India

  • Countering global economic crisis

    A GLOBAL economic slowdown is underway. What began as a problem in a single sector in a single economy

  • Farm waiver gets bigger: Rs 65,000cr

    UPA's mega poll sop for farmers has got bigger. The loan waiver for "small and marginal farmers' will now add up to a staggering Rs 65,000 crore even as the government is preparing to enlist banks as primary agents in identifying the scheme's four crore beneficiaries. The figure for the one-time settlement, which will benefit farmers who are willing to make a payment of loans to get a rebate, is yet to be finalized and discussions at the top echelons of government have seen the total write-off range up to Rs 100,000 crore. As of now, the figure has been revised to Rs 65,000 crore. The other key issue of identifying the beneficiaries, crucial to the waiver's success, will be largely entrusted to the banks. Banks to identify beneficiaries New Delhi: A large part of identifying the beneficiaries, crucial for the success of the Rs 60,000-crore loan waiver to farmers, will be entrusted to banks. It is felt that this would be the best option for the government as banks are expected to have records of persons they have given loans to, and in the case of farmers, would also have the size of their holdings. Having set 2 hectares or 5 acres as the size of holdings for the waiver's beneficiaries, the government has the mammoth task of getting accurate lists ready so as to facilitate a complete rollout by the June 30 deadline. Commercial and rural banks and cooperatives would have an incentive to draw up lists as they would be paid money for loans which had suffered defaults. Official sources pointed out that most of the loans being targeted were anyway "basket cases' for the banks. With little hope of recovery, the banks should be more than willing to divert resources to identify farmers who can benefit from UPA's largesse. In this way, the government would not have to depend on land and revenue records, which were not always well maintained and could be open to manipulation as well. Though payment to the banks will be staggered, in the first year, the banks will be given Rs 40,000 crore. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar told the media that in the next three years, the figure would be Rs 8,800 crore for 2008-09 and 2009-10 while the final amount to be paid in 2010-11 was expected to be Rs 2,400 crore. While the effectiveness of the loan waiver, and its potential political benefit, is being discussed, the Congress leadership is in an upbeat mood. Scenes of farmers celebrating and dancing have helped waiver enthusiasts argue that the Budget announcement was a popular hit. The massive giveaway, along with the pro-middle class decision to raise incometax exemption limits, could deliver a formidable advantage to the ruling combine. Those who feel somewhat differently point out that most of the really distressed farmers were engaged in dry-land farming. In normal circumstances, they were not eligible for high loan amounts and in contrast, farmers in irrigated areas, with holdings of similar size, would get larger loans. Dry-land farmers had to depend on private money lenders and these debts were outside the waiver. On the other hand, farmers in irrigated areas would now benefit from the waiver while also being in a position to raise regular loans from banks.

  • Banks to identify beneficiaries

    A large part of identifying the beneficiaries, crucial for the success of the Rs 60,000-crore loan waiver to farmers, will be entrusted to banks. It is felt that this would be the best option for the government as banks are expected to have records of persons they have given loans to, and in the case of farmers, would also have the size of their holdings. Having set 2 hectares or 5 acres as the size of holdings for the waiver's beneficiaries, the government has the mammoth task of getting accurate lists ready so as to facilitate a complete rollout by the June 30 deadline. Commercial and rural banks and cooperatives would have an incentive to draw up lists as they would be paid money for loans which had suffered defaults. Official sources pointed out that most of the loans being targeted were anyway "basket cases' for the banks. With little hope of recovery, the banks should be more than willing to divert resources to identify farmers who can benefit from UPA's largesse. In this way, the government would not have to depend on land and revenue records, which were not always well maintained and could be open to manipulation as well. Though payment to the banks will be staggered, in the first year, the banks will be given Rs 40,000 crore. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar told the media that in the next three years, the figure would be Rs 8,800 crore for 2008-09 and 2009-10 while the final amount to be paid in 2010-11 was expected to be Rs 2,400 crore. While the effectiveness of the loan waiver, and its potential political benefit, is being discussed, the Congress leadership is in an upbeat mood. Scenes of farmers celebrating and dancing have helped waiver enthusiasts argue that the Budget announcement was a popular hit. The massive giveaway, along with the pro-middle class decision to raise incometax exemption limits, could deliver a formidable advantage to the ruling combine. Those who feel somewhat differently point out that most of the really distressed farmers were engaged in dry-land farming. In normal circumstances, they were not eligible for high loan amounts and in contrast, farmers in irrigated areas, with holdings of similar size, would get larger loans. Dry-land farmers had to depend on private money lenders and these debts were outside the waiver. On the other hand, farmers in irrigated areas would now benefit from the waiver while also being in a position to raise regular loans from banks.

