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Skilling India imperative to raise labour productivity and GDP Growth

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Declining labour productivity challenging; India needs skill enhancement

Skilled labour, Labour Shortage in India, Labour Productivity in India, Make in India, Manufacturing in India, Track2Media ResearchIndia Ratings and Research (Ind-Ra) says that India’s declining labour productivity is adversely impacting its GDP growth. India’s labour productivity grew at an average annual rate of 5.52% during the decade of 2000s as against 3.05% during 1990s.

In fact, during the high growth phase of FY05-FY08, it grew at 9.0%. However, India is now facing a productivity imperative with average labour productivity falling to 3.84% during FY11-FY15.

Given that the long-term average annual increase of labour force in India is 1.7%, India will have to raise its labour productivity growth to 7.3% (73.8% yoy) to attain the GDP growth of 9.0%. Also, to attain the double-digit growth of 10%, the labour productivity growth will have to be nearly doubled to 8.3%.

India’s labour productivity growth was 4.2% in FY15. Ind-Ra believes this is surmountable as India has attained such levels of labour productivity growth in the past.
A higher labour productivity does not mean lower employment.  

An additional 63.4 million jobs (labour productivity growth: 5.29%) were created between FY00-FY10 compared to 22.3 million jobs (3.84%) between FY94-FY00.
Also, labour productivity is not uniform across various sectors.

The sectors that stand out and achieved higher labour productivity growth during FY00-FY13 were (i) electricity, gas, and water supply (8%), (ii) transport, storage, and communications (7.0%), (iii) manufacturing (6.4%), and (iv) community, social, and personal services (6.0%).

Construction, agriculture and mining recorded labour productivity growth of negative 1.0%, 2.4% and 4.7%, respectively. Stagnation/low agricultural productivity has become a major cause of food inflation over the past few years. Similarly, the construction sector, which has been absorbing the large number of workers released from agriculture, is plagued with several issues which include the slow adoption of new technology and unorganised nature of its operations.

In FY90, China’s labour productivity per person employed was lower than India’s. However, in FY15, India’s labour productivity per person employed was USD13,637 as against China’s USD23,089. Skilling the workface therefore is an imperative for India.

According to National Policy on Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (NPSDE) 2005 the number of fresh entrants into the workforce requiring skill/vocational training during 2015-22 has been estimated to be 104.62 million.

Longer and sustainable labour productivity growth critically depends on how much businesses invest in innovation, knowledge, and intangible capital, and how committed governments are to structural reforms.

Structural changes to factor, product and labour markets are the most critical component of enhancing productivity and competitiveness in the long-term.

Ind-Ra, therefore, believes sooner the policy issues relating to land acquisition, goods and services tax and labour market reform are settled, the better it is for economic growth.  

By: Sunil Kumar Sinha, Principal Economist & Director Public Finance, India Ratings & Research – A Fitch Group Company

Desperate Facebook resorts to hooliganism

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Facebook through its ‘Free Basics’ has been so desperate that it resorts to hooliganism

Facebook, Social Media, Mark Zuckerberg, Net neutrality, Free basics, Indian  Internet Laws, TRAI, Track2Media ResearchFacebook as a medium of social networking platform has often been used for hooliganism and online bullying by the argumentative Indians. Ignorant rant, half baked perspective and cuss words are an accepted reality in a society where majority of the Indians don’t get a voice otherwise to vent out their frustration.

However, in an ironical twist of fate, it is the platform itself, Facebook that seems to resort to hooliganism against India once it lost its way to impose what it wanted the Indians to believe was free – ‘Free basics’. India’s telecom watchdog TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) found no merit in the case of Facebook to grant it what neutral observers found out to be internet monopoly. 

As a result, the desperate Facebook team got so irritated that it made an objectionable remark against India. Facebook Board Member Marc Andreessen termed India’s decision to bar discriminatory Internet tariff as an ‘anti-colonialist’ idea and said the country would have been better off if it remained under British rule.

Andreessen, one of Silicon Valley’s foremost venture capitalists, and his partner Benedict Evans took to Twitter to vent out their frustration about TRAI banning Facebook’s Free Basics and other such plans that charge different rates for Internet access based on content.

The move was hailed as a victory for net neutrality, the principle that all Internet websites should be equally accessible.

Andreessen, through his twitter handle @pmarca wrote: “Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?”

“Another in a long line of economically suicidal decisions made by the Indian Government against its own citizens,” he tweeted. “Denying world’s poorest free partial Internet connectivity when today they have none, for ideological reasons, strikes me as morally wrong.”

His partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, Evans, who uses the handle @BenedictEvans, chimed in: “It’s a terrible thing to offer people with no money the choice of something free.”

The comments drew sharp criticism from netizens with some calling Facebook’s Free Basics plan as Internet colonialism.

