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Showing posts from October 8, 2017

Time for caution - on India's current account deficit (hindu)

As the world looks to end the era of easy money, India must be prepared

India’s external balance sheet may have improved significantly since the infamous taper tantrum of 2013, but there are now signs that warrant more caution from policymakers. Last week, the current account deficit (CAD) widened to a four-year high of $14.3 billion in the first quarter of the current financial year, standing at 2.4% of gross domestic product, compared to 0.1% last year. The widening CAD was driven by a greater increase in merchandise imports than exports. A strong capital account surplus, however, has helped the country pay for its import bills without much trouble. Foreign investors starved of yield have been stepping up their investments in India, which remains one of the few places offering higher yields. Compared to last year, net FDI almost doubled to $7.2 billion in the first quarter, while net portfolio investment jumped about six times to $12.5 billion. The strong inflow of foreign capital …

Hopes and fears — On Sri Lanka's Constitutional reform (hindu) (.hindu)

Glitches in the GST regime are increasing the anxiety among Indian businesses

For a reform that was cracked up to be India’s biggest tax overhaul since Independence, the roll-out of the goods and services tax is off to a less-than-desirable start. Over 80 days after its introduction, the GST Network, its online backbone, is struggling to keep pace with the millions of invoices and returns being filed electronically by businesses across the country. The government has extended the deadline for filing GST returns for July, the first month of the GST era, twice. And Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has reiterated an appeal to taxpayers to not wait till the last day, to avoid burdening the GSTN. But even those filing returns well before the last date have struggled. It is clear that the network had not been fully tested for chinks before July. A ministerial group formed by the GST Council to resolve the GSTN’s glitches gave an assurance last Saturday that 80% of the problems would be fixed …

Hopes and fears — On Sri Lanka's Constitutional reform (hindu)

The interim report on a new constitution should set off an informed debate in Sri Lanka

It is only with a great degree of caution and circumspection that the interim report of the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly of Sri Lanka can be welcomed. The panel, chaired by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has done creditably by producing a forward-looking proposal within 18 months of its first sitting. However, there have been several such reports in the past that envisioned far-reaching reforms in the country’s structure. None of them found broad acceptance within Sri Lanka’s polity. It is thus difficult to see the interim report as the beginning of an irreversible process of constitutional reform. There is room for both hope and fear. There is scope for optimism that Sri Lanka’s fractious polity could get its act together and adopt a durable constitution that would protect its unity and stability, distribute powers equitably across ethnic and geographical divisions, and…

Repeat and repent — On Obamacare repeal (hindu)

A second failure by Republicans to replace ‘Obamacare’ exposes incoherence in the party


A second concerted push by Republicans in the U.S. Congress to “repeal and replace” the landmark health-care reform law passed by the Obama administration ended in tears when it failed to garner the minimum 50 votes necessary to pass on the floor of the Senate. The latest proposal, which came to be known as the Graham-Cassidy bill after the Senators who sponsored it, was built on the idea, contra-Obamacare, that each U.S. State could effectively write up its own provisions for implementing certain aspects of healthcare policy. And in return for ensuring that some basic tenets were followed, such as patients with pre-existing conditions not being excluded from health insurance schemes, they would be given sizeable block grants. These grants, effectively “sweeteners” for moderate Republicans nervous about the mid-term elections due in November 2018, were supplemented with the promise of further dere…

Maximum neglect: on Elphinstone stampede (hindu)

The Mumbai stampede was preventable; pedestrian access must be ensured in all cities

Mumbai’s ghastly suburban railway stampede, in which 23 people died after being crushed on a narrow staircase, was the inevitable consequence of prolonged neglect of urban public transport in India. The financial capital depends mainly on the 300 km suburban system, which has some of the highest passenger densities for any city railway in the world. Yet, it has no single accountable manager. It is unthinkable for a modern railway system to continue with business as usual when about 3,500 people die on its tracks in a year. But Mumbai goes on. Over the past two decades, policy attention has tilted towards road projects, with just token appreciation of the challenges faced by public transport users. The Elphinstone Road station stampede should lead to a course correction and re-ordering of mass transport in all cities. Augmenting the creaking and broken infrastructure at suburban stations should be a h…

