This revolution in content creation and its consumption has led to a huge demand for careers in film acting and also in show-running
India is the largest producer of films in the world and Bollywood alone is approximately a $ 2.5 billion industry. Further, the cine industries in south India, Kolkata, Punjab and now in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh (UP) are also producing movies. Not to mention, pan-India television channels and ad films. These provide enormous employment opportunities to actors, directors, cinematographers, screenwriters and so on.
The extended lockdowns witnessed the emergence of over-the-top (OTT) platforms that disrupted the traditional entertainment sector and has changed the overall scenario in a significant manner. It made movie-watching convenient, accessible and affordable across a wider segment of the users. Anybody with a mobile phone and an internet connection can catch up with a movie sitting anywhere in the world. ALTBalaji, for instance, performed the best in 2020 as its direct subscription grew cent per cent amassing 8.5 million monthly active users and 35 million plus cumulative subscribers in this period, with most of its new audiences coming from Tier II and Tier III cities.
The OTT is a generic term used in telecom industry which means all services that are offered over and above what a cell phone already comes with. It usually refers subscriber-based web-streaming platforms in India whose growth curve looks steeply inclined. The OTT industry itself is only around four years old in India.
Netflix was the first mover, followed by Amazon Prime Video and then more than 40 other OTT platforms. Amazon was the first to commission Indian originals. Netflix entered the domain of local content right after.
Amazon Prime Video has approximately 17 million paying subscribers, second only to Disney+Hotstar at 18 million, while Netflix India has five million and Zee5 has 11 million plus subscribers. With internet reaching the semi-urban and rural areas coupled with affordable data plans, new players have entered the game, including Hoichoi, Ullu, Addatimes, Sun NXT and MX Player. The growth potential can be estimated when one considers that there are 625 million internet users and 836 million TV viewers in India alone.
Digital streaming companies are spending heavily to keep the growth going. Worldwide spend was around $21 billion in 2017, which is expected to more than double by 2022, according to ‘Asia on Demand’. Content spending by Asian operators is expected to reach $10.1 billion by 2022, from $2.7 billion in 2017. The Indian OTT market is projected to reach $5 billion by 2023. With their huge spends, a show on Amazon or Netflix brings legitimacy, not just within the industry, but also outside. Besides digital ads, they put up hoardings all over the city, just like cinema!
The OTT has also changed all previous casting practices and now even films want and need new, unique, different talents for the sake of freshness and spontaneity. This revolution in content creation and its consumption has led to a huge demand for careers in film acting as also in show-running.
Actors work with directors, writers and technicians to create content for cinema, web, OTT, television, advertisement, stills, video and so on. Actors must be able to work for long hours to meet the deadlines. They must also be comfortable doing a wide range of scenes and playing various roles.
With the popularity of OTT platforms growing manifold, the Indian entertainment industry is looking forward to hire talented actors who have skills as per the demands of the industry. Casting, however, is no longer about just checking portfolios and doing auditions. Today, it is also about checking the social media credentials of budding actors, checking auditions on YouTube and doing a whole bunch of things to get the right person for the right role.
Another career that OTT has thrown up is that of showrunners. A showrunner combines the responsibilities of a director and a producer, shouldering the creative and management responsibilities of a web show production. Unlike commercial cinema, creating OTT content irrespective of genre is a much more collaborative process, often employing multiple writers and directors to work on a series or film. This allows for more perspectives and talent to come together for a particular show or film and create a more engaging and enriching experience for the audience.
The showrunner acts as a bridge between the OTT platform and the team responsible for making the show and also makes sure that the show comes in on time and exactly as visualised by the producer. They are very highly paid and usually, a top showrunner is also the lead writer.
The glamour, money and razzmatazz of this emerging career are bringing people by the hordes to this profession and a lot many people are opting for the career which is steadily growing.
The writer is theVice-Chancellor, World University of Design. The views expressed are personal.
It is always unexpected and sometimes might play a positive and at other times a negative role in the polls
Are there any X-factors that could play an important role in the ongoing five State Assembly polls? The X-factors are always unexpected and might play sometimes positive and at other times a negative role in elections. In a few weeks’ time, we will know which way it has played in the Assembly polls in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry. In West Bengal, Chief Minister (CM) and Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee is fighting a fierce battle with the surging BJP. Earlier, the TMC used to fight the Congress or the Left parties but Mamata since 2011 systematically decimated them. Now she is regretting it because the space left by them has been occupied by the BJP. It is the Muslim votes that matter a lot for Mamata. This time, to counter the saffron party’s influence, she is also wooing the Hindu voters. She should be worried about the role of the influential cleric Abbas Siddiqui’s new party, the Indian Secular Front. The Congress-CPI(M) coalition can either damage the chances of Mamata by denting her Muslim vote bank or polarising the voters into Hindu-Muslim division which could benefit the BJP. Since the BJP is not expecting Muslim votes, it will be the Trinamool that will be the eventual sufferer.
