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Column: “Sadak, bijli, paani”: Basic, yet game-changing – Behind Infra Lines

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Given the varied use of government spending, the question remains on how important it is to focus on the “basic” infrastructure services such as roads, electricity and water — the classic troika of “sadak-bijli-paani”.

Essentially, “basic” infrastructure such as roads, water and electricity are critical drivers of economic growth. Creating the “basic” backbone infrastructure not only delivers value through the usage of the asset or service but, inter alia, offers even greater value through the ecosystem that can be built around the core assets.

A recent tweet by Vinayak Chatterjee, Chairman, Feedback Infra Group, illustrates an example of the value-creation through building “basic” infrastructure: “As per Power Ministry, 15 states now have 100% household electrification. Likely consequences are also emerging like increased sales of electrical appliances.” It drives home the point that electrification infrastructure has a critical impact on creating value through multiplier effects on the economy, boosting demand for goods and services down the consumption chain.

For all the talk of FMCG companies accessing rural markets, consumer durable companies would do well to pay more attention to the infrastructure creation trends in the economy. For example, increased electrification creates entirely new markets for electronic goods-focused consumer durables companies.

However, the creation of a new market is not limited only to the product being sold. Given the relatively higher ticket-value nature of consumer durables, there is a new market for lending businesses as well. This opportunity in the lending space is to finance some part of the consumption trend. This opportunity is applicable mainly to well-entrenched incumbent lending institutions looking for the next phase of growth.

For instance, there might be a Non-Banking Financial Company (NBFC) with a significant business in financing the two-wheeler market in and around the areas seeing increased electrification. The increased electrification trend allows the NBFC to now access a substantial component of existing customers for a new product line of consumer durables. Thereby, the NBFC can deliver value to its stakeholders by building on an existing distribution network and credit information repository.

Additionally, there is a business opportunity for the logistics sector as well. A new market in consumer durables creates the need for transportation, storage and distribution of products in new areas. The above is an example of how “basic” infrastructure creation creates positive multiplier effects throughout the economy. Most importantly, new industries are established, and existing industries can expand into new areas thereby creating jobs and facilitating investments.

For investors focused on India, both in the private and public markets, current trends such as increased electrification create investment opportunities. For example, more electrification begs an important question: Which segment of the supply chain does the investor want to invest in to generate investment returns?

Do investors want to invest in consumer durable companies that can tap into new markets? Do they want to invest in financial firms that can benefit through funding of the consumption? Or do they want to invest in the logistics needed to create the new supply chain? Regarding direct versus non-direct investments, investors have a choice of directly investing in logistics real estate versus investing in publicly-listed companies that have significant exposure to the new markets. The single biggest takeaway is that the creation of “basic” infrastructure creates investment opportunities for all types of investors across the spectrum.

It is also important to note that besides the creation of new infrastructure, significant value creation is possible through improving the quality and maintenance of existing “basic” infrastructure. While new projects tend to grab most of the headlines, gradual quality improvements and effective maintenance of infrastructure is value-additive as well.

In summary, the creation of “basic” infrastructure delivers value on many fronts. Crowding in private capital, job creation, a higher standard of living, access to basic amenities and expansion of business opportunities are some of the obvious advantages that come to mind. Going forward, both central and state governments would do well to build and improve the “backbone” infrastructure.

(Taponeel Mukherjee heads Development Tracks, an infrastructure advisory firm. Views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected] or @Taponeel on Twitter)

Analysis

The US presidential elections and future of India-US relations

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Donald Trump Joe Biden

As the coronavirus pandemic dominates global news in the United States, progress toward the next presidential election scheduled to be held on November 3 moves slowly forward. President Donald Trump had no real opposition in the Republican party and is running for re-election. And it has now become apparent that former Vice President Joe Biden will be his opponent as the Democratic candidate for president.

What would a Trump victory bode for the future of US-India relations? What would a Biden victory bode? Let me answer each of those questions in turn.

Given the love fests of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, Texas, in which Trump participated in September of 2019, and Trump’s ‘Namaste Trump’ event hosted by Modi in India in February of this year, it might be assumed that the future for US-India relations is a splendid one. This would be an incorrect assumption.

Both of these events were more symbolic than substantive. Trump’s participation in them undoubtedly helped to persuade some — perhaps many — Indian American Modi supporters who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 to cast their ballots for Trump in 2020. Trump’s campaign team took steps to ensure this by holding an event at his Mar-a-Lago resort in which a group of prominent Indian Americans announced their plans to work for his re-election and to mobilize Indian Americans on his behalf.

To understand the future potential of India’s relations with the US. with Trump as president, however, it is necessary to look beyond these political moves and to examine the present state of those relations and Trump’s personal style.

In a word, the best way to characterize the current relations between the US and India is “functional”. The relationship was relatively good for the first two years of Trump’s presidency. In fact, near the end of 2018, Alice Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, was quoted in the media s saying: “This has been a landmark year for US-India ties as we build out stronger relationships across the board.”

Then, in 2019, the relations went off the track in the first half of the year after the US and India got into a tit-for-tat tariff war after the US terminated India’s Generalized System of Preferences which allowed India to send certain goods to the US duty-free. There have been continuing efforts to structure a “modest” trade deal since then. It was thought there might be some type of deal done in September of 2019 while Modi was in the US by year’s end, and then during Trump’s India visit. But, as of today, there is still no deal.

