1. GDP to grow 6.5% in 2023-24: Survey
‘Pandemic-induced blues are over, India on a stronger wicket now’ Need to stay vigilant on inflation and current account deficit, says CEA ‘Solid domestic demand and a pickup in capital
Painting an exuberant picture of the Indian economy’s prospects thanks to “New Age” reforms undertaken since 2014, the Economic Survey tabled by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in Parliament on Tuesday asserted that not only were the pandemic-induced blues over, but the outlook for the years ahead was also rosier than in the pre-COVID years.
Though global uncertainties are rife and the world economy is slowing, the Survey exuded confidence that India’s GDP would grow 6.5% in 2023-24, after an estimated 7% this year, “supported by solid domestic demand and a pickup in capital investment”.
“The Indian economy in 2022-23 has nearly ‘recouped’ what was lost, ‘renewed’ what had paused, and ‘re-energised’ what had slowed during the pandemic and since the conflict in Europe,” the Survey averred.
The final growth outcome for 2023-24 could be in the range of 6% to 6.8%, depending on the trajectory of global economic and political developments. “Some of you may think the range is asymmetric in nature, but that is deliberate because there is still uncertainty. We have many known unknowns and unknown unknowns,” remarked Chief Economic Adviser (CEA) V. Anantha Nageswaran.
While the Survey expects inflation — a bugbear for the economy throughout this year — to be “well-behaved” in 2023-24, the CEA acknowledged there were upside risks to commodity prices from external factors such as China rapidly restarting economic activity.
‘Inflation no deterrent’
The central bank’s estimate of 6.8% retail inflation for 2022-23 is outside its target range, but “at the same time, it is not high enough to deter private consumption and also not so low as to weaken the inducement to invest,” the Survey said. “We expect [that] if the global economy slows down as the IMF and many people project, then commodity prices should retreat on the back of the monetary tightening… As of now, the United States economy looks set to avoid a full-fledged formal recession. And therefore, this January, already we have seen crude oil prices and industrial metal prices are higher than they were at the end of December,” the CEA noted.
2. Adani’s FPO fully subscribed as HNIs offset retail wariness
The ₹20,000-crore follow-on public offer from Adani Enterprises Ltd. (AEL) was fully subscribed on the last day of the record share sale on Tuesday, after high net worth individuals (HNIs)and institutional investors bid strongly and more than made up for a poor to tepid response from retail investors and employees.
The successful conclusion of the Adani Group flagship company’s FPO will come as a major relief to its promoters led by India’s richest individual Gautam Adani in the wake of a U.S.-based short-seller’s allegations of accounting irregularities and stock manipulation at the group, which led to a rout in the conglomerate’s shares.
The FPO finally received bids for 1.12 times the 4.55 crore shares on offer, according to the BSE data.
While qualified institutional bidders (QIBs) led by FIIs sought 1.26 times the shares offered to them as a category, non-institutional investors (NIIs) bid for 3.32 times the stock reserved for them as a class. NIIs who placed bids exceeding ₹10 lakh including HNIs, sought to buy 4.97 times the shares offered to them.
Retail individual investors bid for just a little more than one-tenth (0.12) the number of shares offered to them and employees bid for 55% of the shares reserved for them.
AEL shares rose 3.35% on the BSE on Tuesday to close at ₹2,975 apiece.
3. Editorial-01: The Economic Survey that wasn’t
It is generally acknowledged that the Budget of 1991 which was presented by the then Finance Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, is one of Indian economic history’s landmark events. The Budget is still widely lauded by neo-classical economic commentators because it marked a structural shift in India’s economy away from the hands of the government to the hands of private enterprise, and embraced free trade. That was the prevailing wisdom then, dubbed as the ‘Washington Consensus’.
Three decades later, many developed economies, including America, Britain and Germany, are now reversing course to economic nationalism and increasing the role of government in their economy through industrial policy, ostensibly as a response to China’s economic might and a weaponisation of trade. This is a profound shift in economic thought — and perhaps the greatest symbolic victory for China’s economic model — that has forced the ‘Washington Consensus’ champions to back-pedal.
In this context, what should India’s economic strategy be? Should India too revert to increased state control of the economy through an active industrial policy? In which case, should India exercise greater control over the exchange rate of the rupee? And impose trade restrictions? The Russia-Ukraine conflict has had enormous geo-economic consequences by recreating a stark bi-polar world order of a China/Russia bloc vis-à-vis western bloc of nations. How will India’s economy be impacted by this, especially as we seem to have harked back to bi-lateral currency arrangements with Russia for trade, abandoning the dollar? These are all questions that are immensely important and imminently urgent, calling for serious discussion and debate among policy thinkers and makers.