The X-factor in Assam could be the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF). Assam is key to BJP’s rise in the northeast. An exit poll data indicates a tough contest in Assam. While the NDA is likely to corner 42.9 per cent vote share, the UPA can secure 40.7 per cent of the votes. That the AIUDF could polarise the voters on the Hindu-Muslim line would go to the advantage of the BJP, particularly in upper Assam. Also, the Congress-led coalition has no tall leader in the State while the BJP has the incumbent CM, Sarbananda Sonowal, and former Congress leader Himanta Biswa Sarma who has been the saffron party’s northeast strategist. So it is again the Muslim votes that matter in Assam.
However, Tamil Nadu is a classic case where the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led alliance and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) coalition have been alternating in power. But that was when two iconic leaders, J Jayalalithaa (AIADMK) and M Karunanidhi (DMK), were leading their parties. This will be the first election that non-charismatic leaders are on the poll scene. While incumbent CM E Palaniswami has not done badly, the DMK is led by MK Stalin who had been groomed carefully by his father Karunanidhi for years. The AIADMK suffers from many disadvantages, including anti-incumbency. Its alliance with the BJP is frowned upon by the Dravidian voters. Kerala too has followed the trend of alternating between the Left-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). Now it is the turn of the UDF but incumbent CM Pinarayi Vijayan too has reinforced his forces by luring the Kerala Congress (Mani) into the alliance. This will be to the disadvantage of the UDF. Besides, Vijayan has managed to do well in establishing himself as a tall leader. If the LDF loses this time, the comrades will not have any Government in the whole of India. The BJP could be the X-factor in Kerala.
(The writer is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal.)
A sweeping order that the CBI will look only at frauds involving a certain amount, or higher, will send out a wrong signal. It is tantamount to glossing over the wrongdoings
Even as the Government is making all efforts to ensure that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — after witnessing 8 per cent contraction during 2020-21— returns to a high growth trajectory, it is concerned about the tepid recovery in credit availability which is considered to be the sine qua non of growth. According to the latest data by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the annual non-food bank credit growth in January this year was at 5.7 per cent compared to 8.5 per cent in the same period last year. Credit to industry, however, contracted by 1.3 per cent in January 2021 as compared to 2.5 per cent growth in January 2020.
A major bottleneck is the reluctance on the part of bank officials to sanction loans, out of fear that they might come under the scanner of the investigating or prosecuting agencies for taking purely ‘commercial decisions’. During the last three years (2018-20), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registered bank fraud cases involving amounts worth over Rs 1,00,000 crore (in 2020 alone, it registered 200 such cases involving total Rs 70,000 crore). The Government wants to allay their fears by letting the CBI look only into some ‘extraordinary’ cases such as the IDBI Bank-Kingfisher Airlines while the specialised agencies such as the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) in the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) being asked to investigate most other cases.
The above move is also justified in terms of what Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at an event in December 2019 — that bank employees should not be penalised for “genuine business decisions”— as also the exhortation by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the same month: “Honest bankers need not to fear the three Cs — CBI, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG)”. There can be no two opinions that officials should act fearlessly and free from any encumbrance, including the possibility of coming under the lens of agencies. This is a pre-requisite for building a robust credit culture and ensuring that credit availability increases in sync with the requirements. However, this gels only with situations, wherein the officials have conducted due diligence, carefully assessed the viability of the project or venture for which loan is considered and convinced themselves about the credibility of the borrower.
In such a situation, the chances of any fraud are almost negligible. Even in an unlikely event of things going wrong and the loan becoming a non-performing asset (NPA), the sheer fact that the official had conducted “due diligence” and taken all precautions while sanctioning it by itself should instil confidence. On the other hand, if the official has granted loan in a cavalier fashion without conducting due diligence or assessing project viability or has acted with mala fide for personal gain under what is termed as “quid pro quo” arrangement then, there is every possibility of the loan becoming an NPA. In such a scenario of a fraud being perpetrated on the bank, the authorities must not allow the idea of “keeping the CBI at bay” even cross their minds.
However, the fraud happens in a systematic manner and it is clear from the four major financial entities, viz; Yes Bank, Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative (PMC) Bank, Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FC) and Dewan Housing Finance Corporation Limited (DHFL) having been pushed towards bankruptcy during the last three years solely because their top brass acted with mala fide intent while sanctioning loans.
