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Tobacco Still Matters
smoking Kills’. Whether this warning, otherwise statutory,
on cigarette packets, has any practical value in real life is anybody’s guess.
But ‘Warning Business’ is big business. It doesn’t matter to tobacco merchants whether more and more people risk their lives simply by ignoring the all important warning. Right now a controversy is raging over comments by a parliamentary panel head and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Dilip Gandhi, that there was no authentic Indian report to confirm tobacco leads to cancer. So the 15-member panel on subordinate legislation, headed by Mr Gandhi ‘strongly’ urged the Union Government to keep on hold its proposal to increase the size of pictorial warnings on tobacco packets from 40 percent to 85 percent. And quite expectedly the Opposition, particularly the Congress smelt rat in Mr Gandhi’s attempts to woo tobacco lobby, rather ‘bidi barons’, as Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh lost no time to demand a probe to find out whether there was any connection between BJP and Cigarette and tobacco manufacturers. Gandhi’s statement that four crore people in states like Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chattisgarh are dependent on bidi-making through tendu leaves seems too innocuous to be dismissed lightly, but his ‘ignorance’ about tobacco and health hazards is now a source of ridicule. His observation that all tobacco-related findings are West-centric, having no relevance in Indian context is really a gem in the BJP brand of political wisdom. Absurdity makes sense to Gandhis because absurdity generates money. After all ‘‘India is one of the countries which has the largest incidence of cancer’’. Even by conservative estimates ‘‘India will record about 1.5 million tobacco-related deaths annually by 2020’’. And research in this field contrary to claims by Mr Gandhi, is not insignificant.
Refusal to print statutory graphic warnings on cigarette packs to warn about dangers of smoking has created a large number of legal suits against Tobacco Majors in many third world countries. Uruguay has reportedly presented a 500-page document to defend itself against international law suit challenging the country’s tough tobacco packaging regulations. It is Philip Morris, the Tobacco Transnational Corporation, that brought the claim at the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in Washington DC. Philip Morris is taking the legal advantage of a 1991 investment treaty between Uruguay and Switzerland to coerce the government of Uruguay. Their contention is that depiction of large size warning insertion means less profit. Philip Morris is actually bullying Uruguay because they are small. This is like David and Goliath.
Tragically enough, Uruguay’s annual gross domestic product is $53 billion, less than that of Philip Morris which took in $80 billion last year.
The Uruguayan case is in reality a message designed to be global. Philip Morris is said to have its way in Thailand where courts have ordered the temporary suspension of a new tobacco packaging law. In truth, Japan Tobacco, yet another major tobacco giant, has also sued the Thai government, demanding minimum packaging law, to carry out business and ensure reasonable return.
Continuing efforts by different Third World Governments to protect their citizens against tobacco consumption and exposure to second hand smoke, despite challenges by the tobacco industry, demonstrate among other things that awareness campaign against tobacco is spreading across the world. Only people like Mr Dilip Gandhi look smoke-blind. Perhaps Mr Gandhi doesn’t know how Philip Morris, an advocate of smaller size warning labels, has lost a lawsuit in Australia over the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act. They have now appealed to the UN Commission on International Trade Law, claiming that Australia’s 2011 law is violative of a 1993 bilateral treaty between Australia and Hong Kong. What deserves attention is the multinationals quite often take shelter under the discriminatory bilateral trade agreements to sabotage national laws in the host country. No doubt talking tough to multinationals by Uruguay paid dividends to its population. ‘‘After companies were required to print photos of pre-mature babies, decaying teeth, and hospital operation on cigarette packages, smoking rates dropped from 33% to 12% among Uruguayan teenagers and from 40% to 23% among adults’’.
Not much is heard about tobacco lobby in India but tendu leaf contractors and bidi-manufactures play a big role, like sugar magnets in every election, in some western and central states. And this trade has its representatives in legislatures in tendu leaf producing states like Odisha and Madhya Pradesh. So the Gandhis have reasons to talk nonsense while minimising cancer risk in tobacco consumption and allowing the industry not to increase the size of pictorial warnings on packs from 40 percent to 85 percent. Incidentally, the Left has nothing to talk about tobacco lobby as if it is not an issue affecting ordinary people. Whether they like it or not it is really a serious issue involving people’s health and big business houses’ manoeuvring to influence political process of a country.
