Will #Selfiewithdaughter save rural girls in India?Maybe #DigitalIndia Campaign will!

A well-meaning drive but I see no rural parents posting pictures? Maybe what villages need is a grounded grass-root scheme and a program that can reach out to rural families and girls!

A well-meaning drive but I see no rural parents posting pictures? Maybe what villages need is a grounded grass-root scheme and a program that can reach out to rural families and girls!

Modi’s ‘Selfie with Daughter’ campaign is making news and has had parents from around the world supporting the idea by posting selfies on the Modi’s social media account along with a tagline. There have been similar drives connected to this one, such as #betibachao (save daughters) #educate daughters and other govt. initiatives that seem to strike a cord with Indians. What is striking about this drive is the way PM Modi addressed the topic in his popular radio talk show— ‘Mann ki Baat’.

After tourism, yoga, swacch bharat, rain water harvesting, animal husbandry, fisheries, agriculture and fertilizers and solar energy (and many more initiatives), Modi’s social media initiative encouraging girls and their parents to click a selfie is almost a fairy tale account on the subject. The outpouring of selfies in Sunil Jaglan’s whatsapp (the Sarpanch of Haryana’s Bibipur village whose idea it happens to be) seem to speak volumes about what can happen when a political leader backs a bright idea.

The irony of such a campaign is that the people it is meant for are exactly the ones who are left out. Twitter postings (of selfies) looks like a fine statement coming from families (mostly urban) who do not need education on saving the girl child or educating their girls. India residing in rural areas is a world apart when it comes to communication (mobile phones simply being a mean to talk with friends and relatives unlike application-enabled (twitter and social media) smart phones that flash in most hands when it comes to cities and towns), and it will take some time before a rural family living away in some remote corner of India will post a twitter picture or get inspired to educate a girl: probably they are the ones who do not have double-sided camera phones in first place! The PM’s Digital India campaign is a good one that will provide broadband connectivity to rural India. India only has over 154m internet connections (Source: www.statista.com, 2013) with some of the slowest speeds in the world. The Digital India campaign can not only give bandwidth for taking selfies with daughters but also provide bandwidth for girls in rural areas to learn and get degrees remotely through online education from the most prestigious schools and colleges. This might be the way to get the girl-child to really become independent and strong. So, in my view, before #Selfiewithdaughter and #Betibachaobetipadhao, there should be #DigitalIndia!

What do you think? Share more ideas.

Sanjay Puri has been working on Indian-American issues and facilitating stronger US-India relations through USINPAC (US India Political Action Committee and AUSIB (Alliance for US India Business), two bipartisan organizations that he chairs.

 

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Nestle’s Maggi row—the national noodle in a ‘soup’ & the stars to go free?

stars is equally misleading for masses: There needs to be a level of responsibility when it comes to endorsing products—people trust stars as responsible citizens! What do you think?

“2-minute noodles endorsed by stars is equally misleading for masses: There needs to be a level of responsibility when it comes to endorsing products—people trust stars as responsible citizens! What do you think?”

Indian cities simply woke up one fine day to find their worst fears come true— Maggi noodles, the nation’s favorite brunch, crunch and all-day meal is no longer safe to eat! Did it come as a shock? What I find shocking is the response I have been following, coming right from the celebrity bandwagon and their limited knowledge about maggi noodles, or even showing any responsibility over endorsing a product. The advertisement industry for over a decade has seen a bombardment of sport stars, more stars and bollywood actors on different TV channels— all busy endorsing some product or the other!

While India has criticized cricket stars in the past for appearing in more number of ads compared to cricket matches, the maggi row opens the question of credibility and responsibility of ‘stardom’ like never before! The last time I heard India going bonkers over a brand was with Kapil Dev endorsing ‘Colgate’ where the name itself meant toothpaste for many in rural and urban India who woke up to colgate their teeth every morning.

The Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) banned the sale of Maggi noodles on June 5, after Maggi test results confirmed that the noodles contained lead(upto 7 times more than permissible limits: 17.2 parts per million (ppm) while permissible limit of lead ranges between 0.01 ppm and 2.5 ppm).) and flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate in excess . However, to be fair, Nestle India has disputed it and the Mumbai High Court has allowed the company to export maggi noodles whereas the curb on sales within the country continues to stay (the next hearing is on July 14. 2015). Countries like UK, Singapore and Canada have tested maggi noodle samples and found them safe for public consumption.

Is the starcast endorsing maggi noodles aware that potentially excess levels of lead can lead to serious harm in children aged six years and younger? They, ofcourse, have nothing to do with it except enact a well-scripted noodle ad! Regular consumption of high-level of lead may result in learning disabilities—low IQ, attention deficit disorder, speech and language impairment, decreased bone growth, and kidney damage, among other diseases.

Do you think celebrities should endorse a brand without any responsibility over the quality of the product they endorse? When stardom endorses something as healthy, the masses look up to their favorite stars, also as responsible citizens! If you cannot deny that stars endorsing products does add up to a brand’s ‘USP’ (Unique selling point) then why deny the responsibility that comes with it?

Endorsement has a bigger context in terms of masses, and shirking-off responsibility is just a way of saying “I can’t be blamed for a bad product beyond a limit!”. What is that limit? Aren’t masses looking up to a la Big B, Preity Zinta or Madhuri Dixit Nene as trustworthy stars ?