Here are some harsh facts. Between April and June 2018, Yes Bank invested Rs 3,700 crore in short-term debentures of DHFL. Almost at the same time, the chairman of the latter “paid a kickback of Rs 600 crore” to former’s promoter and his family members in the garb of builder loan given to DOIT Urban Ventures — a company owned by the promoters’ family. According to the CBI, despite being a short-term debenture investment, DHFL has not redeemed Yes Bank’s investment to date. The DHFL is alleged to have had siphoned off Rs 31,000 crore out of total bank loans of Rs 97,000 crore using a web of multiple shell companies. A dubious loan of Rs 6,500 crore was given by PMC to Housing Development and Infrastructure Limited (HDIL) in connivance with the bank’s top brass. Likewise, tens of thousands of crores in questionable loans given by the IL&FS landed in dozens of shell companies owned by top brass of the former. Another brazen case involves defrauding the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) by the directors of DHFL. Under the PMAY, loans are granted to people from economically weaker sections and low-and middle-income groups to buy land and construct houses, or buy housing units, through ‘credit-linked interest subsidy’! The beneficiaries get interest subsidy of 3 per cent- 6.5 per cent payable upfront. The subsidy amount is to be claimed by the financial institutions (FIs), which grant these loans, from the National Housing Bank (NHB) who, in turn, gets reimbursement from the Centre.
The DHFL — an FI tasked with implementation of the scheme-created 260,000 “fake and fictitious” home loan accounts in a non-existent Bandra branch between 2007 and 2019 for a total loan of about Rs 14,000 crore. Out of this, around Rs 11,750 crore were deposited or routed to several fictitious firms. Several of these accounts were opened under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) and interest subsidy of about Rs 1,900 crore claimed from the NHB till December 2018, of which the latter has already reimbursed Rs 540 crore. The DHFL top brass committed the fraud in connivance with officials of the NHB which happens to be a whollyowned subsidiary of the RBI. Being the top regulator of the banks and FIs, the responsibility of the RBI is to prevent any fraud in these institutions and yet, such a thing happening under its nose is unconscionable. By any stretch of imagination, it can’t be a case of sheer negligence or a legitimate commercial decision going wrong. That apart, there are innumerable cases of bank fraud — each running into several crores — tumbling out of the cupboard almost every other day. These can’t be wished away as an one-off incident. The frauds are an outcome of a well orchestrated game plan in which bank/FI officials are actively involved. Indeed, this is more systemic in nature, having to do with a sense of fearlessness amongst officials that even if they do something horribly wrong, they will go scot-free.
This mindset can be dealt with only by wielding a stick. The involvement of the CBI and other agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has to be seen from this perspective. In this backdrop, a sweeping order that the CBI will look only at frauds involving amount above a threshold, say, Rs 500 crore, will send out a wrong signal. It is tantamount to glossing over the wrongdoings, in a way letting these continue unabated. This must be avoided. However, the officials doing their job honestly and sincerely have nothing to fear— as rightly observed by Modi and Sitharaman—those who are out there to perpetrate fraud can be reined in only by instilling fear. In such cases, the CBI should be allowed to do its job without any fetters.
The writer is a New Delhi-based policy analyst. The views expressed are personal.
Rahul questioning the Govt on Bastar is good. But he’d better be careful about what he says in general
The Congress’ former president and the Gandhi family’s scion, Rahul, is suddenly making his presence felt in the nation’s political firmament. The reason may be any, whether the ongoing Assembly polls or the ensuing Congress’ organisational election slated for after this round of balloting in the States concerned, but it is indeed hearty news for democracy that one of the top leaders of the main Opposition party in Parliament has re-discovered his voice. Of course, Rahul has been known to speak on certain subjects on certain occasions but it’s largely been a matter of his choice and fancy and such utterances have been intermittent, all of which tends to take the gravitas away from his pressing concerns. Also, it appears a tad unprofessional when he comes across as underprepared to speak on a subject to an interviewer — however, when he simply tweets or makes a speech, basically a monologue, then he does quite alright. But put him in front of an interviewer, and the chances of his saying something controversial or goofy burgeon manifold. Several such instances jump to mind.
