தலையங்கம் - 02-07-2021

நடப்பாண்டு இறுதிக்குள் 18 வயதுக்கு மேற்பட்டவர்களுக்கும் அடுத்த ஆண்டுக்குள் அனைவருக்கும் கரோனா தடுப்பூசி போடப்பட வேண்டும் என்ற இலக்கை நோக்கி இந்தியா முன்னேறிக்கொண்டிருக்கிறது. அனைவருக்கும் தடுப்பூசி போடுவது மட்டுமே உயிரிழப்புகளைத் தவிர்க்கும், அடுத்தடுத்த பரவல் அலைகளைக் கட்டுப்படுத்தும், பொருளாதாரத்தை மீட்டெடுக்க உதவும். எனவே, வாய்ப்புள்ளவர்கள் அனைவருமே தடுப்பூசியின் இரண்டு தவணைகளையும் போட்டுக்கொள்ள வேண்டும். ஆனால், தடுப்பூசி போட்டுக்கொள்வதில் உள்ள மனத்தயக்கங்கள் இன்னும்கூட முழுதாக அகன்றுவிடவில்லை. முதல் தவணை போட்டுக்கொண்டவர்கள், அடுத்த தவணையைத் தவிர்ப்பதும்கூட அதிக அளவில் இருக்கிறது. கடந்த வார நிலவரப்படி, தமிழ்நாட்டில் மட்டும் எட்டு லட்சத்துக்கும் மேற்பட்டவர்கள் குறிப்பிட்ட காலக்கெடு முடிந்தும் தடுப்பூசியின் இரண்டாவது தவணையைப் போட்டுக்கொள்ளவில்லை. இது தடுப்பூசியின் நோக்கத்தையே பலவீனப்படுத்திவிடக்கூடியது.

தடுப்பூசி போட்டுக்கொண்டவர்களில் பலருக்குக் காய்ச்சல், உடல்வலி, தலைவலி போன்றவை ஏற்படுவதால் இரண்டாவது தவணையை போட்டுக்கொள்ளத் தயங்குகின்றனர். தமிழ்நாட்டில் மட்டுமல்ல, உலகம் முழுவதுமே இந்தத் தயக்கங்கள் உண்டு. இந்தப் பிரச்சினைகள் அனைத்தும் உடலில் நோய் எதிர்ப்பாற்றல் உருவாவதன் அறிகுறிகள் மட்டுமே. அதைவிடவும் முக்கியமாக முதல் தவணை தடுப்பூசியே முழுமையான பாதுகாப்பை அளித்துவிடும் என்ற தவறான நம்பிக்கையும் நிலவுகிறது. கரோனா நுண்கிருமிகள் தொடர்ந்து உருமாறும் தன்மையைக் கொண்டிருப்பதால் தடுப்பூசியின் இரண்டு தவணைகளையும் போட்டுக்கொள்வது மட்டுமே அதன் பாதிப்புகளிலிருந்து முழுமையான பாதுகாப்பை அளிக்கும் என்று தொற்றுநோய் நிபுணர்கள் எச்சரிக்கிறார்கள். அமெரிக்காவின் மருத்துவ ஆராய்ச்சிக்கான உயர் அமைப்புகளில் ஒன்றான நோய்க் கட்டுப்பாடு மற்றும் முன்தடுப்பு மையங்கள் (சிடிசி) மருத்துவப் பணியாளர்களிடம் நடத்திய ஆய்வுகளில் முதல் தவணை தடுப்பூசி மட்டும் போட்டுக்கொண்டவர்களை விடவும் இரண்டு தவணைகளும் போட்டுக்கொண்டவர்கள் அதிக நோய் எதிர்ப்பு ஆற்றலைக் கொண்டிருப்பது தெரியவந்துள்ளது. இரண்டாவது தவணை தவிர்க்கப்படக் கூடாதது என்பதை வலியுறுத்தி, உலகளவில் தீவிரமான பிரச்சாரங்கள் முன்னெடுக்கப்பட்டுவருகின்றன.

தமிழ்நாட்டைப் பொறுத்தவரையில் நாளொன்றுக்கு 7 முதல் 8 லட்சம் பேருக்குத் தடுப்பூசிகள் போடுவதற்கான கட்டமைப்பு இருந்தபோதிலும் ஒன்றிய அரசிடமிருந்து கிடைக்கும் தடுப்பூசிகளின் எண்ணிக்கை அதைவிடவும் குறைவாகவே இருக்கிறது. தனியார் மருத்துவமனைகளுக்கு 25% தடுப்பூசிகள் அளிக்கப்பட்டாலும் அதன் பயன்பாடு 4.5% ஆக மட்டுமே இருப்பதைச் சுட்டிக்காட்டியுள்ள தமிழ்நாடு அரசு, தனியார் மருத்துவமனைகளுக்கான ஒதுக்கீட்டை 10% ஆகக் குறைத்து அரசு மருத்துவமனைகளுக்கான ஒதுக்கீட்டை மேலும் 15% ஆக உயர்த்த வேண்டும் என்று கோரிக்கை விடுத்துள்ளது. இந்தக் கோரிக்கை நிறைவேற்றப்பட்டால், தடுப்பூசித் தட்டுப்பாட்டின் காரணமாக இரண்டாவது தவணையைப் போட்டுக்கொள்ள முடியாதவர்களுக்கு அதனைப் போட்டுக்கொள்ள வாய்ப்பு உருவாகும். இரண்டாவது தவணைக்கான காலக்கெடு முடிந்தவர்களுக்குத் தடுப்பூசி போடுவதில் முன்னுரிமை கொடுப்பது பற்றியும் சுகாதாரத் துறை பரிசீலிக்க வேண்டும்.

