Yogesh Upadhyaya

Yogesh

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Air pollution and Climate Change are different issuesfeatured

November 24, 2017

 

what makes our air dirty?

 

We have been working on understanding and simplifying air pollution for the past few months. Whenever I work on a new topic, I converse about it with practically everyone I meet. Such conversations help me understand the gaps in my knowledge and in that of the audience. I discovered that one of the more widespread confusing aspects in people’s minds seems to be that air pollution and climate change is the same thing. The reality? Air pollution is linked to climate change but not always in the way we would think.

What is climate change? 

A more precise question would be what is anthropogenic climate change or how are humans changing the climate? This is a large and complex topic but a very short answer is that in the last two centuries, humans have burnt a lot of fossil fuel (Coal and Oil mainly). This burning of fuel has increased the concentration of Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that does not allow the heat reflected by Earth to escape the atmosphere. This increases the temperature of the atmosphere and could have catastrophic consequences.

Greenhouse gases like Carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a long time and hence climate change is a long-term problem with potentially catastrophic consequences for the entire planet.

There are many other greenhouse gases in addition to carbon dioxide.

What is Air Pollution?

When we burn stuff, we release a lot of gases and particles into the atmosphere in addition to carbon dioxide. Additionally, dust kicked up in the air and chemicals released in the air also make it dirty. These gases and particles pollute the air and are bad for our health.

Of course, some of the gases that pollute the air may also be greenhouse gases and may cause warming. Equally important - some of the particles released in the air may reflect heat entering the atmosphere and have a cooling affect instead.

Most air pollutants do not stay in the atmosphere for a long time but have consequences for human health.

TL; DR: Air Pollution and Climate Change are related but separate issues!

Author –

Yogesh Upadhyaya

(Yogesh Upadhyaya is one of the founders of AskHow India. Blogs are personal views.)

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Increasing farmer’s incomes – Devil is in details.featured

May 20, 2017

(Image not of actual village. For representational purposes only.) 

“You can easily earn an income of Rs. 15,000 for an investment of Rs. 6,000/-.” This was a representative of an NGO working in the area of ‘livelihoods’ talking to the women of Palsunda, a small village in Thane district. The word ‘easily’ was at best an exaggeration. 

At AskHow, we have analyzed ‘How the income of small farmers in Indian can be increased.’ The farm yields are low and farmers get a very small portion of the final retail price for their crop. ‘Grow more and Get more’ thus, is a simple enough mantra to understand. The devil however, is in details, and made an appearance at Palsunda. 

Palsunda is a tribal village of around a hundred families in the Mokhada Taluka of Thane district. The area is hilly and that has two implications. First, it is very difficult to store most of the heavy rainfall that pours in the area every monsoon season. Second, it takes a lot of time to reach any of the two nearby major cities of Mumbai and Nashik. 

All farmers in the village, except one, grow only one crop. This monsoon crop usually allows the farmers to grow enough rice and nachini (finger millet) for their own consumption and leaves a little bit for sale. 

In the meeting between the women of the village and a few NGOs, the women described their previous attempts at increasing their income. They had tried to raise poultry but all their hens / roosters died in the summers and they could not even figure out what disease had hit them. Their experience of growing green chilies was not much better. They just couldn’t get a good price for their produce and had to throw most of it away. 

One of the NGO representatives suggested growing the flower Mogra. He said that the flower plant was very hardy and could survive dry conditions. It did not require too much care and also that it commanded a good price in the Dadar market. The nearby village of Amli had done very well with this crop.

Further discussions revealed the challenges.

Water: The plant can survive in dry conditions but still requires some water and that could be a challenge in the dry season. The hilly terrain and the soil characteristics of the area means that all the rainfall runs off. The denudation of forests around have further reduced the capacity of the soil to retain moisture. This is the reason that no farmer in the village except one, grows a second crop. 

The NGO representative stated that they could help build small water ponds that would have a plastic lined bottom. The ponds would hold enough water for the plants in the drier months. I later learnt that the village has been selected for government assistance in building such ponds this year.

Market access: If the villagers had to reach the Dadar market in time, they would need to leave by the first bus at 6.30. Which meant that the flower pluckers would need to get up early in the morning and pluck the flowers between 3.30 and 5.30 in the morning. It should be remembered that this is not merely an inconvenience – fields are the habitats of snakes and many other dangerous animals.

Market price: The market price of Mogra varies through the year and in the past has been high enough to make the crop remunerative. However, there is absolutely no guarantee that the price would continue to be high fifteen months or so down the line when the flowers are ready for plucking.

Collectivization: To make it worth the while for the person taking the produce to market every day, enough flowers should be ready for plucking. This means that many farmers would need to take the decision to invest in this initiative.

