Thalinomics spin on prices

Thalinomics spin on prices

The finance ministry’s chief economic adviser has come out with a novel thali concept to calculate the affordability of a plate of meal at a time spiralling prices of onion and other vegetables are burning holes in the pockets of the common man.

The concept is seen as a defence of the Modi government’s inflation management policies at a time retail inflation has touched about a five-and-half year high of 7.35 per cent in December 2019, surpassing the RBI’s comfort level.

Chief economic adviser Krishnamurthy Subramanian perhaps seems to have taken a cue from his teacher and former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan, who had coined “dosanomics” to explain the relationship between inflation and interest rates.

Calling it Thalinomics, the CEA compared the price of standard veg and non-veg meal plates across the country to prove that affordability as a factor of daily wage has improved overtime, indicating improved welfare of the common person.

The affordability of vegetarian thalis has improved 29 per cent, while that for non-vegetarian thalis by 18 per cent from 2006-07 to 2019-20, the Economic Survey said.

“Across India, we find that the absolute prices of a vegetarian thali have decreased since 2015-16 though it increased during 2019. This is owing to significant moderation in the prices of vegetables and dal from 2015-16 compared with the previous trend of increasing prices,” the survey said.

Taking a swipe at Thalinomics, Congress spokesperson Rajeev Gowda said, “Thali will soon be khali (empty)…Thalinomics is another obfuscation. The claims of affordable thalis are misleading after the NSS consumption survey pointed out how food consumption has reduced. What we have are shrinking thalis…the Thalinomics set the stage for an attack on the poor of India.”

Thalinomics is well placed to catch the fancy of commentators and could become the country’s own Big Mac index, an informal measure of the purchasing power parity of different countries through a price comparison of McDonald’s hamburger in stated geographies. However, it could come under attack from political parties for the government’s insensitivity amid such high inflation.

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Recipe to create 8cr jobs

Recipe to create 8cr jobs

The survey advocated “Assemble in India” as an integral part of the Make in India initiative to create eight crore jobs in 10 years and help the country become a $5-trillion economy by 2025.

“By integrating ‘Assemble in India for the world’ into Make in India, India can create four crore well-paid jobs by 2025 and eight crore by 2030. Exports of network products (computer, electronics, telecom equipment), which is expected to equal $7 trillion worldwide in 2025, can contribute a quarter for the $5-trillion economy by 2025,” the survey said.

Citing that between 2001 and 2006 labour-intensive exports helped China to create 70 million jobs for workers with basic primary education, India hopes to emulate the same.

The Modi government has been under attack for lack of jobs amid falling economic growth. The recent data showed that the country stares at a 45-year high of unemployment rate.

“Creating jobs is crucial to address concerns regarding sustaining consumer demand at the macro level and the survey has addressed this issue by following policies similar to China and specialising in network products,” Rumki Majumdar, economist at Deloitte India, said.

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Proposal to cull food subsidy bill

Proposal to cull food subsidy bill

The economic survey on Friday has proposed the government should scythe food subsidies by “revisiting” the prices of foodgrains at ration shops and scrap the Essential Commodities Act, which is meant to stop hoarding but has long outlived its usefulness.

Foodgrains via ration shops are supplied at highly subsidised rates of Rs 3 per kg for rice, Rs 2 per kg for wheat and Rs 1 per kg for coarse grains through the public distribution system (PDS), according to the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

“With a large share of poor people, maintaining food security is still a challenge. The rates fixed under the NFSA initially for a period of three years have not been revised since 2013, resulting in a burgeoning food subsidy. The rates under NFSA and the coverage need to be revisited,” the survey said.

The food subsidy bill has increased to Rs 1,71,127.5 crore in 2018-19 from Rs 1,13,171.2 crore in 2014-15, it said. While the economic cost has increased, the central issue price (the rate at which grains are sold in ration shops) for NFSA beneficiaries has not been revised from Rs 200 per quintal in the case of wheat and Rs 300 per quintal in the case of rice.