--Source: hindutamil.in

ஜம்மு - காஷ்மீரில் மீண்டும் ஜனநாயக நடவடிக்கைகளை மீட்டெடுக்க மத்திய அரசு பேச்சுவார்த்தை நடத்தியபோதே, அதன் வெற்றியைக் குலைக்கும் விதத்தில் பயங்கரவாதிகள் தாக்குதல் நடத்துவார்கள் என்பது எதிர்பார்க்கப்பட்டதுதான். மக்கள் மத்தியில் பீதியை ஏற்படுத்தவும், ஜம்மு - காஷ்மீரில் அமைதியின்மை தொடரவும் பயங்கரவாத அமைப்புகள் விழைகின்றன என்பதன் வெளிப்பாடுதான் ஜம்மு விமானப்படைத் தளத்தின் மீது நடத்தப்பட்டிருக்கும் ஆளில்லா விமானத் தாக்குதல்.

வெடிக்கும் எரிமலையாக ஜம்மு - காஷ்மீர் பகுதி எப்போதும் தொடர வேண்டும் என்பதுதான் பிரிவினைவாத சக்திகளின் ஒரே முனைப்பு. சட்டப்பேரவைத் தேர்தல் நடத்துவது குறித்து மத்திய அரசும், ஜம்மு - காஷ்மீர் மாநிலக் கட்சிகளும் வெற்றிகரமாக பேச்சுவார்த்தையைத் தொடங்கியிருக்கின்றன என்றவுடன் பிரிவினைவாத சக்திகளும், பயங்கரவாதிகளும் ஒருங்கிணைந்து செயல்பட்டிருக்கிறார்கள். இதற்கு பாகிஸ்தானின் பின்னணி இல்லாமல் இருக்காது என்பதும் உலகறிந்த உண்மை.

கடந்த ஞாயிற்றுக்கிழமை இந்திய - பாகிஸ்தான் எல்லையிலிருந்து 14 கி.மீ. தூரத்திலுள்ள ஜம்மு விமானப்படைத் தளத்தில் ஆளில்லா விமானம் மூலம் வெடிகுண்டுகள் வீசப்பட்டிருக்கின்றன. முதலில் வந்த ஆளில்லா விமானத்திலிருந்து வீசப்பட்ட குண்டு, நிர்வாகக் கட்டடத்தின் அருகில் விழுந்து சேதம்  ஏற்படுத்தியது. ஏழு நிமிடங்கள் கழித்து மீண்டும் மற்றொரு ஆளில்லா விமானத்திலிருந்து வீசப்பட்ட குண்டால் இரண்டு வீரர்கள் காயமடைந்தனர். ஒரு குண்டு கட்டுப்பாட்டு அறைக்கு அருகே விழுந்திருக்கிறது. இதன் மூலம்  பயங்கரவாதிகள் கட்டுப்பாட்டு அறையையும், ஹெலிகாப்டர்களையும் குறிவைத்துத்தான் ஆளில்லா விமான குண்டு வீச்சை நடத்தியிருக்கிறார்கள் என்பது தெளிவாகிறது.

ஞாயிற்றுக்கிழமை தாக்குதல் நடத்திய ஆளில்லா விமானங்கள் பாகிஸ்தான் எல்லைக்குள் மீண்டும் பறந்து சென்றன. ஜம்மு புறநகரிலும் இரண்டு ஆளில்லா விமானங்கள் வேவு பார்ப்பதற்காகப் பறந்ததாகவும், அவை திரும்பி விட்டதாகவும் கூறப்படுகிறது. 


இந்திய விமானப்படையின் கண்காணிப்புக் கருவியின் (ரேடார்) பார்வையிலிருந்து தப்பி ஆளில்லா விமானங்கள் எப்படி நுழைந்தன என்பது வியப்பாக இருக்கிறது. அத்துமீறி நுழைந்த ஆளில்லா விமானங்களில் ஏதாவது ஒன்று வீழ்த்தப்பட்டிருந்தால், அதன் உதிரி பாகங்களிலிருந்து எங்கிருந்து அவை அனுப்பப்பட்டன என்பதைக் கண்டுபிடித்திருக்கலாம். அதற்கு வழியில்லாமல் அந்த ஆளில்லா விமானங்கள் திரும்பிவிட்டன. 

இதுபோல ஆளில்லா விமான ஊடுருவல் இந்திய -  பாகிஸ்தான் எல்லையில் நடப்பது புதிதொன்றுமல்ல. இதற்கு முன்னால் பயங்கரவாதிகளுக்கு ஆளில்லா விமானங்கள் மூலம் ஜம்மு - காஷ்மீரிலும், பஞ்சாபிலும் ஆயுதங்கள் தரப்பட்டிருக்கின்றன. இப்போதைய ஆளில்லா விமானத் தாக்குதல் அவற்றிலிருந்து மாறுபட்டு, முக்கியமான ராணுவத் தளங்களின் மீது வெடிகுண்டு தாக்குதல் நடத்த முற்பட்டிருக்கின்றன. இது பயங்கரவாதிகளால் நடத்தப்படுகிறதா அல்லது பாகிஸ்தான் அரசின் பின்துணையுடன் நடத்தப்படுகிறதா என்கிற கேள்வி எழுகிறது. 

ஆளில்லா விமானங்கள் மூலம் நடத்தப்படும் வெடிகுண்டுத் தாக்குதல்கள் தொடருமானால், அடுத்த கட்டமாக ராணுவத் தளங்கள் மட்டுமல்லாமல் பொதுமக்கள் கூடும் இடங்களும் இலக்காக மாறக்கூடும். சுமார் 20 கிலோ எடையுள்ள சிறிய ஆளில்லா விமானங்கள் மிகவும் ஆபத்தான வெடிகுண்டுகளை இலக்கு நிர்ணயித்து தாக்குதல் நடத்த பயன்படுத்தப்படுவது வித்தியாசமான போர்த்தந்திரம். அதைத் தடுத்து, அந்த ஆளில்லா விமானங்களைத் தாக்கி சேதப்படுத்தும் தொழில் நுட்பத்தை இப்போதைக்கு இஸ்ரேல் மட்டும்தான் வெற்றிகரமாகக் கையாள்கிறது.

