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Russian oil & arms: It’s kettle calling the pot black

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Some 45 countries purchase arms and defence systems from Russia, but almost all of them have voted against it at the US in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. The US and the European Union (EU) have all but singled out India for criticism, knowing well what India has been doing for six decades when they were not ready to meet India’s defence needs. The fact is that many of them deal with Russia, eager to trade and make investments, to suite their “national interests”. They have done that with Myanmar, Libya, Iraq and Iran when there were governments whose policies they did not approve.

The government imposed sanctions, but their traders and corporates, including multi-national corporations, traded and invested in these ‘sanctioned’ countries. A similar process is about to begin in Afghanistan, although no government in the world is prepared to recognise the Taliban regime. As with oil, it is so with arms for which India cannot wish away its dependence on Russia, a friend and an ally that cast its veto and helped India six times in the past at the UN Security Council.

India’s imports from Russia, besides collaboration of systems like Brahmos missile, are estimated at between 60 to 85 per cent. US President Joe Biden said that India, an “exception” among major US allies, “has been somewhat shaky” on Western sanctions punishing Russia’s war on Ukraine. On the other hand, the US has tentatively said that India’s defence purchases do not violate the sanctions, but India should, nevertheless, go slow on it. India’s purchase of the Triumf missile system has been ‘cleared’, while reservations persist on other defence imports from Russia. In the past, such ‘clearance’ was demanded of India for its imports of T-90 tanks from Ukraine.

An energy hungry India is also being targeted for purchasing Russian oil to meet its growing demand. It is a repeat story of what had happened when it purchased oil from Iran. While India imports most of its oil requirements from Saudi Arabia, and only 2-3 per cent from Russia, Indian Oil Corporation, the biggest state-owned fuel retailer, has reportedly bought around 3 million barrels of oil from Russia at a discounted price in the aftermath of the Russian offensive in Ukraine. Principal sources of import of crude oil by I n d i a a r e : Iraq 23 per cent, Saudi Arabia 18 per cent, the UAE 11.3 per cent, Nigeria 8 per cent and the US 7.3 per cent. It may be pointed out here that Russia is not in top 10 source

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Can cities fine homeless for sleeping in parks and on sidewalks

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The most significant case in decades on homelessness has reached the Supreme Court as record numbers of people in America are without a permanent place to live.

The justices on Monday will consider a challenge to rulings from a California-based appeals court that found punishing people for sleeping outside when shelter space is lacking amounts to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

A political cross section of officials in the West and California, home to nearly one-third of the nation’s homeless population, argue those decisions have restricted them from “common sense” measures intended to keep homeless encampments from taking over public parks and sidewalks.

Advocacy groups say the decisions provide essential legal protections, especially with an increasing number of people forced to sleep outdoors as the cost of housing soars.

The case before the Supreme Court comes from Grants Pass, a small city nestled in the mountains of southern Oregon, where rents are rising and there is just one overnight shelter for adults. As a growing number of tents clustered its parks, the city banned camping and set $295 fines for people sleeping there.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals largely blocked the camping ban under its finding that it is unconstitutional to punish people for sleeping outside when there is not adequate shelter space. Grants Pass appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing the ruling left it few good options.

“It really has made it impossible for cities to address growing encampments, and they’re unsafe, unhealthy and problematic for everyone, especially those who are experiencing homelessness,” said lawyer Theane Evangelis, who is representing Grants Pass.

The city is also challenging a 2018 decision, known as Martin v. Boise, that first barred camping bans when shelter space is lacking. It was issued by the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit and applies to the nine Western states in its jurisdiction. The Supreme Court declined to take up a different challenge to the ruling in 2019, before the solidification of its current conservative majority.

If the decision is overturned, advocates say it would make it easier for cities to deal with homelessness by arresting and fining people rather than helping them get shelter and housing.

“In Grants Pass and across America, homelessness has grown because more and more hardworking people struggle to pay rent, not because we lack ways to punish people sleeping outside,” said Jesse Rabinowitz, campaign and communications director for the National Homeless Law Center. Local laws prohibiting sleeping in public spaces have increased at least 50% since 2006, he said.

The case comes after homelessness in the United States grew by 12%, to its highest reported level as soaring rents and a decline in coronavirus pandemic assistance combined to put housing out of reach for more people, according to federal data. Four in 10 people experiencing homelessness sleep outside, a federal report found.

More than 650,000 people are estimated to be homeless, the most since the country began using the yearly point-in-time survey in 2007. People of color, LGBTQ+ people and seniors are disproportionately affected, advocates said. Two of four states with the country’s largest homeless populations, Washington and California, are in the West. Officials in cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco say they do not want to punish people simply because they are forced to sleep outside, but that cities need the power to keep growing encampments in check.