Sayeed Anjum responded to the tweet saying the subtext of Andreessen’s tweet is that “colonialism would any day be better economically. Natives should learn to take help.”

Another response read: “Now @facebook Board Director @pmarca suggests being colonized was good for India & we should’ve let Fb do so:).”

Netizen Gayatri Jayaraman tweeted: “yup @pmarca and @facebook clearly see themselves as the new East India Co colonial saviours to poor brown India.”

Facing flak, Andreessen removed the tweet. Later, he attempted to walk away from the discussion he fired up saying “I hereby withdraw from all future discussions of Indian economics or politics. Carry on.”

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had also expressed disappointment, saying the decision restricts programmes of his and other organisations that provide free access to data.

Free Basics, being run by the world’s largest social networking company, drew major criticism from experts who alleged that it curbed one’s freedom to access the Internet of their choice.

Whatever be the pros and cons of ‘Free basics’ on which Facebook spent millions, it still has absolutely no rights to condemn the democratic status of a nation. Is Facebook the new colonial ruler? Track2Media team wonders…

Ease of business and easy exit brand differentiator of Dubai: Sultan Ebrahim Alakraf

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Dubai considers India second best investor nation after UK.

Sultan Ebrahim Alkaraf, Dubai Land Department, Dubai property market, Dubai investment, UAE property market, NRI investment in gulf, Track2Media ResearchDubai property market has been centre of attraction for the investors from across the world. Indians, of course, have been a significant contributors and Dubai rates India as the second largest investor country after the UK. Sultan Ebrahim Alakraf, Senior Director of Land Department, Government of Dubai, shares with Ravi Sinha how Dubai has been consciously trying to create its own brand differentiator with ease of doing business and easy exit to the investors. Excerpts of an exclusive interview:

RS: How big a market do you see in India for investment into Dubai property?

SEA: India is very important for us both for strategic relations and investment. After UK it is second largest market for us. India will be our key focus market in the year 2016. We have been visiting to many countries and after UK we have found India to be the second largest market for us. Just see how many ships come to Dubai from India daily and you can make out the amount of trade relations that is happening between the two countries.

RS: After your global visits did you find this country lucrative because of the sheer size?

SEA: No! We look more as strategic relations with India. There is a long history of trade relations between India and the UAE. Therefore we selected India to be the second country for our visit. We want to strengthen our future business relations with India.

RS: Is your visit also about timing it right because there is slowdown in the Indian market and people are looking at overseas investment opportunities?

SEA: The city of Dubai is very competitive priced and it is suitable for all kinds of investment – be it a house or retail shop or office space. As far as timing is concerned, yes, it is very much right time because despite of slowdown the city of Dubai is a very safe city in terms of opportunities. We are always looking for opportunities in India, to invite them as our strategic partners.

RS: You have also organised exhibition in India? Has it been for just business transactions or there are other long-term expectations? 

SEA: Our expectations are for long-term strategic relations with India. Of course, we also want our developer community to have business transactions. And then we want to promote & position Dubai as a great place to invest where you don’t have to pay annual property tax once you invest into Dubai apartment or office. So, in terms of business we are the best place to invest. Also, we are closer to Europe and we are in the middle of India, Europe and Africa.

RS: At a time when the Government of India is trying hard to bring FDI and encourage NRI investments into the country, do you think Indians have enough incentive to investment in Dubai market? 

SEA: We are not trying to take this or take that share of investment but we believe in international competitiveness. It is market place where everyone is showing what best they have to offer. We are here to show our sincerity, transparency of our system and we are saying that Dubai is the best place in terms of ease of doing business at a strategic location. We are not trying to take somebody’s pie from them. We are just showing it to investors which is the best place to invest at what price. We are showcasing that Dubai is a great place to start the business or to grow a business.

RS: What kind of support are you giving to the investors in terms of ease of doing business?

SEA: We have created a system for the developers, for the brokers, and for the investors. We have separate investor centre which helps the investors in terms of selecting the right opportunities. We have regulatory agencies which helps to regulate the whole market. We are also educating the developers, brokers and investors about opportunities in Dubai. We have dispute resolution agencies and all this is under one umbrella. So, when you have everything under one umbrella it creates competiveness for everybody.

RS: Ease of doing business is one of the attractions but what about the entry & exit from Dubai?

SEA: Today, anybody who wants to set up business in Dubai asks what time will it take to transfer my property. We say it will just take 20 minutes. If one asks how long will it take to get my water connection, we assure it will take just one day. If one asks how long will it take to open a company, we say maximum it will take one week. So, practically within one week one can start office. We are not like those places where it takes six months to transfer your property. We believe in single process to facilitate the investors who come to invest in Dubai.

RS: Dubai market has also been witness to turmoil and many investors are still apprehensive. How would you assure them?

SEA: In terms of the economy, there is always ups and downs. In no business anywhere in the world it will only go up. It is not just about Dubai economy but international economy. Even the oil prices keep going up and down. This is the pattern of international economy. But if you are asking in today’s context it is going up.

