The party is trying to ‘hijack’ the positive thinking of those Opposition parties who are in favour of discussion and smooth functioning of Parliament
The Opposition has once again disappointed the country. After demanding a special Parliament session to discuss national issues including the Corona crisis, it has shown no interest in joining the proceedings for even a single day during the ongoing Monsoon session. It has already made it clear that the session is "washed out" from their side. The media has also reported this.
The country's "grand old party", the Congress, is becoming a "champion" of such "irresponsible politics" committed by some Opposition parties.In early May, the Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury,requested the President of India to convene a special session of Parliament because the MPs wanted to discuss the Corona crisis in their respective constituencies. The Congress' "new friend", Shiv Sena MP and leader Sanjay Raut, also reiterated the demand.
The Government said the entire administrative machinery was engaged in controlling the second wave of Covid-19 and a gathering of MPs in Parliament could be dangerous giventhe pandemic. The Opposition issued several statements criticising the Government's stand.
Parliament is in session for over a fortnight but the Oppositionhas not allowed it to work. When on thefirst day Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Opposition leaders to a special meeting to inform them about the current and future steps to tackle the Corona crisis,some leaders, including from Congress, asked why the meeting was needed when Parliament was about to convene.Congress itself had originally suggested convening an all-party meeting on the Corona crisis but such statements prove how serious the Opposition was in attending the session.
Itsseriousness vanished in the first week itself when papers were snatched from a Minister in the Rajya Sabha. In the Lok Sabha, Opposition members started throwing pieces of paper at the Speaker and the media. The House Reporters were not spared the "torturous behaviour" of some Opposition parties.
The Opposition is using the so-called "Pegasus issue"as a shield for its "irresponsible behaviour".The concerned Minister has already given statements in both Houses on the Pegasus issue.If the Opposition is dissatisfied with the minister's statement, the best forum for it is the Rajya Sabha where there is a provision to seek clarification from theminister. But the Opposition's focus was to cause an uproar during the minister's statement and then snatch the paper from his hand.
Opposition behaviour raises some important questions. Was demanding an emergency Parliament session on the Corona crisis just a trick to divert the government's attention? If their intention was for a discussion, then why is the Opposition running away from it all this while? Or, isthe Opposition taking a U-turnfearing the Corona debate may "boomerang" on them since positive cases are increasing in states like Kerala and Maharashtraeven though the second wave of the Corona has abated?Or, is the Opposition afraid that if a detailed discussion is held,then its Chief Ministers will get exposed? Is it that the leaders, who are claiming Opposition's unity against the Modi Government, are afraid that this so-called unity will be shattered during specific discussions in the House? If so, it would be pertinent to mention here that the hollownessof Opposition unity is getting exposed day by day. When the Congress calls for a meeting, the Trinamool Congress' MPs go missing and when the Trinamool leaders meet other parties, the Congress keeps away.
The reality is that instead of becoming a "part of the solution", some political parties are involved in spreading "political pollution" during the pandemic period. They tried to use a "national calamity" as a "political opportunity".
The Opposition is stalling work in Parliament on the pretext of anunsubstantiated, baseless and fabricated issue of Pegasus that has no relevance to the interests of the people of the country. Earlier also, the Opposition paid the price for creating illogical ruckus without understanding the mood of the people of the country. This time too, they will meet the same fate.
The Government has repeatedly it is ready for a discussion on all essential issues including the Covid-19pandemic, farmers' issues, inflation, floods, etc. On the alleged Pegasus issue also, the Government issued a statement in Parliament without delay. But the Congress is adopting a "hit and run" policy. By labelling its "negative and obstructive approach" as the "stand" of the entire Opposition, Congress is trying to "hijack" the positive thinking of those Opposition parties who are in favour of discussion and smooth functioning in Parliament.
(The writer is Deputy Leader, Rajya Sabha & Union Minister for Minority Affairs. The views expressed are personal.)
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
We may end up having to do deep-sea mining but still have to weigh the environmental costs
A month ago, it seemed to be just another tale of ruthless miners and desperate, poor people conspiring to wreck the environment while slow-moving, distant regulators failed to get a grip. But it turns out to be more complicated than that, and rather more hopeful.
The mining company was called DeepGreen, but is in the process of becoming a larger entity called simply The Metals Company. The poor people are the eleven thousand inhabitants of Nauru, a tiny independent island in the Western Pacific with no visible means of support.
And the slow-moving, distant regulators are the Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority (ISA), a body created in 1994 under the UN Law of the Sea to govern activities on the seabed in the areas beyond the reach of national laws (i.e. most of the planet).
In principle, the ISA controls mining on that seabed, but so far it has only issued exploration permits. Nobody wanted to do any actual mining, and business has been slow. But vital new technologies, from mobile phones and computers to batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage, have now created a huge demand for cobalt, nickel, copper, manganese, and rare earths - all to be found in vast quantities in potato-sized 'polymetallic nodules' on some parts of the deep seafloor.
