Planes, Pandemic and Medical Devices – I

The Great Electric Airplane Race

It took me quite sometime to write as have been depressed about things. Then a few days back saw Nova’s The Great Electric Airplane Race. While it was fabulous and a pleasure to see and know that there are more than 200 odd startups who are in the race of making an electric airplane which works and has FAA certification. I was disappointed though that there no coverage of any University projects.

From what little I know, almost all advanced materials which U.S. had made has been first researched in mostly Universities and when it is close to fruition then either spin-off as a startup or give to some commercial organization/venture to make it scalable and profitable. If they had, I am sure more people could be convinced to join sciences and engineering in college. I actually do want to come to this as part of both general medicine and vaccine development in U.S. but will come later. The idea that industry works alone should be discouraged, but that perhaps may require another article to articulate why I believe so.

Medical Device – Ventilators in India

Before the pandemic, probably most didn’t know what a ventilator is and was, at least I didn’t, although I probably used it during my somewhat brief hospital stay a couple of years ago. It entered into the Indian twitter lexicon more so in the second wave as the number of people who got infected became more and more and the ventilators which were serving them became less and less just due to sheer mismatch of numbers and requirements.

Rich countries donated/gifted ventilators to India on which GOI put GST of 28%. Apparently, they are a luxury item, just like my hearing aid.

Last week Delhi High Court passed a judgement that imposition of GST should not be on a gift like ventilators or oxygenators. The order can be found here. Even without reading the judgement the shout from the right was ‘judicial activism’ while after reading it is a good judgement which touches on several points. The first, in itself, stating the dichotomy that if a commercial organization wanted to import a ventilator or an oxygenator the IGST payable is nil while for an individual it is 12%. The State (here State refers to State Government in this case Gujarat Govt.) did reduce the IGST for state from 12% to NIL IGST for federal states but that to till only 30.06.2021. No relief to individuals on that account.

The Court also made use of Mr. Arvind Datar, as Amicus Curiae or friend of court. The petitioner, an 85-year-old gentleman who has put it up has put broad assertions under Article 21 (right to live) and the court in its wisdom also added Article 14 which enshrines equality of everyone before law.

The Amicus Curiae, as his duty, guided the court into how the IGST law works and shared a brief history of the law and the changes happening before and after it. During his submissions, he also shared the Mega Exemption Notification no. 50/2017 under which several items are there which are exempted from putting IGST. The Amicus Curiae did note that such exemptions were also there before Mega Exemption Notification had come into play.

However, DGFT (Directorate General of Foreign Trade) on 30-04-2021 issued notification No. 4/2015-2020 through which oxygenators had been exempted from Custom Duty/BCD (Basic Customs Duty. In another notification on no. 30/2021 dated 01.05.2021 it reduced IGST from 28% to 12% for personal use. If however the oxygenator was procured by a canalizing agency (bodies such as State Trading Corporation of India (STC) or/and Metals and Minerals Corporation (MMTC) and such are defined as canalising agents) then it will be fully exempted from paying any sort of IGST, albeit subject to certain conditions. What the conditions are were not shared in the open court.

The Amicus Curiae further observed that it is contrary to practice where both BCD and IGST has been exempted for canalising agents and others, some IGST has to be paid for personal use. To share within the narrow boundaries of the topic, he shared entry no. 607A of General Exemption no.190 where duty and IGST in case of life-saving drugs are zero provided the life-saving drugs imported have been provided by zero cost from an overseas supplier for personal use.

He further shared that the oxygen generator would fall in the same entry of 607A as it fulfills all the criteria as shared for life-saving medicines and devices. He also used the help of Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940 which provides such a relief.

The Amicus Curiae further noted that GOI amended its foreign trade policy (2015-2020) via notification no.4/2015-2020, dated 30.04.2021, issued by DGFT where Rakhi and life-saving drugs for personal use has been exempted from BCD till 30-07-2021. No reason not to give the same exemption to oxygenators which fulfill the same thing.

The Amicus Curiae, further observes that there are “exceptional circumstances” provisions as adverted to in sub-section (2) of Section 25 of the Customs Act, whereby Covid-19 which is known and labelled as a pandemic where the distinctions between the two classes of individuals or agencies do not make any sense. While he did make the observation that exemption from duty is not a right, in the light of the pandemic and Article 14, it does not make sense to have distinctions between the two classes of importers.

He further shared from Circular no. 9/2014-Customs, dated 19.08.2014 by CBEC (Central Board of Excise and Customs) which gave broad exemptions under Section 25 (2) of the same act in respect of goods and services imported for safety and rehabilitation of people suffering and effected by natural disasters and epidemics.