RS: But when there is downturn investor driven markets are the worst to suffer. Don’t you think this has been reality of Dubai?

SEA: In the downturn you see our approach. We have supported everybody. People had said that Dubai will not come out of financial turmoil, but we have today come out of it. As a matter of fact, we have not only come out of it but come out stronger because the difficulty has it that if it does not kill you it makes you even more stronger. We came stronger, we have great legislation; we have greater rules & regulations to control the market; and we have a great platform for investors to come and set up business in Dubai. Dubai is today very strong and we are ready to move forward.

RS: Moving forward, how much ROI can be expected rom Dubai property market?

SEA: In real estate if you are a long-term investor you will get the returns in double digit year-on-year. But if you are a speculator who is coming back after one month to see the ROI then it won’t be much. For long term investment Dubai is the greatest market because after buying you can easily get it rented. We have an investment map where we can easily let the investors know about the support infrastructure in any given location.

The best part is that we are a truly global city. If you are looking for an Indian School system, a British School system or American School system or likewise we have everything available there in the city. There is presence of 204 nationalities and Dubai is for everybody, they all feel this is their home. For us, our people are not only Dubai-born people but everybody who live in Dubai.

RS: Along with ROI and ease of doing business one concern with any investor would be the exit option. How easy is the exit from Dubai market?

SEA: Anyone who comes to Dubai does not want to leave Dubai. But for us the exit is seamless facilitation where no one is ever stuck. It does not take more than 20 minutes to transfer the property. However, I do believe that no one would like to leave Dubai because of the kind of ease of doing business and the growth prospects that the city has to offer.

RS: Which segment of Dubai property is going to attract more investment?

SEA: Dubai is the one of the most sought-after shopping destination of the world. When the global travellers come we need to have hotels for that. So, we have some of the best hotels in Dubai. Then people are spotting the business opportunities and setting up offices here. And now we are creating theme parks.

For all these sectors to grow people would like to come and live in Dubai. When people would come and live in Dubai they need to have houses. So, every segment is fuelling the demand for the other segment. We are therefore providing everything together – residential, commercial, offices and hotels.

RS: Finally, I would like to ask how would you rate Indian property market vis-à-vis the Dubai property market?

SEA: Frankly speaking, I am not in a position to rate a market like this. To say I rate one market seven out of ten and the other one as eight out of ten won’t be right. For me, the rating of a market depends upon how much the market is able to attract the investment. For the investors to attract, the market has to offer security, ease of doing business and the growth potential.

India is one of the most growing markets of the world; it is a fact. But I don’t have the ability to rate the Indian market. Neither anybody in the world has the ability to rate & compare these two very different markets. India is a great market and for an investor also it is difficult to rate like this. What he will look to is the ability of the market to provide him the business opportunities, ease of doing business, security and overall quality of life.

An open letter to Prime Minister

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Track2Media Exclusive

It is arrogance and not business in your blood Mr Prime Minister

Modi & RBI, Indian economy  in Modi Government, Fiscal Deficit of Modi Government, Financial performance of Modi Government, Track2Media Research, An open letter to Narendra Modi, Open letter to Indian Prime MinisterMr Prime Minister! Let me admit, I have never been impressed by your high voltage election campaign and larger than life projection of you as messiah against all the problems that plagued the country. Frankly speaking, in my opinion this had just been over-promise that had nothing to do with the turnaround of India’s overall fortunes.

But having said that let me also admit that I was never as much sure about your non-performance as I am convinced today. Intellectual bankruptcy is what I had in mind when you took over the chair of Prime Minister. In less than two years time you made me and the nation convinced that there is more to just intellectual bankruptcy. Your style of governance can at best be called ‘Ignorance with Arrogance’. According to you, everything is happening Pehli Baar (First Time), forget about your imaginative knowledge of history, geography, economics and what not!

I wish to remind you that your scorecard has always been questionable even in your heartland Gujarat that falls short of national average, forget expectations, on all social indicators. However, the number game of economic development (GDP and Per Capita Income, as they say) that may not be the real indicator of prosperity is what helped you to be seen as ‘Man with Development’.

Sadly, even in this number game you failed your government and the nation when been given the bigger responsibility. Your economic performance, or rather lack of it, is proving to be your nemesis now. Today, you look like a jaded man looking clueless and wants more to entertain to divert the attention than perform on ground.

Probably you are forgetting the fact that the mandate that you have got is largely due to the aspiration-driven young India which somehow got befooled by your good oratory skills. The disillusionment is all too visible today Mr Modi.

When you came to power a large section of critics were concerned that you might function as the CEO than Prime Minister. What it meant was that in your quest for economic reforms you might end up compromising the social welfare of public at large. In two years time, you are neither here nor there – economic performance is at its worst and you sacrificed the social welfare policies of the previous government.

