april 3,hindu news crunch

Sharpen the focus on growth If there has to be investment resurgence, it is necessary to create the climate which promotes this faith

c. rangarajan

Now that the dust and din around the State Assembly elections have settled down, it is time for policymakers to turn their attention to the major task of accelerating economic growth. As of now the prospects are not encouraging. The Central Statistics Office’s second advanced estimates indicate that the growth rate of GDP for 2016-17 will be 7.1% as against 7.9% in 2015-16. The growth rate of gross value added at basic prices in 2016-17 will be 6.7% as against 7.8% in 2015-16. The growth rates projected for 2016-17 do not capture the impact of demonetisation, which when taken into account may bring down the projected growth rate by around 0.5%. The decline in the growth rate is not a recent phenomenon. It started in 2011-12. The persistence of relatively low growth over a five-year period calls for a critical examination. Even though the new numbers on national income give us some comfort, they do not tell the whole story. Determinants of growth Ultimately, the growth rate is determined by two factors — the investment rate and the efficiency in the use of capital. As the Harrod-Domar equation puts it, the growth rate is equal to the investment rate divided by the incremental capital-output ratio. The incremental capital-output ratio (ICOR) is the amount of capital required to produce one unit of output. The higher the ICOR, the less efficient we are in the use of capital. There are many caveats to this bald proposition. As we look at the Indian performance in the last five years, two facts stand out. One is a decline in the investment rate and the second is a rise in ICOR; both of which can only lead to a lower growth rate. As growth was coming down sharply initially, the investment rate was falling only slowly, implying a rising ICOR. ICOR is a catch-all expression which is determined by a variety of factors including technology, skill of manpower, managerial competence and also macroeconomic policies. Thus delays in the completion of projects, lack of complementary investments in related sectors and the non-availability of critical inputs can all lead to a rise in ICOR. The Economic Survey of 2014-15 reported that there were in all 746 stalled projects, with 161 in the public sector and 585 in the private sector of a total value of ₹8.8 lakh crore. As of 2015-16, there were still 404 stalled projects, 162 in the public sector and 242 in the private sector with a total value of ₹5.5 lakh crore. In the short run, the biggest gain in terms of growth will be by getting “stalled projects” moving. Of course some of them may be unviable because of changed conditions. A periodic reporting by the government on the progress of stalled projects will be of great help. Declining investment rate India’s investment rate reached a peak in 2007-08 at 38.0% of GDP. With an ICOR of 4, it was not surprising that a high growth rate of close to 9.4% was achieved. One sees a steady decline in the investment rate since then. The decline in the rate was small initially but has been more pronounced in the last two years. According to the latest estimates, the gross fixed capital formation rate fell to as low as 26.9% in 2016-17. With this investment rate, it is simply impossible to achieve a growth rate in the range of 8 to 9%. The major issue confronting us is: why did the investment rate fall? Why are not new investments forthcoming? In 2011 and 2012, in discussions on the Indian economy, the one phrase that used to be bandied about was “policy paralysis”, pointing to the inability of the government to take policy decisions because of “coalition compulsions”. It is true that around this period, the government was preoccupied with answering many issues connected with graft. But that does not explain the steady fall in the investment rate except for a sense of uncertainty created in the minds of investors. The external environment was also not encouraging. The growth rate of the advanced economies remained low and the recovery from the crisis of 2008 was tepid which had an adverse impact on exports. However, India benefited by large capital inflows except in 2013. For almost three years beginning 2010, India had to cope with a high level of inflation which also had an adverse impact on investment sentiment. Once the growth rate starts to decline, it sets in motion a vicious cycle of decline in investment and lower growth. The acceleration principle begins to operate. We need to break this chain in order to move on to a higher growth path. Solutions What are the solutions, given the current situation? The standard prescription, whenever private investment is weak, is to raise public investment which can take a longer term view. This standard suggestion is very much appropriate in the present context as well. In the best of times, public investment has been 8% of GDP. The Central government’s capital expenditures even after some increase in the last two years, is only 1.8% of GDP. About 3 to 4% of GDP comes from public sector undertakings and the balance from State governments. What is needed now is for public sector undertakings to come out with an explicit statement indicating the extent of investment they intend to make during the current fiscal. And this intention must be monitored every quarter. This will inspire confidence among prospective private investors. However, it is also necessary to enhance private investment, and that too private corporate investment. During the high growth phase, corporate investment reached the level of 14% of GDP. Since then it has fallen. In fact, a recent study shows that the total cost of projects initiated by the corporate sector has come down from ₹5,560 billion in 2009-10 to ₹954 billion in 2015-16. This continuing trend must be reversed. Three things need attention. First, reforms to simplify procedures, speed up the delivery system and enlarge competition must be pursued vigorously. Some significant steps have been taken in this regard in recent years such as moving forward on the GST Bill, passing of the Bankruptcy Act, and enlarging the scope of foreign direct investment. Second, all viable “stalled” projects must be brought to completion. Third, financial bottlenecks need to be cleared. The banking system is under stress. The non-performing loans of the system have risen and are rising. This has squeezed the profitability of banks with some showing loss. More distressing is the minimal flow of new credit. The problem is often referred to as the twin balance sheet problem. If corporate balance sheets are weak, automatically the banks’ balance sheets also become weak. Really speaking, it is two sides of the same coin. The solution to clean up the balance sheet of banks lies in taking some “haircuts”. At least some part of the accumulation of bad debts has been due to the slowdown of the economy. The old saying is “bad loans are sown in good times”. Even though a haircut cannot be avoided, wilful defaulters must not go unpunished. Asset restructuring companies are part of the solution and we have some experience of them. Long-term lending This is also the appropriate time to revive an idea which had withered away during the reform process and that is to have institutions focussed on long-term lending such as IDBI and ICICI as they were before 1998. The details can be worked out. But the idea needs a rethink. Investment, as they say, is an act of faith in the future. If there has to be investment resurgence, it is necessary to create the climate which promotes this faith. We have already outlined the actions that can be taken in the purely economic arena. But “animal spirits” are also influenced by what happens in the polity and society. Avoidance of divisive issues is paramount in this context. Undiluted attention to development is the need of the hour. C. Rangarajan is former Chairman of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister and former Governor, Reserve Bank of India

