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Job creation will drive next phase of reforms

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On the 25th anniversary of India’s economic reforms, a general consensus seems to have emerged within the country and without that the next phase reforms must address what has so far eluded agreement among the principal stakeholders: land and labour. Make in India will not happen if these two main factors of production remain entangled in political one-upmanship.

The government has made some overtures in the domain of land reforms, but the issues surrounding it have not yet fully crystallized. Unless there is clarity and consensus around land reforms, including land acquisition for implementing government’s industrialization and infrastructure development projects, the vision of converting India into a global manufacturing hub will remain unrealized. It is essential to pursue efforts towards a comprehensive land reforms policy relentlessly to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion.

In the field of labour, the exercise for rationalization and consolidation of labour laws undertaken by the government in the last two years has suddenly taken a breather. Despite earlier attempts to push the agenda forward, the feeling that the main stakeholders were not taken fully on board has provoked angry reactions among the major trade unions, which have threatened a nationwide strike in September. Recognizing the possible implications of unilateral action, the Prime Minister has reportedly decided to proceed more cautiously in future by taking the workers’ representatives into confidence.

Industry lobby FICCI had set up a special tripartite group to consult the stakeholders and make suitable recommendations for the government’s consideration. As convener of the special group, I held extensive consultations and submitted my report making a host of recommendations. Among other things, I advocated gradualism and proposed an incremental approach to labour law reforms in place of the wholesale reforms that were being attempted.

There really is no alternative to dialogue, compromise and consensus in the realm of social re-engineering. The efforts may appear tardy and frustrating at times, but sustainable results can be achieved only if we are able to hone the strategy of tactical retreat with a view to eventually finding the winning formula that will be acceptable to all.

The rolling back of government’s publicly announced EPF policies earlier this year is a case in point. The massive street protests in Paris in April and May 2016 against the French government’s labour reforms that were perceived as pro-capitalist portend social unrest that may become intractable if such sensitive matters are not handled with understanding and empathy.

The fact that recent amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act encountered widespread criticism from academia, social activists, international organizations like Unicef and others exposes the absence of broad-based dialogue and consensus building that is the cornerstone of progressive and sustainable labour reforms architecture.

Despite all the wishful rhetoric over the last two years of the present government, it is now common knowledge that enough jobs — especially decent quality jobs — are not getting created in the economy, particularly in the organized manufacturing sector. The government would do well to ensure that the frustrations of youth poised to enter the job market are effectively contained. Towards this end, the recent announcement about massive injection of funds for skilling and re-skilling potential job seekers is most opportune.

The concerned department and agencies of the government must quickly respond by setting up capacity and infrastructure to absorb the funds and put them to best advantage. The youth are impatient and care must be taken to ensure that the burning embers are not allowed to be stoked by “indosceptics” who have a problem for every solution.

Clearly, job creation is the single most important direction to follow in the next phase of reforms. If adequate numbers of jobs are available in the marketplace, the resistance to labour reforms on the part of the traditional trade union movement will surely mellow.

Meanwhile, the government should re-establish confidence and trust among employers’ and workers’ representatives by organizing impartial and meaningful tripartite consultations on labour reform proposals that are doable. There is no point in biting off more than you can chew. The priorities and pace of reforms must be carefully calibrated so that the achievements can endure in the long run.

The government has three more years to go in its first term. There is sufficient time to readjust the trajectory so that results start showing before it must inevitably return to the hustings. Alarm bells are not ringing just yet, but a gentle reminder is not out of order.

Business

Ratan Tata-backed Repos Energy registers 150 startups

Founded in 2017, Repos Energy startup is based out of Pune in Maharashtra and has been funded by Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons, Ratan Tata. Currently, it operates in over 150 cities of India.

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New Delhi, Sep 6 : Pune-based energy distribution company Repos Energy has registered over 150 fuel startups in less than a month.

These startups would carry on door-to-door delivery of diesel through mobile petrol pumps.

“With the goal to reboot the economy and making India Atmanirbhar, Repos Energy has been working extensively to create a startup ecosystem of its own in the energy sector,” a company statement said.

As per the co-founders Chetan Walunj and Aditi Bhosale Walunj empowering startups through the dynamic model of doorstep diesel delivery through mobile petrol pumps will change the game of fuel distribution in India.

“According to industry experts, this move is expected to garner around Rs 9,000 crore of investment,” the statement said.

Repos Energy will call them ‘fuel startups’, and will provide them with the entire support system. Repos will provide these new startups with end-to-end solutions for buying the mobile petrol pumps along with sharing the know-how.

