Health policies to cover mental illness
Insurance regulator IRDAI has issued a circular directing insurers to cover mental illness, which has reached serious proportions in the country.
What’s the issue?
The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 — which came into force from May 29 — has made it mandatory to provide “for medical insurance for treatment of mental illness on the same basis as is available for treatment of physical illness”.
But to date, none of India’s 33 insurers has introduced a product that covers ailments such as depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, even though such covers are commonplace in many countries.
Significance of this step:
The change has been long overdue. This is being seen as a progressive step. This will ensure a life of dignity to those who have mental health issues. It will create awareness, acceptance, and inclusion of mental illness as any other physical ailment. It will ‘normalise’ diagnoses, by reducing associated myths and stigma.
Mental health conditions have always been in the list of exclusions of health insurance policies. The only exceptions to this have been the coverage of development conditions such as autism and Down’s syndrome by the National Health Insurance Scheme, and a few private schemes like Star Health Insurance’s cover for autistic children.
What is mental illness?
As per the Mental Healthcare Act, mental illness means a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgement, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life. It also includes mental conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs, but does not include mental retardation which is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind of a person. The Act further states that every person with mental illness will be treated as equal to persons with physical illness when it comes to healthcare, including health insurance.
Brus of Mizoram
The Union Home Ministry has agreed to relax conditions laid down in the ‘four-corner agreement’ signed with Bru migrants for their repatriation from Tripura to Mizoram.
- In a major breakthrough on repatriation laced Bru persons from Mizoram, an agreement was signed by Government of India, Governments of Mizoram and Tripura and Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF) in July 2018.
- As per the agreement, the central government will provide financial assistance for rehabilitation of Bru community members in Mizoram and address their issues of security, education, livelihood, etc. in consultation with the governments of Mizoram and Tripura.
- According to the agreement, the Mizoram government would ensure security for all repatriated refugees who were identified and verified as per the 1997 electoral rolls of Mizoram.
- The agreement also provides for free ration for two years and a monthly assistance of Rs 5,000 for each family.
- According to the initial agreement, the cash assistance was to be provided only after three years of uninterrupted stay in Mizoram. As per the latest changes, for those (Brus) who are willing to return to Mizoram, the government might relax the period of stay for cash assistance of Rs 4 lakh from three years to two or even one and a half years. Refugees may also be allowed to withdraw 90% of the Rs 4 lakh assistance as bank loan immediately after their return.
- The Centre may also dilute the conditions in place for financial assistance. According to the original agreement, a house building assistance of Rs 1.5 lakh was to be disbursed in three instalments. This could now be relaxed further, with those Bru refugees building a house on their return to Mizoram being allowed to take the Rs 1.5 lakh assistance in a single installment or two.
What’s the issue?
A bout of ethnic violence forced thousands of people from the Bru tribe to leave their homes in Mizoram. As many as 32,876 people belonging to 5,407 families are living in the refugee camps in the Jampui Hills of Tripura.
- The displaced Bru people from Mizoram have been living in various camps in Tripura since 1997. In 1997, the murder of a Mizo forest guard at the Dampa Tiger Reserve in Mizoram’s Mamit district allegedly by Bru militants led to a violent backlash against the community, forcing several thousand people to flee to neighbouring Tripura.
- The Bru militancy was a reactionary movement against Mizo nationalist groups who had demanded in the mid-1990s that the Brus be left out of the state’s electoral rolls, contending that the tribe was not indigenous to Mizoram.
Who are Brus?
The Brus, also referred to as the Reangs, are spread across the northeastern states of Tripura, Assam, Manipur, and Mizoram.
NABARD study on farm household
NABARD has released its report on All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey 2016-17.
Definition of agricultural household:
The survey covered a sample of 1.88 lakh people from 40,327 rural households. Only 48% of these are defined as agricultural households, which have at least one member self-employed in agriculture and which received more than ₹5,000 as value of produce from agricultural activities over the past year, whether they possessed any land or not.
Highlights of the survey:
- More than half the agricultural households in the country have outstanding debt, and their average outstanding debt is almost as high as the average annual income of all agricultural households.