“I never want to criminalize homelessness, but I want to be able to encourage people to accept services and shelter,” said Thien Ho, the district attorney in Sacramento, California, where homelessness has risen sharply in recent years.

San Francisco says it has been blocked from enforcing camping regulations because the city does not have enough shelter space for its full homeless population, something it estimates would cost $1.5 billion to provide.

“These encampments frequently block sidewalks, prevent employees from cleaning public thoroughfares, and create health and safety risks for both the unhoused and the public at large,” lawyers for the city wrote. City workers have also encountered knives, drug dealing and belligerent people at encampments, they said.

Several cities and Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom urged the high court to keep some legal protections in place while reining in “overreach” by lower courts. The Martin v. Boise ruling allows cities to regulate and “sweep” encampments, but not enforce total bans in communities without enough beds in shelters.

The Justice Department also backed the idea that people shouldn’t be punished for sleeping outside when they have nowhere else to go, but said the Grants Pass ruling should be tossed out because 9th Circuit went awry by not defining what it means to be “involuntarily homeless.”

Evangelis, the lawyer for Grants Pass, argues that the Biden administration’s position would not solve the problem for the Oregon city.

“It would be impossible for cities to really address the homelessness crisis,” she said.

Public encampments are not good places for people to live, said Ed Johnson, who represents people living outside in Grants Pass as director of litigation at the Oregon Law Center. But enforcement of camping bans often makes homelessness worse by requiring people to spend money on fines rather than housing or creating an arrest record that makes it harder to get an apartment.

Public officials should focus instead on addressing shortages of affordable housing so people have places to live, he said.

“It’s frustrating when people who have all the power throw up their hands and say, ‘there’s nothing we can do,’” he said. “People have to go somewhere.”

The Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of June.

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India’s overall exports in FY24 at $ 776.68 bn passes FY23 nos, trade deficit improves 35.77 %

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Overall trade deficit significantly improved by 35.77 per cent to USD 78.12 billion in FY24 from USD 121.62 billion in FY23.

Despite persistent global challenges, India’s overall exports (merchandise + services) in financial year 2023-24 (FY24) reached USD 776.68 billion, surpassing the USD 776.40 billion of overall exports achieved in 2022- 23 (FY23) with a growth of 0.04 per cent year-on-year as electronic goods, drugs and pharmaceuticals, engineering goods, iron ore, cotton yarn/fabs./made-ups, handloom products etc. and ceramic products and glassware delivered strong numbers. Overall imports in FY24 (April-March) declined 4.81 per cent at USD 854.80 billion. Overall trade deficit significantly improved by 35.77 per cent to USD 78.12 billion in FY24 from USD 121.62 billion in FY23.

The country’s robust performance in external trade is underlined by the highest monthly merchandise exports in March 2024 at USD 41.68 billion as compared to USD 41.96 billion in March 2023 while imports were USD 57.28Billion, as compared to USD 60.92 billion in March 2023. Services maintained upward momentum with India exporting USD 339.62 billion of services in FY24 compared to USD 325.33 billion in FY23. The country achieved services trade surplus of USD 162.05 billion in FY24 with services imports coming at USD 177.56 billion in FY24 as compared to USD 182.05 billion in FY23.

Ashwani Kumar, President, FIEO points out that the achievement in overall export figures for the FY24 is impressive despite Russia Ukraine war, Red Sea crisis, tight monetary stance by the developed world and falling commodity prices posing challenges. Aditi Nayar Chief Economist ICRA notes that India’s merchandise trade deficit eased to an 11-month low of USD15.6 billion in March 2024, led by a larger yoy decline in merchandise imports vis-à-vis such exports, while also trailing the levels seen in the year-ago month. This comes amid a halving of gold imports and a fall in non-oil non-gold imports. “This is expected to augur well for the current account number in Q4 FY2024, which may witness a small, transient surplus of USD1-2 billion in the quarter,” says Nayar.

On a slight downside, in FY24, merchandise exports declined to USD 437.06 billion as against USD 451.07 billion during FY23 while imports came down to USD 677.24 billion as against USD 715.97 billion during FY 23. This however, lowered merchandise trade deficit for FY 24 at estimated at USD 240.17 billion as against USD 264.90 billion during FY 23. India’s exports of merchandise and services combined in March 2024 at USD 70.21 billion also dipped 3.01 per cent over March 2023 while overall imports in March 2024 at USD 73.12 billion, exhibited a negative growth of 6.11 per cent over March 2023. Overall trade deficit is estimated to significantly improve by 35.77% from USD 121.62 Billion in FY 2022-23 to USD 78.12 Billion in FY 2023-24; Merchandise trade deficit improves by 9.33% at USD 240.17 Billion in the current FY as compared to USD 264.90 Billion in FY 2022-23.