“These fuel startups will be registered with us and featured on our app. We will also provide them with the necessary infrastructure. This will include a back-end team to build their entire brand identity. We will make sure that they become successful startups,” Chetan Walunj said.

Aditi Bhosale Walunj said: “We have built an entire ecosystem of fuel distribution that consists of IoT and AI-driven Repos Mobile Petrol Pumps (RMPP). These RMPPs are being designed at our IoT facility in Chakan, Pune, and comply with PESO norms.”

Some of the fuel startups which have registered with Repos are, Easy Diesel from Pune, Nuvera Energy from Mumbai, Auro Fuels from Bengaluru, AMA Fuels from Kolkata, Echological Fuels from Guwahati, Future Fuel Services from Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh.

Founded in 2017, Repos Energy startup is based out of Pune in Maharashtra and has been funded by Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons, Ratan Tata. Currently, it operates in over 150 cities of India.

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Health

Over 22,000 ‘Make in India’ ventilators given to states: Centre

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New Delhi, Aug 13 : The Centre on Thursday stated that it has distributed more than 3.04 crore N95 masks and over 1.28 crore PPE kits to states, union territories and Central institutions free of cost in the last five months. Over 22,000 ‘Make in India’ ventilators have also been delivered.

The Centre has been strengthening the health infrastructure to fight the pandemic and effectively manage it. Along with augmenting Covid-19 facilities, the government has been providing medical supplies free of cost to the states and union territories to supplement their efforts.

“Since 11th March 2020, the Union Government has distributed more than 3.04 crore N95 masks and more than 1.28 crore PPE kits to states, UTs, Central Institutions, free of cost. Also, more than 10.83 crore HCQ tablets have been distributed to them,” the government said.

In addition, 22,533 ‘Make in India’ ventilators have been delivered and their “installation and commissioning is also being ensured”.

“Most of the products supplied by the Government of India were not being manufactured in the country in the beginning. The rising global demand due to the pandemic resulted in their scarce availability in the foreign markets,” it added.

As a result, resolve for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and ‘Make in India’ has been strengthened and most of the supplies made by the Union Government are domestically manufactured.

With the combined efforts of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Textiles and Ministry of Pharmaceuticals, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and others, the domestic industry has been encouraged and facilitated to manufacture and supply essential medical equipment like PPEs, N95 masks, ventilators, etc., during this period.

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Business

Airtel buys 10% stake in conversational AI startup Voicezen

Voicezen is the third startup to become a part of the Airtel Startup Accelerator Programme.

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New Delhi, May 21 : Bharti Airtel on Thursday said that it has acquired a 10 per cent stake in Voicezen, an early stage startup focused on conversational AI technologies.

The acquisition has been made by the company under its fast expanding Airtel Startup Accelerator Programme, the company said in regulatory filing.

“Acquisition of the equity shares of investee company is done at mutually agreed pre money enterprise valuation. The said valuation is not disclosed herein due to reasons of confidentiality,” it said.

Gurugram-based Voicezen has been working on developing advanced solutions that leverage machine learning, AI, speech to text and voice technologies to offer real time analytics to help brands serve customers better.

“The investment will give Airtel preferred access to Voicezen’s technologies, which can be deployed across its customer touch points in multiple languages. These intelligent solutions will offer real time analytics and insights to make Airtel’s conversations with its customers more engaging and frictionless and enable faster resolution. It will also allow Airtel to make contextual offers to customers based on real time conversations,” the filing said.

Voicezen is the third startup to become a part of the Airtel Startup Accelerator Programme.

Adarsh Nair, Chief Product Officer, Bharti Airtel said: “Voicezen has built some promising products that are very relevant for a market like India. As part of its strategy to deliver a highly differentiated service experience to its customers, Bharti Airtel has acquired a strategic stake in Voicezen, an early stage start-up focused on conversational AI technologies.”

Apurba Nath, Founder of Voicezen, said that the startup helps brands deliver a better customer experience in Indian languages using ‘Conversational AI’. “Having worked on AI solutions in the past, Voicezen knew what works well in a lab most often doesn’t work in the real world, because either the training data is not large and relevant or the problem has little business significance,” he added.

“Our partnership with Airtel helps us solve these challenges. With this strategic investment, we will work even more closely with them to continuously improve our AI models and build out an enterprise grade, battle hardened product that will make customer interactions more efficient, especially in this post-Covid world where business operations are facing large disruptions,” he said.

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