Ravi Shankar Prasad
Success of Digital India has set a new global benchmark for leveraging digital technologies for inclusive growth, good governance and empowerment of common citizens. Benefits of digital technologies that were a luxury of affluent classes a few years ago have now become easily accessible for masses. Rapidly changing technology requires continuous evolution of systems, faster and adequate regulatory responses and building capacities to meet emerging challenges. The advent of Artificial Intelligence is not merely an incremental change but a major paradigm shift in the technology landscape, which must be viewed holistically and harnessed for the wellbeing of humanity.
Data is the basic building block for any Artificial Intelligence system. India with over 700 million Internet subscribers, 1.21 billion phone users and 1.26 billion Aadhaar users is generating a massive amount of data every day. India has the largest user base for some of the major Internet companies in the world. India also offers the most affordable Internet services in the world. Indian IT sector, which has already proven its mettle in the world, ensures the availability of competent human resources. These, along with the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who always encourages the use of technology for improving the lives of citizens, leaves India poised for an Artificial Intelligence revolution.
In 2018, the National AI Strategy was published by the Government of India. Since then several initiatives have been undertaken to develop a strong AI ecosystem in the country by the Ministry of Electronics and IT. Center of Excellence in Data Analytics (CEDA) has been established to provide expert data analytics services to government departments. In collaboration with the IT industry Centers of Excellence have been set up in Bengaluru, Gandhinagar, Gurugram and Vizag where so far 113 startups have been incubated, 29 Intellectual Properties have been generated and 56 sectoral solutions have been developed. Future Skills Prime online capacity building platform has been launched to skill and re-skill the professionals in emerging technologies and in new job roles with an aim to benefit over four Lakh professionals. National Artificial Intelligence Portal has been launched as a one-stop digital platform for collaboration and knowledge sharing in AI. Very soon National Programme on Artificial Intelligence will be launched by the Ministry of Electronics and IT after seeking approval of the Union Cabinet.
Learning from public digital platforms like Aadhaar, UPI, GSTN and GeM, the Government has decided to encourage setting up of several public digital platforms in the field of health, agriculture, education, logistics, language translations etc. With the announcement of National Digital Health Mission by the Prime Minister on Independence Day 2020, the work on a public digital platform for health has begun. Ministry of Electronics and IT is developing an AI-based Natural Language Translation Mission in collaboration with academic institutions, research institutions, industry and startups, which will pave way for a voice-enabled Internet in Indian languages. In a similar manner, different Ministries of the Government of India in collaboration with the industry, academia and startups are in different stages of finalizing the sectoral public digital platforms. These platforms shall offer AI-based services in their sectors while addressing the data security and privacy concerns of the users. These platforms will create immense opportunities for Indian startups as well.
Developments in technology bring changes and raise concerns as well. When large scale computerization was undertaken, there were concerns about wide-scale unemployment. But eventually, computers and information technology became one of the biggest employment creators. In the same way, Artificial Intelligence will also replace certain existing job roles but it will also create several new job roles. The world needs to manage this transition effectively so that it does not aggravate disparities in societies. Through initiatives like Future Skills Prime, India has already started the work to re-skill its workforce for future job roles in the field of IT. India’s approach for responsible AI for social empowerment seeks to leverage AI for inclusive growth and empowerment of common citizens by addressing the concerns of exclusion and redundancy of employees by AI systems.
Artificial Intelligence must lead to greater social empowerment, especially of the poorer and marginalized sections of society. It should be developed in such a manner that it solves problems faced by people. India’s vision to extensively use AI in fields like healthcare, agriculture, education, logistics and languages is inspired by our commitment to leverage AI for social empowerment.
Data resources are going to play a vital role in the development of Artificial Intelligence. However, concerns regarding the misuse of data and breach of privacy of users must be addressed adequately by the AI systems. Government of India has already introduced a robust Personal Data Protection Bill in the Parliament, which seeks to protect the privacy of users in the digital age and at the same time facilitate the development of a strong data economy. It is pertinent to mention here that any attempt to create a monopoly in digital space by misusing the data of Indian citizens will receive a strong response from the Government of India. Action taken against certain mobile apps recently clearly indicates that the Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is committed to protecting the data privacy of Indian citizens and data sovereignty of India.