So DeepGreen partnered with Nauru's president, Lionel Aingimea, whose country has exclusive control of 75,000 sq. km. of seabed in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone of the North Pacific (between Hawaii and Mexico), and told the ISA on 30 June that it wants to start mining the area within two years.
The beauty of this strategy is that if the ISA has not completed its long-delayed 'Mining Code' within two years of getting such a request, the country making the request can just go ahead and start mining under the current (almost non-existent) rules.
You have to feel sorry for Nauru. It's only the size of Manhattan up to 42nd Street, and 80 per cent of it was strip-mined for phosphates by colonial powers. Almost half its population has type 2 diabetes (70 per cent are obese), and it has no resources left worth mentioning.
One feels less sorry for Vancouver-based DeepGreen, which just wants to make a lot of money, but CEO Gerard Barron does know how to talk the talk: "The world is on a massive push to move away from fossil fuels, and what do we need if we want to do that? We need to build a lot of batteries."
He calls the polymetallic nodules "batteries in a rock", but it's not quite that simple. The nodules would be sucked up in a seawater-sediment slurry by huge undersea machines from as deep as 6,000 metres, passed up to the surface in a giant riser, then separated from the sediment and seawater (which would be pumped back down to the bottom). "We expect most of this sediment to resettle within hours-to-days within tens to thousands of metres from origin."
Major potential customers for deep-sea metals like BMW Group, Volvo Group, and Samsung SDI (battery makers) have declared that they will not allow any seabed minerals in their supply chains until it's clear that they are environmentally defensible.
We may end up having to do deep-sea mining because shifting from fossil fuels to sustainable energy will certainly require a great deal of those metals. But there's huge room for improvement in recycling, and if that's not enough we still have to weigh the environmental costs of seabed operations vs. mining on land.
A moratorium is the right way to go, and DeepGreen has inadvertently made it more likely.
(Gwynne Dyer's new book is 'Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work)
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
It is no exaggeration that most investment decisions were influenced by the recent rally in the stock market, not by the fundamentals of companies
The economy contracted in 2020-21 owing to the nationwide pandemic lockdown last year and resulted in a higher unemployment rate in both the formal and informal sectors.However, interestingly, during the same period, there was an unprecedented surge in trading and investment in the stock market.
Both benchmark Sensex and Nifty clocked in their highs during the pandemic period rising from the low that they hit in March 2020. The new entrants are retail investors with their participation booming amid the pandemic situation. According to the data from the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the new Demat accounts rose to an all-time high of 10.7 million between April 2020 and January 2021. The recent data from the National Stock Exchange (NSE) shows that retail participation in the stock market's equity division constitutes 45 per cent of trading turnover.
What was the reason behind such an influx of these new retail investors (a major chunk is the GenZ and millennials) in the stock market? Of course, the influence of Warren Buffet, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, or the movies like The Wolf of Wall Street and Harshad Mehta series acted as catalysts but the major source of ignition arose from income uncertainty due to a significant number of job losses. Many opened their Demat accounts during the pandemic, reminding us of the Warren Buffet quote that "If your salary is your only source of income, you are one step away from poverty".The ease of opening these accounts also boosted the process. Discount brokerage firms like Zerodha, Upstox, etc., helped the emerging investors to open the accounts in a few hours. The investment awareness campaigns also promoted the account opening with different sharebrokers.
Another reason for such a high influx is the increase in liquidity in the market because of Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs). After withdrawing about $6.4 billion in the March 2020 quarter, FIIs re-entered the Indian equity markets in the June and September 2020 quarters. The value of FII investments in Indian equities reached $450 billion at the end of the third quarter of 2020. At this point the overall spending on consumables was low and the additional inflow of foreign currency increased the liquidity in the market. So, for the middle-income group, investment in stocks was an attractive option.
It is no exaggeration that most of the investment decisions were influenced by the recent rally in the stock market and not driven by the fundamentals of the companies. The surge in the stock price of Bombay Oxygen Investments Ltd (BOM) was one of the prime examples of herding behaviour in the stock market. The price of BOM skyrocketed when there was high demand for medical oxygen across the country but the fun fact was that BOM was just a chemical company, not a producer of oxygen.
Companies aiming to raise finance through Initial Public Offerings (IPO) took advantage of the increase in the number of account holders in the stock market. This is because the number of active investors increases the probability of bidding which would further improve the probability of oversubscription, and eventually, the listing will occur at the highest price. From the new investors' point of view, an IPO is a faster profit-making option and requires much less research for bidding. Only the general market sentiment is enough to anticipate listing gains. The phenomenal participation of retail investors led to almost every IPO getting oversubscribed from the retail category. During the pandemic period, a large number of Indian companies raised ?20,350 crore and ?31,265 crore in financial years 2020 and 2021, respectively, through IPOs.