He further submits that the impugned notification is irrational as there is no intelligible differentia rule applied or observed in classifying the import of oxygen concentrators into two categories. One, by the State and its agencies; and the other, by an individual for personal use by way of gift. So there was an absence of ‘adequate determining principle’. To bolster his argument, he shared the judgements of –

a) Union of India vs. N.S. Rathnam & Sons, (2015) 10 SCC 681 (N.S. Ratnams and Sons Case)

b) Shayara Bano vs. Union of India, (2017) 9 SCC 1 (Shayara Bano Case)

The Amicus Curiae also rightly observed that the right to life also encompasses within it, the right to health. You cannot have one without the other and within that is the right to have affordable treatment. He further stated that the state does not only have a duty but a positive obligation is cast upon it to ensure that the citizen’s health is secured. He again cited Navtej Singh Johars vs Union of India (Navtej Singh Johar Case) in defence of right to life. Mr. Datar also shared that unlike in normal circumstances, it is and should be enough to show ‘distinct and noticeable burdensomeness’ which is directly attributable to the impugned/questionable tax. The gentleman cited Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Private Limited vs. Union of India, (1985) 1 SCC 641 (Indian Express case) 1985 which shared both about Article 19 (1) (a) and Article 21.

Bloggers note – At this juncture, I should point out which I am sharing the judgement and I would be sharing only the Amicus Curiae POV and then the judge’s final observations. While I was reading it, I was stuck by the fact that the Amicus Curiae had cited 4 cases till now, 3 of them are pretty well known both in the legal fraternity and even among public at large. Another 3 which have been shared below which are also of great significance. Hence, felt the need to share the whole judgement.

The Amicus Curiae further observed that this tax would have to be disproportionately will have to be paid by the old and the infirm, and they might find it difficult to pay the amounts needed to pay the customs duty/IGST as well as find the agent to pay in this pandemic.

Blogger Note – The situation with the elderly is something like this. Now there are a few things to note, only Central Govt. employees and pensioners get pensions which has been freezed since last year. The rest of the elderly population does not. The rate of interest has fallen to record lows from 5-6% in savings interest rate to 2% and on Fixed Deposits at 4.9% while the nominal inflation rate has up by 6% while CPI and real inflation rates are and would be much more. And this is when there is absolutely no demand in the economy. To add to all this, RBI shared a couple of months ago that fraud of 5 trillion rupees has been committed between 2015 and 2019 in banks. And this is different from the number of record NPA’s that have been both in Public and Private Sector banks. To get out of this, the banks have squeezed their customers and are squeezing as well as asking GOI for bailouts. How much GOI is responsible for the frauds as well as NPA’s would probably require its own space. And even now, RBI and banks have made heavy provisions as lockdowns are still a facet and are supposed to remain a facet till the end of the year or even next year (all depending upon when we get the vaccine).

The Amicus Curiae further argued that the ventilators which are available locally are of bad quality. The result of all this has resulted in a huge amount of unsurmountable pressure on hospitals which they are unable to overcome. Therefore, the levy of IGST on oxygenators has direct impact on health of the citizen. So the examination of the law should not be by what intention it was but how it is affecting citizen rights now. For this he shared R.C.Cooper vs Union of India (another famous case R.C. Cooper vs Union of India) especially paragraph 49 and Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Association of India vs. Union of India, (1989) at paragraph 46 (Federation of Hotel Case)

Mr. Datar further shared the Supreme Court order dated 18.12.2020, passed in Suo Moto Writ Petition(Civil) No.7/2020, to buttress the plea that the right to health includes the right to affordable treatment.

Blogger’s Note – For those, who don’t know Suo Moto is when the Court, whether Supreme Court or the High Courts take up a matter for public good. It could be in anything, law and order, Banking, Finance, Public Health etc. etc. This was the norm before 2014. The excesses of the executive were curtailed by both the Higher and the lower Judiciary. That is and was the reason that Judiciary is and was known as the third pillar of Indian democracy. A good characterization of Suo Moto can be found here.

Before ending his submission, the learned Amicus Curiae also shared Jeeja Ghosh vs. Union of India, (2016) (Jeeja Ghosh Case, an outstanding case as it deals with people with disabilities and their rights and the observations made by the Division Bench of Hon’ble Mr. Justice A. K. Sikri as well as Hon’ble Mr. Justice R. K. Agrawal.)

