Friday, October 19, 2012

The Befitting March!

The Befitting March!

Many years ago, I started my first earning debut. Being a refugee from the earlier East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and being quite young in age and born in an educated middle-class family, access to an honest way of earning was a primary focus. The kind of job was of lesser importance though parents preferred dignified jobs. When I was about fourteen, I stated to earn. I was considered more fortunate among the luckier ones as I started earning a bit early without compromising my basic education!

But because I started a bit early, I was exposed to the methods of earnings. My exposure provided me with profound experience with a bit of skills in several areas, which spanned from handling electrical gadgets to house-line repairing, assembling of small step-down transformers, fixing of faults in water connection lines, sourcing of cheaper house-hold materials, preparation of various simple house-hold chemicals like washing powder, cheap soaps and detergents, repairing of house-hold materials and the like. Private tuition and coaching was another passion of mine; as a consequence, as I grew up and moved up to my mid-twenties there were no dearth of jobs for me with some pocket money too! I studied and learnt the market considerably within my means and molded myself accordingly. In our days, Government jobs were lucrative and passing UPSC examinations were adequate for getting decently fixed somewhere. This is what I did later!

There is much less government jobs at the present time. Our time has undergone a sea-change. From the scenario of Public Sector piloting the economy the earlier days up to late eighties, the Private Sector has established its hold gradually and firmly, now has almost majorly taken over. Consequently, the jobs in the private market are much more these days. Government jobs have drastically shrunk.

Statistics from learned sources vouch for the arrival of fresh job-seekers in numbers of more than one million annually! They are all young in the productive age of twenties to thirties. Our country does not have annually, new jobs for so many at a time! For some years therefore, bulk of young people are waiting for their turns; some are picking up smaller jobs with lower pay packets and some others are getting under-paid!

Young individuals are holding low-paid jobs to help cover some of their incidental expenses. They are in the waiting for a better opportunity. Unfortunately, low-wage jobs are becoming a career for many young Indians as the right kinds of opportunities are not arriving. In the process the lower –wage occupations are growing much faster than the mid-wage or the high-wage occupations. Is this a good trend?

Skill development is of prime importance for making one competent for hiring. These days the spectra of skill development is diverse. But the scope of acquiring skills does not seem to be adequate. Young job-seekers are often not adequately trained in skills that facilitate their hiring for an earning.

In any country, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate provides a collective and combined measure of variation in value of the goods and services produced by its economy. GDP measures the value of total outputs in real terms or in inflation-adjusted terms in a year, which output must be the total value of people’s total expenditure to be incurred for buying the outputs. The GDP is calculated by three main techniques, which are based on measuring the output, or assessing the income or by calculating the total expenditure; by all these techniques the same figures are derived.

Indian economy is yet agriculture -based. Agriculture contributed to about 22.6% of the GDP in 2009-’10. The sector provides employment to nearly 56 % of the work force; employment in agriculture is however poorly paid. The service sector contributed to a hooping 63.4 %( including construction) of the GDP during 2009-’10 .This sector provides employment to nearly 25% of the work force. The industrial sector contributed to around 14% of the GDP; the sector provides employment to nearly 19%. The total work force is estimated to be over 500 million. Most remunerative salaries are in the Service and Industrial sector. Therefore, it needs to be explored if it would be possible to create conditions so that employees in Agriculture sector are also better paid.

Indian economy has manifested an average growth rate of more than 7% in the decade starting from 1997; unfortunately, the growth was predicted at 4.9% in 2012 by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) citing reasons of drought on one hand and the political gridlock on the other. IMF felt that unless better and more efficient ways and means are kept in place for boosting infrastructural investment especially in the energy sector and policy reforms in several sectors like taxes, subsidies and the like that contribute to boosting of investment and reduction in the supply bottlenecks , the annual GDP growth would not get picked up. This observation is certainly causing concern among the forward looking individuals and organizations.