At the time of writing yet another BJP MP and a panel member as well Shyama Charan Gupta came down heavily on tobacco critics while supporting Mr Gandhi and discovered a conspiracy to sabotage Mr Modi’s ‘Make in India’ campaign. These people are against World Health Organisation because WHO’s prescription on display of pictorial warning doesn’t suit their business interests. About 9 lakh Indians die every year from diseases caused by tobacco use but to these people, figures, if they are related to human beings, are for fun! 03-04-2015 Comment
Media And World Cup
The people of India have no problems. Grinding poverty, unemployment, malnutrition and semi-starvation for a large section, state terror on dalits and tribals—these issues are not to be concerned with. What is needed is only victory in the cricket field. Cricket is synonymous with war, and a victory in an international cricket match is an occasion for national celebration. This is the grotesque idea of nationalism that the news media sell.
For the last few days, what was witnessed was a spectacle as if of national mourning owing to India's loss to Australia in the 'historic' semi-final of the cricket world cup. In an important mofussil town of West Bengal, cricket lovers took out an effigy of M S Dhoni, India's captain and shouted slogans against Dhoni and a key batsman who, they hoped, would steer India to a victory against Australia in the semi-final of the World Cup. These disappointed cricket-crazy chaps cannot really be blamed, because influenced by media propaganda, they have come to see cricket as war.
Just on the eve of the semi-final match, the largest circulating daily in India-it is incidentally a Bengali daily—published a front-page headline calling the semi-final match a world war in the caption. Now that India has lost, the newspaper has begun to ferret out the reasons for the ravages brought about by the war. If poverty and inequality are accentuated, if large sections of the population continue to live at below-subsistence levels, if farmers commit suicides, people should not be worried. India's pitiable rank in terms of Human Development Index is not a matter of shame, but a defeat in the World Cup is. One should feel concerned only when India loses an important World Cup cricket match.
Now the question is how many of Indians are seriously interested in the game of cricket, although many watch cricket matches on the television or in the field. Cricket is a costly game, and people constantly in struggle with poverty and want cannot afford the expenses. Again, why so much emphasis on cricket? Is it not a fact that football and even hockey are far more popular games, considering the world as a whole? India has long ceased to be reckoned as football power even in the Asian map and there is no knowing when she will able to match the achievements of Neville D'souza or Chuni Goswami or Tulsidas Balaram. In hockey, the mighty world-beaters of yester years are now lowly placed in the Olympics or World Cups. But who cares? Members of the Indian cricket squad may justifiably take pride in the fact that their defeat is considered shameful by the nation, in spite of the fact their economic and social status is astronomically higher than that of the average Indian. Had India won the match, there would certainly have been an occasion of nationwide jinks and junketing, and M S Dhoni and his playmates would certainly have been projected as national heroes of this poor country, although each of them is a billionaire in terms of the Indian currency.
Coming to cricket again it is a legitimate question whether test matches or one-day matches are more important for this game. Did Sachin Tendulkar or Shane Warne attain such heights as they did by playing one-day cricket? Yet it is the instant excitement provided by one-day international or 20-20 games that matters, not the subtleties of the game. This illustrates the shallowness of the understanding of the cricket-crazy public. Ordinary Australians have demonstrated that their attitude to cricket is somewhat sober, at least in comparison with Indians. They rejoice in their team's victories, but do not take such rejoicing to fanatical heights. On the other hand, they do not feel crestfallen in the event of defeat. More than seventy percent of the crowd that came to the Sydney cricket ground to watch the match consisted of Indians, although it was an Australian ground. Australians who came to watch their side's win were fewer in number. Indian media and sponsors may however take pride in that they have been able to spread a pernicious type of cricket culture to all the corners of this country.
Farewell to ‘Welfarism’
Bharat Dogra writes :
Although the Union
Budgetis discussed exten-
sively in the media every year, its implications for the poor and weaker sections do not get attention.
In this year's Union budget heavy cuts have been imposed in several social priority programmes. The ICDS budget has been cut from Rs 16000 crore to Rs, 8000 crore, the mid-day meal budget from Rs 13000 cr to Rs 9000 cr while the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan budget has been reduced from 28000 crore to Rs 22000 crore. And sharp reduction in drinking water, health and family welfare defies logic.