After Amicus Curiae completed his submissions, it was the turn of Mr. Sudhir Nandrajog, and he adopted the arguments and submissions made by the Amicus Curiae. The gentleman reiterated the facts of the case and how the impugned notification was violative of both Article 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Blogger’s Note – The High Court’s judgement which shows all the above arguments by the Amicus Curiae and the petitioner’s lawyer also shared the State’s view. It is only on page 24, where the Delhi High Court starts to share its own observations on the arguments of both sides.

Judgement continued – The first observation that the Court makes is that while the petitioner demonstrated that the impugned tax imposition would have a ‘distinct and noticeable burdensomeness’ while the State did not state or share in any way how much of a loss it would incur if such a tax were let go and how much additional work would have to be done in order to receive this specific tax. It didn’t need to do something which is down the wire or mathematically precise, but it didn’t even care to show even theoretically how many people will be affected by the above. The counter-affidavit by the State is silent on the whole issue.

The Court also contended that the State failed to prove how collecting IGST from the concerned individuals would help in fighting coronavirus in any substantial manner for the public at large. The High Court shared observations from the Navtej Singh Johar case where it is observed that the State has both negative and positive obligations to ensure that its citizens are able to enjoy the right to health.

The High Court further made the point that no respectable person does like to be turned into a ‘charity case.’ If the State contends that those who obey the law should pay the taxes then it is also obligatory on the state’s part to lessen exactions such as taxes at the very least in times of war, famine, floods, epidemics and pandemics. Such an approach would lead a person to live a life of dignity which is part of Article 21 of the Constitution.

Another point that was made by the State that only the GST council is able to make any changes as regards to exemptions rather than the State were found to be false as the State had made some exemptions without going to the GST council using its own powers under Section 25 of the Customs Act.

The Court also points out that it does send a discriminatory pattern when somebody like petitioner has to pay the tax for personal use while those who are buying it for commercial use do not have to pay the tax.

The Court agreed of the view of the Amicus Curiae, Mr. Datar that oxygenator should be taxed at NIL rate at IGST as it is part of life-saving drugs and oxygenator fits the bill as medical equipment as it is used in the treatment, mitigation and prevention of spread of Coronavirus. Mr. Datar also did show that oxygenator is placed at the same level as other life-saving drugs. The Court felt further emboldened as the observations by Supreme Court in State of Andhra Pradesh vs. Linde India Limited, 2020 ( State of Andhra Pradesh vs Linde Ltd.)

The Court further shared many subsequent notifications from the State and various press releases by the State itself which does make the Court’s point that oxygenators indeed are drugs as defined in the court case above. The State should have it as part of notification 190. This would preserve the start of the notification date from 03.05.2021 and the state would not have to issue a new notification.

The Court further went to postulate that any persons similar to the petitioner could avail of the same, if they furnish a letter of undertaking to an officer designated by the State that the medical equipment would not be put to commercial use. Till the state does not do that, in the interim the importer could give the same undertaking to Joint Secretary, Customs or their nominee can hand over the same to custom officer.

The Court also shared that it does not disagree with the State’s arguments but the challenges which have arisen are in a unique time period/circumstances, so they are basing their judgement based on how the situation is.

The Court also mentioned an order given by Supreme Court Diary No. 10669/2020 passed on 20.03.2020 where SC has taken pains to understand the issues faced by the citizens. The court also mentioned the Small Scale Industrial Manufactures Association Case (both of these cases I don’t know) .

So in conclusion, the Court holds the imposition of IGST on oxygenator which are imported by individuals as gifts from their relatives as unconstitutional. They also shared that any taxes taken by GOI in above scenario have to be returned. The relief to the state is they will not have to pay interest cost on the same.

To check misuse of the same, the petitioner or people who are in similar circumstances would have to give a letter of undertaking to an officer designated by the State within 7 days of the state notifying the patient or anybody authorized by him/her to act on their behalf to share the letter of undertaking with the State. And till the State doesn’t provide an officer, the above will continue.

Hence, both the writ petition and the pending application are disposed off.

The Registry is directed to release any money deposited by the petitioner along with any interest occurred on it (if any) .

At the end they record appreciation of Mr. Arvind Datar, Mr. Zoheb Hossain, Mr. Sudhir Nandrajog as well as Mr. Siddharth Bambha. It is only due to their assistance that the court could reach the conclusion it did.

For Delhi High Court

RAJIV SHAKDHER, J.

TALWANT SINGH, J.

May 21, 2020

Blogger’s Observations – Now, after the verdict GOI does have few choices, either accept the verdict or appeal in the SC. A third choice is to make a committee and come to the same conclusions via the committee. GOI has done something similar in the past. If that happens and the same conclusions are reached as before, then the aggrieved may have no choice but to appear in the highest court of law. And this will put the aggrieved at a much more vulnerable place than before as SC court fees, lawyer fees etc. are quite high compared to High Courts. So, there is a possibility that the petitioner may not even approach unless and until some non-profit (NGO) does decide to fight and put it up as common cause or something similar.

