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Analysis

Demonetisation’s short-term costs were high, long-term benefit doubtful

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Raghuram Rajan

When Raghuram Rajan, former governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), cautioned the government against demonetisation, saying short-term economic costs would outweigh long-term benefits, he was not trying to be prophetic. But a year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made that fateful announcement in a nationwide broadcast on the evening of November 8, it would seem Rajan’s words had actually become so.

As economists and analysts, corporate honchos and statisticians struggle to gauge the beneficial impact of demonetisation, many of the objectives claimed by the government have fallen by the wayside. New claims and afterthoughts on the note ban by senior politicians in power have remained unconvincing. Demonetisation has raised more questions than it has answered.

The Prime Minister, in banning 1,000 and 500-rupee notes — or 86 per cent of total currency in circulation — had indicated that the decision would help remove black money from the system, rein in terrorism and take fake currency out of circulation. Have these objectives been met?

“Demonetisation was an utter failure. Theoretically it was known it cannot be successful. It could not remove black money, but in turn it has damaged the white economy and growth,” Arun Kumar, former professor of economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) told IANS.

The benefits of the decision are yet to percolate to the economy, but the disruption as well as pain that it caused to hundreds of millions was very real, whose lingering effects are seen to this day and, which, at that time, had shaken the country to its core, touching nearly every citizen and visitor.

The overnight serpentine queues for weeks in front of banks, the loss of over a hundred lives in the effort to withdraw one’s own money or change it, and the desperate desire to ensure that cash in hand did not turn to ash took its toll across the country. Was it worth it?

“The government made the elementary mistake of believing that black money is kept in cash. Black wealth can be transacted by non-cash means as well,” said Kumar, who is now Chair-Professor with the Institute of Social Sciences. “Only three per cent of Indians generate substantial black money. But for this, the other 97 per cent had to face the consequences of demonetisation.”

After months of vacillating, and being less than honest with citizens, RBI data in August 2017 said that 99 per cent of the banned currency in high denomination notes had returned to the banking system — Rs 15.28 lakh crore out of the Rs 15.44 lakh crore in circulation on November 8, 2016. The calculation does not take into account the money changed by people in Nepal, where it’s legal tender, or old notes held by many non-resident Indians who could not exchange it within the deadline.

“Indian demonetisation was remarkable, because unlike many countries that faced major economic and political problems after even less drastic measures, this passed off peacefully as most Indians accepted the (wrong) argument that this would end corruption,” Jayati Ghosh, Economics Professor at JNU, told IANS.

“The initial reasons the government had advanced for this move, of reducing terrorism and eliminating both black money and corruption, were rapidly abandoned for other supposed goals, which are also yet to be met. There was no planning before unleashing such a big decision,” she added.

The difficulty in making a cost-benefit analysis is that the move was not purely economic, given the fact that the currency issuer — the RBI — had no role in the decision, as testified by Rajan.

Demonetisation comes across more as a measure of political economy which may appear, on the face of it, to have paid immediate political dividend to the Prime Minister and his party in the Uttar Pradesh elections this year. But the medium-to long-term picture would take a while to clear up, though short-term impact has already taken its toll on growth.

At the end of May, the Central Statistics Office announced that the GDP during the fourth quarter ending in March this year, fell sharply to 6.1 per cent from seven per cent in the previous quarter, while growth for the year as a whole was also expected to decline correspondingly. India’s GDP during the past fiscal grew at 7.1 per cent — at a rate lower than the eight per cent achieved in 2015-16. In terms of gross value added, which excludes taxes but includes subsidies, the growth came in even lower at 5.6 percent over 2015-16.

“Demonetisation is a textbook example of what happens when you remove liquidity that is the basis of transactions. The immediate result was that people didn’t have money even for small transactions. This had a strong negative multiplier effect, most evident in the informal sector,” Ghosh said.

“Cash is the means of transaction in the unorganised sector, which contributes 45 per cent to the GDP. The unorganised sector got hit by 60-80 per cent,” Kumar said, adding that the country went through a negative rate of growth in November-December 2016.

In October, the International Monetary Fund said in its latest World Economic Outlook that India’s economic growth for 2017 and 2018 would be slower than earlier projections. The report cited the “lingering impact” of demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) for the expected slowdown, projecting a growth of 6.7 per cent in 2017 and 7.4 per cent in 2018 — 0.5 and 0.3 percentage points less, respectively, than earlier projections.

