Author Archives: Atkin Shepherd

The Most Literate Village Of Asia Is From Uttar Pradesh

Dhorra Mafi village in Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh district has the distinction of being the most literate village, not only in India, but the whole of Asia.

With a literacy rate of 75 percent, the place entered the ‘Limca Book of Records’ in 2002 and now it is going through the registration phase to enter the ‘Guinness World Records’. With a radius of approximately 3 kilometres, the village lie in close proximity to Aligarh Muslim University. The place has a population of 20,000 and in spite of being self-sufficient with all necessary amenities, the village has not yet been included as a part of Aligarh city. A proposal has, however, been forwarded for consideration.

An estimated 44,000 homes will have to be built every day to meet PM Modi’s target of providing a home to all urban poor by 2022

6 hurdles to building 44,000 homes a day

 

Less than seven years are left for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious Housing for All scheme aimed at providing a home to all the urban poor by 2022—especially as

cities grow and migrants flow in from distressed rural areas.

This means an estimated 44,000 homes will have to be built every day or 16 million every year.

India Spend has identified six hurdles that the government must reckon with as it attempts to meet this target:

1. Cities are growing: Two Indian metros, Delhi and Mumbai were among the ten largest urban agglomerations in the world, as on 2014, while another, Kolkata is set to be among

the world’s top fifteen by 2030, according to the UN. There were 0.9 million homeless people in urban India as per the Census data of 2011, in addition to a slum population of

roughly 65 million. More than 90% of the ensuing housing shortage is constituted by what are called economically-weaker sections and low-income groups, according to

government data.

2. A migrant-flood is coming: People from India’s distressed rural areas, home to 833 million people, according to data released by the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC)

survey released earlier this month, are likely to flood into cities and towns in growing numbers as agricultural growth rates flounder. About 670 million people in rural areas live

on less than Rs 33 a day, as India Spend reported. India’s urban population is estimated to reach 600 million by 2031, up from about 380 million in 2011. Migrants make up a

sizeable chunk of India’s urban population, last estimated at 35 per cent by the National Sample Survey Organisation in 2007-08.

3. Indian slum populations are high: About 17 per cent of urban India–or about 65 million people–today live in slums. While these data are reflected in the Census, on a globally

comparable index, the proportion of urban population living in slums in India is high, as the chart below indicates.

4. Land will be hard to find: An estimated 2 lakh hectares of land will be required to build homes for the poor and plug housing shortages. To deal with the land shortage, some experts have called for vertical expansion by way of floor space index (FSI) relaxations. Mumbai has effected some FSI reform recently. However, most Indian cities are densely populated, with densities running into tens of thousands per square kilometre.

5. Maintaining standards will be a challenge: The sub-components of the Housing-For-All scheme include new units; credit-linked subsidies; beneficiary-led upgradation/construction; and upgrading/redevelopment of slum households. In the rush to build, the quality of construction will be a challenge. As the chart below shows, a third of existing housing units in India are already of a poor standard. This, of course, is not unlike several other emerging economies.

6. Breaking out of the regulatory maze: Among the most difficult challenges of Modi’s housing scheme would be the regulatory maze that enmeshes the construction-approval process in India, which the World Bank ranks as among the worst globally (see chart below). In India the approval process between land acquisition and commencement of construction can take as long as two years, real-estate consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle estimates.
Ease Of Getting Construction Permits Globally
Country                        Rank
South Africa                   32
Japan                              83
Bangladesh                    144
Russian Federation      156
Brazil                              174
China                              179
India                               184

Source: Ease of Doing Business, 2014 from World Bank

India’s 30 million year long ‘isolation’ was not so isolated, finds new study

Throwing fresh light on how India gradually drifted away from Africa and Madagascar and collided with the Eurasian plate, scientists now report India was by no means as isolated as we thought during its journey.

It was common belief among researchers that before it collided with the Eurasian plate, India was largely isolated for at least 30 million years during its migration.

