Hyderabad: The heat wave sweeping across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana claimed over 200 more lives since Tuesday, taking the toll to 1,360.
Officials on Wednesday night said 157 people succumbed to sunstroke in Andhra Pradesh while 70 died in Telangana since Tuesday.
There was no respite from the blistering heat as both the states recorded temperatures three to seven degrees Celsius higher than the average.
Almost all the deaths were reported during the past one week.
Though Andhra Pradesh’s Deputy Chief Minister N. Chinna Rajappa had confirmed 551 deaths on Tuesday, the toll was revised later based on reports received from the districts.
Disaster management department officials said they were revising the figures after receiving confirmation from field-level officials about the deaths.
Though temperatures dropped in parts of Telangana and also in north coastal Andhra on Wednesday, both the states continued to reel under the searing heat.
The Hyderabad Meteorological Centre has warned that severe heat wave conditions may continue for another two days.
The heat wave, attributed to dry winds from the north-westerly direction, may abate after two days.
The highest temperature of 47 degrees Celsius was recorded at Jangamaheswarapuram in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh on Wednesday. Vijayawada, Bapatla and Machilipatnam sizzled at 46 degrees.
The mercury continued to be above 42 degrees in most parts of south coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema.
In Telangana, Nalgonda and Khammam were the hottest places on Wednesday at 46 degrees Celsius.
Poor people, especially the homeless, construction workers, rickshaw pullers and street vendors were the worst hit by the heat wave.
According to officials, the majority of the victims were the elderly and children. The Andhra Pradesh government has already announced compensation of Rs.1 lakh each for the families of the victims.
Out of 867 deaths confirmed by officials in Andhra Pradesh till Tuesday night, Prakasam district accounted for 202. Guntur (130), Visakhapatnam (112) and East Godavari (107) also bore the brunt of the heat wave.
Vijayanagaram district accounted for 78 deaths, Nellore 74, Srikakulam 40, Chittoor 29, Kadapa 22, Kurnool 17 and Anantapur 14.
In Telangana, Nalgonda district was the worst hit with 73 deaths. Khammam district accounted for 60 deaths, Mahabubnagar 32, Medak 26, Karimnagar and Adilabad 22 each, Warangal 9, Nizamabad 8 and Hyderabad and Ranga Reddy seven each.
Vowing to combat rising levels of obesity—Kerala has the second highest levels of obesity in the country—the state government is imposing a 14.5 percent “fat tax” on fast goods sold by branded restaurants such as McDonalds and Pizza Hut
Strongly supporting the Kerala initiative, the doctor says, “We used to see diabetes 20 years back, diabetes in 50 or 40 years of age. Now we are seeing diabetes at 15 years of age, 18 years of age”
Global brands such as Pizza Hut, KFC and McDonald’s have been ramping up their presence as the Indian fast food market grows exponentially while others such as Johnny Rockets, Burger King, Wendy’s and Barcelos have begun making forays
Customers in India’s southern state of Kerala will have to dig deeper into their pockets each time they want to order a juicy burger, a cheese-laced pizza or other fast food such as doughnuts and tacos.
Vowing to combat rising levels of obesity—Kerala has the second highest levels of obesity in the country—the state government is imposing a 14.5 percent “fat tax” on fast goods sold by branded restaurants such as McDonalds and Pizza Hut.
India’s first ‘fat tax’
Thomas Isaac, Kerala’s finance minister, says he took the cue from a handful of countries that have experimented with similar taxes.
India’s first such tax in the scenic, coastal state will only affect a small section of the country’s increasingly affluent middle class, whose appetite for Western-style fast food has grown over the last decade-and-a-half. The measure has attracted national attention as India confronts growing levels of obesity.
Critics question if it will actually deter people from getting their fix of junk food, and skeptics suspect it is probably meant to garner more revenue. Doctors and nutritionists, however, say it is a long overdue first step in that the country urgently needs to address its expanding waistlines.
With half of Indians under 25, worries center on young people in particular.
Anoop Misra, who heads the Center for Diabetes, Obesity and Cholesterol at Fortis Hospital in New Delhi, has watched with rising alarm as more and more people in their 20’s and 30’s walk into his clinic.
