A bumper harvest crashing prices, pollution worsening in Delhi and other north Indian cities due to crop stubble burning and power plants, and the lack of infrastructure and manpower in public health centres leading to deaths of children across the country were the key points of worry for India in 2017.

Agriculture reported growth of 4.9% for 2016-17 against 0.7% in 2015-16, according to this report from the office of the economic advisor to the finance minister.

Foodgrain production increased from 218.1 million tonnes in 2009-10 to 275.6 million tonnes in 2016-17, an increase of 26.1%, according to data published by the office of the economic advisor for 2017.

Pulses output increased 56.8% from 14.6 million tonnes in 2009-10 to 22.9 million tonnes in 2016-17, the data show.

Source: Office of the Economic Adviser, Government of India; *Provisional Estimate; million tonnes

However, a good harvest was the beginning of farm trouble: Pulses imports reduced prices by 63%, IndiaSpend reported on June 8,2017. India’s foodgrain production rose five times over six decades, according to 2016 government data, the latest available.

The threat of climate change has affected agriculture, which is largely dependent on rainfall, with 52% of Indian farms still dependant on rains, according to this 2015 report by the ministry of agriculture.

The droughts of 2014 and 2015 in rural Maharashtra were mitigated by plentiful rains of 2016 but many parts of the state also endured floods, IndiaSpend reported on June 8, 2017.

The crash crunch caused due to demonetisation was felt in rural markets even a year after the policy was implemented. Farmers said cheques take weeks to encash, leaving them without money when they need it the most, IndiaSpend reported on November 4, 2017.

This resulted in farmer strikes that later led to demands for farm-loan waivers across Punjab, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra wrote off loans worth Rs 36,359 crore and Rs 30,000 crore, respectively.

India faces a cumulative loan waiver of Rs 3.1 lakh crore ($49.1 billion), or 2.6% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016-17 if all the demands for loan waiver from six states are met, IndiaSpend reported on June 15, 2017.

Air pollution and floods claimed many lives in India

The year 2017 saw the air quality of the country plunging to dangerous levels, and high-intensity rainfall spells flooding many cities.

On November 7, 2017, Munirka in Delhi registered a PM 2.5 concentration of 655.78 microgram per cubic meter (µg/m³), according to an IndiaSpend analysis of hourly averages for 24 hours.

It was 26 times more than the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) 24-hour average standard of 25 µg/m³. It was also nearly 11 times more than the national ambient air quality 24-hour average standard of 60 µg/m³.

PM 2.5--emitted by burning coal, kerosene, petrol, diesel, biomass, cow dung and waste--are about 30 times finer than a human hair. These particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, causing heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and respiratory diseases. Their measurement is considered to be the best indicator of the level of health risks from air pollution, according to the WHO.

Not just Delhi, air quality across cities on the Indo-Gangetic belt plunged dangerously in 2017.

Varanasi registered worse air quality than Delhi--a PM 2.5 concentration of 491 µg/m³ against Delhi’s 468 µg/m³, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of hourly averages for 24 hours.

The situation was not any better for other Indo-Gangetic cities.

Air Quality Index In The Indo-Gangetic Belt On November 10, 2017
City Air Quality Index Monitoring stations
Varanasi 491 1
Patna 428 1
NOIDA 470 2
Muzaffarpur 409 1
Lucknow 462 3
Kanpur 461 1
Ghaziabad 485 1
Gurgaon 480 1
Faridabad 428 1
Delhi 468 14
Agra 404 1

Source: Central Pollution Control Board; Figures are 24-hour averages.

PM 2.5 pollution caused more than 500,000 premature deaths in India in 2015, according to a October 2017 report in the Lancet, a medical journal.

The study estimated 1.9 million deaths across 21 Asian countries in 2015; one in every four deaths was in India.

Along with air-pollution, floods across many parts in India caused more than 600 deaths in 2017 and affected millions of people. Climate scientists attributed the cause of these heavy flooding to both climate change as well as rapid and unplanned urbanisation.

India saw massive flooding in Bihar, West Bengal, Gujarat, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Odisha, Mumbai and Jharkhand in 2017. Bihar floods alone killed 514 people and affected more than 17 million in 2017.

On August 11 and 12, 2017, a heavy downpour drowned Agartala, the capital of Tripura in northeastern India. On July 26-27, 2017, the downpour was in Ahmedabad where the city of 5.5 million received 200 mm of rainfall within 24 hours.

Parts of Mumbai, India’s financial capital, went under after more than 200 mm rainfall--the equivalent of 11 days of average daily monsoon rainfall in 12 hours--on August 29, 2017. These high intensity rainfall events caused floods.

Average Rainfall In Indian Cities, 2012-16
District June July August September Average per day (122 days) On Extreme Rainfall Event
Mumbai 641.94 867.56 361.46 391.1 18.54 200
Chandigarh 99.36 200 172 110.94 4.77 112
Bengaluru 88.08 96.02 93.66 142.24 3.44 128
Western Tripura 327.86 304.42 276 205.26 9.13 102

Source: Customised Rainfall Information System, Indian Meteorological Department
Note: Figures in mm.