The research was done by German, Polish and Indian scientists, with the Indian contribution coming from Hukam Singh, a scientists at the Birbal Sahni Institute of Paleosciences, Lucknow. The study is published in the peer reviewed journal PLOS ONE.
The insects, called ‘biting midges’ were less than a millimeter long and were fossilized in amber, a tree resin. They were discovered in the Cambay basin near Surat in Gujarat. Their age has been estimated at 54 million years ago, a time when the Indian plate should have been isolated and surrounded by oceans.
India harbours many unique species of flora and fauna that only occur in this form on the subcontinent. The prerequisite for such a unique development of species is that no exchange takes place with other regions. For a long time, scientists assumed that India was isolated in this way due to continental drift. The supercontinent Gondwana, which included South America, Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Madagascar and India, broke up over the course of geological history. What is now India also began moving towards the north east around 130 million years ago. It was common belief among researchers that, before it collided with the Eurasian plate, India was largely isolated for at least 30 million years during its migration. “Certain midges that occurred in India at this time display great similarity to examples of a similar age from Europe and Asia,” says lead author Frauke Stebner from the working group of Prof. Jes Rust at the Steinmann Institute at the University of Bonn.

 The scientist from the University of Bonn mined for amber in seams of coal near Surat. Small midges, among other things, were encased in tree resin 54 million years ago and preserved as fossils. Their descendants can still be found today in Germany in meadows and forests – where the little beasts attack you in swarms and suck your blood.
 The paleontologists investigated a total of 38 biting midges encased in amber and compared them with examples of a similar age from Europe and China. It has been possible to assign a total of 34 of these insect fossils to genera that are already known. “There was significant conformity with biting midges in amber from the Baltic and Fushun in north-east China,” reports Stebner.
 How the insects were able to spread between drifting India and Eurasia has not yet been clarified fully. Stebner assumes that a chain of islands that existed at that time between India, Europe and Asia could have helped the biting midges to spread. As if from stepping stone to stepping stone, the insects could have gradually moved forward along the islands. “Some of the biting midges found in Indian amber were presumably not especially good long-distance flyers,” smiles the paleontologist from the University of Bonn. It was therefore probably not so easy to reach the subcontinent or move from there during the migration of India

NIO discovers world’s first ancient settlement destroyed by tsunami

Marine archaeologists on Monday claimed to have discovered the world’s first ancient urban settlement, which could have been destroyed by a tsunami.dholavira map

Addressing a press conference here, National Institute of Oceanography Director S.W.A. Naqvi said that the archaeological site of Dholavira in the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, which was a well-planned urban settlement then, was destroyed by a tsunami around 3,450 years ago.

“This is the oldest site known to the world which we believe was hit by a tsunami,” he said.

Dholavira is a site of an ancient metropolitan town of the Harappan period and was known as the largest port-town of the Harappans which flourished around 5,000 years ago, until the tsunami destroyed it 3,450 years ago.

Dholavira, the second largest Harappan site located within the present borders of India, comprises three parts including a castle, the middle town and the lower town. A

“A unique feature of Dholavira is the presence of a 14-18 meters thick wall, apparently built as a protective measure against tsunamis,” said Rajiv Nigam, a lead scientist at the NIO.