The budget for the scheduled caste sub-plan was reduced from Rs 50548 cr (Budget estimate 2014-15) to Rs 33638 (Revised estimate 2014-15) to Rs 30850 cr (Budget estimate for 2015-16). The budget for tribal sub-plan has been reduced from Rs 32386 cr (Budget Estimate 2014-15) to Rs 20535 cr (Revised Estimate) to Rs 19979 cr (Budget Estimate 2015-16).
The outlay for Women and Child Development Ministry has been reduced from Rs 21193 crore in the previous year to Rs 10351 crore this year. The overall allocation under gender budgeting has also gone down significantly.
Such heavy cuts were probably imposed on the understanding that the state governments which are now entitled to a significantly higher share of Central taxes on the basis of the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission will be able to make up for these cuts.
However there is no assurance that all state governments will have enough extra resources to do this and also that they'll have the social commitment to do so.
There is certainly some strength in the assertion that in a highly diverse country like India, states should have a greater say in designing various schemes and programmes according to their specific needs. If they have a greater share of funds to spend according to their specific needs, then this can result in improvements in various schemes.
Nevertheless, three specific problems can emerge in this phase of important changes. Firstly, it has been seen that even before the issue of changing centre-state allocations came up, a tendency to make significant cuts in important social sector programmes had been visible. Significant cuts have been made in this financial year and in recent years in several important areas of social sectors including health and rural employment.
Secondly, even assuming that cuts in Union budget in social sectors will be adequately made up by the enhanced state budgets, there may be a time-lag in this. During the transition period there is a possibility that very important welfare programmes will be deprived of funds causing grave hardships to the most needy people.
On the whole it is clear that despite the new situation created by the Finance Commission's recommendations, the Union Budget should not have made such big cuts in social priority programmes. Many exemptions given to the corporate and trading sectors could've been removed to get more resources for the poor. For example the exemptions given on custom duties for trading gold and diamond could have been removed to generate enough resources to avoid many cuts. By making significant efforts to raise the tax-GDP ratio and the other ways, the government could've raised extra resources to avoid any sudden and drastic cut in social priority programmes.
Unfortunately these and related aspects of the Union budget did not get adequate coverage in the extensive media discussion on budget, particularly on TV. There is clearly a need for giving much more emphasis on issues relating to the poor and vulnerable sections of society in the discussion on Union Budget as well as state budgets in media.
Recent study reports indicate that the Mahatma Gan-
dhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has propelled rural wages outstripping urban wages, but productivity has not increased. The MGNREGA has created a shortage of farm labour in India. Schemes such as the MGNREGA have affected farm labour adversely, and can have a negative impact on productivity and prices. The profitability of the farmer is adversely affected, by the reduction in supply of farm labour, leading to an escalation in farm wages. Rural wages have grown by 17% average, since 2006-07, and outstripped urban wages, while productivity has not increased. Between 2004-05 and 2011-12, farm labour declined by around 30.57 million, while the total size of the work force kept rising. During the same period, the share of agriculture declined from 56.7% to 48.8%. Mechanisation and at the state level land policies and customised hiring involve lengthy time spans. Again, unlike USA, China and the European Union, there is no need for India to grow more grain, for feeding the meat industry. Sustained afforestation efforts, better transport and communication facilities would help farmers better.
Rain showers in February and March across the country have damaged significant amounts of the Rabi crop, and are also likely to impact farm labour and wages, and retail food prices for consumers. Unseasonal rain and crop damage, reduce labour demand and wages, though temporarily. 15% to 50% of the crops have been damaged. Across Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, wheat, mustard, potato and a range of vegetables and fruit are believed to have been damaged.
Potatoes and grapes
Potato production in West Bengal is expected to touch 110 lac tons (lt), a 15% to 20% increase over last year’s production of 90-95 lt. A bumper crop, with a weak demand from other states, has led to a free fall in potato prices in West Bengal, which is the second largest potato producer after Uttar Pradesh. About 40% of the total production is exported to other states. The ‘Jyoti’ variety is now fetching Rs 210-260 for a 50 kg pack, which is Rs 4.20-5.20 a kg, at the farm end. The price is 30%-40% lower, compared with the same period a year ago. A bumper crop along with lower winter sales to Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Assam, have caused potato stocks piling and potato prices crashing. The rise in potato prices in the local market during 2014, led the West Bengal government to impose a ban on inter-state potato trade. Neighbouring Odisha and Assam encouraged potato cultivation in a big manner, to reduce dependence on West Bengal. The West Bengal state government has offered subsidy to help promote inter-state sale of potatoes, upto 2 lac tons. A Rs 10 crore fund subsidises transport cost to other markets.