Does India need better consumer laws in context to stars endorsing products? What do you think?

Write to me.

Sanjay Puri has been working on Indian-American issues and facilitating stronger US-India relations through USINPAC (US India Political Action Committee and AUSIB (Alliance for US India Business), two bipartisan organizations that he chairs.

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Will Google Driverless Cars save lives in India?

WHO claims more than 2.3 million yearly deaths in India(2013): Google driverless car should test-drive their cars in India! With a high rate of accidents in the country, it will help save lives and prove to be great testing grounds for Google cars. What do you think?

WHO claims more than 2.3 million yearly deaths in India(2013): Google driverless car should test-drive their cars in India! With a high rate of accidents in the country, it will help save lives and prove to be great testing grounds for Google cars. What do you think?

In a country where one serious road accident takes place every minute and 16 people die on Indian roads every hour, can Google’s autonomous cars bring down the rampant number of death on Indian roads?

In the US, LA may be one of the most traffic-congested cities, there are other major US cities where car drivers suffer from nasty traffic congestions regularly—–San Francisco, Honolulu, New York, Seattle, San Jose, Miami, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Portland, as per the annual traffic index conducted by navigation system maker TomTom in Burlington, Mass. Car owners in the US have a reason to smile now! Google’s self-driving car running on test drives will be launched for the public within 2 to 5 years (as per Chris Umrson, head of driver-less cars, Google) ! In January 2015, Google announced it had begun discussions with most of the world’s top automakers to speed up its efforts of launching self-driving cars in the market by 2020.

Google believes that these smart robotic cars will reduce accidents due to errors made by human drivers owing to its robotic system for which drivers won’t need to worry about distractions and typical reaction time. This belief found roots this summer when the search giant revealed that its driverless cars has completed 300,000 miles of testing without a single incident.

While there is still some way before the cars hit the road in terms of testing hours and implementation of legal framework and establishment of government regulations for self-driving cars, the making is in the process. While India’s minister of road transport and highways seems to think that it is not possible to copy cent percent road safety laws similar to countries like the US, UK or Canada, one cannot deny the rising road accident deaths in the country. With rising affluence, owning a car is no longer a luxury in India. India may have more cars but it also has bad drivers, poor regulations, and faulty road designs. Speeding, running lights, drunken driving, riding motorcycles without helmets, and lane violations are commonplace.

While it looks like a long way before the robotic cars can start operating in India! Apart from technology and legislation, road infrastructure, poor traffic rules and bad traffic, there may be some boon in the idea of test-driving Google cars in India.

Why? The Indian auto industry is one of the largest in the world with an annual production of 21.48 million vehicles in FY 2013-14. Technology exchange and robotic cars can bring down the number of road accidents.

What do think? Is India ready for Google cars?

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Does India need a “Cash for Clunkers” scheme?

Schemes like ‘cash-for-clunkers’ in the US have been a success in the US! Similar schemes in India will not only encourage car owners to sell their old cars, but it will also push the drive with cash incentives to help car-owners to replace their old ones with more efficient cars! The National Bureau of Economic Research estimate that the program resulted in 360,000 automobile purchases in the US during July and August 2009.

Schemes like ‘cash-for-clunkers’ in the US have been a success in the US! Similar schemes in India will not only encourage car owners to sell their old cars, but it will also push the drive with cash incentives to help car-owners to replace their old ones with more efficient cars! The National Bureau of Economic Research estimate that the program resulted in 360,000 automobile purchases in the US during July and August 2009.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) extended its stay till July 13 (2015) on its order banning 10-year-old diesel vehicles from plying in Delhi-NCR. One big factor for all the uproar for car-owners in NCR seem to be that the ban does not give them enough time to switch to another vehicle. It may be imperative that diesel is the prime source of air pollution in Delhi. But interestingly, most big vehicle scrappage programs around the world, similar to US’s ‘cash for clunkers’, happen to offer different incentive for car switches.

While the ban has raised questions for car users in Delhi, there have been scrap drives for older vehicles in the US with several incentive schemes. The Car Allowance Rebate System or CARS, popularly known as the ‘cash for clunkers’ scheme was floated as a $3 billion US federal programme with a clear aim to offer economic incentives to Americans for purchasing fuel-efficient vehicles and trading off less fuel-efficient old vehicles. It was vigorously promoted offering a stimuli to the economy by boosting auto sales, and putting up better, greener and efficient vehicles on the road.On the success of the program, the DoT reported that the programme resulted in 690,114 dealer transactions submitted, requesting a total of $2.877 billion in rebates.

The National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that the federal government paid automobile dealers between $3,500 and $4,500 each time a customer traded in an used old and less fuel-efficient vehicle to purchase a better and fuel-efficient vehicle. The rebates totalled up to $2.877 billion were passed on to customers as a purchase incentive. The program was tailored to boost automobile sales and stimulate the economy.

Similar scrapping schemes have been carried out in Europe— France, UK (with finance of upto £2000 by private car manufacturers), Germany and Italy with varying incentives/time frames for cars and other vehicles. With the car-manufacturing giant Japan, the government announced a series of incentives for its car industry which include a 250,000-yen ($2,000) scrappage incentive.

Is it time for India to invest in schemes similar to ‘car clunking’ and make a signature start as a green initiative for curbing pollution and set an example for other metro cities?

What do you think?

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