Artificial Intelligence also generates several ethical and legal concerns that must be addressed. Algorithms that define the set of rules to operate AI systems must be free of any biases and prejudices. For example, face recognition systems must not show any racial or ethnic biases or news and social media systems must not be biased towards any particular political ideology. Conventional laws that are based on the basic premise of jurisdictions are being challenged by transnational technologies. Rogue elements sitting in any part of the world can disrupt the peace of any other society and we saw that in the recent CAA agitations and Delhi riots in India. The world needs to collectively address these concerns as well.
India is one of the founding members of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence- a multilateral collective to develop responsible AI. India is also working with several countries on a bilateral basis to develop AI ecosystems. India’s biggest AI summit RAISE 2020 seeks global collaboration for the development of Artificial Intelligence ecosystem that is responsible towards humanity and committed towards social empowerment. PIB
The author is the Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology, Communications and Law & Justice
Chemical Pesticides and Environment Sustainability
Need for alternative pest control methods, organic farming
Raheeba Tun Nisa
Chemical pesticides are frequently used to protect plants, animals, livestock, and crops from pests and diseases. In India, estimated annual production losses due to pests are as high as US$ 36 billion. The use of pesticides has significantly increased and improved global food production.
Pesticides are used by farmers, consumers, and businesses to stop the spread of disease and crop destruction. In order to safeguard the world’s food supply, pesticides assist the agricultural community in managing exotic weeds, diseases, and insects.
All types of pesticides used in the country, including those imported from other nations, are governed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States. When seeking to market their products, pesticide manufacturers must comply with extremely strict regulations set forth by the EPA. The amount of pesticide residue reported on food products ingested by humans or animals, such as livestock feed, is regulated by the EPA.
However, there is still a flaw in the system that causes environmental chaos, and we are unable to stop the devastation of our ecosystem.
Impact of pesticides on environment and SDG goals
Pesticides however might have a negative effect on both aquatic and terrestrial species. Their extended and repeated use causes bioaccumulation. It is possible for pesticides to spread from the application site to distant surroundings and non-target creatures. Even at low concentrations, water contaminated with pesticides poses a major threat to the environment. Pesticide residues can reach humans through contaminated food and water, non-target drift, or application.
Exposure to pesticides can have a variety of negative neurological health impacts, including impaired coordination, memory, and vision. The immune system is also harmed by prolonged pesticide exposure. An increase in neurological conditions, including brain tumours, has been attributed to excessive pesticide use in Kashmir.
Different soil microorganisms are necessary for various plant functions yet using pesticides may limit the soil microflora. We know a lot of beneficial microorganisms are present on the plant surface (Phyllosphere) as well as in the root zone (rhizosphere), indiscriminate use of pesticide drastically decrease their population.
Numerous herbicides have been shown to be harmful to mycorrhizal fungi, increase plant susceptibility to diseases, impair seed quality, and have indirect effects on bird populations. SDG target by 2020 is to minimize the negative effects on human health and the environment by achieving the environmentally sound management of chemicals and their wastes throughout their life cycles, in compliance with accepted international frameworks, and greatly reducing their release to air, water, and soil.
Pesticides must be used in accordance with the standards established by national and international law, with better safety precautions and less harmful formulations. Farmers should be made aware of the need to avoid using harmful pesticides.
Strategies to minimize the usage of chemicals
In the future, it will be possible to combine the use of chemical pesticides with natural remedies to eradicate pests and insects in a more long-lasting manner. The best alternatives to pesticides are agronomical approaches, biological control, organic farming, integrated pest management, and the use of resistant varieties.
Current disease management approaches rely primarily on synthetic pesticides, but growing awareness of these chemicals’ detrimental effects on the environment and human health has prompted us to seek out more effective, less or non-toxic alternatives.
One such alternative is biological control of plant diseases that could be a viable alternative to expensive chemical fungitoxicants, which not only harm the environment but also allow for the development of resistant pathogenic strains. The biocontrol agents either soil-derived or epiphytes or endophytes (bioagents acquired from phyllosphere) are having the innate potential of suppressing the diseases.