The acquisition and distribution costs of foodgrains for the central pool together constitute the economic cost. The difference between the per-quintal economic cost and the per-quintal central issue price gives the amount of food subsidy.

“While the interests of the vulnerable sections of the population need to be safeguarded, for sustainability of food security operations, the issue of burgeoning food subsidy bill needs to be addressed,” the survey added.

Commodities Act

The survey pitched for the scrapping of the Essential Commodities Act, saying the law is “anachronistic” that leads to harassment and is of no help in checking price volatility.The survey also favoured a “dynamic” foodgrain policy that allows switching from procurement and distribution of grains to cash transfers, but disfavoured loan waiver to farmers .

“The consumer affairs ministry and its related arms must examine whether the anachronistic ECA, which was passed in 1955 in an India worried about famines and shortages, is relevant in today’s India,” it observed.

Stating that around 76,000 raids under the ECA were conducted last year, the survey said considerable administrative effort goes into the enforcement of this law assuming a minimum of five persons involved in a raid.

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Fears of new hotspots

Fears of new hotspots

A jump in infections in two Chinese cities flanking Wuhan, the epicentre of a rapidly-spreading virus epidemic, is fuelling fear that new hot spots are emerging in a province where strict transport curbs have already brought most activity to a halt.

China’s central province of Hubei has been the site of almost 60 per cent of infections, as well as more than 95 per cent of deaths, in an episode the World Health Organisation has declared a global health emergency.

But the province’s two cities of Huanggang and Xiaogan, with combined populations of more than 12 million, have racked up more than 11 per cent of global infections and deaths.

As the virus in these cities spreads faster than in Wuhan itself and other sites outside a lockdown zone, the first dismissal of a senior health official in Hubei has spurred authorities to push for more effective measures.

“Medical supplies are in very short supply,” provincial governor Wang Xiaodong said. “Not only are there shortages in Wuhan and surrounding cities, but they are generally severely deficient in other parts of the province.”

Conditions in Huanggang, which had reported 573 infections and 12 deaths, are particularly severe, he warned in remarks on Wednesday, urging every effort to keep the city from becoming a second Wuhan.

Tang Zhihong, the head of Huanggang’s health commission, was dismissed on Thursday after state television broadcast images that showed her unable to respond to questions about the number of hospital beds and patients in the city.

Huanggang had insufficient screening procedures for suspected cases, slow testing processes and lack of testing personnel, inspectors from China’s central government has found.

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Russians advised to refrain from kissing

Russians advised to refrain from kissing

Russia’s consumer health watchdog advised people on Friday to refrain from greeting each other with handshakes, kisses or hugs and to wear medical masks in crowded public places to try to stop China’s virus outbreak spreading to Russia.

Russia, which has no confirmed cases of the coronavirus but has close ties with its southeastern neighbour, has imposed border restrictions to prevent its spread.

Rospotrebnadzor, the state watchdog, told Russian businesses that employ Chinese nationals to extend their holidays until further notice if the employees are already on leave in China.

It also issued new hygiene guidelines in which it advised Russians to tie back long hair, avoid touching door knobs and banisters in public places and to avoid close contact with people with flu symptoms.

Russia said on Wednesday it would keep its land border with China closed to pedestrians and vehicles.

Rail freight is continuing to circulate between the two countries, direct daily flights are continuing, and a passenger train that operates between Moscow and Beijing remains in service.

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China labels US ‘truly mean’ for travel curbs

China labels US ‘truly mean’ for travel curbs

The US and other countries tightened travel curbs on Friday and businesses said they were facing supply problems because of the coronavirus in China, a day after the World Health Organisation declared a global health emergency.

With the death toll rising to 213, all of them in China, the US warned Americans not to travel to the Asian country, where the outbreak first appeared in Wuhan, capital of the central Hubei province.