Ghosh said that the steps on demonetisation, taken together, “generated a perfect recipe for slowdown in the economy. In fact the slowdown is likely to be much sharper than estimated because the quick GDP estimates are based on formal economic activity, and the adverse impact on informal activities have not really been taken into account”.

Ranen Banerjee, Partner & Leader, Public Finance and Economics, at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) feels the country was already cooling down when the note ban came in, and it would take some time to evaluate its impact on the macro economy. “About three to four quarters prior to demonetisation growth rates were already on a sliding path. It could well be that the economy was cooling down and the trend has continued. Attributing the slowdown solely on demonetisation is not possible as we do not have sufficient data points,” Banerjee told IANS.

Economist Dipankar Dasgupta, former professor of economics at the Indian Statistical Institute, said that although GDP in India is not calculated in a very comprehensive manner, the trend growth rate continued to be “pretty robust”. However, despite the claim by the government of ending corruption through demonetisation, “day-to-day bribes are still being taken through cash”, Dasgupta told IANS.

The objectives of dealing a blow to militancy and curbing fake money too seems not to have been met, as can be seen in Jammu and Kashmir, where, ironically, more incidents of militancy have been seen after demonetisation. “Logistics like shelter, passage and cash are mostly routed through over-ground workers and sympathisers of militants and those who could arrange high value notes in the previous system are doing so at present as well”, a senior intelligence officer told IANS in Srinagar on condition of anonymity.

Similarly, about fake currency, officials said the notes carried by militants from across the border were sophisticated copies and those who made them earlier could easily make fakes of the new currencies.

Perhaps there has been some beneficial fallout on the digital economy. Industry stakeholders feel that though the note-ban drive gave the necessary impetus to citizens to start adopting online payment platforms, a lot needs to be done by both the government and the industry to make it a success.

But was the country-wide upheaval worth it to make people adopt more digital transactions? No jury would need to deliberate for long on such a question.

 

(Aparajita Gupta can be contacted at [email protected])

(Editors: The above article is the last one in the series on demonetisation leading up to November 8)

Analysis

Ministry says yoga is not sport, but DU colleges still reserve seats

Colleges have autonomy to choose the sports under which they wish to give admissions. University cannot tell a college to pick a specific sport. It is their discretion. These sports do not come under Sports Ministry, nor are they regulated by it.

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Delhi University

New Delhi, June 12 (IANS) Is yoga a sport? The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) says it is not. Yet, 11 Delhi University (DU) colleges have this year reserved seats for the discipline under their sports quota.

The university and the colleges, meanwhile, have been shifting responsibility back and forth.

After recognising it as a sport in 2015, the MYAS reversed its decision the next year. “After elaborate discussion, it was concluded that yoga has various dimensions/arms in which competitions are not possible. Hence, it was agreed that Yoga cannot be termed a sport. Consequently, it may not be appropriate to recognise any organisation as NSF (national sports federation) for yoga,” the Sports Ministry had said in a letter dated December 21, 2016, to all national sports federations and the Indian Olympic Assocation.

“It was also agreed that the entire matter relating to yoga will continue to be handled by the Ministry of AYUSH,” the letter said.

When IANS contacted the DU Sports Council for a clarification, it said that the colleges had requested the university to conduct yoga trials.

“Yes, Yoga has been under sports quota and it has been there in previous years also. Last year, 19 colleges had applied for trial for Yoga under sports quota. The decision, in which sports admissions are to be made, are taken by the colleges,” Anil Kalkal, Director of the varsity sports council which conducts the centralised trials for sports quota on behalf of colleges, told IANS.

“Colleges have autonomy to choose the sports under which they wish to give admissions. University cannot tell a college to pick a specific sport. It is their discretion. These sports do not come under Sports Ministry, nor are they regulated by it,” he said.

Although colleges are entitled to choose a sport for trials and reserve seats under it, the list of sports from which they are to choose is compiled by the varsity.

Kalkal cited another factor in the form of inter-university competition, held by the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) — a non-governmental body listed under the Societies Act — as one of the reasons for considering Yoga as sport.

