Friday, August 23, 2019

Video of the day

This is a heartbreaking video of a group of Dalit villagers carefully lowering the body of 55-year-old Kuppan who was killed in an accident. Why is this happening? One of the villagers explains: “For over 20 years now, we have had trouble accessing the grounds we traditionally used as a crematorium. Members of the dominant caste own the land now and don't let us enter the area with corpses. Caste Hindus have a separate ground that we can't use for cremations. Before the bridge came into existence 15 years ago, we used to just leave the body in the water. But now we lower it down the bridge to cremate it." Enuf said.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The barrage of bad news about the economy

All the canaries in the coal mine are screaming for help. The latest flurry of news reports indicates that the economy is in need of a significant intervention—but there are no signs of it yet.


Corporate investment: The Hindu has accessed a report submitted by a special task force constituted by the government to replace The Income Tax Act of 1961. Buried in this report is a shocking piece of data: Corporate investments declared in annual tax filings for 2016-17 plummeted to Rs 4.2 lakh crore — which represents a drop of nearly 60% from the previous year (Rs 10.3 lakh crore). Now, 2016-17 is the year that the government instituted its demonetisation policy. Also important: Nearly 45% of the 7.8 lakh companies that filed their tax returns for 2016-17 reported book losses.


Why does this matter? The significance is crystal clear when we look at these figures as a percentage of our GDP. In 2010-11, corporate investments were 15% of the GDP. That share has been steadily declining ever since—hitting 7% in 2015-16. But it collapses to 2.7% during the year of demonetisation. Also: it raises questions about the government’s GDP estimates for that same year—which it recently revised upwards from 7.1% to 8.2%. As The Hindu notes, “The revised estimate defies common sense and runs contrary to” all other data available—including now corporate tax returns.


Private sector incomes: A Hindustan Times analysis shows that in 2018-19, private sector salaries of Indians recorded their worst growth (.53%) in a decade. The reason: slumping sales revenues of their employers which grew by a paltry 3% — down from 4.5% in the preceding year.


Why does this matter? Private salaries accounted for almost 13% of India’s private consumption in the past fiscal year. As Economic Times notes, “[This slump] has the potential to trigger a vicious cycle as bad as any in recent memory — scarce jobs and de-growth in sales and salary could spell trouble for demand, which in turn could put a lid on future growth in sales, salary and job generation.”


Government expenditure: Even the government is strapped for cash. Last year’s (2018-19) gross tax revenue was 8.4% lower than what the government estimated in its budget for the same year. As Scroll points out, “This gap between estimates and actuals was the highest ever in India’s tax history.”  A big reason was a shortfall in GST revenues which fell short by a whopping 22%. This, in turn, has had a huge impact on the government’s ability to spend. Its expenditure has fallen from 13.9% in 2013-14 to 12.2% in 2018-19—which was Rs 1.3 trillion lower than estimated.


Why does this matter? The three of the four great pillars of a nation’s GDP are private consumption, investment and government expenditure. If all three are under stress, then it bodes very ill for the economy. Also: the cash crunch makes it difficult for the government to spend its way out of a recession. PS: The remaining pillar is exports which isn’t doing well either thanks to a global downturn and trade wars.


In related bad news: The rupee has crashed to an 8-month low of Rs 71.81 to a dollar. And the markets continued to fall for a third consecutive day. The reason: no one is sure what the government will do to revive the economy—if it does anything.


What will the government do? There have been no definitive policy statements, and the tea leaves make for muddled reading. Take for instance the contradictory statements made by the government’s leading advisers:

  • Niti Aayog Chief Rajiv Kumar said: “This is an unprecedented issue for the government of India. For the last 70 years, we have not faced this kind of a liquidity situation. (The) entire financial sector is up in a churn and nobody is trusting anybody else… You may have to take steps that are out of the ordinary… I think the government must do whatever it can to take away some of the apprehensions of the private sector.”

  • The Chief Economic Advisor to the Finance Ministry, however, said that asking for government intervention is contrary to the principles of a free market: “I would say that the private sector has been in India since 1991 (liberalisation) and is now a 30-year-old kid. A 30-year-old man now needs to start saying that I can stand on my own feet. I don’t need to go to papa.”

Learn more: The Hindu has the scoop on the corporate investment story. Scroll has the best analysis of the government’s cash crunch. Hindustan Times decodes the private sector income data. Mint has an excellent read on the government’s shaky budget math. Also a must read: The Print on how the government is dipping into middle class savings to bail out public sector companies like Air India.

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cheering for the boys of Real Kashmir

Chidambaram in four-day custody: A special Delhi court remanded the former Finance Minister to CBI custody until August 26. He will be allowed to meet family and lawyers for half an hour every day, and will receive a medical checkup every 48 hours. We also now have a specific charge levelled against him: “Allegations are that Ms Indrani Mukerjea and Peter Mukerjea, in connection with FIPB approval granted to their company M/s INX Media (P) Ltd and M/s INX News (P) Ltd, made payment to the tune of $5 million and $4,50,000 to the accused in the year 2007-2008 and 2008-09, for settling down the issues relating to violation of FEMA by their companies.” (Indian Express)


The government turns up the heat: Under this category, we have two bits of news for you. 

  • One: MP CM Kamal Nath’s nephew, Ratul Puri, has surrendered in the Agusta Westland chopper case after the judge issued a non-bailable warrant. He was already in custody due to a new money laundering case. Why does this matter: the BJP has long claimed that the Gandhis were personally involved in the alleged exchange of bribes in this military deal. Oh, will the caged bird sing? (our explainer here)

  • The government is launching a drive against NGOs which receive foreign funds—especially those “used by civil society to further the cause of foreign powers and subvert democratic institutions.” Is there anything more ominous than a very specific threat of reprisal for vaguely worded crimes?