The trending craze of IPOs was peculiar last year (the same trend is following this year though). From a general, preconceived notion, we can justify our rationale that those companies with good financial records and future growth opportunities should get impressive responses from the primary market. But if we look at recent IPO data, the retail subscription was almost 68 times for a loss-making company like Burger King or BBQ Nations (with 13 times oversubscription), and the same was only about 3.6 times for Indian Railway Finance Corporation (IRFC) thatmakes profit year-on-year and is expected to improve its profitability further. Interestingly, even after 1.5 years, IRFC shares have not picked up in the secondary market whereas the RailTel IPO, despite being a government-backed company, performed quite well both in the primary and the secondary markets.
It is very difficult to formulate any strategy for the companies launching an IPO, as decrypting the mindset of the retail investors is almost impossible. But each IPO was the talk of the town every time. Maybe because the new investors are very tech-savvy and they always kept an eye on the review and financial analysis of these IPOs through different mediums. Hence, the overall response from the primary market was beneficial for the issuing companies.
But what about the gain of the investors (the retail investors, as they are the prime focus of the discussion)? Well, it was a win-win situation for both the investors and the companies. Talking about the listing gains, 29 out of 40 companies (excluding the recent IPOs that are not listed yet) gave an average of 42 per cent returns. And all the 11 companies that couldnot generate listing gains are already giving returns (as of July 15, 2021). This means every listing of last year gave at least some returns (the minimum profit figure is 29 per cent; SBI Cards). The one-year return from the IPOs will be difficult to measure, as only one company came up with an IPO in the first six months of last year. So, if we consider last year's IPOs, the average return is 202 per cent. But it is unfair to assume everyone got the allotment of all these IPOs. So, from the listing price, if we calculate the return, it is roughly 118 per cent.
An interesting inference that can be drawn is that last year those companies which were listed with a higher price than the IPO price are all generating positive returns as of July 16,2021. So, from a value investing point of view, investors feel, these companies are a good bet for them in the long term.
However, there is a propensity for retail investors who get IPO allotments to square off the position on the listing day itself with a moderate listing gain. With news spreading of some supernatural listing gains of some companies, for example,Indigo Paints, which was listed with 109 per cent return, or Happiest Minds Technologies, which was listed with 123 per cent returns, potential investors get the motivation to enter the equity market. At the same time, some active investors tend to bid furiously for the next IPO without proper analysis. The first outcome is good for the economy. But the second scenario is detrimental to investors' mindset and leads to a gambling outlook towards the IPOs. So, the education on personal financing and the stock market, interpretation of the balance sheets of companies for fundamental analysis, and understanding the due diligence of companies across sectors is something that the retail investors must know thoroughly.
(Arnab Sarkar is PGDM Student, Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai. Ranjitha Ajay is Assistant Professor of Finance at GLIM, Chennai. The views expressed are personal.)
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
The former Minister is upset after being ousted from the Modi Cabinet in the recent reshuffle
Babul Supriyo, a former BJP Minister, has announced on Facebook that he is quitting politics. The two-time MP from Asansol and the face of the BJP in West Bengal has finally said adieu to the party that once banked upon his charisma as a singer to garner votes. He said he was leaving politics after due consideration with his family and that he would quit politics itself, not just the party or his Parliament seat. He also wrote that he would not join any other party but later deleted that part. Babul has been candid in admitting that his decision has a lot to do with him being dropped from the Modi Cabinet. The party saw it coming or not, but the BJP’s Bengal unit is in disarray. It does not have any popular face to portray. Babul had joined the BJP just before the 2014 elections and was the blue-eyed boy of the Prime Minister. He served as a Minister of State with important portfolios in both terms of the Modi Government. People often leave and join parties but Babul’s resignation is different as he made no bones that he was upset about being dropped from the Cabinet.
