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Tracing Virus Origin: INDIA JOINS THE PACK, By Dr D.K.Giri, 22 May 2020 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 22 May 2020

Tracing Virus Origin

INDIA JOINS THE PACK

By Dr D.K.Giri

(Prof. International Politics, JMI)

 

In the virtual meeting of World Health Assembly (WHA) held on 18 and 19 May, it was decided to investigate the origin of COVID-19. India added her voice to the international clamour. China finally concurred with the demand. Of 194 countries constituting WHO, as many as 160 had demanded an impartial investigation. China had objected when it was raised first time a week or so ago by Australia.

 

The other issue that concerned the meeting in Geneva was the participation of Taiwan, which was deferred till the last quarter of this year. But it would remain a contentious issue threatening the continuation of the 72-year old world Body.

 

On the origin of the virus, many countries believe that it is not natural, man-made. China is responsible for unleashing the virus and endangering people’s health in the entire world.  Beijing did not give out the information on time sought by countries like Taiwan as it was suppressing and manipulating the facts on the ground in Wuhan. The WHO Director, Tedros Abhanom Ghebreyesus, was hand-in-glove with the Chinese government in this cover-up.

 

The investigation will reveal the facts. A longish letter by Donald Trump secured by us from Trump supporters lists out the litany of lapses of the Director pointing to his complicity with Chinese leadership. Trump has, in the same letter, given an ultimatum to the Director, unless visible changes are made to the structure and working of WHO, he will regularise the freeze on funding announced by the US administration. Furthermore, the US threatens to withdraw its membership of WHO.

 

The background of Tedros’ appointment lends weight to the above assumption and allegations made by Trump and other countries like European Union, Japan, Australia. New Zealand, Germany and France. Tedros is not a doctor, but a politician from Ethiopia. He is a member of Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a radical socialist group infamous for its terrorist methods. It was accused of violating a slew of human rights including hanging water bottles from the genitals of the victims. The Movement adhered to Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideologies. Tedros had ideological links with Chinese Communist Party.

 

Operationally, Tedros was responsible for carrying forward Chinese African dream through his own country Ethiopia. When Tedros was the Minister for Health, and then Foreign Affairs, he hosted the 50th Belt and Road Summit. He got China to invest $47 million in Ethiopian Railways and billions in building links with other African countries trough Ethiopia. He identified eight industrial parks in Ethiopia to be built by China, and wrote an article in a Chinese official daily jointly with a member of CCP citing it as a model of bilateralism. 

 

As a part of Chinese tactic of buying influence in the international organisations Tedros was appointed the WHO director defeating a British competitor. It was a pay-off by the Chinese to their lackey in Africa. China is accused of buying similar influence in other bodies. It waived off the entire loan of Cameroon as it withdrew its candidature for the post of Director General of FAO. Beijing did the same with another African country and got its person to be the DG of FAO in Rome.

 

China has given to the world five plagues- Asian flu, SARS, Avian flu, Swine flu, COVID-19. The world is saying now that we can no longer have these plagues coming from China, whether it is from the labs or the wet market. The US leadership says, “We know it came from Wuhan and there is circumstantial evidence that it could have come from the lab or the wet market. The world can longer afford to plagues coming out of China.”

 

The second issue that is dominating the strategic thinking of world leaders is the participation and membership of Taiwan in WHO. Taiwan is a democratic country, has done remarkably well in combating COVID-19 and has lessons and help to offer to others. China is playing with Taiwan’s participation. It has complained about the US and other countries politicising the world health body by discussing Taiwan-related matters, not how to fight the virus etc. But China itself has politicised the participation of Taiwan in WHO.

 

Taiwan participated as an observer from 2009 t0 2016 in WHO meetings. It did not then violate the One China policy that China expects the world to honour. China acquiesced with Taiwan’s participation from 2009-16 as Ma ying-jeou of the pro-Chinese party Kuomintang (KMT) was the President of Taiwan from 2008 to 2016. As Dr Tsai Ing-wen of Democratic People’s Party became the president, China withdrew its support of Taiwan’s participation. D. Tsai’s government is for full independence of Taiwan from China.

 

The US is advocating full membership of Taiwan in WHO. Other major countries are supporting it. For the Geneva meeting, 16 members made a formal request for Taiwan’s participation. The issue was diluted in favour of an investigation into the origin of the virus, where China’s concurrence was critical. But Taiwan’s membership will keep popping up.