Japan advised citizens to put off non-urgent travel to China, Iran’s health minister urged a ban on all travellers from China and Britain reported its first two cases of the virus.

Singapore said it was suspending entry to travellers with a recent history of travel to China and suspending visas for Chinese passport holders. The ban will also apply to those transiting Singapore, a major travel hub.

Italy’s government decided to declare a state of emergency and stopped all air traffic with China after announcing its first cases, in two Chinese tourists.

Stock markets steadied slightly after the WHO praised China’s efforts to contain the virus, following a tumble the previous day over a rising toll on the world’s second-biggest economy and its knock-on effect worldwide.

The outbreak could “reverberate globally”, hitting supply chains, Moody’s said.

Hyundai Motor said it planned to halt South Korean production of a sport utility vehicle this weekend to cope with a supply disruption caused by the outbreak. Sangyong Motor said it would idle its plant in the South Korean city of Pyeongtaek from February 4-12 for the same reason.

Home appliance maker Electrolux issued a similar warning. French car maker PSA Peugeot Citroen said its three plants in Wuhan will remain closed until February 14.

“Do not travel to China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan,” the US state department said on its website, raising the warning for China to the same level as Afghanistan and Iraq.

China has taken “the most comprehensive and rigorous prevention and control measures”, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said in response to the WHO declaration. Hubei is in virtual lockdown.

“We have full confidence and capability to win this fight,” Hua Chunying said in a statement.

But a jump in infections in two cities flanking Wuhan was fuelling fear that new hot spots were emerging. And people were leaving and entering Hubei by foot over a bridge spanning the Yangtze river, a Reuters witness said.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had commended China for its efforts and said the WHO was not recommending curbs on travel or trade with Beijing. A WHO spokesman said keeping borders open prevented illegal or unofficial border crossings.

The number of confirmed cases in China has risen beyond 9,800, Beijing’s envoy to the UN in Vienna said. China’s health ministry said there were 15,238 suspected cases in China at the end of Thursday.

Some 131 cases have been reported in 23 other countries and regions.

The WHO has reported at least eight instances of human-to-human transmission in four countries: the US, Germany, Japan and Vietnam. Thailand said on Friday it too had a case of human-to-human transmission.

Some airlines have stopped flying to mainland China, including Air France KLM SA, British Airways, Germany’s Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic. Others have cut flights.

Japan’s ANA Holdings said it may consider suspending China flights.

Several foreign governments evacuating citizens from Hubei are holding them in quarantine for a 14-day incubation period. A plane carrying Britons and other Europeans left Wuhan on Friday, Britain’s embassy said.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country’s National Health Service was“extremely well prepared” to deal with the outbreak.

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India requires serious increments in budget allocations for education

India requires serious increments in budget allocations for education

Concerns with low budget outlays for the education sector have been resonant for quite some time, even though an increase of 10 per cent was provided for in the last budget.

Ambrish Rai, national convener for the Right to Education (RTE) Forum, called the existing budget for schools “too low” because of which, lakhs of teacher posts remain vacant across the country.

“The education budget for schools is far lower than required. Overall, it was recommended to be six per cent of the GDP in 1966 in Kothari commission. Currently it is 3.4 per cent of the GDP. This is very low. School education is heavily underfunded. 9 lakh teacher posts are vacant in elementary scools, and 1.1 lakh in secondary schools. If adequate number of teachers isn’t recruited, quality education can never be provided,” he told The Telegraph Online.

“Due to this low budgeting, the RTE compliance after 10 years of enactment of the Act is only 12.7 per cent across nation. Out of 1.5 lakh schools only 12.7 per cent schools are RTE compliant,” Rai informed.

He also expressed concern with a provision proposed in the National Education Policy (NEP) of bringing children aged between 3 and 18 under the purview of the Act, which, he said, is only going to make matters worse considering the inadequacy of teachers and schools.