Babul had it rough with the BJP’s State-level unit as well. He was not on good terms with State chief Dilip Ghosh and, indeed, the State unit of the party. Often he would be on social media airing his views, which were embarrassing for the central brass as well. Known for his short temper, Babul has courted controversy several times. Once he was caught on camera slapping his own party worker and, on another occasion, threatening a guy to break his leg at a function for the differently abled. He defeated Moon Moon Sen in the 2019 general elections but lost the Assembly elections by 50,000 votes. His opponents have called his resignation a “drama”, saying if he had to resign as an MP he should have written to the Speaker. Instead, he took to Facebook to create a storm in a teacup. Indeed, that might be the case as Babul may try to throw his weight around and bargain to retain his position. At the moment, it is a developing story. If it happens, it is indeed bad news for the BJP. Babul made little difference in the Assembly polls but his replacement would be harder to find.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
The AICTE plans to do away with mandatory maths and physics for the engineering exam
A development in the field of education is raising some concern in the minds of people. The NITI Aayog has backed the proposal of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to revamp the national engineering entrance examination that no longer requires mathematics and physics as mandatory subjects in plus-two. Students will need to pass any three of 14 subjects, including mathematics, physics and chemistry, in their plus-two examination. The logic given is that the industry and a section of the students want the option to pursue technical programmes like agriculture, biotechnology, electronics, or IT engineering that do not depend on physics and mathematics. The AICTE idea applies to the affiliated technical colleges and not to universities, IITs, NITs or IISERs. The move has been met with consternation. The alarmist view is that a section of the students may benefit from this rule but it would destabilise the approach to technical education in the country, that there is no engineering without mathematics and physics, that bridge programmes make poor substitutes. Some even recalled how zero, trigonometry and some aspects of calculus were invented in ancient India, wondering how such a legacy could be junked. The critics view the idea as a move to ensure the survival of engineering colleges in the country. Private engineering and other technical institutes are closing down by the hundreds every year because the seats are not getting filled.
Students do not opt for colleges where minimum standards of learning and infrastructure are not maintained and the graduates do not get jobs. Thirdly, as aspirations grow, the students prefer either nationally acclaimed engineering institutes or diversify into new technical fields. Critics feel that the AICTE proposal can breathe new life into these colleges, though the question mark remains about the quality of education imparted. The debate about the relevance of super subjects — mathematics and physics — can continue. The world is changing fast and technology is speeding it up. The focus of education, especially in the formative years, should emphasise on the applicational along with the theoretical. Technical education programmes are diversifying to as innovative as wine taster, cybersecurity specialist, processed food specialist, site reliability engineer and growth manager. Linkedin came out with a list of emerging industrial jobs in India for 2020, only some of which have to do with engineering but with tangential links to mathematics or physics. The India Skills Report for 2021 says the employability of India’s youth has decreased of late, making it imperative that higher and technical education equips them with skills necessary for in-demand career opportunities. Technology is a double-edged sword. It encourages automation. As it grows, jobs become obsolete. Elitist views about education are becoming archaic. A skills-based ecosystem is needed. A better move than the AICTE proposal, for instance, is to introduce a system of apprenticeship that makes the private sector responsible for imparting skills to the workers depending on the basis of an annual revision of the skills shortage list.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
Predicting the timing and adequacy of monsoonal rain poses a challenge. The British had realised that the subcontinent must be seen as a living whole
Better late than never; the monsoon has finally arrived over Delhi-NCT. Monsoonal precipitation is the most important feature of Indian climate. One can hardly overestimate the importance of rainfall in a country where half the population is still employed in the agricultural sector. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) officially divides the year into (a) Winter Season (January-February), (b) Pre-Monsoon (March-May), (c) Monsoon Season (June-September), and (d) Post-Monsoon Season (October-December), underscoring the significance of monsoon.
The motto of the IMD, Adityaat jayate vrishti (Sun causes the rains), acknowledges the tropical basis of the weather cycle. Whereas the tropical calendar — like Gregorian — dissects the year into four seasons; viz. spring, summer, autumn and winter, India actually has more number of seasons. Whether it is the Rig Veda Samhita, Charak Samhita or Ritu Samhara of Kalidasa, there are six seasons: spring (vasanta), summer (grishma), rainy (varsha), autumn (sharad), fall (hemanta) and winter (shishir).
Weather science was not unknown to Indians. However, as Varahamihira’s Brihat Samhita shows, whatever little was known on the subject, was indiscriminately mixed with astrology, proverbs and omens. The modern science of meteorology is thoroughly dependent on well-calibrated instruments. The British were the first to set up meteorological observatories in India. They introduced instruments like a whole range of barometers and thermometers, rain gauge, wind gauge, anemometer, electroscope, electrometer, ozonometer, cloud reflector, sunshine recorder and pluviometer in the 19th century. The Colaba Observatory, established in 1823, made valuable contributions to meteorology from 1842 onwards under George Buist, Arthur Orlebar, Charles Montriou, Fergusson, William Moreland and Charles Chambers.
The Raja of Travancore was the first Indian ruler to fund an observatory in Thiruvananthapuram. A branch of that observatory was started at Agastya Mula (a 6,2000-ft-high peak) to make hourly observations on atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity and evaporation. Meteorological observatories were set up across India. However, in 1863, Thomas Glaisher prepared a report that advocated a general system of meteorological observations on a uniform plan. The devastating cyclone of Calcutta in 1864, which laid waste of its inland port and anchored ships, followed by the Bengal famine of 1866, underscored the necessity for such a plan as an integral part of governing India.
