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Demonetization: Ruling LDF in Kerala to organize protest against currency ban

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The abrupt demonetization move by the Modi government on November 08 ostensibly to track black and fake money in circulation without any proper plan to save the common people has made the common people go mad. While making this important announcement the Modi government obviously refused to take both people and the Parliament into confidence, thereby causing additional existential worries to common people.

Parliament is turmoil over the issue but neither PM Modi o not the ruling BJP is worried about the negative consequences of the seemingly ill-fated move.

The ruling CPM-led LDF in India’s Kerala state will organize a ‘human chain’ across the state on 29 December as part of its plans to intensify protests against hardships faced by people due to the strange demonetization scheme of the Modi’s BJP government. The protest is meant to force the Modi government to withdraw the currency ban announced on 8 November and compensate the people for their loss of revenues and suffering following the demonetization announcement in midnight by PM Narendra Modi.

The ‘human chain’ would be formed from northern district Kasargod to state capital in the south, Thiruvananthapuram, LDF convener Vaikom Viswan said.”Not only party workers and sympathizers but everybody who share the same sentiments on the issue can participate in the human-chain protest,” he said.

Before organizing the ‘human chain’, the front would conduct conventions in all panchayats across the state on 20 and 22 December to create awareness among people about the drawbacks of abrupt withdrawing high denomination notes. Party volunteers would also conduct house visits at the booth level on 27 and 28 December in this regard. Alleging that only corporates have benefited from the demonetization, Viswan said the decision to withdraw currency was taken by the Centre with “political motives.”

CPM party held the PM Modi “singularly responsible” for the “mess” in the economy due to demonetization and it has renewed its contempt notice against him for ignoring Parliament and continuously making policy statements outside Parliament and “running away” from a debate in the House.

Referring to Modi’s 8 November demonetization announcement, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury MP said, “The Prime Minister is singularly responsible for the entire mess in our economy and the harm it caused to common people because it was his announcement, as his personal decision and not that of the Union Cabinet. Let him be accountable to the House. Why is he running away from Parliament?” Observing that Modi was not present in Rajya Sabha when questions on the PMO were listed to be answered, he said, “The Prime Minister avoids coming to the House, but continuously makes policy statements outside in public speeches. He is continuously violating parliamentary norms and practices.” Parliamentary democracy is derailed.

Yechury added: “Even today, there was clear violation as the waiver of service tax on credit and debit card transactions was made outside Parliament. No tax proposal can be made anywhere else but in Parliament,” Yechury said, adding that the Consolidated Fund of India “will now get less service tax receipts because of the Prime Minister’s proposal”. “That is why it is contempt of Parliament. It is completely against the norms and traditions of Parliament. I have renewed my contempt notice today and urged the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) Chairman Hamid Ansari to consider it and give his ruling. A meeting of the Privileges Committee has been called,” he told a press conference in New Delhi.

Referring to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s statement that there was no rule to make the PM sit through any debate in Parliament, the CPM General Secretary said there are precedents when the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sat through two debates on the 2G spectrum allocation scam and the coal scam and replied to it.

“But here this Prime Minister is running away from debate,” he alleged. He said the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to go into “all aspects” of effects of demonetization including “the deaths of over 100 people”, the “harassment” caused to the public and “several” BJP leaders allegedly being caught with large amounts of cash, has been supported by several major Opposition parties in Parliament.

The CPM leader said the demonetization move, according to Modi, had the objectives of fighting blackmoney, corruption and counterfeit. However, now the Reserve Bank of India says 82 per cent of the value of currency notes withdrawn have come back to the banking system, totaling about Rs 11.86 lakh crore and the old notes can be exchanged till 30 December. “At this rate, more notes than the value of counterfeit currency have been deposited and become legal in the banking system. So the PM has successfully converted black money into white and legalized counterfeit currency. None of his objectives have been achieved,” Yechury said, adding it “reveals a deliberate attempt to legalize counterfeit money and convert black money into white”.

Referring to French queen Marie Antoinette’s infamous quote ‘if you don’t have bread, have cake’, he said the PM Modi has become “Modi Antoinette as he is saying ‘if you don’t have paper money, use plastic money'” when 98 per cent of Indian economy is cash economy. Even in the USA which has the reach of banking system and internet network is vast, 46 per cent of the economy runs on cash, he said, adding Modi has been “talking of a cashless economy and probably living in something like a fool’s paradise”.

