Thursday, December 1, 2016

Mark Zuckerberg: It’s great to see the 21st Century Cures Act

It’s great to see the 21st Century Cures Act — which will put billions of dollars towards scientific research and fighting diseases — pass through the US House of Representatives today.
I think it’s possible to cure all diseases in our children’s lifetime, but we need to invest much more to get there. The US government currently spends 50x more treating people who are sick than finding cures so people don’t get sick in the first place. Today is an important step towards changing that, and I hope the Senate follows the House’s lead.

“Relationship between Latin America & India is not competitive but complimentary”

Ambassador of Argentina in India HE Maria Cristina Ueltschi briefs on business trade with India : At Ananta Meet at IIC Annexe New Delhi: Photo Sagar Media Inc
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India has stepped up its economic and commercial engagement with Latin America recently. But the overall trade has fallen over the past financial year, due to the drop in primary commodity exports from Latin America. In spite of this, India’s exports have kept pace with its important trade partners and new markets have opened. The recent finalization of the expanded Preferential Tariff Agreement with Chile, ongoing negotiations with the 4-nation Mercosur to expand the PTA with that bloc, and forthcoming negotiations with Peru, bode well for an accelerated commercial relationship.
New Delhi, 30 November 2016: Ananta Aspen Centre organized a public session on “Economic and Commercial Relations between India and Latin America.” Ambassador S K Lambah, Chairman, Ananta Aspen Centre and Former Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of India; H E Mr. Andres Barbe, Ambassador of Chile to India; H E Ms Maria Cristina Ueltschi, Ambassador of Argentina to India and Mr. Dammu Ravi, Joint Secretary, Trade Policy Division, Trade Policy Division, Department of Commerce were the key speakers.
The session was chaired by Ambassador Deepak Bhojwani, Adviser, Latin America & Caribbean, Ananta Centre & Former Ambassador of India to Colombia, Venezuela and Cuba. The session highlighted the broader economic relationship, with increasing corporate interest and investment in a wide range of sectors – extractive, manufacturing, services and a healthy exchange of technological expertise. The session also explored the steps being taken to facilitate economic and commercial exchanges to realize the immense potential both regions offer each other.
Ambassador S K Lambah highlighted the importance of Latin America in the middle of high level meetings of senior government officials in Mexico presently. He emphasized how Indian trade and exports with Latin American countries has been more as compared to the other traditional trade partners like France.
H E Mr. Andres Barbe asserted that Chile being an open economy has a stable economic and robust financial sector which facilitates economic growth. He further added that Chile continues to work on bilateral opening of trade and has trade agreements with India, Taiwan, European Union and several others. India is Chile’s ninth largest trade partner with a trade balance favorable to Chile.
For H.E Maria Cristina Ueltschi, India’s relationship with Latin America in the economic sphere has been progressive. She stated that “the commercial relationship between India and Argentina has quadrupled between 2002 and 2012. In the current world scenario with declining global trade, Argentina in its part is trying to diversify its trade profile and contact other emerging economies”.
Mr. Ravi emphasized the importance of private entrepreneurship to form efficient logistical links between Latin America and India to counter the vast geographical distance. He affirmed that the manufacturing industry is yet to utilize its full potential and local manufacturing will facilitate better access to markets in future. Ambassador Bhojwani remarked that India has much to learn from Latin America & develop expertise in the form of private investment to make the most of the opportunities.
India also needs to sign more FTA’s with Peru and Mexico. Government needs to focus more on the Latin American region to be able to do business in these countries.
About Ananta Aspen Centre- An independent organization, Ananta Aspen Centre is registered under the Indian Trust Act.
It focuses on leadership development and encourages frank and open dialogue on the most important issues facing Indian society, to help foster its transformation.
The Centre also engages civil society, business, governments and other key stakeholders on issues of importance to India’s development, foreign policy, strategic affairs and national security.
For more information, contact: Ms Aditi Johri Mobile: +91 9953431619/ 011-40733