  • Till the very last rupee

    The budget this year provided 15 per cent higher allocation for health and 20 per cent for education. However, this may not mean that more children will learn to read or write or more doctors will be available at public health centres. In the present context, outlays are supposed to be considered ends in themselves. While higher outlays are welcome, there is an urgent need to measure outcomes, the actual effectiveness of a government scheme. A clear index of deliverables is what will lead to other reforms: rewarding states that are doing it right and implementing mid-course correction in areas where the scheme fails to take off. A paragraph towards the end of this year's budget speech shows that the government is beginning to wake up to this need: "I think we do not pay enough attention to outcomes as we do to outlays; or to physical targets as we do to financial targets; or to quality as we do to quantity. Government therefore proposes to put in place a Central Plan Schemes Monitoring System (CPSMS) that will be implemented as a Plan scheme of the Planning Commission.' It is heartening to see an acknowledgement of a long-felt void. As the government disburses more money, there is an even greater need to track it better, to find out a rupee's worth in intervention A versus B or its performance in different states. For now, one has to depend on a few private NGOs/research institutions who fulfill this need: For example, Pratham, an NGO working in the field of primary education, comes out with an annual survey called ASER that has some startling findings on Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan, a Centrally-sponsored programme that aims to put all children into school, even in the remotest parts of India. They found the number of days a teacher is actually teaching in class is abysmally low. They had a percentage for children who are in secondary school but can neither read nor write. There is no government agency that comes up with similar data. India is wasting precious resources if teachers are not found in classrooms after two decades of the existence of this "flagship programme'. The government did make an effort to come out with an "outcome budget' but, according to experts, it was not even worth the paper it was written on. It had never-ending tables with targets achieved in the form of numbers. Drinking water reports had data on the number of taps and villages covered but not the quality, quality and availability of water that is distributed. The outcome budget stops short of measuring important aspects like absenteeism and who is accessing these services created by these schemes. Anyone reading it will be no wiser if she wants to find out where to put the money the next year. Once government has evolved the mechanism of measuring these outcomes, it can take the next step: link performance with outlays for states. Infant mortality rate, extent of immunisation, literacy for women, feeding programmes should be systematically collated to form a clear index. Central share of the scheme's money should be transferred based on the performance of states on this index. The fuzziness on performance has another implication too: the government is not able to under-take mid-course correction. For example, the Supreme Court has asked the government to universalise the Integrated Child Development Programme. With no improvement in malnourishment figures for children, which are higher than that of Sub-Saharan Africa, there is clearly something wrong. The government is starting from scratch in trying to figure out what is going wrong. A fresh committee has been set up to brainstorm, without any data to arrive at clear answers. The number of anganwadis set up each of the last five years, state-wise, is available. But it has no information on whether the anganwadi worker actually comes there, feeds children in the 0-6 age group with supplementary nutrition, takes care of their health and immunisation needs and pays special attention to malnourished children. N.C. Saxena, who is a court-appointed commissioner for monitoring the mid-day meals and the ICDS programme, is a strong votary for measuring outcomes versus outlays. In an article, he goes as far as to suggest action against officers who indulge in bogus reporting of figures. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, the number of fully immunised children being reported by the state government was almost 100 per cent in 2002-03. A rapid household survey found only 30 per cent of children to be fully immunised. "Such cases of flagrant over-reporting should not go unpunished,' he says, stressing on the need for independent agencies verifying data for the government and then disseminating it widely. Such steps will need a complete change in bureaucratic mindset. This signal from the finance minister, hopefully, will not go unnoticed if India is serious about inclusive growth.