“If such was the thing (de-recognition) why would AIU conduct the yoga competition? The day AIU will tell us that Yoga is not a sport and stop conducting the competition, we will stop taking admission under it,” he said.

“If colleges are requesting to admit students under yoga, what can the university do? We have to conduct the trials. You should ask the colleges why they requested us to conduct yoga trials,” he said.

An official from one of the colleges which has reserved seats for Yoga this year, when contacted, passed the buck to the university.

“We consider Delhi University and AIU the governing bodies. If an activity is listed as sport by the university, we follow that. If DU tells us that it will not conduct trials in yoga then we will also give it up. Government doesn’t have a role in it,” M.P. Sharma, sports Convener at Hansraj College, told IANS.

Ambiguity on the legal sanction of quota for yoga got further worsened when an AIU official conceded that the association itself didn’t consider yoga as a sport.

“The competition is there because it helps in maintaining your body, mind and spirit. We do not consider it sport. This is not a sport. But we conduct the competition to improve the standard of performance,” said AIU Joint Secretary (Sports) Gurdeep Singh.

Singh also conceded that association’s decisions are not binding on the university.

“We have nothing to do with the DU sports quota. DU follows its own constitution. You talk to DU for this. A collective decision is made by our sports board. Whatever is in the larger interest of students, we do that. It’s not a sport but an activity, which helps strike a balance. The entire world has recognised the value of yoga, I don’t know why only here people have an issue with it,” he said.

However, in spite of what Singh said, the AIU website lists yoga as a sport in its “Calendar of Events” for 2017.

Although it is a thing which has been going on for years, some DU teachers, when apprised of the matter, called the decision (listing of yoga as sport by the university) as “arbitrary”, stating that it was never presented before the Academic or the Executive Council of the university.

“As far as reservation of seats under sports quota is concerned, we have an understanding of reserving them for only those sports which are recognised in Olympics. On what basis can they include yoga in it? asks Rajesh Jha, a DU professor and Executive Council member.

“This will end up undermining the chances of admission of those who are trained in genuine sports. This seems like a completely arbitrary decision,” he added.

Trials for yoga are scheduled to be conducted later this month.

Apart from Hansraj, Gargi College, Deshbandhu College, College of Vocational studies, and Kalindi College are few of those which have given their names for yoga trials and have reserved seats under the activity.

(Vishal Narayan can be contacted at [email protected])

— IANS

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Analysis

Global cues, inflation to dictate equity indices trend

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) is slated to release the macro-economic data points of IIP and CPI (Consumer Price Index) on June 12.

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Sensex Nifty Equity

Mumbai, June 10 : Monetary policy announcements by global central banks coupled with the upcoming release of major macro-economic data points on industrial production and inflation are expected to set the trend for the domestic equity indices.

According to market observers, other key factors such as rupee’s movements against the US dollar and fluctuations in crude oil prices as well as developments on monsoon’s progress will impact investors’ risk-taking appetite.

“Next week will have a flurry of economic data for India,” Devendra Nevgi, Founder and Principal Partner, Delta Global Partners, told IANS.

“A negative surprise in inflation data would reinforce the hawkish stance of RBI. A weaker external sector data would have an impact on INR, especially during a negative EM (emerging markets) sentiment. IIP (Index of Industrial Production) would be watched closely for an ongoing economic expansion.”

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) is slated to release the macro-economic data points of IIP and CPI (Consumer Price Index) on June 12.

Subsequently, other major macro-economic data points such as WPI (Wholesale Price Index), Current Account Deficit and Balance of Trade figures will be released.

On the global front, monetary policy announcements by the US Federal Reserve, ECB (European Central Bank) and the Bank of Japan (BoJ) will form major themes for the upcoming week.

“The US Fed rate move and language will set the tone for sentiment in EM as well Indian markets. The key is whether the US Fed pays attention to the vulnerable EM situation,” Nevgi said.

Besides, the movement of Indian rupee against the US dollar and fluctuations in global crude oil prices will also set the course for the key indices.

On a weekly basis, the Indian rupee weakened by 45 paise to close at 67.51 against the US dollar from its previous close of 67.06 per greenback.

In terms of investments, provisional figures from the stock exchanges showed that foreign institutional investors bought scrips worth Rs 1,367.22 crore during the week ended June 8, 2018.

