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Indian capitalism: Supreme Court directs Tata Company to return agricultural land to people

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On September 02, a two judge bench of the Supreme Court delivered a much awaited judgment on the Singur land acquisition case. Calling the then Left led state government’s acquisition of 900 acres of land for Tata’s Nano plant a “colorable exercise of power and a fraud on the people”, the judges have ordered that all the land be returned to the owners within 12 weeks.

Here is a comprehensive timeline of events beginning from Ratan Tata’s announcement of the small car project in May 2006 followed by protests and resistance by farmers who alleged forcible acquisition in December of the same year when Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee went on an indefinite hunger strike in support of their struggle.

It has been a decade since images of the violence in Singur, and later Nandigram, haunted us but for many of those affected, most of them small farmers and agricultural workers, the verdict is a victory.

The judgment has been scathing in its vindication of the CPM led Left government pointing to lapses in several procedures that ought to have been undertaken as per the Land Acquisition Act.

Judgment

This report in quotes the relevant part of the judgment – State government is required to apply mind to the report of the collector and take the final decision on the objections filed by the landowners and other interested persons. Then and then only, a declaration can be made under Section 6(1) of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (L.A. Act).

In this case there seems to be no application of mind either at the stage of issuance of the notification under Section 4 of the L.A. Act, or the report of collector under Section 5-A (2) of the L.A. Act or the issuance of the final notification under Section 6 of the L.A. Act. While Section 4 of the Act required a notice to be published in the gazette that land is to be acquired, Section 5-A (2) allows those interested in the land to give objections in writing to the collector and requires the government to take note of the same.

Quoting from the petitions of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights and others who opposed the land acquisition, this report in the First Post says elaborates on the contentions of the farmers and those who lost their lands – Acquisition of the Singur land for public purpose and then handing it over to Tata Motors for its Nano project was illegal and in breach of land acquisition law. The association had told the court that there was a separate procedure under the land acquisition law for acquiring land for a project of a private company, and that the land acquired by the government for public purposes could be given to a private company only for constructing dwelling units of the workers employed with it and no other purpose.

However, this report by Krishnadas Rajagopal points out that the two judges differed on whether the land acquired could qualify as public purpose. While Justice Gowda felt that the acquisition “For and at the instance of the company was sought to be disguised as acquisition of land for ‘public purpose’ in order to circumvent compliance with the mandatory provisions of the Land Acquisition Act’, Justice Mishra differed.

Small car industry would have “ultimately benefited” the people and the very purpose of industrialization. The factory would have opened up job opportunities in the State and attracted investment. Regarding procedural issues too, the bench was divided. While Justice Gowda said that individual notices ought to have been issued, Justice Mishra felt that a common gazette notification sufficed.

Despite these differences, the judgment has sent out a strong message about (communist scheme) development at the cost of the poor – In this day and age of fast paced development, it is completely understandable for the state government to want to acquire lands to set up industrial units.

What, however, cannot be lost sight of is the fact that when the brunt of this ‘development’ is borne by the weakest sections of the society, more so, poor agricultural laborers who have no means of raising a voice against the action of the mighty state government.

Rise of Mamata Banerjee

For too long the Congress party that had lost power to communists decades ago tried to wrestle it back but failed. Now a former Congress leader and central minister Mamata Banerjee with her own Congress faction called Trinamool Party has come p to power replacing a formidable Left dispensation as Bengalese rejected Communist opportunism and betrayal. In a way, the foolish communist leaders in the state promoted him imminent arrival of Mamata Banerjee as a historic phenomenon. .

Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s ascent to power in the state, after ousting the Left, had much to do with the struggle in Singur. Banerjee relentlessly protested the “communist” acquisition of the land while firmly asserting that her party was not anti-industry and the 400 acres of land belonging to the ‘unwilling farmers’ should be returned to them. Her “Save Farmland” movement was supported by various environmental activists and intellectuals.

The ruling Trinamool Congress is celebrating and understandably so, because the court has also ruled that the farmers who have received compensation need not return it as they have been deprived of their livelihood for the last decade. In fact, soon after the TMC came to power, Singur Land and Rehabilitation Bill was enacted.

A case testing the constitutional validity of this law, while still pending before the Supreme Court is likely to become “fructuous” given the present judgment. The Tatas, who shifted shop to Gujarat in 2008, cited this reason to remain mute on the subject.