Digital push must be disability-inclusive As India catapults towards a digital economy, making ICT accessible to the disabled is a must

javed abidi

Around 8-10% of India’s population lives with disabilities, with an equal number constituting the aged. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have the potential to significantly impact the lives of these groups, facilitating access of services available to them and allowing them to handle a wide range of activities independently, enhancing their social, cultural, political and economic participation. Making ICT accessible no longer remains an option but has become a necessity. Poor accessibility due to lack of focussed information and political will has led to social exclusion of people with disabilities, exacerbating the negative impact of the existing digital divide. The new call for action of disability rights activists now is “Cause No Harm”, thus ensuring future generations are not excluded from mainstream activities due to a hostile infrastructure. This assumes a greater thrust given the unprecedented developmental activity in the country under the various missions launched by the present government, such as the Smart Cities Mission and Digital India. Accessibility for disabled people is a cross-cutting theme across all of these and care must be taken to ensure disability-inclusive development. Accessibility as a link Incorporation of accessibility principles across all new developments will also complement the Accessible India Campaign, the flagship campaign launched by the Prime Minister on World Disability Day which aims at achieving universal accessibility for all citizens and creating an enabling and barrier-free environment. India was one of the first countries to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The recently passed Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 mandates adherence to standards of accessibility for physical environment, transportation, information and communications, including appropriate technologies and systems, and other facilities and services provided to the public in urban and rural areas. These include government and private developments. The Act also mandates incorporation of Universal Design principles while designing new infrastructure, electronic and digital media, consumer goods and services. Most importantly, the Act sets timelines to ensure implementation of the above and punitive action in the event of non-compliance. Accessibility therefore forms the common thread weaving together the Accessible India Campaign, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, the Smart Cities Mission and the Digital India campaign to achieve the combined goal of creating an inclusive society that will allow for a better quality of life for all citizens, including persons with disabilities. Beyond the social implications, accessibility makes for business and economic sense too. If principles of Universal Design are incorporated at the design stage, cost implications are negligible. Retrofitting, on the other hand, has huge cost implications. Exclusion of persons with disabilities from education, employment and participation on account of a hostile infrastructure and inaccessible technology has huge economic implications. UN agencies put this cost at around 7% of national GDP. On the other hand, accessible services and business premises can broaden the customer base, increasing turnover and positively impacting the financial health and social brand of the company. Recent research pegged the market size of different product categories needed by persons with disabilities in India at a whopping ₹4,500 crore. Disability is not an isolated issue. It is cross-cutting and can impact everyone irrespective of caste, gender, age and nationality. Thus ensuring a disability-sensitive development agenda across all ministries, sectors and causes becomes critical if growth has to be truly inclusive. ‘Nothing about us without us’ assumes even greater significance in the current context. The importance of synergy As India catapults towards a cashless and digital economy and as human interface between service providers and end users gives way to digital, it becomes imperative to ensure accessibility for inclusion. The need is for representation of persons with disabilities in all ministries and key missions, commissions and committees to advise and ensure inclusion in all policies, programmes and developments. The government’s procurement policy too must mandate accessibility as a key criterion. Adherence to the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines should be made mandatory while developing websites and mobile applications. Also important is the synergy between various arms of the government. The Smart Cities Mission focusses on comprehensive development leading to the convergence of other ongoing government programmes such as Make In India, Digital India, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, National Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY), etc. but the Accessible India Campaign does not even find a mention! This is so when as many as 39 cities out of the 50 cities of the Accessible India Campaign are also among the shortlisted Smart Cities. Much after Independence, there has been minimal change in the fortunes of India’s disabled population. It becomes our collective responsibility to ensure inclusive development, one that engages all stakeholders through a pragmatic and judicious combination of interventions while effectively leveraging technology to ensure truly inclusive and sustainable development. Javed Abidi was instrumental in the setting up of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP). He is also the Global Chair of Disabled People’s International

India must reaffirm its Paris pledge This will make a difference to global climate outcomes in the context of U.S. recalcitrance under Trump