It may be effective to use endophytes and epiphytes that are strongly antagonistic to this pathogen to tackle the disease. In the future, biological control on aerial plant surfaces will be successful not only because of its efficiency but also because of its low cost compared to traditional pesticides and the absence of harmful side effects from the organisms used, such as mammalian toxicity.
Other advantages of biological control over chemical control might include the less long-term environmental impact from the use of persistent pesticides and the lack of chemical residues on edible components of the crop. Several commercial microorganism-based products have been created and are beginning to gain popularity in the market. However, due to biocontrol action’s diversity and inconsistency, large-scale usage is still limited. In some circumstances, this might be due to the biocontrol agents’ susceptibility to environmental impacts.
There are several ways to overcome biocontrol limitations and increase its performance. One such way is a combination of biocontrol agents with fungicides. Compatibility of any bioagent with fungicides is a key to developing an efficient disease management module vis-à-vis disease control, resistance management, environmental safety and economy.
Need to boost and promote natural farming startups
From 2010-2011, the organic market in India witnessed considerable growth. According to a TechSci Research report, ‘India Organic Food Market By Product Type, Competition Forecast and Opportunities, 2011 – 2021’, India’s organic food market is estimated to grow at a CAGR of over 25% during 2016-2021. With the rising environmental and health problems, more and more people are becoming cautious of the harmful effects of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and other artificial chemicals used for food production. There is growing consensus among people about the benefits of using Organic products. This unique rise in demand has resulted in creating an opportunity for many to come up with great and novel ideas in the shape of startups with unique business models, aimed at solving this modern-day crisis.
The authors are associated with SKUAST-K, Shalimar
Let’s Revive the Organic way of Healing
The Himalayas are identified as one of the global biodiversity hotspots, with high species richness due to ecological, phytogeographic, and evolutionary factors. There are around 18,440 plant species (25.3 % of which are indigenous), 1748 medicinal plant species, and 675 wild edible species. For populations living in mountainous locations, collecting and, more lately, marketing MAPs has offered a significant source of income. The long-term viability of such plants is inextricably linked to future Himalayan potential. Plants are still used for primary healthcare in many cultures around the world, and medicinal herbs have long been used in traditional healthcare systems. With recent developments in plant sciences, the usage of plant-based health products has increased dramatically in both developing and industrialized countries. Around the world, 70–80% of people use medicinal plants as their primary health care. The demand for medical plant-based raw materials is increasing at a pace of 15 to 25% per year and is expected to exceed $5 trillion by 2050. The medicinal plant trade in India is estimated to be worth around $1 billion per year. The World Health Organization tried to identify all medical plants used worldwide and identified over 20,000 species. Kashmir Himalayas has a diverse range of medicinal plants due to topographical diversity.
JAMMU & KASHMIR AS HERBAL DRUG STORE
Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), an Indian Himalayan state, is rich in biodiversity with a rich medicinal flora. The Kashmir valley referred to as Terrestrial Paradise has abundant biodiversity that adorns Kashmir’s beauty. The region is endowed with a rich diversity of medicinal plants due to its phyto-geographical location within the North-Western Himalayas. The scientific documentation of medicinal flora diversity, distribution, and traditional usage could be crucial in the conservation and long-term utilization of these valuable plant resources in this Himalayan state. Some of the medicinal plants that are widely found in Jammu and Kashmir include Aconitum heterophyllum, Berberis aristata, Artemesia absinthium, Atropa acuminata, Trillium govanianum, Saussurea costus, Picrorhiza kurroa, Withania somnifera, Acorus calamus; among the most significant aromatic herbs are Levandula officinalis, Rosmarinus officinalis, Organium vulgare, Podophyllum hexandrum, Hippophae rhamnoides, Dactylorhiza hatagirea, and Arnebia benthamii. Medicinal and aromatic plants (MAP) conservation and production are becoming increasingly important. In India, MAPs are collected/cultivated in a variety of climate and soil conditions, ranging from the seacoast to the high Himalayas. The preservation and development of medicinal and aromatic plants is a top priority in Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, which represent temperate, alpine, and cold dry region zones.The medicinal plant market is still developing and is largely unregulated. Local residents in the region collect and trade medicinal herbs in order to meet their basic requirements for livelihood. According to local medicinal plant collectors and traders, demand for particular species such as Aconitum heterophyllum, Angelica glauca, Podophyllum hexandrum, Ephedra gerardiana, and Saussurea costus is quite high, but supply is low due to rare populations and lack of cultivation.