 

How is New Delhi going to tackle Taiwan’s participation and membership? India will be the chairman of the Executive Board of WHO. So, New Delhi will have a bigger voice on the issue. India has supported One China Policy since 1949, although it has maintained cultural, trade and some diplomatic contacts with Taiwan. The Taiwanese leadership expects the current Indian leadership, known for ‘taking bold decisions’, to support it. 

 

With regard to New Delhi endorsing One China policy since 1949, one could disregard that legacy as Pt. Nehru was inexplicably deferential to China. Some of us have argued against Nehru’s pro-China approach including giving away our membership in UNSC, nuclear advantage, Tibet and blind faith in China resulting in unpreparedness for 1962 war and so on. That needs to be reversed.

 

China is openly hostile to India. As I write this, Beijing is showing belligerence in borders like Ladakh, Doklam and elsewhere. It has disregarded New Delhi’s concerns on its support to Pakistan and activities in POK, a disputed territory, which belongs to India, as the unification of India is incomplete. It makes crazy and highly contentious claims in Indian territories.

 

There is no plausible reason, no quid pro quo, with China until it gives up its claims and stops haunting and harassing India directly or through her neighbours. India must support Taiwan’s membership of WHO and Tibet’s independence from China. The historic wrongs have to be corrected. New Delhi is in no violation of so-called One China Policy as Taiwan was part of WHO proceedings before, an attendee in WTO and APEC etc. It is time for New Delhi to call the Chinese bluff.

 

Having said that, countries like the US and the EU who often mortgage democratic values and human rights for trade benefit must support India to stand up to China. They are guilty of propping up the dragon and are at a loss to tame it now. If they stick to political values they preach at home, they can better deal with China. The western dichotomy or even hypocrisies in their foreign policies is at the root of most of the world’s problems. They create the problem, and then try to solve it, Iraq, Afghanistan, China, you name it. Stick to the organising principle. Life will be lost easier. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

New Delhi

20 May 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bengal Cyclone Amphan: WILL CENTRE BE SYMPATHETIC?, By Insaf, 23 May 2020 Print E-mail

Round The States

New Delhi, 23 May 2020

Bengal Cyclone Amphan

WILL CENTRE BE SYMPATHETIC?

By Insaf

 

It’s a double whammy for West Bengal. Struggling to meet the challenge of coronovirus and under the Centre’s radar, the State is now battling with Cyclone Amphan. Till Thursday last the cyclone has claimed 72 lives, leaving thousands homeless, a trail of destruction in several parts and swamping low-lying areas. The State in worse hit than Odisha given that while 5 lakh-odd people were evacuated in Bengal and told to remain in shelters, over 2 lakh were evacuated in Odisha and that the situation is ‘under control and weather has moderated in the latter. However, what is of critical concern is what relief the Centre and Prime Minister will eventually provide to Bengal. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s has requested he visit the State and ‘see the situation,’ as she has seen nothing like it before. In a tweet, Modi assured all possible assistance to the two States and that top officials are working in close co-ordination with the West Bengal government. In this challenging hour, he said, the entire nation “stands in solidarity with West Bengal. Praying for the well-being of the people...Efforts are on to ensure normalcy.” Expected reaction, but it shouldn’t be mere words. Will there be a halt to nitpicking and politics put behind? New Delhi must remember the proof of the pudding is in the eating. 

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Maharashtra For Locals

Maharashtra makes a clarion call to its “sons of soil”. With lakhs of migrant workers going back to their States, an anxious Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has decided to set up an industrial employment bureau to meet the grave labour shortfall. Grab employment opportunities now, is the message to his people, with the commitment that the bureau will give priority to local labourers. It proposes to involve collaboration of three departments—industries, labour and skill development and will enrol workers in skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled segments, as per industry needs. The administration is obviously making the best of the opportunity in hand of taking forward its agenda of the ‘Marathi manoos’. Remember Shiv Sena from day one has been vociferously against the ‘outsiders’ who have taken away jobs from the locals. The big question is whether the call will have takers, as the surge of migrants in the State was because the locals, who were better educated, shunned working-class jobs. The slowdown cannot be wished away and time will tell whether sans the migrants the Marathi manoos will meet rebuild a new Maharashtra.