Meanwhile, many cash lords with huge sum of unaccounted money and gold reserves have been booed across the nation, though not everyone fraud is targeted by the government. A lot of crores of cash and gold have been taken away by the officals from the famous Reddy gang of Andhra Pradesh/Telengana in Chennai with strong political links and patronage. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has arrested a senior special assistant of the Reserve Bank of India in Bengaluru for alleged involvement in a currency exchange racket, Media reports said nine men were arrested in connection with alleged exchange of Rs 1.50 crore worth of banned currency notes.

The government had on 24 November stopped over-the-counter exchange of old currency notes at bank counters, but continues the facility at RBI windows until 30 December. There has been suspicion that old notes are being exchanged at a premium, helping the black money holders to whiten their ill-gotten wealth. The rich people use the poor for exchanging their black money with white ones from banks   by paying them some money. A report in The Times of India said the arrested RBI official and others were exchanging the notes at a 15-30 percent commission for exchanging the notes. While arresting some, however, the government seems to let others to continue to enjoy the exchange business, increasing their illegal wealth.

The Bangalore incident is another proof that illegal exchange of old notes is rampant despite the government and its investigative agencies keeping a hawk’s eye on all such activities after the demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes on 8 November. A report in The Economic Times , however, said the premium for such illegal exchange of old notes have fallen drastically now and the money changers are even ready to pay an interest to black money holders in return for a one-year lock-in.

This reversal of trend, according to an economist quoted in the report, indicates that the black money has already entered into the system. Another reason being spoken about is that holders have found new ways to convert their black money into white.

Over years of practice allowed by the government, blackmoney has become an insuperable part of currency system of India. The debate on whether demonetization is a boon or blunder for 125 crore Indians is turning intense with former finance minister P Chidambaram and noted economist Jagdish Bhagwati joining with their views and allegations. Chidambaram said PM Narendra Modi’s currency ban is the biggest scam of the year and an “absurd, thoughtless move” that must be probed while Bhagwati has said demonetization is a “courageous and substantive economic reform that, despite the significant transition costs, has the potential to generate large future benefits”. But Bhagwati, like Modi and other BJP leaders, is drawing a clear political line and has not explained the “benefits” of suffering by the people of India. He is just confusing the affected masses of India.

Bhagwati’s argument, that the currency ban will check counterfeit notes “with the new notes being much less prone to counterfeiting” doesn’t have much support of evidence on the ground since there are already reports that fake Rs 2,000 notes are in circulation. Given the past experience, it is just a matter of time before fake notes enter the scene again in a major way. Bhagwati’s optimistic views on the currency ban is a booster dose to the Narendra Modi-government currently struggling to face criticism on the massive, overnight currency ban

Chidambaram’s allegation that currency ban is a scam with an ill-intent has generated debate in the media and the former FM has asked some right, pointed questions. For instance, Chidambaram questions the large-scale leakage of new Rs 2,000 notes to hoarders at a time when new currency is scarce even at bank branches. The incidents of new Rs 2,000 note bundles surfacing across the country to the tune of crores of rupees point to major lapses in implementation by the Modi government. These instances must be investigated and the likely involvement of bank officials needs to be probed.

Chidambaram is bang on when he says what calculations went to the government decision of setting the Rs 24,000 weekly withdrawal limit from bank branches when enough isn’t cash available. Similarly, his point that blanket ban on district cooperative banks has hurt the farmers is true given the experience in rural areas, especially in states like Kerala where cooperative sector plays a key role. The Modi government owes an explanation on these and has faced severe criticism for lack of planning, in turn, causing difficulties to public.

Chidambaram defending the Congress’ opposition strategy in Parliament — the PM should be present and speak on the issue—isn’t an unreasonable demand. Given the critical nature of demonetization for India’s economy and the hardships it has caused to its common people. There is no excuse for PM Modi or BJP for not taking the Parliament into confidence, stating the objectives, progress and rationale of the demonetization scheme.

Bhagwati notes that “around 80 percent of the currency in higher denominations has now been deposited back into bank accounts. Since individual deposits will now be matched with their tax returns and unaccounted deposits will be taxed, this will yield a windfall for the government, permitting large increases in social expenditures.” But this is something many other economists have questioned cautioning one should wait and watch as to how much of the unaccounted deposits the tax department is able to recover ultimately. For instance, take a look at what another world-renowned economist and former RBI governor, Raghuram Rajan, said on demonetization. “Black money hoarders find ways to divide their hoard into many smaller pieces. You find that people who haven’t thought of a way to convert black to white, throw it into the coffins or hundi in some temples. I think there are ways around demonetization. It is not that easy to flush out the black money.”