MEDICINAL & AROMATIC PLANTS SIGNIFICANCE: NATURE’S MEDICINE
Medicinal plants are rapidly becoming valuable bio-resource. Without a doubt, their effectiveness in managing human ailments while causing no negative effects has earned a widespread reputation for these useful species. Given the high cost and side effects of modern medicine, traditional knowledge and practices of medicinal plants against various diseases, such as asthma, diarrhoea, throat infections, rheumatism, ulcer, poliomyelitis, abdominal pain, body swellings, cough, burns, wounds, allergies, general weakness, etc., are extremely important. Some of the medicinal plants, including Rheum species, Artemisia species, Ephedra species, and Salvia species, have been demonstrated in recent scientific studies to be useful in treating COVID-19.
DEVELOPMENTAL STRATEGIES FOR THE HERBAL MEDICINE INDUSTRY
The growth of sustainable medicinal herbs offers a great chance to capitalize on the growing market while guaranteeing a consistent supply for local communities. Industry growth strategy for herbal medicine over 100 million hectares of wastelands are currently idle, depriving the income generating options while also posing a major threat to the ecosystem and environment. These kinds of lands can be used to grow medicinal herbs, which are in high demand. Establishing contact with bulk consumers can help to boost commercial medical herb cultivation. The following actions are recommended for a successful promotion of the herbal medicine business in Jammu & Kashmir.
- Plant species with therapeutic characteristics need to be identified and herbariums should be established.
- Assessment of demand & supply status relating to medicinal plants.
- Standardization of propagation and cultivation procedures in order to produce superior grade herbal materials.
- Validation for the use of numerous medicinal herbs in the treatment of various ailments, as well as standardization of protocols and documentation.
- Assisting collectors and growers to store, transport and market their herbal products.
- Research to develop effective herbal medications to treat diverse ailments, particularly newly emerging diseases, should be strengthened.
- Herbal medicine should be taught as a core subject in medical schools that deal with various systems.
- Popularization of diverse herbal medications through workshops, training, social marketing, and public awareness.
- Establishing primary processing, grading, marketing, and other facilities in coordination with local stakeholders and organizations.
- Traditional healers and Ayurveda practitioners should be supported through knowledge sharing, networking, the provision of superior quality germplasm, and connections with farmers for raw material supply.
The demand for medicinal herbs has risen dramatically in recent years on both national and international markets. Traditional medicines have seen a return in popularity in recent decades, both as alternative cures and in the pharmaceutical industry. There seems to be a lack of attention in current research to maintain the sustainable use of these valuable plant species. Plant species that only grow in the wild and are not cultivated, need to be conserved. The long-term protection and sustainable use of their source species must be prioritized if plant elements to promote human health are to be made available in the future.
Writers are research scholars from SKUAST Kashmir
J&K’s Dwindling Corrugation Industry
J&K’s Dwindling Corrugation Industry! The corrugation industry is a sub-category of the paper industry. It essentially deals with the manufacturing of customised boxes made from the amalgamation of cardboard, kraft paper, adhesives, stitching, wiring etc. Corrugation boxes are an improvisation over ordinary cardboard boxes. These boxes are stronger, durable, environment friendly, cost-effective, sustainable, recyclable and easy to customise. The corrugation industry has revolutionised the modern-day world because of its environment-friendly nature. The main output produced by this industry is (customised) packaging material for multiple purposes across various intermediate and final uses.