Economic and Social Survey for Asia and the Pacific 2016

Economic and Social Survey for Asia and the Pacific 2016

Stable economic conditions provide an opportunity to pursue sustainable development in a comprehensive manner
Stable economic conditions in the second half of 2016 provide an opportunity to internalize the economic, social, environmental and governance dimensions of sustainable development in a comprehensive manner, according to the year-end update of the flagship
report Economic and Social Survey for Asia and the Pacific 2016 of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). The report argues that progressive tax policies, together with better and effective economic governance, can help economies make progress on inclusiveness and move decisively towards sustainable development.
Resilient domestic demand and policy support have resulted in the region’s developing economies growing at a steady pace of just below 5 per cent despite sluggish global economy and weak trade growth, according to the report. The region’s high and steady economic growth, led by China and India, has been an anchor of stability for the global economy, resulting in a broadly positive outlook for developing countries of Asia and the Pacific for 2017.
Launching the year-end update of the Survey 2016 in Bangkok, Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP Executive Secretary, emphasized that despite the overall positive outlook, the potential impact of some risks should not be underestimated. “Bouts of financial volatility can re-emerge due to external policy uncertainties in major economies, including those related to the ‘Brexit’ negotiations in
Europe and the new administration in the United States of America, as well as vulnerabilities on the domestic front, such as those on corporate and bank balance sheets,” said Dr. Akhtar. “External demand is likely to remain weak, with trade protectionist measures and sentiments, which are already on the rise, resulting in prolonged weakness in global trade and a drag on productivity growth”, she added.
The report notes that output expansion in recent years from globalization and technology has not been translated into commensurate increases in decent jobs in a number of countries, contributing to rising income inequality. The report also underscores that as the region undergoes further structural transformation, efforts to lift productivity and innovation should be matched by measures to enhance worker skills and social protection.
Additionally, the report recommends that fiscal policy can and should play a proactive role in supporting domestic demand and meeting long-term development priorities. Public infrastructure outlays are deemed particularly effective in addressing structural bottlenecks in the current environment of weak external demand, weak private investment, low borrowing costs and benign inflationary pressures.
The population-weighted Gini coefficient in the region, based on household income estimates, has increased by 11 points, from 37 to 48, between 1990 and 2014, an increase of almost 30 per cent in less than three decades. Elaborating the importance of promoting inclusiveness for sustainable development, Dr. Akhtar emphasized that “Progressive tax policies can be particularly effective in nurturing a more balanced society and reducing
extreme inequalities.” The Asia-Pacific region as a whole has one of the world’s lowest tax revenues levels, at 17.6 per cent of GDP, with a relatively low share of direct taxes in the general tax mix.
Better economic governance, as reflected in the effectiveness and integrity of public institutions, is a fundamental element in undertaking progressive tax reforms, managing structural transformations and moving towards sustainable development. The report concludes with an observation that effective economic governance can go a long way in enhancing investment, in promoting productivity and in accelerating poverty reduction and mitigating inequalities.
The role of better and more effective governance in improving development outcomes, especially through public resource management and financial markets, will be explored in detail in the forthcoming Economic and Social Survey for Asia and the Pacific 2017, expected to be released in April next year.

K. Manoharan
Team Assistant
United Nations Information Centre 
for India and Bhutan
55 Lodi Estate, New Delhi-110003, INDIA
Phone:  91-11-4653-2242; 91-11- 2462-3439
Fax:  91-11-2462-029,

For Demonetisation to Work, Modi Must Root Out Political and Bureaucratic Corruption

