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Rethinking World Bank ranking

India has a long way to go. It would be in the fitness of things for the government to lay out a roadmap for businesses at the bottom of the pyramid and work hard to address their issues.

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The Finance Minister’s self-congratulatory press conference on India having jumped 30 places in the World Bank rankings for ‘Ease of Doing Business’ made national headlines. Perhaps that was the objective, in the wake of disturbing evidence from across the country, of the adverse impact of demonetisation and hasty implementation of a flawed GST on small and medium businesses, a large number having wound up in, or are in, dire straits. The ease of doing business to the creamy layer of businesses might cater to the well-being of conglomerates at the top of the pyramid, but for the vast majority directly dependent on the informal economy, these rankings have no significance. For businesses in the informal sector, ease of doing business still remains a distant dream.

The World Bank study focusses on the largest business city in each of the 190 economies covered by the Doing Business Project (DBP). From 2015 onwards, it incorporated a second major business city for eleven most populous economies. This year, the cities covered by the DBP in India were Mumbai and Delhi. The DBP was persuaded to a great extent by the passage of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code as well as the e-filing of returns on the basis of which our economy jumped 30 places in ‘Ease of Doing Business’ rankings. It is obvious, therefore, that the World Bank, by its own admission on the limitations of this exercise, was not concerned with businesses struggling to survive across India, and which form the backbone of the Indian economy. It is when the small and medium scale enterprises in the informal sector find it easy to do business, have the ability to access credit, are liberated from the trappings of corruption at the local level, are able to easily obtain water and electricity connections with uninterrupted supply and have access to a myriad other related services facilitating their conduct of business, then alone will the people of India congratulate the Finance Minister for a dramatic turnaround in India’s business environment. This creamy layer project for ease of doing business, unconcerned with the rest of India, is a farce.

The textile business in Ludhiana in Punjab, Bhiwandi in Maharasthra, Tirupur in Tamil Nadu, the small and medium businesses across towns like Agra, Meerut, Varanasi, Kanpur etc. in UP, the leather factories in Tamil Nadu and other small businesses doing multifarious activities are reeling from the after-effects of the cash freeze, which has impacted the pace of economic growth. It is sad that a nation as large and as populous as India has to catch at straws and latch on to the World Bank’s ranking, which is oblivious to the reality of business in India, and then tom-tom about the reform process.

Even though confined to just two cities, the DBP actually looks at various parameters ranging from starting a business, dealing with construction permits, securing electricity, registration of properties, access to credit, protection of minority investors, ease of paying taxes, cross-border trade, enforcement of contracts and insolvency issues. The impact of GST and demonetisation on these business parameters was not part of the report. However, without assessing the impact of hasty and ill-thought decisions, India still ranks 181 out of 190 with reference to construction permits, 154 for registering properties, 156 for starting a business, 164 for enforcing contracts, and 146 for trading across borders. Had this data been prominently highlighted, the Finance Minister would have hesitated to address the Press.

The World Bank bases its data, to arrive at the rankings, from four main sources of information — relevant laws and regulations, expert respondents, respective governments and World Bank’s regional staff. An important missing link is the feedback at the firm-level, which alone could have gauged whether reforms aimed at ease of doing business are working to their benefit.

As far as insolvency legislation is concerned, though in place since December 2016, its impact is yet to be seen. In the case of ease of filing income tax returns through e-filing, this has been an ongoing resolve, hardly attributable to any unique initiative by this government. The insolvency legislation was also work in progress when this government came to power in 2014.

India has a long way to go. It would be in the fitness of things for the government to lay out a roadmap for businesses at the bottom of the pyramid and work hard to address their issues. This involves the participation of the state government and all its administrative units to work in tandem, which will help businesses to stand on their feet. To time the press conference for sending a message that this government has done something unique to transform the business environment in India was yet another attempt to influence voters, both in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.

Electoral victories inherently are not permanent. What is required and expected of a government is to both lay and strengthen the foundations of the wherewithal necessary to do business in India. It is to give permanence to that foundation, which should be the aspiration of any Finance Minister.

Courtesy: This article is published in DNA on 6th November 2017.

The author is a member of the Rajya Sabha, and a senior Indian National Congress leader. Views expressed are personal.