A case in point is his recent video interview to former US Under-Secretary of State and Harvard University professor Nicholas Burns. Talking to Burns, he openly exhorted the US to intervene in India’s domestic affairs by wondering out loud why it wasn’t pulling up his “rivals” for “wholesale capture of institutions”. The seasoned Burns smartly sidestepped it with a straight face, showing his adeptness at diplomacy. In the past, Rahul’s interviews to Indian media were airbrushed by his minders before being released, but that could not be done to the Harvard interaction. After being in the public eye for long, and with such recurring instances to his credit, his handlers within the Congress should realise that interviews are just not his forte, at least not for the time being, as he comes across as unfocused, fidgety and out of depth. However, all this is no reason to lose hope because sincerity, hard work and dedication are one’s best friends to be able to shake hands with success. No comparisons, but it would help him to remember that in the not-too-distant past, Narendra Modi, who is arguably the best political orator and crowd-puller in India today, was not too comfortable (though he might have been confident) fielding questions from the media before he entered Parliament for the first time.
Security personnel need better gear, technology to take on the outlaws without suffering losses
There seems to be something grossly wrong with the counter-insurgency operations unleashed by the security forces against Maoists in the Red Corridor. Had it not been so, 22 jawans would not have died in Chhattisgarh’s south Bastar in an ambush laid by those who they are out to hunt. Apparently, the Naxalites had prior information about the police party’s movement and were tracking them on a real-time basis. They trapped the personnel and killed them; those who could escape were just fortunate. It was a combined operation, with the personnel drawn from the Special Task Force (STF), District Reserve Guard (DRG), Chhattisgarh Police, CRPF and its elite CoBRA unit. But what went wrong? Usually, it is the State police’s duty to provide Intelligence inputs; the information is then shared with the paramilitary and subsequently an operation is planned. The lower-ranking officer or constable’s input plays a vital role in designing the intricacies of the operation, only after which the party moves for combat. Ironically, there is no guarantee of such inputs being foolproof, as also that the policeman or his informers might be acting as “double agents”. This can, and sometimes does, prove lethal to the security personnel. The operation’s success depends upon zeroing down on the exact location from all sides, allowing no room for the Naxals to escape. It often involves a contingency plan to switch over to at the eleventh hour when the party is out for an operation and in case the Maoists have advance information.
What exactly went wrong in the Bastar case is a matter of investigation. If it was an Intelligence or planning failure, then not only the lower-rung officers but also those involved in planning the operation should be held accountable. Police parties out to hunt down Naxals are often also targeted on their way back after an operation. Apparently, there are inconsistencies in the way the police parties communicate among themselves. Often, the Naxals manage to hear the messages on radio sets used by the security forces by accidentally setting the same frequency. They decode the message and gather all information about the planning against them. Also, the forces operate on different frequencies (as allocated) and there is a pressing need to have a common channel that is impenetrable. Though drones are used in combing operations but our forces need advanced tools and technology that cannot be accessed by Maoists or terrorists. There is also a need to strengthen the Intelligence network with the involvement of paramilitary personnel to ensure that they do not have to depend solely on police information. It’s not enough to announce compensation for the family of martyrs or those who are injured. It’s also not sufficient to go all-out in a hurry against Naxalites after any such incident. In retaliatory operations, often the innocent villagers or tribal are caught in the crossfire. Our security personnel work in very harsh conditions and in difficult terrains. They deserve much better in terms of logistics, tactics and Intelligence-gathering, apart from the basic amenities.
The novel concept of ‘intrapreneurship', though it sounds exciting, is fraught with risks in a country like ours
Lately, a novel concept of ‘intrapreneurship’ has come into currency, whereby a corporation enables and encourages its executive to develop entrepreneurial aptitude. Hopefully, as a result, the company doing so would become aggressively commercial with more profits and greater growth. This is an imaginative concept, but in our country, especially for small to medium corporates, such a proposal could be fraught with risks.
Such an apprehension is not without reason. The first thought to cross the mind of an ambitious executive would be how he could acquire the business of his employer(s) by displacing the current leading shareholders. If he finds acquisition by this route beyond his reach for the time being, he might get busy trying to get hold of the business secrets of the company in order to set up a parallel of his own. All this while or more, the executive’s time and energy would be lost to his employer. If he eventually feels frustrated, he would possibly think of how he could dip his hands in the till.
It is interesting that in the history of British association with India, which clocked over 300 years till 1947, there were innumerable incidents of its white officials, of both the East India Company and later the Crown, privately accepting presents, big or small, from suppliers as well as clients. The saga can be said to have begun with the man from Shropshire (England), Robert Clive, a writer (the term used then in India for an office clerk) for the East India Company, who is the first dazzling example of this practice. Clive went on to lay the footing for the military and political supremacy of the Company by ending the reign of Siraj-ud-Dowla, the nawab of Bengal, and the nawabi itself and laid his hands on its treasury; in today’s terms, the sum that came into Clive’s hands would be an estimated £2.325 billion. Clive’s rewards included another £30,000 (approximately £11 million in 2020) in return for supporting Mir Jafar — the turncoat who had crossed over in the Battle of Plassey — on the throne. This was in the form of grant of a jagir.
Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of the Company’s interests in India, had many Indian friends who plied him with presents. Both these distinguished gentlemen ended up being tried by the British Parliament. Yet, at no stage did it cross either’s mind to become either the nawab of Bengal or the sultan of Bengal, Bombay and Madras. One ought to recall that in those pre-steamship times, ships with sails would ordinarily take about three months to reach India from England. The alternative was to write helpless letters to dismiss the usurper. That was British loyalty to Company and Crown.
In all the years the British traded in India, presents, whether legitimate or exaggerated, were taken by their officials. But never was an owner replaced by his executive. In contrast, my businesses, based in Kolkata, Vadodara and Mumbai, were nearly usurped by the very men who were the founder chief executives with my full trust and backing.
In the context of employment, the subject raised is important. On a world-wide basis, only half the people employed have jobs. The other half are self-employed. This includes professionals like doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants and, at the other end, hawkers, shopkeepers, porters, and so on. The proliferation of economic activity in the liberalisation era has spawned a whole new world of service providers ranging from healthcare, tourism, education, software services and even weddings, which have become full-fledged businesses by themselves.
What is therefore of more relevance in such a changing milieu is the establishment of schools that can expose young men and women to the knowhow of starting small businesses, and the dos and don’ts of the same. Yes, there are innumerable institutes of management in the country — another business that has seen huge proliferation — but they normally do not produce future entrepreneurs. Instead, they send out future business managers. The institutions that can produce future businesspeople still seem to be missing. At the elementary level, as far as known, there are no schools that guide a young person on how to set up a shop, small or big.
Self-employment is today crucial, more than ever before. More and more women are seeking jobs; more youth are migrating to towns and cities from villages. This is because landholdings have shrunk because of the rising population, and have become too small to accommodate the needs of a normal-sized family. On the other hand, the more sophisticated technology becomes, the lesser would be the number of people employed in establishments.
Yet politicians, especially at election time, never tire of promising "jobs, jobs and more jobs" if elected. From where would they produce these jobs, no one knows. The entire country needs to be exposed to the national problem of employment. The days of white collar and blue collar jobs are going out, while functions that do not have the status of any collar are gaining traction.
(The writer is a well-known columnist and an author. The views expressed are personal.)
Responding to Sadhguru's call to show solidarity with #FreeTNTemples movement with a silent video, thousands of people from across nationalities, including celebrities and notable figures, joined in to make the hashtag #SilentSupport among the top trends on Twitter in India on Wednesday. Over 44,000 Tamil Temples are in a state of decay. If you share my anguish, take a few moments, shoot a video of yourself standing silently and post on social media. May your silent support ring in the ears of law makers and compel them to #FreeTNTemples," Sadhguru wrote on Twitter.
Social media influencer Shilpa Reddy shared a silent video on Instagram with the caption: "Demonstrating solidarity to save our rich Cultural energy centres." Support for the movement even came from across the border with Sajan Permar, a Twitter user from Pakistan, joining Sadhguru's campaign to free temples in Tamil Nadu from government control. "#FreeTNTemples. It's silent appeal, not a protest," he wrote on Twitter.
Actress Mouni Roy, who recently visited the Isha Yoga Center in Coimbatore, took to Instagram to express her support for the cause. "Silence speaks louder than words. Your involvement can have a huge impact in this effort to free Tamil Nadu's temples from government control," she said, tagging Sadhguru and Isha Foundation. Several other personalities including Alisha Singh, Tanvi Shah, Sumit Kaul and Tanya Chaudhary showed their support with the hashtag #SilentSupport.
Sadhguru's campaign to free temples in Tamil Nadu from government control has created an outpouring of community anguish at being denied the fundamental right to worship. Celebrities, industry leaders, media, seers and even politicians have joined the growing number of ordinary citizens supporting the campaign which has become a national movement.
Migration at times creates the problems of human trafficking and refugees across the globe. In certain pockets, it has created quagmire and terrorism
The heads of the States of the Quad Group — India, Australia, Japan and the US — recently held a meeting to counter the Chinese threat and to ensure a free and secure Indo-Pacific. Analysts are of the view that it will provide the much-needed impetus to work out a new security road map in dealing with most obnoxious forms of modern terrorism. It is a welcome development as it would provide a platform for multilayered security cooperation to deal with various other issues like funding of terrorist activities, policing cooperation and dealing with cyber threat through enhancing the technological innovation and tightening border and maritime security information-gathering exercise.