navroz k. dubash

In March, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order, ostensibly promoting U.S. energy independence and economic growth, but with potential collateral damage to global efforts to limit climate change. What exactly did he authorise, what are its implications, and what does it mean for India’s strategic interests in energy and climate change? The executive order defines America’s interest narrowly in terms of developing the country’s energy resources. It establishes a time-bound process to review several Obama-era regulatory actions that might “burden” their development, and revokes certain actions. A centrepiece is a review of the U.S. Clean Power Plan, which aims at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the American electricity sector. This was a key element in President Barack Obama’s plans to meet America’s climate pledge under the Paris Agreement. Other actions lift a moratorium on leasing federal land for coal mining, and revisit rules to limit methane emissions. Yet another withdraws estimates of the “social cost of carbon”, an economic approach that sets a dollar value to the gains from reducing carbon, providing a basis for further regulatory action. In brief, the aim is to invigorate domestic energy production but by setting the clock back to an era before any climate-focussed regulation, thereby giving a boost to coal, oil and gas production. From a virtuous to vicious cycle Despite green advocates in the U.S. putting on a brave face, the cumulative effects of these actions undoubtedly have implications for the trajectory of America’s greenhouse gas emissions. They are correct in arguing that efforts to boost the coal industry are likely fruitless. Even without the Clean Power Plan, the falling price of wind and solar energy and the availability of cheap gas could signal the end of coal in the U.S. But the same cannot be said for efforts to limit methane. And the removal of the single agreed social cost of carbon as a basis for regulatory efforts hamstrings the effectiveness of other regulations. These orders set back climate mitigation efforts in the U.S. The only question is how much, and whether America’s Paris Agreement pledge is still within reach. But the deeper significance of the order rests in the political signal it sends to the world, and the reactions it may elicit. The Paris Agreement is, at the core, a confidence game. Each country is required to submit a national ‘pledge’ to limit emissions growth, which is to be reviewed internationally, and updated and enhanced every five years. The intent is to generate a virtuous cycle of enhanced actions over time, as countries gain confidence in each other’s commitment to climate action. Mr. Trump’s order risks turning a fragile global virtuous cycle into a vicious one; with global confidence punctured, other countries may follow the U.S. lead and dilute their national actions too. While the order is silent on America’s formal commitment to the Paris Agreement for now, an explicit announcement on this is expected in May, when the G7 leaders are scheduled to meet. A formal withdrawal, though complex and time-consuming, could further dent appetite for collective action. For veteran climate watchers, what makes this order particularly galling is that the Paris Agreement was, in substantial measure, written to accommodate the U.S. and enable its participation. And this is not the first time the U.S. has pulled the rug out from under the global community. In the mid-1990s, it notably walked away from the Kyoto Protocol, which requires developed countries to take the lead. With this order, as a senior U.S. government official put it: “The U.S. is going to pursue its interests as it sees fit” based on “an America First energy policy.” Implications for India In this context, what are India’s interests, and how best can it pursue them? It is certainly the case that the developed world has consistently taken on less leadership than it should have, and the global climate regime could be better moored in principles of equity in addressing climate change. It would be tempting to conclude that India could use the U.S. retreat to stage one of its own, go slow on its own obligations, and adopt an approach of benign neglect towards the Paris Agreement. However, this would be flawed and incomplete thinking. India’s interests are best served by buttressing the Paris Agreement, using its mechanisms to hold to account the developed world, and maintaining its own pledges. India has a lot to gain from a virtuous cycle because it is extremely vulnerable to climate impacts. While the ability of the Paris Agreement to slow warming may be more modest than is ideal, it will certainly have more effect than no agreement at all. Moreover, India has little to gain from going slow on implementing its own pledge. India’s greenhouse gas limitation pledge is appropriately cautious and, in key areas such as renewable energy promotion, existing domestic policy targets are more ambitious than India’s Paris pledge. Its approach is based on accelerating a transition to renewable energy, which would bring gains in terms of energy security and air pollution. But in doing so, India importantly retains the right to meet its energy access needs and energy for development through fossil fuel use, particularly coal, if needed. The Paris Agreement does not constrain this approach, which is based on Indian interests. Should the Paris Agreement unravel, there will almost certainly be a push to re-negotiate a new agreement when political conditions in the U.S. change. At that time, developed country emissions will be lower, India’s emissions will likely be rising faster than any other country, and it will have considerably more pressure to take on more ambitious pledges that could, in fact, risk constraining its energy choices. Could India’s stance actually make a difference to global climate outcomes in the context of U.S. recalcitrance? Unambiguously yes. India is emerging as a swing player in global climate politics. With the U.S. adopting the role of the leading naysayer, the Chinese have skilfully stepped into the role of climate champions, reaffirming their own commitment to the Paris Agreement. As a large emerging country, whose yearly emissions follow only these two nations, India has enormous leverage as a deciding factor in the future of the Paris Agreement. It should insist that Western countries maintain their obligations, including financial. Indeed, the Trump order provides an opening to enhance India’s global standing. Skilfully executed, such a climate position could even be useful in a larger foreign policy sense, serving as a soothing element in an otherwise fraught relationship with China, and signalling independent pursuit of interests to the Americans. History will likely judge the Trump order an own goal, born of the poisoned politics that prevails in the U.S. today. It will likely hurt the interests of the U.S. in the long run because it postpones an inevitable but complex readjustment of energy systems around renewable energy, undermines confidence in the U.S. as a reliable global partner, and even revokes preparation for climate impacts meant to safeguard American citizens. Fortunately, India is in a position to think and act more clearly. It should do so by re-affirming its Paris pledge and placing its weight behind implementing the Paris Agreement. Navroz K. Dubash is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

Jaitley bats for crowdfunding parties


“The fear that reforms have a political cost… we have crossed that stage,” Mr. Jaitley said in a conversation with Business Line Editor Raghavan Srinivasan. He stressed that the reforms to electoral funding, initiated by the government through the electoral bond scheme, and the amendments to the Companies Act introduced in the Finance Bill were aimed at giving ‘some protection to identities (of donors), expanding the constituency of donors and encouraging clean money’ coming into politics. “Till the 1970s and the early 80s, the bulk of political funding in India used to come from political workers going from home-to-home, shop-to-shop, cutting out vouchers for small donations of ₹10, ₹50 and ₹100. That amount now, because of inflation, can increase. If you were to ask me which is the ideal method, I think it is to go back to that,” the Minister said. “Now people don’t want to put in that kind of labour because everybody is pre-occupied with their own jobs. But now you have the instrument of technology available, where large parties can always tell their support base, ‘fund us online’. From ₹10 to ₹10,000 or even a lakh of rupees, you can pay online,” Mr. Jaitley said. Stressing that a system where large parties would get thousands and millions of supporters giving donations online would be the cleanest way, the Finance Minister said, “I have suggested it to my party to start an online campaign and get at least a million people to donate – that will be a large corpus with small donations. That’s the system that President Obama followed in his first election. There are no quid pro quos and no obligations of anyone.” Widening appeal The top cabinet minister asserted that the BJP’s ability to get votes from the weaker sections of society has significantly improved as is evident from the recent election outcomes in tribal districts of Odisha, the slums of Mumbai as well as Uttar Pradesh. “In several of these areas, the impact of the Congress party was quite high in the past even when they lost elections,” he said, highlighting the quality of gains for the saffron party. “Essentially, money will come from where money is available. As it is, corporates are giving (money to political parties) and they are giving unclean money. They are siphoning it out of their businesses in order to donate. This will at least prevent that abuse,” Mr. Jaitley said about the amendments introduced in the Finance Bill that abolish the funding cap of 7.5% of previous three years’ net profits under the Companies law. FCRA amendments These changes, Mr. Jaitley said, need to be seen in conjunction with the amendments to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation Act) made last year to change rules that labelled an Indian company as a foreign source of funds if it had some NRI or foreign shareholders. “Now when sectoral caps have been lifted in almost every sector to 74% and 100%, you won’t find ten donors in India who won’t get covered by that definition. So, for instance, a telecom or tobacco company doing business in India — Indian company doing 100% business in India, but within the meaning of FCRA would be debarred,” he pointed out to explain the need to widen the definition and increase the constituency of donors. “Similarly, in the Companies Act, a new company can’t give, a company with so much profit can’t give, so each of these changes were narrowing the constituency of donors and pragmatically, if you narrow the constituency of donors, you won’t have five donors left. This doesn’t mean that donations won’t come, it only means that donations will come in cash,” the Minister said.

