Event Reports

National Pedestrians’ Conference 2022

Sun, 20/03/2022 - 11:58

The second National Pedestrian Conference organized by SUM Net India in Chennai brought together pedestrian voices, in an effort to create and implement walker-friendly roads and spaces. The event was held on the 11th and 12th of March, 2022 with a keynote address by Ms. Santha Sheela Nair, IAS (retd.).

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A discussion with food manufacturers on Front of Pack Warning Labels

Tue, 15/03/2022 - 14:06
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CAG, in collaboration with Tamil Nadu Small and Tiny Industry Association (TANSTIA), organized a discussion with manufacturers of processed foods in Tamil Nadu on the 8th of March 2022.

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Webinar on Understanding Chennai’s Master Plan from a Transport Perspective

Tue, 15/03/2022 - 11:52

A discussion on the existing urban policy framework, Chennai's second master plan, and the proposed third master plan with Prof. A. Srivathsan and Ms. Aswathy Dilip on March 7th, 2022.

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Webinar on Electricity Sector Competition

Tue, 01/03/2022 - 13:11
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Webinar 2: Electricity Sector Competition 

February 15th, 2022

Post Webinar Note

Context

Competition in power markets enhances efficiency in the sector, while bringing in additional finance and capital to strengthen the sector. Consumers are provided with greater choices in service providers and business models such as Opex and open access as per their energy requirements, load patterns and economic and financial considerations. This has also led to a greater number of players in the market which makes it more competitive, increases choices for the consumer and widens the scale of deployment of such solutions. 

As Tamil Nadu embarks on this journey of strengthening the electricity sector by promoting competition in the sector and introducing new business models, the ‘Citizen consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG)’ in collaboration with MP Ensystems Advisory Pvt. Ltd organized a webinar to discuss the considerations, implications and relevance of ‘Electricity Sector Competition’. 

Key Discussion Points

Presentation on electricity sector competition: Dr Mahesh Patankar, MP Ensystems 

  • Electricity sector has a political economy of its own and the sector has long suffered due to inefficient administration. Most of the state-owned utilities continue to bleed financially as mounting losses continue to affect the reforms that have been undertaken in recent years.
  • India is now on a clear path of decarbonisation which was also on display during the Prime Minister’s announcements at the UN COP-26 Summit, where he declared the Panchamrit targets:
  • India will get its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030
  • India will meet 50% of its energy requirements till 2030 with RE
  • India will reduce its projected carbon emission by one billion tons by 2030
  • India will reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 45 % by 2030
  • India will achieve net zero by 2070
  • The Electricity Act, 2003 which was a landmark Act for the electricity sector in India included provisions of introduction of power exchanges and the facility of availing open access in India. These steps have been fundamental to the strengthening of competition in the electricity sector. The uptake in the number of consumers and volume of electricity availed through open access is a testament to that.
  • Various models have been tried in different parts of the country in the electricity sector. Some of the notable examples are Bhiwandi model, which was a distribution franchisee model, New Delhi model, etc which have achieved varying levels of success in promoting efficiency in the electricity sector.
  • Tamil Nadu has been an active participant in implementing energy sector reforms and striving for universal access to energy as the state has already achieved 100% electrification of households. It also has the highest number of open access consumers in the country. In this perspective, promoting efficiency and competition in the electricity sector is vital.  

Panel Discussion: Promoting Electricity Sector Competition

Ashwini Swain, Centre for Policy Research

  • There have already been numerous models that have been tried throughout the country to promote efficiency in the retail sector but judging by the degree of success achieved by different models, it cannot be said that privatisation is the cure to all maladies. 
  • Despite going down the privatisation path, Bhiwandi and Odisha models achieved contrasting results. While Delhi saw an improvement in efficiency, provision of quality supply and reduction in Transmission and Distribution losses, the same was not the case in Odisha. Hence, it is essential to take a holistic view of the issues in the sector in different geographies instead of taking a one size fits all approach.
  • The case of Punjab is different than the other two cases as Punjab State Power Corporation Limited became financially crippled not on account of operational inefficiency but due to delays in provision of subsidy requirement. Thus, there are many issues that plague the power sector distributed throughout the whole ecosystem and there is a need to analyse all aspects before finalising a particular approach for reforms.