The GDP growth over the years has been contributing to reduction in the poverty level of Indians to a considerable extent. Indian GDP at current prices was reported at 57412.38 billion Indian rupees in 2009, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF); this figure is anticipated to reach 120973.81 billion rupees in 2015. Yet in spite of considerable reduction in the quantum of poor people, there exists some 217 million Indians, who are malnourished and living in families with income below the poverty line. Indian population is estimated at 1240 million in mid 2012. The malnourished Indians constituting about 17.5% urges the need for taking greater and stronger corrective actions from multiple directions to minimize the quantum. Most malnourished poor people reside in villages. Employment in agriculture is their almost only option for a living.

If India becomes wealthier faster on a sustainable manner and if the income distribution is more even and rational, then much of the problems related to poverty and income-inequality would even up. The indicators for leveling up to attain at least up to some minimum standard would obviously include spread of education, availability of hygienic sanitation, intake of hygienic drinking water and balanced food by individuals, adequacy of health care needs for individuals , adequacy of clothing and availability of affordable hygienic shelter. It is obvious that it would take many years to achieve the goals; the aim should not in any way be misdirected nor should the efforts dither the planning process to achieve the set targets.

Decent jobs are created more in the industry and the service sectors. In organized sectors, benefits like provident fund, leave entitlement, medical facilities and insurance coverage are also provided to the work force. Indian Services sector include: financing, insurance, real estate, and business services (contributed to 16.7% of the GDP in 2009); trade, hotels and restaurants ( 16.3%) ; community, social, and personal services category( 14.4%) ; transport, storage, and communication ( 7.8 % ); and construction (8.2%).Major Indian industrial sector comprise of Textiles & Garments, Leather & Footwear, IT Hardware Software & Electronics, Capital Goods, Aerospace, Communication, Food Processing, Shipping, Drugs& Pharmaceuticals, Chemicals, Steel, Cement, Mining, Petroleum, Transportation and a few more. All these sectors have highly organized industries; a sizable chunk comprises medium, small and tiny enterprises too. The ancillary industries and services also contribute significantly. While highly paid lucrative jobs are mainly in the organized sector, comparatively good and well-paid jobs are also created in the other sectors. The total potential for employment generation in these two sectors is about 40 - 44%. The rest would have to look for jobs in the agriculture sector!

Agriculture can provide more employment if the productivity is raised through induction of modern technologies. The agricultural produce being perishable and the cold storage facilities being limited and expensive the chances of the produce getting spoilt and wasted are more. There is considerable inadequacy in the infrastructure facilities like roads, rails, water-ways and air transportation; further, inappropriate and inadequate transportation facilities, inadequacy in the availability of electricity and other energy sources etc. add to the worries of the communities practicing the trade. Most of the individuals in the trade are poor with average income less than those employed in industry or in the service sector.

On the other side of the scenario, the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) has recently estimated that the number of high-income households in India has exceeded the number of low-income and should have reached 46.7 million by March 2010, exceeding the 41 million households counted as low-incomes during the period. Individuals earning between Rs 45,000 and Rs 180,000 per annum, (at 2001-02 prices) rose sharply in the last decade to 135.9 million in 2007-08 and 140.7 million in 2009-10. The number of families having income between Rs 0.2 million and Rs 1 million per annum, which is close to the World Bank definition of middle class was 28.4 million by 2009-10. Such middle-class households were 4.5 million in 1995-96 and 10.7 million in 2001-02. Obviously, these are indicators about India becoming more prosperous. The Indian middle-class have more purchasing power than the poor Indians. Food produced by farmers can be purchased locally by these middle class people and consumption in these families would constitute a sizeable portion. This buying class can pay higher prices too.

The present Indian policy to allow 51% FDI in multi-brand retail shall boost procurement of agricultural produce from the farmers. This policy would allow flow of capital for investment and allow induction of better technologies. These two factors shall upgrade efficiency at multiple points, enabling the farmers to obtain better prices for their produce. It is also anticipated that several paying jobs shall be created and the actual producers will have more capital at their disposal thereby boosting their purchasing power. The rural sector will be substantially uplifted economically. The resistance to such a move by some sections of the citizens in certain pockets does not stand to score much as the arguments from such pockets that there would be loss of jobs does not stand the rigors of logic.

