A to Z of Demonetisation

Demonetisation has come as a surprise 50 days ago. Standing in queues at banks and ATMs for money became a norm during these days as government aggressively pushed for the roll-out of digital economy. The key words of demonetisation:

A-ATM: There was a mad scramble at ATMs as it became one of the hotspots with millions thronging the facility to withdraw money.

B-Blackmoney: The most prominent reason for the drive but many were not impressed with the argument that it would hit blackmoney hard.

C-Cashless: Aim, it is said, is to turn India into a cashless economy. From targeting blackmoney to moving into cashless economy, opposition accuses government of shifting goal posts.

D-Demonetisation: Took the whole nation by surprise. Many supported the government while several others found no good in the move.

E-8PM: The announcement came at 8 PM on November 8.

F-50 days: Fifty days was what Prime M Narendra Modi asked from the countrymen. It is over and the million-dollar question is will it make or mar Modi?

G-GDP: Will GDP suffer in the long term? Manmohan Singh says yes but government thinks otherwise

H-Hansmukh Adhia: The Revenue Secretary was one of the main officials behind the move.

I-Income Tax Dept: The Dept conducted a number of searches across the country to detect unaccounted money. ED also joined it.

J for Jan Dhan: Jan Dhan accounts were misused by some to park their blackmoney

K for KYC: The KYC norms came into much discussion after cooperative banks came under scanner

L-Lay-offs: Demonetisation resulted in job-loss in informal sector. Several who migrated to cities returned to their villages after they could not find jobs.

M-Mamata: Trinamool Congress chief was the first to protest and did not waver when it came to continuously attacking the NDA.

N-Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik: Two non-NDA leaders supported the idea.

P-Paytm: The digital wallet got more customers who were looking for cashless mode. Some opposition parties alleged the move was to help such firms.

Q-Queue: The whole nation was on queue since Nov 8, either in front of a bank or an ATM for money.

R-RBI: RBI earned the wrath for changing the norms and issuing circulars, earning the epithet Reverse Bank of India. 

S-Security Press: The currency press were on the seams due to high demand of notes. 

T-Terror Funding: Government expects routes for terror funding will be closed

U-Urjit Patel: The new RBI Governor faced criticism for not ensuring enough supply of new currency.

V-Venezuela: Venezuela announced demonetisation after India but had to roll it back following violent protests.

W-Whatsapp jokes: Jokes on demonetisation on Whatsapp showed the creativity of people in analysing the move. 

X-X-factor: The X-factor, ironically, was the so-called unpreparedness in ensuring that there was no problems for citizens

Y-Why this move: The reason behind the move – politics or economics – is not conclusively proven.

Z-Zaire: The 1990s story of Zaire showed that its ruler Mobutu Sese Seko was ousted after he went in for demonetisation.

(Dec 30, 2016)

DeMo, Vemula, Una — what 2016 marked for India

India waded through surprises, shock, jubilation, resentment and uncertainty in 2016 — if the country started the year with a devastating blow when terrorists mocked a nation by walking into an airbase unchallenged, it is ending on a note of uncertainty with people still standing in queue for their money following an exercise many dub as poorly planned.

Terror strikes on military installations and demonetisation did cause worry and hardship but there were reasons to cheer for the billion plus country — three young women fought all odds to earn laurels in Olympics while government publicised details of a ‘surgical strike, which a section felt was chest thumping by a beleaguered government.

If the unsuccessful bid to extradite liquor baron Vijay Mallya who managed to flee the country in March despite defaulting on multi-crore loans was a disappointment, the country could add to its list of expectations for 2017 a new tax regime under Goods and Service Tax (GST) and a solution to the fight between government and Supreme Court over appointments to higher judiciary.

Suicide of a young research scholar Rohith Vemula inside Hyderabad Central University triggered huge anger across campuses followed by the arrest of student leaders in Jawaharlal Nehru University over ‘azadi’ slogans. The debate soon turned into a nationalist versus anti-nationalist debate where criticism or difference of opinion suddenly became anti-national.

Flogging of Dalits in Gujarat’s Una over skinning of dead cows once again brought to fore the hardline rightwing groups’ continuing emphasis on the debate on who is a nationalist. The incident led to protests and emergence of a young leader Jignesh Mewani.

2000-notes

The big story of the year was demonetisation, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced through a televised address to the nation on November 8 at 8 PM. Four hours later at the stroke of midnight, Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes became illegal tender. Many felt it would deal a heavy blow to black money hoarders and a first step towards a cashless economy.