Strongly supporting the Kerala initiative, the doctor says, “We used to see diabetes 20 years back, diabetes in 50 or 40 years of age. Now we are seeing diabetes at 15 years of age, 18 years of age.” Misra says he hopes the rest of the country will take the cue from the state’s fat tax.
Global brands such as Pizza Hut, KFC and McDonald’s have been ramping up their presence as the Indian fast food market grows exponentially while others such as Johnny Rockets, Burger King, Wendy’s and Barcelos have begun making forays. Fast food chains have not commented on the tax so far.
Money making initiative
The Kerala government has rejected suggestions that the tax aims to shore up its revenue, saying collections from such a tax will be small. Fast food outlets have a relatively small presence in the southern state compared to the north and the west.
Minister Isaac, who proposed the tax, says he simply sees it as a signal to move back to traditional healthy eating, a practice he says is “going out of fashion.”
While acknowledging the need to target unhealthy food, many in Kerala point to local, deep-fried, highly popular local snacks and foods that are often sold at wayside stalls and restaurants. The owner of a café in Kerala’s Kochi city, Isaac Alexander, says the format does not seem fair as it excludes such food.
“One food that is eaten widely in Kerala is the “paratha.” It is high in fat, high in refined flour; it is cheap,” he said. “It can’t be taxed because it is highly unorganized,” he said.
Raising awareness, not taxing
Doctors and nutritionists agree that the tax needs to target a range of Indian snacks rich in trans fats that are sold throughout the country often on wayside stalls, as well as sugary drinks.
“Is it enough? I don’t think so. We need to go much beyond the burgers and the doughnuts and the French fries,” says Sheela Krishnaswamy, a nutritionist who heads the Indian Dietetic Association in Bangalore. “It needs to be done more scientifically. It needs to be done at what percentage of fat in a food can the fat tax begin.”
A customer in New Delhi who is enjoying burgers with his family does not agree. Vijay Deoli says governments should focus on more urgent priorities like pollution.
“First you have to clear up the air, the water; many things are there,” he said. “This is a small thing.”
Others say the government should focus more on raising awareness about fast food instead of using taxes to influence people’s choices.
“If you go by even developed countries, nowadays teachers or classrooms — they are training people, what should be eaten, and what should not be eaten,” says IT engineer Gaurav Singh.
Denmark, for example, scrapped a fat tax when it found that customers were picking up their quota of high fat goods from other countries.
Health experts agree that raising awareness is critical; but, Dr. Misra feels that education alone is not doing the trick.
“As I see every day, people, they are well aware of what is good and what is bad, they will [still] most of the time veer towards bad eating,” he said.
He compares the fat tax to a seatbelt law imposed some years back to force people to use seatbelts. “Everybody has a seatbelt. Previously nobody was wearing that, because there is a fine. So a certain amount of regulation has to be brought in to change the habits of the people.”
Antiquities smuggling is a recurrent problem in Israel
Most of the coins recovered were from the Hellenistic and Roman eras
The valuables were seized while a senior Norwegian diplomat was in the car
A Norwegian diplomat vehicle carrying a haul of antiquities consisting of coins, sculptures, statuettes, and other artifacts concealed in cardboard boxes was arrested at Allenby Bridge on Monday, June 6.
The valuables were seized while a senior Norwegian diplomat was in the car, travelling between Jerusalem and Jordan. “Following Norway’s permission to the Israeli MFA for the custom authorities to search the vehicle, custom officials stated to have found artifacts in the car. A locally employed driver was detained by Israeli authorities,” reported Jerusalem Post.
The officials along with the driver were arrested at the scene but were later granted conditional release by the Jerusalem Magistrate Court after posting bail. The Israeli Tax Authority named the driver as Issa Nagam, a resident of Beit Hanina in east Jerusalem.
Israeli Tax Authority officials handed the artifacts over to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) for furthering details on the items. Initially, it was reported that the articles found were of “great value”, with no further information on the origin of the precious figurines.