Between 1865 and 1874, five provincial meteorological systems were established, covering one-third of India’s territory. These parochial systems, which worked without any cohesion, failed to reveal a true picture of India’s climate pattern. Thus, in 1875, the IMD was founded to devise an integrated approach. HF Blanford (1934-1893), the weather reporter to the Bengal Government, headed the nascent IMD. Blanford was originally a professor of natural sciences at the Presidency College, Calcutta. He played a seminal role in developing a systematic and uniform system of meteorological observations throughout India.
In 1878, a tentative forecast of the character of the monsoon season was desired by the Government. So the IMD introduced a system of daily telegrams of weather from all parts of India and Burma, and publication of a daily weather report from the whole of India for the Government. Blanford emphasised on the improvement of the daily weather report by increasing the number of stations from which daily telegrams were received; increasing the number of observatories; collection of information of weather from the logs of ships entering into ports of Calcutta and Bombay; and improvement of solar observations to obtain accurate measures of the sun’s heating power at the earth’s surface and its periodic variations.
By 1878, there were 103 observatories at work across India, and the number rose to 128 by 1885. Additionally, there were 22 observatories in Bengal, established for collecting the telegraphic weather reports from the provinces. The Climatological Atlas of India (1906), published by the IMD, informs that a system of telegraphic reports and storm warnings for the larger ports on the west coast of India was established in 1880. The destructive floods in the lower valley of Narmada and Tapti rivers in July 1884, of which there was no warning, compelled the IMD to develop a flood forecast system. In 1885, the first forecast of south-west monsoon rains was made in the series of annual monsoon forecast.
Since monsoon (from Arabic mawsim or season) denotes a sea-to-land wind circulation — or onshore flow — one cannot have the complete picture about this seasonal reversal of wind without considering the seas. In 1888, the British Government in India sanctioned compilation of the daily weather report and chart of the India monsoon area based mostly on marine meteorological data. A formal sanction was given for information obtained from the logs of vessels and meteorological observatories established in Persia and Arabia. These reports were of great interest, and were published continuously until 1899.
Simultaneously, the growth in information about Indian geography due to works of the Survey of India contributed to understanding the true path of the monsoon. Weather reports and charts have played an important role in India’s policymaking since the late 19th century.
(The writer is an author and independent researcher based in New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.)
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
Ethanol has a much shorter revenue cycle that can help the beleaguered sugar mills to pay farmers early and reduce the arrears burden
Sugarcane cultivation is limited to a handful of states, notably Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Karnataka, and is subject to a most complex mechanism of price fixation, procurement, and settlement of farmers' arrears.
Unlike the staple food grains, sugarcane is neither directly procured by the government agencies nor is the sugar inventory maintained by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) or the corresponding state government agencies.
In India, the sugarcane sector is highly regulated wherein the government determines the procurement price, minimum selling price (MSP) of sugar, monthly sale quota of mills, annual export volumes, etc. The global trade conditions have a direct bearing on the domestic sugar sector, thus affecting the cash flows to the over 500 mills in India.
Sugarcane is also the proverbial political hot potato with the opposition parties raising issues of procurement, payment of arrears, and pricing regularly in parliament and state legislatures, pushing the governments into a corner.
Sugar is traditionally the flagship by-product of cane but of late, ethanol has come into the reckoning to further enrich the value chain for more stable cash flows and consequent payment to farmers.
The vision of the Union government to achieve 20 per cent ethanol blending in fossil fuel by 2025 has paved the way for the ethanol industry to gain heft. It will not only result in greater investment in the sector but also ensure a lucrative market for the ethanol players, mostly mills.
The domestic sugarcane value chain is worth more than Rs 1 trillion annually with nearly 35 million farmers' families, including five million in UP, directly engaged in farming. Its primary by-products include sugar, ethanol, molasses, spirits, press mud, etc. More recently, hand sanitiser has also become a part of the product basket necessitated by the pandemic safety protocols.
Due to the cyclical nature of the sector and ever-fluctuating inimical export market conditions (which depress the domestic prices, squeeze exports), cane arrears have become problematic, especially in UP which is the country's top cane and sugar producer. Not surprisingly, some political parties owe their existence and subsistence to the sugarcane sector alone.
The industry laments that cane arrears are the result of the long cycle of production and sales. However, ethanol has a much shorter revenue cycle, which could come in handy for the beleaguered mills to pay farmers early and reduce the arrears burden.
The first step in the Centre's ethanol strategy is to blend 10 per cent ethanol by 2022. In 2020-21, oil marketing companies (OMCs) augmented blending to 8.5 per cent from the earlier five per cent. Likewise, ethanol procurement by OMCs nearly doubled to 3.3 billion litres (BL).
The Indian Sugar Mills Association says the 2022 target can boost ethanol production by 35 per cent from 3.33 BL in 2020-21 to 4.5 BL in the 2021-22 sugar season.
