News & Events
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1.Averting superspreaders: Uttarakhand has rightly cancelled kanwar yatra, all states should discourage large gatherings
Uttarakhand government has cancelled kanwar yatra for this year, just as it had done last year. Uttar Pradesh government should do the same for related congregations. PM Narendra Modi has called out maskless tourists and those flocking to crowded markets, warning that we could be inviting a third Covid wave with such laxity. Covid doesn’t distinguish between shopping, tourism and pilgrimage – it just loves crowds.
The Kumbh mela earlier this year turned out to be a superspreader event. That alone should have given those pushing for the kanwar yatra a pause. Plus, we officially know now what officials perhaps chose not to realise earlier this year – the danger from Covid variants. As for safety protocols that are supposed to be followed for the yatra and the UP CM’s assertion that numbers will be restricted, religious events and festivals in India are almost always larger, more chaotic and less well-managed than what governments want.
Governments around the world are taking smarter calls on big religious gatherings. Saudi Arabia, which has vaccinated just 7.1% of its population fully, has said that it will limit Hajj this year to 60,000 fully vaccinated residents, disallowing believers from abroad for a second straight year. This is the model all states in India should also follow – either cancel large congregations or proceed only with fully vaccinated participants.
Governments in India must take a consistent line on mass gatherings, irrespective of the reason behind such crowds. There are major festivals later in the year. How we celebrate them must be determined solely by how many we have vaccinated and how quickly the virus is spreading. Every exception opens the door to another. UP has often claimed it managed the second wave better than many other states. Disallowing large gatherings is the best way to keep that performance going.
2.IPOs: Three truths: Startups’ listings show digital future. LIC’s is about govt approach. Households must be nudged towards equities
Financial year 2017-18 was a milestone for IPOs. A record Rs 78,493 crore was raised through 188 IPOs, led by a resource-strapped GoI’s disinvestment drive. The current year promises to be an even better one with the proposed IPO of state-owned insurer LIC expected to raise around Rs 1 lakh crore. A gigantic public issue will naturally grab the headlines, but there’s another reason why we may be on the cusp of a big change. A clutch of internet IPOs are expected to hit the market this year.
IPOs are a proxy indicator of where the equity investor thinks the economic future lies. The bet is on an accelerated transformation to a digital economy, undergirded by a unique set of features such as network externalities and economies of scope. Last year, India added 12 unicorns, privately held startups with a value of over $1 billion. One estimate is that over $60 billion of private investment, largely from overseas investors, was channelled into India’s internet economy over the last five years. Now, with some of those startups having reached a certain size, many investors want to exit. An IPO boom of these startups can provide a fillip to the entire ecosystem as locked-up capital can be freed to look for future unicorns.
The excitement that pervades the Indian startup ecosystem is in contrast to India’s disinvestment programme. LIC’s IPO has been in the works for a while. It’s only this month that the necessary legislative changes for it have been notified. The size of the disinvestments can no longer mask their downside. India’s state-owned enterprises have been a channel for GoI’s spending off the balance sheet. To get a better return and provide these firms with a fair chance to compete in a fast-changing world, GoI needs to move faster and relinquish control entirely.
The common thread binding the two sides of India’s IPO market is the Indian household, the primary source of domestic saving. Retail savers are conservative. Bank deposits and insurance account for 52% and 24% of the total savings respectively. Mutual funds are the primary route to equities, where about 7% of the savings ends up. Going forward, GoI and financial sector regulators need to find ways to nudge more of the savings into equities. India’s startup ecosystem rests largely on the domestic economy. Domestic investors should benefit from it even as some unicorns build on their experience to expand overseas.