Good things can happen if the administrative set up and the societal structure accept changes that are natural outcome of liberalization. Without sizeable investment and induction of technology the efficiency of production cannot be raised beyond a limit. Technologies can enable quantum jump in the productivity. Technologies can be inducted only when there are adequate funds, no matter where the funds come from. If the governing and managing of funds and technologies are rationally made to attract induction of such inputs without belittling the sovereignty of the country through administrative procedures emerging from strong and stable governments, there is no reason to believe why such endeavor would not yield results of benefits. If however efforts of liberalization are prevented to bloom and if in the process the vital inputs of capital and technologies get blocked, the progress will certainly not be with the speed which is required for India to progress faster.

The government decision to induct FDI in multi-brand retail is anticipated to boost agricultural productivity. Further, it would empower the producers of agricultural commodities directly and thereby the farmers at all levels would be able to boost their average income. If this happens, more remunerative jobs would be created in Indian agriculture. This would eventually enable the agricultural output to contribute more to the economy in value terms besides enabling easing of income parity. Further, this would enable the generation of more skills among the agriculture workforce which would increase their prestige much higher. Reduction in income disparity and enhancement of individual skills are some of the vital manifestations of an intelligent and socially uplifted nation. FDI in multi-brand retail we thought, is a step in this direction.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Our sixty sixth independence day

Today is our Independence Day. The day is precious to us because we celebrate the meaning of ‘Swatantra’ today.  We have acquired independence or ‘Swatantrata’ in exercising, executing, effecting, accomplishing and implementing our freedom to get in to all kinds of creative endeavor whatever we wish to pursue. Creation is the basis for expressing new ideas emanating from within. Creation is the basis of foundation, invention, design, establishment and manufacture. In freedom and independence of individuals and our nation, lie the germs of developing technologies.

On the mid-night of August 14, 1947 our beloved leader Nehru in a part of his great speech to the nation said,’ At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom…..’ This was a great speech but factually what was mentioned was not correct:  the world was not sleeping; the entire west including USA was awake and was toiling for developing new technologies, new inventions and new discoveries! Asia might have been sleeping…..

Our emphasis on our freedom and independence have not have been adequate for new technologies, new inventions and new discoveries.

I have greatest esteem for those for whose work and sacrifice we got freedom and independence. I am also very proud that we have made phenomenal progress during the last 65 years after our independence and have created considerable wealth for our country. But the point is, ‘Are these adequate?’

Even today we know that we have the largest numbers of poor people in the world compared to any other country.

Two major indicators come to my mind the working on which shall  improve the  destination of our  nation : one, the income and wealth  distribution are not rational nor has the created wealth percolated among the people in a balanced manner ; and two , we have not put whole-hearted attention on developing appropriate technologies for our people.

I strongly believe that by emphasizing on the conceptualization, creation, nurturing, development and propagation of tiny and small industries in diverse sectors, we can greatly even up the income and wealth distribution disparities. This would require people-friendly policies created and propagated by the country, which would include political will, access to money, space, materials, skills, transportation, markets, competition and enforcement of law & order.

I also believe that the application of efficient technologies, which would provide us with opportunities for a quantum leap in all areas of our concern and activities, must be developed by our people for our use. Basic science is important; but  bogging down to basics without applications would cut down so much of our resources that we would  never have the chance to share the fruits of our understanding in our life time! Our science and technological institutions would have to contribute more in applications and application –oriented skills.

As a proud citizen of our great country, while celebrating our 66th independence day, I look forward to possibilities that take shape in evening up our wealth distribution through socially acceptable scientific methods by the application of country-developed novel and appropriate technologies. Jai Hind!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Molecular Diagnostics: Emerging Technologies

Molecular Diagnostics: Emerging Technologies

Human born from two haploid cells forming a zygote cell, divides up to 10 trillion cells in life-time. Each nucleated cell has 22 pairs plus either one pair of XY or XX chromosomes in the nucleus. Human genome is stored in 23 chromosome pairs and a small mitochondrial DNA. Haploid human genome occupies a total of over three billion DNA base pairs. Nearly 30,000 to 40,000 protein-coding genes each individual possesses. Humans also carry over 90 trillion microbes in the gut. Each human life is an orchestra of manifestation of events in an environment, emanating from own 10 trillion cells and carried 90 trillion microbes. Human possesses more DNA from environment than what it inherits and magnifies in its life process. In a physical environment, all the manifestations of health or diseases emanate from own and acquired cells, where expressions stem from the genes through transcription and translation, manifesting a wide range of properties through enzymes, diverse metabolites and other substances. All precise predictions reside in the understandings that emanate and spread from the DNA level.