 
2019 செப்டம்பர் மாதம் யேமனில் உள்ள ஹூதி போராளிகள் சவூதி அரேபியாவிலுள்ள எண்ணெய்க் கிணறுகளைத் தாக்கி சேதப்படுத்தினர். கடந்த மே மாதம் சவூதி எல்லைக்குள் ஆளில்லா விமானங்கள் மூலம் வெடிகுண்டுகளை வீசி தாக்குதல் நடத்தினர். ஆப்கானிஸ்தானில் அமெரிக்கப் படைகள் பாகிஸ்தான் எல்லைக்குள் தஞ்சமடைந்திருந்த பயங்கரவாத குழுக்கள் மீது ஆளில்லா விமானங்கள் மூலம் தாக்குதல் நடத்தியிருக்கின்றன. 
ஆளில்லா போர் விமானத் தாக்குதல் என்பது உலகெங்கிலும் அதிகரித்து வருகிறது. சிரியாவுடனான ராணுவ மோதலில் துருக்கிப் படைகள் இந்த  உத்தியைக் கடைப்பிடித்து பீரங்கிகள், தளவாடங்களை அழித்திருக்கிறது. ஆர்மீனியா - அஜர்பைஜான் நாடுகளுக்கு இடையேயான மோதலில் ஆளில்லா விமானங்கள் பயன்படுத்தப்படுகின்றன. பாலஸ்தீனமும், இஸ்ரேலும் ஆளில்லா விமானத் தாக்குதல்களை வழக்கமாக்கிக் கொண்டிருக்கின்றன. அந்த வகையில், இந்திய - பாகிஸ்தான் எல்லையிலும் இப்போது ஆளில்லா விமானத் தாக்குதல் தொடங்கியிருக்கிறது. 

ஜம்மு விமானப்படைத் தளத்தின் மீது நடத்தப்பட்டிருக்கும் ஆளில்லா விமான தாக்குதலின் பின்னணியில் லஷ்கர்-ஏ-தொய்பா பயங்கரவாதிகள் இருக்கக்கூடும் என்று புலன் விசாரணை அமைப்புகள் கருதுகின்றன. ஜூன் 27 நடந்த ஜம்மு வெடிகுண்டு தாக்குதல் சோதனை தாக்குதலாகக்கூட இருக்கக்கூடும். அடுத்த கட்டமாக ஒரே நேரத்தில் பல இடங்களில் ஆளில்லா விமானத் தாக்குதல்களை நடத்த பயங்கரவாதிகள் முற்படலாம். அதை எதிர்கொள்ளத் தேவையான கண்காணிப்பு கேமராக்களையும், தொழில் நுட்பத்தையும் மேம்படுத்துவதில்தான் நமது பாதுகாப்பு இருக்கிறது.


ஜம்மு - காஷ்மீரில் அமைதி திரும்பிவிடக் கூடாது, ஜனநாயகம்  மலர்ந்துவிடக் கூடாது, வளர்ச்சி ஏற்பட்டுவிடக் கூடாது என்பதில் குறியாக இருக்கும் பயங்கரவாதிகளின் எண்ணம் நிறைவேறிவிடக் கூடாது!

--Source: dinamani.com

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), notified in 2016, has been the key mechanism for addressing corporate distress and the accumulation of bad loans in the financial sector since its implementation. Recent National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) rulings have also put the spotlight on the IBC. In a conversation moderated bySuresh Seshadri, Aparna Ravi and R.K. Bansal discuss questions about the effectiveness of the process and the road ahead. Edited excerpts:

It has been five years since the IBC came into force. How has it fared and what are its biggest challenges?

R.K. Bansal:One basic difference between us and other countries is that our companies are mainly promoter-owned and owners run the companies. In most of the developed countries, companies are run by professionals and the ownership is widely spread. Here, because it is owned and controlled as well as managed by mostly the same people, that creates a problem in taking over the asset.

I think, overall, over the last five years, it has done quite well. And Section 29A [of the IBC], which was introduced by the government later, also helped in resolving some of these problems.

I would say the recoveries and resolutions have been quite good, quite fast, compared to other measures available to the lenders. Today, on average, one can see maybe about three years [for recoveries and resolutions] as compared to an earlier timeline of five years, six years or more. But there are infrastructure issues. We need more NCLTs and we need more members. There are a lot of vacancies, a lot of delays in appointments, NCLAT [National Company Law Appellate Tribunal] benches are few. So, that is one area perhaps that we need to strengthen. The second issue is that a lot of these are very old cases — what we call stock of NPAs [Non-Performing Assets]. So, once this round is over, in future, perhaps, there will be fewer cases and we should be able to take care. The Act will do better actually, if not many cases go to the NCLT. Because the fear of losing the company under Section 49A will push the promoters to find a resolution.

Aparna Ravi:The initial version of the IBC that came into effect in December 2016 is quite different from what we have today. But around this whole issue about the NCLT’s functioning itself — I think there have been a lot of delays in implementation, whether it’s in terms of approvals, having an application admitted itself. In some situations, an application is filed for admission and it takes almost a year to actually be admitted. And even things like the approval of a resolution plan... The resolution plan that was approved for Jet Airways recently was actually approved by the Creditors’ Committee in October 2020. The NCLT has a very limited role: it just needs to approve the resolution plan based on whether the plan complies with applicable law. But it [resolution plan for Jet Airways] was only approved in June 2021. These kinds of delays are a significant issue with the implementation of the code, coupled with the fact that even though the Supreme Court has clarified a number of legal positions in the last few years around the IBC, it doesn’t seem like in some situations the tribunals have laid to rest these positions. They still allow these same issues to be litigated again. This seems to me the biggest implementation challenge with the code itself.