Among main drivers of merchandise export growth in FY 2023-24, non-petroleum and non-gems and jewellery goods which comprises basket of gold, silver and precious metals, grew to USD 33.67 billion, compared to USD 30.87 billion in March 2023. The same basket of imports in March 2024 were USD 35.21 billion, compared to USD 36.51 billion in March 2023. In FY24, non-petroleum and non-gems and jewellery exports increased by 1.45 per cent to USD 320.21 billion, as compared to USD 315.64 billion in FY23. The imports of this basket of goods were USD 422.80 billion in FY24 compared to USD 435.54 billion in FY23.

In a sectoral show of strength, electronic goods exports increased by 23.64 per cent from USD 23.55 billion in FY 2022-23 to USD 29.12 billion in FY 2023-24 while drugs and pharmaceuticals exports increase by 9.67 per cent from USD 25.39 billion in FY 2022-23 to USD 27.85 billion in FY 2023- 24. Engineering goods exports increased by 2.13 per cent from USD 107.04 billion in FY 2022-23 to USD 109.32 billion in FY 2023-24. Exports of agricultural commodities namely tobacco grew 19.46 per cent, fruits and vegetables grew 13.86 per cent, meat, dairy and poultry products grew 12.34 per cent, spices grew 12.30 per cent, cereal preparations and miscellaneous processed items grew 8.96 per cent, oil seeds grew 7.43 per cent and oil meals exhibited positive growth of 7.01 per cent.

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Homes priced above INR 1 cr corner highest share ever in total sales, says report

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Sales of properties priced below Rs 50 lakh record dip in sales in the January-March quarter, according to Knight Frank.

According to a report released on Thursday by real estate consultancy Knight Frank, homes priced above Rs 1 crore commanded their largest-ever share of total sales, reaching 40 percent in the quarter ending on March 31. This marks a significant increase from the previous quarter’s 39 percent. The trend of such high-end homes gaining market share has been consistent, with their proportion steadily rising from 29 percent in Q1 2023 to 35 percent in Q3 of the same year.

The report, titled ‘India Real Estate: Office and Residential Report,’ highlights that between January and March 2024, a total of 34,895 homes priced above Rs 1 crore were sold, marking a substantial 51 percent increase compared to the same quarter in 2023. This surge in sales contributed to the overall growth in the residential market, with a total of 86,345 units sold in this price category, representing a 9 percent increase from Q1 2023 and the second-best quarter on record, following closely behind Q4 2023.

Shishir Baijal, chairman and managing director at Knight Frank India, commented on this trend, stating, “This not only demonstrates a strong demand trajectory but also reflects buyers’ confidence in making long-term commitments.”

Conversely, homes priced below Rs 50 lakh and between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 1 crore experienced a decline in sales volume. Sales of homes below Rs 50 lakh dropped from 25,714 units in Q1 2023 to 23,026 units in Q1 2024, accounting for 27 percent of total sales, significantly lower than its peak of 41 percent in Q1 2022. Similarly, homes priced between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 1 crore saw a 6 percent decrease in sales during the quarter, with 28,424 units sold, representing 33 percent of total sales, down from 38 percent last year.

The report also highlighted regional trends, indicating that the majority of homes priced above Rs 1 crore were sold in the National Capital Region (NCR), totaling 10,558 units, followed by Mumbai (7,401) and Hyderabad (6,112). In the NCR specifically, these high-end homes accounted for 68 percent of the total sales volume.

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WHO reports 8.6% surge in TB deaths in South-East Asia in 2021

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The tuberculosis mortality rate in the Southeast Asia region saw a rise of 8.6 percent in 2021 as compared to 2015, according to an official release from the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the release, the regional director of WHO, South-East Asia Region, Saima Wazed, said, “The TB mortality rate in the region increased by 8.6 percent in 2021 compared to 2015. The probability of death between the ages of 30 and 70 from four major diseases—cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases—is still unacceptably high at 21.6 percent.”

She added that the poorest and groups with vulnerabilities face the greatest barriers to accessing needed healthcare, often with catastrophic consequences for their health and well-being.

“Poor quality care accounts for more diseases and deaths than lack of access to care,” she said. The Regional Director stated further that gender inequality affects equitable access to diagnosis and treatment of non-communicable health conditions.