This inability to get any meaningful trade agreement in place speaks volumes about India’s potential future relations with India with Trump as president. So, too does Trump’s style.

Trump’s campaign slogans this time around are “Keep America Great” and “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” Trump is not a policy wonk and most of his effort will go toward “America First”. This involves making the US more isolated by withdrawing from international agreements, restructuring trade agreements, emphasizing building walls to stop immigrants at the border, using tariffs to block trade with countries who are taking away American jobs, and confronting businesses who are allegedlly stealing American trade secrets.

This perspective suggests what India can expect for its relations with the US if it has to deal with Trump for a second term as president. The relations will stay functional at best. As I have said before, that’s because the words partnership, cooperation and collaboration are not in Trump’s vocabulary. Nationalism, isolationism and protectionism are.

Joe Biden stands in stark contrast to President Trump both professionally and personally. Biden is a strategic thinker and doer with a solid eight-year track record of leadership experience as Vice-President in forging alliances that have made a difference around the world and he has also been a long-standing friend of India.

He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading advocate for the Congressional passage of the Indo-US civic nuclear deal in 2005. At a dinner convened 10 years later in 2015 by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Vice President Biden discussed the tremendous joint progress that had been made by the two countries in the past and declared “We are on the cusp of a sea change decade.”

Early in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in July of 2019, in laying out his foreign policy vision, Biden stated that the US had to reach out to India and other Asian partners to strengthen ties with them. The items on Biden’s foreign policy agenda for strengthening which are of importance for India include climate change, nuclear proliferation and cyberwarfare.

During his vice presidency, Biden worked side by side with President Barack Obama to do things that would contribute to achieving Obama’s vision stated in 2010 of India and America being “indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time.” In 2020, those challenges are even greater than they were a decade ago.

That is why it is so essential that India and the US develop a strategic relationship that enables them to become those indispensable partners. That can happen if Biden assumes the presidency on January 20, 2021. It cannot happen if Donald Trump remains as president for a second term.

The results of this upcoming election in the US matter greatly for the future of the United States. They matter greatly for the future of India-US relations as well. Time and the American electorate will tell what that future will be.

(Frank F. Islam is an entrepreneur, civic and thought leader based in Washington DC. The views expressed here are personal)

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Analysis

Covid-19 toll across world crosses 35,000

The COVID-19 is affecting 132 countries and territories around the world.

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Patients infected with the novel coronavirus

New Delhi, March 30 : The death toll around the world due to coronavirus crossed 35,000 on Monday evening, with Italy heading the list of 35,097 deaths with 10,779, while the number of cumulative cases rose to 737,929, with US leading with 143,055 of them, as per data from the Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

Spain was second with 7,340 deaths, followed by China with 3,308 (3,186 of them in Hubei where the outbreak was first recorded), Iran with 2,757 deaths, France with 2,606 deaths, the US with 2,513 (776 of them in New York) and the UK with1,228 deaths.

In number of cases, Italy was second with 97,689, followed by Spain with 85,195, China with 82,198, Germany with 62,435, Iran with 41,495 and France with 40,747.

Meanwhile, 156,652 people around the world had recovered, with nearly half of them (75,923) in China, followed by 16,780 in Spain, 13,911 in Iran and 13,030 in Italy.

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Analysis

45% of Indians do not back up their data, files: Survey

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.

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Data Privacy

New Delhi, March 30 : Nearly half of Indians do not back up because they think their data or files are not important enough and most of those who back up their data, do it once a month, a survey said on Monday.

Other reasons cited by the respondents for not backing up their data included not knowing how to do it, not having time and forgetting about it, according to the survey by cybersecurity company Avast.

“It could be that many aren’t aware they are backing up, as it could be happening automatically, in the background, however, others really might not be backing up at all, thinking it is not worth it,” Luis Corrons, Security Evangelist at Avast, said in a statement.

“Losing personal documents, photos and videos can be a painful experience and it’s not until this happens that they realize how valuable it actually is,” Corrons added.

Of those who do back up their data, nearly 42 per cent Indians back up to a cloud storage, 36 42 per cent back up their data to an external hard drive, 23 42 per cent back up to a USB or flash disk, 18 42 per cent back up their phone to their PC, and 10 42 per cent back up to a network storage drive, the results showed.

Corrons recommended to back up data to two different locations, like the cloud, and a physical storage, like an external hard drive.

When it comes to iPhone and Android phone owners, the percentage that backs up is nearly the same, 69 per cent and 70 per cent respectively.

The percentage of smartphone owners that don’t know how to back up their data does not vary much between iPhone and Android owners, with 13 per cent and 17 per cent claiming not knowing how to, respectively, the study revealed.

Data loss can be caused by users accidentally deleting their data themselves, hardware damage and failure, as well as malware, causing valuable data such as photos, videos, documents, and messages to be lost forever.

Ransomware and other malware, such as wipers, can either encrypt or completely destroy files, and there is no guarantee that files can be decrypted if a ransom is paid.

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.

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COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. Most infected people will develop mild to moderate illness and recover without hospitalization.