The Sahyadri Farmer Producer Cooperative is Nashik (Maharashtra) has around 6000 hectares of farm land, where around 1500 farmers cultivate grapes, at this time of the year. Unseasonal rains in February have destroyed several acres of grape vines in the region. ‘A’ grade grape crops are normally exported to Europe, Gulf and other Asian countries. Around 10%-15% of Maharashtra’s grape crop is exported. Till date only 250-300 containers have been exported, when normally it is around 900-1000 containers. Rains have damaged grape crops in Satana, Nampur, Bhuyane, Nashik, Dindori, Sinnar, Malegaon and Pholpatta in Maharashtra. From Rs 80 a kg for fresh grapes meant for exports, farmers are sifting the damaged crops and selling at Rs 10-15 a kg to the fruit processing and dried raisins industries. In the 2013-14 season, from April 2013 to October 2013, Maharashtra exported 1,56,872.29 tons of grapes, valued at Rs 1570.08 crore ($263.35 million). Comparatively in the 2014-15 grape season till date, the state exported just 37,181.43 tons of fresh grapes, valued at Rs 393.17 crore ($65.21 million) only.
Ukraine Peace Deal
Under the peace deal hammered out between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany on 11 February 2015 in Minsk, guns would have fallen silent, heavy weapons pulling back from the front, and Ukraine trading a broad autonomy for the east to get back control of Russian border by the end of 2015. Russia and Ukraine differed over what exactly they had agreed to in the marathon 16-hour talks, including the status of Debaltseve, a key town now under rebel siege. The Ukrainian parliament is to give wide powers to the eastern regions, as a condition for restoring Ukraine’s full control over its border with Russia. More than 5300 people have died since April 2014 in eastern Ukraine amid fighting between the Russian backed separatists and government troops. Battles still raged as the four leaders held peace talks. A 50 to 140 kilometre wide buffer zone is to be set up, as both parties were expected to pull back heavy artillery and rocket systems from the front line, depending on their calibre. The rebel regions are to hold a new local vote under the Ukrainian law. Ukraine’s constitutional reforms would grant wide powers to the eastern regions, including the right to form their own police, and to trade freely with Russia.
Shortly after the start of the ceasefire, in east Ukraine two civilians were killed by rebel rocket fire. The firing allegedly came from an area under the command of renegade group of Cossack fighters, who insist they will not obey rebel leaders’ command to stop firing. Rebels ignored the truce to storm a strategic town they had surrounded, Debaltseve, forcing thousands of government troops to flee. President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine has won approval from Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council to invite UN-mandated peace keepers into the country, to monitor the front-line. The plea for international peace keepers to enforce a shattered ceasefire in the east, has run into strident opposition from pro-Russian rebels and Moscow. Russia has been covertly deploying soldiers and military backing to the pro-Moscow separatists. To counter the threat from Moscow, Lithuania, one of the Baltic states on the front-line of the new cold war with Russia has announced the return of conscription. Compulsory military service will apply to between 3000 and 35000 men each year, between the ages of 19 and 26. Lithuania, like Ukraine, borders Russia, and contains significant Russian minority populations. USA is supplying defensive systems to Ukraine, to counter advanced Russian weaponry, flowing to the separatist rebel forces. Britain has despatched a 75-strong training team to Ukraine. The United Arab Emirates is transferring weapons, worth an initial $110 million to Ukraine.
Indian economy remains
placiddespite a hugely positive
sentiment. Policy paralysis is gone. Officials are taking decisions. Corruption is somewhat under control. Businesses do not have to grease the palms of Union Ministers to have their investment plans approved. Yet there is no Investment. Reason is that there is no demand in the market The farmers of Palanpur and Hooghly are not finding buyers for potato at even Rs 5 per kilo. In such a situation provision of a cemented village road, internet connectivity and prompt approval of loan for tractor are of no avail.