The rhythm of life: on the Nobel Prize in Medicine (hindu)

The Medicine Nobel touches on our curiosity about an inner clock and links to nature

Time and clocks have held a special fascination for humankind down the ages. So, it is particularly revealing that two of the three Nobel Prizes for the sciences announced this year have been linked to time. While the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to a trio of physicists for their work in the detection of gravitational waves emanating from the recesses of the space-time continuum, the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was won by a triumvirate of chronobiologists for their work in discovering the mechanisms controlling the internal clocks that keep time in all living organisms, including humans. Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young, three Americans born in the 1940s, made pioneering contributions in helping unravel the genetic coding and protein pathways that regulate the circadian rhythm — that rhythm which tells us when it is time to eat and sleep, or wake up even whe…

US-North Korea stand-off: Sound and fury (hindu)

The U.S. President needs to wind down war talk and initiate direct talks with North Korea


U.S. President Donald Trump’s harsh rhetoric against North Korea and equally strident counter-threats by Pyongyang have made the situation in the Korean Peninsula drastically worse. After reports emerged that North Korea has developed a miniaturised nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, Mr. Trump said that the country would be met with “fire and fury” of the sort the world had never seen if it continued to threaten the U.S. If Mr. Trump’s tough talk, which he repeated again in the following days with even a reference to America’s nuclear weapons, was intended to deter Pyongyang from escalating the situation, it was an instant failure. The North issued a specific threat, saying it was considering a plan to fire missiles towards Guam, the American territory in the Pacific. It is appalling that there’s no substantial effort to defuse tensions even as two nuclear powers are steadily esca…

A partisan ruling — on disqualification of dissident AIADMK MLAs (hindu)

The disqualification of 18 MLAs in Tamil Nadu is highly questionable

The disqualification of 18 dissident AIADMK legislators by the Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker is a partisan decision aimed at securing a majority for the seven-month-old Edappadi K. Palaniswami government after a rebellion reduced it to a minority. The Speaker’s ruling comes at a time when there is an increasingly indefensible reluctance on the part of the Governor, Ch. Vidyasagar Rao, to order a floor test. It serves the political purpose of reducing the total membership of the House from 233 to 215 and, thereby, the majority threshold from 117 to 108. The disqualified legislators are loyalists of T.T.V. Dhinakaran, who heads a faction of the AIADMK opposed to the ruling dispensation controlled by Mr. Palaniswami and his Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam. The Speaker has interpreted their memorandum to the Governor expressing lack of confiidence in the Chief Minister as amounting to “voluntarily giving up” their …

A big broom — On crackdown on shell companies (hindu)

Each shell company must be duly investigated, instead of a ‘name and shame’ data dump

The decision by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs to crack down on so-called ‘shell companies’, disqualify select directors in these entities and debar them from taking board positions for a specified period of time cannot be faulted. This would begin the clean-up of the Augean stables of firms set up in many cases with less than bona fide intent and having virtually no business operations. However, the Union government’s move to publicise the identities of some of these individuals with a view to ‘naming and shaming’ them is fraught with risk; the devil, as always, is in the detail. While the underlying motive for this action, as cited by the ministry, of “breaking the network of shell companies” in the government’s fight against black money is laudable, there is a real danger of inadvertently tainting genuine firms and individuals. This was in evidence when the Securities Appellate Tribunal recent…

Tax trauma — On GST Network (hindu)

Glitches in the GST regime are increasing the anxiety among Indian businesses

For a reform that was cracked up to be India’s biggest tax overhaul since Independence, the roll-out of the goods and services tax is off to a less-than-desirable start. Over 80 days after its introduction, the GST Network, its online backbone, is struggling to keep pace with the millions of invoices and returns being filed electronically by businesses across the country. The government has extended the deadline for filing GST returns for July, the first month of the GST era, twice. And Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has reiterated an appeal to taxpayers to not wait till the last day, to avoid burdening the GSTN. But even those filing returns well before the last date have struggled. It is clear that the network had not been fully tested for chinks before July. A ministerial group formed by the GST Council to resolve the GSTN’s glitches gave an assurance last Saturday that 80% of the problems would be fixed …