Ann Josey, Prayas Energy Group 

  • Just a change in ownership is not the solution to improving efficiency in the electricity sector. The current model followed predominantly in India is based on a cost-plus framework, which has no incentives for the organisations for improvement of efficiency. 
  • Prayas Group’s analysis of private sector distribution companies illustrates that there is no real competition when it comes to power procurement by these companies. These Discoms go through the route of competitive bidding for their power procurement, but it was found that most of these companies had contracted power with their own sister concerns, thus rendering the competitive bidding meaningless. Example- Torrent Power.
  • To promote efficiency in the sector, there is a need to promote competition in the entire supply chain. The retail structural model of California is a good case study in this regard. 
  • There is a need to share the risk as well as the rewards for the players in the electricity ecosystem, with a focus on the consumers. 

Netra Walawalkar, Customized Energy Solutions

  • Many large commercial and industrial consumers are now willing to explore open access to reduce their electricity cost, as it is a fixed structure with Discoms, and manage their power requirements as per demand projections. There is also a growing interest in Renewable energy purchase. 
  • Short term power trade through power exchanges has also increased, but has stagnated in recent years, and there is scope to increase participation through this medium.
  • For consumers signing third party power agreements via PPAs with generators, the landed cost for the consumer often does not make sense due to cross subsidy and other charges. Even though Electricity Act says cross subsidy and other charges should increase, this is not happening practically.
  • Despite these charges, there has been an increase in availing through Open access by industrial and commercial consumers who have been able to reduce their electricity costs.

Arijit Maitra, Independent Counsel and Lawyer

  • Indian Electricity Act, 1910 provided for private licensees, which led to the existence of Tata Power, India Power Company, BSES, etc. In 1948, State Electricity Boards were formed. Between 1948-1998, there was a huge mismanagement by state Discoms and a high level of inefficiency.
  • The burning issues in the power sector are:
  • Failure to pay the outstanding dues to suppliers
  • Failure to have tariffs fixed rationally and scientifically
  • Failure to arrest arrears

Due to these issues, there is a need to bring in efficient private players, Delhi being a good example. 

  • Privatisation can have various models. 
  1. In Shrirampur of Maharashtra, Mula Pravara Electric Cooperative Society were rejected renewal of license on the ground that they failed to pay the bulk supply tariff to MSEDCL, and they were supplying to the rich consumers without recovering tariffs. Now the assets of Mula Pravara are with MSEDCL, for which it is paying user charges. Thus, despite not being a licensee, it is not being paid for the assets.
  2. Delhi model is another model of privatisation. Delhi DISCOMs have regulatory assets exceeding Rs 10,000 crore but are still unable to clear the outstanding dues of the suppliers.
  3. Chandigarh presents another model for privatisation.
  • Many states are currently failing. Even in Tamil Nadu, the outstanding dues with generators have been increasing consistently, while there has also been an inability to assess the grid situation. Hence, there is a need for efficient players to be brought onboard.  

Concluding Remarks: Vishnu Rao, CAG

  • The corporate governance of electricity sector warrants adequate scrutiny as well. Utilities can be private or public, but procedural safeguards in the corporate governance structure helps ensure more accountability and transparency in the operational setup. 
  • More transparency akin to share markets where investors’ presentations are put online can be thought of to provide the company some value. A push towards sustainability and governance can be given more priority to make utilities more accountable. This type of an alternate approach where competition not just in the sector, but also in the governance part as well can improve the electricity ecosystems. 
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Webinar on Agrivoltaics in India- opportunities and challenges