Antiquities smuggling is in fact a recurrent problem in Israel, where precious items are sold illegally to collectors both inside and outside the region. They are often used to launder money in villages near West Bank and Bar Kochba-era tunnels.
IAA later confirmed the amount of antiquities as 10 kilograms, releasing a picture that “showed a mound of small coins and around a dozen small figurines.”
“Most of the coins were from the Hellenistic and Roman eras. The bulk was minted by Judea’s Hasmonean Kings and by King Herod,” said an IAA spokesperson.
The Norwegian Embassy in Tel Aviv told the Times of Israel, “Norway takes this incident very seriously.” An internal probe has been launched by the Foreign Embassy to investigate how a diplomat vehicle was used for an illegal activity.
“We are aware that diplomatic vehicles from other missions have been subject to similar incidents. In addition to the handling by Israeli authorities, we have initiated an internal process,” said the Norwegian Embassy.
-by Maariyah Siddiquee, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @MaariyahSid
New Delhi: The course of fiscal policy of the government is decided by the budget, which is an important document. This year too seems to be kick started with the halwa ceremony, renowned for commencing the printing of the budget documents on February 19.
Another unique feature of this year’s budget is that some of the key officials have communicated through a series of videos that aim to demystify the budgetary process. These videos also give a flavor about the essential features of the upcoming budget to be presented by FM Jaitley on February 29.
The key officials that have spoken before the budget announcement include the finance minister, the minister of state for finance, and the revenue and the economic affairs secretaries – and all have made some crucial points relating to the budget 2016.
The finance minister, in his interactions, had mentioned the use of technology to the advantage of all taxpayers. Already some 1.4 crore people have been notified of the budget refunds through the technology platforms and their refunds have been processed through the same medium. Roughly 90 percent of the budget filings are done online, and this is where the power of technology is making the tax process smooth and efficient.
The minister of state for finance, in his interaction, has mentioned that the budget will aim to reduce poverty, provide prosperity to farmers, help in job creation for the young people of the country and provide a better quality of life to all citizens. He also expressed his belief that India will continue to be a beacon of growth and stability in a very turbulent global environment.
The economic affairs secretary tried to demystify the budget process and mentioned that it is a long-term process as opposed to the common conception. It generally starts in September with a detailed circular being issued to all the ministries. Post this, in November and December, the Department of Expenditure holds meetings with various ministries about the requirements in the current and the next years.
At the beginning of January, the Department of Revenue makes its forecasts for the current year and the next year. There are the revised estimates for the current year and the budget estimates for the next year. Post this once the revenue and expenditure proposals converge, the finance minister holds consultations with various stakeholders and proposals are concretized at the end of January. Decisions are then taken and post this followed by printing of budget documents.
The economic affairs secretary also alluded to the fiscal deficit and how the government is looking at it. He too was upbeat about India’s performance amid global turbulence and said that budget has to focus on growth as it leads to job creation and economic development.
The revenue secretary, in his interaction, mentioned taxation and the broad structure of the budget. He stated that the total tax revenue projection is Rs.14.4 lakh crore. The income tax revenue is close to about Rs.7.9 lakh crore and the indirect tax revenue is close to Rs.6.5 lakh crore.
Within the income tax, there are two components – the corporate income tax and the personal income tax. The corporate income tax is around 59 percent while the personal income tax is around 41 percent.
On the indirect side, there are three major components: excise duties, customs and service tax. Normally these are roughly the same contribution, but this year, due to the oil duty, the excise duties are close to 39 percent while the other two form the remaining indirect taxes.
The service tax structure is diversified, which is a good thing. The direct side seems as having a shortfall of about Rs.40,000 crore as corporate earnings have been low but this will be compensated by the indirect side which is buoyant. The revenue secretary also alluded to ways and means to reduce the litigation that has been seen as a perennial problem for India’s corporate sector.
In the week ahead, a lot of haze will get cleared on the issues pertaining to the budget. The new media strategy seems to be a good initiative leading up to the budget. Overall the stage is set for a historic budget. It is also hoped that the government succeeds in the balancing act when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presents the budget in the Lok Sabha at 11 am on February 29. (IANS)