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SFJ annouces $1M aid for agitating farmers, agencies vigilant

The SFJ had announced anti-India campaign, ‘Referendum-2020’, in November this year to seek secession of Punjab from India.

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Farmers Delegation

New Delhi: As thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are rallying at Delhi’s three interstate border points, banned secessionist group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) is trying to fish in troubled waters by announcing $1 million aid for farmers who suffered injuries or damage to their vehicles while facing police action in Haryana.

The information has sent security agencies into a tizzy, with many deployed on protest spots in plainclothes to keep a close tab on SFJ supporters who may mingle with protesters as part of their “ill-intention” to lure innocent farmers and take undue advantage of the situation in the name of helping them.

In its recent announcement through a social media platform, the SFJ said it will provide $1 million aid to farmers from “Punjab and Haryana who have suffered bodily injuries or damage to their vehicles while facing police action during their hard-fought journey to Delhi”.

The SFJ’s message mentions its plan for opening a 24-hour call centre on November 30 in the US, Canada, the UK, France and Germany to accept online applications from farmers of Punjab and Haryana to reimburse for their losses and also to register votes for its “Khalistan Referendum”.

“SFJ is kick-starting the Khalistan Referendum voting from London on August 15, 2021 for the independence of Punjab,” mentions the message circulated by SFJ’s US-based General Counsel and group’s key leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun — designated a terrorist by the Indian government.

Assuring farmers of Punjab and Haryana that the SFJ will bear all the losses they have suffered, Pannun stated that “once Punjab is liberated from Indian occupation, the loans of the farmers will be waived and free power supply granted”.

The group has also threatened to take up the matter at the international level if the Indian government did not repeal its three contentious farm laws enacted in September.

“If the Modi government does not scrap the farm bills, as demanded by the farmers, SFJ will initiate legal action against India at the international level with the backing of various kisan organisations,” Pannun said in the message.

Security establishment, including anti-terror agencies, have since intensified efforts against the group banned by the MHA via a notification dated July 10 last year under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) following its “anti-India activities” to disrupt law and order in the country.

However, the security officials maintained, no suspicious activity of the group has been noticed in the national capital or in the interstate border areas so far, even as central agencies are keeping a strict vigil to avoid any untoward activity.

It is the third such message circulated by the SFJ in the past one week. The SFJ earlier this week had called upon farmers of Punjab and Haryana to raise Khalistan flag at the India Gate here on the 12th anniversary of a terrorist attack in Mumbai on November 26, following which the national capital was put on high alert.

The SFJ had announced anti-India campaign, ‘Referendum-2020’, in November this year to seek secession of Punjab from India.

The move followed inputs that the Sikh community across India has rejected the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) sponsored propaganda of ‘Referendum-2020’. Pakistani intelligence agency ISI has been backing the malicious campaign launched by the SFJ as a large number of Pakistani Twitter handles have started tweeting in favour of the so-called ‘Referendum’.

Dubbing Sikhs in Kashmir as “freedom fighters and Sikh soldiers”, the US-based Khalistani radical outfit has urged them to support its most infamous agenda, ‘Referendum-2020’.

The group is already on the radar of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which has been taking action against its key leaders such as Pannun and many others. In the beginning of September, based on NIA’s inputs, the MHA had issued an order to attach the properties of Pannun and SFJ’s Canada coordinator Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

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Punjabi diaspora worried, shocked over ‘brutality’ against farmers

“Farmers are peacefully protesting over controversial bills that will impact their livelihoods. Water cannons and tear gas, are being used to silence them.”

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Farmers Beaten

Chandigarh, Nov 29: The planned protest against new farm laws and the ‘brutality’ of the security forces by lobbing teargas shells and using water cannons to stop the peaceful march of the farmers towards the national capital has left the diaspora largely from Canada worried and shocked.

They asked the Indian government to engage in an open dialogue with the farmers as their livelihoods are going to be impacted.

Expressing solidarity with the farmers, Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the reports of peaceful protesters being brutalized were very troubling.

“Many of my constituents have family there and are worried about the safety of their loved ones. Healthy democracies allow peaceful protest. I urge those involved to uphold this fundamental right,” he tweeted on Sunday.