Wed, 01/12/2021 - 14:13

The availability of a large area of land is a prerequisite to the installation of solar panels. In order to generate 1MW of power,  the area of land required could be between 2.5 acres and 4 acres. This implies that purely investing in solar farms filled with hundreds or maybe thousands of solar panels instead of crops will have a serious impact on the agricultural output which the land could have produced. On the other hand, focusing on traditional farming alone can be relatively risky given its dependence on weather conditions and other externalities. This raises a dilemma since we need land to feed our ever-growing population and also satisfy their energy needs. Agrivoltaics can be seen as a plausible solution that can make the production of both photovoltaic power and agricultural crops lucrative. This not only increases the total productivity of land but is of economic benefit to the farmers. One example of this is the Cochin International Airport, where this idea has been implemented. The vegetables are grown organically and are co-located with solar panels.

Since this concept is still at a nascent stage, CAG organised this webinar on 22nd Nov, to have a discussion on opportunities and challenges for agrivoltaics in India along with relevant policies for the same. The panel consisted of eminent speakers, Mr Amit Kumar who retired as Senior Director of TERI, Mr Subramaniyam Pulipaka who is the youngest CEO of NSEFI and Mr Jose Thomas who is the Executive Director of CIAL.

Key Discussion Points

Overview of Agrivoltaics in India and existing policies, by Mr Subramaniyam Pulipaka, CEO National Solar Energy Federation of India

  • NSEFI works closely with Indo-German Energy Forum (IGEF).
  • The joint report of NSEFI and IGEF outlines policy recommendations to the Indian government.
  • India has a crystal clear land use classification.
  • There are 17 agrivoltaics plants in India
  • In India, we perceive agrivoltaics in 3 ways.
  • Plants grown in between the rows of the panels
  • Farming below the panels
  • Farming below elevated structure
  • He also gave an introduction to various agrivoltaics plants in India
  • More pilot projects are required to prove the trade-off between the extra cost incurred for facilitating agriculture below the solar panels and the resulting revenue from the cultivation.
  • Miscordination between stakeholders frequently compromises the efficiency of agrivoltaic plants.

According to Mr Subramaniyam Pulipakka “If 1% of total arable land is used for agri PV, then 895 GW of power can be produced”. The major concern is land classification and financial incentives.

Practical experience in implementation by Mr Jose Thomas, Executive Director CIAL

  • Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL) is the first greenfield airport in India under the PPP model.
  • In 2012, Kerala State Electricity Board increased power tariff from Rs. 4/unit to Rs. 7/unit.
  • CIAL started with a pilot solar plant on the rooftop.
  • The Major 12 MWp plant was completed on 18th Aug 2015, with a total investment of Rs. 62 crore.
  • This made CIAL the first airport in the world to be fully powered by solar.
  • Now installed capacity is above 50 MWp.
  • 450 kWp floating solar has been installed in the CIAL golf course.
  • They started in an area of 4 acres in 2015, vegetable cultivation has increased to about 20 acres now.
  • It will be spread to the entire solar plant area of 45 acres by 2023.
  • It provides regular employment to 12 people per day.
  • 30%-35% area is used for ginger. Rest is used for pumpkin, chilly, yam, ash gourd, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.
  • Drip irrigation and mulching are done to save water.
  • The total harvest of pesticide-free vegetables crossed 80 metric tonnes last year.
  • Local agriculture officers visit the area regularly.

Mr Jose Thomas said that “Growing vegetables cool the panels and water used for cleaning panels is used for irrigation”. Thus, agrivoltaics create food-energy-water nexus.

Effect on agriculture, policies for large scale implementation by Mr Amit Kumar, Senior Director (Retd.), Social Transformation at The Energy and Resources Institute

  • PV panels in agrivoltaics systems act as windbreakers, it can reduce wind erosion of soil.
  • With optimum tracking, sufficient sunlight can be provided.
  • Worldwide 3 GW of agrivoltaics has been installed.
  • The application of PV panels can increase water runoff. This can lead to non-uniform water distribution in the field.
  • Agrivoltaics affects the microclimate of the farm.
  • In certain stages of the crop cycle, due to shading, crop yield may be affected.
  • The benefit is that the loss of water due to transpiration is reduced leading to reduced irrigation requirements.
  • It is difficult to bring changes suddenly in the farming sector.
  • Agriculture universities, state agricultural departments and farmers have to be involved as agrivoltaics is an interdisciplinary domain.
  • The central government can initiate a national program in consultation with the state.