The WHO will focus the spotlight on the theme ‘My Health, My Right’ on World Health Day this year on April 7. According to an official press release from WHO, South East Asia, “In a world witnessing multiple crises, from diseases to disasters to conflicts and climate change, realizing people’s right to health is now more important than ever. To mark the foundation of the World Health Organization, the spotlight this year is on ‘My Health, My Right’, on World Health Day, celebrated on April 7.”

Wazed also expanded on the significance of acknowledging the ‘Right to Health’ for all. “Realizing the right to health for all means creating conditions where everyone, everywhere, can access high-quality health facilities, services, and goods that prioritize people’s needs, understanding, and dignity,” Wazed said. “It also means a full set of rights that enable people to live healthily, such as education, safe water and food, nutritious food, adequate housing, good working and environmental conditions, and information—or the underlying determinants of health,” she added. “To fulfill the right to health, both health services and the underlying determinants should be available, accessible, acceptable, and of adequate quality,” she said.

The right to the highest attainable standard of mental and physical health—or the right to health—has been core to the WHO’s mission, globally and in the region. It is enshrined in the WHO’s Constitution.

As WHO marks its seventy-sixth year on April 7, the Southeast Asia Region has seen many gains and has much to celebrate about the right to health. “The Universal Health Coverage Service Coverage Index has improved from 47 in 2010 to 62 in 2021. The average density of medical doctors, nurses, and midwives in the region stands at 28.05 per 10,000 population, up by 30.5 percent since 2015,” she said. “The region achieved a 68.5 percent reduction in the maternal mortality ratio between 2000 and 2020. The under-five mortality rate declined significantly from 84 per 1000 live births in 2000 to 29 per 1000 live births in 2021, and the neonatal mortality rate declined from 41 per 1000 live births in 2000 to 17 per 1000 live births in 2021. Between 2015 and 2021, new HIV infections declined by 25 percent and malaria incidence by 62 percent,” she added.

However, despite progress, we still have a considerable way to go to make the right to health a reality for all in the WHO South-East Asia Region, the Regional Director said. She added that despite global commitments to the right to health, nearly 40 percent of the region’s people lack coverage of essential health services. Investment in health by national governments, which is the foundation of advancing the right to health, is unacceptably low, which has resulted in high out-of-pocket expenditures, according to the release. The proportion of households experiencing financial hardship in accessing basic health care has been rising.

“Violence against women and girls—a violation of their human rights and a priority public health issue—remains pervasive. More than one in every three women in the region has experienced intimate partner violence at least once in their lifetime, with rural and uneducated women and those from the poorest households facing a significantly higher risk,” she said.

“Too many still face stigma related to certain health conditions, such as TB, HIV/AIDS, disability, or mental illness. They also face discrimination in the health system based on their gender, class, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or other characteristics,” the Regional Director said.

Wazed stated that equality and non-discrimination are core to a human rights-based approach to health. “A human rights-based approach also entails adherence to the principle of participation. For example, by ensuring that those most affected by certain health conditions or health policies and decisions have a say in how these decisions are made,” she said.

“Accountability is also integral to a human rights-based approach. For example, reporting back to affected groups and communities about the performance of the health system or health programs to address their needs,” she said.

All governments and other duty-bearers must respect, protect, and fulfill the right to health and other human rights, and to ensure their progressive realization, the WHO release went further, adding, “Governments need to increase investments in health—especially to advance universal health coverage grounded in a primary health care approach.

“Good laws can lay the foundation for more effective tobacco control, environmental protection, better nutrition, control of obesity and cardiovascular diseases, fair and equal working conditions, and much more. Health services need to be made more available, accessible, acceptable, and of better quality for all,” Wazed said.

“WHO is committed to advancing the right to health and other human rights. Let’s make the right to health a reality for all,” she added.

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Lanka Economy Records 4.5% Surge in Q4 2023: Central Bank

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Sri Lanka’s bankrupt economy is expected to grow by 4.5 per cent year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2023, following six consecutive negative quarters. In February, the Central Bank reported a decrease in headline inflation to 5.9 per cent from 6.4 per cent in January. The gross official reserves improved to 4.5 billion dollars by the end of February 2024. This includes a swap facility from the People’s Bank of China.

The Central Bank announced on Tuesday that Sri Lanka’s economy, which had been experiencing six successive quarters of negative growth, is estimated to have recorded a growth of 4.5 per cent year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2023. Positive growth was only seen in the third quarter of 2023, following six successive quarters of negative growth experienced by the cash-strapped economy.