There are concerns about the extent of haircuts that banks and financial creditors are having to take in order to achieve resolution. Are these concerns valid or misplaced?

RKB:I would not say they are misplaced, but I would say we need to understand the context. The haircut figure looks large in some cases because of many reasons. I remember the first case approved by the NCLT was Synergies-Dooray, where the haircut was 94%. But at that time this was not prominent as this was a smaller case. Now, why does it happen? The claims filed are of three types: secured lenders, operational creditors, unsecured lenders, and then you have a lot of guarantee obligations of that company. Now, that guarantee obligation sometimes makes the dues multiple times that of a normal case. I have seen some cases where the total dues may be Rs. 500 crore, but because of the guarantee, the total dues claimed are from Rs. 6,000 crore to Rs. 7,000 crore. So, when the Rs. 500 crore company goes for resolution and you get a plan for Rs. 200 crore, it is 40%, so the haircut is 60%. But then if you compare this Rs. 200 crore figure with Rs. 7,000 crore-Rs. 8,000 crore including guarantees, the haircut will look very large. And this happens typically in holding companies, which are the main companies and which have given the guarantees — whether it was OMML, Lanco Infra, or even recently Videocon, I mean those type of cases where there are a lot of assets, a lot of companies in the group, and guarantee has been given for many of these companies by this company. So, now, the question is haircut is relevant in the context of what is the asset, what are the debts, what are the guarantees, what are the other group assets. Now, out of the first 12 cases filed by the banks in 2017, even today, five got the resolution, which were steel cases because steel is a commodity sector and the assets are good. So, you got very good value in those. Out of five also their percentages are different, of course: Essar Steel or Bhushan Steel got quite a good value, then Bhushan Power and Steel somewhat lower, and Monnet was the least in those five cases. Then, you had a company called Binani Cement which was not out of the 12 but you got almost more than 100% because the asset was good. Then you had two, three cases which are going into liquidation, so banks may not get much — the haircut could be as high as 99% or 95%. Like Lanco Infra, which was a holding company again, or an EPC [engineering procurement and construction] company like Era Infra or Jyothi Structures.

Finally, it depends on the company and its asset. You will get value if the asset is good. Some businesses would have failed, like many of the EPC companies, where haircuts are very high. Because basically in an EPC company there are hardly any assets, except some equipment. And some of them have diverted funds. Some of them lost money in contracts, government dues are there, government departments or entities actually withheld dues, levied a lot of penalties because of the delays. I think you need to understand that.

AR:I don’t think the size of the haircut itself is really a measure of the success of IBC. If the process itself is to improve, what we need to think about is how to attract more buyers or a more diverse range of strategic buyers to be willing to bid for assets, and submit resolution plans under the code. And I think a big part of that is improving the process in terms of minimising the delays, increasing the predictability. Those are issues that do need to be ironed out.

Is there something, especially from the legal side, that can be done to improve the process?

AR:One thing is, of course, adherence to the timelines by all the stakeholders. The other area, from a legal point of view, is around who can submit a resolution plan itself. And I think on that Mr. Bansal too had a number of views on Section 29A that prevents promoters, in a lot of cases, from submitting resolution plans. I understand the rationale behind this, and there are some restrictions under Section 29A that make a lot of sense — for example, a wilful defaulter probably should not be allowed to submit a resolution plan under the IBC. But some of the other restrictions such as one on [a promoter] who has had NPAs for over a year, or who’s had a personal guarantee that has been invoked... in those cases I think that would result in a lot of the promoters of most companies not being able to submit resolution plans. There has been a relaxation which allows MSMEs to have greater flexibility in terms of promoters being able to submit resolution plans for these companies. This is something that can be considered just to lay the floor open to a larger number of resolution plans. Of course, nobody is required to accept a resolution plan. There needs to be a fair process where many of the processes are open to a number of people. Allowing certain relaxations to Section 29A could be helpful.

Do you see a larger role for the proposed national ARC in stressed assets resolution?

RKB:The national ARC (Asset Reconstruction Company), or so called ‘bad bank’, should help. It’s a good thing because it’s a one-time exercise, a good clean-up exercise. Because a lot of these cases don’t have a great resolution plan or they don’t have great value left. So, many of these cases perhaps need to be warehoused for some time. If I try to sell a power plant today in thermal power, we may get a value of only Rs. 2 crore per megawatt, while the country will still need power and a power plant requires Rs. 5 crore-Rs. 6 crore per megawatt just to build up because there is excess capacity, because there is a problem in the thermal power sector. The other point is that there are not many strategic investors. An asset will have interest or value only if there are more people who are ready to buy, like say the steel cases, where there were a number of suitors. But today in power, there’s hardly one or two people in India who will be interested in buying power assets, and typically foreign players don’t buy thermal power because of the coal issue and social issues. So, what happens is, today you need to wait for some time for some of these assets. You have to work along, then your recovery will be far, far better. A national ARC will give the time to the banks to resolve these cases over a period of time.

Besides strengthening the IBC infrastructure, how else could resolution be expedited?

AR:What we do see is that sometimes there isn’t an appointment made for these benches for some time... there’s one judicial member who is in charge of two benches. Some of those NCLT benches only function on certain days of the week because that’s when the judicial member or the technical member are both available, so definitely there needs to be capacity building in terms of NCLT. It’s also worth considering that the IBC cases are not the only mandate of the NCLT. They also consider various cases under the Companies Act such as mergers or oppression and mismanagement cases. A different point is also to remember that the IBC is not the only solution for resolving stress. It’s important to look at a range of different options both within and outside the IBC for resolving distress, and especially through these pre-IBC mechanisms, one-time settlements, restructuring packages. It’s important to look at them all as part of the spectrum. Especially in cases where there is some consensus with the debtor and the debtor and the creditors, these pre-IBC resolutions may work very well as well.