This just gives the impression that you are working at the behest of your corporate fund managers – the selected industrialists. Ironically, they have hired a very bad job manager to execute their business plans as well.

Today, when your government is all set to present its third Union Budget, the nation is wondering whether it is another photo-op or selfie session where fresh round of lofty ideas will be floated. I take this opportunity to remind you Mr Prime Minister that many, rather I should say most, of the lofty proposals being floated in the previous two Union Budgets are yet to see the light of the day.

A Union Budget is not just about making non-achievable claims sir! Across the world the Budget session is followed by hard work where the specifics are rolled out to implement what has been announced in the Budget. Ironically you have been two busy in making election speeches and criticising the opposition parties on your foreign tours to think beyond making tall and lofty promises.

The list of your economic failures is too long gentleman! FDI is less than what you promised or the country has the capacity to attract. Disinvestment remained much lower than target; converting post office to bank a non-starter; and then your black money scheme could get anything but black money.

Looking at it from the worst benchmark today, even the I K Gujaral Government’s voluntary disclosure of black money scheme could see the recovery of Rs. 33697 crore black money (with taxes worth Rs. 10,000 crore been collected) as against your much-publicised 90-day scheme that could see only Rs. 3770 crore.

Similarly, you failed to win the trust of the nation to be an active participant in the gold monetization scheme. Governance is not as simple as selfie session and ribbon-cutting on the works done by the previous government sir.

Worse of all, your government for the first time misled the nation on the performance of the economy with fake GDP growth figure; something that raised the concerns of even the economist in RBI Governor. I know you are very fond of championing ‘My Government and For the First Time’ rhetoric but please do it for all the right reasons sir.

Last, but not the least, the nation is very disturbed today with the way you are repeatedly hiking the Excise Duty on crude oil to make sure that the benefits of falling oil prices globally should not reach to the common man. They are your voters sir and you cannot penalize them for making the mistake of casting votes on aspirations.

This country has successfully weathered the impact of highest ever crude prices ($156 per barrel) under an eminent economist Manmohan Singh. Why is it such a crude joke by your government that the Indians are finding it hard to weather the impact of lowest ever crude prices ($27 per barrel)?

At a time when the cost of petro prices are lower than even a packaged water bottle, India stands out as the only country where the taxes on petro products are higher than its actual price in an open market. Over and above that you claim there is business in your blood. No Mr Prime Minister! This is not business. You don’t have business but arrogance in your blood.

Thanking you 

Ravi Sinha

A journalist wondering about economic sense & nonsense     

Inflationary challenge not yet over; RBI can cut rates in FY17

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It is difficult to cut rates when RBI is conscious of inflationary challenges.

Rupee, Indian Economy, India Rating, Union Budget, Fiscal Policy, Track2Media ResearchIndia Ratings and Research (Ind-Ra) expects average wholesale price index (WPI) to rise by 2.7% and Consumer price index (CPI) to rise by an average of 4.9% in FY17. Notwithstanding the benign retail and wholesale price forecast for FY17, Ind-Ra believes the inflationary challenge is far from over as food prices have more than often triggered surprises.

Ind-Ra’s Report ‘Economy to Expand, But Fiscal Slippage Likely in FY 17′ ‘published on 18 January projects benign retail and wholesale price forecast for FY17.

India is not alone and Emerging markets are also likely to see retail prices rise close to 6% in 2016 and 2017 as per the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projection that consumer prices in emerging markets will rise by 5.6% in 2016 and 5.9% in 2017.

This is also broadly in line with the Ind-Ra view on retail inflation in India which is likely to rise by an average of 4.9% in FY17. The IMF’s projection of a decline in commodity prices – oil prices by 17.6% & non fuel prices by 9.5% in 2016 is likely to keep the fuel and power component of wholesale prices in India down even in FY17.

Ind-Ra thus expects the average WPI to rise by 2.7% in FY17. Despite the expectation that prices remain under control in FY17, Ind-Ra believes the inflationary challenge is far from over as food prices have often in the past triggered surprises. The food related headwinds have been a mixture of structural and cyclical factors.

The structural issues plaguing Indian agriculture lately are i) stagnation in productivity, ii) rising cost of cultivation, iii) changing food consumption pattern, and iv) exploitation of supply shocks by intermediaries.

The government has made several attempts in the FY15 and FY16 union budget to address some of the structural/supply-side issues facing agriculture. An ambitious ‘Soil Health Card Scheme’ has been launched to improve soil fertility on a sustainable basis.

An agri-tech infrastructure fund, a technology driven protein revolution in the country, a price stabilisation fund, and Prime Minister’s irrigation scheme with a special focus on micro-irrigation and watershed development are at various stages of implementation.

