The week in 5 charts | India’s retail inflation rate eases down to 5.88%, Himachal’s performance in social indicators, and more

Here are five charts that will help you understand some of the key stories from this week

Updated - December 18, 2022 08:43 am IST

Published - December 17, 2022 08:27 pm IST

(1) India’s annual retail inflation rate eases to 5.88% in November

India’s annual retail inflation eased below the Reserve Bank of India’s upper tolerance level for the first time this year in November, easing pressure on policymakers. Retail inflation fell to an 11-month low of 5.88% in November, mainly due to softening prices of food items. This is the first time since the beginning of the year that inflation numbers have remained within RBI’s tolerance band of 2-6%. In December last year, the retail inflation figures were at 5.59%. Since then, the CPI numbers were on an upward trajectory and surged to an 8-year high of 7.79% in April.

The Finance Ministry termed this a ‘drastic decline’ mainly attributable to a sharp decrease in food price inflation brought about by government measures. Food price inflation faced by consumers eased to an 11-month low of 4.67% from over 7% in October, but rural consumers faced a greater burden with a 5.2% price rise in food items, compared to just 3.7% for their urban peers. Overall rural retail inflation also stayed high at 6.09%. Vegetable prices accounted for most of the decline in food inflation — moving from 7.8% inflation in October to deflation of 8.1% last month, and plummeting 8.3% month-on-month.

Watch |How rising food prices are affecting the world

November’s retail inflation numbers corroborate Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das’s point that the worst of inflation may be over, but core inflation remained ‘sticky’ above 6% as he had indicated during last week’s monetary policy review, and economists expect headline inflation to resurge beyond the 6% tolerance threshold in December.

Also read |Tread carefully: On inflation

Meanwhile, India’s wholesale price inflation also fell sharply to 5.85% in November from 8.4% in October. Inflation in primary articles at the wholesale level halved from 11% in October to 5.5% in November, while manufactured products saw price rise easing from 4.4% to 3.6% over the same period. Fuel and power inflation dropped to 17.35% in November, nearly half the 33.1% recorded in September and lower than October’s 23.2% level. The Commerce and Industry Ministry said the decline in inflation in November is ‘primarily contributed by fall in prices of food articles, basic metals, textiles, chemicals & chemical products and paper & paper products’ compared to November 2021.

(2) Himachal Pradesh’s performance in social and health indicators

With Congress winning the majority in Himachal Pradesh’s recently-held assembly elections, we take a look at the mountain State’s performance on social and health indicators. The graphic belowshows Himachal Pradesh’s performance when compared to other states and its actual score in 2019-20 and 2015-16. The graphic also showcases the change in Himachal’s rank in 2019-20 when compared to 2015-16. The 30 states considered for 2015-16 and 2019-20 exclude all the Union Territories except Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir. In the graphic below, Himachal’s (marked in yellow) performance is much better in some indicators such as female well-being in comparison to other northern States (marked in yellow) - Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), Punjab, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan. For e.g., in 2019-20, Himachal placed second among northern States in the percentage of females aged 6 and above who attend school and had the least share of women aged between 20 and 24 and were married before they turned 18.

Yet, there are certain health indicators related to stunting, wasting and underweight children point to a poorer performance by the State. For instance, the percentage of underweight children in the state in 2015-16 was 21.2% (ranked 8 out of the 30 states considered). But in 2019-20, the same indicator had increased to 25.5% indicating a growth in the number of underweight children, and Himachal Pradesh dropped to 13th place.

The graphic above shows that there was little improvement in the population of females that attended schools in Himachal - from 79% in 2015-16 to 81% in 2019-20.

In terms of Infant Mortality Rate (IMR), the State’s record has been much better in recent years compared to the earlier part of this and the previous decade. In 2005-06 (not shown above), the State had an IMR of 36 (infant deaths for every 1000 live-births). The State made little progress in the next 10 years, as the IMR in 2015-16 had decreased minimally to 34.3 causing it to slip to 19th position. However, the State made noticeable progress later, as in 2019-20 the IMR had decreased to 25.6, much below the national average of 35.2, lifting its rank to 14.