Assuming that the additional ethanol is derived solely (since ethanol could also be produced from other farm products such as maize, as also farm residue) from cane juice and B-heavy molasses (BHM), it is likely to translate into the diversion of additional 1.3 million tonnes (MT) of sugar in 2021-22 compared to the 2020-21 season. This would therefore keep at bay a potential sugar glut situation, and reduce the inventory costs of mills, thus improving their profitability ratio.
It is estimated that the diversion to ethanol will reduce sugar output by a total 3.4 MT in 2021-22 compared to 2.1 MT this year. However, a better picture of the diversion will emerge after the OMCs float their tenders for ethanol, and subsequent bids are placed by mills in the month of October.
After accounting for reduction in sugar output due to ethanol diversion, the domestic sugar production in 2021-22 is estimated at 31 MT - nearly the same as projected for the current season 2020-21.
These estimates are, however, subject to normal rainfall and other optimum conditions. After considering the rainfall in July-Sep 2021, the water situation in reservoirs, and the second set of satellite images in September-October 2021, ISMA will release its first advance estimates for 2021-22 in October 2021.
ISMA Director General Abinash Verma says: “The shorter demand cycle of ethanol would result in speedier cash flow to mills and thus speedier farm payments. The blending will also curb vehicular emissions to that extent since ethanol-blended petrol is more eco-friendly. Besides, it will reduce the country’s oil import bill too. The ethanol industry will create fresh jobs at the local level.”
(The writer is a Lucknow-based financial journalist. The views expressed are personal.)
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
Quad is moving towards technology, climate change and health partnerships
India and the United States, the two most powerful democracies, have to move together to face future challenges like the one presented by the Coronavirus pandemic. Earlier in the week, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was in New Delhi to discuss issues of mutual interest, sound alarm bells over “rising global threats to democracy”, and strengthening a common cause against China. The core narrative was to face the emerging global order as natural partners with a specific focus on the Indo-Pacific region and maritime security with equitable rights. Both have a natural role to play in the technology-aided world of the 21st century and their relationship needs to be that of co-founders of the new order based on mutual respect. The US celebrates “Make in America” week, as one reads this piece, based on the principle — “By using Made in America policies as one tool of many to rebuild industrial base and strengthen critical supply chains, which will help put the American dream within reach for nation’s families today, and for generations to come”. It resonates well with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Atmanirbhar Bharat” mission whose core philosophy is to develop policy as a tool to make India economically self-reliant. The factors driving this change and the race toward self-reliance are lessons learned during the pandemic when supply chains, concentrated in one location (China), threatened the world and nearly brought it to a halt. Both countries now realise that supply chains need to have natural redundancies and need to be spread across geographies. India has been eager to get a slice of the global pie of manufacturing especially in electronics hardware, mobile equipment, and pharmaceuticals, to name a few. To this end, it has launched a tax incentivizationprogramme- Production-Linked Incentive — with the commerce ministry as the single point of contact to facilitate new investments in the country. On the regulatory front, it has launched the trusted telecom equipment policy to prevent electronic equipment imports from a certain geographical region and push for more domestic production. This, however, has not been received well by the companies many of which are US-based. Issues related to technology, preferably interoperable,will define the future direction of the India-US relationship. Both have to start respecting each other’s entrepreneurs and give them a fair ground to compete not just with in their sovereign geographic boundaries but also emergeas global leaders.
To this end, there is a need for multilateral platforms such as WTO and OECD. The US of late has stopped taking interest in them, preferring bilateral or alliance arrangements at the risk of turning multilateral platforms redundant. India and the US need to have tacit understandings on digital commerce, technology, taxation, tariffs, and tradein order to beable to steer the global trade discourse. The Quad alliance, which reflects American interest in the Indo-Pacific region as an area of strategic and military concern, has to come up with tangible, time-bound targets. The working groups envisaged during the first virtual summit in March 2021 have to start taking shape and administrations across the grouping have to be made aware of the importance and potential benefits of such partnerships. It was heartening to see the clarification emerging during Blinken’s India visit about Quad being more than just a military alliance and moving more towards technology, climate change, and health partnerships. President Joe Biden has appointed a “Make in America” director in the office of Management and Budget. The Quad alliances should have similar positions in their respective executive bodies. The time for the US-India partnership on technology is just right.
(The writer is a policy analyst. The views expressed are personal.)
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
The fear of ‘population explosion’ in India is a matter of pure fantasy. The total fertility rate is about 2.24 and may slip to 1.93 by 2025
In 1983, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) jointly conferred its Population Award for “most outstanding contribution to the awareness of population questions or to their solutions” on two individuals for their “vision and foresight” in “controlling population growth” Indira Gandhi, whose Emergency period was marked by 11 million compulsory sterilisation operations spearheaded by her son Sanjay Gandhi, and Qian Xinzhong, head of China’s State Family Planning Commission, who drove its one? child policy that lasted from 1979 to 2015 and saw 100 million sterilisations and 300 million abortions.