Deception and lose of brains

There is a possibility that Tata Motors could sue the state government for breach of contract. The company issued a statement to that effect. “Political parties may change but the government is a continuity. The company willingly gambled and took lease of the illegal land in good faith. But it now is clear that they were given a bad land title. The company may seek compensation on that ground that the company had valued its loss at Rs.1400 crores (their petition to the Calcutta High Court in 2011).

India Inc however has been more cautious in their reactions. The Singur verdict will not impact the potential of the State in attracting investment. This is, of course, the official statement. Privately, a prominent industrialist pointed out that the Tata Nano episode already served a major blow to the investment potential and there is nothing more to lose.

The relocation took place at a time when Bengal was in the spotlight of investors in India and abroad, seeking investments in the state with lucrative promises to willing investors. . . It also pressed the pause button on Bengal’s dream to emerge as an auto hub. The same article also asserts that the biggest loser, politically, is the CPM. CPI (M)’s vote and seat share is declining at an alarming rate since the 2009 general election.

Efforts to revive the industrialization agenda in the 2016 Assembly election failed miserably. What’s more, post-election they are losing elected representatives to Trinamool.

The CPI(M)’s reaction to the verdict is simple as it is not opposed to the decision of returning land to farmers but had contested her (Mamata’s) 2011 move on some technical loopholes. “Today’s verdict has not answered questions on the legality of the Singur legislation her government had brought, which is what we were opposed to.”

The BJP which lost its chances once for all in the state with Mamata’s arrival, was quick to point out the Left’s double speak. Siddharth Nath Singh, BJP leader in the state, has been quoted saying – The Left opposed our central government’s land acquisition Bill. It said land should be acquired only for public purpose, but in Singur its government had acquired it for a private purpose to promote Tata Company. So, the Left must explain”.

JD United leader Shyam Rajak said that the judgment sends a strong message to the Centre which has been enacting anti people policies. “We welcome the decision of the Supreme Court. This was a fight for the rights of the poor. This decision will ensure that the farmers retain their livelihood. I hope the verdict will send out a positive signal. There are lots of cases – be it Narmada Andolan, or be it about Tehri dam issue which has been fighting for the cause of the poor. The SC should also review these cases as well”.

Not only the left parties but also the Congress and BJP that get plenty of lose findings form corporate lords are worried that their multinational corporate beneficiaries are not happy.

Honoring concerns of common folk

Ever since independence in 1947, Indian rulers, Congress, BJP, others have been relentlessly pampering corporate lords and rich classes to get bribes from them. This has badly affected the fortunes of common people, Muslims suffering the worst. .

Left government West Bengal just took people for granted and launched grand capitalist agenda by looting the agricultural lands for the purposes of increasing surplus values of corporate lords against basics communist pimples. That cost very dearly for the communist parties in the state as they lost the general polls, both parliament and state assembly- to a new Trinamool party of dynamic Mamata Banerjee.

People of India, through the people of Singur have won a great battle against illegal transaction over farmers’ lands and subsequent forceful occupation and exposed communist movement in the country as a false and pretentious one to exploit the weak sections of the nation in their favor.

Supreme Court order, a huge though belated victory and vindication for the courageous peasants of Singur against corporate land grab, should serve as final warning to leftist parties in India to pursue only people’s concerns and not to help promote capitalist agenda primarily because left parties are supposed to be anti-capitalism and fight for the common people and their genuine requirements. They should if required read Marx who wrote in volumes about surplus values.

Nano judgment against government’s immoral dead with capitalists is yet another feather in the Apex Court’s jurisprudence and will go a long in strengthening the power of common people in Indian political arrangement.

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Reforms Key to Romania’s Resilient Recovery

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Over the past decade, Romania has achieved a remarkable track record of high economic growth, sustained poverty reduction, and rising household incomes. An EU member since 2007, the country’s economic growth was one of the highest in the EU during the period 2010-2020.

Like the rest of the world, however, Romania has been profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the economy contracted by 3.9 percent and the unemployment rate reached 5.5 percent in July before dropping slightly to 5.3 percent in December. Trade and services decreased by 4.7 percent, while sectors such as tourism and hospitality were severely affected. Hard won gains in poverty reduction were temporarily reversed and social and economic inequality increased.