“Now they have introduced a provision to bring children between age group of 3 and 18 under the RTE, currently it is applicable for children aged 6 to 14. How can this policy get implemented without basic infrastructure? One would require way more funding then,” he said.

Economist and former chairman of the Zakir Hussain Centre for Educational Studies at JNU, Saumen Chattopadhyay expects the government to increase the education expenditure from 10 per cent of the total to 11 per cent, as proposed in the NEP.

“The NEP has talked about increasing the budget for higher education by one per cent every year for the next 10 years. So if your ambition is to improve higher education radically, you will have to increase the budget substantially. This is crucial for generating employment and a creating market for the private sector. This way you will allocate funds in a productive manner,” he said.

On being asked if he would advocate for the Kothari Commission recommendation of allocating 6 per cent of the GDP towards education, Chattopadhyay said that if the government provides what it has promised, it will still be effective.

“My only fear is that if you allocate most funds for Institutions of Excellence (IOE) as promised by the government under the scheme, it would mean taking away from institutions which are not in that category. This is dangerous because then you are creating division between the higher education sector. You have to provide adequate funds to the other institutes and universities, apart from IOEs.”

Talking about the government method of funding higher education institutions through the creation of the Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA), which extends interest free loans to the institutes after raising money from the market, Chattopadhyay said, “Even though it is interest free, the money has to be paid and it can only be through self-financing means like raising tuition fees. Some of the premier institutions may afford to do that, but it may not work for the others.”

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14-day isolation for arrivals from China

14-day isolation for arrivals from China

India has set up two quarantine camps to house for 14 days several hundred nationals expected to fly in from China amid concerns that “carriers” — infected but asymptomatic people — might spread the novel coronavirus.

The army has created a 300-bed facility near Manesar (Haryana) and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police have set up a 600-bed facility at their Chawla camp in west Delhi where the arriving people will be monitored daily for two weeks.

The health ministry has dispatched a medical team on an Air India flight that is expected to evacuate 366 Indian citizens from Wuhan. All the men will be housed at the Manesar camp while the women and children will be at the Chawla camp.

Anyone with symptoms of the novel coronavirus will be shifted to either the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital or the Safdarjung Hospital.

“Strict quarantine is important and needs to be well-enforced. They are coming from Wuhan and some of them could be infected with the coronavirus,” said G. Arunkumar, a senior virologist at the Manipal Institute of Virology in Karnataka.

Since its emergence in Wuhan, the novel coronavirus had killed 170 people and caused illness in over 8,000 people in China till Thursday. Of the 82 cases detected in 18 other countries till Thursday, 7 had been detected while they were in the asymptomatic stage, the WHO said.

India’s health ministry has said a student in Kerala who recently returned from China has tested positive for the novel coronavirus and that the test results of others are expected. The National Institute of Virology, Pune, has received four to 10 test requests daily this week.

Experts have cautioned that India’s best chance of containing the spread of any imported case of the novel coronavirus would lie in snaring the carriers at entry or through quarantine.

Those at the two quarantine camps will be allowed to go home if they show no symptoms after 14 days. Their details and addresses will be sent to local district surveillance units for continued follow-up, if required.

Patients diagnosed with the coronavirus will be discharged from hospital only after they have recovered and two successive samples are negative for the virus.

The quarantine camps have facilities for meals, television and indoor games.

A WHO panel that declared an international emergency on Thursday said it believed “it is still possible to interrupt the virus spread, provided that countries put in place strong measures to detect disease early, isolate and treat cases, trace contacts, and promote social distancing measures commensurate with the risk”.

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UP captor shot, wife ‘lynched’ during rescue

UP captor shot, wife ‘lynched’ during rescue

The murder accused who had taken children hostage in Uttar Pradesh’s Farrukhabad and his wife have died, police said after the successful rescue operation.

