From the possibility of the horrific second wave of COVID-19 having paved the way for some relief to CII's request for the government to inject direct cash stimulus in the economy, The Quint's Editor-in-Chief Raghav Bahl shares his views on some recent and pertinent developments.
Did Horrors of the 2nd COVID Wave Draw a Silver Lining?
We always knew that there are two radically different ways this epidemic could end.
The scientific way is for a large fraction of the population to be vaccinated. The brutal, medieval way is for the virus to rampage through huge communities, felling the weak but creating antibodies among the survivors. In a sense that happened in Dharavi through the first wave in Mumbai.
Now, if reports are correct, an AIIMS study could reveal how the horrible tragedy of India’s second wave could have created its own silver lining as the devastation ebbs. Over 60% of the adult population and 55% of children may have gotten infected, survived, and developed antibodies.
What’s even more tragic-positive, the excruciating pain in rural India may have created a more powerful antibody response. For example, Gorakhpur rural threw up a seroprevalence of nearly 88%. If this shocking data, which speaks to the terror of the second wave, holds up in large parts of India then we may just escape a more virulent third wave.
Prayers are on our lips and our fingers are tightly crossed.
CII Presses for 'Direct' Cash Stimulus; But Here's What We Are Likely to Get:
CII has asked the government to inject Rs 3 lakh crore by way of a direct cash stimulus in the economy.
They’ve echoed what people like us have gone hoarse writing and urging, ie please give straight cash transfers to the indigent, cut indirect taxes sharply on fuel and other goods, increase the allocation for employment guarantee programmes, and inject a big equity cushion in banks so that they can provide extended credit to enterprises whose cash flows have dried up.
Frankly, I believe the total amount should even be twice what CII has asked for. But alright, let’s at least begin somewhere.
However, you know what, going by the government’s past record, we will get a bunch of credit relaxation announcements – eg, Rs 20 lakh crore worth of loans resequenced – which will allow them and their friendly journalists to thump chests and say, “See, you asked for Rs 3 lakh crore, but we’ve given Rs 20 lakh crore.”
Of course, the truth that what was asked for was a direct cash stimulus, but what has been given is a relief on the loan timeline, would be deeply buried in the brouhaha of “what a welcome package from PM Modi”.
Unabated, Chronic Ailments of Public Sector Companies
Unfortunately, the chronic ailments of our public sector companies just refuse to abate.
Remember how the Modi government 2.0 had grandly announced the IPO of LIC in its first budget, a corporation that could raise Rs 1 lakh crore for the government at a market value of Rs 10 lakh crore in FY 19-20?
Over two years later, even the merchant bankers have not been appointed.
Air India, of course, is a story pegged back by the pandemic. So, we will cut the government that slack. But what about BPCL?
Here’s a real “gem” that made a profit of over USD 1 billion when it was taken to the market. It should have had a long line of suitors and netted the government over USD 10 billion in privatisation proceeds by now.
But wait, somebody forgot to change the FDI rule that would allow marquee overseas funds to become eligible, which is being done now, a full two years after the process was put in motion.
Shouldn’t this FDI rule have been changed when the transaction was announced?
And finally, see the travesty playing out with BSNL and MTNL. They did an expensive VRS, in which nearly one lakh employees took a golden handshake and left. But somebody forgot to do a manpower plan because now, both these beleaguered corporations are re-hiring their own VRS-ed employees to overcome a severe shortage of hands!
You know what they say about our country, right, that “some things happen only in India” …
Govt’s Correct in Nixing Board Exams But Announcing Class-12 Results
Now, here’s one crisis policy that the government seems to have gotten plenty right.
I am talking about the decision to scrap board exams to protect students from the pandemic, and yet announce a “definite” result for Class 12 as if the board exams have been held.
That means students will have a “real” Class-12 result to show to the world, take college admissions, and move forward in life.
One can argue that the 40:30:30 weighted result of internal marks in classes 12, 11, and 10 could be made more scientific, but that’s akin to saying that “anything in life can be improved”. Sure, perhaps a better formula existed or will reveal itself over time. But one must hand it to the government for coming up with a broad-based, effective solution that is more fair than not.
And the clincher is the option to take an examination later, which would supersede these “derived” results for those who may want a prettier Class-XII certificate. By making this optional, the government has dealt an even hand to those who may want to improve upon their scores and others who just want to move on without looking over their shoulder. Good show!
Swiss Bank Assets of Indians Multiply 3 Times: But Hold Your Vitriolic Tweets!
Swiss bank assets of Indians leapt by nearly three times through the pandemic!
From about Rs 6,700 crore at the end of 2019 to over Rs 20,000 crore in 2020.
But hold your vitriolic tweets, because these are legally declared bank deposits and instruments held by Indian persons and entities.
These are not the fabled black money hoards that Indians are thought to be stashing away in numbered accounts. Nor does this include money that Indians may be holding via entities incorporated overseas.
So, it’s a bit of a killjoy for Twitter-happy trolls, who cannot say that unscrupulous Indians got three times wealthy in the pandemic while millions slid into poverty.