The Economic Survey presented by the Chief Economic Adviser a day before the Union Budget has typically been the medium to raise issues for public discussion and ponder over such strategic economic matters. At least, that has been the case over the past decade or so. Surveys of the previous years had put out various ideas and issues such as universal basic income, economic divergence among States, steps to improve property tax revenues using satellite technology, new ways to calculate inflation using the Indian thali, estimating internal migration of people and so on. Many of these may not have even been fully fleshed out or well-researched policy ideas, but at least served as an intellectual public good by triggering a debate and forcing policy influencers to think about these issues.
Disappointingly, the Economic Survey of 2022-23 did not provoke any such deliberation or discussion. It is a rather dry compilation of data to substantiate the Narendra Modi government’s economic performance. The Economic Survey has 66 tables and 246 charts with cherry-picked data points (e.g. fig. II.8) that seek to portray a stellar image of the government’s economic management and blame the previous regime for all ills, which is perhaps an occupational hazard and an inevitability in the current climate of politics and government. But the Survey had some new and interesting data — on the housing market, digital infrastructure, etc. — and putting out such copious amounts of economic data in the public domain in itself is a yeoman service to be appreciated.
Unlike previous years, this year’s Survey has only one volume and also a separate ‘Highlights’ volume that lays out the key messages creatively and simplistically for a larger audience. The broad story is that the Indian economy has recovered from the novel coronavirus pandemic but is still at the mercy of global geo-political developments; and so the Economic Survey has been honestly cautious about future growth and inflation. Unsurprisingly, it has painted a rosy picture of both Good and Services Tax (apparently because it has improved tax buoyancy) and of the corporate tax cuts of 2019 (because it seemingly helped clean up bloated corporate balance sheets). The chapter on the social sector has delved deeper than previous surveys have done into issues of employment, rural wages, demand under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and other important human capital topics supplemented with vast amounts of data. But an analytical discussion on the employment intensity of contemporary economic growth models and ideas to boost job creation is missing. Instead, the chapter inexplicably concludes that the ‘PM’s Minimum government Maximum governance vision will hold the key to equitable economic growth’, sounding like a Bharatiya Janata Party manifesto.
A mirror of the government’s line
The Survey rightly exults over the increase in government capital expenditure from 12% of total expenditure in 2014 to 19% now. With much global uncertainty, tepid corporate investment and precarious asset markets, the emphasis on public capital expenditure to boost the economy is prudent and wise. On private sector investment, it waxes eloquent about manufacturing and Production Linked Incentive schemes with grandiose but unsubstantiated claims of attracting ₹3 lakh crore in capital investment and generating six million new jobs in the next five years.
Like the government of the day, the Economic Survey also suffers from the ‘take credit for the rains but blame nature for the drought’ malaise when, for all the ‘Make in India’ hype, manufacturing gross value added (GVA) grew only at 4% (real) even before the pandemic hit, which it blames on corporate ‘indigestion’ from too much debt accumulated during the previous regime.
Yet, it is neither unreasonable nor unfair to have expected a little more intellectual acuity into some of the pressing economic issues of trade, industrial policy, capital account and inequity that the whole world is ruminating over now. More so because the Chief Economic Adviser is eminently qualified and wise, who would have thought deeply and formed an opinion about the direction that India should take in the current crossroads of economic strategy.
The Economic Survey is really the only medium in the country for a rigorous, thoughtful and nuanced discussion of new economic ideas. Perhaps it was a deliberate and intentional move to stick to data and facts to provide a report card of the government’s economic performance, and not a doctoral thesis on the economic road map to prompt discussion in the public sphere, like the previous surveys. Regardless, it is always easier to be a commentator than a player, albeit less fun and impactful.
4. Editorial-02: Solar energy is not the best option for India
“Energy conundrum” (December 15, 2022), expressing caution about the country’s bubbling enthusiasm in the climate change agenda by going the whole hog on solar energy is timely but spartan, and needs amplification. Apart from the external pressure that is pushing India more and more into the so-called carbon limiting renewable energy path, the Prime Minister’s own enthusiasm and support and a simple understanding that solar energy is a free gift from the sun have made identifying what is good for the country difficult. Shorn of misperceptions and ill-conceived pressures, we can conclude that solar energy is not the best option for India and that we are better off in just relying on large hydro and coal. Now, what are the misconceptions?