The headline inflation, as measured by the year-on-year change in the Colombo Consumer Price Index, had decelerated to 5.9% in February from 6.4% in January. The gross official reserves improved to 4.5 billion dollars by the end of February 2024, which includes the swap facility from the People’s Bank of China. Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said the reserve buildup was better than the Central Bank’s expectations. “The reserve buildup was supported by considerable net purchases by the Central Bank from the domestic foreign exchange market amidst increased foreign currency inflows compared to outflows,” Weerasinghe said. “The Sri Lankan rupee, which appreciated by 12.1% against the US dollar in 2023, continued to show an appreciation of 6.7% thus far in 2024,” he said.

Governor Weerasinghe said the agreements on debt restructuring with sovereign bond-holders could be completed by June in time for the next review of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout programme. Governor said despite the sovereign default, the commercial loans granted by India along with currency swaps with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) continue to be serviced. In early 2022, amidst the onset of the economic crisis, India’s provision of a 4 billion USD assistance package served as a vital lifeline for Sri Lanka, enabling the importation of fuel and essential goods.

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Exploring How Japan’s Medical Technology Fuels India’s Healthcare Landscape

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Statistics suggest that India has approximately 2.8 million hospital beds, including both private and public. Therefore, there are 1.7 beds per 1,000 people in comparison with developed nations that have around 2.5 to 3.

Amidst the escalating global disease burden, healthcare providers worldwide are intensifying efforts to expedite delivery systems and implement more precise treatment therapies, aiming for swifter patient recovery outcomes. Correspondingly, healthcare stakeholders in India are actively enhancing procedures for high-risk treatments, striving for greater precision and efficacy.

Concurrently, the Indian government’s successful efforts in attracting major global medical device players from countries like Japan, Germany, and the USA have facilitated the introduction of advanced devices and therapies, revolutionizing treatment methodologies and improving treatment outcomes for high-risk diseases. Medical Technology Association of India (MTaI) has earlier recommended Japan as the preferred choice for medtech imports instead of China. Notably, India’s policy allowing 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) under automatic routes for both Greenfield and Brownfield setups has encouraged global investors to participate in the healthcare sector.

The burgeoning adoption of Japanese medical technology in India marks a significant shift in the nation’s healthcare landscape, promising ground breaking innovations and collaborations that stand to revolutionize healthcare delivery nationwide. This trend is propelled by Japan’s renowned expertise in precision engineering and advanced medical devices, with Japanese companies leading the development of cutting-edge technologies in areas like diagnostic imaging, surgical robotics, and regenerative medicine. Collaborations between Japanese and Indian firms have played a pivotal role.

These collaborations facilitate technology and knowledge transfer, empowering Indian healthcare providers to leverage Japanese expertise while tailoring solutions to local needs. The contribution of Japan also extends notably to advancing cardiovascular treatment methodologies in India. One of the noteworthy instances of investment involves Terumo India’s introduction of Ultimaster Nagomi, a Drug Eluting Stent (DES) for treating coronary artery disease, reflecting their commitment to investing in next-generation stents to enhance the safety and efficacy of coronary artery treatments in India. Additionally, Terumo India recently unveiled innovative therapies like B-TACE for managing liver cancer in India. Through Occlusafe, Terumo’s B-TACE device offers patients a more precise and targeted delivery of chemotherapy drugs to the tumour, while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissues.

Numerous other investments are made in India, such as Omron Healthcare’s manufacturing unit launch in Tamil Nadu and the collaboration between Japan Lifeline and Meril Sciences to promote medical devices or therapies. Statistics suggest that India has approximately 2.8 million hospital beds, including both private and public. Therefore, there are 1.7 beds per 1,000 people in comparison with developed nations that have around 2.5 to 3. Despite India’s cadre of proficient doctors and expanding healthcare infrastructure, comprehensive coverage remains elusive, hindering healthcare accessibility for many.

Addressing this challenge is crucial for optimizing the country’s healthcare resources and ensuring equitable access to healthcare opportunities. Further, the country needs to reduce the cost of healthcare and invest in technology to create better patient experience and clinical outcomes. As India grapples with healthcare challenges amid rapid urbanization, demographic shifts, and the burden of non-communicable diseases, the influx of Japanese medical technology offers hope.

By embracing innovation and forging strategic partnerships, India stands to leverage Japanese expertise for a healthier and more prosperous future. The surge of Japanese medical technology in India signifies not only technological advancement but also the power of collaboration and shared vision in driving positive change in healthcare delivery, promising transformative impacts across the Indian subcontinent.

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