The Modi government could have introduced the demonization without harming the common peole and helping the rich and corporate lords.

While it is a fact that the demonetization has nudged several hesitant people to start using electronic payment tools, the idea of using large scale demonetization (sucking out 86 percent of currency by value all of a sudden), is contested by experts, who have been saying that such a push should have happened over a period of few years, rather than through a shock-treatment such as this putting lives at difficulty. Also, India needs to have strong laws to ensure customers and common people are protected in the event of losing money while making payment through mobile or laptop. As of now, that isn’t the case.

Chidambaram has raised certain important points on demonetization. His posers expose the government’s implementation flaws and immediate challenges on making the transition process smooth to end the cash-crunch.

PM Modi’s shock therapy has caught the common people unaware and hence they have no idea about the move and how to go about, while for the rich and corporate lords money is not at all a problem.

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ADB Provides $360 Million for Rolling Stock to Boost Bangladesh Railway

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The Board of Directors of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved loans totaling $360 million to buy modern rolling stock and support reform in Bangladesh Railway to help promote a shift from roads to rail.

“Railways in Bangladesh potentially offer a cheaper, safer, and more fuel-efficient means of transport of goods and passengers than roads, but have been held back by lack of investment and aging and unreliable rolling stock,” said Tsuneyuki Sakai, an ADB Senior Transport Specialist. “The ADB Railway Rolling Stock Operations Improvement Project will boost the operational performance of Bangladesh Railway by introducing new technology, equipment, and processes that will be cleaner and more efficient, cutting carbon dioxide emissions.”

Historically, railways enjoyed a monopoly as a carrier and transported most commodities. However, its market share has dropped because of inadequate investment in railway infrastructure and rolling stock over an extended period. This has resulted in unreliable freight operations and uncomfortable experiences for passengers. Most rolling stock is more than 30 years old, and much is past the end of its economic life. Maintenance facilities have also not improved over time and are not adequately equipped.

Under its Seventh Five-Year Plan for fiscal years 2016-2020, the government has placed special emphasis on railway development, setting targets to increase the market share to 15% in freight transport and 10% in passenger movements by 2020.

Bangladesh Railway has also been operating at a loss, its operating costs about double what it makes from revenue. Under the railway reform supported by ADB, the government has taken steps to boost revenue by raising the level of passenger and freight tariffs that have remained unchanged for decades. An increase in the operational capacity through new rolling stock is needed to generate more revenue.

Starting with a Railway Sector Improvement Program in 2006, ADB has provided four loans to the government for railway development totaling $2.81 billion. Three loans invested in network improvement in key sections of the railway, with two targeting enhanced South Asian subregional connectivity. The Railway Reform Project under the 2006 program introduced financial reforms and an enterprise resource planning information technology (IT) system. A loan approved in 2015 is also procuring rolling stock and maintenance equipment, for which work is ongoing to 2020.

This latest project seeks to address the investment and modernization needs of Bangladesh Railway. It will procure 40 broad gauge locomotives, 125 luggage vans, and 1,000 wagons for freight trains for use on major lines of the rail network. The rolling stock will introduce auxiliary power units (APU) to Bangladesh Railway, to significantly reduce diesel consumption when the locomotives are idling. The project will also draw up investment plans for urgently required maintenance facilities, establish training programs for the drivers, and run the enterprise-wide IT system.

The total cost of the project is $453.37 million, of which $93.37 will be met by the government. It is due for completion around the end of June 2022.

Accompanying the loans is a technical assistance grant of $500,000 to devise a training scheme for drivers in the use of the APU and recommend potential approaches to achieving overall energy efficiency. ADB will administer the grant, to be provided by the Asian Clean Energy Fund under the Clean Energy Financing Partnership Facility, established by the Government of Japan.

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Helping Armenia Thrive

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Despite being a landlocked country with few natural resources, Armenia has come a long way since independence in 1991, with all major socio-economic indicators drastically improved.

The Asian Development Bank now is supporting Armenia in its effort to expand its private sector, diversify its economy, cut red tape, and gain access to new markets, says Shane Rosenthal, Country Director for Armenia at the Asian Development Bank.

What is Armenia’s current state of the economy?