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Anger In J&K

Political parties in Jammu & Kashmir are up in arms. The Union Cabinet has stirred up a hornets’ nest by giving post-facto approval to the new law modifying the ‘applicability of Domicile conditions to all level of jobs under the J&K Civil Services (Decentralisation and Recruitment) Act’ on Wednesday last. The rules, reacted the National Conference, are ‘unconstitutional’ aimed at “disempowering the people of J&K and effecting demographic change” at a time when the issue is under challenge before the Supreme Court. Regretting that even a pandemic “is no deterrent for the GoI”, the PDP warned it will be resisted. The Centre has opened the “flood gates for outsiders”, which is a “betrayal against the people, especially youth, who were promised complete protection of rights to jobs and land, even post abrogation of Article 370”, was the Congress’ response. At a time when the people are concerned with spread of coronavirus, the BJP government said the CPM “is busy in redesigning the ‘UT’! All are on the same page and trust deficit takes a further nosedive. New Delhi will need to prepare for more than just a simmering summer season in the Valley. 

*                       *                       *                       *                       *                       *                  *   

UP’s Revolting Politics

Stranded migrants get caught in the rot of one-upmanship politics in Uttar Pradesh. The heartrending scenes of migrant workers having to trudge miles to get back home in the sweltering heat, got Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi to engage 1000-odd buses to save them of their misery. However, she ended up withdrawing these on Wednesday last, as BJP-government under Yogi Adityanath nit-picked and wouldn’t allow hundreds of buses from Jaipur, stranded for over 24 hours, to cross the border. Its reasoning: “buses have fake numbers, or carried registration numbers of other vehicles, and some were in poor condition”. Plus, it argued that Priyanka sent Rajasthan Roadways buses “which she cannot do in her personal capacity”. Does it really matter? What should is engaging in ‘joint relief measures’ and not put unwanted hurdles. An exasperated Priyanka in a video message said it’s “no time to play politics”, and even urged Yogi “…If you want, you can paste your posters or banners on them, but kindly allow them to ply so that the migrants can be ferried in them.” It fell on deaf ears. No winners here, only losers and sadly in this case millions of the stranded poor.  

*                       *                       *                       *                       *                       *                  *   

NRC Scam

The NRC exercise in Assam has hit a fresh controversy. On Monday last, Assam Public Works (APW), a Guwahati-based NGO, has filed an FIR with CBI, alleging financial misconduct in the updating process. It accused Wipro, one of prime software companies, for allegedly submitting a bill as well as being paid Rs 1.27 crore for procurement of two software systems. But as per National Institute of Smart Governance report to Accountant General (Audit) office, “no such system was installed and used for the updation.” Besides, it is alleged that Accountant General (Audit) report reveals irregularities in purchase of 3,700 generators for 2,500 NRC help centres set up across the State, for which Wipro submitted bills worth Rs 34.76 crore at rate of Rs 93,964 each. An inquiry by the AG office, however, reveals the generators were hired (not purchased) and the market price of each was Rs 35,000! The accusations cannot be taken lightly, as recall that APW was the original petitioner on whose PIL the Supreme Court in 2015 had ordered for updating of the NRC. More skeletons to tumble out of cupboard?

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Mischievous FIR

An FIR in Karnataka hits headlines. Will it turn out to be nuisance value or trigger a vicious Congress-BJP spat? On Thursday last, an FIR was registered against Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi at Sagar Town Police Station, Shivamoga after a ‘preliminary enquiry’, following a complaint by an advocate and a BJP activist over some tweets made from  Twitter handle @INCIndia against PM-CARES. The saffronite was perturbed over the allegations made i.e. PM CARES was not used for welfare of citizens, but for his personal interests including foreign trips! The FIR is filed under sections 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) and 505(1)(b) (intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public) and probe is underway. The issue has reached Chief Minister Yediyrappa’s doorstep. PCC Chief Shivakumar demands withdrawal of the FIR, arguing that Sonia’s intent was merely to ‘force Modi to use the Fund for people’s welfare’ and was being misinterpreted by BJP leadership, which ‘instigated’ filing of complaint. Worse, the FIR was ‘a blatant misuse of the process of law with an intention to snub the right to healthy criticism’. What’s new? --- INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

New Delhi

21 May 2020

 

 

 

Aarogya Setu: NOT ULTIMATE ANSWER, By Dr S. Saraswathi, 21 May 2020 Print E-mail

 

 

Open Forum

New Delhi, 21 May 2020

Aarogya Setu

NOT ULTIMATE ANSWER

By Dr S. Saraswathi

(Former Director ICSSR, New Delhi)

 

The Union Home Ministry has made Aarogya Setu (Bridge to Health) app, a contact tracing app,   mandatory for all “returnees” – meaning migrant labourers and those coming from abroad. The move is intended to facilitate better contact surveillance in COVID-19 cases which is necessary for controlling the epidemic and providing timely medical intervention. Passengers have to download the app on their mobile phones before commencing their journey.