Modi is not recognizing that the Chinese economy is slowing precisely because of such a reduction in demand from the developed countries. Cleaning up of corruption has made things worse. It has contributed to the slowdown. President Xi Jinping has hit at corruption at top levels. General Xu Caihou was member of the Politburo of the Communist Party. He is accused of accepting bribes. Chongqing governor Bo Xilai was thrown out. Roughly 182,000 government servants have been disciplined for corruption. The major focus, however, has been on 45 top-ranking officials, or "tigers," as they are called, as opposed to the smaller "flies." According to a report in The Economist, demand for brothels, mistresses and casinos has fallen on hard times. Even the demand for condoms has fallen. Five star hotels and other luxury goods suppliers are facing tough times. Government officials are no longer able to spend their ill-begotten monies. Still, corruption is a tiny contributor to the general slowdown. Qinwei Wang of Capital Economics estimates it may have contributed to a reduction of mere 0.1 to 0.2 percent in growth rate.
Why should control of corruption hurt at all? Control of corruption helps when the economy is buoyant but hurts when it is in a recession. Let us say there is demand for potatoes in the market. Farmers are inclined to install a bore well and buy a new tractor. Corruption at the bank hurts in this situation. The farmer is dissuaded from making the investment because the bank manager wants a cut. The impact of corruption is entirely different when the economy is in a recession. There is no demand in the market. Grease money helps in such a situation. Officials create demand for luxury hotels and casinos. Corruption helps create demand in this situation. Reduction in growth rate of China due to control of corruption is due to this underlying lack of demand.
Chinese strategy was to export cheap manufactured goods to the Western countries; and the Government made huge investments in infrastructure for making these possible. The cheap exports, however, led to closure of manufacturing in the developed countries. That led to a general economic slowdown, a decline in wages, and an increase in employment in the developed countries. Slowdown in the developed countries has led to demand for goods from China not expanding. This has led to stagnation in manufacturing in China. In the meanwhile local Governments had borrowed heavily to build highways and townships for factories that were expected to be set up. They had taken huge loans to build this infrastructure. The factories never materialized. So they have empty industrial parks on their hands. Now these Governments are saddled with huge debt. These are the real causes of slowdown of the Chinese economy. Control of corruption had made things worse.
The business interests of Chinese leaders appear to have contributed to the making of this disastrous policy. Zhou Yongkang, China's security chief and member of the Politburo Standing Committee had strong ties to the oil and energy industries. In October 2012, The New York Times reported that former Premier Wen Jiabao's relatives controlled financial assets worth at least US$2.7 billion with interests in mobile services, jewelry and insurance. These financial dealings appear to have prompted the Chinese leadership to embrace the disastrous path of exports of manufactured goods.
Modi story is similar. Stagnation continues after the BJP Government has come to power. There is no demand. Positive sentiment has not helped. Businessmen will invest when they see market for the goods they will produce. A property dealer from Delhi told this writer that property prices fall whenever BJP comes to power. Corruption money flows smoothly no longer. Yet, the small increase in growth rate seen in the recent months may be due to improved governance generally. That is good news! But precisely here lies the danger. This small increase may prompt one to ignore the basic problems with the developmental model. The "Make in India" campaign seeks to duplicate the same investment-led model that which has landed China into trouble.
It is well known that some important members of Modi's cabinet have extensive financial dealings—in power sector, in particular. "Make in India" is being pushed, it seems, because there are huge rents to be extracted in manufacturing industries. Coal and natural gas blocks can be allocated, land can be acquired, and river water can be abstracted at throwaway prices by these business interests under the cover of 'Make in lndia'. Such rent extraction is not possible in services sector hence Modi Government is ambivalent on the same. The Chinese leaders having business interests have pushed that country into the ditch of manufacturing exports. Modi is taking India along that same disastrous path.
There are inherent limits to consumption of manufactured goods by the developed countries. How many bed sheets will the American consumer buy? Therefore, need of the hour is for Modi to place more money in the hands of the poor people who are clamouring for increased consumption. Modi must abolish the various subsides and pay the amount directly into the bank accounts of all citizens of the country. That will create demand at the grassroots. Positive sentiments will then translate into investment.
It may not be out of place to recall the sensational play 'Ghasiram Kotwal'. A cruel Kotwal accused an innocent trader of theft and ordered that his hand be cut off in punishment. The honest sepoys dutifully carried out the sentence. The poor trader may have possibly saved his arms if the sepoys had been corrupt. Honest Cabinet and Secretaries are, therefore, wonderful if the policies are good. Good Governance can be devastating if the policies are bad. 'Make in India' will be implemented with a gusto and take India down speedily.