For Demonetisation to Work, Modi Must Root Out Political and Bureaucratic Corruption
>Rajiv Kumar >Without follow-up measures, it will be difficult for Modi to counter the charge that demonetisation is meant to serve a narrower political and personal agenda.
People queue at windows of a post office to deposit or exchange their old high denomination banknotes in Lucknow, India, November 16, 2016. Credit: Pawan Kumar/Reuters
Even former prime minister Manmohan Singh, speaking in Rajya Sabha during the debate on demonetisation, admitted that its objectives were worthy of universal support. Moreover, people queuing up in front of banks for hours and 90% of those responding to Prime Minister Modi’s online survey have unequivocally supported the measure. This should have put to rest any doubts about the mass appeal of this measure. This near universal positive perception could, however, be based on a misperception of possible macroeconomic outcomes from demonetisation. Being undoubtedly the largest such exercise in the world, it has even drawn in international experts like Kenneth Rogoff and Larry Summers into the fray.
This is, therefore, an appropriate time to take stock of the on-going demonetisation.
The worst outcome of demonetisation, which has sucked out 86% the total currency in circulation, could be that the cash crunch will kill those units operating in the informal sector, which work predominantly or exclusively with cash. The liquidity shortage could fatally affect both their input supplies and/or revenue flows. Added to the mayhem in the informal sector, farmers could be in severe distress if they can’t sell their kharif harvest because of the cash shortage and as a consequence, be short of necessary agro-inputs for sowing rabi crops. The real estate sector will suffer from a precipitous fall in speculative and investment demand due to the attack on black money. And to top it all, consumption demand could collapse dramatically as consumption demand, especially ostentatious and luxury demand takes a big hit as a result of demonetisation. All these negative impacts could effectively bring all economic activity to a grinding halt for the next six months or longer. This nightmare scenario is reflected in the forecast by Ambit Capital that India’s GDP growth will halve to 3.5% in 2016-17 with the third and fourth quarters (September to March) recording only 0.5% growth. The slowdown will persist for the next two years, resulting undoubtedly in a resounding electoral defeat for Modi in 2019 general elections. According to these die-hard pessimists, Modi has dug his own political grave by implementing this measure. Has Modi been totally unaware of these grave downside risks when taking this step?
But Modi could have a different perspective. All informal sector enterprises essentially have some access to formal credit sourcesand only partially depend upon cash revenues for their survival. With more than 600 million account holders in the country, it is difficult to conceive of MSMEs depending exclusively on cash for their sustenance. For example MSME units, which provide nearly 45% of India’s exports, necessarily operate with credit and through the banking system. They will certainly not be harmed by demonetisation. Moreover, with the impending introduction of GST in the near future, a majority of MSME units are shifting to the formal economy to be able to take advantage of tax credits. These informal sector units could also realistically hope to secure their material inputs on credit terms, especially in such difficult times.
Payday incoming
The crucial issue will be whether or not these informal sector enterprises are able to pay salaries to their employees in cash. An inability to do so, could result in acute and widespread deprivation and a backlash that could reverse the extant support for the move. The government must now urgently identify MSME clusters and export oriented units in labour-intensive sectors such as gems and jewellery, leather goods, garments, brassware and other handicrafts and ensure that their cash requirements for salary payments are fully met. This will prevent the ugly outcome of large numbers of workers in specific locations faced with extreme penury despite having toiled for a month and unable to access their legitimate salaries. If this impending salary crunch could be handled, a large majority of MSME enterprise could overcome the transient disruption and not suffer a mortal blow on their activity as the Cassandras forecast.
Farmers are not so badly affected. Nearly 80% of rural households do not operate with 500 and 1,000 currency notes for their day to day activities. A hundred rupees still goes a fair way in the rural economy. Further, almost the entire kharifharvest of paddy can be sold to at government procurement counters at officially announced minimum support prices. Sugarcane harvest is sold to sugar mills and their revenues traditionally credited to the farmers’ bank accounts. From all reports so far, rabi sowing is on track because most if not all agro-inputs including tractors and harrows services are provided on 30-60 day credit. Temporary inconvenience yes, but there is no real economic distress in the agriculture sector. The only segment to suffer are the middlemen or the arthiyas, who have traditionally not only operated with cash but also generated large quantum of black incomes from their callous and age-old exploitation of Indian farmers.
Recent reports from the real estate sector are that demand has suddenly shot up with property developers obliging black money holders with back-dated purchases paid in ‘old currency’. This is surely an illegal blip in housing demand and the real estate sector will suffer from the loss of black incomes and cash shortages, However, it has also been evident during the last three years that the withdrawal of speculative demand has been confined to major metros and has not affected housing and real estate demand in tier one and tier two cities and towns. The demand for housing in these smaller urban centres has been buoyant and is expected to remain so in the coming period. The government can feasibly ratchet up its expenditure to boost real estate and housing demand and take advantage of its extensive linkages and multiplier impact to boost aggregate demand.
Incoming losses
This extreme downside risk to economic growth arising from demand weakness and supply side disruption will unfold in the third and fourth quarters of the current financial year, 2016-17. According to Manmohan Singh, we could see a decline of 2% in GDP growth, which would then come in at 5.5% instead of 7.5% as generally estimate prior to demonetisation. Singh’s estimate of a decline in GDP growth would imply a one-off loss of nearly Rs 27 lakh crore to the economy. This will surely be accompanied by job losses across sectors but concentrated perhaps in real estate, wholesale and retail trade, production units in the informal sector and intermediate services like transport and logistics. These costs would be justified only if demonetisation is seen as the first step in eliminating the malignancy of black economy.
The government can try to minimise these losses by following some steps. It can stagger the period of using the old currency for a longer period and also for a larger number of users than permitted at present. The period for depositing the currency notes could be extended beyond December 31, to provide more time for residents in far-flung villages to deposit their holdings of old currency and relieve the current pressure on commercial bank branches. The government should actively consider steps to augment the supply of currency by importing it if necessary. They must rope in various departments and agencies as distribution centres for the new currency, especially for its own employees and affiliated agencies. This opportunity could be used to accelerate the adoption of digital payment methods that are already in use. This could see India leapfrog other economies in the area of ‘fintech.’ Finally, it is surprising that there have been no arrests so far for people trying to spuriously exchange money or depositing huge amounts in Jan Dhan deposits. This needs to be reversed.