 

Aarogya Setu, updated version of Corona Kavach, which showed nearness to any COVID-19 patient, is the Indian mobile application developed by National Informatics Centre under Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and was launched on 2 April soon after the announcement of lockdown. It is said to be one of the most effective instruments for COVID-19 tracking. In Maharashtra, it has helped in predicting a number of hotspots.

 

It’s a tool of virus surveillance which is now a global imperative to break the chain of disease transmission. Omnipresence of viruses across continents and their diversities necessitate constant updating of information on their movements.

 

In an order issued on 29 April, the Centre made it compulsory for all employees to download the app on their mobile phones and use it. They were asked to check the status on the app before leaving home for office and proceed only if the app showed “safe” or “low risk”. If the status is shown as “moderate” or “high risk” calculated on the basis of proximity to a COVID-19 infected person, they should not attend office and self-isolate for 14 days until their status becomes “safe”. The head of the organisation is responsible to enforce compliance with the order.

 

This way, opening offices is made safe for everyone attending the office. Latest such order has come from the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir where all government employees are required to install the app on their mobile phones and produce certificates to that effect for receiving their salaries. Private companies too are being brought under Aarogya Setu.

 

Making it mandatory for all living in a specific area or working in a specific place is being considered and even attempted in some places. But, its legality and feasibility are doubtful.  It can be useful optional tool for persons concerned to keep safe from risk zones, but its effectiveness in monitoring the disease to prevent its escalation seems limited considering the fact that not more than 30% of the population owns a smartphone.


 

While contact tracing is useful in disease control, Aarogya Setu can only be a supplement to physical search in the Indian context. It has raised a huge controversy over intrusion into privacy in these troubled times. While registering, the app collects a set of personal information that is uploaded to government servers, which then generate a unique digital identity for that user. The app faces criticisms similar to other devices like Aadhaar collecting personal data for government use. Privacy policy of the government comes to be questioned.

 

A writ petition is filed in Kerala High Court challenging the constitutionality of government directive to make Aarogya Setu ‘mandatory for all employees, both private and public’. In fact, in a recent order on May 17, the Union Home Ministry itself has softened its position by amending its earlier order saying, employers “on best effort basis” should ensure that Aarogya Setu is installed by all employees having compatible mobile phones.

 

Any pandemic demands non-medical and social practices as remedies and more so in the absence of a vaccine. Contact tracing first came into use in a big way in 2003 to fight SARS and in 2014 for fighting EBOLA. It is necessary to treat sexually transmitted diseases. In the case of COVID-19, exposure to the infection happens within 6 feet distance for 5 to 10 minutes from an infected person.

 

Several countries are competing with one another for developing applications that can trace and monitor contacts of an infected person – a “detective” work physically done so far by means of enquiries and searches. It is a laborious and time consuming process and is made easier and instantaneous by Aarogya Setu. 

  

Already survey and mapping of red zones showing the size of habitations, population size and composition, geographic distribution of COVID-19 cases, proximity to other habitations, accessibility, geographic barriers, mobility in the area are done. The data can be integrated with Aarogya Setu to get more comprehensive picture of the areas that need closer watch.

 

The app can alert us if anyone we have come in contact has tested positive for Coronavirus even if he is asymptomatic. Since contact is the main route for spread of the disease, it is absolutely necessary to trace the affected person’s contacts and bring everyone of them for testing.

 

Aarogya Setu lets users know if they have been near a person with COVID-19 by scanning a database of known cases of infection. The app calculates the risk of infection based on exposure time and proximity and recommends measures and collects other particulars like gender, travel history, habits like smoking, etc.

 

China has done mass experiments in using data to regulate citizens’ lives by requiring them to use a software on their smartphones that dictates whether they should be quarantined or allowed into subways, malls, and other public places. Thousands of contact tracers are employed in Wuhan.