The Nobel laureate economist Theodore Schultz resigned from the UNFPA Advisory Commission in protest against the coercive policies practiced by both recipients. China today has the world’s most imbalanced sex ratio at birth of 111 boys for every 100 girls. India’s is 108 boys for every 100 girls. Together, they account for over 125 million “missing” girls.
The attempt to control the population by coercion is nothing new in human history. Even in the US, a pseudo-scientific movement called “Eugenics” had emerged in the pre-war years to prevent physically or intellectually inferior human beings from being born, leading to about 70,000 forced sterilisations. Minorities like Kazakhs and Uyghurs are still systematically being subjected to forced sterilisations in China.
China’s one? child policy prevented some 400 million births through brutal coercion like cutting-off water and electricity supplies, loss of jobs, destruction of homes and properties,the jailing of non-compliant couples, and by imposing penalties on lax enforcement officials like wage deductions, demotions, or dismissal. The results were catastrophic. By the time China softened it to a two-child policy in 2016, there were 119 boys for every 100 girls. Birth rates reached a 60-year low in 2019, stoking the fear of a shrinking workforce and higher dependency. China’s current two? child policy may not suffice to correct the imbalance and it may have to swing to the other extreme of fixing minimum birth quotas for its couples.
Started in 1952, India’s family planning programme was non-coercive except during the brief interlude of Emergency, and by and large successful. Yet, some policy-makers firmly believe in forcing people to adopt lower family sizes. About half of the population lives in the seven states that penalize families with more than two children: Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar, Gujarat, and Uttarakhand, with UP and Assam about to join the bandwagon.
The fear of a “population explosion” in India is pure fantasy. The total fertility rate (TFR) or the average number of children per woman determines the population growth. At TFR 2.1, the population gets stabilised, and just replaces itself. The 5th National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), 2019-20 is still incomplete, but according to NFSH-4 (2015-16), India’s TFR was 2.24, down from 3.4 in 1992-93. By 2025, India will attain a below-replacement TFR of 1.93.
As many as 18 Indian states have already reached it, some well below 2.1. Since future mothers are already born, it mightstill take about two decades for the population to peak after which it will decline. As the TFR falls, labour force contracts and dependency increases along with rising medical costs for an expanding elderly population, forcing the working-class population work much harder.
The GDP growth depends on the labour force participation and labour productivity. While productivity can be increased by technology and innovation, India’s active workforce (50 per cent of the population) falls way below those of the developed countries (62 per cent for the USA, 78 per cent for the UK, 64 per cent for China). The fear of a population explosion is clearly overblown- the focus should instead shift to increasing women’s participation in the labour force - which in fact has declined from 34 per cent in 2006 to 25 per cent in 2020.
Similarly, the fear of the Muslim population out numbering the Hindus is an even bigger fantasy. True, Muslims tend to have larger families and their share of population has risen from 9.8 per cent in 1951 to 14.2 per cent in 2011. TFR for the Muslims (2.6) is also above that of the Hindus (2.1), but it has been falling faster, narrowing the gap. Besides, there are wide inter-state variations in the TFR for both Hindus and Muslims. The birth rate is falling across all religions.
The proposed Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, 2021 limits the availability of incentives only to those having two children or fewer. Evidence shows that such a coercive population policy mostly impacts the poor and the marginalised. They are the ones with high TFR and low literacy and are already affected badly by the pandemic.
The normal Indian preference for a son would inevitably lead to selective and unsafe abortions, worsening sex ratio, and increased economic disparity besides an overall increase in the population of the aged, labour shortage, and economic slowdown. UP has an adverse sex ratio of 912 females for every 1000 males, way below the national average of 943; it would become worse. It would be disastrous to limit subsidies and rations in a state with a high incidence of anaemia in children under five (63 per cent) and stunting (46 per cent). Ironically, 152 out of 304 BJP MLAs in UP who have more than two children would be disqualified.
Chief Ministers Yogi Adityanath and Himanta Biswa Sarma would do well to focus on women’s education instead. The NFHS-4 data showed that TFR declined from 3.1 for illiterate women to 1.71 for women with 12 years of schooling. Female literacy rates in UP and Assam in 2011 were 59 per cent and 67 per cent, respectively, and Muslims have the lowest literacy level of 37 per cent as a group in India. Kerala registered 96 per cent female literacy, sex ratio of 1037, and TFR of 1.8 (NHFS-5) without any coercion.
Infant mortality rate (IMR) is another key determinant of population growth.With improvement inmedical facilities, the survival chances of children improve and the IMR falls. The TFR also automatically falls, as seen in all southern States.The IMR for UP and Assam in 2017 was 41 and 44, respectively, way above the national average of 33 (46, 48, and 37, respectively, for children under five).Urbanisation that gives access to better education and healthcare is another factor. India’s urbanisation is only 34 per cent compared to China’s (50 per cent).