Oldest human bone discovered in Tabuk

RIYADH: A joint research team comprising Saudi archaeologists and experts from Oxford University discovered the oldest human bone during an excavation at Tayma in Tabuk, a large oasis in the Nafud Desert with a long history of settlement.Tabuk
The bone found is the middle part of the middle finger of a human being who lived 90,000 years ago, the oldest human trace found to date in the Arabian Peninsula, an official from the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTNH) said. The announcement about the finding was recently made by SCTNH President Prince Sultan bin Salman during a speech at the Académie des Beaux-Arts (French Academy of Fine Arts), Asharq Al-Awsat, a sister publication of Arab News, reported.
According to the SCTNH, this archaeological finding is an important phase in research and excavation being carried out by the authorities with the help of the joint team that comprises experts from Oxford University, King Saud University, King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), Saudi Geological Survey, University of Hail and Saudi Aramco.
It is indeed an important achievement for the Saudi researchers and also an important outcome of Prince Sultan’s support and care for the archaeological sector in the Kingdom, the SCTNH said.
The project is part of the Green Arabia Project, which is a Saudi-British unddertaking for survey and excavation to implement environmental and archaeological studies of many historical sites in the Kingdom.
The project is being carried out by the SCTNH and the University of Oxford and its implementation will take five years (2012-2017) with the objective to study the likelihoods of expansion or extinction of humans and animals and their adaptation to living conditions. This joint project has led to many other significant discoveries of animals and mammal fossils in the Saudi deserts including a giant 300,000-year-old elephant tusk belonging to an extinct species of elephant from the Nafud Desert suggesting a greener, wetter Arabian desert in the past. An elephant’s carpal bone, located five meters from the pieces of tusk, was also discovered from the same sand layer at the excavation site in the Nafud Desert.

A new study indicates that the Ancient Indus Valley Civilization is around 8,000 years old and predates Ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian by thousands of years.

A new study indicates that the Indus Valley civilization predates the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilization.

Indus-Valley-Civilization-1024x640Based on a new study, researchers have come to the conclusion that the ancient Indus Valley civilization –best known for their well-planed cities—is around 8000 years old predating Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamian civilizations

The Indus Valley Civilization has already been considered by researchers as one of the oldest civilizations on the planet, but it turns out they date further back then scientists previously believed.

While many people around the globe consider the Ancient Egyptian and Sumerian civilization as one of the most complex civilization to have developed in the distant past, the truth is that the Indus Valley Civilization might predate them by some 2,500 years.

But not only does the new study reveal fascinating details about this ancient civilization, but it also sheds light on why the flourishing ancient civilization eventually collapsed.

In order to come to this conclusion, researchers from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Institute of Archaeology, Deccan College Pune, and IIT Kharagpur gathered a number of pottery fragments and animal bones from Bhirrana in the north of the country and submitted the items to carbon dating.

Mohenjo-daro

Researchers also used ‘optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) method’ to see whether or not climate change could be responsible for the eventual fall of the Indus Valley civilization.

‘Based on radiocarbon ages from different trenches and levels the settlement at Bhirrana has been inferred to be the oldest (>9 ka BP) in the Indian sub-continent,’ the experts wrote in Nature’s Scientific Reports journal.

While there are still a number of tests required, the new study clearly indicates that the Indus Valley civilization predates the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilization, which were also considered extremely sophisticated architects and engineers.

i_boat

Researchers believed that civilization spread across parts f modern-day Pakistan and northwestern India during the Peak of the Bronze age when a staggering five million people inhabited one million square miles along ancient citadels erected at the basin of the Indus River.

Thanks to the number of artifacts and pottery fragments recovered from several ancient sites, researchers found out that ancient people were extremely skilled craftsmen and metallurgists with advanced knowledge of metallurgy that allowed them to work copper, bronze, lead and tin with ease. Thousands of years ago, people mastered brick-backing techniques which allowed them to control the supply and drainage of water.indus-boat-tablet_0

‘Our study pushes back the antiquity to as old as 8th millennium before present and will have major implications on the evolution of human settlements in Indian sub-continent,’ said Anindya Sarkar, a professor at the department of geology and geophysics at IIT Kharagpur, in an interview with International Business Times.

Further evidence discovered at ancient sites such as Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro prove that ancient people were adept town planners, engineers, and farmers.

Interestingly, Mohenjo-Daro was one of the most important cities of South Asia and the Indus Civilization together with Harappa, which was one of the first and most important ancient settlements of the world.