Poll panel to buy new EVMs for 2019 elections Any bid to tamper new models will make them ‘inoperable’

Author: Press Trust of IndiaNew Delhi

The Election Commission is set to buy next-generation EVMs that will become “inoperable” the moment attempts are made to tamper with it. This move comes amid claims by some parties that the machines were tampered with during the recent Assembly polls. The M3-type EVMs are also equipped with a self-diagnostic system for authentication of their genuineness. These will come with a public key interface-based mutual authentication system. Machine interaction Only a “genuine” EVM — manufactured either by Electronics Corporation Of India Ltd. or Bharat Electronics Ltd. — “communicates” with other EVMs in the field. Any EVM manufactured by other companies would not be able to do so. Around ₹1,940 crore (excluding freight and taxes) will be required to procure the new machines, which are likely to be introduced by 2018, a year before when the next Lok Sabha elections, the Law Ministry has said. The EC has decided to replace 9,30,430 EVMs purchased before 2006 as the older machines are nearing their 15-year life cycle, he said. On December 7, 2016, the Union Cabinet had approved a fresh tranche of ₹1,009 crore for the EC to buy new EVMs so that it can phase out the ageing ones before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Cabinet had also authorised the EC to vary the quantity to be ordered on BEL and ECIL based on their production capacity and performance.

Judgment day soon for China-backed Myanmar project Govt. panel to give recommendations on the $3.6 billion Myitsone Dam

Author: Mike IvesAung Myin Tha

A government-appointed commission is to soon make a recommendation on the fate of the $3.6 billion, China-financed Myitsone Dam in Myanmar. The decision is a daunting test for Aung San Suu Kyi, who risks angering China, the region’s economic powerhouse, if she cancels the project, or the public if she lets it go forward. Key test for Suu Kyi Analysts say the commission’s report would provide her the political cover to kill an unpopular white elephant that she inherited from Myanmar’s former military government. But getting out of the deal would be difficult. If her government cancels the project outright, it could have to repay some $800 million that the state-owned Chinese developer says it has already spent on the project. If Myanmar offers China other dam projects in return, a compromise her government has floated, they are likely to impinge on disputed ethnic areas where they could threaten the peace talks she has championed since her political party came to power last year. The Myitsone Dam is among the largest of many Chinese-financed energy and mining projects approved by the military junta that ruled Myanmar until 2011. It is especially contentious because it would be the first dam to cross the Irrawaddy River, the mythic cradle of civilisation for Myanmar’s ethnic Burman majority. While officials said the dam would provide Myanmar much-needed cash and electricity, critics said it would cause irreparable harm to the river, destroy fish stocks downstream and displace thousands of villagers. But perhaps the most incendiary objection was that under the deal struck by the ruling generals, 90% of the dam’s electricity could go to China. As protests spread to Myanmar’s cities, Ms. Suu Kyi had spoken out against the dam. In 2011, the military-backed transitional government yielded to public pressure and suspended the project, the decision coming as a shock to Chinese officials and businessmen. The Myitsone was meant to be the first and largest of seven dams planned by the Chinese developer. It would generate more power than the entire country produces now, according to some estimates, but would still not cure the country’s chronic energy shortages. One reason for that, experts say, is that there is no grid connecting the dam to Myanmar’s major towns and cities. To repay or to shift? The dam’s developer, State Power Investment Corp., has already spent $800 million on feasibility and technical studies, bridges, electrical grid updates and other supporting infrastructure, a person familiar with the dam contract said. The money was borrowed from commercial banks, he said, so the cost keeps growing as the loans accrue interest. Officials close to Ms. Suu Kyi have said that negotiations were under way for Myanmar to pay China, or apply the money to other projects, if the dam is not built. NYT

‘Foreign investor norms a barrier’ The annual USTR report lists irritants for investors in e-commerce in India

Author: Sanjay VijayakumarChennai

Indian regulations on foreign ownership in e-commerce and other online-related services were major barriers for overseas investors, according to a report by the U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration. The findings were part of the report on foreign trade barriers from the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). The annual report points to a list of trade irritants in 63 nations. “India allows for 100% foreign direct investment in business-to-business (B2B) electronic commerce, but largely prohibits foreign investment in business-to-consumer (B2C) electronic commerce transactions,” according to the report. Inventory-based model Foreign direct investment is allowed in a market-based electronic retailing model, but not in the inventory-based model, it added. According to the report, the only exception that was granted was to single-brand retailers. Single-brand retailers who meet certain conditions including the operation of physical stores in India may undertake to trade through electronic commerce. “This narrow exception limits the ability of the majority of potential B2C electronic commerce foreign investors to access the Indian market.” The trade barriers report also pointed out India’s tax (6% equalisation levy) on foreign online advertising platforms was not par with the international norms and warned the levy in its current form may impede foreign trade and increase the risk of retaliation from other countries where Indian companies are doing business. “India recently began assessing an ‘equalisation levy’, which is an additional 6% withholding tax on foreign online advertising platforms, with the ostensible goal of “equalising the playing field” between resident service providers and non-resident service providers. However, its provisions do not provide credit for tax paid in other countries for the service provided in India,” according to the report. The report also pointed out that the levy would result in taxes on business income even when a foreign resident does not have a permanent establishment in India or when underlying activities are not carried out in India. “The current structure of the equalisation levy represents a shift from internationally accepted principles, which provide that digital taxation mechanisms should be developed on a multilateral basis in order to prevent double taxation,” the report said. On India’s requirements to store data within the country, the USTR report said such a mandate would reduce productivity, dampen domestic investment and undermine the ability of information and communications technology companies to offer cutting-edge services.