The fact remains that it is not the people, neither Muslims nor Hindus, but the State that has consistently neglected the above determinants of population, and underfunded education and healthcare for decades. To cover its own past failures, it now wants to penalise the people. India neither faces a population explosion nor is population a problem anymore. The debate should be not on how to control the population — it may not need any controlling, — but on how to improve health infrastructure for children and maternalnutrition, focus on female literacy, promote women’s empowerment, and improve female work participation. The population policy should be left to the individual’s choice with neither incentives nor disincentives, and every child should be wanted and cared for. India should learn from China’s failed experience of enforcing coercive population policies.
(The writer is a former Director-General of Office of Comptroller and Auditor General of India and an academic. The views expressed are personal.)
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
Didi is trying to bring the Opposition together against the BJP Govt at the national level
West Bengal’s firebrand Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is in Delhi on a mission. She is trying to cobble together the Opposition to take on the BJP, projecting herself as the Opposition leader. She not only met the Prime Minister but also Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Arvind Kejriwal. The message is clear; the ‘khela’ is now going national. She has given the clarion call to defeat the Modi-led BJP in 2024. Her timing seems impeccable. Modi is still the darling of the masses but things are not as smooth as they were in his first term. The COVID-19 mismanagement has tarnished his image; the economic hardships have eroded his popularity. Rising fuel prices, unemployment and inflation are hurting the common man and making him jittery. These are the issues that can be taken up by the Opposition, Mamata Banerjee has hinted in Delhi. However, it would take much more than that to dislodge the BJP. Opposition unity is very fragile. It wilts easily. The most successful Opposition unity was seen during the Emergency which dislodged Indira Gandhi but, that too, couldn’t last a full term. The inflated egos and ideological differences have often engulfed the Opposition unity.
The biggest challenge would be to agree on a common minimum programme. An electoral strategy would need seat adjustments. The roles various parties would play during and after the elections would also need to be chalked out. The BJP rode to power in 2019 on Modi’s charisma and a fragmented Opposition. Many parties like the BSP now face an existential crisis and it is “do or die” for them. In fact, the Modi Government itself is pushing these parties to forge an alliance. The Government is not very accommodative of the Opposition-ruled States. It makes no bones about destabilising them. The Shiv Sena and the NCP are desperate to defeat the BJP as they feel it could wipe them off. The Congress has to understand that it needs other Opposition parties to take on the BJP, else it would soon be out of the game. Mamata has to safeguard her own turf. She knows even the elected Governments are not impermeable to the BJP. She has taken the initiative. It would now depend upon other Opposition leaders to respond. Indeed it is a long way to go before any semblance of Opposition unity can be achieved.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
The minimum drinking age is an issue plaguing the State Governments for a long time now
Kinky Friedman, American singer and humourist, is ever eager to talk about the right age to consume alcohol. He is brutally frank: “I am going to lower the drinking age to 18. If you are old enough to die in Iraq, you are old enough to drink.” Setting aside his forthrightness, the minimum drinking age is an issue both the society and the Government feel they need to decide if only to determine the moral order of growing up. The most liberal attitude can wilt under society’s pressure for allowing a youngster to have liquor. The issue at hand has to do with the drinking age, specifically the legality of it. An NGO on Wednesday challenged the Delhi Government’s decision to lower the drinking age in Delhi from 25 years to 21. The Government’s reply will be heard on September 17. Be that as it may, the vicarious pleasure of breaking the law is derived most by the under-aged when they steal a puff of a cigarette or surreptitiously gulp down a peg of liquor. One hardly comes across diligent tradespersons who verify the age of those buying liquor or stewards who refuse to serve alcohol to the under-aged in restaurants. At what age should a youngster drink and how to check violations has been part of the national discourse for the better part of a quarter-century. The challenge in the court is the latest in a series. It is high time that the issue is looked at through the joint prism of law and common sense.
A youth, living anywhere in India, can vote and apply for a driving licence at 18. When it comes to consuming alcohol, however, he or she can legally do so only in States where 18 years is the minimum age. Does it mean that the 18-year-old who has the maturity to decide which political party can govern the country best lacks a level head to imbibe alcohol? If the 18-year-old is a girl, she is also considered mature enough to shoulder the responsibility of marriage but will have to wait for seven more years to have liquor in Haryana. The National Capital Region presents a complex scenario where the various bordering states have different drinking ages. A mixed-age group of youngsters can never consume liquor together in any one State except by illegal means. That is what leads to smuggling, black marketing, jumping borders or buying substandard liquor. The provision of equality before the law within the territory of India under Article 14 of the Constitution does not apply to these youngsters because they face discrimination in the form of absence of a uniform drinking age. It is the norm across the world while it is a state subject in India and that results in these complications. Indian society can deal with the moral and health aspects of alcohol but first, allow the youngsters a level field by having a uniform drinking age.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)