fiscal, as there are several tenders on the anvil.
Other items like corn (maize) have also made headway in exports, with orders booked for 350,000 tonnes at $216 per tonne. Iran has increased its purchase of basmati rice and soya meal with other items like sugar picking up.
Our efforts to push up export of foodgrains is imperative; at the same time, there is an urgent need to encourage corporate bodies to invest in building up the infrastructure facilities for storage, but allocating free land or on long term lease, suitable for this purpose, in every state and more importantly near the ports to facilitate exports. Anything that can be done in these areas to prevent loss of foodgrains due to climatic damage would be most beneficial to the country.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)
Bloomsbury withdraws all copies of Jitender Bhargava's book that chronicles the fall of Air India and tenders an apology to former aviation minister Praful Patel, even as the author has refused to back down and avers that whatever he wrote was factual
In a sudden and shocking incident, Bloomsbury Publishing India Pvt Ltd has withdrawn Jitender Bhargava's 'The Descent of Air India' with an apology to Praful Patel, the leader of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and union minister. In his book, Mr Bhargava detailed all the people, including Patel and events that led to Air India's downfall. But Mr Bhargava is not planning to take it lying down. In his post of facebook, he has made it very clear that he does not agree with the publisher's stand and will stand by his charges recorded in the book. Here is what he says in his facebook post:
"This decision of Bloomsbury was unilateral, and without discussing with me, as an author. Their stand thus naturally came to me as a surprise. And it may surprise you too when you see the apology of Bloomsbury published in the newspapers," said Jitender Bhargava in an email.
According to Mr Bhargava, after the book, 'The Descent of Air India' was formally released on 11 October 2013 in Delhi attempts were made by Praful Patel to obstruct its distribution. "Besides ensuring that the books were not sold at airport book stores (he still appears to wield clout with airport operators) had TV channels to drop scheduled programmes relating to the book - in the case of one news channel even after the interview had been recorded; he served a legal notice, alleging that the book contents were defamatory," says Mr Bhagava.
"He (Patel) filed a case in the court of the metropolitan magistrate, Mumbai. While I told the judge on 6 January 2014 that everything stated in the book about Praful Patel is true, backed by documented evidence and will be duly justified and contested in the honourable court, the publishers, Bloomsbury, on whom also the notice was served, decided on not pursuing it, and instead agreeing to offer an apology to Praful Patel," Mr Bhargava said.
Earlier, in November, Moneylife Foundation organised an event in Mumbai where Dr Subramanian Swamy, former minister of commerce and law launched the book. On the decline of Air India, Dr Swamy highlighted a few reasons: harmful bilateral agreements, all profitable routes of the airlines were shutdown and made available to other airlines. He also mentioned that the airline bought aeroplanes that were probably overpriced and recently they sold these brand new planes as junk to Etihad, at one-third of the buying price.
Mr Bhargava, who was the executive director of the airlines till January 2010, mentioned that every decision was being taken by the government as Air India never had a culture of speaking up. Those who voiced their opinion were asked to leave. Instead of implementing decisions that should have been taken, the airline was bleeding because of decisions that should not have been taken. Impractical expansion plans and thoughtless use of the airline's resources contributed to the national carrier's collapse.
Highlighting one such instance in his book, Mr Bhargava wrote that when India won the T20 cricket world championship, Praful Patel, former aviation minister who oversaw the airlines for some seven years, awarded the entire Indian Team and their families’ free tickets on Air India for five years. The loss making airlines was also made to spend Rs3.5 crore on advertisements to celebrate the T20 win. A media house, for its annual summit, was given Rs30 lakh verbal commitment of free tickets from Air India, again by Praful Patel, in return for publicity! This oral commitment too was honoured since it was made by the minister.
Mr Bhargava also explains how the airline reached a point of no return under chairman V Thulasidas who acted as ‘His Master’s Voice’ to minister Praful Patel who seemed bent on decimating the airline. The story is important for all concerned citizens, at a time when opposition to privatisation is based on false romanticism about it being a national carrier. Politicians will continue to plunder the airline as long as it remains under State (minister’s) control.
Speaking about the publisher’s decision to withdraw the book, Mr Bhargava said, "As everything stated in the book is true, based on documents, I will have the book, 'The Descent of Air India' reprinted either on my own or through a new publisher. Simultaneous action is being initiated to bring out ' The Descent of Air India', as an e-book. I am told this can take up to four-five weeks. I will be back soon because neither can I be bulldozed into submission nor can facts be allowed to be suppressed."