But the reality check came on November 10 when ATMs ran out cash before noon and queues in front of banks and ATMs became a norm. There was no end to common man’s woes even after 45 days, making almost all non-NDA parties to come together on a common platform accusing the government of shifting goalposts and helping some private sector companies. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) also took a beating as social media dubbed it ‘Reverse’ Bank after a series of self-contradicting circulars.

Whether Modi and BJP could reap electoral benefits on demonetisation could not be speculated but the single move has upstaged any other event in the country this year to back burner. A much publicised surgical strike in September in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir by crossing Line of Control was upstaged by the announcement of demonetisation. Though questions are raised about both, one cannot ignore that there is a feel good factor among some constituencies about these measures.

The terror strikes in Pathankot airbase in early January and Uri and Nagrota army camps later questioned the security apparatus’ preparedness. The surge in attacks despite surgical strike also prompted Opposition to try to put the government on the mat.

The encounter killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani was another key point of 2016 as Kashmir valley erupted in violent stone pelting for months and security forces facing criticism for using pellet guns to control protesters and blinding scores of them.

CGAMES-2014-GYMNASTICS

If Wani was on an extreme, there was Deepa Karmakar, Sakshi Mallik and P V Sindhu as well as Virat Kohli on the other side. All these sportspersons brought cheers – gymnast Deepa conquered a billion hearts with her Produnova vault though she lost an Olympic medal, Sakshi matted her opponent in the wrestling arena for a bronze and Sindhu shuttled her way to a silver in Brazil Olympics. Kohli cemented his place as a hero by captaining the cricket Test team to new heights.

Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries also rolled out Jio, the 4G platform with an aim to change the way one uses mobile phones while the wait for GST regime got extended for another year though significant progress was made this year.

One of the institutions that will be keenly watched in the next year would be Parliament where a number of bills are pending, especially on combating corruption and on social welfare measures on maternity benefit and HIV patients among others. The Winter Session of Parliament was a washout and political parties on both sides will have to see a way out to ensure that the House runs in order.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Dec 30, 2016)

For women employees, more relief in govt offices

Providing more relief to women who faced sexual harassment at workplace, Government has asked its departments to keep a watch for five years to ensure that they do not face vendetta for filing the complaint.

It has also asked that the victim should not be posted under the Respondent, or any other person where there may be a reasonable ground to believe that she may be subjected to harassment.

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has issued instructions to concerned departments in this regard last week.

The fresh instructions came following a recent meeting chaired by Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi where concerns were raised probes in sexual harassment cases are taking unduly long time.

With Gandhi expressing dissatisfaction over the weak implementation of the law, it was also decided that all ministries should furnish a monthly report to the WCD Ministry giving details of number of complaints received, disposed of and action taken in the case.

“It should be ensured that the aggrieved women are not victimised in connection with the complaints filed by them. For a period of five years after a decision in a proven case of sexual harassment, a watch should be kept to ensure that she is not subjected to vendetta,” the office memorandum issued on December 22 said.

In case of any victimisation, the woman employee should submit a representation to the Secretary in the case of Ministries/Departments and head of organization in other cases. These representations should be dealt with sensitivity and a decision on such complaints should be taken within 15 days.

The order reiterated that the inquiry in sexual harassment cases should be completed within one month and in no case should it take more than 90 days as per the limit prescribed under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

The government had earlier this year made it clear that an officer accused of sexual harassment will not be able to prolong inquiry by citing that the head of panel probing the complaint is junior to him in service.

It also decided that the central government employees accused of sexual harassment can be transferred from their present place or work to another to ensure that they do not influence victims.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Dec 28, 2016)

‘Police behaviour towards women, marginalised complainants not good’

The behaviour of police towards complainants, especially women and margnalised, is “not good” forcing many to avoid reporting a crime, a study for a government think tank has said.

The study on ‘Non Registration of Crimes: Problems and Solutions’ said a large number, which could be more than 75% of population, were “averse to police and avoid coming forward” to report a crime, “unless it was serious and intolerable”.

“The menace of non-registration of crime badly dents the police image and impedes their efforts to better the police-public relations, which are vital for effective functioning of police,” it said.

Stressing on improving behavioural patterns of the personnel, it said the self esteem of a police officer needs to be boosted up by middle and senior functionaries, “instead of using intemperate language and making insulting comments” aboutthem.

The study authored by former IPS officer UNB Rao and Arvind Tiwari of Tata Institute of Social Sciences also pointed out that the increasing presence of women in police force is “hoped to improve” behavioural patterns of police personnel towards complainants.

It pointed out that UP Police officials had welcomed their government’s circular “not to use pan, beedi and intemperate language” in the presence of police women.