An allocation of INR250bn has been made to the Rural Infrastructure Development Fund set up in National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (‘IND AAA’/Stable) to augment rural infrastructure. Also the target for the fund for FY16 has been increased to INR8,500bn, to improve the amount of agricultural credit to farmers.

Similarly, INR50bn has been allocated to upgrade/create warehouse infrastructure to strengthen the agricultural supply chain. A national market for agricultural commodities is also in the offing by overhauling the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act in consultation with the state governments.

Ind-Ra believes these are important measures and if implemented appropriately will have a positive impact over the medium- to long-run. In the interim, however, the government will have to keep food inflation under check by keeping a close eye on agricultural output and its prices through market intelligence and intervention.

The government has succeeded in keeping in check the prices of cereals so far this fiscal due to the i) efficient food management, through the timely release of food stocks, ii) limited increase in agricultural support prices and iii) lower international food prices discouraging exports. The two food items that have spoiled the party lately are onion and pulses.

Although the WPI based price is still showing deflation, it has been declining since August 2015. It is likely to turn into inflation during 4QFY16 due to the rapidly inching up of prices of food and non-food articles.

Also, the progress of rabi sowing is not encouraging after the adverse impact of monsoons on the kharif output. As on 23rd December 2015, the total area sown under rabi crops stood at 52m hectares, lower than the same period in 2014. Ind-Ra therefore believes that seasonal/cyclical headwinds in combination with structural issues remain a threat for food prices even in the foreseeable future.

Similar to WPI inflation, the key driver of the Consumer price index (CPI), RBI’s nominal anchor, is food inflation. Having nearly 46% weight in CPI, food and beverage inflation jumped to 6.3% in December 2015 from 2.9% in August 2015.

However, Ind-Ra expects the CPI inflation to decline to around 5.8% in January 2016, RBI’s revised target. Although by calling the 50bp repo rate cut, in its fourth bi-monthly review on 29 September 2015, a frontloaded policy action, RBI has nearly shut the door on further rate cuts in FY16, RBI’s policy stance is likely to be accommodative in the near term. If conditions permit, Ind-Ra expects a 25-50bp cut in the repo rate during FY17.

By: Dr Devendra Pant, Chief Economist, India Ratings & Research

Congress blames Modi Government for murder of democracy on Republic Day

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Congress leaders meet President Pranab Mukherjee, Delegation  against Modi Government, President Rule, Track2Media ResearchThe Congress party has blamed Modi Government for the murder of democracy by the Modi Government on Reupblid Day. The party blames the Modi Government celebrated India’s 67th Republic Day by using the Office of Governor, JP Rajkhowa to topple the democratically elected Government in Arunachal Pradesh, which came to power with a 4/5th majority. It invoked Article 356 and imposed President’s Rule in the State.

Just a few months after Shri Narendra Modi made a grand show in Parliament of ‘reaffirming his faith in the Constitution’, the Governor, the BJP and the Central government conspired to destabilize a democratically elected State government. The Governor’s unstated agenda was to help the BJP create a Constitutional crisis by distorting the Law.

He openly supported the demand of BJP MLAs and dissident Congress MLAs to dismiss the duly elected Speaker of the House and State Government, and ignored the fact that the sitting Chief Minister still held a majority in the Assembly.

In the wake of the actions of the Governor, the Congress Party first moved the High Court, which quashed the No Confidence motion against the sitting Congress Chief Minister. The HC further reprimanded the Office of the Governor for behaving in a “partisan manner”.

This crisis was created by the political machinations of the Governor, who has close links with the RSS. After creating this crisis, he then wrote to the Central Government recommending President’s Rule. This is BJP’s idea of ‘Cooperative Federalism’.  It seems more like ‘Coercive Federalism.’

By destabilising a democratically elected government the BJP is playing a dirty game. With China making claims on Arunachal Pradesh, and drugs & counterfeit currency being pushed through the porous borders, the Union Government should be working with the State Government, not against it.

Neither basic nor free; Facebook misleads India

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Internet, Free Basics, Net Neutrality, Facebook, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google, Yahoo, Cyber World, Internet freedom, Social media, Track2Media ResearchFree Basics is a programme by the Facebook initiative internet.org to provide basic Internet services, like search, Wikipedia, health information and weather updates for free to all users.

The aforementioned initiative aims to bring basic connectivity by connecting one billion Indians to jobs, education and opportunities online and ultimately a better future, according to an advertisement released by Facebook.

Internet.org is a partnership between social networking services company Facebook and six other companies that plan to bring affordable access to selected internet services to less developed countries by increasing efficiency.

In India, Facebook has tied up with Reliance Communication for the initiative. It has been criticised for violating net neutrality and handpicking Internet services that it will include in their platform and for discriminating against other companies which will not be a part of it like, for example, Facebook’s rival companies.

Facebook defence

Mark Zuckerberg contends that Internet connectivity is a basic human right and remarks that connecting everyone is one of the fundamental challenges. Zuckerberg commented that his company aims to bring affordable connectivity to billions of the world’s poor, including Indians.