Since independence in 1991, Armenia has come a long way. Gross domestic product per capita has increased ten-fold in the country, in large part because of smart decisions about investment and because of good connections with its main trading partner, Russia.

We now have a country where the electricity is reliable, where most of the population has access to clean water, where business is beginning to thrive, not least because it is possible to register a business in a short amount of time. It’s possible to go to a bank and get a loan.

This economy needs to diversify into new products, into new markets. That may mean Europe, it may mean other Eurasian economic union members, and increasingly, it may mean looking eastward, toward Asia.

What role does ADB play in Armenia’s development?

ADB has focused on what it does best vis-a-vis other development partners in Armenia. And that, for us, means infrastructure.

Infrastructure in terms of connectivity, helping upgrade the national highway system so that cargo and people can reach neighboring countries more quickly, more reliably.

It means making the cities more livable with improved water supply.

How can the private sector support Armenia’s development?

Going forward it’s important to understand that Armenia’s growth can no longer depend on the public sector to play the leading role. The private sector needs to be the one that takes this country forward. And that means diversification. It means ease of doing business, and it means access to new markets.

ADB is going to focus increasingly on a balanced portfolio, between the public and private sectors. It’s clear that Armenia’s future will depend on the role that the private sector plays. And there, Armenia has many advantages: a strong financial system, a strong diaspora, with very good connections around the world, and a very strong educational base.

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Three steps to end discrimination of migrant workers and improve their health

Afsar Syed Mohammad

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Authors: Afsar Syed Mohammad and Margherita Licata

When migrant workers leave their home, many encounter abuse and violence on their journey and discrimination once they arrive. This can be because of their status as migrants but also because of their ethnicity, sex, religion, and HIV status.

They often struggle to find decent work, which means they can end up in poor living and working conditions, which in turn affects their health. Female migrants are more likely to be vulnerable to exploitation and violence, which exposes them to the risk of HIV and other health issues.

Research has shown that migrant workers – particularly those who are in an irregular situation – often fail to access health services because of poverty, language and cultural barriers, lack of health insurance, as well as fear of job loss and deportation. It means that by the time they see a doctor, their illness has become all too serious.

Against this background, a newly launched ILO publication looks at the interplay between migration policies and those relating to broader health goals in countries of origin, transit and destination. Its key recommendation is that HIV and health policies should be integrated into the entire labour migration process.

So what can be done to ensure that migrant workers have better access to decent work, health and HIV services? The report recommends a three-pronged approach.

1) End discriminatory practices

Migrants face obstacles in accessing decent work, health as well as social protection. Whenever migrants are denied their rights, they tend to live and work in the shadows.  They become vulnerable to discrimination, exploitation and marginalization.

Discriminatory practices such as mandatory HIV testing of migrants for employment have proved to be ineffective. On the contrary, it is a violation of their rights. It disrupts access to health care and increases migrants’ vulnerability to HIV infection.

2) Set up an integrated response

It is essential to develop a response that does not just pile up ad-hoc policies one after another. Instead there needs to be an integrated and coordinated response that leads to decent work and health outcomes for migrants, including more effective HIV responses.

Right to entry does not mean the right to work for women in many countries. In such cases, women are left with no option but irregular migration which further exposes them to various forms of abuse, exploitation and risks such as HIV.

Gender-responsive migration policies would help address existing inequalities between men and women migrants, while at the same time improve their health.

3) Focus on migrant workers’ rights

There are no quick-fix solutions but discrimination and inequalities relating to HIV and health can be reduced if we focus on migrants’ rights and if we take a global approach. The report especially insists on the following priorities:

  • There is a need to target different groups of migrant workers for HIV prevention, care and treatment, depending on the specific risks that they face. For example, risks are different depending on whether they are low skilled or high skilled workers.
  • Effective responses to HIV for migrant workers should be integrated into fair recruitment initiatives, encouraging fair business practices to reduce HIV-related stigma and discrimination, and equal access to health services.
  • Health programmes and HIV prevention for migrants must be disassociated from immigration enforcement.
  • Inclusion, participation and freedom of association among migrant workers are essential pillars for effective actions on migration, health and HIV.
  • Migration and health policies and practices, in particular those relating to HIV and AIDS, should address inequalities between women and men. A gender analysis is needed from the start for all policies and practices relevant to migration and health.

*Margherita Licata, Technical Specialist Gender, Equality and Diversity and ILOAIDS Branch

Source: ILO

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