The Romanian government acted swiftly in response to the crisis, providing a fiscal stimulus of 4.4 percent of GDP in 2020 to help keep the economy moving. Economic activity was also supported by a resilient private sector. Today, Romania’s economy is showing good signs of recovery and is projected to grow at around 7 percent in 2021, making it one of the few EU economies expected to reach pre-pandemic growth levels this year. This is very promising.

Yet the road ahead remains highly uncertain, and Romania faces several important challenges.

The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of Romania’s institutions to adverse shocks, exacerbated existing fiscal pressures, and widened gaps in healthcare, education, employment, and social protection.

Poverty increased significantly among the population in 2020, especially among vulnerable communities such as the Roma, and remains elevated in 2021 due to the triple-hit of the ongoing pandemic, poor agricultural yields, and declining remittance incomes.

Frontline workers, low-skilled and temporary workers, the self-employed, women, youth, and small businesses have all been disproportionately impacted by the crisis, including through lost salaries, jobs, and opportunities.

The pandemic has also highlighted deep-rooted inequalities. Jobs in the informal sector and critical income via remittances from abroad have been severely limited for communities that depend on them most, especially the Roma, the country’s most vulnerable group.

How can Romania address these challenges and ensure a green, resilient, and inclusive recovery for all?

Reforms in several key areas can pave the way forward.

First, tax policy and administration require further progress. If Romania is to spend more on pensions, education, or health, it must boost revenue collection. Currently, Romania collects less than 27 percent of GDP in budget revenue, which is the second lowest share in the EU. Measures to increase revenues and efficiency could include improving tax revenue collection, including through digitalization of tax administration and removal of tax exemptions, for example.

Second, public expenditure priorities require adjustment. With the third lowest public spending per GDP among EU countries, Romania already has limited space to cut expenditures, but could focus on making them more efficient, while addressing pressures stemming from its large public sector wage bill. Public employment and wages, for instance, would benefit from a review of wage structures and linking pay with performance.

Third, ensuring sustainability of the country’s pension fund is a high priority. The deficit of the pension fund is currently around 2 percent of GDP, which is subsidized from the state budget. The fund would therefore benefit from closer examination of the pension indexation formula, the number of years of contribution, and the role of special pensions.

Fourth is reform and restructuring of State-Owned Enterprises, which play a significant role in Romania’s economy. SOEs account for about 4.5 percent of employment and are dominant in vital sectors such as transport and energy. Immediate steps could include improving corporate governance of SOEs and careful analysis of the selection and reward of SOE executives and non-executive bodies, which must be done objectively to ensure that management acts in the best interest of companies.

Finally, enhancing social protection must be central to the government’s efforts to boost effectiveness of the public sector and deliver better services for citizens. Better targeted social assistance will be more effective in reaching and supporting vulnerable households and individuals. Strategic investments in infrastructure, people’s skills development, and public services can also help close the large gaps that exist across regions.

None of this will be possible without sustained commitment and dedicated resources. Fortunately, Romania will be able to access significant EU funds through its National Recovery and Resilience Plan, which will enable greater investment in large and important sectors such as transportation, infrastructure to support greater deployment of renewable energy, education, and healthcare.

Achieving a resilient post-pandemic recovery will also mean advancing in critical areas like green transition and digital transformation – major new opportunities to generate substantial returns on investment for Romania’s economy.

I recently returned from my first official trip to Romania where I met with country and government leaders, civil society representatives, academia, and members of the local community. We discussed a wide range of topics including reforms, fiscal consolidation, social inclusion, renewably energy, and disaster risk management. I was highly impressed by their determination to see Romania emerge even stronger from the pandemic. I believe it is possible. To this end, I reiterated the World Bank’s continued support to all Romanians for a safe, bright, and prosperous future.

First appeared in Romanian language in Digi24.ro, via World Bank

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US Economic Turmoil: The Paradox of Recovery and Inflation

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The US economy has been a rollercoaster since the pandemic cinched the world last year. As lockdowns turned into routine and the buzz of a bustling life came to a sudden halt, a problem manifested itself to the US regime. The problem of sustaining economic activity while simultaneously fighting the virus. It was the intent of ‘The American Rescue Plan’ to provide aid to the US citizens, expand healthcare, and help buoy the population as the recession was all but imminent. Now as the global economy starts to rebound in apparent post-pandemic reality, the US regime faces a dilemma. Either tighten the screws on the overheating economy and risk putting an early break on recovery or let the economy expand and face a prospect of unrelenting inflation for years to follow.

