Budget Without Big Bang, But More Bucks; Modi Government Had ‘Specific Interest’ In Pegasus
Unemployment turning demographic dividend into disaster, farmers threaten to resume stir, SC to hear namaz case, crypto’s legal status unclear, Amazon scuppers Westland and umbrellas will be dearer
A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
Snapshot of the day
February 1, 2022
Yesterday, Swaminathan S Anklesariya Aiyar said the Economic Survey is “boring” by design. It was the curtain-raiser to a Budget which is surprisingly low-key, given that crucial Assembly polls are days away. It contains no big bangs but more bucks, including in social spending. But despite the 35% increase in infrastructure capex ― Rs 7.3 lakh crore is allocated for 2022-23 ― the overall infra plan under the PM Gati Shakti project needs Rs 20 lakh crore per year. There is no clarity on where the remainder will come from. How much will the private sector contribute via the asset monetisation programme?
MK Venu of The Indian Cable points out that much depends on “tax buoyancy”, but that depends in turn on fuel taxes. Pump prices are beyond endurance and if crude gets dearer, as it will, either there will be less buoyancy ― or political implications. A $20-30 per barrel increase in global oil prices, which experts forecast, would force the government to cut taxes in the run-up to general elections.
The Budget includes a poser: gains from crypto transactions will be taxed at 30%, indirectly recognising the sector, though no regulatory bill formalising crypto will be moved in this session ― rules will apparently rest on thin air, without the backstop of a law. The RBI will initialise a blockchain-based rupee, but high taxes will probably butcher the sector. Interesting Budget initiatives include a focus on 5G auctions, electric vehicles and reserved allocation for the domestic defence industry. But it is very silent on the hoary old promise of doubling farm incomes and creating 2 crore jobs per year. And since every Budget must include a touch of bizarre obscurity, as climate change foretells more extreme weather events, umbrellas will be dearer. No concessions for umbrella parts either, so buzz off!
India’s GDP contracted by 6.6% in 2020-21. In its first revised estimates of GDP, the National Statistical Office (NSO) attributed it to “the Covid-19 pandemic and nationwide lockdown curbs imposed by the government.” Reuters reports that jobless Indian youngsters are accusing the government of “playing with our lives”.
An entire chapter in the Economic Survey is devoted to “cartographic technology that allows for better representation of the information.” At best, it is confounding. Here is a summary of the President’s address yesterday. It was noted that unlike in 2019, he did not mention the National Register for Citizens (NRC) ― in a Census year.
Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman has told The Wire that the Indian Pegasus deal was clinched at the “highest level” ― barefoot on a beach, perchance ― and owed to the Modi government’s ‘specific interest’ in and ‘specific emphasis’ on acquiring the controversial spyware.
Hours after the Centre, in a controversial move, barred the transmission of Malayalam news channel MediaOne TV citing “security reasons”, a single-judge bench of the Kerala High Court on Monday deferred the order of the Information & Broadcasting Ministry for two days. Acting on a petition moved by MediaOne TV, Justice N Nagaresh stayed the implementation of the government directive until its next hearing tomorrow.
A study by Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) of 31 primetime TV news and talk shows in 12 languages including English, found aggression in more than 50% of all news shows and in 85% of talk shows. The focus of this study was not on news bias or framing but on the performance of the reporter or the anchor. It also found the biggest expression of aggression was in tone of voice (76.76%), while sound and visual effects came in at 60%.
The Madhya Pradesh High Court has held that no “moral policing” can be allowed if two adults are willing to stay together by way of marriage or a live-in relationship. Justice Nandita Dubey made the observation on January 28 while disposing of a habeas corpus petition filed by Jabalpur resident Guljar Khan, who stated that he had married Arti Sahu, 19, in Maharashtra, and she had willingly converted to Islam.
The Kerala High Court has directed the Ministry of External Affairs to take a decision within three months on the representation by a woman seeking release of her son from a UAE prison where he is serving a 10-year jail term, since 2015, for allegedly spying for the Indian government. Justice PV Kunhikrishnan directed the ministry to consider the woman’s representation made on June 11 last year, “as expeditiously as possible, at any rate within a period of three months”.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, which spearheaded the yearlong farmers’ movement has said it would have no option but to resume the agitation as the Modi government “continues to renege on the promises made to protesting farmers” on December 9. This came on a day President Ram Nath Kovind addressed a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament and the government unveiled the Economic Survey. Neither the President’s speech nor the Economic Survey mentioned the farmers’ key demand — a law guaranteeing minimum support prices (MSPs) for their crops.
“Farmers will not fall into BJP’s Hindu-Muslim hate agenda,” says Rakesh Tikait. He said it is the farmers’ movement that has given courage to people to confront the ruling BJP and its ministers. UP policemen chanted “Jayant Chaudhary zindabad” in Rampur, and six were suspended.
A report of the Lancet Commission – Value of Death: Bringing death back into life – released today, commends Kerala in the most superlative of terms: “Something very close to the Lancet Commission’s realistic utopia has been achieved in Kerala, India, over the past three decades. Death and dying have been reclaimed as a social concern and responsibility through a broad social movement comprised of tens of thousands of volunteers complemented by changes to political, legal, and health systems.”
Mahesh Vyas summarises the unemployment riots: “In February 2019, while the finance minister denied that there was an employment problem, then Railways minister Piyush Goyal had announced that the Railways would employ over 400,000 people by 2021. This implies a massive 31.5 per cent increase in employment in Railways after years of stagnating jobs. This was a pre-election promise. Agitations ensured that the government issued notifications for about 138,000 jobs by early 2020 and held examinations. But employment has not happened. And the government appears to be dragging its feet in completing the process.”
‘@DisnfoLab’— a fake news portal that was widely shared by the BJP’s IT cell and supporters to attack former vice president Hamid Ansari for a speech