India’s corrugation market is estimated to be worth Rs 30,000 crore. Over time, this sector has grown steadily and sustainably. Given the enormous size of the Indian economy, there has always been a high demand for the goods and services supplied by this sector. It has consistently been a highly popular business among potential entrepreneurs. The Covid-19 pandemic has, however, caused this industry to experience a recent nationwide decline. The cost of all raw materials, including the fuel for running the machinery and the cost of transportation, has skyrocketed. The sector has been further restricted by the limited import of less expensive raw materials and the increased tax burden on businesses.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the corrugation industry is directly linked to the horticulture sector. Cardboard boxes have replaced traditional wooden boxes for apple packaging to a large extent. Though the corrugation industry of J&K produces boxes for beverages, bakery, medicines, yoghurt, processed foods etc. apart from horticulture the main demand comes from the latter itself. As such the corrugation industry has been a very popular venture amongst the potential entrepreneurs in J&K. However, the post-pandemic world hasn’t been the same for the corrugators of J&K. The corrugation industry in the region has been running in losses since the beginning of the pandemic.
All of a sudden it was decided that the GST on the corrugated boxes would be increased by 6 percentage points. Initially, the purchase sale tax was 12% and so was the sales tax. After this decision, while the purchase tax is the same, the sales tax has increased to 18%. There is a direct 6% dead weight loss created, the brunt of which is born by the manufacturer. Meanwhile, the rates of the boxes have tended to remain constant declining the profit of the manufacturers by a big slash.
The first blow came with the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic right in China. Kraft paper, one of the essential raw materials, is imported into India from China. As soon as the pandemic was declared the imports were halted and the basic raw material shortage was felt. Steadily this had to be substituted with the indigenous craft paper which increased the cost of production. Other imported substitutes coming from the rest of the world also got expensive and the production cost of the industry rose immediately. This sudden nature of the shock gave the least time to the corrugators of J&K to come to terms with the outcomes.
Another major shock came with the updated taxation decision from the ministry of finance. All of a sudden it was decided that the GST on the corrugated boxes would be increased by 6 percentage points. Initially, the purchase sale tax was 12% and so was the sales tax. After this decision, while the purchase tax is the same, the sales tax has increased to 18%. There is a direct 6% dead weight loss created, the brunt of which is born by the manufacturer. Meanwhile, the rates of the boxes have tended to remain constant declining the profit of the manufacturers by a big slash.
The most important source of demand for corrugated boxes however comes from the horticulture sector in the region. And here the major concern is the competition given to the locally manufactured corrugation boxes by the imported ones coming from the neighbouring states. There are two main reasons behind this competition. One of the reasons quoted by the local manufacturers is that the business houses outside J&K are multi-project ventures, keeping the cost of production very low for the producers. As such, in the local market, these boxes are sold at a cheaper rate than those coming from our local producers. The second reason comes from the consumers who claim that the boxes coming from outside are not only superior in quality but are affordable too. The joint impact of both these reasons is a decline faced by this otherwise brimming and quoted ‘high potential’ industry in the region.
Another important local source of demand for the corrugation industry of J&K is the beverage industry located across the region. Corrugation boxes have been a preferred choice for these units. However, the growing prices of these boxes have forced this industry to look for alternatives and substitutes. After a brief research, it turns out that the beverage industry is substituting corrugation boxes with plastic and polythene packaging. At the same time posing a long-run threat to the fragile environment of the region!
In Kashmir, the corrugation business has a direct and indirect impact on about 20,000 households. These people in a majority of the cases are not affiliated with any other economic activity. A loss to this industry will impact the members across all these households. In light of these events and factual realities, there arise some critical policy implications. For starters, the local government must restrain the unquestionable import of corrugation boxes from the rest of the country. Given that the horticulture sector is at the back of this industry, it is important that the two grow mutually and with an interdependence that is conjointly and positively reinforcing the overall growth. Immediate intervention and curtailment of the taxes is the most pressing pre-requisite for the sustenance and then eventual growth of this sector. From a longer-run perspective, the use of corrugation products instead of plastic and polythene is J&K is the basic need to keep up with the fragile ecosystem that the region is bestowed with.
The authors work with the Department of Economics, Islamic University of Science & Technology & can be reached at [email protected]
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