29 DEc 2015
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement on Sunday that the government will unveil, in January, a comprehensive plan to help make India the world leader in startups is noteworthy. A part of the plan is to link all the IIMs and IITs, central universities and National Institutes of Technology via 'live connectivity'. The move is expected to assist aspiring entrepreneurs plug into a network of incubators, mentors and angel investors and provide them the ambience to try out their business ideas in the real world. The startup policy is expected to, among other things, make it easier to start and exit a business, allow flexible hiring for new firms in their first three to five years, and provide incentives for financiers, especially domestic funds, as 90 per cent of startup financing currently comes from foreign venture capital funds. The government's hopes of making India a serious contender to Silicon Valley may seem aspirational, but are also driven by the realisation that India needs many more new enterprises to create 10 million jobs for the youth entering the workforce each year. Apps and services apart, India needs startups in manufacturing, industrial design, agro-based food processing and renewable energy among some of the key sectors. Many Indian startups have made a mark this year with valuations in billions of dollars. The home-grown Flipkarts and Snapdeals have resiliently taken on the global e-tailing giant Amazon, so far. But many of these Indian success stories, more than 65 per cent of startups, have left the country to operate from places like Singapore.
This exodus is not because India doesn't foster innovation . Google CEO Sundar Pichai, in fact, remarked that the constraints people work with in India inspire more creativity and make their ideas more useful for the world. Indian entrepreneurs — from the small-scale factory owners in the 1970s and 1980s to the Bombay Club barons who resisted liberalisation in the 1990s — have a history of successfully adapting their business plans to adversarial regulatory regimes. That startups blossomed in the past few years was not related to the UPA government's policy or lack thereof. They came up despite the government. Certainly, targeted interventions for startups would help. The mandatory use of Aadhaar for registering a new micro, small or medium enterprise could, for instance, be done away with. Similarly, angel investments by domestic financiers should not be treated as taxable income in the hands of a startup. Clearances and patents should be expedited, and crowd-funding allowed. Most importantly, the labyrinth of regulations and compliances that even startups that attain scale end up being subjected to — making business sense for them to leave India — has to be addressed. It is here that the new policy must deliver. As Mr. Pichai said, the ease of doing business has improved, but it needs to get a 'whole lot better' for India to meet its true potential.
Remove a veil or covering from, especially uncover (a new monument or work of art) as part of a public ceremony
Interesting, significant, or unusual
Directing one's hopes or ambitions toward becoming a specified type of person.
Rival: the contestant you hope to defeat; "he had respect for his rivals"; "he wanted to know what the competition was doing"
A mass departure of people, especially emigrants.
Encourage or promote the development of (something, typically something regarded as good).
A limitation or restriction.
Withstand the action or effect of.
Involving or characterized by conflict or opposition.
(of a tree or bush) produce flowers or masses of flowers.
Make (an action or process) happen sooner or be accomplished more quickly.
A complicated irregular network of passages or paths in which it is difficult to find one's way; a maze.
Hunger brews in Bengal's tea estates
North Bengal's tea estates are witnessing an unfolding human tragedy as more deaths of tea garden workers were reported this month from the region. With the industry as a whole struggling from soft prices and a drop in output as climate change affects rainfall and weather conditions across the country's tea-growing regions, several estates are reportedly being unofficially shut, leaving thousands of hapless workers in the lurch. And even at gardens that are operating, living conditions for the predominantly female workforce are said to be precarious, with access to housing, sanitation, healthcare and drinking water far from adequate. A delegation of the State Assembly's Standing Committee on Labour that visited four tea estates cited malnutrition as an apparent cause for the recent deaths of workers and said the State government was not doing enough to resolve the crisis. Separately, an international fact-finding mission headed by the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition that visited tea gardens in West Bengal and Assam earlier this month painted a grim picture of extremely low wages driving thousands of families to hunger and malnutrition. With a majority of the labour landless, tribal migrants who have little to no other skills to help them find gainful work, the closures and unpaid wages in many estates are spurring a surge in the incidence of starvation. While West Bengal's Labour Minister this month told legislators the government was providing jobs under the MGNREGA, medical vans and midday meals to workers at the closed tea gardens, and challenged opposition members to prove the deaths were due to starvation and not natural causes, there is a tacit admission that there is a crisis requiring the State's intervention. The Minister's comment that none of the death certificates show starvation as the cause of death is tragically ironic since acute hunger and dehydration leave a person too weak to work or even stir out seeking food or water as alms. The victim ultimately dies of organ failure or an opportunistic infection that the body can't fight.
The bleak situation of these workers starkly highlights the absence of a social security net for rural workers, and specifically labour in the plantation sector. Unless governments both at the Centre and the State develop adequate mechanisms to safeguard the basic needs of non-unionised workers in vulnerable sectors such as the plantations, all efforts at labour law reform will be quite vacuous and bereft of any meaning to the key factor of economic productivity: the worker. Rising above partisan political considerations, the West Bengal government needs to act urgently to address the crisis and, if warranted, take strong legal action against the managements of tea estates that have landed their workers on the brink of starvation and death. A longer-term rehabilitation and re-skilling package is also required to help labour at the defunct estates find alternative work, and measures must be taken, separately, to rejuvenate this key employment-providing sector
Make (beer) by soaking, boiling, and fermentation.
(especially of a person) unfortunate.
An abrupt uncontrolled movement, especially an unsteady tilt or roll.
Not securely held or in position; dangerously likely to fall or collapse.
Quote (a passage, book, or author) as evidence for or justification of an argument or statement, especially in a scholarly work.