One argument put forth in favour of solar power is that the levelised cost of power is coming down and is close to that of coal. There are two flaws here.
The first is the wrong comparison of solar power with coal electricity at the load centre, instead of at the pithed, which costs about half that of the load centre. According to the Central Electricity Authority, which was once the final arbiter in electricity matters, moving electricity through high voltage wires is cheaper than moving coal — and that is the reason for starting the National Thermal Power Corporation Limited (now NTPC Limited) during K.C. Pant’s time.
The second flaw is not comparing like with like. Solar electricity is intermittent and coal electricity is continuous. So, you have to add the cost of storage by battery. Protagonists of solar power will want us to add the environmental cost of carbon to coal — for its greenhouse gas emissions — but now the carbon market has crashed and is in that state for years; one does not have any objection to add its market price. The shadow price or true economic value of coal is even lower than its market price, since the cost of labour in mining carries a shadow price of zero (they being unskilled workers who would be unemployed otherwise).
Coal, solar and some calculations
Some enterprising researchers (E. Somanathan of the ISI et al.) have quantified the cost of carbon emission in terms of deaths due to particle (PM2.5) pollution. Implicitly, they agree not to consider the greenhouse gases cost of coal, because it is a global issue, but want to include the particulate emission cost of carbon, which is a local issue. Here, the number of deaths is multiplied by a figure for the value of statistical life, calculated by asking potential victims “how much would you like to pay to avoid an increase in probability by 10% of your death due to pollution?”; they have arrived at a figure of ₹1 crore. The comparable figure in the United States is ₹1.8 crore. To start with, who gets such high compensation anyway? The victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy got a pittance compared to this figure. Taking this value of statistical life, they have adduced ₹1.64 per kwh of electricity to the carbon cost alone. Taken along with coal to load centre at a price of $44 per tonne and capital costs of coal plants at 8 cents to 12 cents per kwh for new power plants with low capacity utilisation factor (which is never the case with coal, as they are operated nearer the base load with high plant load factors), coal-based electricity is categorically made unviable.
Thus, solar energy is made financially viable by misguiding the people by leaving out storage battery cost; handicapping it with subsidies and concessions that are front loaded by the government, and forcing it on the industry and hapless discoms through state policy. That this is thrust down the throats of client discoms and industry is clear from the slow progress so far, the programme missing its target by 40%-50%, and discoms reneging on their 25-year power purchase agreements, on seeing lower and lower prices in later bids for others.
In support of hydropower
There seems to be competition, egged on by the West, between India and China, as to who does more renewable energy. We can do more renewable energy in large hydro, which is both low carbon and least cost. India has utilised only about 15% of its hydro potential whereas the U.S. and Europe have utilised 90% and 98% of their potential, respectively. The extent of utilisation of hydro potential seems to be an index of civilisational development and evolution. While China relies on renewable energy, it banks more on coal and hydro. The Three Gorges project on the Yangtze is the world’s biggest hydro electric project. In India, powerful environmentalists stop large hydro projects in their tracks. One major reason for the sickness in the power sector is due to the focus on renewable energy in a big way. It is a pity that the NTPC which was a model thermal power producer meant to produce coal-based electricity from pithead, is doing unrelated diversification into renewables, which is not its core competence. The only place where solar power is viable in India is its use in water heating, and even that is because of increasing block tariffs.
5. The funding and demand for MGNREGA
How has budget allocation for the rural employment scheme changed over the years? How many people are demanding work under the scheme? Is the guarantee of 100 days of employment being met? What are the other challenges facing the scheme’s implementation?
The Economic Survey 2022-23 presented on January 31, a day ahead of the Budget, showed that 6.49 crore households demanded work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). Of these, 6.48 crore households were offered employment by the government and 5.7 crore actually availed it. The survey credited the scheme on having a positive impact on income per household, agricultural productivity, and production-related expenditure. It added that this helped with “income diversification and infusing resilience into rural livelihoods”.
How important is MGNREGA to rural employment?