As Medicare considers banning doctors who pose a "threat to the health or safety" of patients, it plans to consider an array of factors
When the agency that runs Medicare announced last week that it would take action against doctors who prescribe abusively in its massive drug program – perhaps banning them – it raised an interesting question.
What exactly constitutes “abusive” prescribing?
On this point, the Centers for Medicare and Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is treading carefully, refusing to get pinned down by numerical thresholds for specific drugs. Instead Medicare will consider a variety of factors in deciding whether a physician’s drug choices pose a “threat to the health or safety” of seniors and the disabled.
“In our view, if a physician or eligible professional repeatedly and consistently fails to exercise reasonable judgment in his or her prescribing practices, we should have the ability to remove such individuals from the Medicare program,” officials wrote in the 678-page document proposing changes.
“Honest physicians and eligible professionals who engage in reasonable prescribing activities would not be impacted by our proposal,” they wrote.
In stories last year, ProPublica detailed lax oversight of the Medicare drug program, known as Part D. The series showed that federal regulators’ failure to keep watch over the program has enabled doctors to prescribe massive quantities of inappropriate medications, has wasted billions on needlessly expensive drugs and has exposed the program to rampant fraud. Part D cost taxpayers $62 billion in 2012.
In the “proposed rule,” CMS said it would weigh eight factors in determining whether a health professional poses a threat. These include:
Whether patients’ diagnoses support using the medications prescribed.
Whether providers wrote prescriptions to patients they could not have seen – such as those who are dead or were out of state at the time of billed office visits.
Whether providers prescribed excessive volumes of painkillers and other controlled substances linked to overdoses.
Whether disciplinary actions have been taken against providers by state regulators or Medicaid programs for the poor.
Whether providers have been sued for malpractice, including the number and type of such lawsuits, and whether those suits resulted in judgments or settlements.
Medicare said it would not base its decision on any single factor. “Nonetheless, there are certain criteria that, if met, would weigh heavily and perhaps decisively towards a finding that a revocation is justified,” the agency said.
Medicare’s case-by-case strategy is one ProPublica also determined was the best method when assessing Part D prescribing data it obtained from the program. The prescribing practices of doctors, reporters found, could not be judged by numbers alone – whether overall or concentrated on specific medications. Often what looked troubling in the data had a real-life explanation. For example, in some cases, when physicians’ annual tally of prescriptions topped 150,000 – an inconceivable amount – it turned out they specialized in nursing home care and their totals included prescriptions by others in their practices.
In order to identify physicians prescribing in unusual ways, ProPublica compared them to others in their specialty and state, looked at changes in their prescribing patterns from one year to the next, researched their backgrounds and disciplinary histories, and examined their preference for drugs with a high risk of abuse or misuse.
Reporters were able to spot the outliers. One Miami psychiatrist gave hundreds of elderly dementia patients antipsychotic drugs, despite a black-box warning against doing so. And an Oklahoma doctor gave an Alzheimer's medication to scores of autistic and developmentally disabled young adults, despite a lack of evidence that it would help them.
Neither doctor had ever been questioned by Medicare.
In submitting the proposed new rules, CMS said it lacked the legal authority to take action against physicians who prescribed improperly, unless they had been formally excluded from Medicare, a step typically taken only after a criminal conviction.
As a result, the document said, “This means, in many cases, that the prescriber can continue prescribing drugs that will be covered under Part D.”
Two senators pushing CMS to do more about abusive prescribing released statements praising the agency’s proposed new rules. Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, called them “common sense reforms.”
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., the top Republican on the panel, said “the vast majority of physicians” want to help patients, but “where there is proof of abuse or fraud, CMS should take necessary actions to protect patients and taxpayers.”
Others greeted the proposals with more tempered reactions.
Dr. Ardis Dee Hoven, president of the American Medical Association, said the group is reviewing the proposal to ensure CMS “does not compromise appropriate prescribing or exceed its statutory authority.”
“Responsible prescribing of pharmaceutical drugs is a fundamental aspect of medical practice and the American Medical Association has zero tolerance for harming the health and safety of patients,” Hoven said in a statement.
Physicians who appropriately and safely prescribe medications “should not be targets of misguided government enforcement and driven out of practice,” she added
The agency will take comments on the proposed rules until March 7. They are slated to take effect on Jan. 1, 2015.