Trade hurdles: FDI is allowed in a market-based e-retailing model, but not in the inventory-based mode.
Getty Images/iStockphoto
Deepak Harichandan

Digital push must be disability-inclusive As India catapults towards a digital economy, making ICT accessible to the disabled is a must

javed abidi

Around 8-10% of India’s population lives with disabilities, with an equal number constituting the aged. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have the potential to significantly impact the lives of these groups, facilitating access of services available to them and allowing them to handle a wide range of activities independently, enhancing their social, cultural, political and economic participation. Making ICT accessible no longer remains an option but has become a necessity. Poor accessibility due to lack of focussed information and political will has led to social exclusion of people with disabilities, exacerbating the negative impact of the existing digital divide. The new call for action of disability rights activists now is “Cause No Harm”, thus ensuring future generations are not excluded from mainstream activities due to a hostile infrastructure. This assumes a greater thrust given the unprecedented developmental activity in the country under the various missions launched by the present government, such as the Smart Cities Mission and Digital India. Accessibility for disabled people is a cross-cutting theme across all of these and care must be taken to ensure disability-inclusive development. Accessibility as a link Incorporation of accessibility principles across all new developments will also complement the Accessible India Campaign, the flagship campaign launched by the Prime Minister on World Disability Day which aims at achieving universal accessibility for all citizens and creating an enabling and barrier-free environment. India was one of the first countries to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The recently passed Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 mandates adherence to standards of accessibility for physical environment, transportation, information and communications, including appropriate technologies and systems, and other facilities and services provided to the public in urban and rural areas. These include government and private developments. The Act also mandates incorporation of Universal Design principles while designing new infrastructure, electronic and digital media, consumer goods and services. Most importantly, the Act sets timelines to ensure implementation of the above and punitive action in the event of non-compliance. Accessibility therefore forms the common thread weaving together the Accessible India Campaign, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, the Smart Cities Mission and the Digital India campaign to achieve the combined goal of creating an inclusive society that will allow for a better quality of life for all citizens, including persons with disabilities. Beyond the social implications, accessibility makes for business and economic sense too. If principles of Universal Design are incorporated at the design stage, cost implications are negligible. Retrofitting, on the other hand, has huge cost implications. Exclusion of persons with disabilities from education, employment and participation on account of a hostile infrastructure and inaccessible technology has huge economic implications. UN agencies put this cost at around 7% of national GDP. On the other hand, accessible services and business premises can broaden the customer base, increasing turnover and positively impacting the financial health and social brand of the company. Recent research pegged the market size of different product categories needed by persons with disabilities in India at a whopping ₹4,500 crore. Disability is not an isolated issue. It is cross-cutting and can impact everyone irrespective of caste, gender, age and nationality. Thus ensuring a disability-sensitive development agenda across all ministries, sectors and causes becomes critical if growth has to be truly inclusive. ‘Nothing about us without us’ assumes even greater significance in the current context. The importance of synergy As India catapults towards a cashless and digital economy and as human interface between service providers and end users gives way to digital, it becomes imperative to ensure accessibility for inclusion. The need is for representation of persons with disabilities in all ministries and key missions, commissions and committees to advise and ensure inclusion in all policies, programmes and developments. The government’s procurement policy too must mandate accessibility as a key criterion. Adherence to the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines should be made mandatory while developing websites and mobile applications. Also important is the synergy between various arms of the government. The Smart Cities Mission focusses on comprehensive development leading to the convergence of other ongoing government programmes such as Make In India, Digital India, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, National Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY), etc. but the Accessible India Campaign does not even find a mention! This is so when as many as 39 cities out of the 50 cities of the Accessible India Campaign are also among the shortlisted Smart Cities. Much after Independence, there has been minimal change in the fortunes of India’s disabled population. It becomes our collective responsibility to ensure inclusive development, one that engages all stakeholders through a pragmatic and judicious combination of interventions while effectively leveraging technology to ensure truly inclusive and sustainable development. Javed Abidi was instrumental in the setting up of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP). He is also the Global Chair of Disabled People’s International

GAAR raises issue of taxman’s powers Arbitrary use of authority a concern

Author: TCA Sharad RaghavanNEW DELHI

With the government implementing its anti tax avoidance rules from April 1, industry is concerned about the greater subjective authority being given to the tax department and how this could render transactions unprofitable. The General Anti-Avoidance Rules (GAAR) are designed to prevent the avoidance of tax by taking advantage of international tax laws. The rules say that if the major outcome of a transaction is a tax benefit and there is no sound business basis for the transaction, then the government can invoke GAAR and reclassify the transaction or the profits arising from it. “The concern is about the arbitrary usage of the powers that the officers might have under GAAR,” Vipul Jhaveri, Managing Partner, Tax and Regulatory at Deloitte Haskins & Sells told The Hindu. “Conceptually, if the power is used judiciously it can’t be anybody’s argument that any anti-avoidance rule is a bad thing.” ‘Creating subjectivity’ “Canada has had such a law since 1988 and they are still facing problems,” Neha Malhotra, Executive Director at Nangia and Co added. “Such rules create subjectivity. Suppose a transaction makes sound business sense but also results in substantial tax savings, then does it make them a tax evader?” Similarly, Mr Jhaveri explained, there could be cases where the tax benefit accrues upfront whereas the business advantages of a transaction could accrue only with a delay. In such a case, would the transaction be treated as one conducted purely to evade tax? In any case, tax experts agree that the government has included several safeguards against bullying by tax authorities, such as several layers of permissions required before GAAR is invoked.

Lights still green on global air traffic rights Domestic airlines oppose proposal

Author: Somesh JhaNEW DELHI

The Centre has not yet given up on its plan to auction international air traffic rights to foreign airlines, sources said. Top officials of the Cabinet Secretariat met chief executives of domestic airlines last Tuesday to seek their views on Civil Aviation Ministry’s first of its kind proposal to auction international traffic rights which is being negotiated between two countries at present. The domestic airlines were asked whether or not they were in favour of putting out their unutilised traffic quota on short haul routes for bidding to international players, according to sources. However, the domestic airlines reiterated their opposition to the proposal in a presentation given to the Cabinet Secretariat officials, a senior Civil Aviation ministry official said. Even some foreign airlines such as Qatar Airways had expressed disappointment over the unique proposal. A panel, headed by Cabinet Secretary P.K. Sinha will hold a meeting soon to take a final call on the auction proposal. In 2015, the ministry had proposed a move to become the first country in the world to bid out traffic rights for three years to foreign carriers belonging to countries within 5,000 km radius from India. As per the proposal, traffic rights would be auctioned in cases where the foreign country – with which India has signed an air services agreement – has fully utilised its air traffic right quota but India has not utilised its entitlements. “Whenever domestic carriers come close to the utilisation of domestic quota, traffic rights will not be auctioned and will be renegotiated in the usual manner”, according to the proposal in the draft civil aviation policy released in October 2015. As per the global practice, also followed by India, countries sign air service agreement bilaterally which decides the equal number of flights or seats per week that can fly into each other’s country depending upon their own requirements. Then, the government distributes the allocated seats to the respective airlines. Some foreign carriers, particularly from Gulf countries, have exhausted their right entitlements.