According to some researchers, densely populated Mohenjo-Daro was destroyed nearly instantly over 2000 years ago by a huge explosion which, according to ancient alien theorists and other researchers, was caused by the detonation of a nuclear bomb. It is estimated that at its peak, Mohenjo-Daro was inhabited by 40,00 inhabitants even though some scholars have come up with a much larger number saying that it was inhabited by over 100,000 inhabitants in the past.

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The Collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization

In the past, researchers thought that one of the main factors that lead to the collapse of the Indus Valley civilization was climate change and the eventual decrease in water levels of the Indus River. However, this might not have been the cause after all.

‘Our study suggests that the climate was probably not the cause of Harappan decline,’ researchers wrote.

While there is evidence of different weather patterns in the distant past, there is evidence at Bhirrana, which suggests that people continued to survive despite changing weather patterns.

 

‘Increasing evidence suggests that these people shifted their crop patterns from the large-grained cereals like wheat and barley during the early part of intensified monsoon to drought-resistant species of small millets and rice in the later part of declining monsoon and thereby changed their subsistence strategy,’ added researchers in their study.

What probably caused the demise of ancient metropolises was the change in crops harvested by people thousands of years ago. Deurbanization of major ancient sites were caused due to the lack of large food storage facilities. People decided to swap to personal storage spaces

which allowed families to be taken care of.

‘Because these later crops generally have much lower yield, the organized large storage system of mature Harappan period was abandoned giving rise to smaller more individual household based crop processing and storage system and could act as a catalyst for the de-urbanisation of the Harappan civilization rather than an abrupt collapse,’ the team concluded.

The acquisition is symbolic of the rise of Dalits and the fall of Muslims in India. That’s how Sadia Dehlvi, the writer who was born in the Shama Ghar in 1957, describes it.

Shama Ghar  – Sardar Patel Marg a street occupied by the Delhi’s powerful elite Now owned by Mayawati of BSP. Shama Ghar — named after the Urdu magazine Shama that its previous owners published — that occupied the corner spot on the famed road.

sardar_patel_marg

Outside, in his little paan and bidi shop, Mohammed Sultan recalls the transformation. Running the shop from the same spot for 25 years, he has seen it all — celebrities like Meena Kumari, Nargis and other Bollywood actors who filtered in and out of the famous landmark building that was also once referred to as Delhi’s Taj Mahal, the numerous mushaira sessions and parties in those days, and then the packing and moving, the demolition, and the trumpet of the elephant. Sultan lived in the help’s quarters those days. “It was a beautiful white house. It was painful for the family to sell it. I have never seen any of the members come back again,” he said.

The acquisition is symbolic of the rise of Dalits and the fall of Muslims in India. That’s how Sadia Dehlvi, the writer who was born in the Shama Ghar in 1957, describes it.

Her father Yusuf Dehlvi owned the house, but had to sell it to the BSP around 2002 after he fell on hard times and the Urdu film magazine, Shama, brought out by Shama Publishing House, was no longer a profitable venture. The glorious tradition of a house that was a culture hub ended in 1987 when there was a rift in the family and its fortunes took a beating. It’s a hard subject for her to revisit. She hasn’t even crossed the street since the house was sold.

“Life has to go on. Nobody in the family wants to talk about it. I will say one thing. The house has been lucky for Mayawati,” said Dehlvi. “You have to respect her as a woman who came from nowhere. It is a symbol of social mobility.” “Dalits have done better. They have moved one notch up,” she said.

There are rumours that the house was sold for Rs 22 crore. While Dehlvi said she could not confirm the figure as she wasn’t part of the negotiations, she added it was sold for “very little.” “Mayawati has struck gold with it,” Dehlvi said.

 

 

Evidence Noah’s Flood Happened, Says Robert Ballard

The story of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood is one of the most famous from the Bible, and now an acclaimed underwater archaeologist thinks he has found proof that the biblical flood was actually based on real events.