There were conflicting claims on the cause of the deaths of Subhash Batham, who had taken over 20 children hostage in his house on the pretext of organising a birthday party for his daughter, and his wife Ruby. According to a version, villagers beat Ruby to death.

Subhash died during “Operation Masoom” to rescue the kids at Karthiya around 1am, and Ruby breathed her last at Lohia Hospital in Mahmoodabad in the same district around five hours later.

Subhash, who was out on bail in connection with a case of murdering a relative, had locked up the hostages, including his wife and five-year-old daughter, in a room in the basement of his house.

While all the children were found safe when the police entered the house shortly after midnight, there was no clarity on what happened next.

Additional chief secretary and home secretary Awanish Kumar Awasthi said the person who had taken the children hostage was killed in the police operation and the kids had been safely evacuated.

Children with their family members after being rescued
Children with their family members after being rescued(PTI photo)

Jay Narayan Singh, the additional director-general of the Kanpur zone, said villagers attacked Subhash and Ruby when they were brought out of the house.

While Ruby was rushed to hospital, Subhash was taken back inside the house, where he “attacked” the police, Singh said. “The police killed him in retaliatory firing,” the ADG said.

Mohit Agrawal, the inspector-general of Kanpur range, said an hour after the evacuation that villagers had attacked Ruby and she couldn’t be saved.

However, the officer had said a little earlier: “Subhash fired at his wife when she was trying to escape from captivity. She was taken to hospital, where she died.”

Sarvesh Yadav, the doctor who attended to Ruby at the hospital, said: “Besides a head injury, she had three deep injuries on other parts of her body. She died at 6am.”

Some villagers said they lost patience around 12.30am, by when the hostage crisis had been continuing for over nine hours, and broke the gate of Subhash’s house with hammers. The captor didn’t react till he saw the police entering the house and opened fire, according to the villagers. The police fired at him in retaliation in which he received a gunshot wound and died at the spot, the villagers said, adding that some others beat Ruby to death.

Subhash’s intention behind the crime is still unclear. He had initially shouted from his terrace that he was taking revenge against the villagers who had handed him over to the police in 2005 after he allegedly killed his uncle.

Later, he had told the police that he would release the children if he was given a house under the Prime Minister’s housing scheme and a toilet under the Swachch Bharat Mission.

The police have handed over the deceased couple’s daughter to a villager who has expressed willingness to adopt her after following due process.

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IITian to take up IBM reins

IITian to take up IBM reins

Indian-origin technology executive Arvind Krishna has been elected chief executive officer of American IT giant IBM after a “world-class succession process”, succeeding Virginia Rometty, who described him as the “right CEO for the next era at IBM” and “well-positioned” to lead the company into the cloud and cognitive era.

The IBM board of directors elected Krishna as company CEO and member of the board effective April 6.

Krishna is currently IBM senior-vice-president for cloud and cognitive software and will succeed Rometty, 62, who will retire after almost 40 years with the company at the end of the year.

Krishna, 57, had joined IBM in 1990 and has an undergraduate degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and a PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“I am thrilled and humbled to be elected as the next chief executive officer of IBM, and appreciate the confidence that Ginni and the board have placed in me,” Krishna said in a press statement released by IBM.

Krishna said, “IBM has such talented people and technology that we can bring together to help our clients solve their toughest problems.

“I am looking forward to working with IBMers, Red Hatters and clients around the world at this unique time of fast-paced change in the IT industry. We have great opportunities ahead to help our clients advance the transformation of their business while also remaining the global leader in the trusted stewardship of technology,” Krishna said.

Krishna’s appointment as head of the global IT giant adds to the growing list of Indian-origin executives at the helm of some of the biggest multinational companies.

Krishna joins the club that includes Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga, PepsiCo’s former CEO Indra Nooyi and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen.

Rometty, who had been IBM’s chairman, president and CEO, will continue as executive chairman of the board and serve through the end of the year, when she will retire.

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