Cooperation and coordination in aggrandisement towards communication capability and management of security arrangements to deal with any kind of threat is the main credo of relevance. With the changing times the parameter of national interest is also becoming more dynamic. Another important area which requires immediate attention on the part of cooperation to develop a mechanism to deal with the chemical weapons in the possession of the new breed of terrorists. Actually chemical weapons are normally not easily detectable and are easily transportable compared with conventional weapons. The revolution in communication network and growth of international narcotic trade spread through the Golden Triangle on the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand and the Golden Crescent through the network of Afghanistan and Pakistan have posed new forms of threat.
The nations need to change their strategy, keeping in view the changing dynamics of the world order on account of new threats, some very apparent but a few extremely subtle. A couple of years ago there was the news of 50 refugees found dead near eastern Austria along Slovakia and Hungarian border which brought forward a debate on the tedious issue of illegal migration and related crime.
In the search for survival in the competitive world order, many people from underdeveloped societies have moved to European countries for greeney pastures, sometimes through illegal transit. In another such incident a few years ago, a boat carrying more than 80 illegal migrants drowned in Libya. It is high time that European countries developed sophisticated mechanism to handle the problem head on as it has already caused severe tension between various countries. The issue of migration at times creates the problems of human trafficking and refugees across the globe. In certain pockets, the problems of migration and refugees have created quagmire and terrorism. The problem of refugees who have fled due to disturbances in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan has added a new dimension to the existing problem of violence and crime in Central Asian Republics.
Afghanistan is a clear example of such a situation wherein refugees were misled and organised into a deadly force. Despite various steps taken by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there has not been any significant improvement in their conditions. Contrary to the claims made by nations about the distribution of resources for refugee welfare, extreme economic vulnerability has worsened their lot. According to a survey, over 70 per cent of the 26 million refugees in the world are women and children. Although most countries have faced the problem, it has assumed alarming proportions in Afghanistan, Rwanda, Vietnam, Bosnia, Cambodia, Burundi, Ethiopia, Sudan, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Zaire, Bangladesh and South and Central America.
Most refugees have taken shelter in nearby countries . The serious problems in Kampuchea, Vietnam and Laos compelled people to seek refuge in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. The victims in African countries have taken refuge in Somalia, Kenya and Zambia. The issue of refugees at times becomes crucial due to their exploitation by many illegal and antisocial elements. The following measures can be suggested for addressing the problems of refugees: Development of local infrastructure to create self-sufficiency, increasing the role of Non-Governmental Organisations, extensive training to the staff involved in rescue operations, coordination between the local units and the UNHCR, financial support for implementation of new programmes and so on.
There have been instances where refugee camps were attacked by the armed forces of countries across the border. Many Governments have formulated policies to deal with this alarming situation. But many nefarious actors interpret these steps as surrender to international criticism. In such a situation, the role of security forces becomes very crucial. The strength of success in handling the problem of refugees lies in creating internal dynamism by ensuring inclusive growth and addressing the plight head on and taking care of the security concern and law and order threats, if any, collectively.
The recent international changes might have brought some hopes of reform and change in the international arena but there are mounting tensions across the globe due to the rise in religious-based terror. No country can afford to compromise on its security despite having deep feelings and tremendous magnanimous outlook towards the problem of refugees.
The writer is a professor and expert on strategic affairs. The views expressed are personal.
The Assembly elections in four States and a Union Territory — Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam and Puducherry — will decide whether the Left parties will survive or perish. Voters of both West Bengal and Kerala are crucial for the future of the Left. The communists are ruling only in Kerala. Today, the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the CPI-Marxists (M) together have only five seats in the Lok Sabha. Since 2004, continuous defeats in the Lok Sabha and the Assembly elections, the lack of media attention, failure on their part to attract youth and so on, have resulted in the Left parties gradually losing relevance in Indian politics. It is now almost the last chapter for the communists in India. In recent times, the first major electoral jolt to the Left came from West Bengal when the comrades lost the State to the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in 2011 after ruling it for 33 years. The Left front also lost the 2016 polls to the TMC, though it won Kerala. The Left lost the Tripura Assembly elections in February 2018 when the BJP unseated the CPI (M) from power. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Kerala gave a decisive verdict to the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).Kerala has been alternating between the Congress-led UDF and the CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF). One has to understand the history of the communist movement in India to understand their current crisis. The CPI was born in 1925. After India’s Independence in 1947, the CPI became the main Opposition party. The erstwhile Madras Presidency saw the presence of Communist legislators and the movement also picked up in the linguistically carved Andhra Pradesh. The movement was led by strong leaders like EMS Namboodiripad and P Jeevanandam.