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was passed in 2005 and aimed at enhancing the livelihood security of households in rural areas. Under it, the MGNREGS is a demand-driven scheme that guarantees 100 days of unskilled work per year for every rural household that wants it, covering all districts in the country except those with a 100% urban population. There are currently 15.51 crore active workers enrolled under the scheme. The types of projects undertaken for employment generation under MGNREGA include those related to water conservation, land development, construction, agriculture and allied works.
Under the scheme, if work is not provided within 15 days from when it is demanded, the worker has to be given a daily unemployment allowance. Additionally, the wages of unskilled workers also have to be paid within 15 days and in case of a delay, the Centre has to compensate them. Beyond being a form of insurance or safety net for the country’s poorest rural households, the scheme proved to be beneficial not just for rural workers but migrant labourers as well especially during the COVID-19 pandemic which saw large-scale reverse migration.
During the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, when the scheme was ramped up, and given its highest-ever budget of ₹1.11 lakh crore, it provided a critical lifeline for a record 11 crore workers. Studies gave empirical evidence that wages earned under MGNREGA helped compensate somewhere between 20% to 80% of the income loss incurred because of the lockdown. This is reflected in the fact that the demand for work under MGNREGA spiked to record-high levels during the pandemic years. About 8.55 crore households demanded MGNREGA work in 2020-21, followed by 8.05 crore in 2021-22, compared to a total of 6.16 core households asking for work in the pre-pandemic year 2019-20.
While Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in the Lok Sabha during the Winter Session in December 2022 that the demand for jobs under MGNREGA has been declining in the recent past, the new economic survey data revealed that as of January 24 this year, 6.49 crore households had already demanded work under the scheme with two more months till the financial year ends. Notably, this demand-side figure is still larger than pre-pandemic levels, which indicates that despite the lifting of pandemic curbs and changes in migration trends, rural households are still demanding work under the scheme. Besides, the pandemic-induced demand surge notwithstanding, the Ministry of Rural Development informed Parliament in August last year work that demand under MGNREGS has doubled in the last seven years, that is, 3.07 crore households demanded work in May 2022 compared to 1.64 in the same month in 2015.
How has the Centre’s allocation for MGNREGS changed over the years?
Budgetary allocations to the flagship scheme has increased successively since 2013 from ₹32,992 crore in the 2013-14 Union Budget to ₹73,000 crore in 2021-22. However, in recent years, the actual expenditure on the scheme has successively been higher than the amount allocated to it at the budget stage. For instance, in 2021-22, while ₹73,000 crore was allocated to MGNREGS, supplementary allocations made later pushed up the revised estimates to ₹98,000 crore, as funds had run out in the middle of the year. Even so, the Central government once again allocated ₹73,000 crore (25% lower than the previous year’s revised estimate) for the scheme in budget 2022-23, then seeking an additional ₹45,000 crore as supplementary grants in the Winter Session in December.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development last year questioned the rationale behind the Centre’s budgetary allocations to MGNREGA. Pointing out that despite the total expenditure on the scheme in 2020-21 being around ₹1,11,170.86 crore, the panel found it “perplexing” that the budget estimate (BE) for 2021-22 was just ₹73,000 crore. It also flagged the substantial hike in allocation at the revised estimates stage in order to augment the initial sum each year. Advocacy group NREGA Sangharsh Morcha noted that “every year, about 80-90% of the budget gets exhausted within the first six months”, leading to a slowdown of work on the ground and a delay in wage payments to workers.
What are the challenges to its implementation?
While the scheme guarantees 100 days of employment per household per year, an analysis by PRS Legislative Research shows that since 2016-17, on average, less than 10% of the households completed 100 days of wage employment. Besides, the average days of employment provided per household under the MGNREGS fell to a five-year low this financial year. As of January 20 this year, the average days of employment provided per household is just 42 days, while it was 50 days in 2021-22, 52 days in 2020-21, 48 days in 2019-20 and 51 days in 2018-19.While a full 100 days of employment has not been provided per year, the Parliament Committee and activist groups have strongly recommended an increase in the number of guaranteed days of work per household from 100 to 150 so that rural populations have a safety net for a longer period in the year.
Notably, Peoples’ Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG) and the NREGA Sangarsh Morcha said in a joint statement on Tuesday, that if the government intends to provide legally guaranteed 100 days of work per household for at least those that worked in the scheme in the current financial year, that minimum budget for it in the upcoming financial year 2023-24 should be at least ₹2.72 lakh crore.