Is the green edging out the black? As clean energy becomes cheap and its supply smooth, coal-based power plants may face dim future

Environmental activists have initiated a war against coal
Author: M. RameshCHENNAI

A few noteworthy events have happened in the energy sector since the beginning of this year. First, some time in January, renewable energy capacity in India crossed the 50-GW mark, doubling in just five years. And, solar power capacity, which was hardly anything five years back, reached 10 GW. Going by capacities awarded and live tenders, this number could well double in two years. And then, in February, in two separate capacity auctions, solar and wind tariffs fell to historic lows — ₹3.30 and ₹3.46 a kWhr, respectively. Although no one can say for sure that the tariffs that the future bids would throw up would be as low, it is not in doubt that prices of wind and solar energy have begun gravitating towards the levels discovered in February auctions. The message is clear: the era of high prices of renewable energy is over. Two factors have hindered the growth of renewable energy. The first has been the high cost of power generated by wind and solar. This issue now appears to be tamed. The February auctions have shown that if you assure those who put up wind and solar power plants what they produce will be duly purchased and they will get their due payments without much delay, the prices will drop. Allow them the freedom to put up their plants anywhere in the country and sell their energy to any customer, called “inter-state open access”, prices will drop further. Since the country is moving in that direction, it is pretty much clear that wind and solar can compete with conventional power — mainly coal — on prices. The second factor that has gone against renewable energy is that of ‘intermittency’. Wind turbines and solar panels can generate power only when wind blows or the sun shines — unlike a coal or gas fired power station, which will produce a steady stream of electricity for weeks on end. But with the rapid strides that storage technology is making, coupled with the grid operator’s growing ability to manage the intermittency with the use of software, the problem of fickleness of renewable energy is also coming under control. Like a tank that can catch water whenever possible and release it steadily down a pipe, a storage system can help bring in smoothness of power supply. The problem again has been the high cost of storage. ‘Storage’ comes in many forms, ranging from water pumped into reservoirs at a height for later release, to a plethora of battery technologies such as lithium-ion and flow batteries, but globally the costs of storage have been coming down. It wouldn’t be long before large storage systems help Indian grid operators handle the on-off nature of wind and solar power. Further, software-aided smart grid management is coming into play. Very soon, the first contract for the establishment of a ‘renewable energy management centre’, will be awarded. The REMC is essentially a SCADA system designed specifically for wind and solar power, and will match the predicted supply of power with the demand elsewhere. The first REMC will come in Chennai, but soon a dozen of them will be set up across the country. Storage and smart grids together mean that the problem of intermittency of renewable energy is also won over. Quo vadis, coal? The big question emerging on the horizon, therefore, is this: if clean energy is both cheap and its supply smooth, what will happen to coal? In the first 11 months of the current financial year, Indian power projects consumed 439.41 million tonnes of coal (including 60.66 million tonnes of imported coal.) The country has 124,785 MW of power plants designed to run on Indian coals and another 18,580 MW on imported. As such, coal is today India’s energy mainstay. However, the fuel is on its way out. In (say) fifteen years, coal power plants will at best be the ‘Twelfth Man’, chipping in to bridge a shortfall whenever called for. The mainstay is very likely to comprise wind, solar and hydro power plants. “With the emergence of renewables as an alternative source of electricity, further investments in coal-based power plants are uncertain,” said Salil Garg, a power sector expert at India Ratings and Research. Tightening of emission norms is making coal plants costlier, he said, noting that recent investments have not been remunerative for the investors. It is not a coincidence that Tata Power Ltd., the country’s largest private sector power company, has not added one MW of coal-based capacity in the last six years. Tata Power’s CEO and Managing Director, Anil Sardana, said, very guardedly, that while the company has “not taken a vow” not to invest in coal power, one could not assume that new coal plants would be allowed to operate as long as Tata Power’s Trombay plant, which has been generating electricity for 56 years. Campaigns against coal Globally, environmentalists have launched a war against coal. Several funds and financial institutions (notably the investment fund of the Norwegian government) have decided not to put their money in coal-related projects, and to gradually pull out the investments already made. The Guardian newspaper is running a ‘keep-it-in-the-ground’ campaign, calling for a stop to production of coal. In Germany, green groups are onto a similar campaign, ‘Ende Gelande’ (“thus far and no further”). These movements have been strengthened by renewable energy becoming cheap and handleable. The effect of these is becoming evident. According to a recent report of the International Energy Agency, renewable energy catered to more than half of the incremental demand for electricity in 2016. “Demand for coal fell worldwide, but the drop was particularly sharp in the U.S., where the demand was down by 11%,” the report said. Further, demand for coal fell in China in 2016, even as its economy expanded 6.7%, it said. Appetite for coal declined in Europe too, by 10% cent, though it was more natural gas than renewable energy that took coal’s space. What does all this mean for India? The shift from coal to renewables is tectonic, disruptive. It has major implications on the long-term prospects of companies such as Coal India, BHEL and NTPC. Companies, like the Adanis’, which are planning to make long-term investments in coal mines and coal-fired power plants will be forced to re-think their plans. True, coal will be still needed in the short run for energy security, but its need will diminish. The astonishing fall in the prices of renewable energy in February may have just rung-in the beginning of the end for coal.