Comrade Namboodiripad headed the first Communist Party Government in April 1957 in Kerala. The then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru dismissed his Government in 1959 following the ‘Liberation Struggle’. The CPI (M) came after the party split in 1964 on ideological grounds. The Left played an important role during the late 70s in uniting the Opposition when Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency. Further, during the Rajiv Gandhi regime, the Left parties joined hands to oust him and form an alternative Government led by VP Singh. Throughout the 90s, the Left continued to influence coalition politics at the national level. In 2004, the Left had a significant contingent of 59 seats to support the Congress-led coalition to keep the BJP out of power. However, their decline started in 2008 when they decided to withdraw support to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government on the Indo-US nuclear Bill.
The Left Front in West Bengal is yet to recover the shock it received in 2011. There is no leader to match Mamata Banerjee in the State. She systematically finished the Left and the Congress in these 10 years. But the Kerala story is different. Here, the Left parties have to face the Congress and the BJP, which is aiming to improve its performance in the State. However, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan faces the polls despite allegations of corruption, the mess-up in the Sabarimala issue and so on. The LDF has won 516 gram panchayats to the UDF’s 374 and 10 district panchayats to the UDF’s four recently. The saffron party failed to make much headway, though it did notch up a few gains in the gram panchayats. The Pinarayi Government has made inroads into the UDF’s traditional vote bank. It has also stitched up an advantageous alliance with the Kerala Congress (Mani), a regionally powerful party that significantly influences the Christians. Above all, Vijayan’s crisis management and welfare schemes are his strength. A win in Kerala will be a morale booster for the Left parties.
(The writer is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal.)
If the owner goes for scrapping, he is promised a total benefit of 11per cent, including scrap compensation of nearly five per cent, discount five per cent and one per cent rebate in road tax
On March 18, 2021, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari announced in the Lok Sabha a “voluntary” vehicle scrapping policy which will lay the foundation for what he termed the “Voluntary Vehicle Fleet Modernisation Programme” and enable the Indian automobile industry to more than double its turnover from the current Rs 450,000 crore to Rs 10,00,000 crore in a few years. Besides, it will have a salutary effect on environment due to the mitigated vehicular pollution.
Apart from it, other benefits are expected by way of reduction in fuel consumption (as old vehicles get replaced by more fuel-efficient new ones) and cut in import bill; boost to inclusive development as investment flows into setting up scrapping and fitness centres thus creating jobs; increased safety on the roads and reduction in accidents; reining in input costs for industries such as automobile, steel, electronics, white goods and so on and increase in Goods and Services Tax (GST) collection. So, how will the Government realise it? What are its possibilities? Will the intended outcomes flow? Currently, there are 51 lakh vehicles in India which are older than 20 years while 34 lakh vehicles are more than 15 years old but less than 20 years and 17 lakh vehicles older than 15 years, but without renewed fitness certificate. Based on the premise that vehicles older than15 years are considered to be more polluting and less fuel efficient, the policy architecture is founded on two major pillars — incentivise owners of such vehicles to go for scrap and disincentivise hanging on to the old vehicle.
The owner going for scrapping will get four-six per cent of ex-showroom price of the new vehicle as compensation termed ‘scrap compensation’; five per cent discount on the purchase of the new vehicle; rebate on the road tax at the rate of 25 per cent for personal vehicles (generally, States collect this tax at four per cent, so 25 per cent rebate comes to one per cent). The policy also moots waiver of the registration fee for a new vehicle purchased on production of the ‘scrap certificate’ issued against the scrapped vehicle.
As for the disincentives, the policy suggests hike in fee for renewal of registration (Rs 5,000 for a car older than 15 years, up from Rs 600 at present) and fitness certificate renewal fees, stiff penalties for delay in renewals and imposition of the so-called ‘green tax’ by the States on such vehicles. All personal vehicles will have to undergo mandatory automated fitness test after 20 years to ply on the roads (for commercial vehicles, the threshold is 15 years). If they don’t pass, those vehicles will be de-registered and impounded by the transport authorities, pronouncing it as “end of life vehicle”.
If the owner goes for scrapping, he is promised a total benefit of 11per cent including scrap compensation of around five per cent (average of four-six per cent), discount five per cent and one per cent rebate in road tax. Against this, he can easily realise at least 15 per cent by selling. So, he won’t opt for scrapping.
Even 11 per cent incentive on scrapping is not guaranteed. Road tax being a major revenue source for States and given their precarious finances (this scenario is unlikely to change until 2024-25), they are unlikely to give any rebate. As for the balance 10 per cent, the onus is entirely on auto companies. If they don’t oblige (a lot will depend on individual firms, their cost dynamics and, in particular, how much they gain by way of reduction in cost of raw materials and components due to scrap purchase), the scale will be further tilted against scrapping.