Another issue that continues to hamper the scheme’s proper implementation is the delay in wage payments. As per data released by the Centre, it owed ₹4,700 crore in MGNREGA wages to 18 States as of December 14, 2022, when just three months remained for the financial year to end. Notably, In 2016, the Supreme Court of India directed the government to ensure that wages were paid on time, calling the act of making workers wait for wages for months equal to “forced labour”. Additionaly, as of December 14, the government also owed ₹5,450 crore worth of material costs (for MGNREGA projects) to 19 States. Furthermore, the delay in material costs, has a domino impact on the MNREGA work, since a delay in payment breaks the supply chain. Because of the prolonged delays in payments, vendors are reluctant to supply materials for any new work. Another concern pointed out by a panel of the Rural Development Ministry is that the minimum wage rate under MGNREGS is fixed by the Centre on the basis of the Consumer Price Index-Agricultural Labourers. It noted that the type of work done by agricultural labourers and MGNREGS workers was different, suggesting that minimum wage be decided vis-a-vis the Consumer Price Index-Rural, which it said was more recent and provided for higher expenditure on education and medical care.
Fake job cards, widespread corruption, late uploading of muster rolls, and inconsistent payment of unemployment allowance are some of the other issues hampering the implementation of MGNREGA, the Parliamentary Committee pointed out last year.
6. Alienation: the separation of labour from the product, process, humanity, society
Some would say that the concept of alienation, as envisaged by Karl Marx, has fallen out of fashion in social and political philosophy. Yet others continue to use it to understand, debate and critique society from a contemporary viewpoint
The idea of ‘alienation’ by Karl Marx is one of the most widely discussed concepts in social, political and economic theory. It is an idea that a young Marx developed out of his study of Friedrich Hegel. Marx first explained the concept of alienation in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts and later elaborated on it in his seminal work, Capital.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, alienation refers to a person’s “withdrawal or separation from an object or position of former attachment” or, in the case of property, “a conveyance of property to another.” In Marxist understanding, alienation refers to a feeling of separation from one’s own labour and the loss of power over it.
Forms of alienation
Marx discussed four forms of alienation. Let us use the example of workers at an iPhone factory to explain each of these forms.
Workers in such factories work long hours to produce high-end, expensive phones, which they can by no means afford, and over which they have no ownership or control. The phones are created for the capitalist, and are merely produced for exchange value. Thus, the first form of alienation is what Marx calls the alienation from the product of labour. As the product is immediately possessed and controlled by someone else, it assumes a power of its own. In modern times, where manufacturing is highly specialised and segmented, workers are often not even aware of what they are producing, since the production process is highly segmented.
The second is what he calls alienation from the process of labour. Workers in iPhone factories reportedly work long hours, in poor conditions and for low wages. They perform repetitive tasks. The more the workers produce, the more productive power there is for someone else to own and control. Where does all the work go? While the work sustains the worker, a lot of it goes into reproducing the means of production, on behalf of the owners and their power.
In the process, Marx argued, workers become miserable. He wrote: “The worker becomes an ever-cheaper commodity the more goods he creates. He does not develop freely his mental and physical energies but is physically exhausted and mentally debased. The worker, therefore, feels himself at home only during his leisure time, whereas at work he feels homeless. His work is not voluntary but imposed, forced labour.” Thus, the third form is alienation from humanity.
Individuals perform these mundane tasks and act less and less like human beings, and more and more like machines. As illustrated in an article in The Guardian, a worker at an iPhone factory said that 1,700 iPhones passed through her hands every day; she was in charge of wiping a special polish on the display. In such a scenario, according to Marx, man loses what he calls “species-being,” or what makes man human and different from other species through his productive activity. Workers also slowly start becoming competitive as they do not want to lose their jobs. The job is so arduous that they live away from their families as they are not able to find other, better-paying jobs.
While iPhones are produced at different factories in China nowadays, for a long time, they were largely assembled at Foxconn’s 1.4 square-mile flagship plant just outside Shenzhen. The sprawling premises, according to The Guardian article, alone housed some 4,50,000 workers. In 2010, reports emerged that many of the workers died by suicide and had attempted suicide due to the brutal working conditions. A CBS news report said of one of the workers Yu: “Her roommates also were from different parts of China, so there were significant linguistic barriers. Those might have been overcome with time — except there was no time. The factory was, she said, ‘a massive place of strangers.” This illustrates Marx’s fourth form of alienation: alienation from society.