 

South Korea and New Zealand developed contact tracing methods in connection with Mid East Respiratory System (MERS) in 2015. Canadian government introduced a nationwide contact tracing programme using the services of volunteers.

 

Singapore’s Trace Together app can be used only by the Health Ministry to access data. It assures citizens that the data is to be used strictly for disease control and will not be shared with law enforcement agencies for enforcing lockdowns and quarantine. In the US, attempts are on in some States to pursue contact tracing. In the UK, the London Team wants to find out any and all contacts made within a specific time frame - two days before symptoms through 14 days.

 

India’s Aarogya Setu, it is said, will not be publicising the identity of users. No third party will have access to the data. On the contrary, it alerts users if they come in contact with a COVID-affected person.

 

Only those who have a smartphone are able to use this app, which identifies only symptomatic cases that have been reported and tested. In India, despite huge publicity to COVID-19 related news, several cases may go unreported due to fear of compulsory quarantine, prolonged medical treatment, and fear of social stigma.

 

So far, about 10 crore people are said to have downloaded the app despite huge controversies raging over possible threat to data security and right to through this app. Government has assured that the data stored on servers would be used only for COVID-19 purposes and would be deleted after 180 days. WHO has recommended certain surveillance standards.

 

To the extent contact tracing can be done through machines, it must be welcome so that it will not go the way of social distancing openly violated by ignorance and deliberate plan. A mechanical device can certainly give better results than manual. But, Aarogya Setu may not be the ultimate answer to this huge task in the prevailing social conditions. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

New Delhi

19 May 2020

 

Easing Labour Laws: DRAW VENTURES OR EXPLOITATIVE?, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 20 May 2020 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 20 May 2020

Easing Labour Laws

DRAW VENTURES OR EXPLOITATIVE? 

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

 

The recent decision of States such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Odisha to ease labour laws has been the subject of concern and discussion. On the one hand there are employers who are supporting the move and on other trade unions and labour experts vociferously opposing it.  

 

The changes in the labour laws include allowing employers to raise or change working hours, such as by four hours (under the Factories act to increase daily working hours to 12) and up to 72 hours a week in overtime for workers who are willing; allowing third party inspections for new units; more flexibility in hire and fire policy, determining wages, reducing liabilities viz employee benefits. These are being justified to do away with rigidities that have hamstrung the existing concerns and deterred fresh investments.

 

The UP government on May 6 passed the Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020, that exempts businesses, manufacturing mostly, for three years from a range of labour laws. And other States decided to follow suit.

 

The reasons given for the proposed changes are obviously meant to attract investment but which clearly lack logic and justification. Over working of labour is not an established norm in any part of the world and these changes cannot be expected to bring foreign investments. Some economists are of the opinion that this may be a ploy to further exploit labour, which is near normal in this country.  

 

Besides, few political parties, mainly from the Left have written to President Ram Nath Kovind registering their protest at the dilution of labour laws. Even the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS)), has stoutly opposed the changes. Further, Central trade unions are contemplating to lodge a complaint with the ILO against government’s misadventure of gross violation of labour standards and in the meantime, as many as 10 trade unions have given a nation-wide strike on May 22 to protest the suspension of labour laws by these States.   

 

According to a professor and labour economist at XLRI the changes posed considerable cause for concern as these spell labour market anarchy. This is based on certain presumptions such as labour laws are not needed in society, which means that the state will have no role in monitoring, that workers have to depend on the employer’s goodwill and that the labour rigidities are the principle irritants that halt investment and hence economic growth. But these assumptions are difficult to accept as employees can’t possibly be at the mercy of employers, who have been found to cheat them and that investment does not depend on labour but more on infrastructure and competitiveness of the industry. 

 

Well-known labour economist and chairperson, Centre of Informal Sector & Labour Studies at JNU, Santosh Mehrotra, referred to a survey eight years ago of the World Bank to find out from employers in South Asia what they considered the most important barriers to industrial growth. It was found that electricity, infrastructure and logistics were considered the most critical impediments. Mehrotra added that the findings were particularly true for the Hindi belt States, where agriculture is the main source of employment and that not following labour laws was not welcome. Other economists expressed worry over reduction in labour standards and in labour cost to benefit employers at the cost of poor labourers.