 Mr Amit Kumar insisted  “Demonstration farms have to be set up to convince farmers to take up this method. Unless they are convinced, adoption is difficult”

There were around 23 participants and the discussion ended with an interactive Q and A session. The questions ranged from quantifying the electricity generation after growing plants below the panels to policy-level initiatives.

 

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Webinar on Just Transition in the Electricity Sector in India

Mon, 22/11/2021 - 16:57

With increasing demand for electricity in urban and rural areas, impending shortages in electricity supply due to unavailability of coal and increasing penetration of renewable energy in India, it is imperative to ensure a Just Transition for electricity consumers. It is important that the impact of the benefits and challenges are distributed Justly’ between the rural and urban sectors and across consumers categories. 

As Tamil Nadu embarks on this journey of decarbonization and strengthening the electricity sector for its consumers, the ‘Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG)’ in collaboration with MP Ensystems Advisory Pvt. Ltd organized a webinar to discuss the importance, relevance and challenges related to ‘Just Transition in the Electricity Sector in India.’ The webinar can be viewed here.

Key Discussion Points

Context of Just Transition in India and Tamil Nadu: Vishnu Rao, CAG

  • Energy transition has been looked at from the renewable integration aspect, but we need to address social and economic aspects from the consumer perspective. 
  • This discussion is a beginning stage to map out next steps that Tamil Nadu can take to enable a Just energy transition scenario in the future. We are looking at options including sustainable commercial utilities that provides affordable power for all as well as utility-scale solar plants. On the financial aspects of the Just transition, we need to understand whether it is feasible and commercially viable for a utility to accelerate a Just energy transition scenario in the state.
  • We need to look at the role of marginalised people in Just transition to ensure equitable inclusion. 

Presentation on an overview of Just Transition: Meghana Rao Pahlajani, MP Ensystems

  • Just transition related to a low carbon economy has three key focus areas:
  • Climate Justice concerns sharing the benefits and burden of climate change from my human rights perspective
  • Energy Justice refers to the application of human rights across the energy life cycle
  • Environmental Justice aims to treat all citizens equally and to involve them in development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies
  • Key drivers of an accelerated transition away from fossil fuels in India include:
    • Renewable and Storage getting cheaper
    • Emission Intensity commitment in NDC
    • Stranded assets and reluctance of finance institutions to fund new coal: 
    • Increasing, yet lower than expected demand
    • High cost of transport
    • Competing demand for limited land
  • With a total installation capacity of around 34,000 MW, Tamil Nadu has one of the highest installations of Renewable Energy in the country. Tamil Nadu also has the highest borrowings of distribution utilities amongst states in 2019-20. Tamil Nadu is well poised to shift from a thermal base system to a renewable energy-based system. Projections from NREL model RE capacity reaching close to 34 GW in 2030 and the Tamil Government has announced high targets and relevant policies to support decarbonization in the State.  

Panel Discussion 1: Reflections on Just Transition in Energy and Global perspective

Dr Mahesh Patankar, MP Ensystems

  • Developing countries have to focus on Just transition to account for adequate electricity supply to meet the growing demand whilst maximising livelihood opportunities in the rural sector. 
  • With an ecosystem of renewables integrating to Tamil Nadu’s energy infrastructure, we need to look at how to balance this with the current strength of utilities. We need to make sure we have abundance of electricity available to vulnerable populations for not just their domestic needs but also industrial and agricultural requirements in urban and rural areas.
  • During the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw a reverse migration from urban to rural areas, increasing demand from agriculture, rural industries, and small businesses. To enable equitable distribution of social and economic objectives for all, we need to provide adequate and reliable power supply throughout the country. 
  • Several aspects of the energy system need to be carefully analysed. It is important to look at designing power markets effectively to ensure decarbonised electricity is available for all distribution companies. 