In this manner, the process of alienation of workers — from the product, the process, from themselves and their abilities, and from others — is complete.
Other perspectives on alienation
Other writers have interpreted alienation in a more social-psychological sense to mean powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness, self-estrangement and social isolation (Krahn and Lowe). There may be various causes for these forms of alienation such as bureaucracy and organisational structures, lack of ownership, social disorganisation or poor management, or technology. Most of these approaches refer to alienation as a loss of control, the lack of meaning, and the difficulty of self-expression in work.
Some authors consider assembly-line workers to have the greatest sense of alienation, with workers such as physicians, teachers, or other professionals feeling least alienated. “Alienation is likely to be lowest in organisational setting where members have control, meaning, and opportunities for self-fulfilment in their roles.” (Hagedorn). This latter use of alienation is somewhat different than that of Marx, in that the solution to this form of alienation is to make work more meaningful. This is a more reformist view, whereas Marx considered it necessary to abolish private property and change social and economic structures.
Alienation is also used sometimes in a political sense with alienation of the electorate being the reason for disaffection with political parties or policies.
There have been many criticisms of Marx’s idea of alienation. First, later thinkers have said that Marx’s explanation was not worked out in terms of its implications and how it might be eliminated. The solution of communism has not occurred, and does not seem a likely prospect in the near future.
Second, while Marx’s approach to the study of alienation helps us understand the labour market as well as its living and working conditions, all of these have changed considerably since his time. Today, there are labour laws in place everywhere. While one could argue that the Foxconn example is from today’s times, it can equally be argued that it was because of the backlash that the company was forced to respond saying it would replace some of the jobs with robots. Also, the poor conditions are felt by some workers, not all. As there is greater division of labour, the effects of labour are faced differently by different segments and is dependent on the countries they live in.
Third, another common criticism of Marxism is that it focuses solely on class, ignoring other forms of segregation. Marx saw the roots of alienation only in exchange of labour and private property. But similar feelings of alienation may be related to ethnicity or race (say, if Black people are not hired), region (people from Western Canada often say that they have been excluded from mainstream politics), caste (upper castes are reportedly preferred in some roles in private companies) and gender (women have often reported that they have not received promotions and wages the way men do) that are not directly tied to production. Social relations, and not just working conditions, too can lead to alienation.
Fourth, since the term alienation is so popular, it is loaded with meaning and is often used in subjective experiences of estrangement. This, Ricoeur (1968) argued, dilutes its scientific and analytical potential. Fifth, it is criticised (by Althusser, for example, in 2005) for its essentialism. Can man be his true, authentic self without, or independent of, his relationships with others, as Marx argued? Later theorists say this is unlikely. Althusser also argued that Marx’s earlier texts were different epistemologically from his later texts. He and later theorists also said Marx’s idea of alienation is underdeveloped and tentative. Sixth, it suffers from the danger of paternalism. It assumes that there is a human good that may overrule people’s own experiences and desires (Jaeggi, 2014). The topic of alienation, it is often said, has fallen out of fashion in social and political philosophy. But yet others continue to understand, debate and critique it from a contemporary viewpoint.
7. Be secular, SC on plea on party names with overtones of faith
The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it would consider sending to a Constitution Bench a petition seeking the cancellation of names and symbols of political parties which have religious connotations.
The court cautioned the petitioner, a former Uttar Pradesh Shia Waqf Board chairman who converted to Hinduism, to be “secular” and not target a particular minority community. “Do not select a particular religion,” Justice M.R. Shah addressed senior advocate Gaurav Bhatia, who was appearing for the petitioner.
Questions about the “secularity” of the petition filed by Wasim Ahmed Rizvi cropped up during the court hearing after the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and the Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majilis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) objected that he had only listed their names in his petition as parties with religious connotations.
Appearing before a Bench, senior advocate Dushyant Dave and advocate Haris Beeran, for the IUML, asked why parties such as the Shiv Sena, the Hindu Jagran Manch and the Shiromani Akali Dal were not named in the petition. “Don’t go against a particular community… You (petitioner) are highlighting only the Muslim parties,” Mr. Dave said.
The Election Commission (EC), in an earlier affidavit, did not agree with the plea to cancel the symbol allotted to political parties with religious connotations. It said such a move would be “legally untenable”.
