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When Winter Comes, Can Dreary News be Far Behind?

Raman Swamy

The week gone by has been rather uneventful. Nothing really interesting or important, surprising or sensational happened.  There was nothing worthy of note, nothing much to report. 

Except the following:
GST rates have been revised.  Not just amended or adjusted but totally turned on its head. The top tax bracket of 28 per cent is virtually unrecognizable - the rate on 178 items has been drastically reduced and only about 50 items are left in the elite tier.  

This is perhaps the biggest-ever roll-back of taxes in the history of Indian economics. The rejig has come just 132 days after the second-most draconic, hasty,  ruinous, ill-conceived  and badly-implemented policy in the history of modern India was thrust upon the unsuspecting populace. 

BJP rebel Yashwant Sinha has put his finger on the crux of the problem - Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, he said, had “not applied his mind” before implementing a half-baked GST on July 1.   

But better sense seems to have prevailed on the government and rather than stand on prestige they have buckled under the pressure of protest and cries for mercy from business-folk from across the vast sub-continent. 

One would have liked to say ‘all’s well that ends well’ but that will have to wait until the entire architecture of the GST regime is also totally recast, re-modeled and rolled-back. May be sometime next year, unless the government resigns out of sheer shame and humiliation.

Demonetization Day was celebrated.  The first anniversary of the most draconian, unnecessary, disastrous, ill-conceived and badly-implemented policy in the history of modern India was observed on November 8.  The official commemoration was marked by much festivity and gala self-congratulations on the amazing success of the note ban that has spelt the death knell of the scourge of black money.  The rest of the country observed the anniversary as a day of mourning and remembrance for those who lost their lives in the historic ATM queues and those whose humble livelihoods were ruined and those whose self-confidence was shattered forever.   Fortunately or unfortunately, unlike in the case of GST, the government did not meekly order a roll-back of the demonic decision.   Had the government in a fit of contrition declared that all the old currency would be considered valid tender again, it would have led to greater chaos and confusion than what was experienced in the bitter winter of 2016.

Indian Industry is still in the doldrums.  The September figures for the Index of Industrial Production showed a further downward slippage in factory output to 3.8 from 4.3 in August.  (By any yardstick, this is certainly not front page news. Almost everyone in the country knows that ever since Note-Bandi and Gabbar Singh Tax, the economy has been in a tailspin.  The only ones who do not know, or do not have the courage to admit it, are the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister, the Industry Minister,  BJP spokespersons,  a handful of business billionaires and the loyal mainstream media).   

200 tax raids were conducted on Sasikala properties.  In the biggest, most awesome, most vicious crackdown on illicit wealth and ill-gotten assets against a single family in the history of modern India, an estimated 2000 income-tax sleuths flocked to Chennai and adjoining districts in Tamil Nadu to unearth all the dirty secrets of Madame Sasikala, the would-be usurper of the Jayalalithaa political and financial legacy.  The simultaneous raids have continued for three days running and the nation waits with bated breath to find out if the seized currency stashes, benami property documents and hoards of gold and diamond-studded jewelry are worth more than the black wealth of other Indians stashed away in offshore safe havens reported in the Paradise Papers.    

Apart from these developments, it has been a rather dull week for big news.  Other stories like –
-the squabble among Supreme Court judges (which has never before happened so publicly); 

- the CBI finding that the Haryana Police had falsely planted a blood-stained knife as evidence to frame a blameless bus conductor of the murder of a tiny innocent schoolboy (followed by the CBI in turn bent on extracting a confession from another minor schoolboy);

- the dramatic, nationalistic and puritanical decision of Pune University to award medals only to scholars who are on a shuddh vegetarian, non-alcoholic diet (which fortunately was rolled-back after public outrage);   

- the smog over Delhi and the entire national capital region comprising Gurugaon, Faridabad and Noida that has now become an annual feature with all the accompanying political squabbles, name calling and blamegames;

- and similar events in the life of a nation on the move,  hardly qualify as worthy of much comment or discussion.   On the whole, therefore, the week gone by has been a bit of a yawn.

Nov 13, 2017


Raman Swamy raman.swamy@gmail.com

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