Dr. Zsuzsanna Pató, Regulatory Assistance Project 

  • Some of the issues raised in Eastern Europe are relevant in the Just transition context for India. The conversation at the EU at a policy level has only covered issues of energy poverty. However, as energy prices increase, we need to focus on ensuring equity for poor consumers.
  • In the case of net metering policies, PV consumers pay only for the net amount of energy produced. This creates a mismatch as poorer households, who usually cannot pay for PV installations, are paying the cost of upholding the distribution network. 
  • In EU, the transition is driven at the national level. A stronger push on regulations and policies at a sub-national and local level will be required to ensure equitable energy transition. 

Akanksha Golcha, Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation

  • Transition pathways will vary depending upon geography. We need to consider social transition of not only direct coal-affected communities, but also indirect stakeholders located near coal mines. A data-centric approach and convergence between centralized and decentralised power supply approach is important to plan and streamline for a Just transition. 
  • Central policies are necessary to drive the overall national objectives, but we also need a bottom-up approach that considers multiple aspects such as gender. 
  • Saubhagya Scheme was successfully undertaken in rural areas. A similar approach is required for a Just transition to ensure economically poor households can benefit equitably. 

Panel Discussion 2: Just Energy transition in India

Dr. Kaveri Iychettira, School of Public Policy, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi

  • Much of the literature on energy has focused mainly on economic thinking to structure the power sector and utility regulation but has not considered equity thinking. This has led to only states with a strong capital being able to integrate renewables, highlighting the equity challenge in the sector. 
  • The regulatory framework is only directed at efficiency and not at equity which does not resolve cost-recovery issues. Therefore, we need to take a deeper look from the equity perspective to understand why there is a mismatch in states managing their power sector debt. 
  • We need better integrate markets to enable grid flexibility where short-term markets are going to be important to integrate renewables. A higher RE-integrated power systems needs to have inter-state exchange of electricity supply to meet the targets set for decarbonization.  

Sreekumar N, Prayas Energy Group

  • Electricity sector is now being looked at from diverse perspectives as we address challenges in the transport, agriculture, cooking, industry sectors that are transitioning towards electrification. 
  • Institutional strengthening needs to be supported for key stakeholders including:
    • Regulatory commissions who play a role in taking a holistic sectoral perspective 
    • Distribution companies who need to balance the mismatch between losses and new market instruments in renewables.   
    • Load dispatch centres so they have access to adequate resources 
    • Transmission investment focused on addressing grid security challenges.
  • Civil society organisations need to push for innovations that will direct a Just transition ensuring affordable, quality supply to all consumers.

Special Remarks: Role of regulators to facilitate Just Transition

Shri D. Radhakrishnan, Tripura Electricity Regulatory Commission

  • The Indian power sector is striving towards leading the renewable energy markets, so the transition towards renewables needs to take place in a Just and systematic manner with innovations emphasised in various sectors such as transport, consumer awareness and rural market access. We also need to ensure safety in the power sector by tackling local-level issues such as electricity overloading before going on to the transition phase. In the rural areas, the focus needs to be on ensuring ease of access to clean cooking.
  • Cities will transition towards electrification as Smart City Mission rolls out and transport means in the public (Metro) and private (e-vehicles) sectors expand.  It is expected that electricity consumption will rise from 18-19% to around 40% in next 10-12 years through the transport sector. 
  • At Tripura Electricity Regulatory Commission, Consumer Education Forum has been formed to consider consumers’ rights, opportunities, and rules.  
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Media Workshop 2021: Media as a catalyst for clean and sustainable power generation

Tue, 28/09/2021 - 16:25

Like any other state in India, Tamil Nadu principally relies on coal for its energy production which is a major contributor to climate change and raises the vulnerability of Tamil Nadu and other Indian states to frequent natural disasters and extreme weather events. Public concern about climate change was largely informed via media consumption. It's important for climate change to become a bigger part of the national conversation, along with what's causing it: the burning of oil, gas and coal and the media has a big role to play in it. During this workshop, reputed journalist, Mr. Bhasker Tripathi spoke about how upcoming journalists can engage more people on the issue of climate change and how to tell the story of the climate change and tell it accurately.