If the process itself is to improve, what we need to think about is how to attract more buyers or a more diverse range of strategic buyers to be willing to bid for assets, and submit resolution plans under the code.

Aparna Ravi

Six years ago, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government started a journey of urban development based on the belief that a select set of cities across the country could be ‘transformed’ and made smart, after they were chosen through a competition among the States. The Centre would support the chosen projects and others would learn from them.

The idea of a transformation is indicated in BJP’s manifesto for the 2014 election (https://bit.ly/3waHAQ0 and https://bit.ly/3h8Omll), where, in a reference to the squalor that has traditionally marked cities and towns, the party declared that they should “no longer remain a reflection of poverty and bottlenecks. Rather they should become symbols of efficiency, speed and scale”. This racy vision laid the foundation for a programme to create 100 smart cities.

The general concept

Globally, there is no uniform definition of smart cities, and the most common features of such urban spaces are derived from concepts in the global north. They generally have a technocentric vision, with sensors everywhere, smart homes, high levels of connectivity, massive and ubiquitous data collection by various agencies, and a continuous flow of useful information to citizens. All this, the reasoning goes, can help governments allocate resources optimally and take timely decisions to raise efficiency and improve standards of living.

India’s cities have well-known infrastructure deficits, inadequate water supply, waste management, sewerage and transport arrangements, high levels of pollution and, with climate change, frequent extremes of floods and drought. The answer to these, the Smart Cities Mission (https://smartcities.gov.in/), has been fashioned as an amalgam of upgraded civic services and expensive showpiece projects in the chosen cities, with the investments heavily influenced by the Centre.

Now, a health focus

Before a complete critique of the expensive programme could emerge, COVID-19 interrupted the lives of cities, confining people indoors for long periods, disrupting economic processes and paralysing vibrant urban life. As the pandemic peaked, thousands had to desperately look for emergency medical care in scarce health facilities, while the flashy smart developments built for leisure and shopping remained shuttered.

Unsurprisingly, when the Smart City Awards 2020 were declared recently, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs gave one component of the scheme, the Integrated Command and Control Centres (ICCCs), a health focus. These centres, of which 70 are operational, functioned as “war rooms” for COVID-19, and, combined with “other smart infrastructure developed under the mission, helped cities in fighting the pandemic through information dissemination, improving communication, predictive analysis and supporting effective management” (https://bit.ly/3hmZZE0), it said.

This is a remarkable image of efficiency, but it would seem incongruous with the lived reality in several States and the national capital during the second wave of the pandemic, as people struggled for information and access to medical care. Yet, one of the States that suffered severely, Uttar Pradesh, shot to the top for implementation metrics of the smart cities projects (https://bit.ly/3yaBbFX), apparently because it achieved more than what was envisaged in the centrally-supported schemes. It added its own set of ‘State smart cities’. The fact that U.P., a crucial BJP-ruled State scarred by the pandemic, is bound for elections next year must, of course, be treated as a coincidence. Indore and Surat jointly won top city-level awards, while Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu also won State awards.

Infrastructural convergence

Over the years, Smart Cities Mission projects converged with other infrastructure programmes such as AMRUT, the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation, the PMAY (Urban), the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, for housing. Some also get support from international agencies to adopt best practices on mobility and transport, energy and reducing carbon emissions. The latest official count shows that 5,924 Mission projects worth Rs. 1,78,500 crore have been tendered, indicating the scale of investments. This is in tune with some estimates that globally, 90% of urban development by mid-century will take place in developing countries.

A focus on basic urban infrastructure prioritised by elected representatives was part of national policy since the Third Plan period (1961-66), although the focus shifted to smaller towns away from Bombay and Calcutta in the Fourth Plan (1969-74). After decades of slow experiments, the post-COVID-19 era will sharpen the question of how cities must evolve.

The Danish urban design expert, Jan Gehl, who is averse to the idea of smart cities and “silly gimmicks”, speaks of the universal values of a city as one that is a meeting place of people, inviting them to spend time, walk, bike, and roam around public, semi-public or private gardens. Pedestrianisation over motorisation is also a marker of a good city.

Although they try to accommodate some of these elements, India’s smart city plans cannot really aspire for a structural shift, in which the movement of people gets priority over vehicles. In fact, extending the green logic would imply a freeze on all diversion of wetlands and commons for any other development, creating new urban gardens and water bodies, and doing a climate change audit for every piece of infrastructure planned. A green and blue city would mean less destructive flooding, more water to harvest and lower peak temperatures — all of it at very little expense.

Use for the commons

Cities could be elegant, healthy and smart after the pandemic if they apportion the available road space for bicycles, which exemplify safe travel and can complement expanded public transport when commuters return in big numbers to bus and urban rail. This is consistent with the pan-city goals of the Smart City Mission, but requires State governments to take resolute action. Bicycles represent the ideal urban travel bubble and must be moved from the margins to the centre of policy.

Pedestrianisation, biking and harmonious opportunities for street vending created by allocating more of the commons would also be fully democratic and address the criticism that smart city planning ignores the informality that marks India’s urban spaces. This is valid for both cities being retrofitted with facilities and those being developed as greenfield sites. Can more of the commons be turned into farmers’ markets, vending grounds and craft centres?

None of this detracts from essential modernisation, such as deployment of multiple sensors to gauge air, noise and water pollution, provision of electronic delivery of citizen services, whether online or in a government office, intelligent public transport, expansion of renewable energy. Recovery of valuable materials from waste remains a lost opportunity even in the biggest cities. It would, however, mean a shift away from flyovers, underpasses and cheap parking lots that serve far fewer citizens.