Is the green edging out the black? As clean energy becomes cheap and its supply smooth, coal-based power plants may face dim future

Environmental activists have initiated a war against coal
Author: M. RameshCHENNAI

A few noteworthy events have happened in the energy sector since the beginning of this year. First, some time in January, renewable energy capacity in India crossed the 50-GW mark, doubling in just five years. And, solar power capacity, which was hardly anything five years back, reached 10 GW. Going by capacities awarded and live tenders, this number could well double in two years. And then, in February, in two separate capacity auctions, solar and wind tariffs fell to historic lows — ₹3.30 and ₹3.46 a kWhr, respectively. Although no one can say for sure that the tariffs that the future bids would throw up would be as low, it is not in doubt that prices of wind and solar energy have begun gravitating towards the levels discovered in February auctions. The message is clear: the era of high prices of renewable energy is over. Two factors have hindered the growth of renewable energy. The first has been the high cost of power generated by wind and solar. This issue now appears to be tamed. The February auctions have shown that if you assure those who put up wind and solar power plants what they produce will be duly purchased and they will get their due payments without much delay, the prices will drop. Allow them the freedom to put up their plants anywhere in the country and sell their energy to any customer, called “inter-state open access”, prices will drop further. Since the country is moving in that direction, it is pretty much clear that wind and solar can compete with conventional power — mainly coal — on prices. The second factor that has gone against renewable energy is that of ‘intermittency’. Wind turbines and solar panels can generate power only when wind blows or the sun shines — unlike a coal or gas fired power station, which will produce a steady stream of electricity for weeks on end. But with the rapid strides that storage technology is making, coupled with the grid operator’s growing ability to manage the intermittency with the use of software, the problem of fickleness of renewable energy is also coming under control. Like a tank that can catch water whenever possible and release it steadily down a pipe, a storage system can help bring in smoothness of power supply. The problem again has been the high cost of storage. ‘Storage’ comes in many forms, ranging from water pumped into reservoirs at a height for later release, to a plethora of battery technologies such as lithium-ion and flow batteries, but globally the costs of storage have been coming down. It wouldn’t be long before large storage systems help Indian grid operators handle the on-off nature of wind and solar power. Further, software-aided smart grid management is coming into play. Very soon, the first contract for the establishment of a ‘renewable energy management centre’, will be awarded. The REMC is essentially a SCADA system designed specifically for wind and solar power, and will match the predicted supply of power with the demand elsewhere. The first REMC will come in Chennai, but soon a dozen of them will be set up across the country. Storage and smart grids together mean that the problem of intermittency of renewable energy is also won over. Quo vadis, coal? The big question emerging on the horizon, therefore, is this: if clean energy is both cheap and its supply smooth, what will happen to coal? In the first 11 months of the current financial year, Indian power projects consumed 439.41 million tonnes of coal (including 60.66 million tonnes of imported coal.) The country has 124,785 MW of power plants designed to run on Indian coals and another 18,580 MW on imported. As such, coal is today India’s energy mainstay. However, the fuel is on its way out. In (say) fifteen years, coal power plants will at best be the ‘Twelfth Man’, chipping in to bridge a shortfall whenever called for. The mainstay is very likely to comprise wind, solar and hydro power plants. “With the emergence of renewables as an alternative source of electricity, further investments in coal-based power plants are uncertain,” said Salil Garg, a power sector expert at India Ratings and Research. Tightening of emission norms is making coal plants costlier, he said, noting that recent investments have not been remunerative for the investors. It is not a coincidence that Tata Power Ltd., the country’s largest private sector power company, has not added one MW of coal-based capacity in the last six years. Tata Power’s CEO and Managing Director, Anil Sardana, said, very guardedly, that while the company has “not taken a vow” not to invest in coal power, one could not assume that new coal plants would be allowed to operate as long as Tata Power’s Trombay plant, which has been generating electricity for 56 years. Campaigns against coal Globally, environmentalists have launched a war against coal. Several funds and financial institutions (notably the investment fund of the Norwegian government) have decided not to put their money in coal-related projects, and to gradually pull out the investments already made. The Guardian newspaper is running a ‘keep-it-in-the-ground’ campaign, calling for a stop to production of coal. In Germany, green groups are onto a similar campaign, ‘Ende Gelande’ (“thus far and no further”). These movements have been strengthened by renewable energy becoming cheap and handleable. The effect of these is becoming evident. According to a recent report of the International Energy Agency, renewable energy catered to more than half of the incremental demand for electricity in 2016. “Demand for coal fell worldwide, but the drop was particularly sharp in the U.S., where the demand was down by 11%,” the report said. Further, demand for coal fell in China in 2016, even as its economy expanded 6.7%, it said. Appetite for coal declined in Europe too, by 10% cent, though it was more natural gas than renewable energy that took coal’s space. What does all this mean for India? The shift from coal to renewables is tectonic, disruptive. It has major implications on the long-term prospects of companies such as Coal India, BHEL and NTPC. Companies, like the Adanis’, which are planning to make long-term investments in coal mines and coal-fired power plants will be forced to re-think their plans. True, coal will be still needed in the short run for energy security, but its need will diminish. The astonishing fall in the prices of renewable energy in February may have just rung-in the beginning of the end for coal.

Bringing light into lives Thrive energy’s solar lamps help avoid injury, health issues