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Webinar on Energy Efficiency and Electrical Safety by ECC Tirunelveli

Tue, 20/07/2021 - 18:00

Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG), in association with the Electricity Consumer Cell - Tirunelveli, organized a webinar on energy efficiency & electrical safety on June 22, 2021 via Zoom platform. This session was attended by over 50 electricity consumers from the Tirunelveli district.

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Dr.Ganapathy Subramaniam, Coordinator - ECC Tirunelveli presented a brief introduction about the Tirunelveli Electricity Consumer Cell, the nature of work carried out by them and the range of electricity issues handled.

Following the introduction, Mr.Shanmugam, Advisor - ECC Tirunelveli welcomed the participants of the webinar and introduced the chief guest of the session, Mrs.Siva Sathiya Valli, Head of Tirunelveli Government Museum. Mrs. Siva Sathiya, took the opportunity to deliver a special welcome address and brought to focus the significance of electricity and the need to take active measures to ensure electrical safety.

Subsequently, Mr.Balaji, Researcher, CAG introduced CAG and its work across different sectors. He also provided  an overview of CAG’s Electricity Consumer Cells initiative run in seven districts of Tamil Nadu - Tiruvallur, Cuddalore, Tirunelveli, Salem, Tiruvannamalai, Tiruchirapalli and Vellore.

Er.Petchimuthu,Assistant Executive Engineer (Safety), TANGEDCO, the key speaker of the webinar, made his  presentation on electricity, its significance, the level of dependency we have on it and the importance of electrical safety. He began by explaining how electrical accidents occur and cautioned his listeners that damaged wires or contacting electrical wires which are connected to the electricity supply have a high probability of causing electrical accidents. He stated that a dry human body is 1,00,000 Ohms resistant to electricity and that if the human body is subjected to over 80 milli Ampere of current it would be a cause of fatality. He shed light on electrical accidents that occured during 2020-2021 and advised electricity consumers to strictly follow the below best practices:

  1. Use electrical wires and wiring connections that are  ISI certified. 
  2. Engage an electrician who is licensed by Govt of Tamil Nadu to do household wiring.
  3. Install earth leakage circuit breaker near the electricity meter in the premises to avoid electrical accidents.
  4. Ensure that the switch is in OFF condition, before inserting a plug into the socket.
  5. Use heavy appliances like Refrigerator, Grinder, Motor, Iron Box with three-pin sockets. No connection should be given to the plug point without a socket.
  6. Consider avoiding usage of immersion type water heaters since it is among the leading cause for electrocution. 
  7. Place the electricity meter where there are no leakages and ensure that the meter is  easy to access for assessment/taking meter readings. . 
  8. Surround iron pipes which are used to support electrical wires with PVC pipes for  insulation. 
  9. Do not overload an electrical socket by connecting more than one appliance to it. 
  10. Do not dry clothes or tie animals to an electric pole or  supporting fixtures. 
  11. Avoid  constructing buildings  near or under hanging electrical wires 
  12. Be sure to get  proper approval from TANGEDCO before cutting down branches of trees near electrical wires. 
  13. Avoid tying decoration lights  to trees or iron gates.. 
  14. Do not stand under trees or electric poles or empty land when lightning and thunder strikes.
  15. Avoid electrical usage in areas which show signs of stagnant/leaking water.