Knowledge transfer: The villagers have never grown Mogra. Imagine that they have invested a significant part of their life savings in growing this crop and mid-way through the season they face a pest infestation. They would need help from people with experience in growing Mogra and such people may live more than fifty kilometers away. Moreover, they may have their own priorities. The village does not have Internet access and anyway the net may not be a great resource for such specific problems.

As I sat in for the nearly three-hour meeting, some initial thoughts / conclusions that came to my mind were

  • The steps required to improve income in one village, cannot be transplanted without change to another. This is true even of the villages that are close by. Differences in geography, transport link, etc. matter.
  • Another reason that makes such a copy paste approach unviable is people. People being asked to invest money, effort and most importantly hope need to be convinced and this is a slow process. The process becomes slower because of the cynicism of the people who have tried and failed in many such previous initiatives.
  • The NGO representatives I saw that day were impressive. They knew the details of solutions they were suggesting and were good at communication. In other words, they could talk the talk. But can they walk the walk? It would be presumptuous of me to conclude either way after a day’s visit!                                

The village women agreed to talk amongst themselves and come back to the NGOs. Everyone expects them to proceed cautiously. I will be following this space and keep posting.

Author –

Yogesh Upadhyaya

(Yogesh Upadhyaya is one of the founders of AskHow India. Blogs are personal views.)

 

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The goal of the education system should be to teach childrenfeatured

April 21, 2017

Education_Vs_ToiletImagine a cricket team. It could be the national team or your favorite IPL franchise. The fast bowlers in this team are very strong, the spinners very cunning and the batsmen have great technique and skill. All of them are fantastic athletes too. There is only one problem – the team does not win matches. Would you say that the team is doing well? You would if you come from the wonderful world of policy.

ASER came out with its 2016 report more than a month ago and my simplified summary of this extremely detailed report is, “We are doing much better on almost all inputs such as working toilets, mandated pupil teacher ratio and kitchens to prepare mid day meal. However, there is no improvement in the learning levels of kids. In fact, the learning levels have worsened.”

As the accompanying chart shows, we have working toilets for girls in two out of three schools in rural India. The pupil teacher ratio is also improving. I have selected four out of the many Right To Education (RTE) indicators that ASER measures but India has made progress in nearly all other measures too. For example, percentage of schools with boundary walls has gone up from fifty-one to sixty!

 

There is only one problem. The kids. Their learning levels are falling. Note that this is so even when ASER sets a very low bar. For example, it measures percentage of class V and class VII students that can read Class II text.

If the aim of the education system was to provide mid day meals and toilets, we could have been very happy. But surely, as laudable as working toilets and nutritious food are, that is not what the education system is supposed to be doing? It is supposed to be teaching kids, right?

Not really. Everyone in the system – teachers, principles, education officers have many responsibilities. None of these responsibilities include making sure that kids learn. For example, a teacher is supposed to complete the syllabus but is not officially mandated to make sure that kids learn. If she cares enough to make the effort to make the kids learn, she is literally going beyond the call of duty.

I saw news reports recently that the government is amending RTE rules to make improvements in outcomes a part of what states are supposed to achieve. Great. How much time will it take for norms to be made, debated and accepted? Who knows. In the meanwhile, Crores of kids can curse their luck that they were born in a future superpower called India.

Please note: This post is not against toilets and mid-day meals. In fact, AskHow India and this author believe that sanitation is probably the biggest intervention we can make to significantly improve the life of citizens of India. Mandating these measures may have helped children in many ways but have definitely not helped them learn more.

Author –

Yogesh Upadhyaya

(Yogesh Upadhyaya is one of the founders of AskHow India. Blogs are personal views.)

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Help your drivers and maids…….featured

March 08, 2017

The recent demonetization exercise and the consequent scarcity of cash made all of us explore non-cash payments for many transactions where cash payment was the default option. These include payments to vegetable vendors, milk vendors and our drivers and maids.

For many, while payments to the subjiwaala may have long reverted to the old cash habit, those to the doodhwaala may still be resisting a reversion to cash. But, our convenience must never cause payments to the driver and maid to revert to cash - for their sake. Here is why…

It is well documented that marginal class in India – those whose regular incomes and living expenses are very closely matched – are the most vulnerable to financial shocks viz. unanticipated and/or lumpy expenses on sickness of self or family, children’s education etc. These financial shocks cause them to approach the informal lenders like chit funds, money-lenders, pawn shops etc. as the formal financial system shuts its doors to them without ‘income proof’.
The usurious interest rates charged by informal lenders oftentimes ensnare these marginal earners in a debt-trap. As a result, what started out a temporary cash flow problem turns into a crushing debt problem that leads to permanent misery.

A ‘record of income’ for these marginal earners can be an effective defense against such debt driven misery. Receiving their salaries by cheque can help the marginal earners generate the ‘income proof’ that can help them borrow from formal sector lenders like banks, in times of need. Moreover, and equally importantly, a ‘cheque salary’ does not impose any tax burden on most of them as the present budget requires no tax to be paid on a monthly income of Rs.25,000 or less.