  • Farm loan waiver runs into trouble

    Nath: Where Will Funds Come From? The mega loan waiver announced by the Manmohan Singh government is running into some in-house scepticism with doubts about funding for the give-away being aired in the Cabinet. On Monday, a meeting of the Cabinet saw commerce minister Kamal Nath asking whether the government had made provisions for the Rs 60,000 crore scheme it has announced in the Budget. He also seemed to argue that it would have been better if the Cabinet had been taken into confidence. Sources said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh intervened to commend finance minister P Chidambaram and the loan waiver. Foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee also said that the finance ministry has chalked out the broad direction and details will soon be worked out. This reflected doubts put forward that the waiver unfairly lumps farmers tilling irrigated lands with those in dry-land conditions and that the two hectare cut-off for beneficiaries cannot apply across the country. Wondering whether the waiver would benefit distressed farmers, minister of state for new and renewable energy Vilas Muttemwar told TOI, "The problem lies in many farmers in areas like Vidarbha owning up to 15 acres of land, but being very poorly off. It is not just the small farmer, even those with larger holdings, who actually can access credit, are suffering.' Muttemwar said he would speak to the Prime Minister and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and ask for the eligibility for the Rs 60,000 crore waiver announced by the government to be altered in a state or regionwise manner. He also said that even smaller farmers might not be able to use the waiver as they were largely indebted to private money lenders. Muttemwar disputed agriculture minister and NCP boss Sharad Pawar's call to farmers to stop paying money lenders. "This is easier said than done. These loan sharks get farmers to sign agreement to sale documents. Even those sales are being closely scrutinised, it is not easy for farmers to simply throw off the yoke of money lenders,' he said. The minister's views could be some cause for worry as he represents Nagpur, the political centre of the Vidarbha region which has been reeling from suicides by farmers. The criticism that farmers who need help might be outside the waiver also dovetails with the argument that UPA's largesse will help well-off agriculturalists in areas like western Maharashtra. Well-known agro-economist M S Swaminathan agreed that it was difficult to compare farmers from green revolution states with those in impoverished dust bowls. "Comparing farmers owning two hectares in Punjab with those with holdings of similar size in Rajasthan or Vidarbha is unfair. The size of holdings in distressed areas should be much bigger,' he said. Swaminathan said farmers in irrigated areas who used advanced methods had access to credit much in excess to what farmers in distressed areas were able to garner. Budget can't be challenged in court: SC Even before the applause for a Budget

  • NDA, UPA in war of words over funding of dole for farmers

    The discussion on the President's address got off to a confrontationist and bitter start in Lok Sabha on Monday with NDA and UPA benches repeatedly interrupting each other even as Leader of Opposition L K Advani called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to reveal how the mega loan waiver would be funded. Advani said while a relief package for farmers was welcome, it was incumbent on government to tell Parliament how it intended to compensate banks and cooperatives for the Rs 60,000 crore sop. "Will this be by way of bonds that will be redeemed later?' he asked. He also pointed out that rural distress had been aggravated by price rise. The Radhakrishnan report on indebtedness said that there were a range of factors that were adding to the farmers' burden. Many farmers who were facing a debt trap had borrowed heavily from private money lenders. He sought to link the waiver with the possibility of an early election and said "since last August there has been uncertainty' referring to Congress-Left brinksmanship over the India-US nuclear deal. He said an unstable government could not deliver. Advani was interrupted with Congress MPs questioning him on issues like the record on combatting terror and BJP's position on Telangana. The heckling seemed part of a pre-planned script. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's decision to sit on the last bench during the debate seemed to encourage her MPs who competed with one another in aggressively defending the party. The loan waiver issue also had an echo in Rajya Sabha with BJP and CPM charging the Centre with not addressing the real concerns of the poor. Participating in the discussion on the motion of thanks, Abhishek Singhvi (Congress) said the economy had grown by over 8% in the last four years. "But this gung-ho spirit has to be tempered' in the face of hard reality of 25% people still living below the poverty line.