He concluded the presentation by sharing anecdotes to support his advice on what an average electricity consumer should and shouldn’t do. He further guided the participants on what consumers should do if  they are  affected by electrical accidents. He also shared TANGEDCO’s fuse-off call number (1912) and Minnagam’s customer care number ( 94987 94987) with the participants. 

Mr. Muthusamy, Junior Consultant, ECC Tirunelveli concluded the webinar with a Vote of Thanks. 

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Media Workshop on Trans fat

Tue, 18/05/2021 - 13:34

Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG), in association with the Press Institute of India (PII), organized an online media workshop on March 26, 2021 to inform the media about the seriousness of trans fat issue, the regulations in place, the need for effective implementation of regulations and a change in cooking/eating habits. The speakers of the workshop included Dr Sumitra Shanmugham - senior medical practitioner, Ms. Rina Mukherji - senior journalist and Mr. Dhakshanamoorthy - senior reporter. The session was attended by around 55 media reporters and consumer activists from 7 districts in Tamil Nadu - Nilgiris, Tiruvarur, Cuddalore, Tirupur, Tirunelveli, Salem and Tiruvannamalai. Mr Sashi Nair, Director of PII welcomed the media stakeholders and Ms Saroja, Director - Consumer Protection, CAG gave a brief introduction on the topic ‘trans fat and its harms’ and also talked about the work done by CAG to address the trans fat problem. 

Ms Savitha, Researcher, CAG presented on the policies governing trans fats globally, and in India. She highlighted that, ‘Globally more than 5 lakh people die because of cardiovascular disease due to trans fat consumption and in India, the number stands at about 60,000 deaths’. Hence, the World Health Organisation (WHO) put a global target of 2023 to eliminate trans fat from global food supply. WHO gave a strategic action plan REPLACE, which is a step by step process to eliminate trans fats from raw materials to finished products’. She also listed the countries that have banned trans fat production. With respect to India, she stated that ‘India has committed to eliminate trans-fat from the food supply by 2022, a year ahead of the WHO mandate. As of now, the Food Safety and Standards Regulations, 2011 (FSSR) allow trans-fat at 3% by weight in oils and fats, which was effective from January 2021 and allow trans fat at 2% from January 2022. It is also noted that under FSSR (Prohibition and Restrictions on Sales), food products which use edible oils and fats as an ingredient should not contain industrial trans fatty acids more than 2% by mass of the total oils/fats present in the product, starting January 1, 2022’.  

Dr Sumitra Shanmugham, Senior Medical Practitioner, Chennai spoke about the ill effects of trans fats on human health. She started by stressing how even trans fat consumption in small amounts can increase the Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDLs) and decrease the High-Density Lipoproteins (HDLs) leading to  harmful effects in the cardiovascular and central nervous systems. It also causes weight gain in general, leading to obesity, fat accumulation in the abdomen and indirectly cancer. She emphasised that  children should avoid fried foods and snacks from stores, as these are high in trans fats. . Trans fat intake could create hormonal imbalance and irregular periods and there is some evidence that it could cause  Poly-Cystic Ovarian Disease. High trans fats consumption is known to be associated with hypertension and diabetes which can be risk factors for complications both before and during birth in pregnant women. She explained that pregnant women can also pass on the implications of poor dietary choices to their unborn babies, or postnatally, through lactation. Finally, a post-menopausal woman, who is already going through hormonal changes,  can develop breast and uterus cancer due to high trans fat intake. The risks of trans fat consumption in a woman’s diet can therefore be lifelong, with potential to affect the next generation even. Trans fat intake consumption in men is linked  to poor sperm quality and count. The doctor ended her talk by giving  a few tips on how reading labels can help develop good eating habits,  to be watchful for words like shortenings, interesterification, etc., and to cook oil in a temperature less than the smoking point of oil. She signed off by saying ‘Eating intelligently is an art’.