Facebook claims its Free Basics service is under the NDA government’s Digital India programme which aims at digitalising India in the context of digital equality in India. It claims to make internet accessible to more citizens by providing them access to a range of services like news, maternal health, travel, local jobs, sports, communication and local government information but all are piled up in a series of 25 websites, selected individually under no transparency by Facebook.

The Facebook CEO even got Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales to sign a declaration pledging their collective resource towards this goal.

Freedom in real sense

The basic premise of net neutrality is of freedom, an open Internet that protects and enables free communication. Anything that takes away this freedom violates the fundamentals of free Internet.

However, Facebook’s Free Basics is neither free nor basic irrespective of its claims that anyone can join the platform and it is not for selected audience.

Speaking from the consumer’s point of view, first we need to have a valid Reliance Communication SIM card and then we get access to only those websites that have collaborated with Facebook to be a part of the platform; although there is a provision that websites can apply for a license to be a part of the platform. In the end it is going to be Facebook’s call on who gets to participate.

To give an instance, it will be on Facebook’s recommendation and choice we will be allowed to gather information, news or education. On the contrary, the principle of net neutrality states we can access the entire Internet which is contrary to the Free Basics provision of limiting it to a certain number of accessible websites on the basis of payment.

In any democracy it is imperative to respect the choice of the citizens as far as consumption is involved. Regarding Free Basics it should be left to the consumer to decide what one wants to access.

We need to provide full Internet at prices people can afford, not privilege private platforms. This is where India’s regulatory system has to step in.

Facebook misleading with ads

The airwaves, the newspapers and even the online space are now saturated with a Rs. 100 crore campaign proclaiming that Internet connectivity for the Indian poor is a gift from Facebook which net neutrality fundamentalists are opposing.

In its campaign, Facebook is also using the generic phrase “free, basic Internet” interchangeably with “Free Basics”, the name it has given its private, proprietary platform. This is in blatant violation of Indian rules on advertising, which forbid generic words being used for brands and products.

This is from a company which, in spite of having 125 million Indian subscribers, refuses to be sued in India, claiming to be an American company and therefore outside the purview of Indian law. Nor does it pay any tax in India.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has stopped this service for now, pending its public consultation on the subject. Facebook’s campaign is essentially to influence the outcome of such a consultation.

Data compromise

By accepting the Silicon Valley model of private services, we pay the Internet monopolies with our data, which can then be monetised. Personal data is the currency of the Internet economy. Data as commodity is the oil of the 21st century.

Facebook and Google’s revenue model is based on monetising our personal data and selling it to advertisers. Facebook generates an estimated revenue of nearly $1 billion from its Indian subscribers, on which it pays no tax.

Free Basics is not free, basic Internet as its name appears to imply. It has a version of Facebook, and only a few other websites and services that are willing to partner Facebook’s proprietary platform.

Today, there are nearly 1 billion websites. If we consider that there are 3.5 billion users of the Internet, 1 out of 3.5 such users also offers content or services. The reason that the Internet has become such a powerful force for change in such a short time is precisely because anybody, anywhere, can connect to anybody else, not only to receive, but also to provide content. All that is required is that both sides have access to the Internet.

All this would stop if the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or telecom companies are given the right to act as gatekeepers. This is what net neutrality is all about. No one should decide what part of the Internet or which websites we can access. This is what has made the Internet, as a platform, so different from other mass communications platforms such as radio and television.

India demographic dividend

While the Free Basics platform has connected only 15 million people in different parts of the world, in India, we have had 60 million people join the Internet using mobiles in the last 12 months alone. And this is in spite of the high cost of mobile data charges. There are 300 million mobile broadband users in the country, an increase fuelled by the falling price of smartphones.

In spite of this increase in connectivity, we have another 600 million mobile subscribers who need to be connected to the Internet. Instead of providing Facebook and its few partner websites and calling it “basic” Internet, we need to provide full Internet at prices that people can afford. This is where the regulatory system of the country has to step in.

The main barrier to Internet connectivity is the high cost of data services in the country. If we use purchasing power parity as a basis, India has expensive data services compared to most countries. That is the main barrier to Internet penetration. Till now, TRAI has not regulated data tariffs. It is time it addresses the high price of data in the country and not let such prices lead to a completely truncated Internet for the poor.

Danger ahead

The danger of privileging a private platform such as Free Basics over a public Internet is that it introduces a new kind of digital divide among the people. A large fraction of those who will join such platforms may come to believe that Facebook is indeed the Internet.

The British Empire was based on the control of the seas. Today, whoever controls the data oceans controls the global economy. Silicon Valley’s data grab is the new form of colonialism we are witnessing now.