Joining the issue, Sonia Sidhu, MP for Brampton South, Canada, tweeted, “I received many messages from constituents concerned in Brampton South about the situation in India.

“My residents told me how worried they are about the protests of the Punjab farmers. I share their concerns and hope that the situation will be resolved peacefully.”

Joining her counterpart, Ruby Sahota, MP for Brampton (North), said the determination and resilience of the farmers is admirable.

“In a free and just society one should be able to advocate for their cause without the threat of force being used against them. The brutality being faced by the Indian farmers in these images is deplorable,” she said in a tweet.

Joining the cause, Chandigarh-born Rachna Singh, Parliament Secretary of British Columbia, said she was really saddened by the way Punjab farmers are being treated. “This is unacceptable.”

Describing the violence perpetrated by the Indian government against farmers peacefully protesting is appalling, Canada’s New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted: “I stand in solidarity with the farmers from Punjab and across India — and, I call on the Indian government to engage in peaceful dialogue rather than violence”

He thanked Jack Harris, MP for St. John’s East, for his advocacy.

“We are shocked to see the Indian government’s suppression of farmers protesting new laws which will endanger their livelihood. Instead of using water cannons and tear gas, the Indian government needs to engage in open dialogue with farmers,” said Harris.

“Peaceful protests are fundamental in any democracy, and I urge for the rights of the protestors to be respected,” said Navdeep Bains, MP for Mississauga-Malton.

“Shocking scenes from Delhi,” remarked MP from Britain, Preet Kaur Gill.

“Farmers are peacefully protesting over controversial bills that will impact their livelihoods. Water cannons and tear gas, are being used to silence them.”

Tracing his roots to a farmer family, Indo-Canadian politician Gurratan Singh said the images of police brutality were horrific.

“I come from a family of farmers. I feel the pain and struggle of farmers protesting laws that threaten their livelihoods. The state continues to meet peaceful protestors with violence and brutality,” he tweeted along with the video of his speech made by him in the Ontario Assembly.

“Farmers are the backbone of our society. They feed cities, and right now they are under attack in India. Folks in my riding are concerned about new laws that are passed by the Indian government that are going to hurt the farmers in Punjab, Haryana and others across India.

“That’s why I am asking all the members of this House to come together to stand with farmers against these unjust laws passed by the Indian government, so farmers in India can live with respect and dignity that they deserve,” Gurratan Singh said in his speech.

Standing with farmers in India, Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, Andrea Horwath, said: “Everyone deserves to be able to exercise their democratic rights without fear of state-sanctioned violence”.

Canadian MP Tim Uppal posted, “India’s farmers deserve to be heard and respected. This is horrific.”

The farmers are protesting against the farm laws as they feel that these laws would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price (MSP) system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporate entities.

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The new team in Washington surveys West Asia Trump leaves behind

To point fingers at the Muslim Brotherhood (Akhwan ul Muslimeen) as the enemy would isolate most of the GCC Sheikhdoms from the larger Muslim ‘Umma’. They would then be perceived as only the ‘Wahabi’ sect of the Sunni world.

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Joe Biden

New Delhi, Nov 29: For the new team being announced by the Biden administration any innovation can only follow repair work of the considerable wreckage that is being left behind by the outgoing team.

At this moment of transition, what construct does one place on the outgoing Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo’s participation in the cloak-and-dagger meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu in the mega city of Neom being built on the Red Sea? The drama of this meeting was heightened by Netanyahu’s office denying the meeting in tones which seemed to suggest that the Israelis were not busting their guts to keep the meeting secret. A pretense of secrecy was essential because otherwise ‘MBS’ would be in ‘trouble’.

Netanyahu’s Education Minister, Yoav Galant, could not contain his joy at the “amazing achievement” because the “Sunni world” was joining the Israel-US alliance to counter “Iranian Shiite extremism”.

This Shia-Sunni confrontation, real or simulated, has been the game ever since the Shah was toppled in Iran. Why then this secrecy now? Why is MBS so scared being seen in an embrace with Netanyahu on Saudi soil? Because his people will find out? Do his people matter? But it turns out that human rights is an article of faith with the incoming Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. This may well be a source of anxiety not just for Saudi Arabia but all monarchies and authoritarian systems. Are there any in our vicinity?