There is another judgement that I will share, probably tomorrow. Thankfully, that one is pretty short compared to this one. So it should be far more easier to read. FWIW, I did learn about the whole freeenode stuff and many channels who have shifted from freenode to libera. I will share my own experience of the same but that probably will take a day or two.

Zeeshan of IYC (India Youth Congress) along with Salman Khan’s non-profit Being Human getting oxygenators

The above picture of Zeeshan. There have been a whole team of Indian Youth Congress workers (main opposition party to the ruling party) who have doing lot of relief effort. They have been buying Oxygenators from abroad with help of Being Human Foundation started by Salman Khan, an actor who works in A-grade movies in Bollywood.

Pandemic, Informal economy and Khau Galli.

Formal sector issues

Just today it was published that output from eight formal sectors of the economy who make the bulk of the Indian economy were down on a month to month basis . This means all those apologists for the Government who said that it was ok that the Govt. didn’t give the 20 lakh crore package which was announced. In fact, a businessman from my own city, a certain Prafull Sarda had asked via RTI what happened to the 20 lakh crore package which was announced? The answers were in all media as well as newspapers but on the inside pages. You can see one of the article sharing the details here. No wonder Vivek Kaul also shared his take on the way things will hopefully go for the next quarter which seems to be a tad optimistic from where we are atm.

Eight Sectors declining in Indian Economy month-on-month CNBC TV 18

The Informal economy

The informal economy has been strangulated by the current party in power since it came into power. And this has resulted many small businesses which informal are and were part of culture of cities and towns. I share an article from 2018 which only shows how good and on the mark it has aged in the last two years. The damage is all to real to ignore as I would share more of an anecdotes and experiences because sadly there never has been any interest shown especially by GOI to seek any stats. about informal economy. Although CMIE has done some good work in that even though they majorly look at formal, usually blue-collar work where again there is not good data. Sharing an anecdote and a learning from these small businesses which probably an MBA guy wouldn’t know and in all honesty wouldn’t even care.

Khau galli

Few years back, circa 2014 and on wards, when the present Govt. came into power, it did come with lot of promises. One of which was that lot of informal businesses would be encouraged to grow their businesses and in time hopefully, they become part of the formal economy. Or at least that was the story that all of us were told. Due to that they did lot of promises and also named quite a few places where street food was in abundance. Such lanes were named ‘Khau galli’ for those who are from North India, it was be easily known and understood. This was just saying that here are some places where you could get a variety of food without paying obscene prices as you would have to vis-a-vis a restaurant. Slowly, they raised the rates of inputs (food grains), gas cylinder etc. which we know of as food inflation and via ‘GST’ made sure that the restaurants were able to absorb some of the increased inputs (input credit) while still being more than competitive to the street food person/s. The restaurant F&B model is pretty well known so not going there at all. It is however, important to point out that they didn’t make any new ‘khau gallis’ or such, most or all the places existed for years and even decades before that. They also didn’t take any extra effort either in marketing the khau gallis or get them with chefs or marketing folks so that the traditional can marry to the anew. They just named them, that was the only ‘gain’ to be seen on the ground.

In its heyday, the khau galli near my home used to have anywhere between 20-30 Thelas or food carts. Most of the food carts would be of wood and having very limited steel. Such food carts would cost anywhere around INR 15-20k instead of the food cart you see here. The only reason I shared that link is to show how a somewhat typical thela or food cart looks in India. Of course YouTube or any other media platform would show many. On top of it, you need and needed permission from the municipality a license for the same which would be auctioned. Now that license could well run from thousands into lakhs depending on various factors or you gave something to the Municipal worker when he did his rounds/beat much like a constable every day or week. Apart from those, you also have raw material expenditure which could easily run into few thousands depending upon what sort of food you are vending. You also would typically have 2-3 workers so a typical Thela would feed not only its customers but also 2-3 families who are the laborer families as well as surrounding businesses.

As I used to be loyal and usually go to few whom I found to be either tasty or somehow they were good for me. In either case, a relationship was formed. As I have been never fond of crowds, I usually used to in their off-beat hours either when they are close to packing up of when I know they usually have a lull. That way I knew I would get complete attention of the vendor/s. Many a times I used to see money change hands between the vendors themselves and used to see both camaraderie as well as competition between them. This is years ago, once while sharing a chai (tea) with one of the street vendors I casually asked I have often seen you guys exchanging money with each other and most of the time quite a bit of the money is also given to the guy who didn’t make that much sales or any sales at all.