For citizens, real time control rooms can be meaningful only if they can have a good public dashboard of information. In COVID-19 times, this means access to health alerts, vaccinations, hospital beds and topical advice, rounded off with data on pollution, rainfall, congestion and so on.

Democratising smart cities planning has to ensure every section of society has a voice in the process, and not merely those who have digital access. Pressure to frame projects, however, often cuts out many, and even elected representatives get short shrift.

The Housing Ministry said last year that it had no plan to issue a report card for the 100 chosen smart cities, but was using the Ease of Living Index measured through a public perception survey. Such measurements can be heavily biased if they are not broad based. Quite tellingly, out of 32.2 lakh citizens in 111 cities who participated in a survey, the online channel which could be accessed through a QR code or website attracted 31,05,481 items of feedback (https://bit.ly/3xmSlQE and https://bit.ly/3hlVkSR).

The pandemic has come as a remarkable opportunity to review the paradigm of smart cities, and to steer the course of hundreds of other towns that are not on the map. They should be helped to frame their plans around people and nature, to learn from mistakes and to avoid expensive technological solutionism.

ananthakrishnan.g@thehindu.co.in

‘Your investment would have doubled by now, had you invested in the stock market in March 2020.’ An assertion like this triggers an urgent rush to invest in the market and is akin to being under the influence of a “feel-good” hormone. This makes the expectation of ‘winning big’ feel better than ‘just winning’ leading to impulsive, even detrimental decisions, attributable to behaviour biases, to use the terminology of behavioural economists.

Perception versus reality

Investors may not necessarily be always sensible or even capable of perceiving the larger picture. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman argues that humans usually use the ‘first system’ of ‘fast thinking’ to hurriedly act and perceive their environment. Consequently, they are susceptible to the ‘priming effect’, ‘framing bias’, ‘anchoring effect’, ‘overconfidence bias’ and ‘availability heuristic’.

These phenomena, thus, play their part in pervading optimistic market conditions. As a result, investors often end up ignoring or overlooking uncertainties and risks involved in their decision. They get so enamoured with the idea of making a killing that they forget that in the month of March last year itself, the market had tanked a fourth of its capitalisation causing mayhem.

At the same time, investors’ decision choices could be significantly influenced by ‘nudging’, a deliberate tactics and method of behaviour modification by which it is the ‘choice architect’ that decides who does what and who does so, as argued by the Nobel laureate, Richard H. Thaler. The present surge in the Indian stock market is indeed nudging individual investors to trade more. But who is playing the role of the choice architect and what their intentions are, remain the moot questions.

Focus on individual investor

National Stock Exchange data indicate that the share of the non-institutional individual investors in equity trading volume has risen to one half of the total turnover in 2021 as compared to around a third in 2016. In contrast, the share of Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) in the total trading volume has shrunk to just about a tenth making it half of what it used to be in 2016. Trading in the stock market, the sudden rise, the intraday moves, etc., are, thus, attributable largely to individual traders now.

Their large trading volumes notwithstanding, individual investors have actually contracted their holding of the market capitalisation. Going by the floating stocks of the market collectively, the FIIs currently own around half of the free float of all Indian companies. Apparently, the retail investors have constantly sold their stake to end up holding less than 20% shares now. Trading, thus, seems to be the mainstay of retail investors and this is what makes them more vulnerable to the vagaries of the market.

The market today

During the period under discussion, the fundamental, economic and environmental parameters look confused. GDP has shrunk by at least 7.5%, unemployment rate has been on the rise, and an overwhelming number of people are said to be sliding back into poverty or becoming poorer than a year before. At the same time, Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy Pvt. Ltd. data of the listed companies reveal a rise in their profit, due to rationalisation and cost-cutting.

Investors might be tempted to ignore macroeconomic factors and invest in such stock believing that it is the profit that impels the stock prices. In reality, however, share price is expected to ascend if a company declares to cut its wage bill. This probably explains why stock markets around the world have been on the rise amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic; demand may have declined but profits have been least impacted. At the larger economic level, however, real wages have plunged. Clearly, the market has not entirely decoupled itself from the economic indicators.

Stimulus or profit or euphoria caused by happy hormones, whatever the reason apart, the stock market has been drawing available excess liquidity. Simultaneously, frequent trading has been propelling the stock market further up. But how long can this last? Established wisdom suggests that corporates cannot sustain contraction in the economy for long. Sustained decline in demand caused by waning disposable household income would catch them soon

A grey cloud

Consequently, corporates would be saddled with unsold goods or services, leading to a drop in their prices, with a consequential effect on their revenue which would exert downward pressure on their stock prices. This is, however, not to deny that stock markets are always futuristic and stock prices imitate investors expectations. But how long can expectation drive the market if the economy does not revive soon?

Robert J. Shiller, another Nobel laureate, attributes this phenomenon of creating a possible bubble to irrational exuberance. And bubbles are seldom long lasting and burst sooner rather than later. When bubbles burst, they cause a kind of financial earthquake, in turn destabilising public trust in the integrity of the financial system. Critically, as the past portrays, individual investors, with all their vulnerabilities, suffer the most devastating consequences.

Retail investors are as well susceptible to overreaction when negative news hits the market. For example, a week of turbulence eroded market capitalisation of over Rs. 1-lakh crore in the case of just six listed companies of the Adani group (https://bit.ly/2UW0JbM). For an individual investor, who had purchased these shares during the last month, this means that he lost his entire investment. These companies are closely held, with promoters holding around 75% stake, but imagine the mayhem if this happens to a widely held company. A bubble burst is in the realm of recurrent reality and cannot be ignored as a figment of the imagination.