Net neutrality is not an esoteric matter, the concern of only a few netizens. It is fundamental to the world, in which the Internet is a source of knowledge, a means of communication, an artery of commerce. Whoever controls access to the Internet will control our future. This is what the current battle over Facebook’s Free Basics is all about.

Holier-than-thou politics sans accountability

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Dharna, Political dharna, protest, political revolution, political anarchy, Track2Media ResearchPolitical advocacy always carries a moral high ground irrespective of whether it stands with a legitimate cause or it has hidden motives. Developing nations often fell prey to holier-than-thou breed of activists since the search for a political messiah is intrinsic due to the wide gap between wants and needs.

The mismatch between expectations and delivery is partly a result of corruption & feudal functioning and partly due to the widening gap between the expectations and load on the resources.

India, of late, has been a victim of this political advocacy turned into political hooliganism that eventually threw open in the field many political aspirants whose only claim to fame has been their opposition and resistance to whatever the political establishment had to offer.

The merit of India’s political class, or the lack of it, can be a different subject matter of discussion. However, what is significant for the country as of now is the fact that the so-called political alternatives are only giving a confused signal to the established political set-up and the masses, much to the amusement of the media which has suddenly found a new fodder for its TRP in a dog eats dog market.

As a result of this media-backed trial by a group of abusing and accusing political entrants, India today stands at the corridor of political uncertainty and Delhi Assembly election results are a case study. It is much easier to defame a democratically elected government nowadays where a TRP hungry media and social media outlets are always there to vent out the outbursts.

The logic often has no place in this world where contract killers of reputation are on the prowl. However, providing a better and viable political alternative is a different ball game altogether.

Those who demanded a high pedestal of morality from the established political institutions are today finding it difficult to provide something better and hence India seems to have entered an era of holier-than-thou politics that sans responsibility.

After promising an honest & efficient government, the new breed of politicians seems to have got scared of reputation, forget accountability. It is true that they have got a massive mandate but the interns of Delhi Assembly hardly seem to know how to handle the burden of expectations. They are hence resorting to media circus to divert the attention from the real issues that affects Delhi.

It is said that every revolution has seeds of self-destruction in its very DNA. Will the newly emerged political outfit that has systematically master minded the social and political unrest to reap political dividends end its own natural death? It is highly likely since the body language and the posturing of new-found political space seem to have gone to the level of arrogance.

It is true that the Congress has been routed not only in Delhi Assembly but also at the Centre, indicating an outburst against the party. But they have been graceful enough to admit it, congratulate the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) despite of slugfest during the polls and offered the unconditional support. They are also playing the role of a hawkish opposition against Modi Government.

It is a rare phenomenon in Indian politics, but the response of the AAP has been that they don’t need approval of Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi for doing well. It is a new feudal way of politicking where grace is retaliated with arrogance.

Those who advocated for referendum democracy with SMS are today totally confused. As a face-saver they are again resorting to abusing & accusing the Centre for non-cooperation. Were they not aware with the limitations of Delhi Assembly when they abused and accused the then Delhi Government of Shiela Dixit?

The Centre, on its part, is again struggling to perform. They termed former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh as lame duck economist. But their own performance on the economy is even worse than whom they condemned to be non-performer.

Was it all about the government formation alone that is a cause of worry? The larger cause of worry is the direction in which the Indian democracy is heading to. Holier-than-thou sans accountability may lead to populism all the time and referendum may be used as an alibi to any policy justification tomorrow.

Do we want a civilised democracy to turn into mobocracy? These are the questions to be addressed and government formation by one or the other party is not something that can change the way Indian politics operates. The quest for a political messiah has hurt the country time and again. Yet, it seems the Indian voters have not learnt their lessons.

Social networking or online obsession?

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Social media, social networking, Online obsession, Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Track2Media Research“500 plus friends online….the person must be the loneliest creature on the planet”, said a journalist friend on the trend to be open networker and befriending those with whom one has never even met.  A very private person and open critic of sharing personal and professional life with unknown people online, he was out rightly dismissing the idea of social and professional networking online.

Well, I must admit that the argument has its merit even though I am myself glued to online communities for a large part of my personal and professional hours.

In an honest confession, I must admit that the networking forum like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter plays an influential role in my own social/networking life. I may pretend that I remain absolutely committed on a professional level, but the fact of the matter is that networking sites for me has happened like a deal with an open community. In my otherwise personal and professional life I have maintained a very strict admittance criteria for close friends and family only.

However, Facebook provides me a forum for trivial news share that I am always not very comfortable to discuss in an open forum. LinkedIn and Twitter has further helped me segregate such trivia from the more academic business exchanges I have contributed to, and profited from. Still the argument of my critic friend has forced me to introspect deep. Why??? May be because my growing sense of consciousness, backed by a few social research, has been telling me that the quality of relationships may actually be falling victim to the new-age networking tools.