- NABARD found that 52.5% of the agricultural households had an outstanding loan on the date of the survey, and thus were considered indebted. For non-agricultural households in rural India, that figure was 10 percentage points lower, at only 42.8%.
- Agricultural households reporting any outstanding debt also had a higher debt liability compared with non-agricultural ones.
- The average debt of an indebted agricultural household stood at ₹1,04,602 in comparison to ₹76,731 for indebted non-agricultural households.
Reasons for taking loans:
- The biggest reason for taking loans among agricultural households was capital expenditure for agricultural purposes, with a quarter of all loans taken for this purpose.
- While 19% of loans were taken for meeting running expenses for agricultural purposes, another 19% were taken for sundry domestic needs. Loans for housing and medical expenses stood at 11% and 12%, respectively.
- While all classes of farmers had debt, the highest incidence of indebtedness came from those owning more than two hectares of land. In that category, 60% of households are in debt.
- Among small and marginal farmers owning less than 0.4 hectares, slightly less than 50% of the households were in debt. Those with more land were more likely to have multiple loans.
- This may be attributed to the fact that these economically better-off households are more eligible for taking loans as they have enough assets to serve as security against the loans taken.
State- wise variation:
The southern States of Telangana (79%), Andhra Pradesh (77%), and Karnataka (74%) showed the highest levels of indebtedness among agricultural households, followed by Arunachal Pradesh (69%), Manipur (61%), Tamil Nadu (60%), Kerala (56%), and Odisha (54%).
Looking at loans taken between July 2015 and June 2016, the survey found that farm households took less than half their loans from commercial banks. While 46% of the loans were taken from commercial banks, and another 10% from self-help groups, almost 40% were taken from non-institutional sources such as relatives, friends, moneylenders and landlords.
Annual income of households:
According to the survey, the average annual income of an agricultural household is ₹1.07 lakh. That is barely ₹2,500 more than the average outstanding debt of indebted farm households.
These are a new type of gold in the form of very small crystals developed by researchers from Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bengaluru.
The microcystallites were synthesised by decomposing an organic complex containing gold and other ions under controlled conditions.
Key features of Microcystallites:
- The newly formed microcystallites, about 3 micrometre in length were found to be of a different crystal structure.
- Normal gold has a (face-centered) cubic structure, while the new ones exhibit deformed cubic structure — tetragonal and orthorhombic cells.
- The microcrystal gold has been found to be nobler than gold — it do not dissolve in mercury and Aqua regia (a mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid), and showed the least interaction with copper.
- Microcystallites are also more stable than the normal gold.
All these properties make these crystallites an ideal candidate for catalytic purposes. Gold in itself is not a catalyst but the new gold microcystallites have very active surfaces. More studies are needed to understand them fully in the context wide range of applications in the offing.
Ban on Petcoke
India has banned the import of pet coke for use as fuel, but has allowed shipments for use as feedstock in some industries.
What is allowed? Import of pet coke is allowed for only cement, lime kiln, calcium carbide and gasification industries, when used as the feedstock or in the manufacturing process on actual user condition.
- As the world’s largest consumer of pet coke, India imports over half its annual pet coke consumption of about 27 million tonnes, mainly from the United States. Local producers include Indian Oil Corp, Reliance Industries and Bharat Petroleum Corp.
- India is the world’s biggest consumer of petroleum coke, which is a dark solid carbon material that emits 11% more greenhouse gases than coal. Usage of pet coke, a dirtier alternative to coal, in the energy-hungry country has come under scrutiny due to rising pollution levels in major cities.
What is petcoke?
Petroleum coke, the bottom-of-the-barrel leftover from refining Canadian tar sands crude and other heavy oils, is cheaper and burns hotter than coal. But it also contains more planet-warming carbon and far more heart- and lung-damaging sulphur.
The petcoke burned in factories and plants is contributing to dangerously filthy air in India, which already has many of the world’s most polluted cities. It contains 17 times more sulfur than the limit set for coal, and a staggering 1,380 times more than for diesel.