The Consumer Price Index, the core measure of inflation, has been off the radar over the past few months. The CPI remained largely over the 4% mark in the second quarter, clocking a colossal figure of 5.4% last month. While the inflation is deemed transitionary, heated by supply bottlenecks coinciding with swelling demand, the pandemic-related causes only explain a partial reality of the blooming clout of prices. Bloomberg data shows that transitory factors pushing the prices haywire account for hotel fares, airline costs, and rentals. Industries facing an offshoot surge in prices include the automobile industry and the Real estate market. However, the main factors driving the prices are shortages of core raw materials like computer chips and timber (essential to the efficient supply functions of the respective industries). Despite accounting for the temporal effect of certain factors, however, the inflation seems hardly controlled; perverse to the position opined by Fed Chair Jerome Powell.

The Fed already insinuated earlier that the economy recovered sooner than originally expected, making it worthwhile to ponder over pulling the plug on the doveish leverage that allowed the economy to persevere through the pandemic. The main cause was the rampant inflation – way off the 2% targetted inflation level. However, the alluded remarks were deftly handled to avoid a panic in an already fragile road to recovery. The economic figures shed some light on the true nature of the US economy which baffled the Fed. The consumer expectations, as per Bloomberg’s data, show that prices are to inflate further by 4.8% over the course of the following 12 months. Moreover, the data shows that the investor sentiment gauged from the bond market rally is also up to 2.5% expected inflation over the corresponding period. Furthermore, a survey from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) suggested that net 47 companies have raised their average prices since May by seven percentage points; the largest surge in four decades. It is all too much to overwhelm any reader that the data shows the economy is reeling with inflation – and the Fed is not clear whether it is transitionary or would outlast the pandemic itself.

Economists, however, have shown faith in the tools and nerves of the Federal Reserve. Even the IMF commended the Fed’s response and tactical strategies implemented to trestle the battered economy. However, much averse to the celebration of a win over the pandemic, the fight is still not through the trough. As the Delta variant continues to amass cases in the United States, the championed vaccinations are being questioned. While it is explicable that the surge is almost distinctly in the unvaccinated or low-vaccinated states, the threat is all that is enough to drive fear and speculation throughout the country. The effects are showing as, despite a lucrative economic rebound, over 9 million positions lay vacant for employment. The prices are billowing yet the growth is stagnating as supply is still lukewarm and people are still wary of returning to work. The job market casts a recession-like scenario while the demand is strong which in turn is driving the wages into the competitive territory. This wage-price spiral would fuel inflation, presumably for years as embedded expectations of employees would be hard to nudge lower. Remember prices and wages are always sticky downwards!

Now the paradox stands. As Congress is allegedly embarking on signing a $4 trillion economic plan, presented by president Joe Bidden, the matters are to turn all the more complex and difficult to follow. While the infrastructure bill would not be a hard press on short-term inflation, the iteration of tax credits and social spending programs would most likely fuel the inflation further. It is true that if the virus resurges, there won’t be any other option to keep the economy afloat. However, a bustling inflationary environment would eventually push the Fed to put the brakes on by either raising the interest rates or by gradually ceasing its Asset Purchase Program. Both the tools, however, would risk a premature contraction which could pull the United States into an economic spiral quite similar to that of the deflating Japanese economy. It is, therefore, a tough stance to take whether a whiff of stagflation today is merely provisional or are these some insidious early signs to be heeded in a deliberate fashion and rectified immediately.

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Carbon Market Could Drive Climate Action

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Authors: Martin Raiser, Sebastian Eckardt, Giovanni Ruta*

Trading commenced on China’s national emissions trading system (ETS) on Friday. With a trading volume of about 4 billion tons of carbon dioxide or roughly 12 percent of the total global CO2 emissions, the ETS is now the world’s largest carbon market.

While the traded emission volume is large, the first trading day opened, as expected, with a relatively modest price of 48 yuan ($7.4) per ton of CO2. Though this is higher than the global average, which is about $2 per ton, it is much lower than carbon prices in the European Union market where the cost per ton of CO2 recently exceeded $50.