It has also mentioned that police is ranked low in government funding priority, as they are treated as “non-productive units and are a matter of drain on the state exchequer”. Lesser allocation is resulting in shortage of manpower, infrastructure and transport facilities and these problems directly or indirectly impacting crime registration, investigation and filing of chargesheets.

Emphasising the need for a paradigm shift in the thinking of government, it said there is a need to realise that there is close link between security and economic development of the country.

“One would hesitate investing in an area where security was lax, for example Noida, Ghaziabad vis-a-vis Gurgaon, West Bengal vis-a-vis Gujarat, when Tata car project and many other projects moved out of West Bengal to other places, in the wake of then existed Maoist activities in West Bengal,” it said.

Lack of manpower was another reason for police avoiding registration of cases. Most of the personnel are working for long hours and “such a situation was prompting them to avoid more work by registering all the crimes”.

The existing strength of less than 40 personnel in 3,879 police stations, which 27.4% of 14,155 police stations in the country, may be upgraded at least by 50% to start with and gradually increase them by 100%, the study suggested.

(Dec 24, 2016)

2016/2017: And the fight for equality rages on…

Girls are still killed in wombs, dowry continues to claim lives and acid attacks disfigure many but the fight for equality is still being waged — whether it is for entry into holy shrines or flying a fighter jet or opposing a discriminatory divorce law.

Same is the case for Dalits who were brutally beaten up and in some cases even killed for the job they do, as the flogging actually flocked them together to fight for political space and bargain for their rights.

India is changing with the economically and socially underprivileged not shying away from a fight against the patriarchal colossus in 2016. This is the year India could boast of crossing one billion mark in mobile connections signalling a new high with more people Whatsapping and Facebooking as well as using the internet for venting their anger and anguish on issues of their concern.

image

(Image Courtesy: Yes! Magazine)

One of the biggest take-away was the fight for women’s entry into holy spaces. Whether it was Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar or Kerala’s Sabarimala or Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai, women were in the forefront to fight against a custom which was evidently biased. They won in Shani temple and Haji Ali Dargah but the legal battle is still on in Sabarimala.

Though religious orthodoxy helmed by men managed to keep the women away from holy spaces, the fairer sex have now managed to create fissures in it. “What right does the temple have to forbid women from entering any part of the temple? Can you deny a woman her right to climb Mount Everest? The reasons for banning anything must be common for all,” Supreme Court judge Justice Dipak Misra said during one of the hearings on Sabarimala.

Another issue that got prominence in country’s discourse was the issue of triple talaq. The debate did not restrict on rights of women but got enlarged to whether personal laws can be violative of Constitutional provisions.

It has not reached a logical conclusion in courts but those who raised it have managed to strike a chord among several people. But the question is how they could wade through the vested electoral interests of parties of all hues as well as Muslim orthodoxy and emerge victorious in their fight.

The tempers on the Uniform Civil Code also rose with the ruling BJP pitching for the idea but it still needs to gain traction as a section of Muslims and other minorities are still wary of any such moves. Though several secular and Left academicians and intellectuals are supportive of the idea, they doubt the intentions of BJP, as they believe that the ruling party is pushing forward a divisive agenda.

Dalit attrocities too hogged limelight with more and more underprivileged taking assertive political stands. Dalit rights became a talking point after some youth were beaten up for doing their jobs – skinning dead cows – in Gujarat.

One of the biggest jobs before the government will be to ensure that it there is no caste violence anywhere in the country. The signal has to go in uncertain terms that whether eating habits or once job should not be the reason for people taking law into their hands.

Shrillness in TV studios and social media, sometimes bordering on irrational and informed debate taking a back seat, were another issue that was another highlight for 2016. Whether it was a song or a scene in a film or a fiction, a censor was lurking around.

Tamil author Perumal Murugan, who returned to writing this year after his faced troubled for his novel, summed up this August, “a censor is seated inside me now. He is testing every word that is born within me. His constant caution that a word may be misunderstood so, or it may be interpreted this, is a real bother. But I am unable to shake him off.”

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Dec 27, 2016)

2016/2017: Aviation sector may look for more sops

The civil aviation sector in India expects a turbulence free new year with more people flying but they will look for more concessions from the government to start foreign services and connect regional towns.

The government has already come up with the first-ever civil aviation policy this year and a scheme to connect unserved regional destinations, which the industry players still feel could be fine-tuned to help both airlines as well as customers.