Furqan Qamar, a professor in finance at Jamia Millia Islamia, is a former Secretary General of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) and also a former Vice-Chancellor of the Central University of Himachal Pradesh and the University of Rajasthan. Taufeeque Ahmad Siddiqui is an assistant professor in finance at Jamia Millia Islamia

The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) (Amendment) Act, 2021 has been extensively criticised as a retrograde law that turns the clock back on representative democracy. The bulk of criticism has been focused on the reduced autonomy of the elected government and the consequent vesting of several crucial powers in the unelected Lieutenant Governor, who is the representative of the Union government. This is largely attributable to public consciousness of the regular skirmishes between the elected government and the Lieutenant Governor. However, what deserves equal condemnation is the Act’s assault on the functioning of Delhi’s Legislative Assembly, which has been sought to be reduced to a lame duck.

A delicate balance

When the GNCTD Act was enacted in 1992, the Legislative Assembly was given the power to regulate its own procedure, as well as the conduct of its business. This was subject to very limited exceptions concerning financial matters and scrutiny over the Lieutenant Governor’s discretionary role. This sought to realise a delicate balance reflecting Delhi’s unique constitutional position: neither full state nor a centrally governed Union Territory. However, the Amendment Act drives a coach and horses through this scheme. Now, Delhi’s Assembly has no more functional independence worth its name. Its standards of procedure and conduct of business have been firmly tethered to that of the Lok Sabha, depriving Delhi’s elected MLAs of an effective say in how their Assembly should be run. Even more insidiously, the Amending Act prohibits the Assembly from making any rule enabling either itself or its committees to consider any issue concerned with “the day-to-day administration of the capital” or “conduct inquiries in relation to administrative decisions”. This is rounded off by providing that any rule made before the Amendment Act came into effect that runs counter to this formulation shall be void.

The most insidious impact of this shall be to the exercise of free speech in the Assembly and its committees. A situation where an elected Assembly is prohibited by law from discussing matters concerning the day-to-day administration of its own territory is one where it is dead on arrival. How can the Assembly be expected to perform its most basic legislative function — that of holding the executive to account — if it cannot guarantee itself the ability to freely discuss the goings on in the capital? What is the use of electing MLAs and endowing them with legislative privilege if they are unable to discuss the governance of the very constituents who elected them?

Impact on committees

A note of alarm must also be sounded for the effect on the functioning of the Assembly’s committees. These committees are usually inured from the sound and fury of political theatre that pervade sittings of the whole Assembly. Away from the glare of cameras, cooler heads usually prevail and important work gets done. Inquiries are conducted, witnesses and documents are examined, and reports on relevant issues are written. The deliberations and inputs of committees often pave the way for intelligent legislative action. In a way, they act as the eyes and ears for the whole House, which has neither the time nor the expertise to scrutinise issues in depth. It would be impossible for committees to perform this function without the power to conduct inquiries. It is true that many of these inquiries are bound to be broad-based and roving in nature, and may even lead to legislative dead ends. But to pre-emptively injunct a committee from conducting an inquiry “in relation to the administrative decisions” (an extremely broad exception) completely negates the ability of committees to function effectively as the Assembly’s advisors and agents. The quality of legislative work emanating from the Assembly is thus ultimately bound to suffer.

This clinical purge of its critical legislative functions has rendered the Delhi Assembly a ‘legislature’ in name only, unable both to articulate the concerns of the electorate and hold the political executive to account. Surely, Delhi’s voters deserve better than that.

Shourya Dasgupta is an advocate practising in Delhi

It is a matter of relief and satisfaction that the Supreme Court has prodded the Union government to perform its statutory duty of fixing a compensation for the families of those who lost their kin to the COVID-19 pandemic. The order comes close on the heels of a slew of directions on registering the country’s vast unorganised workforce and its army of inter-State labourers on a national database and ensuring that none of them went hungry. On the issue of making an ex gratia payment to those affected by the pandemic, a notified disaster under the Disaster Management Act, the Centre initially took the untenable stand that it lacked the financial resources to compensate for every COVID-19 death. However, it later admitted that it was not the adequacy of resources that made it avoid any compensation, but rather its decision to prioritise expenditure in response to the pandemic. It is indeed true that unlike more frequent disasters such as cyclones, earthquakes and floods, a pandemic that has hit every country is not a one-time calamity, but an ongoing and prolonged phenomenon. However, the Court has rightly found that this was not reason enough for the Government to evade its duty to include ex gratia assistance on account of loss of life in its guidelines for “minimum standards of relief” to those hit by the disaster. The Court correctly did not fix a compensation amount for each death, leaving it to a policy decision by the National Disaster Management Authority and the Centre.

In an earlier order, the Court dealt with the need for comprehensive registration of all inter-State and unorganised workers in the country. It is unfortunate that it needed a pandemic, and the resulting humanitarian, social and economic crisis for millions of workers, to give an impetus to the process. The Supreme Court, while disposing ofsuo motuproceedings on the miseries of migrant labourers, has now fixed a deadline of December 31 this year for all States and Union Territories to complete the process. The Centre has been given a deadline of July 31 to make available a portal for its National Database for Unorganised Workers (NDUW) project so that it may be used for registering unorganised workers across the country. However, the Union government, which was directed to make such a common module available to the States as far back as in August 2018, claimed the work on developing the portal was affected due to the fallout of the pandemic. The Court has pulled up the Union Labour Ministry for its “apathy and lackadaisical attitude” and directed that the process of registration should begin by July 31. The verdicts open up the possibility that the inter-State and unorganised workers will at last be able to reap the benefits of welfare laws enacted for them. These interventions signify the rejuvenation and assertion of a court seen as somewhat reticent until recently.

