Citizens' Issues
Public Interest Exclusive
Monsoon round the corner, no need for gloom says IMD

Parts of Kerala have been receiving rains since this morning. Weather watchers attribute the slight delay in the onset of monsoon to Typhoon Mawar which was active in a western Pacific Ocean off the Philippines

South-west monsoon, the key to the agriculture driven trillion-dollar Indian economy, is on course and is expected to drench Kerala by Wednesday thereby bringing much-needed relief to farmers, reports PTI.

“Monsoon is round the corner. Parts of Kerala have been receiving rains since this morning. We may declare the onset of monsoon over Kerala coast by Wednesday,” Laxman Singh Rathore, Director General, India Meteorological Department (IMD) told PTI.

Kerala usually receives monsoon showers by 1st June, but Mr Rathore said there was no need to paint a gloomy picture as the progress of the seasonal rainfall phenomenon was well with the forecast limits which have a model error of four days.

A unique feature of this year’s monsoon would be steady progress along the western coast bring copious rains to coastal Kerala and leaving the peninsular region relatively dry.

Current observations show central and northern Kerala receiving rainfall while Thiruvananthapuram getting little rains.

Weather watchers attribute the slight delay in the onset of monsoon to Typhoon Mawar which was active in a western Pacific Ocean off the Philippines and sucking away moisture and wind currents to power itself.

“The typhoon has moved northward towards Japan and will no longer affect the progress of the monsoon,” Mr Rathore said.

On the effect of El Nino conditions—warming of the Central Pacific—on the monsoon, he said it was too early to predict any adverse effect.

“At present, El Nino conditions are neutral,” he said indicating that it would not have much impact on the monsoon.

El Nino conditions could turn positive during August-September when the monsoon season draws to a close in India.

Scientists said sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific were expected to rise by 0.5 degrees Celsius to 0.7 degree Celsius.

However, they were quick to point out that there was no direct co-relation between El Nino and the monsoon.

“In 1997, El Nino was at its highest with central Pacific sea temperatures rising by four degrees but India had a normal monsoon,” Mr Rathore said.

In 1997, the sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean were favourable for the monsoon which negated the adverse impact of El Nino.

The IMD declares the onset of monsoon over Kerala when 50% of the 14 observation stations in the state and Lakshadweep islands report rainfall for 48 hours.

Monsoon rains are crucial for agriculture as only 40% of the cultivable area is under irrigation. The farm sector contributes about only 15% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but it employs about 60% of India's population.

Mr Rathore said deviation of 3-4 days in arrival of monsoon rains would have no adverse impact on sowing of kharif crops.

“There is no concern for paddy sowing because seedlings are raised first in nursery through irrigation and then transplanted in the field much later,” he said.

There would be no impact on cotton and sugarcane crops as these long-duration crops are mostly cultivated in areas with irrigation facilities.

On the back of good monsoon in 2010 and 2011, the country harvested a record foodgrains production of 245 million tonnes and 252.56 million tonnes, respectively.


Life Exclusive
Medical problems? Statistics may help you to predict future ailments

The model shares information across patients who have similar health problems which leads to better predictions

Statistical researchers from the University of Washington, after analyzing medical records from thousand of patients, have developed a statistical model for predicting what other medical problems that a patient might encounter. This predictive algorithm has been used in a medical setting for the first time. It is based on social media algorithms like say Facebook which suggests ‘friend’ or Amazon which suggests ‘products’ based on the person’s interaction with these platforms. 

How does it work? For instance, if a patient has already had dyspepsia and epigastric pain, there are good chances that he might suffer from heartburn. Tyler McCormick, an assistant professor of statistics and sociology at the University of Washington, says that, “This provides physicians with insights on what might be coming next for a patient, based on experiences of other patients. It also gives a predication that is interpretable by patients.”

The algorithm will be published in the upcoming issue of the Journal Annals of Applied Statistics. It will be co-authored by Cynthia Rudin of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and David Madigan of Columbia University.

Explaining the difference of his model from others, Mr McCormick said that “it shares information across patients who have similar health problems. This allows for better predictions when details of a patient’s medical history are sparse.”

Many a times, new patients might not have detailed records such as files listing ailments and drug prescriptions from the previous doctor. Here “the algorithm”, Mr McCormick explains, “can compare the patient’s current health complaints with other patients who have a more extensive medical record that includes similar symptoms and the timing of when they arise. Then the algorithm can point to what medical conditions might come next for the new patient. We’re looking at each sequence of symptoms to try to predict the rest of the sequence for a different patient.”

Interestingly, the algorithm will also be helpful in situations where it is statistically difficult to predict a less common condition. “For instance, most patients do not experience strokes, and accordingly most models could not predict one because they only factor in an individual patient’s medical history with a stroke. But McCormick's model mines medical histories of patients who went on to have a stroke and uses that analysis to make a stroke prediction,” says the press release.