The vendor replied sharing practical symbiotic knowledge. All of us are bound by a single thing called poverty. All of us are struggle. Do you know why so many people come here, because they know that there would be a variety of food to be had. Now if we stopped helping each other, the number of people who would make the effort would be also less, we know we are not the only game in town. Also whatever we give, sooner or later it gets adjusted. Also if one of us has good days, he knows hardship days are not far. Why, simply because people change tastes or want variety. So irrespective of good or bad the skills of the vendor is, she or he is bound to make some sales. The vendor either shares the food with us or whatever. Somehow these things just work out. And that doesn’t mean we don’t have our fights, we do have our fights, but we also understand this. Now you see this and you understand that these guys have and had a community. Even if they changed places due to one reason or the other, they kept themselves connected. Unlike many of us, who even find a hard time keeping up with friends let alone relatives.

Now cut to 2020, and where there used to be 20-30 thelas near my home, there are only 4-5. Of course, multiple reasons, but one of the biggest was of course demonetization. That was a huge shock to which many of thela walas succumbed. Their entire savings and capital were turned to dust. Many of their customers will turn up with either a INR 500 or INR 2000/- Re note where at the most a dish costed INR 100/- most times half or even 1/3rd of that amount. How and from where the thela walas could get that kind of cash. These are people who only if they earn, they and their family will have bread at night. Most of the loose change was tied up at middle to higher tier restaurants where they were giving between INR 20/- 30/- for every INR 100/- change of rupees and coins. Quite a few bankers made money by that as well as other means where the thela walas just could not compete. These guys also didn’t have any black money even though they were and are part of the black/informal economy. Sadly, till date no economist or even sociologist as far as I know has attempted or done any work from what I know on this industry. If you want to formalize such businesses then at the very least understand their problems and devise solutions. And I suspect, what is and has happened near my house has also happened everywhere else, at least within the geographical confines of the Indian state. Whether it was the 2016 demonetization or the pandemic, the results and effects have been similar the same all over. Some states did do well and still do, the suffering still continues.

With the hope that the new year brings cheer to you as well some more ideas to remain in business by the thela walas, I bid you adieu and see you in new year ­čÖé

100 million Indians, no hope and future

What will happen when you have a 100 million Indians in the productive age of 14-40 are not working, neither looking for work, neither training or have any hopes that they will get any jobs. This is the India that most Indians are inheriting which has been shared in a recent Govt. report released about a month back.

The Report

If you look at the Report, it seems to be a humongous 600 pages + report but it has been buffed up by interspering the hindi translation within the report itself. Now, while I haven’t gone fully through the report the numbers themselves seem to be shocking. There are other numbers related to women participation in labor force which has plummetted which also is a huge cause for worry. It is estimated that the original numbers were 10 million who were disillussioned in 2010-2011 financial year for labor markets or job creation. Mind you, these are all Government figures. So what happened in the past 6-7 years to have such shocking numbers due to which you see divisive steps such as CAA (Citizen Amendment Act) being taken for which protests have been taken place across the country. I believe there are at least 6-7 major issues for which the present Government doesn’t seem to have time to fix and doesn’t even seem to have any ideas or seriousness as to how to fix them.

Demonetization

The first one right there is demonetization which the current Government fails to acknowledge as it mistake. While hindsight is always 20/20 while it didn’t do any of things promised to the citizens, it made sure that rural markets, startups and small businesses went out of business where most of the exchange happens by cash. Ironically just 2 years after demonetization, the amount of money in cash was more than before, which means those who generated black money were still in good business. In fact, as I have shared before, Dr. Arun Kumar who has done lot of work on black money and black economy, been part of 40 odd committees and did generate and use black money as he has confessed especially in real estate in early part of his career, has written two books recently on the topic –

Understanding the Black Economy and Black Money in India – An Enquiry into Causes, Consequences and Remedies – Dr. Arun Kumar , 6 Feb 2017

Demonetization and the Black Economy – Dr. Arun Kumar, 20th December 2017 – this one gives a far larger picture of how Demonetization failed to live upto its promises and what it didn’t take into account.

The Big Reverse: How Demonetization kicked India out : Meera Sanyal – 10th November 2018

There is nothing I can write that what these economists have written about it and in greater detail than anything else I would write hence would suggest you to go through them. I have given the amazon.in links you may use others. In fact, interestingly, just couple of days ago in a business channel, there was talk on commodity markets and one of the big jewellers had shared this on national media that due to Govt. imposition of high GST, there has been gold smuggling and people buying gold in black (i.e. without receipts) . FWIW, this was on CNBC TV 18.