The Union Territory of Puducherry has finally got a Council of Ministers. It has taken almost two months after the Assembly election results, and 50 days since the assumption of office by N. Rangasamy as Chief Minister, for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to get five nominees sworn in as Ministers, three from his party, the All India N.R. Congress (AINRC), and two from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). What makes Puducherry’s first NDA Ministry stand out from the earlier coalition ministries is the inordinate delay in its formation despite there being a pre- poll alliance. The impact of the deadly second wave of the pandemic did not add any sense of urgency to the parties to thrash out their differences. But there could be more trouble to come. Portfolios have not been allocated to the five Ministers who were sworn in on Sunday. The Chief Minister’s illness was not the only obvious reason for the delay in cabinet formation; there were also differences between the partners and within the BJP local unit. The central government too appeared to have supported the Chief Minister’s not-so- enthusiastic response to the local BJP unit’s demand for the post of Deputy Chief Minister as it did not create any such post. However, the BJP, which has nine MLAs in the Assembly, including three nominated legislators, is tasting power for the first time in the Union Territory; the party has also got the post of Assembly Speaker. For all the delay, those involved in the Cabinet formation, including Mr. Rangasamy, deserve credit for the social balance in the Council of Ministers, which has three former Ministers, two representatives of Scheduled Castes and a woman.

There is a strong possibility that the two parties would continue to have differences over the implementation of their manifestos, the key one being the AINRC’s emphasis on Statehood which the national party is silent on. The territorial administration is not in the pink of health as far as its finances are concerned. According to the Budget for 2020-21, debt servicing accounts for about 18% of the revenue expenditure of the administration annually, in addition to salaries and pensions constituting around 35% and power purchase, 17%. Under such circumstances, it is not hard to guess how many of the goodies promised by the two parties would translate into reality. Instead of committing itself to many new measures, the Council of Ministers should ensure that existing welfare schemes, including social security pension to age group-wise beneficiaries, are well implemented. The Centre should also be empathetic and provide a package by waiving “legacy loans”, those taken about 15 years ago. Mr. Rangasamy and Ministers should ensure corruption-free and quality administration, instead of engaging in political bickering.

News is a chase, I remember thinking, as we sped down that long, dimly lit road in Sharm El Sheikh, trying to keep up with the Pakistani Foreign Secretary’s car. We had spied him leaving the hotel where the Indian delegation was staying and went in pursuit of the car, hoping to doorstep him into telling us where India-Pakistan negotiations, on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement meet being held at the Egyptian resort town in 2009, were headed. Much of diplomatic coverage means tracking down such meetings behind the scenes and back-channel contacts between governments of countries that aren’t otherwise willing to speak about their bilateral dialogue. Eventually, the Pakistani diplomat rewarded our persistence with an interview, but that was a rare moment of luck. Journalists trying to cover such awkward tête-à-têtes normally find themselves dealing with aggressive security guards, hostile officials, and official denials for their stories.

In 2002, I was accosted by an irate posse of Indian officials in Kathmandu for reporting that a meeting had been planned between then Foreign Ministers Jaswant Singh and Sartaj Aziz, on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in progress. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had just exchanged an unexpected but frosty handshake with Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf who had walked up to him on stage and practically forced him into the gesture. The event came a month after the Parliament attack, and Indian and Pakistani troops had begun their massive build-up (Op Parakram) at the Line of Control. The officials who met me angrily denied our story and wanted us to retract it. Fortunately we were saved from the dire consequences they threatened us with, when an intrepid Nepali photographer released a photo of the two Foreign Ministers engaged in talks inside the conference hall and even exchanging what appeared to be handwritten notes.

The truth is that such contacts are discovered or reported only a fraction of the time they occur: given security restrictions and shrinking access to official events, journalists have to be very lucky or well sourced to even know that these meetings are taking place. A few years ago, some of the most senior Indian and Pakistani journalists were at a conference in Bangkok, and had no idea that just a few hotels away, National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval and senior Indian officials were meeting with Pakistani NSA Nasir Janjua and their counterparts. At other times, the chase has been made impossible by logistics: at the SAARC summit in the Maldives, the organisers ensured total privacy by housing all official delegations on a completely different island from the journalists. No boats were made available for us to travel across. Travel restrictions that have followed the COVID-19 pandemic are making the situation more difficult, as reporters covering the recent back-channel contacts between India and Pakistan and India and the Taliban have found out, as despite various officials confirming the meetings, there are no eyewitness accounts of them.

Perhaps the most legendary dodge by interlocutors came about 50 years ago, when U.S. presidential adviser Henry Kissinger went on his secret visit to Beijing to negotiate the opening of U.S.-China diplomatic relations. He went first to Islamabad, just so that he could shake all journalists off his trail, with help from the Pakistani government. During a dinner hosted by President Yahya Khan, Kissinger feigned an illness “due to the heat” and was “invited” to spend a few days in the hill station at Nathia Gali outside Islamabad. Once he was away from the prying eyes of the media, and even his own State Department officials, Kissinger was driven to the tarmac where a Pakistani plane was waiting to fly him to his secret meeting. Operation Marco Polo had just begun.

Washington, July 1: President Nixon’s foreign policy advisor, Mr. Henry Kissinger, who will be visiting Delhi and Islamabad shortly, in the course of a much broader and separate assignment dealing with Vietnam, is understood to have undertaken this side-trip to gauge the reaction of the two countries to the stance the U.S. has taken on East Bengal so far. The visit was arranged on the U.S.’s initiative and sources here said that Mr. Kissinger rather than Secretary of State Rogers was chosen for the purpose because President Nixon wanted to give the mission a White House rather than a State Department stamp. Sources here cautioned against reading too much into Mr. Kissinger’s trip to India — they suggested that his mission was primarily connected with the Vietnam war and discussions in that regard in Saigon. The sources added that while in Delhi, Mr. Kissinger will in all probability try to cool the tempers there — tempers which have been frayed considerably by the continued supply of American war material to the Pakistan army. Mr. Kissinger would in this connection urge India to continue to follow a policy of “restraint”. In Islamabad, Mr. Kissinger, the sources said, would once again try to nudge Yahya Khan to move a “little more rapidly” towards a restoration of normalcy in East Bengal.