The precious gift of Real Kashmir: In the midst of all the dire news of the Valley, this profile of a football team—which is winning matches and hearts—is a true gift. As the co-owner of the team says, “Real Kashmir is more than football. It’s an act of hope.” (The Guardian)

Amazon’s biggest office in the world: is now open for business in Hyderabad. The 1.8 million square foot building spread over 9.5 acres has a helipad and can accommodate 15,000 employees—and “needed more than twice as much steel as the Eiffel Tower in Paris to construct” 🙄 The Sun has photos and a video.

Zomato’s overflowing cup of woes: Restaurant owners have banded to #logout of food delivery services. The reason: Zomato, Swiggy etc compete with one another by offering deep discounts to their premium service customers. For example: Zomato Gold which gives customers unlimited, exclusive deals at Rs 1,000/year. But the costs of the discounts are borne by restaurants which do not get a share in the subscription fees. As a result, over 2,000 of the 6,500 partners of Zomato Gold have withdrawn from the platform. CEO Deepinder Goyal offered to limit discounts, crack down on ‘bargain hunters’ and hike subscription fees—but it failed to appease restaurant owners and, worse, pissed off its customers. The latest: Goyal and the restaurant lobby are embroiled in a war of tweets. (Quartz)


China is making more babies: Number of babies born in China shot up by 5.4 million within 18 months of abandoning its one-child policy. Worried about an ageing population, the government in 2015 allowed parents to have up to two children. But it is still short of the 20 million/year target required to significantly postpone negative population growth. (Daily Mail)


A skeletal Himalayan mystery: The human bones found scattered on the edges of the Roopkund Lake in Uttarakhand have long been a mystery. Who were these people? And why were their bones found here? Well, scientists now have partial answers for 38 of these skeletons. They belong to three distinct groups from India, the eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asia—and they died at very different times over a 1000-year period. But as one lead researcher explains, “We still don’t know what these people were doing there and the circumstances in which they died and (why) their bodies were scattered around the lake shores.” (The Telegraph)


When dogs cry: According to a new study, a dog’s whimpering sounds as sad as a crying baby to most pet owners. Ok, so what, right? Aha, we are not done yet. Now, as expected, pet owners rated the cries coming from dogs and cats as sadder than those who didn’t own pets (heartless beasts!). But most unexpectedly, even cat owners rated “distress vocalisations” by dog as sadder than those of a cat. This explains the over-the-top and totally unwarranted whimpering our attention-nazi Lab inflicts upon us. (Gizmodo)


Apple Card is a delicate darling: The much touted credit card launched in the United States can be damaged by: leather wallets, the denim pocket of your jeans, other credit cards, loose change…. Pretty much anything that normal credit cards encounter in everyday life. One of the world’s greatest technology companies, people! (Fast Company)


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • the first image of the moon captured by Chandrayaan 2 

  • This exquisite poem titled ‘To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall’ and a heartwarming story that accompanies it.

  • These shirtless cricket hotties, Jasprit Bumrah and Virat Kohli.

  • The Speaker of New Zealand’s House of Representatives cradling and feeding his colleague’s baby during a debate.

  • A healthy and “bizarrely beautiful” photo of a fish with two mouths.

  • The stunning IMAX trailer for ‘Ad Astra’ starring Brad Pitt.

  • This wonderful clip of a young girl running around the stage while an indulgent and unfazed Pope Francis continues his sermon.

  • This embarrassing moment when every rifle fails to fire at a 21-gun salute in honour of a former Bihar CM.

  • Comedian Vir Das trolling millennials.

  • The good news that One Plus is launching its own line of SmartTVs in September—because you can never have enough.

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Stuff we buy, use or love.

A List for Drinkers of Wine
We all love to sip the stuff, but unlike hard liquor or beer, storing and drinking fine wine sometimes requires the right accoutrements (like using the fancy french word for accessories lol!).
image blue sidebar The informer image blue sidebar

When you are in the mood for some red…

Reach for this Trudeau aerating pourer. We love this little wine gizmo for three reasons. One, it’s far less expensive than other aerators. Two, it plugs right on to the wine bottle which makes it less tedious to pour a glass. And finally, it makes a cheap bottle of red taste significantly better (yes!) and saves the need for decanting which is a must for more expensive plonk.

Price: Rs 1,799 | Trudeau Plastic Aroma Aerating Pourer | Amazon

The informer 2

When you’re in the mood for just a glass…

Bring out the Wine Saver vacuum pump. It will save the rest of that bottle for another day. Now the trick with these kind of wine preservers is to pump until you hear a click. That’s when you know that it has done its job. Comments on Amazon indicate it works for beer as well, though we’ve never tried it. (Also: another cited brand is Vacu Vin which is also available for around the same price.)

Price: Rs 2,133 | Wine Saver Vacuum Pump | Amazon

The informer 3

When you want to take your wine with you…

Get yourself a pack of Wine Diapers. The hilariously named tote bags are padded to protect your cargo from cavalier baggage handlers. The padding also absorbs the fallout in case of breakage—so you don’t end up with a wine-apocalypse in your suitcase. And it is biodegradable and eco-friendly. Best of all, you don’t have to pay insane hotel prices for crap wine.

Price: Rs 1,740 | Wine Diaper | Amazon

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Note: These products are personally picked by the editors. We do not receive any revenue from the brands recommended.

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