The statisticians used medical records obtained from a multi-year clinical drug trial involving tens of thousands of patients aged 40 and older. The records also included demographic details, such as gender and ethnicity, as well histories of medical complaints and prescription medications of the patient.

According to the press release, it was found that of the 1,800 medical conditions in the dataset, most of them—1,400— occurred fewer than 10 times. McCormick and his co-authors had to come up with a statistical way to not overlook those 1,400 conditions, while alerting patients who might actually experience those rarer conditions. They came up with a statistical modelling technique that is grounded in Bayesian methods, the backbone of many predictive algorithms. McCormick and his co-authors call their approach the Hierarchical Association Rule Model and are working toward making it available to patients and doctors.

"We hope that this model will provide a more patient-centred approach to medical care and to improve patient experiences," Mr McCormick said.


Falling crude prices, normal monsoon to help Indian economy

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, however admitted, that the Indian government does not have headroom for proactive fiscal policy

New Delhi: Pinning hopes on declining global crude oil prices and normal monsoon, Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Monday said these positive factors would help in improving growth rate, which slipped to a nine-year low of 6.5% last fiscal, reports PTI.

"A normal south west monsoon has been predicted for 2012-13 and there has been a rapid decline in international oil prices in recent weeks... All these factors should help in the recovery of domestic growth momentum," he said said while highlighting "positives" of Indian economy at the annual conference of Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC).

The interest rate cycle has been reversed by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and mining sector growth has turned around. Further, there has been progress in fuel linkage for power projects and improvement in investment growth rate, he emphasised.

There were no "major adverse results" on corporate performance in the last quarter of 2011-12, he added.

The Finance Minister, however admitted, that government does not have headroom for proactive fiscal policy.

"Like for most parts of the world, the second round of global uncertainty and the slowdown has come rather quickly on the heels of the previous one, with practically no headroom for running a proactive fiscal policy," he said.

Indian economy registered healthy growth of 8.4% in 2009-10 and 2010-11, but renewed global uncertainty, emanating mostly from Euro zone area affected domestic business sentiment in 2011-12.

A tight monetary policy directed at taming inflationary pressures in the economy also came in the way of consolidating economic recovery.

GDP growth in 2011-12 has slowed significantly to just 6.5% and this has been "disappointing", Mukherjee said.

Stressing that a strong indirect tax administration was fundamental to the development of a country's economy, Mukherjee asked the officials of CBEC to ensure timely collection to taxes.

"The challenges before your department today are multi-faceted... The important task before you is to ensure timely collection of all legitimate tax dues, without, of course, unduly burdening the assessee," he said.

He asked them to sharpen their audit skills and conduct scrutiny of assessees' records to bring to the kitty any tax that might have escaped assessment and to detect frauds which are often intelligently planned and meticulously executed.

"While the need for trade facilitation and tax payers' satisfaction cannot be over-emphasised, any mala fide and corrupt practice to evade payment of legitimate dues, needs to be handled as per established procedure of law," he said.

Mukherjee expressed hope the CBEC would be able to meet the indirect tax collection target for 2012-13.

"They (CBEC) have done good job last year... I am confident that the department would leave no stone unturned in ensuring that the targets for the current year are not only met but handsomely exceeded, Mukherjee said.

With government increasing rates of both excise and service tax by 2%, he said "these changes are likely to help the Department in garnering additional tax revenue".

Indirect tax collections (central excise, customs and service tax) target for 2012-13 is Rs4.99 lakh crore, up by about 27% over the previous year.

Despite a slowdown in growth and the duty cuts effected on petroleum products in June 2011, the indirect tax collection of Rs3.92 lakh crore (excluding cess) was only marginally short of the target Rs3.94 lakh crore in FY12.

Mukherjee also said there is an urgent need to reverse the declining trend in tax-GDP ratio by augmenting tax collections. The ratio was nearly 12% in 2007-08 but has dropped to around 10.5% in 2011-12.

Mukherjee told CBEC officials that there is a scope for improving tax administration by leveraging technology and facilitating a congenial public interface.

He further said that smuggling of fake Indian currency note (FICN), narcotics and psychotropic substances, illicit export of flora and fauna; antiques and other prohibited goods pose a grave threat to our economy. Commercial frauds perpetuated to evade payment of legitimate duty are another area of growing concern.

"To enable you to deal with these concerns effectively the initiatives taken to improve the infrastructural and technological capabilities at your command need to be rapidly implemented," he said.

On capacity building, he said this needs to be accorded a high priority so that "we are able to build a team of dedicated and motivated workforce to respond to the challenges confronting the department".

The issues related to human resource development should be given priority, and necessary steps to promote an administration with a humane face earnestly pursued, he said.

"You all at the senior level cannot remain insensitive to the genuine concerns of your workforce, be it the legitimate demand for a timely promotion or holding of DPCs or timely sanction of annual increments, or payment of retirement benefits," Mukherjee said.

The CBEC has constituted four 'Breakaway Groups' for in depth examination of some of the current issues that need the immediate attention of the department.


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