Goods and Services Tax

About this I have covered in the last blog post so nothing much to reiterate here except link back. Although have to say GST is still hurting people, a lot. GST refunds is still an issue as shared by the finance minister. Although nowadays trusting any numbers including the PLFS numbers should be taken with a bucket of salt as the present Government attempts to always present a rosy picture rather than the real picture. So the numbers for people not looking for jobs as well as people whose refunds have not been given would probably be much more than what has been shared. With the Statistical Commission not having enough members of high quality and quantity how good the numbers are anybody’s guess as have shared before. And in fact, now whatever autonomy, the statistical commission had is also being eroded as can be seen in a draft bill. This will only lower India’s stature in global eyes.

Electoral Bonds

I don’t really have to say much in it except the reports by Nithin Sethi . While the Government has sought to placate the masses by its submissions in Rajya Sabha it hasn’t answered any of the questions raised by either Nithin Sethi or any of the findings by the RTI answers received by the Colonel. There is lot more to the story than still meets the eye, but probably this on some other day. This is apart from the fact that India is now funding lobbyists in U.S. so that Americans support India’s actions in Kashmir. This is after Americans found Indi actions baffling in Kashmir and Americans have lot of experience in enemy engagement.

Retrospective Tax

This is perhaps one of the things which I had shared in the last blog post as well. This is what has scared most potential international investors away. In fact, Bloomberg had shared a nice well-written article about the issue and also links to Mr. Harish Salve’s take who has been an unapologetic critic of the move by the then Congress Govt. which the BJP Govt. had promised to fix and since then has done nothing in that regard.

Rural demand and high agricultural prices and middleman

There has been no uptake in rural demand and there is no policy by the Govt to tackle this. Couple of months back the FM gave 1.45 lakh crore or $20 billion dollar tax bonanza to corporate houses which make a measly 3-4% of the total economy and are already swimming in cash, while the other 96% of the economy which actually oils the Indian market which is the small businesses, the farmers who are net loosers in the current regime. Even essential commodities prices have gone up both in retail and wholesale markets with almost all of the profits acruing to the middleman rather than the farmer or the agricultural labor . We are on the path of being England which imports all of its veggies. Last not but not the last exports have been down from India for straight fourth month.

Conclusion

Unless India fixes lot of structural issues for e.g. adherance to legal contracts or fast resolution in case of issues, don’t see India bouncing back anytime soon. Nobody from the other side even comments why economies of Bangladesh, Vietnam, China and even Cambodia are able to ramp up their economies even if the argument is ‘global slowdown’ . Some people have argued for cyclical slowdown but haven’t had any evidence to prove that other than conjecture.

Rape, aftermath, GST

While I do not usually like to start with bad news, but seems bad news is the flavor of the month. We seem to be going downhill one day after that. So let’s see what happened. First there is this piece which came in Washington Post and then there was the travel advisory for women travelling by their lonesome from UK and USA . It probably applies to women, even couples for sure . I am sure it was not an easy decision to come to but they had to as they as citizens come first for them. In between my last blog post and this, couple of more horrific things happened. The first thing we came to know is the burning of the Unnao rape victim which happened on Thursday i.e. 2 days from now when I am blogging. Apparently, she had gone to give her statement in a court hearing when the 5 people burned her. It does raise questions about the quality of protection being given to her. Just to be clear, there were no reports of any of the policeman coming to any harm which makes it all the most curious.

The second horrific incident were when the 4 accused in the Hyderabad rape case were ‘encountered‘ . Curiously in this case as well, except for some slight injuries to the policeman there were no injuries. This was when there were 10 policeman accosting the 4 accused. The 4 accused have supposed to taken away all the guns, how we don’t know and still didn’t manage to fire on one of them. It raises and raised too many unanswered questions. Because of these killings, we will never know the answers. What if it turned in investigation that these were not the culprits or there was a fifth or a sixth person who was not named. There was also lot of celebration of this ‘encounter’ which seems that we are still a medieval state rather than a 21st century state. Of course when you have majoritarian narratives such as ‘Hindu Khatre mein hain‘ driving election campaigns rather than anything else than all sorts of things are possible. This is when the country is going through its worst economic history, probably parallel to 1991 although that one was more externally driven while this was is more due to internal factors rather than externals.