Need for regulation:
The country has seen a dramatic increase in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions in recent years, concentrated in areas where power plants and steel factories are clustered. Those pollutants are converted into microscopic particles that lodge deep in the lungs and enter the bloodstream, causing breathing and heart problems.
Petcoke, critics say, is making a bad situation worse across India. About 1.1 million Indians die prematurely as a result of outdoor air pollution every year, according to the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and industry.
Telangana govt launches Disaster Response Force
Government of Telangana has launched for the first time Disaster Response Force (DRF) vehicles in the Hyderabad city.
- The vehicles will be parked at 24 locations with Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) DRF staff and they will reach the emergency spots in no time.
- The main aim to start this DRF is that a state should have its own Disaster force.
- DRF personnel have been trained in tackling of flooding, tree falls, structural collapses and any other site of normal emergencies.
- DRF has been first brought on to the ground with 120 personal with 8 specialised vehicles and other equipment’s which are required.
US technology giants plan to intensify lobbying efforts against stringent Indian data localisation requirements, which they say will undermine their growth ambitions in India.
U.S trade groups, representing companies such as Amazon, American Express and Microsoft, have opposed India’s push to store data locally. That push comes amid rising global efforts to protect user data but is one that could hit planned investments by the firms in the Indian market, where the companies currently have limited data storage.
Though a final decision hasn’t been made, the deliberations come while the United States and India are locked in a dispute over US tariff increases and on the Indian policy of capping prices of medical devices, which hurts American pharmaceutical companies. The issue could further undermine already strained economic relations between India and the United States.
What does Data Localization mean?
Data localization is the act of storing data on any device that is physically present within the borders of a specific country where the data was generated. Free flow of digital data, especially data which could impact government operations or operations in a region, is restricted by some governments. Many attempt to protect and promote security across borders, and therefore encourage data localization.
Goals set in the Draft National Digital Communications Policy 2018, along with various government notifications and guidelines such as Reserve Bank of India’s notification on Payment Data Storage 2018, and the Guidelines for Government Departments for Contractual Terms related to Cloud Storage 2017, show signs of data localisation.
The rationale behind such mandates has been attributed to various factors, such as: securing citizen’s data, data privacy, data sovereignty, national security, and economic development of the country. The extensive data collection by technology companies, due to their unfettered access and control of user data, has allowed them to freely process and monetise Indian users’ data outside the country.
Why technology firms are worried?
Stricter localisation norms would help India get easier access to data when conducting investigations, but critics say it could lead to increased government demands for data access. Technology firms worry the mandate would hurt their planned investments by raising costs related to setting up new local data centres.
Why government is in favour of data localisation?
- Greater use of digital platforms in India for shopping or social networking have made it a lucrative market for technology companies, but a rising number of data breaches have pushed New Delhi to develop strong data protection rules.
- Also, minimal or deregulated governance on critical data, due to absence of localisation requirements, could be detrimental to India’s national security as data would be outside the purview of existing data protection legislation. The ineffectiveness of Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs) in this realm aggravates such government fears.
- In addition to these, India also aspires to become a global hub for, among others, cloud computing, data hosting and international data centres, all of which are prompting the government to enact data localisation requirements for accelerating the nation’s economic growth, especially in the sphere of digital technologies.
Is data localisation the solution to physical data access and decryption of enciphered data? Can data localisation be conflated with access?
The proposed law by Srikrishna Committee cannot be a knee-jerk reaction to some events; it has to be in line with the SC judgement, which supports the march of technology, innovations, growth of knowledge, and big data analytics for the growth of economies, and for better services to citizens. It recognizes the role of data driven innovation (DDI) for the growth of economies, and for job creation. But it emphasises that the data so collected be utilised for legitimate purposes.
Though these policy goals are justifiable, a deeper analysis is required to determine the possible adverse spill-over effects on relevant stakeholders in case a faulty roadmap is adopted to achieve them.
Adequate attention needs to be given to the interests of India’s Information Technology Enabled Services (ITeS) and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industries, which are thriving on cross-border data flow.