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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

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In the Delhi area, nearly 2,000 schools experienced multiple-day closures; construction and demolition was halted; almost 10 percent of workers called in sick; the government advised individuals to stay indoors as much as possible; and shops ran out of masks. India’s capital is reportedly experiencing its worst smog pollution in 17 years. This isn’t a mere inconvenience in terms of visibility or quality of life. This is an enormous threat to the health of the nearly 22 million people who live in the Delhi metropolitan area.

Air pollution levels are currently at 30-times the acceptable level set by the World Health Organization (WHO). And in India, air pollution is the leading cause of premature death, with about 620,000 people perishing each year from pollution-related diseases. Globally, among children under five years of age, nearly one million die from pneumonia each year and roughly half of these deaths are directly linked with air pollution.

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> Posted by Joshua Goldstein, Principal Director for Economic Citizenship & Disability Inclusion, CFI

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Last June, in my hotel room in Delhi, I read in the Sunday edition of the Times of India that hiring white girls to work wedding parties is the new status symbol in Bangalore. Though this might sound surprising, alabaster skin as the ideal of beauty (and the status that goes with it) is neither new to nor specific to India. This is not a trivial matter but a deadly serious business.

One need only look at skin whitening products, like Unilever’s “Fair and Lovely”, which are great sellers in the beauty product category in India, Bangladesh, and Thailand—indeed, in 30 countries around the world. The Unilever Sri Lanka website reads: “Today, 250 million consumers across the globe strongly connect with Fair and Lovely as a brand that stands for the belief that beauty empowers a woman to change her destiny.”

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Last month the Delhi government launched Saral Money, a payment product that helps to fill in the financial inclusion gap for individuals who don’t have the required identification verification documents to open a bank account. With Saral Money, one can open a basic account with one of India’s most prominent banks using just an Aadhar number. Aadhar numbers, issued by the government on a volunteer opt-in basis, are unique 12-digit identification numbers linked to an individual’s demographic and biometric information. Governance Now has more on the story through their post Next Aadhaar in Financial Inclusion: Saral prepaid card, which is copied in part below.

Delhi government on Wednesday launched the ‘Saral Money Prepaid card’ to provide banking services to those people who are unable to open a bank account due to lack of supporting documents for their ‘know your customer’ (KYC) verification. Saral has been launched by five of India’s prominent banks namely Axis Bank, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, Indian Overseas Bank and State Bank of India in collaboration with the payment gateway provider, Visa and Aadhar.

To open a bank account with the above five banks and to get a Saral Money Prepaid card, a person will now just have to produce the Aadhar card to fulfill the KYC norms. The limit of such accounts will be Rs 50,000 and the customer will be able to do cashless transactions with the help of the Saral card at the many authorised places in the city.

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