Large volume but low price

The ETS has the potential to play an important role in achieving, and accelerating China’s long-term climate goals — of peaking emissions before 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality before 2060. Under the plan, about 2,200 of China’s largest coal and gas-fired power plants have been allocated free emission rights based on their historical emissions, power output and carbon intensity.

Facilities that cut emissions quickly will be able to sell excess allowances for a profit, while those that exceed their initial allowance will have to pay to purchase additional emission rights or pay a fine. Putting a price tag on CO2 emissions will promote investment in low-carbon technologies and equipment, while carbon trading will ensure emissions are first cut where it is least costly, minimizing abatement costs. This sounds plain and simple, but it will take time for the market to develop and meaningfully contribute to emission reductions.
The initial phase of market development is focused on building credible emissions disclosure and verification systems — the basic infrastructure of any functioning carbon market — encouraging facilities to accurately monitor and report their emissions rather than constraining them. Consequently, allocations given to power companies have been relatively generous, and are tied to power output rather than being set at absolute levels.

Also, the requirements of each individual facility to obtain additional emission rights are capped at 20 percent above the initial allowance and fines for non-compliance are relatively low. This means carbon prices initially are likely to remain relatively low, mitigating the immediate financial impact on power producers and giving them time to adjust.

For carbon trading to develop into a significant policy tool, total emissions and individual allowances will need to tighten over time. Estimates by Tsinghua University suggest that carbon prices will need to be raised to $300-$350 per ton by 2060 to achieve carbon neutrality. And our research at the World Bank suggest a broadly applied carbon price of $50 could help reduce China’s CO2 emissions by almost 25 percent compared with business as usual over the coming decade, while also significantly contributing to reduced air pollution.

Communicating a predictable path for annual emission cap reductions will allow power producers to factor future carbon price increases into their investment decisions today. In addition, experience from the longest-established EU market shows that there are benefits to smoothing out cyclical fluctuations in demand.

For example, carbon emissions naturally decline during periods of lower economic activity. In order to prevent this from affecting carbon prices, the EU introduced a stability reserve mechanism in 2019 to reduce the surplus of allowances and stabilize prices in the market.

Besides, to facilitate the energy transition away from coal, allowances would eventually need to be set at an absolute, mass-based level, which is applied uniformly to all types of power plants — as is done in the EU and other carbon markets.

The current carbon-intensity based allocation mechanism encourages improving efficiency in existing coal power plants and is intended to safeguard reliable energy supply, but it creates few incentives for power producers to divest away from coal.

The effectiveness of the ETS in creating appropriate price incentives would be further enhanced if combined with deeper structural reforms in power markets to allow competitive renewable energy to gain market share.

As the market develops, carbon pricing should become an economy-wide instrument. The power sector accounts for about 30 percent of carbon emissions, but to meet China’s climate goals, mitigation actions are needed in all sectors of the economy. Indeed, the authorities plan to expand the ETS to petro-chemicals, steel and other heavy industries over time.

In other carbon intensive sectors, such as transport, agriculture and construction, emissions trading will be technically challenging because monitoring and verification of emissions is difficult. Faced with similar challenges, several EU member states have introduced complementary carbon taxes applied to sectors not covered by an ETS. Such carbon excise taxes are a relatively simple and efficient instrument, charged in proportion to the carbon content of fuel and a set carbon price.

Finally, while free allowances are still given to some sectors in the EU and other more mature national carbon markets, the majority of initial annual emission rights are auctioned off. This not only ensures consistent market-based price signals, but generates public revenue that can be recycled back into the economy to subsidize abatement costs, offset negative social impacts or rebalance the tax mix by cutting taxes on labor, general consumption or profits.

So far, China’s carbon reduction efforts have relied largely on regulations and administrative targets. Friday’s launch of the national ETS has laid the foundation for a more market-based policy approach. If deployed effectively, China’s carbon market will create powerful incentives to stimulate investment and innovation, accelerate the retirement of less-efficient coal-fired plants, drive down the cost of emission reduction, while generating resources to finance the transition to a low-carbon economy.

(Martin Raiser is the World Bank country director for China, Sebastian Eckardt is the World Bank’s lead economist for China, and Giovanni Ruta is a lead environmental economist of the World Bank.)

(first published on China Daily via World Bank)

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