An upside scenario also deserves attention. Rather than result in a dead loss to the economy of 2% of GDP, demonetisation could actually yield a fairly strong fillip to economic activity. With commercial banks now flush with nearly Rs 6 lakh crore of additional deposits, short-term lending rates have already trended downwards rather sharply. It is true that a very large part of these deposits will be needed in due course to meet liquidity requirements, but some additionality in deposits is a near certainty. Lower interest rates on saving deposits will be followed by a reduction in lending rates on working capital loans immediately and term loans subsequently. A reduction in capital costs will help make Indian firms globally competitive.
More importantly, five structural changes that will boost GDP growth rates may well take place as a direct consequence of demonetisation. One, the currency preference of the general public will surely weaken after this event, thereby bringing down the currency to GDP ratio. This is high in India at 12% as compared to an average of 4-5% in other emerging economies and 7% in the US, notorious for its cash preference. This will reduce costs of currency printing and also reduce the space for black money. A related gain will be to eliminate counterfeit currency that has been used for financing terrorist and extremist organisations. Costs of producing the counterfeit currency will increase substantially.
Second, the move will provide a strong fillip to digital payment methods. Given our (Indians) somewhat surprising affinity to and ability for adopting innovative practices, a shift is already underway and will most likely spread in double time. This will also hasten the adoption of Unified Payment Interface (UPI), promoted by the National Payment Corporation. UPI enables subscribers, at no extra cost, to digitally transfer (pay and receive) money from their deposits either to vendors and other individuals. With 26 commercial banks already on board and the clear prospect of behemoths like SBI joining the platform, UPI could well help India surge ahead in the adoption of digital money. With Prime Minister Modi himself promoting its adoption in public rallies, this could see a very rapid adoption of digital cash transfers in keeping with greater penetration of smartphones and internet. The direct implication will be a further constriction of the space for black money and generation of parallel economy.
Third, it is estimated that up to Rs 4.5-5.0 lakh crore ($74 billion) may not find its way back to the banking system. These estimate would change in light of the latest announcement by the government that black money hoarders would be permitted to hold on to 40% of their holdings in bank deposits with a lock-in period of three years and carrying zero interest. However, to the extent that some black currency will be ‘killed’, it will represent a windfall gain for the government as the liability represented by the quantum of ‘non-returned currency’ will be permanently extinguished. This could be used in several different ways to increase the fiscal space for the government for ramping up public expenditure and by the RBI to sharply cut interest rates.
Fourth, demonetisation also lower the price of urban land and real estate. In conjunction with lower costs of capital, this will ceteris paribus, encourage investment and switch the Indian growth story from its dependence on domestic consumption to being investment driven. This would be far more sustainable and also more employment generating.
Finally, faced with the loss of domestic purchasing power, Indian entrepreneurs would be forced to look more actively and aggressively for export markets. India could enter a period in which the past trend of net exports being perpetually negative would be reversed and India’s presently measly share of 1.6% in global merchandise trade could rise. This would also contribute to the all-important task of generating employment in a country that will see the addition of at least one million new workers every month for the next fifteen years.
Like dominoes
All these five positive outcomes, however, depend crucially on whether this first step of demonetisation is followed by others that are aimed at rooting out political and bureaucratic corruption. These are the fountain-heads of black incomes and also quite often the principal cause of honest businessmen resorting to corrupt practices. The prime minister has, on several occasions assured on this count and one hopes that these assurances will be honoured. Some steps have already been implemented. These include, making the industrial licensing system more transparent and less discretionary; implementing the GST; linking bank accounts to Aadhaar; making Aadhaar and pan card numbers compulsory for large value purchases; the passing of Benami Property Act and its early implementation etc. All these will surely make the generation of black and illegal incomes more difficult in future and reduce the space and scope for the parallel economy.
One warning. The government has to ensure and assure the people that they will not be hounded and terrorised by the income tax bureaucracy that may see itself as having been doubly empowered. Some ominous signs of this ‘taxman’ overreach and harassment are already visible. Apprehending culprits and money launderers will have to be done most cautiously and with due care for not harassing the professionals, common businessman, traders and entrepreneurs. Prime Minister Modi must make it clear to the income tax officials that it is only a simple, rational and non-threatening tax process that engenders much-needed taxpayers’ confidence in the system. Taxpayer cooperation will not be achieved through persistent threats of harassment and exploitation. I am afraid the income tax department has not so far covered itself with glory on this count. On the contrary, stories of their patently unacceptable boorish and downright inhuman behaviour during income tax ‘raids and searches’ are legion. This raid and seizure culture and practices must change if we are to become a civilised and honest society, which successfully eliminated the pernicious illegal economy.
Simultaneously, measures will have to be initiated to roll back political corruption that generates black money. The principle cause for this is undoubtedly the need for slush funds for election campaign finance. Many solid suggestions to curb and root out the need for black money for financing election campaigns have been made including most recently by B J Panda, a BJD MP. The prime minister has all the wherewithal to implement this critical change as well. He has near total control over this own party; has a large majority in the Lok Sabha and the BJP could have a sizeable presence in the Rajya Sabha after the next round of provincial elections. Modi has also developed a strong direct connect with the people to whom he could appeal to overcome any political resistance to his proposals to make election campaign financing more transparent and accountable.
If these two critical steps of reigning in the income tax bureaucracy and cleansing the election campaign process are implemented, Modi will certainly usher in the golden period in India’s economic development. We will become attractive for both domestic and foreign investors with a relatively corruption free environment that offers predictability and accountability. It will provide the positive encouragement for honest workers and professionals who will not see themselves as constantly lagging behind their corrupt peers. India could regain its ethical and moral elan. A golden period for the Indian economy could then ensue and see the economy achieve double-digit growth for a sustained period.
Without these follow-up measures, I am afraid, a great opportunity would have been wasted. It would then be difficult for Modi to counter the charge, currently being hurled at him by those who oppose this move, that demonetisation with all its attendant pains and disruptions was not undertaken for serving national interest but instead to serve some narrower political and personal agenda. I am convinced that Modi, who knows the score all too well, will not let the down the common Indian who has supported him despite the pain and inconvenience he has suffered in the wake of ‘currency surgical strike’ on 8/11.
The author is Founder Director at Pahle India Foundation and Senior Fellow CPR, Delhi.
Warm regards,
Rajiv Kumar
Founder Director
Pahle India Foundation
C4/54 First Floor
Safdarjung Development Area
New Delhi – 110016