Infant deaths in government hospitals rocked India in 2017

Infant deaths in government hospitals across the states dominated headlines in 2017.

In August 2017, 70 infants died in a tertiary care hospital in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh (UP).

As many as 55 children died in Maharashtra’s Nashik Civil Hospital and 49 in UP’s Farrukhabad District Hospital in August 2017.

Ninety children were reported to have died in two months in Rajasthan’s Banswara district hospital.

Tragic as these deaths were, they were hardly unusual, IndiaSpend reported on September 25, 2017.

Our on-ground reporting after visiting half-a-dozen primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare centres in Jharkhand, another state that reported numerous infant deaths, revealed a failing healthcare system that stacks the odds against a child’s survival before she is conceived.

Poorly-fed young women are married too early, remain underweight when pregnant and get little prenatal care and nutrition. Babies are born underweight (less than 2.5 kg) and live in conditions where they are exposed to high risk of infection, getting inadequate nutrition that limits their ability to develop the strength to fight disease. Government-run community and primary health centres are dysfunctional, while tertiary care institutes, both private and government-run, are overburdened and mismanaged.

Nearly 1.08 million children under the age of five years died in 2015--that’s 2,959 deaths every day or two each minute--many of them of causes that were preventable and treatable.

India’s under-five mortality rate (U5MR)--the probability that a child born in a specific year will die before reaching the age of five--was reported to be 43 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015, IndiaSpend reported on August 16, 2017.

One train accident reported every five days in 2017

As many as 63 serious train accidents, leading to deaths and injuries, were reported between January 1, 2017, and November 30, 2017, or one accident in every five days, according to this reply to the Rajya Sabha (upper house of Parliament) on December 15, 2017.

Of these, 45 (71%) were derailments, 12 (19%) accidents at unmanned level crossings due to negligence of road vehicle users, four collisions, one due to fire in train and one at manned level crossing gate.

Indian Railways, the largest passenger system in the world with 23 million passengers every day, was hit by 78 derailments in 2016-17 with 193 people dead, the most in 10 years, IndiaSpend reported on August 22, 2017.

As many as 37 derailments have been reported in 2017-18 between April 1, 2017, and November 30, 2017, a 45% decline compared to the corresponding period of the previous year (67 derailments), according to this reply to the Rajya Sabha on December 15, 2017.

Derailments accounted for 76% of all (49) consequential trains accidents in 2017-18.

Source: Rajya Sabha

Back-to-back train accidents in August 2017 led to the resignation of the then railway minister Suresh Prabhu, Business Today reported on September 3, 2017.

Nine train derailments were reported in 27 days over August and September, IndiaSpend reported on September 14, 2017.

Another tragic incident that struck the railways this year was the stampede on the railway foot over-bridge at Elphinstone station in Mumbai on September 29, 2017, which killed 23 people and left 38 injured. Heavy rains, crowd and confusion were the reasons for the mishap, a railway committee report said, The Hindu reported on October 11, 2017.

Mumbai’s local trains carry about 7.5 million passengers every day, packed, on average, to 2.6 times capacity, IndiaSpend reported on September 29, 2017. Such pressure on the commuter-rail system strains platforms, bridges--such as the one at Elphinstone Road where the stampede occurred--and other infrastructure as they struggle to cater to many times more commuters than they were designed for.

India’s water resources to be further stressed

Between 2001-2011, India has seen a 15% reduction in the availability of water per capita, IndiaSpend reported on August 2, 2017.

An area with an annual per capita availability of less than 1,700 cubic metres per person is considered to be water-stressed and less than 1,000 cubic meter per person water-scarce.

India’s availability is estimated to be 1,341 cubic metre in 2025, which may further fall to 1,140 cubic metre in 2050, bringing it closer to becoming water-scarce, according to this 2017 assessment by the ministry of water resources.

Source: Ministry of Water Resources

The drought witnessed this year has intensified the crisis. In April 2017, eight states were declared drought-affected by the centre, The Hindu reported in April 2017.

The government announced payout of half the budgeted allocation (Rs 48,000 crore) for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to the affected states.

In order to be better prepared for drought, states were advised to ensure that at least 65% of MGNREGA expenditure is focused on water conservation and management in 2017-18 within water-stressed blocks.

In addition to the scarcity of water and rainfall uncertainty, 26 states and one union territory reported water quality-related issues caused by at least one of the contaminants--fluoride, arsenic, iron, and nitrates. In 2015-16, 317 districts were contaminated with fluoride, 387 with nitrates, 297 with iron, and 87 with arsenic, according to this reply to the Lok Sabha by the minister of state for water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation.

Between 2012-13 and 2015-16, there was an increase of fluoride-affected districts from 276 to 317.

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