GST

Apart from demonetization which was a huge disaster to the country, GST is perhaps one of the biggest badly implemented ideas in the country. Whereas, in other countries it is used as only as a single tax to be levied to the end-user stage, here it was put at very stage which instead of making it easier to use, made it much harder to use. While I had been numbed by seeing quite a few MSME units shutting down due to GST issues and mostly attributing to slow-down rather than blaming demonetization and GST, I was till surprised and shocked to find Reserved bit, a makerspace shutting down the end of the month. While Siddesh, Nisha had attributed a bit towards GST, they also shared they should have done more. While I have been to reserved-bit a few times and did find it engaging quite a bit, getting there was always an issue for me. The GST refund issue has been an eye-sore for everybody but neither the center or the state did anything for it, of course both being in BJP’s hands all this while, this is in my state Maharashtra, one of the more progressive states. The entire process of GST has been anal and had been in popular media for a while now but nobody seeks or shares any proper answers. Why, it even crashed last month and the month before that and before but nobody raises a voice.

The FM being as arrogant as ever. In such situations how startups are supposed to survive ? There were some reliefs given to start-ups but they were too small and still have a sting in their tale to be anywhere effective. Having retrospective taxes is another thing that people are afraid of and that is the reason you are not seeing people investing in new ventures. As it is, there is demand-slowdown or to put it perhaps more boldly perhaps, a demand recession while food inflation is at all-time high. While our FM wants to blame everything on externalities such as global slow-down but won’t answer as to why China is still growing faster than us without using questionable stats. which we are accused of. This is when they are 7 times larger than us in economy size and having a war with U.S. (economically) This is when conventional wisdom holds such that as you become a bigger economy your rate of growth decreases quite a lot as you need more economic muscle to move like for e.g. the United States or the Japanese . This is when they are far more efficient economies and have a larger tax-gdp ratio vis-a-vis compared to India. There is also the savings bit where India excelled which was wiped by demonetization and even now from the moves of Central Govt. savings are failing India which is and was one of the backbones of our economy.

For all their failings, people forget to honor Chidambaram and Manmohan Singh to make it easy to file Income Tax Returns. Of course the present regime has been making it more and more invasive but that’s story for another day. All in all a sad note to end the day on ­čśŽ

The Indian elections hungama

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Before I start, I would like to point out #855549 . This is a normal/wishlist bug I have filed against apt, the command-line package manager. I sincerely believe having a history command to know what packages were installed, which were upgraded, which were purged should be easily accessible, easily understood and if the output looks pretty, so much the better. Of particular interest to me is having a list of new packages I have installed in last couple of years after jessie became the stable release. It probably would make for some interesting reading. I dunno how much efforts would be to code something like that, but if it works, it would be the greatest. Apt would have finally arrived. Not that it’s a bad tool, it’s just that it would then make for a heck of a useful tool.

Coming back to the topic on hand, Now for the last couple of weeks we don’t have water or rather pressure of water. Water crisis has been hitting Pune every year since 2014 with no end in sight. This has been reported in newspapers addendum but it seems it has been felling on deaf ears. The end result of it is that I have to bring buckets of water from around 50 odd metres.

It’s not a big thing, it’s not like some women in some villages in Rajasthan who have to walk in between 200 metres to 5 odd kilometres to get potable water or Darfur, Western Sudan where women are often kidnapped and sold as sexual slaves when they get to fetch water. The situation in Darfur has been shown quite vividly in Darfur is Dying . It is possible that I may have mentioned about Darfur before. While unfortunately the game is in flash as a web resource, the most disturbing part is that the game is extremely depressing, there is a no-win scenario.

So knowing and seeing both those scenarios, I can’t complain about 50 metres. BUT….but… when you extrapolate the same data over some more or less 3.3-3.4 million citizens, 3.1 million during 2011 census with a conservative 2.3-2.4 percent population growth rate according to scroll.in.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Pune Municipal Corporation elections were held today. Fortunately or unfortunately, this time all the political parties bought majorly unknown faces in these elections. For e.g. I belong to ward 14 which is spread over quite a bit of area and has around 10k of registered voters.

Now the unfortunate part of having new faces in elections, you don’t know anything about them. Apart from the affidavits filed, the only thing I come to know is whether there are criminal cases filed against them and what they have shown as their wealth.

While I am and should be thankful to ADR which actually is the force behind having the collated data made public. There is a lot of untold story about political push-back by all the major national and regional political parties even when this bit of news were to be made public. It took major part of a decade for such information to come into public domain.

But for my purpose of getting clean air and water supply 24×7 to each household seems a very distant dream. I tried to connect with the corporators about a week before the contest and almost all of the lower party functionaries hid behind their political parties manifestos stating they would do the best without any viable plan.