A hint about MBS’s source of anxiety was available in the other crucial meeting the Saudi king had with President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. The Turkish strongman is part of a quadrangle which both, Washington (the incoming administration) and MBS, Netanyahu too, should by analyzing.

After the Soviet collapse in 1991, it was elementary that creating a distance between Moscow and Beijing would remain a US strategic goal. But George W Bush and his deluded neo-cons asked for the moon — full spectrum global dominance into the American century. The financial crisis of 2008 rapped them hard on the knuckles. American decline was well underway when Trump greased the downward slide even more effectively.

The evolving Biden team will contemplate at the menacing quadrangle I mentioned at the outset. To begin with, Moscow and Beijing have never been closer. The duet spotted the potential of Iran too, and included it in the club. After all, Washington is just about to dust up the Iranian nuclear file for a resumption of a conversation with Tehran.

No sooner had Trump lost the election, when Imran Khan was on his maiden trip to Kabul. This, when the US troop withdrawal from the Afghan capital had run into the sort of snags which US representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad was trying to sort out. Was the Pakistan Prime Minister now effectively being positioned to handle the Afghan file? This became a very real anxiety in both Tehran and New Delhi. But Iran being re-invited on the nuclear file, mollifies it somewhat. How happy New Delhi should be with its exertions in the Quad (US, Australia, Japan, India) only time can tell. The Japanese Foreign Minister has already clarified: our membership of the Quad is not directed against any country.

So, while the US was on the Trump rollercoaster and coping with the social mayhem and galloping Covid, other countries were moving increasingly in concert. There has been so much continuous chanting of the Shia-Sunni conflict that real and abiding antipathies have been lost sight of.

A convenient point of departure to explain this narrative are the two events in December, 1979, which rattled the Saudis, indeed the world — Ayatollah Khomeini’s return, signaling the Iranian revolution. Around the same date, an anti-monarchy, Sunni, an extreme version of the Muslim Brotherhood, Juhayman al-Otaybi, defied the Saudi state by occupying the holiest Muslim mosque of Mecca.

Unable to flush out Otaybi and his armed supporters, Saudis sought Western help. A situation emerged which to a non Muslim would read like a situation comedy. Since non Muslims are not allowed in Mecca, US and French soldiers had to be converted to Islam to enter the mosque and accomplish the holy task of killing Otaybi and his men. This “rebellion within” gives Saudis nightmares. But they feel more secure externalizing the threat. They have persistently targeted Iran and Shiaism as threats to themselves, Israel, indeed, the West. When did you last hear of the 15 days siege of the Mecca Mosque?

To point fingers at the Muslim Brotherhood (Akhwan ul Muslimeen) as the enemy would isolate most of the GCC Sheikhdoms from the larger Muslim ‘Umma’. They would then be perceived as only the ‘Wahabi’ sect of the Sunni world.

Incalculable Saudi wealth, particularly after the quadrupling of oil prices following the 1973 Yom Kippur war, had the Western Military Industrial Complex salivating on Arab petro dollars. The oil rich Sheikhs are, by formal agreements, dependent on Western arms. Their wealth plus their links to Israel give them considerable control on Western media which has quite shockingly harped only on the Shia-Sunni conflict.

When the Arab Spring dethroned Hosni Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi became Egypt’s Prime Minister. Coming to power of a Brother in Egypt caused the Saudis to load their camels with their billions and turn up in Cairo to stabilize Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s coup in Cairo. Brothers in power in Egypt was anathema to the Israelis too because the Hamas in Gaza would now have help from all sides. Brother in Turkey, Qatar and Egypt. They were ideologically coherent with Hamas.

At the Shia end, the Hezbullah in Lebanon, Iran, the Alawi elements in the Syrian Army, the Shia majority in Iraq, Houthis of Yemen are all supporting the Palestinian cause to the hilt.

No, it is not the Shia Sunni divide which is bothering MBS and Netanyahu. What worries them deeply is the Shia-Sunni combine zeroing in on the Israelis and the Wahabis in unlikely comradeship.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior commentator on political and diplomatic issues. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on [email protected])

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