Figures from the National Securities Depository Ltd (NSDL) revealed that foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) invested equities worth Rs 3,757.94 crore, or $560.40 million, in the last week.

Additionally, technical charts show that the National Stock Exchange (NSE)’s Nifty50 remains in an intermediate uptrend.

“Technically, with Nifty recovering from the lows of 10,552 points, the intermediate trend remains up,” said Deepak Jasani, Head of Retail Research, HDFC Securities.

“Further upsides are likely in the coming week once the immediate resistances of 10,814 points are taken out. Crucial supports to watch for any weakness are at 10,618 points.”

Last week, the key Indian equity indices — the S&P BSE Sensex and the NSE Nifty50 — rose on the back of Reserve Bank of India’s “neutral” stance on a future rate hike trajectory, along with its reform measures for the realty, bond and banking sectors and value buying.

Consequently, the barometer 30-scrip Sensitive Index (Sensex) of the BSE rose by 216.41 points or 0.61 per cent to 35,443.67 points on a weekly basis.

Similarly, the wider Nifty50 of the NSE closed last week’s trade at 10,767.65 points — up 71.45 points or 0.67 per cent — from its previous close.

(Rohit Vaid can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

CBDT says RTI replies on ‘write-off’ of IT arrears were ‘erroneously sent’

According to the RTI replies, the Pr-CCIT, Hyderabad had stated that it had written off a total of Rs 3002.20 crores in two financial years, 2016-2017 and 2017-2018.

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RTI ACT

Mumbai, June 1 (IANS) In an apparent volte-face, the Central Board of Direct Taxes has said that figures of ‘write-offs’ of Income Tax arrears furnished under right to information action were sent out in error.

Responding to an IANS report “Income Tax Department writes off huge arrears, show RTI replies” on May 28, 2018, the CBDT’s official spokesperson said that the the Principal Chief Commissioner of Income Tax (Pr-CCIT) Hyderabad had provided erroneous figures of ‘write-offs’ under an RTI application filed by Chandra Shekhar Gaur, a Neemuch (Madhya Pradesh) activist.

According to the RTI replies, the Pr-CCIT, Hyderabad had stated that it had written off a total of Rs 3002.20 crores in two financial years, 2016-2017 and 2017-2018.

The CBDT spokesperson, Surabhi Ahluwalia, Commissioner of Income Tax (Media & Technical Policy) now says that the information provided was “due to an inadvertent error made by the CPIO who reported the figures of ‘Cash Collection’ or recoveries made from arrears in these years as the figures of arrears written off.”

The correct amount of arrears written off in those two years for the Andhra Pradesh & Telangana by the Pr-CCIT Hyderabad, was actually zero (Nil), as no write-off orders were passed in these (two) years, he said, adding that the RTI applicant Gaur has been informed of the mistake.

Interestingly, the IANS had sent an email to the CBDT on May 16, with specific queries on the figures and the authorisation levels for the ‘write-offs’, which was ignored for nearly 13 days.

After the IANS story was published on May 28, the CBDT swung into action with a reply.

On the figures of tax arrears, totaling to over Rs 50,000 crore, including over Rs 33,157.97 crore from Pune alone, provided under RTI by various IT offices across India, the CBDT spokesperson said it had already collected Rs 44,633 crore during 2017-2018, which was 14.6 percent higher than Rs 38,944 crore collected in the previous fiscal.

Besides, the CBDT said of the current demands, Rs 52,537 crores was recovered by the ITD in 2017-2018.

The CBDT reiterated that ‘write-off’ of arrears was a detailed and long-drawn process and only initiated for arrears which become irrecoverable “after all avenues for recovery are exhausted.”

Besides, all proposals of ‘write-off’ of arrears above Rs 5,000 are examined by a committee at Zonal, Regional and Local levels, while any proposals for ‘write-off’ above Rs 25 lakh must “be approved by CBDT” and any such amount above Rs 50 lakh need approval “by the Finance Minister.”

For small value arrears upto Rs 10,000, there are relaxations in guidelines under a fast-track process, but the rigorous process remains in place and during 2017-2018 (upto December 31, 2017), a meager amount “of Rs 5.6 crore was written off in the entire country, the spokesperson said.

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