(3) Fusion energy breakthrough

Nuclear fusion’s potential for unlimited energy has tantalised scientists since the 1920s, and with good reason. Fusion’s energy pitch is airtight. Unlike nuclear fission, it does not produce radioactive waste. The resource needed for fusion (hydrogen) is virtually limitless. If nuclear fusion can be made commercially viable, it can power entire grids. That is if it can be made commercially viable. Until this week, energy input in a fusion reaction remained higher than energy output. The best input-output ratio was achieved in 1997 when a fusion reaction gave 70% of the energy input.

On Tuesday, this changed. Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the United States used laser beams with an energy input of 2.1 megajoules to fuse deuterium and tritium. The energy output was 2.5 megajoules, about 120% of the energy input. This is the first time that ‘scientific net energy gain’ has been demonstrated.

However, scaling up fusion energy is still several years away. While scientific net energy gain is a crucial stepping stone, engineering net energy gain is what would make fusion energy usable on a larger scale. This would mean upgrading fusion technology so that energy input and energy output can be levelled out. For instance, it took around 300 megajoules of energy to operate the lasers that input the 2.5 megajoules of energy for fusion.

Countries like China, South Korea, Japan and France have started looking at ways to overcome these problems. Facilities like the ITER in France have the ultimate aim of setting up power plants with fusion reactors that can produce fusion energy throughout the day for large-scale consumption.

Also read |Understanding the fusion energy breakthrough announced by the U.S.

(4) Peru’s political crisis

Over the past few days, Peru’s former President Pedro Castillo has become the country’s latest political problem. He is under investigation for six cases, most of them about profiting from public works. Castillo has denied them all.

Castillo’s exit came after the Congress impeached him on a 101 to 6 vote before he could dissolve the body. Now, the country is seeing violent protests in several areas demanding his return. At least twelve people have died. This is giving his successor Dina Boluarte a tough time in her new office. In an attempt to quell unrest, Boluarte announced earlier this week she would fast-track elections and hold it two years earlier, but that has not stopped fresh protests.

Also read |Cycles of crises: On the executive-legislature clash in Peru

Castillo’s humble beginnings as a peasant’s son struck a contrast with his election opponent Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former president Alejandro Fujimori currently in jail. Castillo pitched constitutional reforms and economic redistribution during elections. His victory over Fujimori signalled a popular shift away from the Peruvian elite.

However, Castillo’s fresh face seems to have taken an old path. He joins Peru’s former Presidents who were or are mired in bribery and corruption scandals.


(5) Twitter suspends accounts of several journalists

Elon Musk’s abrupt suspension of several journalists who cover Twitter widens a growing rift between the social media site and media organisations that have used the platform to build their audiences. Individual reporters with The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Voice of America, and other news agencies saw their accounts go dark Thursday. The suspensions continued Friday with the account of a Business Insider columnist who published a series of articles between 2018 and 2021 highlighting what she called dangerous Tesla manufacturing shortcomings.

The company has not explained why the accounts were taken down. But Musk took to Twitter on Thursday night to accuse journalists of sharing private information about his whereabouts, which he described as “basically assassination coordinates.” He provided no evidence for that claim.

The move sets “a dangerous precedent at a time when journalists all over the world are facing censorship, physical threats and even worse,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. The reporters’ suspensions followed Musk’s decision Wednesday to permanently ban an account that automatically tracked the flights of his private jet using publicly available data.

If the suspensions lead to the exodus of media organisations that are highly active on Twitter, the platform would be changed at the fundamental level, said Lou Paskalis, longtime marketing and media executive and former Bank of America head of global media.

The graphic below shows the the percentage of each platform’s US adult users who use the platform regularly for news and the percentage of US journalists who use each platform the most or second most for their job.

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