8. Don’t take up Data Bill till House debates it: Centre
Supreme Court says it would examine if it should wait for Parliament’s decision or hear pleas; new online Data Protection Bill is scheduled to be introduced in the second half of the Budget Session
The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it would examine whether it should wait for Parliament’s decision on a new online Data Protection Bill scheduled to be introduced in the second half of the Budget Session or go ahead and hear a bunch of petitions challenging WhatsApp’s policy to share users’ data with Facebook group of companies.
Appearing before a Constitution Bench led by Justice K.M. Joseph, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta said the court should not allow any discussion on the Bill until Parliament first debates it.
Mr. Mehta said the Bill presented a “comprehensive legal framework for digital data protection in India”. He said the government “intended” to introduce the Bill in Parliament in the second half from February 13. He argued that any assistance given to the court now before the Bill matured into an Act in Parliament would be “speculative” and “academic”.
“But your submissions only suggest an anticipated collision… The Bill is yet to be introduced in Parliament,” Justice Aniruddha Bose observed orally.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for WhatsApp, said a nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in the K.S. Puttaswamy verdicthas said it would be better for the court to deal with a problem after Parliament formulated the law especially when non-state actors were involved.
Mr. Mehta asked whether it would be justified in the court “pre-empting” parliamentary debates on the Bill.
“Are you saying that we cannot even look at the Bill? It becomes the property of Parliament only after it is introduced there,” Justice Bose said.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for the petitioners, submitted that the introduction of a Bill itself should not defer the taking up of this case. He said the petitions seek the direction that personal data cannot be shared with the Facebook group of companies.
“We seek a declaration to that effect. We want an opt-out option and there should be a meaningful option. That option is not available to Indian users. There is a public interest element to this,” Mr. Divan said.
The apex court was hearing the plea filed by two students, Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi, challenging the contract entered into between the two companies to provide access to calls, photographs, texts, videos and documents shared by users as a violation of their privacy and free speech.
9. Collegium recommends two more new judges for Supreme Court
The five-member Supreme Court Collegium, led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, on Tuesday recommended to the government the names of Rajesh Bindal and Aravind Kumar, Chief Justices of the Allahabad and Gujarat High Courts, respectively, for appointment as judges in the top court.
The court has seven vacancies now. It has a sanctioned judicial strength of 34. The collegium’s December 13 recommendation on Justices Pankaj Mithal, Sanjay Karol, P.V. Sanjay Kumar and Ahsanuddin Amanullah is still pending with the government.
“Where are the judges… let us wait for some more judges,” Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud was heard telling a lawyer who had sought an early hearing of his case during the mentioning hour on Tuesday.
In its four-page resolution, the collegium has given no room for the government to tinker with seniority among the seven judges by bifurcating their names or by appointing one over the other.
“The names recommended earlier by the collegium by its resolution dated December 13, 2022 shall have precedence over the two names [Justices Bindal and Kumar] recommended presently for appointment to the Supreme Court. Therefore, the appointments of five judges recommended on December 13, 2022 should be notified separately and earlier in point of time before the two judges recommended by this resolution,” the five-member collegium said categorically.
While the resolution of the collegium with regard to the appointment of Justice Bindal was “unanimous”, Justice Joseph was of the opinion that Justice Aravind Kumar could be considered at a later stage.
On the choice of Justice Bindal, the collegium reasoned that he was number two in the all-India seniority of High Court judges and was the senior-most judge from the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
“While recommending his name, the collegium has taken into consideration the fact that the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which is one of the largest High Courts with a sanctioned strength of 85 judges, is not adequately represented on the Bench of the Supreme Court. The High Court of Punjab and Haryana is a common High Court for two States,” the collegium noted.
10. Share of education in budgetary allocations has fallen over the past seven years: Survey
The budgetary allocation for education as a percentage of total expenditure has dropped over the past seven years, from 10.4% to 9.5%, the Economic Survey, 2022-23 says.
While the expenditure on social services increased from ₹9,15,500 crore to ₹21,32,059 crore, the share of education within this umbrella category shrank from 42.8% to 35.5% between the financial years 2015-16 and 2022-23, according to budgetary documents.
Part of this could be attributed to the faster growth in spending on health and other measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The share of education in total expenditure declined from 10.7% in 2019-20 to 9.1% in the first COVID year and remained stagnant in the following year, before being raised to 9.5% in the budgetary estimates for 2022-23. As a share of the GDP, the budgetary allocation for education saw a minimal gain of 0.1 percentage points, from 2.8% to 2.9% during the seven-year period.