  • Budget can't be challenged in court: SC

    Even before the applause for a Budget

  • Kapil Sibal seeks area in seafront for national ocean technology institute

    GREETING: Union Minister of State for Science and Technology and Ocean Development Kapil Sibal with Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi at his residence in Chennai on Monday. Minister of State for Science and Technology and Ocean Development Kapil Sibal called on Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi at his Gopalapuram residence to seek a "large area in the seafront in Tamil Nadu to carry out research activities such as deep sea mining' and "coastal management.' "We want to carry on more activities in Tamil Nadu. So I requested the Chief Minister to look into a proposal by the Ministry to give a large area in the seafront in Tamil Nadu for carrying on research activities such as deep sea mining and others. As you know the Cabinet has in principle accorded approval to the setting up of a maritime university in Tamil Nadu and we hope that the setting up of the university and the grant of a seafront to us to carry out research and development would go hand in hand. This will enable us to invest more money in research activities in Tamil Nadu along the coast,' he said. Asked about the reaction of Mr. Karunanidhi, he said the Chief Minister told him that he would consider the issue very seriously. When it was brought to his notice that a parliamentary committee was looking into the issue of setting up of maritime university, he said that it was only concerned about the methodology and "how it is to be done.' Asked about the location of the university, he said: "We are setting up a maritime university. It will be located somewhere near the coast of some particular State.' Asked if there would be two maritime universities, he said he did not know about that. "It is not under my domain. I only know that in principle it has been agreed to. The location is yet to be decided and wherever it is, it has to be near the coast. And wherever it is, now with Information Technology you can do a lot of activities.' D. Rajasekhar, head of the Vessel Management Cell at the National Institute of Ocean Technology, said the area the Minister sought was for his institute, which is located in Pallikaranai. "We have to use Chennai Port for our berthing facilities

  • India gets hi-tech offshore lab for Rs 232 crore

    On Board Sagar Nidhi: It's an acquisition that would make India's deep-sea research scale new heights and the grit of scientists from National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) indicates they are raring to put the Rs 232-crore

  • Focus on India's new trillion-dollar economy

    The growing relevance of India's newly-minted "trillion-dollar economy' to the changing global economic order was emphasised at a seminar here on Monday in the context of Finance Minister P. Chidambaram's 2008-2009 budget. India's High Commissioner to Singapore S. Jaishankar said China, as "a political aside' in this emerging global story, "has now overtaken the United States as India's largest trading partner.' K. Venugopal, Joint Editor of The Hindu and The Hindu Business Line, traced some "fantastic aspects of India's growth story' but cautioned that the current trends of "a miserable show' in the power sector and project slippages in the overall infrastructure domain could still "stop ... the trillion-dollar economy from cantering' at a comfortable pace. KPMG India Executive Director Girish Vanvari said the Finance Minister had opted for "cautious' projections for the future, keeping in mind the current reality that "the Indian economy is on a roll.' Setting the tone for the seminar, organised by KPMG and the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry in association with The Hindu Business Line, Dr. Jaishankar said: "We are now, probably for the first year, talking about the budget of a trillion-dollar economy. We are talking about a country, where there is a 150 per cent increase in the net FDI flows, where the outward investments have actually also gone up almost seven times over what it used to be in 2003-2004, where the trade-to-GDP ratio has gone up very sharply. The [latest] budget, like any other happening in India, has a certain immediate context and a longer-term context in terms of reform.' Key factors Outlining the budget proposals in the context of what Mr. Chidambaram might have had on his mind, Mr. Venugopal spelt out an array of factors that served as the political and economic background. These were the possibility of general elections within the next 14 months; farm suicides; the drop in public investment in the agricultural sector; some indices of an economic slowdown; the appreciating rupee; the surge in foreign investment inflows; the ebb and flow of the stock market trends which, in the last six months, were "not bad' compared to the U.S. and Chinese markets; "the divergent worms' in regard to trade deficit; and the political sniping at "an economy on the downswing.' He summed up the "budget response' as follows: Rs. 60,000-crore debt waiver for small and marginal farmers; tax breaks for individuals, not companies; and excise duty reduction from 16 per cent Cenvat to 14 per cent, with no sops for exporters. Posing the question whether these proposals would work, Mr. Venugopal said: "Not everyone in the political world congratulates Mr. Chidambaram for the debt waiver. [Some] say he has not done enough. Why is India's agriculture on the rocks? One reason is that irrigation projects have failed to deliver in the last decade or so. The government's Economic Survey conceded as much. The weakening farm pulse [is such that] the only thing that has grown smartly is credit supply.' On income tax, he said the Finance Minister was "like India's spinners: flight the ball more and probably you will get the batsman out.' The growth of the economy "is delivering a lot more as tax revenues for the government.' Citing some "concerns,' including rising food prices, and turning the focus on "some very bright spots' such as the telecom and aviation sectors, Mr. Venugopal said, "The agenda is [still] pretty long' for the future. In addressing it, Mr. Chidambaram might also have to reckon with the "fragility of the coalition that he is part of.' Mr. Girish Vanvari gave an expert overview of the budget matrix of direct and indirect taxes. Vishal Sharma, KPMG Singapore Executive Director, presided.

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