Author: A. JOSEPH ANTONYHYDERABAD

“What is the typical condition of the poor in most of the so-called developing countries ? Their work opportunities are so restricted that they cannot work their way out of misery. …It is necessary, therefore, that at least an important part of the development effort should bypass big cities and be directly concerned with the creation of an agro-industrial structure in the rural and small-town areas”: E.F. Shumacher The British economist and author of the seminal ‘Small is beautiful,’ advocated use of intermediate technology, not too advanced as in the west nor obsolete, which would ‘fit much more smoothly into the relatively unsophisticated environment where it is utilised. The equipment would be fairly simple and therefore understandable, suitable for maintenance and repair on the spot.’ On all three counts, Mr. Shumacher found a worthy disciple in Ranganayakulu Bodavala. A Takemi fellow from the Harvard School of Public Health, his solar-powered products are priced as low as ₹150 for ‘bottom of the pyramid customers,’ as his website ‘thriveenergy.co.in’ states. Low-cost alternative After quitting a World Bank job in 2001, Dr. Ranga started Thrive, an acronym for Volunteer for Rural Health, Education and Information Technology, at Chintapally in Telangana’s Nalgonda district. In off-grid charging of small batteries for lighting and ICETs (information, communication, entertainment technologies), he saw a low-cost, simple solution to opening the 21st century to the poor and marginalised. Backed by warranties and service guarantees, his products — fitted with light emitting diodes (LEDs) from Nichia, Japan and control circuits from the United States — are found not in hypermarkets or malls. His supply chain is kept as short as possible, avoiding middlemen. The model’s people-centric approach is manifested in the village-level solar kiosks, exemplifying energy entrepreneurship and enabling employment too. In their decade and a half existence, Thrive products dispelled darkness in 15 countries, especially those hit by disaster or where their need was acute, such as Nepal, Afghanistan, Kenya, Tanzania and Haiti. Or last year on Republic Day, they brought light to children of Rohingya refugees at a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-backed school in Balanagar, Hyderabad. Two factors gave an impetus to the drive. The first was a Lumina field study of 500 homes in the Philippines. It observed near-complete elimination of health and injury issues following replacement of kerosene lanterns with grid-independent LED lamps. Another found a strong reduction in vision problems and visual fatigue among 472 workers in Thailand performing visually-demanding tasks. The second was the 2011 census in India which said more than 1 lakh of the country’s 6.35 lakh villages were not electrified. Even those connected suffered from frequent power outages and load shedding. Banishing darkness Hence, millions of school children living in semi urban and rural areas have no access to clean and safe lighting for study after dark. More than 130 million (13 crore) such children depend on kerosene or oil-based lamps for studying at night. The position is similar to several developing countries of Asia, Africa and South America where dependency on kerosene-lit lamps is very high. These lamps are accident prone, give very low light, emit smoke, soot and toxic fumes affecting eyesight and health of students adversely. Dr. Ranga’s endeavours for environment, vocational and livelihood improvement found an ardent advocate in Almitra H. Patel, Member, Supreme Court Committee for Solid Waste Management. In letters to Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and and the then HRD Minister Smriti Irani, Ms. Patel — who was the first Indian lady to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — urged replacement of kerosene lamps with off-grid solar lights. “Of India’s 16.8 crore rural households, 7.25 crore, a staggering 43%, use kerosene,” she said. According to her, “At a maximum cost of ₹4,400 crore, two to four solar lamps can be given to each home. This can save the nation the kerosene subsidy burden of ₹37,000 crore each year. “Considering the 10-year life span of the solar lamp and panel, that could convert to a massive ₹ 370,000 crore savings over a decade. Besides eliminating the kerosene mafia and pollution arising from adulteration of autorickshaw fuel, it would ensure clean lighting, less medical expenses and fewer hutment fires,” Ms. Patel reasoned.

A ‘sci-fi’ therapy to fight brain tumours Optune, a cap-like device that creates electric fields, improves survival

Author: Press Trust of IndiaWashington

It sounds like science fiction, but a cap-like device that makes electric fields to fight cancer improved survival for the first time in more than a decade for people with deadly brain tumors, final results of a large study suggest. Many doctors are skeptical of the therapy, called tumour treating fields, and it is not a cure. It is also ultra-expensive, at $21,000 a month. But in the study, more than twice as many patients were alive five years after receiving it, plus the usual chemotherapy, than those given just the chemo. The device, called Optune, is made by Novocure, based in Jersey, an island near England. It is sold in the U.S., Germany, Switzerland and Japan for adults with an aggressive form of cancer called glioblastoma multiforme, and is used with chemo after surgery and radiation to try to keep these tumours from recurring. Patients cover their shaved scalp with strips of electrodes connected by wires to a small generator in a bag. They can wear a hat, go about their usual lives, and are supposed to use the device at least 18 hours a day. It is not an electric current or radiation, and they feel only mild heat. It supposedly works by creating low-intensity, alternating electric fields that disrupt cell division, confusing the way chromosomes line up, which makes the cells die.

Plastic raises breast cancer risk

Author: Press Trust of IndiaWashington

Ladies, take note! A chemical commonly found in hard plastics, currency bills and paper receipts, may increase the aggressiveness of breast cancer, a new study has found. Bisphenol S (BPS) may increase the aggressiveness of breast cancer as it is an endocrine-disrupting chemical, researchers say. Researchers from Oakland University in the U.S. studied the effects of BPS on estrogen receptor-alpha and the BRCA1 gene. Most breast cancers are estrogen receptor positive and, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, 55 to 65 % of women who inherit a harmful mutation in the BRCA1 gene will develop breast cancer. “BPS acted like estrogen in multiplying breast cancer cells,” said Sumi Dinda of Oakland University.

Fungus that eats plastic may help clean environment It uses enzymes to rapidly break down synthetic material

Author: Press Trust of IndiaBeijing

Scientists have identified a soil fungus, which uses enzymes to rapidly break down plastic materials, an advance that could help deal with waste problem that threatens our environment. Humans are producing ever greater amounts of plastic — much of which ends up as garbage. Since plastic does not break down in the same way as other organic materials, it can persist in the environment over long periods of time. Now, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences have found an unexpected solution to the growing plastic problem in the form of a soil fungus. Attempts to deal with plastic waste through burying, recycling, incineration or other methods are variously unsustainable, costly and can result in toxic by-products, which are hazardous to human health. Researchers argue that we urgently need to find new, safer and more effective ways to degrade waste plastics. The team found the plastic-eating fungus living in a rubbish tip in Islamabad, Pakistan. Physical strength used The researchers took samples of soil and various pieces of rubbish in hopes of finding an organism that could feed on plastic waste in the same way that other fungi feed on dead plant or animal material. Aspergillus tubingensis is a fungus, which ordinarily lives in the soil. In laboratory trials, the researchers found that it also grows on the surface of plastics. It secretes enzymes onto the surface of the plastic, and these break the chemical bonds between the plastic molecules, or polymers. Using advanced microscopy and spectroscopy techniques, the team found that the fungus also uses the physical strength of its mycelia — the network of root—like filaments grown by fungi — to help break apart the polymers.

Arjun

http://amitrajyoti.com

Arjun here.From Kottakkal, Kerala,India. I am interested in anything that is interesting and writing comes among the top of that list. I read,I write,I live.

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