The aim of effective molecular diagnostics is to find effective biomarkers. A biomarker is a molecule or a response of the cells/tissues/body, which can be objectively measured /evaluated as an indicator of normal biologic processes, pathogenic processes, or pharmacologic responses. In microbial diseases, cancer, cardiovascular diseases or diabetes or other chronic diseases a biomarker refers to a substance or a process that is indicative of the presence or dormant stage of the disease in the body. Genetic, epigenetic, proteomic and glycomic biomarkers can be used for diagnosis, prognosis and epidemiology. These markers can be assayed non-invasively from the collected biological fluids/ body fluids. Examples of genetic biomarkers are: BRCA1 for breast cancer, GDF15 for bladder cancer, Troponin I and CRP for cardio vascular diseases etc.

In molecular diagnostics, the aim is to measure polymorphism of SNPs, haplotype blocks, candidate genes (genes suspected to be involved in an expression), certain proteins and metabolytes as also the spectra of microbial genome in the gut. Information on and about polymorphism is to be generated, measured and correlated with health or disease status.

The key issues in the development hover around measurement of polymorphism, the speed of measurement and the instruments used. Worldwide floods of information are being generated and validated presently correlating with disease risks though new information on: SNPs, haplotype blocks, disease linked DNA/RNA sequences, candidate genes and allelies, novel proteins, novel metabolites, study of cell systems at a single cell level and study of human gut microbial genetics. Computational methods are being developed through robust cyber infrastructure. In all such studies, effective linkages are being established between environmental, dietary, and behavioral data-sets for eco-genetic analysis. High throughput measurements are being evolved to integrate phenotypes with genotypes and to enable application of personalized medicines. Breakthrough tests from the above techniques and analysis shall predict the present and future states of body and evolve suggestive /predictive care. Our expectations are that simple, doable and cost-effective diagnostic device should appear soon to serve human health better.

The main of molecular diagnostics is to predict and prevent diseases well in advance and to support more appropriate personalized medicines. In future, scenario of molecular diagnostics seems to appear like this: a patient would come for an examination to a physician; the physician will collect a sample of body fluid and subject the sample to genomic sequencing; the SNP and the haplotype pattern, for example shall be known where from the physician shall link the status with problems in the body of the patient through computational software programs, which are already prepared and available through a computer. The physician would therefore be able to suggest if the patient needs a medication or what should be done to prevent a disease that is going to appear soon or what additional test must be carried out to conclude about the ailment of the patient. In some cases, the physician may pick up blood samples or samples from the solid tumors and would find the extent of mutated cells in the body to have insight on whether the patient is going to get into the symptoms of certain chronic diseases. In many cases the sequencing data would enable the physician to correlate what medicine would be more suitable for the patient suffering from certain chronic diseases. Such would be the feat and power of molecular diagnostics!

Molecular diagnostics are gaining importance because of high speed of innovative research; discovery of more reliable advanced techniques and machines as well as better understanding of disease progression. People are also becoming more health conscious and as there is an increase in the middle class families, their abilities to pay are also increasing. This situation is also seen as an advantage by the manufacturers as the services are supposed to be more remunerative. The government policies are also supportive to the development as molecular diagnostics are eventually promising better health opportunities to the people.

The future of molecular diagnostics is therefore seen to proceed as under:

1. Knowledge about our body at DNA level would become more profound.

2. Correlations between individual genomic information with own microbial genomics information shall be stronger and methods would be available to make change in the microbial flora in individual gut.

3. Genetics and genome studies would become more personal for individual care, individualized therapy and individualized cure.

4. Genomics & Proteomics would hold the key for innovation in discovery of predictive biomarkers.

5. Every individual will have his/ her genome sequenced fully and would know distinct SNP patterns and haplotype blocks , empowering the physicians for decision making, for choosing more appropriate drugs in chronic diseases.

6. All validated molecular techniques shall lead to more patient empowerment.

7. In the coming years low cost, simple, non-invasive and predictive tests are going to take very important position in our lives and healthcare system.