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour for ABC News, Robert Ballard, one of the world’s best-known underwater archaeologists, talked about his findings. His team is probing the depths of the Black Sea off the coast of Turkey in search of traces of an ancient civilization hidden underwater since the time of Noah.

Ballard’s track record for finding the impossible is well known. In 1985, using a robotic submersible equipped with remote-controlled cameras, Ballard and his crew hunted down the world’s most famous shipwreck, the Titanic.

Now Ballard is using even more advanced robotic technology to travel farther back in time. He is on a marine archeological mission that might support the story of Noah. He said some 12,000 years ago, much of the world was covered in ice.

According to a controversial theory proposed by two Columbia University scientists, there really was one in the Black Sea region. They believe that the now-salty Black Sea was once an isolated freshwater lake surrounded by farmland, until it was flooded by an enormous wall of water from the rising Mediterranean Sea. The force of the water was two hundred times that of Niagara Falls, sweeping away everything in its path.

Fascinated by the idea, Ballard and his team decided to investigate.

“We went in there to look for the flood,” he said. “Not just a slow moving, advancing rise of sea level, but a really big flood that then stayed… The land that went under stayed under.”

Four hundred feet below the surface, they unearthed an ancient shoreline, proof to Ballard that a catastrophic event did happen in the Black Sea. By carbon dating shells found along the shoreline, Ballard said he believes they have established a timeline for that catastrophic event, which he estimates happened around 5,000 BC. Some experts believe this was around the time when Noah’s flood could have occurred.

Back in the Black Sea, Ballard said he is aware that not everyone agrees with his conclusions about the time and size of the flood, but he’s confident he’s on the path to finding something from the biblical period.

“We started finding structures that looked like they were man-made structures,” Ballard said. “That’s where we are focusing our attention right now.”

At first Ballard’s team found piles of ancient pottery, but then they made an even more important discovery. Last year, Ballard discovered a vessel and one of its crew members in the Black Sea.

“That is a perfectly preserved ancient shipwreck in all its wood, looks like a lumber yard,” he said. “But if you look closely, you will see the femur bone and actually a molar.”

The shipwreck was in surprisingly good condition, preserved because the Black Sea has almost no oxygen in it, which slows down the process of decay, but it does not date back as far as the story of Noah.

“The oldest shipwreck that we have discovered so far of that area is around 500 BC, classical period,” Ballard said. “But the question is you just keep searching. It’s a matter of statistics.”

Still, Ballard said the find gives him hope that he will discover something older “because there, in fact, the deep sea is the largest museum on Earth,” he said.

Ballard does not think he will ever find Noah’s Ark, but he does think he may find evidence of a people whose entire world was washed away about 7,000 years ago. He and his team said they plan to return to Turkey next summer.

“It’s foolish to think you will ever find a ship,” Ballard said, referring to the Ark. “But can you find people who were living? Can you find their villages that are underwater now? And the answer is yes.”

5 Considerations Before Starting a Business

For many, starting a business is the professional dream of a lifetime. While thousands of businesses are launched every day, history shows a pretty high failure rate. Yet, despite the odds, the vast majority of business owners would rather risk potential failure than never take the leap.

business-start-upFive considerations to help you position your new business on firmer financial footing.

1. Bolster your financial health. You may have the personal wherewithal to start a business, but can you afford to make the transition given your level of debt as well as savings? Set a threshold for the minimum amount of money in the bank that you are not willing to go below. This number will be different for each person, but the important thing to take away is that you think about what this number means to you and save it in advance. It’s important to build up and maintain this “healthy” reserve or cushion to allow you to manage the lean months or the periods of uncertain cash flow. If you find that you are approaching your “bottom-line” number, this is where discipline must override passion. Step back, take a hard look at your situation, and see what’s working and what’s not.

2. Get over the “fear factor.” Change is frightening for most of us. It’s only natural and appropriate to worry about the possibility of failure, jeopardizing your financial security, or reneging on your obligations to others. But sometimes we get so caught up in what we stand to lose that we forget to consider all that we stand to gain. And, we forget that we are driving the timetable and parameters for making this change.