Without knowing it, or at least without any conscious design, social media has also  transmitted loneliness and a sense of social disconnection. In recent years, virtual escapism has effected change in numerous social groups and has given birth to new streams of revenue. Technology has drawn us into our interconnected webs, in the office, on the street, on the park bench, to the point that we exist virtually everywhere except in the physical world.

The quality time spent with friends and peer professionals is gradually getting less and we are subconsciously becoming a victim of internet obsession. Internet and its online communities are by its clinical nature cutting down the more fallible nature of human discourse: emotion, innuendo, political sniping. It lends a more objective, less risk-laden and therefore, I suppose, innocuous form of discussion. It’s an ideal channel for those wishing to avoid the intricacies of complex humanity and family ties.

Relationships, both personal and professional, are hard work. Just because someone retweeted your post doesn’t mean you have a workable relationship with that follower. In order to nurture and sustain a viable connection with someone, you must have personal contact that not only reinforces what you are doing but who you are as a person and a professional. Social Media removes you from personal interaction with other people subsequently reinforcing social ineptitude.

Being a student of Freudian school of human emotions, I have always been interested in human presence and reaction and know from experience that reading faces, listening to tone beyond words and pure personal chemistry form the most powerful basis for collaborative and gratifying relationships. I must admit that such a holistic dialogue process cannot be sustained by networking sites alone.

The realization grew deeper in me be the mere phone call of a close friend, whom I have not seen for a long while. An admittedly internet addict in me suddenly felt an emotional chord by the vocal conversation and it gave me the realization of how much I value human interaction; and more importantly, of how much of it was moving away as our collective addiction to online community intensified.

While the online community is, and will remain an important aspect of today’s global networking, I have taken a conscious decision that I will never escape my nature. I’m a humanist, a communicator. Words, expression, nuance have always been the make-up of my character as well as the tools of my trade. Some where the modern day communication had created a widening gap between the conscious and subconscious mind, and it was the physical presence of a journalist friend, a one-to-one discussion that goaded me to bridge this ever widening gap.

I do hope that my peer group who swear by the online reputation management will not consider my conscious decision as an indictment of my proclaimed aptitude thus far. After all, I am not shutting down all the modern day dialogue channels, just trying to be more social on the parameters other than the social media.

By: Ravi Sinha

Frustration of India’s candle class derailing democracy

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Candle March, Candle Class, Civil Society Protest, Political hooliganism, Protest against government, Track2Media ResearchLet’s discuss India’s internal politics, international relations, war with Pak….prepare a road map with half-baked perspective and ignorant rant and give it to the Government of India to implement verbatim. All this only on the Facebook, to hell with military secrecy, discuss war strategy here.

Failing this, we will take to streets with Candles in both hands and esoteric verbose like “Kranti” and “Andolan”. We are Candle Class of India, or to speak plainly, disgruntled urban middle class of India. We are constipated with overdose of democracy and it is not every day that our violent protest at India Gate gets the due dose of Delhi Police largesse.

Ever since a section of India’s middle class has got into the obsession of assuming social media outlets like Facebook and twitter as the real world, they have turned out to be a peculiar and funny case study for the researchers of clinical psychology.

With the new connotation of being referred as the “Candle Class,” if given choice these otherwise most influence-less people would like to run the country on Facebook itself, right from foreign policy to domestic local regulation…all prescribed on Facebook only, as they don’t have influence beyond Facebook.

Of course, they have been pro-active to join protest against the government, without realising that their presence is only being channelised by the vested political groups over there, be it on the issue of corruption or rape.

Even when legendary stateman like Lord keene had said that politics unfortunately suffers from being the one subject in which everyone is an expert, he had absolutely no idea of the emergence of India’s candle class in due course of time.

However, what baffles the most with the behavioural dilemma of this social media obsessed candle class is not just ignorant rant or half-baked perspective but sheer contradiction. India must opt for retaliation and attack the Pakistan is the common mandate, if social media outlets are any indication where they vent out their anger and, to be more specific, their frustration.

My dear candle class, you are the one to oppose this very same government for inflation in general and fuel in particular. Do you bloody understand that war costs on the nation and for a petroleum starved nation like India, your domestic fuel will be the first to be affected? Do you understand that by opting for a repeated provocation to India, Pakistan has destroyed its economy? Do you understand there can’t be a full-fledged war between two nuclear powers?

India, by the sheer fact that it opted for restrained military might, has been an economic giant in the region after China. Should your abrupt provocative overtones lead us to Pakistan’s way? Will you sacrifice your air conditioned lifestyle for the nation? No, you will only crib on Facebook.

Similarly, the Pakistan’s Supreme Court asking the Prime Minister to be arrested is something that India’s candle class takes a sadistic pleasure with. The hooligans among them even go to the extent of asking when will this happen in India. It will never, and efforts to derail democracy will not succeed.

It is time to stop the hypocrisy of you candle class.

By: Ravi Sinha

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