This needs to be effectively communicated to our drivers and maids so that they ask for a cheque salary.

We would do well to do our bit in this communication effort and help them sidestep potential misery.

Author –

Ajay Dwivedi

(Ajay Dwivedi is one of the founders of AskHow India. Blogs are personal views.)

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3 ways you can contribute to a better discussion!featured

January 05, 2017

 

Are you tired of the ‘endless stating and re-stating of own opinions’ aka social media debates?

I have a solution. A 3-point list that would improve any discussion that you participate in.

What qualifies me to give these suggestions?

I am a founder of AskHow India, a group dedicated to improving the quality of public debate in India. In the last three years, I have observed more bad discussions on social and conventional media than is good for my health. That has given me some insights into bad discussions.

More importantly, for more than three decades I have contributed to making discussions worse! I realized how much I was responsible for the problem only when I started observing others!

So here are three tips from an embarrassed poacher turned jungle warden.Bravest_Person_Of_The_Day

1. Say “I don’t know” at least once a day :

Some of the most enriching discussions I have been a part of have been so because someone said the magic words. We all know that there is no way we can know everything there is to know about every topic in the world but in a discussion we pretend otherwise. The first person to say “I don’t know”,  allows others to admit their own ignorance and the discussion soon turns from a
verbal slug-fest to a harmonious attempt to increase your own understanding.

If you are like me and you feel that uttering these words is more difficult than saying, “I concede defeat” or even tougher, “I love you” you may set a goal of saying them at least once a day.

Pro tip: Once you have had enough practice saying “I don’t know” you could really challenge yourself and start on, “I was wrong.”

 

2. Use the back of an envelope (and Google):

Every summer, parts of India go through droughts and we see social media posts exhorting us to save water. Last year, suggestions ranged from playing dry holi to cancelling IPL matches in drought hit states.

I did some quick and rough calculations on the relative importance of each measure being suggested, and was astonished to realize that urban Indians can make very little impact by curtailing their direct use of water but can make significant impact if they understood the concept of ‘embedded water’ in every product they use. Such back of the envelope calculations are very useful in many discussions.

Pro tip: There is a temptation to be very precise in your calculations and assumptions. Avoid it. Many times, rough calculations may show a factor to be of much lower significance than you originally thought and even a 100% error in your answer may not change your conclusions too much. If people ask you to change your assumptions, just do it. Don’t argue. 

 

3. Beware of Confirmation Bias:

Wikipedia defines Confirmation bias as “…the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.” In other words, facts rarely change our minds.

Unfortunately, this bias like most other biases is much easier to spot in others than in yourself. One way of discovering it in yourself is to record what would make you change your mind about an issue. If after a while, you go back and read these jottings, you would be surprised how stronger evidence than you initially thought has come up and you have still not changed your mind.

Pro tip: Don’t make your jottings public. Reservoirs of confirmation bias can be embarrassingly large.

These are my top three tips. What are yours? Post techniques that you have used to make discussions more productive in the comments section below.

On behalf of AskHow India, I wish everyone a 2017 filled with productive discussions!

(Yogesh Upadhyaya is a founder of AskHow India. Blogs are personal views)

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How important are IT / BPM jobs in India?featured

December 16, 2016

 

BPO Jobs IndiaThe IT / BPM sector in India is faced with the risk of increased automation and of backlash against outsourcing in developed countries. The industry is also one of the large employers in the country. I did some back of the envelope calculations to get an estimate of how much of the total job requirement in the country is provided by IT / BPM. Here are the calculations.

A) Number of new additions in IT BPM in 2015 = 230,000

Source: NASSCOM

 B) Number of students enrolled in undergraduate programs across the country = 25,500,325

Source: All India Survey of Higher Education, 2013-14 (page 12)

 C) Number of graduates looking for employment = B / 4 = 6,375,081

Assuming ¼th of students will be looking for jobs. This adjusts for dropouts, a mix of 3 and 4 year undergraduate courses and for students who opt for higher studies.

D) Percentage of graduate youth that can expect to get jobs in IT / BPM = A / C

= 3.6%

IT / BPM jobs are relatively high paying ones and demand for goods and services from IT / BPM professionals can generate many indirect jobs for both graduates and non graduates. For example, an IT professional may buy / rent an apartment, frequently go to restaurants and take vacations in all parts of India. The number above does not include this indirect job creation.

mail-146644 AskHow India Back of Envelope calculations try to quantify the impact of current events. They are meant to give an approximate estimate and start a conversation. We show our sources and calculations. Use them to arrive at a different answer and leave that answer in the comments section if you disagree with us! We would love that!

(Yogesh Upadhyaya is a founder of AskHow India. Blogs are personal views)