However, a more likely scenario for the majority of old car owners is one wherein they retain it after renewing the registration. They belong to the middle or lower middle class, their resource position being pretty tight. They had financed purchase of their vehicle (albeit old) from loan. Many of them may have only recently completed servicing that loan. So, they will all go for this option. Even the increased re-registration charges and imposition of green tax won’t deter them (compare a few thousand they need to spend on paying these charges against a minimum Rs 5 lakh-Rs 6 lakh on purchase of a new car).
The policy, too, is liberal towards them. Barring vehicles owned by the Government or its agencies, panchayats and State transport undertakings and so on which have to be mandatorily scrapped after reaching 15 years of age, all personal vehicles will have to go for a fitness test only after 20 years. Those more than 15 years but less than 20 years will get the registration renewed sans test.
On balance, therefore, the policy may not prompt the owners of aged vehicles to go for scrapping on a large scale. However, things could look different — tilting the scale in favor of abandonment of old vehicles and making way for new ones — if the GST Council accedes to Gadkari’s suggestion for exempting new vehicles purchased against the scrapped vehicles from levy of the GST. At present, automobiles attract tax at the rate of 28 per cent and if this becomes zero (for those deciding to dump the old and buy new), this will be a big boost. But given the huge revenue implications, this is easier said than done.
Meanwhile, there is an order of the Supreme Court (2015) validating a National Green Tribunal (NGT) directive that prohibited petrol vehicles older than 15 years from plying in the National Capital Region (NCR) (for diesel cars, the threshold is 10 years). The order is not just a negation of the extant law which provides for registration renewal on completion of 15 years from the date of first registration but also presumes that all such cars become unfit for plying after attaining this age. Even as the policy lays emphasis on fitness rather than the age of a vehicle and is structured around incentives and disincentives, the court order militates against this. In fact, the order renders the policy infructuous in the NCR. It also creates an anomalous situation whereby the vehicle owners in other States have the freedom of choice (scrap versus retention or resale) while those in the NCR are forced to scrap their aged vehicles or resort to desperate sale and buy a new one, thereby plunging into another round of financial nightmare. The Union Government should take urgent steps to correct this anomalous situation. It may either approach the top court to relent; alternatively, bring about necessary amendment in the Motor Vehicles Act (MVA) to reflect the policy intent that is using fitness as the sole criterion irrespective of the vehicle’s age for determining whether it can be allowed to run. Concomitantly, it should go for setting up of the required network of testing infrastructure to be operated by trained manpower having impeccable credentials so that scope for malpractices and corruption is completely eliminated and only those vehicles which pass the test — as per specified norms — are allowed.
As regards the scrapping of old vehicles and making way for new more fuel-efficient and less polluting vehicles on the intended scale, it should endeavour to make the incentives more attractive. Giving exemption from the GST could be the way forward.
The writer is a New Delhi-based policy analyst. The views expressed are personal.
Delhi regularly clocks temperatures in the 40s in summer, but not in March!
Summer heat is not unusual for residents of North India, but rarely does the thermometer register above 400C in March anywhere in the northern plains. But the temperature did cross 400C in the Capital earlier this week and those are bad portends for the approaching summer season. The Met Department described it as an aberration and noted that higher winds over the coming days will allow the temperature to drop. But this is just another indication of an extreme weather event, Delhi’s highest temperature for March in 76 years. And the alarming frequency of such extreme events, such as the coldest, hottest, driest or wettest months in living memory, is only becoming more frequent and that is just an after-effect of climate change, which whether we like it or not is impacting our lives. The irony of this situation will be that those who can afford it will start turning on their air-conditioners sooner rather than later this year and that will just dump more heat and pollutants into the atmosphere. Increasingly affordable cooling might keep people more comfortable and one should not begrudge it, but there is an environmental cost involved for this physical comfort.
India has been on an aggressive path to adopting renewables as this country, with its massive population, is but naturally one of the largest emitters of carbon in the world. Yet India faces more scrutiny of the impact of her actions on the climate than the western nations who are failing in their attempts to decarbonise radically with the sole exception possibly of the United Kingdom, which has weaned itself off polluting thermal energy, an ironic impact of Margaret Thatcher’s war on the coal mining unions almost 40 years ago. The rest of the developed world must do more rather than constantly hector India and other developing nations. It is ironic that even global ambassadors of the green movement have been spectacularly hypocritical in their actions. One can only hope that Monday was an aberration in Delhi and that the summer will not be as brutal, but given recent history there will be more stories of melting roads and there will be hundreds of fatalities due to the heat. This newspaper would like to remind its readers to stay well hydrated and keep themselves cool this summer.