 

Those who talk of getting rid of archaic laws do not realise that in this country most of these regulations as it is are not adhered to due to lack of monitoring. As such, exploitation of labour is rampant as without these changes, they have to work at least 2 hours more that the stipulated 8 hours without any extra payment. Increasing this to 12 hours a day appears unrealistic as it will be a strain on the human body and not necessarily productive and even a health hazard. Moreover, optimistically speaking, not more than 50 per cent of units would give them overtime.

 

Another aspect for consideration is whether the changes would actually be for a period of three months only as claimed. If that be so, till labourers join back to work, the proposed changes are welcome but it must be ensured that these cannot continue beyond July 31, at the latest. Also extra work should come for extra payment which should have the approval of the respective labour directorate of the States who need to ensure compliance.

 

The question on unemployment and underemployment is quite severe in the country and by allowing labour to do extra work would obviously lead to curtailing the workforce. As it is, unemployment has reached around 28 per cent and if this is allowed, one can easily visualise the situation at the end of this fiscal. Besides, under-employment is a fact of life as around 40 per cent of the rural workforce fall in this category.

 

An additional fact is that if one delves deep into the migration problem, it is very much manifest that lakhs have returned to the eastern States. Thus, the problem of unemployment is grave for the migrants who have entered these States and, as statistics reveal, are backward and face critical problems.  

 

Meanwhile, it is known fact that globalisation and automation are job destroyers as hard figures will demonstrate. There is also a tendency to go for automation and hire less labour. Those who talk about jobs being created, it can very well be said that most of these are in the informal sector with salaries being rather low and job security much less.

 

The political leadership which speaks of labour reforms should at least try to find out the real conditions of labour and the actual salary they get in their hands before talking of reforms.  While big corporates pay adequately, the small and micro sectors are those that fail to give sufficient compensation to their labour. 

 

Observations the CEO of Niti Aayog in a national daily recently are worth noting wherein he stressed that what States must ensure is that terminated employee must get 45 days’ worth of salary. The big question is whether he has tried to find out how many SMEs follow this? Is there any mechanism at the State or Central level to ensure compliance? Or, for that matter, how many of these units pay minimum salary to their employees? Or keep a small percentage of the total workforce as employees, while the rest are treated as temporary workers for years together.

 

In these unprecedented times, clamouring for labour reforms without even delving deep into the problems that labourers already face needs re-thinking. Issues need to be examined, not by bureaucrats but by labour economists and civil society groups. Genuine attempts need to be made to ensure that, in an emerging economy, the conditions of their livelihood improve for the better and not worse. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

New Delhi

18 May 2020   

 

Global Crisis Till 2030:FM SPUR SCARCE, CASH DOLE VITAL, By Shivaji Sarkar, 18 May 2020 Print E-mail

Economic Highlight

New Delhi, 18 May 2020

Global Crisis Till 2030

FM SPUR SCARCE, CASH DOLE VITAL  

By Shivaji Sarkar

 

The devastation caused by pandemic ensued lockdown may take ten long years to recover and the world economy may continue to be in severe crisis till 2030, forecasts the UN World Economic Prospects and Situation 2020 (WESP) released on May 13 estimates. Further, in 2020, global economy would shrink by 3.2 per cent, in two years would lose $8.5 trillion and online activities will cost jobs, it warns. Amid such crisis, India’s Rs 20 lakh crore economic package, much through credit boost is far short of the needs.

 

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s repackaging of the budget is a tough attempt to chalk out a path for presenting a bold government face. Perhaps a government, hamstrung with finances, Rs 22 lakh crore-odd production losses and revenue fall, is not in a comfortable situation to combat the impending situation. It can be criticised for not doling out enough cash but the reality is the Indian economy is in deep crisis with 1.2 to zero per cent growth in 2020.

 

The lockdown has disturbed production schedule, caused job losses, shrunk demand and nagging uncertainty the world over has put the decision maker in a tight spot. The government may have wanted cash support, vital in this precarious situation, but could not muster it.

 

The GDP growth in developed economies, WESP estimates, will plunge to minus 5 per cent in 2020. Global supply chains are to remain disrupted and world trade is forecast to contract by nearly 15 per cent this year. “The lesson we learnt from 2008 financial meltdown is that fiscal and monetary stimulus measures do not boost productive investments”, says WESP.