Malik Gathwala Khap Felicitates its Champion Beti- Deepa Malik

Indian Para-athlete Deep Malik, who clinched a silver medal in Shot Put at the recently concluded 2016 Paralympics Games at  Rio, was felicitated  by Malik Gathwala Khap  today at Swami Nitya School, Rohtak. Deepa is the first Indian woman para athlete to win a medal at the Paralympics.

The felicitation was held to honour Deepa for her recent achievement at the Rio games, making her the pride of the community globally. Being a ‘Khap Beti’ herself, she was invited at the event in her RIO track suit and was asked to wear her Silver medal as a moment of pride. A significant example of ‘power of sports’ and how it is pivotal in changing mind sets, moving away from bias based on gender or disability.

Deepa, who has her own NGO ‘Wheeling Happiness’- works towards promoting sports for differently-abled individuals. On the felicitation ceremony Deepa said,”Who says the Haryana rural heads are not progressive, I have been time and again encouraged and felicitated by the village khap and given a Mace (gadda) a male dominated trophy given to body builders saying zindagi ke aakhade me bal dikhane ke liye. They call me apni beti and not bahu, they call me gaaon ka sher…. I see so much acceptance”

Union Steel Minister Chaudhary Birender Singh Delineates the Importance of Marketability for R&D Projects

New Delhi, December 01, 2016
Agrahayana 10, Saka 1938
“There is no point in doing Research and Development just for the sake of doing it. There has to be a linkage to marketability of projects being undertaken. R&D for developing new technologies and products has to be driven by the future value of the outcomes. Till the time, the R&D in steel industry in India attains international levels, we should go in for international collaborations and adopt the best and most efficient technologies. Let us not limit R&D to little tinkering here and there to improve quality and so on. Let us think big in terms of transformational technologies and new breakthroughs. The PM was mentioning the other day that to compete in a globalized world, we need to aggressively push for path-breaking innovations and get them patented.” This was stated by the Union Steel Minister Shri Chaudhary Birender Singh, in a review meeting with senior officials from Ministry of Steel and its PSUs. The Minister of State for Steel Shri Vishnu Deo Sai and the Secretary Steel Dr. Aruna Sharma were among those present on the occasion.
Shri Birender Singh was reviewing the progress of Steel Research and Technology Mission of India (SRTMI), which has been registered as an institution to lead the research and development in steel in the country.
He advised that the institution should grow as a single umbrella body for all steel-related research and development in India. It should set up a body for promoting higher education in steel making and related disciplines, he added. Steel Minister also shared that the Ministry has proposed to consider expenditure on R&D as a part of CSR expenditure, which if implemented would encourage companies to do research on cost-effective, environment-friendly and energy-efficient technologies and processes.

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