Questions to journalists

How frequently does reporting of health/food related issues happen during extraordinary events like election, COVID 19, etc?
Reply from Mr. Dhakshanamoorthy, senior reporter
 - According to him, all media at all time, will allocate a particular time/ column for every issue. Usually, print media gives importance to issues viewed as more pressing. Generally, media houses want to package their news in a  certain way to get attention among the public. He therefore recommended using celebrities to convey messages that might not automatically get traction. 

Reply from Ms. Rina Mukherji, senior journalist - The frequency of news related to science, health and food is comparatively low mainly because only a few journalists have a science background to actually understand and convey the gravity of a scientific finding. Today, the media has become money driven and not many companies are interested in publishing such news. For instance, pharmaceutical companies are not always interested in publishing all the data relevant to their products.  With respect to trans fat, she said that very little data was available which made it difficult to convince the public; and for reading food labels, most of the snacks are sold unpacked and regulations are therefore hard to implement even when we know that these products are high in trans fats content. . 

How to make trans fat related news, newsworthy?
Reply from Mr. Dhakshanamoorthy, senior reporter
 - He acknowledged that this can be difficult because even when someone has died from an illness, it is hard to make a connection between his lifestyle/ dietary choices, the resulting illness and the cause of death. The public therefore tends to be a bit sceptical of data on why certain foods are dangerous. However, he added that using celebrities to convey a message always captures the public’s attention. 

Reply from Ms. Rina Mukherji, senior journalist - Usage of data on disease is the best way to get the news published. 

Finally, Dr Somasundaram, Designated Officer, Chennai gave an understanding on how reused cooking oil for frying bajji, cauliflower, chicken and fish are resold as deepam oil near temples. They are hoping to start monitoring cooking oil usage in low-end shops of T nagar and Saidapet after elections. 

The session ended with an open house.  

Question 1: How difficult is it for the government to make the public aware about trans fats?
Reply from Designated Officer:
 He said people are totally ignorant and they have poor purchasing power. People tend to buy things that are cheap because of their socioeconomic status. Hence, production of trans fats has to be stopped before raising awareness among the public. 

Question 2: Why is the focus given to low income and small shop vendors extensively?
Reply from Designated Officer:
 He replied that the low income and small shop vendors are large in number compared to high-end hoteliers and hence we should educate them to bring a change of attitude towards reusing cooking oil, although enforcement is the major way to eliminate trans fats.

Question 3: When can we have the amended regulation in action?
Reply from Designated Officer:
 He said that it is a long process and will definitely take many years to see the success, adding that the government is committed to this cause.

Ms Saroja concluded the session by informing participants that the government is working on the alternatives for such oils and fats, but the responsibility falls on each and every one of us being consumers. Eating intelligently is important.

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Tackling Road Crashes: the Tamil Nadu experience

Mon, 17/05/2021 - 13:38

As part of the National Road Safety Month, on February 18th 2021, CAG held a webinar on road safety in Tamil Nadu.  The highlight of the webinar was the perspective shared by Mr. Pramod Kumar, IPS who heads the State Traffic Planning Wing of the Tamilnadu Police. With the recent strides made by Tamil Nadu in reducing road crash fatality, he was able to throw light on how these have been achieved and how the government is not waiting to rest on its laurels but looking to improve the state’s track record so the state can reach zero deaths. He also shared some key statistics on road crashes in the state.

He highlighted the efforts to ensure seamless planning and coordination among the various government agencies involved and how those efforts have paid off. One such example has been to set up highway patrols (as highways see some of the highest number of crash fatalities) so that response time is reduced considerably. Medical facilities and ensuring that trained personnel are able to provide immediate lifesaving help in ambulances was another key point.

He also touched upon various aspects of the law and the role of each stakeholder – driver, CSOs, parents, children, government agencies, etc. He highlighted that underage driving has become a very regrettably common phenomenon and this is an issue the police is gearing up to crack down on. He pointed out that as per the law, the parents/guardian are held responsible.

During the question and answer session, in response to a question on whether the amended Motor Vehicles Act, 2019 would be implemented in Tamil Nadu, he responded that it is under consideration with the government and is likely to be implemented soon.

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