 

It is a critical situation indeed. So in the announcements of Sitharaman, government’s cash outgo apparently is limited to government funding of Provident Fund accounts of workers up to Rs 15000 a month salary and Rs 11,000 crore spending for migrant labourers – including free food grains of Rs 3500 crore. This is all lending from the banks, NABARD or financial institutions as it happened in 2019, when total loans disbursed by banks increased from Rs 87.46 lakh crore to Rs 97.10 lakh crore.

 

The liquidity support to the MSMEs - micro, small and medium enterprises, employing about 12 crore people and the farm sector are either part of the Rs 30.42 lakh crore budget announcement or have been modified a bit. For example, the NABARD was earlier to spend about Rs 90,000 crore, but now would spend Rs 30,000 crore more for farm benefits -- loans.

 

The “Shishu” Mudra loans up to Rs 50,000 are to become a liability for banks with further Rs 1500 crore interest subvention of 2 per cent. The subventions alone are to help the banks as government would fund it. Most Mudra loans have turned into NPAs of Rs 17250.73 crore as on March 2019. An addition is the loan for vendors, Rs 10,000 each to set up their business. Instead it could have given doles in two tranches to help the needy as well as earn goodwill. The outgo would have remained Rs 5,000 crore as announced. The vendors could have become more self-reliant, atmanirbhar as Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants.

 

Thus, it’s no wonder that many, like the village artisans, small retailers, poultry, tourism and restaurant sector, do not find support. Despite concern over migrant workers, the much-needed support system has yet to emerge.

 

The WESP forewarns developing country economies are to shrink severely and that overall 130 million people globally would slip to extreme poverty by 2030. This clearly indicates that severity of the crisis would continue for 10 years and the low-skilled, low-wagers would obviously bear the brunt.

 

In such a scenario, the Finance Minister’s promise to continue with free food programme and universal ration card should provide some succour. She says that for eight crore-odd migrant workers the government created 14.62 crore person-day of work till May 13, free meals and would now ensure rented housing for them in cities under the PM Awas Yojana (PMAY). In reality, the migrant workers have got precious little.

 

It is said that MNREGS has spent Rs 10,000 crore in 43 days to employ 2.33 crore in 1.87 lakh gram panchayats. This means the scheme would need over Rs 85,000 crore against the present allocation of Rs 61,500 crore. Besides, the government should consider extending the employment for 200 days from the present 100 days, which means the allocation would have to double to Rs 170,000 crore. A difficult task alright but is worth for saving the distressed millions and creating demand.

 

In continuation, Sitharaman says that Rs 6,000 crore Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority funds (CAMPA) would generate jobs for both tribals/ adivasis in forest areas, which will ensure cash in their hands.

 

However, it appears there is dilemma on cash. On the one hand, the government recognises its needs and is keen on boosting cash for farmers, rural and other workers and on the other is trying to boost digitisation in an extremely poor society. Since 2016, many marginalised businessmen and the poor have been suffering, as cash is simply not easy to have, whereas the cash flow has to match the demand for fast-paced activities in the country. This would have also helped the overworked banks, which invariably harass the depositors whenever they go for their cash withdrawals. Unfortunately, the depositor is treated like a pariah.

 

Importantly, the government needs to make a note of WESP’s grim warning that rapid surge in online activities will eliminate existing jobs and take corrective steps. “The net wage and employment effects could be negative, further aggravating income inequality”, cannot be ignored. Besides, there is a broad hint of the growing debt distress on developing countries, including India, further constraining their ability to implement stimulus measures.

 

All of the above perhaps explains the government’s restricted efforts in declaring the fiscal package. In March, the GST earnings are Rs 30,000 crore but would be less than Rs 10,000 crore in April and therefore it should seriously contemplate scrapping of the Rs 90,000-crore aid announced for power distribution companies (discoms).

 

Additionally, it’s no wonder that income-tax refunds, a natural claim of the assessee, periodic re-classification of MSME categories, 25 per cent cut in TDS on business deals have been projected in a big way. The government knows that savings of the people are becoming critical, its revenue earnings are suffering, economy is thawing and managing affairs is becoming problematic in an unforeseen situation of COVID-19 lockdown. Even the UK is finding unemployment doles too large and unaffordable. Expecting India to match it is unrealistic and thus it is pragmatic to open up early, corona or not. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

New Delhi

15 May 2020

 

 

 

 

 

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