For those not knowing, India has been blessed with 6 odd national parties and about 36 odd regional parties and every election some 20-25 new parties try their luck every time.

The problem is we, the public, don’t trust them or their manifestos. First of all the political parties themselves engage in mud-slinging as to who’s copying whom with the manifesto.Even if a political party wins the elections, there is no *real* pressure for them to follow their own manifesto. This has been going for many a year. OF course, we the citizens are to also blame as most citizens for one reason or other chose to remain aloof of the process. I scanned/leafed through all the manifestos and all of them have the vague-wording ‘ we will make Pune tanker-free’ without any implementation details. While I was unable to meet the soon-to-be-Corporators, I did manage to meet a few of the assistants but all the meetings were entirely fruitless.

Diagram of Rain Water Harvesting

I asked why can’t the city follow the Chennai model. Chennai, not so long ago was at the same place where Pune is, especially in relation to water. What happened next, in 2001 has been beautifully chronicled in Hindustan Times . What has not been shared in that story is that the idea was actually fielded by one of Chennai Mayor’s assistants, an IAS Officer, I have forgotten her name, Thankfully, her advise/idea was taken to heart by the political establishment and they drove RWH.

Saying why we can’t do something similar in Pune, I heard all kinds of excuses. The worst and most used being ‘Marathas can never unite’ which I think is pure bullshit. For people unfamiliar to the term, Marathas was a warrior clan in Shivaji’s army. Shivaji, the king of Marathas were/are an expert tactician and master of guerilla warfare. It is due to the valor of Marathas, that we still have the Maratha Light Infantry a proud member of the Indian army.

Why I said bullshit was the composition of people living in Maharashtra has changed over the decades. While at one time both the Brahmins and the Marathas had considerable political and population numbers, that has changed drastically. Maharashtra and more pointedly, Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur have become immigrant centres. Why just a decade back, Shiv Sena, an ultra right-wing political party used to play the Maratha card at each and every election and heckle people coming from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, this has been documented as the 2008 immigrants attacks and 9 years later we see Shiv Sena trying to field its candidates in Uttar Pradesh. So, obviously they cannot use the same tactics which they could at one point of time.

One more reason I call it bullshit, is it’s a very lame excuse. When the Prime Minister of the country calls for demonetization which affects 1.25 billion people, people die, people stand in queues and is largely peaceful, I do not see people resisting if they bring a good scheme. I almost forgot, as an added sweetener, the Chennai municipality said that if you do RWH and show photos and certificates of the job, you won’t have to pay as much property tax as otherwise you would, that also boosted people’s participation.

And that is not the only solution, one more solution has been outlined in ‘Aaj Bhi Khade hain talaab’ written by just-deceased Gandhian environmental activist Anupam Mishra. His Book can be downloaded for free at India Water Portal . Unfortunately, the said book doesn’t have a good English translation till date. Interestingly, all of his content is licensed under public domain (CC-0) so people can continue to enjoy and learn from his life-work.

Another lesson or understanding could be taken from Israel, the father of the modern micro-drip irrigation for crops. One of the things on my bucket lists is to visit Israel and if possible learn how they went from a water-deficient country to a water-surplus one.

India labor

Which brings me to my second conundrum, most of the people believe that it’s the Government’s job to provide jobs to its people. India has been experiencing jobless growth for around a decade now, since the 2008 meltdown. While India was lucky to escape that, most of its trading partners weren’t hence it slowed down International trade which slowed down creation of new enterprises etc. Laws such as the Bankruptcy law and the upcoming Goods and Services Tax . As everybody else, am a bit excited and a bit apprehensive about how the actual implementation will take place.

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Even International businesses has been found wanting. The latest example has been Uber and Ola. There have been protests against the two cab/taxi aggregators operating in India. For the millions of jobless students coming out of schools and Universities, there aren’t simply enough jobs for them, nor are most (okay 50%) of them qualified for the jobs, these 50 percent are also untrainable, so what to do ?

In reality, this is what keeps me awake at night. India is sitting on this ticking bomb-shell. It is really, a miracle that the youths have not rebelled yet.

While all the conditions, proposals and counter-proposals have been shared before, I wanted/needed to highlight it. While the issue seems to be local, I would assert that they are all glocal in nature. The questions we are facing, I’m sure both developing and to some extent even developed countries have probably been affected by it. I look forward to know what I can learn from them.

Update – 23/02/17 – I had wanted to share about Debian’s Voting system a bit, but that got derailed. Hence in order not to do, I’ll just point towards 2015 platforms where 3 people vied for DPL post. I *think* I shared about DPL voting process earlier but if not, would do in detail in some future blog post.