3. Keep your personal and business wallets separate. The old adage that business and pleasure don’t mix also holds true when it comes to your business’ finances. Set up separate accounts for your business, and consult with a knowledgeable tax professional to understand what costs are deductible. If you start recording and keeping receipts of deductible expenses from the beginning, it can help avoid major problems in the future, such as liability for additional taxes or penalties. And, don’t stop talking to a financial professional throughout the process of building your new business as it can help you feel more confident that you are managing your personal finances wisely while you begin your business.

4. Work on your business, not just in your business. When you are surrounded by your own business day in and day out, it’s important to take a step back and make sure you are handling all aspects of the business. Sometimes entrepreneurs are so focused on their product or service, that they may overlook their business’ finances. But it’s important to handle your business finances with intent. That is, handling your finances in an organized — not haphazard — way.

5. Remember that not all money is created equal. You need to know when and how to raise capital, and how to wisely put your money to work on things that adds value. You should be spending as much time researching.  Money is a tool. Make sure you understand how to use it.

 

What Skill India Must Do To Succeed In Its Mission

As the government continues to focus on skills and launches hallmark programs like the Skill India initiative, it is imperative to examine the impact of such a program. There are over 20 Central ministries/ departments involved in the implementation of more than 70 schemes for various skill development and entrepreneurship programmes. However, many experts believe (see here, for example) that these programs are not achieving the output they should ideally be reaching.

The 4th Annual Employment and Unemployment Survey by the Labour Bureau helps us in evaluating the effectiveness of the skill development programs that have been in place till 2013-14. Of the population aged 15 and above, 6.8 % have received/are receiving vocational training. The rural-urban divide is not so much, with 6.2 and 8.2% respectively. However, the percentage of people receiving formal training is as low as 2.8% with the rest 4% informally trained.

In order to strengthen the National Skilling Mission the government needs to focus on two specific areas: (a) increasing the role of states, since they have a deeper understanding of local needs and can therefore design and launch impactful programs and (b) ensuring gender inclusion that can capitalise on the entire Indian population.

Role of states

Vocational training falls under both the Union List and Concurrent List. While the former includes agencies and institutions for vocational training, the latter specifies vocational and technical training of labour. States have diverse demographic profiles along with unique skills needs and job opportunities. The role of states in designing and delivering vocational training hence attains importance. Though the national average of people receiving skill development is low, states like Sikkim, Kerala do provide different models of skill development.

The latest Skill Development Policy points out that most of the states have not moved towards functional convergence by creating state missions. Replacing an old mission with a new one, therefore, might not solve the existing problem. While the Niti Aayog sub-group on skill development is yet to submit its report, chief ministers have been raising various concerns about funding and the roles of the Union and state governments. It is important that these issues be heard and greater powers be given to the states in framing and delivering skill development programmes.

Women-specific programs

Another challenge is finding long-term and meaningful employment for the people undergoing skill development training. The Labour survey found that about 39% of women have not joined the labour force even after receiving vocational training in different fields. These findings are corroborated by data from the NSSO. In its report “Status of Education and Vocational Training in India (2013)” the survey found that 47% of rural and 32% of urban women have found the formal vocational training they have received “not helpful”. These numbers are significantly higher than overall 36% and 24% for both genders. This is perplexing considering that about 67% of these women have attended formal training for a duration of six months and above.

Most of the women who received training in construction-related and restaurant sectors are either unemployed or have dropped out of the labour force. Interestingly “building, construction and real estate” was identified as the sector with most incremental human resource requirement in the NSDC study.

The National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship 2015 says of previous skill development programs that they “often remain unaligned to demand, thus defeating its entire objective.” The proposed integration of skill database of states with LMIS may just help us in identifying the real reasons for such lacunae.

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