The National Civil Aviation Policy (NCAP) is backed by a series of measures like enhancing regional connectivity through sops to airlines, initiatives to develop new airports, separate regulations for helicopters and measures to boost skill development in the sector. It wants every Indian to fly at least once a year and have capped tickets at Rs 2,500 for a one hour flight under Regional Connectivity Scheme.

Vistara's inaugural flight land's at GVK CSIA T2

One of the keenly waited announcement was on the controversial 5/20 Rule — which wanted domestic player to complete five years and have a fleet of 20 aircraft to start foreign services — and as expected, it was scrapped but not the satisfaction of new players.

The government overruled the objections of old players like Air India, SpiceJet and IndiGo but did not completely went ahead appeasing new players like Vistara and AirAsia India, who were waiting in the wings.

Now, a domestic airline can fly overseas any time if they deploy 20 planes or 20 per cent of their total capacity, whichever is higher, for domestic operations. The change in the rule will not result in immediate starting of foreign service by any existing Indian carrier and some still feel that the restrictions are not forward looking.

One of the main challenges before the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) will be the kick-starting of Regional Connectivity Scheme or UDAN in January itself by roping in domestic players, who have some reservations on levying a cess on metro routes to fund the programme to connect unserved and underserved destinations.

Though airlines may be upset about several other things, one thing they would not be complaining about is the growth in the number of fliers.

The number of passengers this year have already surpassed that of the whole of 2015. The first 11 months of this year saw 903.36 lakh people flying domestically while 2015 witnessed 810.91 lakh people buying air tickets. In 2014, it was 673.83 lakh.

While SpiceJet is leading the pack on seat occupancy as it clocked more than 90 per cent for past 19 months, IndiGo continued to be the market leader. IndiGo, which became a listed company last year, had registered a market share of over 40 per cent for the past three consecutive months.

The account books of some of the airlines will be in good shape but regional players will have to tread a cautious path. One of the regional airlines, Bengaluru-based Air Pegasus, has not been able to operate since August due to financial reasons. The aviation players expect the new year to be positive but for that, they want the government also to chip in.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Dec 27, 2016)

2016/2017: What is in store for a ‘peaceful’ India?

A burning Kashmir or a redux of Pathankot-type terror strike will be the last thing what security establishment would want next year, as it will seriously question the government’s intentions and strategy.

The authorities will also have to keep a close watch on the communal situation in the country, as several electorally important states like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Gujarat go to Assembly polls during 2017, as also ensuring that Islamic State (IS) does not get traction among youth here.

The year 2016 started on a rude shock when four Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists from Pakistan sneaked into India, entering Pathankot airbase where they hid for more than 24 hours and launching a strike killing seven and injuring 37 others.

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(A Kashmiri protester: Photo courtesy: BBC)

It prompted the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs to tersely tell the government that there was “something seriously wrong” with the country’s counter-terror mechanism and it was “so ill-prepared to anticipate” threats in time and “counter them swiftly and decisively”.

The Pathankot strike and Uri army camp attack later also exposed the chinks in border infrastructure and the need for sprucing it up amid increasing tension between India and Pakistan, which New Delhi accuses of sponsoring cross border terrorism.

Coupled with the terror strikes was the unrest in Kashmir, which continued for months following the encounter killing of suspected Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani in July.

Kashmiri youth erupted in anger and stone pelting in the Valley attracted international headlines. So did the use of pellet guns by security forces blinding scores of people.

Opposition and activists put pressure on government for less lethal weapons to deal with protesters in the valley. Though government did not completely ban its use, it instructed forces to use pellet guns only in grave situations. Supreme Court too told the gun that pellet guns cannot be used “indiscriminately” and there should be “proper application of mind” for using it.

One of the biggest challenges before the Narendra Modi government would be to regain the confidence of Kashmiris and ensure that such protests do not derail peace and business in the Valley.

Though government managed the threat posed by the IS this year, it would not be able to rest on the laurels. The NIA has so far arrested 68 youths, including 50 this year alone. Maharashtra and Telangana with 11 each and Karnataka with seven top the list.

The dreaded terror organisation could continue to lure youth for jihad and the government will have to burn midnight oil through community initiatives as well as security measures to ensure that the IS is defeated in its agenda.

Though there is no spectacular attacks by naxals this year, forces cannot lower the guard as Maoists have the capacity to launch spectacular strikes. Same is the case with north-east where tackling insurgency will remain a top priority.

To effectively tackle internal security challenges, the Ministry of Home Affairs will also have to ensure that states take up modernisation of police forces as well as prisons. The need for urgent prison modernisation is clear from the fact that there two sensational jail breaks in which suspected terrorists fled prisons in Madhya Pradesh and Punjab.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Dec 26, 2016)

 

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