Forbidding or uninviting.
The act or process of closing something, especially an institution, thoroughfare, or frontier, or of being closed.
Urge (a horse) forward by digging one's spurs into its sides
A sudden powerful forward or upward movement, especially by a crowd or by a natural force such as the waves or tide.
Suffering or death caused by hunger.
Understood or implied without being stated.
(in historical contexts) money or food given to poor people.
(of an area of land) lacking vegetation and exposed to the elements.
Susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.
Having or showing a lack of thought or intelligence; mindless.
Archaic past participle of bereave.
An extreme edge of land before a steep or vertical slope.
Make (someone or something) look or feel younger, fresher, or more lively.
In his last Mann Ki Baat for 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi donned the cap of concerned statesman. Among other things, the prime minister spoke of how even though the word "viklang (disabled)" suggests notions of incapacity, persons with disabilities, in fact, have "extra power". And so, he suggested "divyang (person with a divine limb)" should be used instead. This public focus on the treatment of persons with disabilities is welcome — and unfortunately rare. This is no politically correct quibbling over words — after all, the politics of language is powerful and resonates deeply. But well-meaning as the PM's intervention was, it may have roamed over well-trodden territory — an old and largely settled debate. The phrase "differently abled" was first proposed as an alternative to "disabled" in the 1980s but it was rejected as it was seen as euphemistic and condescending.
But the PM didn't stop there. He rightly acknowledged the infrastructure deficit, both physical and otherwise, that prevents the disabled from accessing opportunities in education, employment and leisure, or participating in public life, and which his government seeks to address through the Accessible India programme. Take physical accessibility, for instance: Even the most prestigious postcodes of the national capital come up short on mobility audits — where there are pavements, there are frequently bollards and trees blocking them, or precipitous gradients difficult to negotiate.
The 100 million-odd disabled persons in India arguably constitute one of the most disadvantaged groups — a majority are illiterate and only 25 per cent are employed. The UPA had introduced the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill in the Rajya Sabha in 2014. The government should dust it off and pass the bill, which views disability through the lens of rights and entitlements, not charity and goodwill.
Put on (an item of clothing)
A skilled, experienced, and respected political leader or figure.
A conception of or belief about something.
Argue or raise objections about a trivial matter.
Past participle of tread.
A mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.
Having or showing a feeling of patronizing superiority.
Any paved area or surface.
A short, thick post on the deck of a ship or on a wharf, to which a ship's rope may be secured.
Dangerously high or steep.
An inclined part of a road or railway; a slope.
NITI Aayog's ideas on farm sector should get a chance
A task force on agriculture, set up by the National Institution for Transforming India Aayog or NITI Aayog, has suggested a number of measures intended to raise agricultural productivity and make farming lucrative. These include, among others, the careful use of genetic modification technology in pulses and oilseeds; ensuring remunerative returns on main crops without actually procuring them at the minimum support prices (MSP); and de-canalising urea imports with subsidy going directly to farmers. Besides, it has emphasised the need to liberalise the land-leasing market to allow tiny, non-viable landholders to exit farming and to let the others expand their operational holdings to a viable size. Equally significant is the panel's counsel to use the Essential Commodities Act (ECA) judiciously, so as not to deter investment in storage and stockholding necessary to maintain off-season supplies. The other proposals have targeted at income generation with minimal incremental costs include helping farmers to frequently upgrade their seeds; facilitating well-functioning contract farming; turning food processing into a major export industry; and revitalising agricultural research with greater private investment. Another significant step proposed by the panel is to encourage the collection of vegetables and fruit from villages – the way milk is gathered by cooperatives and dairy companies – to supply these directly to retailers in cities for the benefit of both producers and consumers.
Many of these suggestions have been talked about for quite some time. Hopefully, their endorsement by a committee of the NITI Aayog means they acquire a new sense of legitimacy that the government may find difficult to disregard. More importantly, the NITI Aayog's task force has provided out-of-the-box mechanisms for their implementation. A case in point is the suggestion to replace the procurement-based system of providing MSP to farmers. Followed since the early days of the green revolution, this has remained confined to a handful of crops in a few states. The panel has suggested its replacement with a "price deficiency payment" mechanism. This involves fixing floor prices for different crops, based on their average market prices in the previous three years, and compensating growers for any shortfall in realising these rates. The compensation amount would be transferred directly into the farmers' bank accounts. This system is expected to prevent accumulation of unwanted stocks with the government even while helping to spread price incentives to more crops and more areas. The government would be free to undertake need-based procurement of staple cereals at the MSP.
On land-leasing, the task force's report falls short of suggesting non-agricultural use of the leased-out land. However, NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya has argued in favour of it in his recent blog post on the Aayog's website, saying that states wishing to bypass the hurdles created by the 2013 land acquisition law could do so by incorporating an enabling provision for land-use conversion in the land-leasing legislation. The land-owners would have the right to renegotiate the lease terms while renewing the lease agreement on the expiry of the existing ones. The NITI Aayog has thus envisaged a long-term agenda for farm sector reforms. The ball is now in the government's court.
Producing a great deal of profit.
Financially rewarding; lucrative.
Convert (a river) into a navigable canal
Capable of working successfully; feasible.
Advice, especially that given formally
Imbue (something) with new life and vitality.
The action of obtaining or procuring something
The acquisition or gradual gathering of something.
A main or important element of something, especially of a diet.
A road passing around a town or its center to provide an alternative route for through traffic.
An upright frame, typically one of a series, that athletes in a race must jump over.
Contemplate or conceive of as a possibility or a desirable future event.
All the best!