Centre does a (partial) U-turn on GST
To understand this story, we unfortunately have to start at the very beginning. Our GST-savvy readers can feel free to skip to the end:)
- It all started when the government decided to implement the Goods and Services Tax—that annoying 5-18% you pay every time you buy anything—back in 2017.
- These taxes—levied on stuff like groceries, hotel stays etc.—used to be collected by states. But now all of it goes directly to the Union government—except for petrol, alcohol, and stamp duty.
- At the time, then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley promised that every state government will be compensated for the loss of revenue.
- But this year, the Union government refused to pay the money owed to the states: A whopping sum of Rs 3 trillion.
- Point to note: this owed amount accounts for 42% of states’ own tax revenues. And that money in turn represents 60% of the states’ total revenues.
- Instead, it told the state governments to borrow the money owed to them, giving them two options. One: Either borrow Rs 970 billion from the RBI. Two: borrow the entire amount from the market at a higher interest rate.
- The states were very unhappy—especially those ruled by the Opposition. Of the lot, 21 states and two Union Territories ( Delhi and Jammu) decided to go for Option #1.
- But the others continued to resist—insisting that the Centre borrow money to pay the money owed to states. On Thursday, the Kerala government threatened to approach the Supreme Court—saying the Centre’s proposal is unconstitutional (explained by LiveLaw).
- The Centre has now given in and agreed to borrow Rs 1.1 trillion and loan that amount to the states.
- How this works: “So instead of states taking small loans, one big loan will be taken by the Centre and distributed to states on the exact same terms. Whatever interest rate the Centre borrows on, the same rate will be passed on to the states."
- The upside for the Union government: the amount will not show up as a debt in its books—but those of the state government.
- How does this affect you: The state governments are dangerously cash-strapped in the midst of a pandemic that has already strained local resources. This is a much-needed and overdue breakthrough.
- The Telegraph has a slanted take on the decision. Indian Express offers a more neutral report. Also in Express, a report on how the RBI influenced the government’s decision.
Thais rebel against their king
Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters filled the streets in defiance of a ban on demonstrations. This is the most significant uprising against the establishment—especially the king. And that matters in a country where criticising royalty attracts long prison sentences. Here’s some quick background:
- The protests started last year after a national election. It was the first since Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha—a former army chief—came to power thanks to a coup in 2014.
- The pro-democracy Future Forward Party (FFP), with its popular leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, garnered the third-largest share of seats.
- But a court soon banned the party on corruption charges—that sparked immediate protests among young Thais who are FFP loyalists.
- The rallies receded due to the pandemic, and have now returned in greater force.
- Now, the protesters are calling for the resignation of the PM plus 10 significant reforms that include: “the King being answerable to the constitution, revoking the laws against defaming the monarchy, a new constitution, abolishing royal offices, ousting the military-led government and disbanding the King's royal guards.”
- BBC News and CNN have good primers on the protests. Reuters has photos.
- Economist has an excellent profile on the playboy King Maha Vajiralongkorn (sign up required).
Television news ratings suspended
The Broadcast Audience Research Council—which is the official source of weekly TV ratings—has suspended the same for all news channels for three months. This is in response to the fracas over Republic’s allegedly fake TRPs (explained here). BARC will “review and augment” the current standards of measuring and reporting data and improve “statistical robustness and to significantly hamper the potential attempts of infiltrating the panel homes.” Translation: We just realised that we need a system that can’t be rigged by bribing a few households. Doh! (The Hindu)
In related news: The Supreme Court turned down Republic TV’s petition challenging the Mumbai police investigation—and told it to approach the far closer High Court instead: “Your office is at Worli. Worli to Flora Fountain is closer.”
The great pandemic: A quick update
- All data points to a coming third peak in the US. Europe is now adding an average of 100,000 cases each day. Paris is under night curfew, and the Czech Republic has shut its schools. Netherlands is in a partial shutdown. NPR has more details.
- Chinese researchers have found new evidence that a person who has the seasonal flu is far more vulnerable to a Covid infection—and may experience greater lung damage as a result.
- So-called ‘long haul’ Covid—where recovered patients suffer symptoms for months—may have four different causes, and therefore need to be treated differently. BBC News explains.
- Oxford University scientists have developed a rapid test that delivers results in less than five minutes. But it won’t be available until middle of next year.
In lighter pandemic news: Two mask-related images are making news.
One: Berlin launched an ad campaign featuring an elderly woman telling everyone to mask up. It looked, er, like this. But it was dropped when people complained it was mean to children and people with health conditions that prevent them from wearing masks.
World is oyster for India Inc
Until now, Indian companies seeking to be listed on a foreign stock exchange first had to go public in India. Now, the government has dropped that requirement for seven key markets—including the US, UK and Japan. Notedly not on the list: Hong Kong. Times of India has more details.
In less happy news: The Sensex dropped 1,066 points due to global anxiety over rising Covid cases in Europe and the US. Also ruining its mood: credit agency Moody’s declared that India’s economy “remains very weak”—and dismissed the government’s recent fiscal package as “small scale.”
Celeb drug bust’s new target: Vivek Oberoi
The actor’s brother-in-law, Aditya Alva has been AWOL ever since he was named in the Sandalwood drug bust in Karnataka (explained here). So the cops raided Oberoi’s home instead: “Vivek Oberoi is his relative and we got some information that Alva is there. So we wanted to check.” NDTV has more.
Rightwing outrage at Twitter/Facebook
For a change, the two big social media platforms are not in trouble with liberals, but the other side. The trigger: A New York Post article that cited materials taken from the laptop of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter—apparently, taken when he gave it for repairs back in 2019. Twitter didn’t allow users to share links to the story, saying it violated its “Hacked Materials Policy.” Facebook limited sharing options by questioning its content—saying it is “part of our standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation.” The Guardian has more details on the controversy. The Verge explains why Post’s reporting is problematic. Since you may not want to support disinformation by searching for the Post story, you can read the Associated Press recap instead.
An appalling gender gap in ‘Time Use’ survey
In 2019, the government conducted the first Time Use Survey in 20 years. The results are depressing:
- Women spend 84% of their working hours on unpaid work. Men spend 80% of their working hours on paid work.
- The worst of the lot: Haryana where men aged 15-59 in Haryana do just 15 minutes of housework a day. The number of daily minutes Haryanvi women spend on unpaid work: 269 minutes.
- The best-performing states: Telangana and Tamil Nadu, where women spend over 30% of their working hours on paid work.
- Just 6% of men participate in cooking in any manner, and just 8% do any house cleaning.
- Point to note: Upper caste women spend the least time on paid work.
- Not surprisingly, upper caste men and women spend far more time on leisure and ‘self care’.
- This is because lower caste Indians rely on casual labour to survive: “What this means is that however much time you have, you must work! Of course there is no time for leisure. The upper caste men who employ scheduled caste people as wage labour in their farms and enterprises will naturally have time freed up for leisure."
- Mint has lots more charts and data on this eye-opening survey.
LA has a jetpack problem
An unidentified person was spotted flying in a jetpack near LA airport—the second such sighting in two months. This genius was flying at the height of 6,000 feet! The FBI is now on the case. (BBC)
The perfect goddess for Durga Pujo
The Barisha Club in Kolkata is replacing Durga with a migrant mother this festive season. She will be in a pale sari, holding a toddler—accompanied by her two young daughters and the perfect fourth sibling: a pot-bellied Ganesha. The Telegraph has more photos and the story.