Though school dropout rates have improved since 2013-14, there has been some reversal of gains since COVID-19, especially in the younger classes.
In 2019-20, the total dropout rate in primary school was 1.5%, which fell to 0.8% in 2020-21, but rose back to 1.5% in 2021-22.
However, this is significantly better than the 4.7% dropout rate in 2013-14. In upper primary classes, the dropout rate fell from 2.6% in 2019-2020 to 2.3% the following year, but rose to 3% in 2021-2022, only marginally lower than the 3.1% level seen in 2013-2014. In the secondary classes, however, the situation has steadily improved, with the dropout rate falling from 16.1% in 2019-20 to 14% the following year and 12.6% last year.
Between 2013-14 and 2021-22, the total number of schools declined from 15.2 lakh to 14.9 lakh, with primary and upper primary schools seeing a reduction of one lakh schools to 11.9 lakh, though the number of secondary and senior secondary schools rose by 60,000 to a total of 2.3 lakh.
As far as higher education is concerned, the number of medical colleges in the country increased from 387 in 2014 to 648 in 2022, and the number of MBBS seats have increased from 51,348 to 96,077.
The number of Indian Institutes of Technology rose from 16 to 23 between 2014 and 2022 and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) from 13 to 20.
The strength of Indian Institutes of Information Technology was 25 in 2022 against nine in 2014. In 2014, there were 723 Universities in the country, and the number has increased to 1,113.
The total enrolment in higher education has increased to nearly 4.1 crore in financial year 2020-21 from 3.9 crore in 2019-20. Since 2014-15, there has been an increase of around 72 lakh or 21% in enrolment, while distance education has also grown at a similar rate of 20%. In 2021-22, distance education saw a 7% growth over the previous year, with 45.7 lakh enrolling.
11. ‘India needs access to global finance to achieve climate obligations on emissions’
For India to meet its international “obligations” on curtailing greenhouse gas emissions, it must have access to “on-time” climate finance, technology, and access to critical minerals. Advanced economies ought to set examples of policy and “behavioural changes” that work in their countries and only then could they be emulated in developing countries, the Economic Survey said on Tuesday in a dedicated chapter on climate change.
“Even if India has so far undertaken climate actions on its own, the heightened expectations of further large-scale climate measures have to be equated with the enhanced initiatives by developed countries in terms of providing means of implementation, including finance, technology transfer, and capacity-building support,” the report noted. “More importantly, the global climate agenda will advance if advanced countries can set examples of policy and behavioural changes that work in their backyard…Then, it might be realistic to expect such policies and behavioural expectations of households to succeed in developing countries with suitable adaptation.”
The perspective aligns with India’s policies on addressing climate change, namely, climate justice and Mission LiFE (Lifestyle for Environment), a campaign led by the Prime Minister and now adopted across government.
Climate justice says that few rich countries are largely responsible for the cumulative carbon emissions in the atmosphere and therefore must proportionately spend much more to subsidise energy projects in developing countries.
“Despite the adverse impacts of COVID-19 on the economy, India has enhanced its climate ambition manifold and embarked on a long-term strategy towards a Low GHG (greenhouse gas) Emission Development Strategy by adopting a multi-pronged approach,” the report notes.
12. ‘E-commerce, fintech surged in smaller cities post-COVID’
The e-commerce sector witnessed a renewed push and a sharp increase in penetration in the aftermath of the pandemic, according to the Economic Survey 2022-23.
The growth was also fuelled by “growing Internet penetration, rise in smartphone adoption, innovation in mobile technologies, and increased adoption of digital payments,” the survey noted.
The sector is projected to grow at 18% annually, according to a Worldpay FIS report cited in the survey.
Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) fared particularly well, the survey said. Those “that adopted digital solutions fared far better than offline MSMEs, assisting them in accessing a large marketplace without incurring huge costs,” according to a study by the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade cited by the survey.
Citing a report by Unicommerce and Wazir Advisors, the survey noted that urban e-commerce trends were speeding up differently depending on city size.
“The shoppers from tier-II and tier-III cities accounted for over 61.3% of the overall market share in FY22, increasing from 53.8% in FY21,” the report stated. The order volume from tier-II and tier-III cities grew at almost double the pace of tier-I cities, with 92.2% and 85.2% YoY growth, respectively, in FY22,” the report said. “In contrast, tier-I cities indicated a comparatively slower order volume growth rate of 47.2%.”