3.An unproductive idea: On U.P.’s new population policy
Socio-economic empowerment is more effective than coercion in cutting fertility rates
Incentives and penalties form an integral component of the measures to control population growth, announced by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Sunday. These steps are aimed at reducing U.P.’s total fertility rate (TFR), recorded as 2.7 by the National Family Health Survey-4 in 2016, a figure only lower than that of neighbouring Bihar (3.1 as of 2020 in NFHS-5). Aims in this direction — increasing the rate of modern contraceptive prevalence, male contraception, decreasing maternal mortality and infant mortality rates significantly by 2026 — are, on the face of it, in line with what was stressed at the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development in 1994. The Cairo Consensus called for a promotion of reproductive rights, empowering women, universal education, maternal and infant health to untangle the knotty issue of poverty and high fertility. But rather than taking steps in this direction, the Government seems to have taken the beaten path of a mixture of incentives and penalties to tackle what is a socio-economic issue as a demographic one. In a draft Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, 2021, the Government aims to incentivise one-child families and reward those with two children with perks in government schemes, rebates in taxes and loans, and cash awards if family planning is done among other sops. Disincentives for those with more than two children include denial of subsidies and welfare benefits, a bar on applying for government jobs and taking part in local elections. Assam, also led by the BJP, is mulling a similar policy.
The incentives/disincentives approach has been denounced in the past by the National Human Rights Commission after such measures were introduced by several States in the 1990s and 2000s, i.e., Haryana, undivided Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Odisha. The Supreme Court, in 2003, upheld a Haryana government law barring persons with more than two children from contesting local body polls, but the legal grounding of the moves impinging upon the informed choice of the individual remained questionable. Empirical studies of coercive measures have shown their discrimination against marginalised people in particular and with no discernible effect on population control, while more substantive poverty reduction schemes and economic reforms have raised labour productivity and employment opportunities, allowed families to empower women, and reduced fertility rates as rational choices. India’s TFRs have been reducing substantially across most States, even in U.P. and Bihar with the highest TFRs. To hasten the drop to replacement levels of fertility, States should tackle the socio-economic issues confronting India’s largely youthful demography rather than seeking neo-Malthusian approaches on population control.
4. Redemption road: On Euro 2020
Despite the violence of English fans, Euro 2020 will be remembered for good football
Sport is replete with redemption stories. Teams wrestling with their pasts before swimming towards the light make for compelling plotlines. But for giant footballing countries, success following failure is more of a sequence and less of a narrative. This millennium, Germany and France have plumbed the depths before rising to become world champions. But Italy’s redemption story at Wembley on Sunday, a penalty shoot-out victory over England to secure only its second-ever European Championship, should not be seen through such a reductionist lens. The triumph represents the transformation of a proud, but dogmatic, footballing nation into a modern, forward-looking side, with the singular aim of coming out of one of its darkest chapters — of not qualifying for a World Cup (2018) for the first time since 1958. In the process, Roberto Mancini’s outfit also cleared the fog that had settled over international football. Built around the midfield abilities of Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne, and the pace and drive of Federico Chiesa and Leonardo Spinazzola, Italy played with verve. Veteran defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci ensured it also displayed old-school nous. Together with the goal-keeping brilliance of Gianluigi Donnarumma — player of the tournament — the Azzurri beat No.1 ranked Belgium, No.6 Spain and No.4 England back-to-back to claim their first major trophy since the 2006 World Cup.
Italy, no doubt, had a generation of players schooled in progressive methods since their youth, but Mancini’s tactical acumen stood out. The 56-year-old’s handling of the loss of key personnel was smart, as was his role in shaping Italy’s response after England went a goal ahead and threatened to end its own trophy drought of 55 years. In contrast, Germany suffered under outgoing coach Joachim Low’s defunct ideas, while a complacent France blew a 3-1 lead against Switzerland and crashed out. Luis Enrique’s Spain, though, impressed, despite falling to Italy over penalties in the last four. Barcelona’s Pedri proved a gem and the 18-year-old midfielder was duly named the young player of the tournament. Cristiano Ronaldo won the Golden Boot (5 goals, 1 assist) but was far from the driving force he usually is for Portugal, the 2016 winner. Denmark, by reaching the semifinal despite the traumatic exit of Christian Eriksen, showcased its collective spirit. The only discordant notes in an otherwise excellent competition were English fans’ violent behaviour on the final day and the racist attacks on players who erred in the penalty shoot-out. But in the long run, Euro 2020 will be remembered for restoring Italian football, reinvigorating international football and proving mildly therapeutic to fans worldwide amidst an unending, exhausting pandemic.