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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 to Help Improve Water Governance, Develop Regional Urban Investment Plan for Mongolia

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has agreed to provide two technical assistance (TA) grants totaling $2.5 million to help the Government of Mongolia strengthen water governance at the river basin level and prepare a development investment program for aimag and soum centers in the country.

The agreements were signed by Batkhuu Idesh, Director General of the Development Financing Department of the Ministry of Finance, and Yolanda Fernandez Lommen, ADB Country Director for Mongolia, at a ceremony in Ulaanbaatar. First Secretary Hiroshi Fukasawa from the Embassy of Japan in Mongolia witnessed the event. Representatives from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the Ministry of Construction and Urban Development also participated.

“Mongolia’s future development rests heavily on how it manages its resources and achieve sustainable development driven by a multisector economy and ecological balance,” said Ms. Fernandez Lommen. “Both projects are aligned with ADB’s Country Partnership Strategy for Mongolia, which supports the government’s efforts to foster inclusive growth, improve people’s access to services, and strengthen environmental sustainability.”

The $1 million water governance TA grant aims to improve the effectiveness and sustainability of investments in the water sector and infrastructure in the country to provide socioeconomic benefits. The project will assess the current status of water governance standards, provide policy recommendations for legislative and institutional reforms, and develop and update management plans for river basins. It will strengthen and build capacity among government agencies, and assess the potential scaleup and replication of water security approaches for river basins.

The regional development TA grant for the aimag and soum centers is worth $1.5 million. It will help the government develop an investment program to improve basic urban services and promote the local economy in selected aimag capitals and soum centers. The program will focus on regional urban clusters that have the potential to build a more resilient and diversified economy to deliver inclusive and sustainable growth. The TA will support the preparation of the investment program, such as the formulation of economic and urban development strategies, feasibility studies, and measures that will enhance aid effectiveness and project readiness.

The two projects are funded by the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction. Over the past 19 years, the fund has supported projects in Mongolia in poverty alleviation, community development, improving livelihoods, and safeguarding the environment.

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Data USA adds more than 7,300 profiles of higher education institutions to visualization platform

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Data USA has released new data visualization profiles summarizing the costs, demographics, debt, acceptance rates, financial aid, and endowments of more than 7,300 universities and higher education institutions in the US. The visualizations make available data from the US Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Systems (IPEDS).

Data USA is a free, open data platform created in collaboration between Deloitte, MIT, and Datawheel. Data USA integrates, visualizes, and distributes data from multiple public sources and has grown in its first two years to more than 300,000 monthly users, becoming one of the main sources for Americans to access public data.

“The new university profiles will allow students, parents, and school counselors, to understand the cost, demographics, and career opportunities of thousands of US universities,” said César Hidalgo, director of MIT’s Collective Learning group and a co-founder of Datawheel.

“Whether you are a student or parent, researcher, journalist, employer, or curious citizen, these new data visualizations offer greater insights into the composition of colleges and universities around the country and the integral role they play in the overall job market,” said Matt Gentile, principal, Deloitte Transactions and Business Analytics LLP, and one of the Data USA project lead sponsors. “With the vast amounts of open government data, we’re closing the gap in making that data useful, understandable, and actionable.”

“IPEDS data is extensive, but to most individuals who are not thoroughly familiar with the intricacies of the formats involved, translating the raw data into useable information is a daunting task,” said Jeff Bradfield, National Practice Leader for Higher Education, Deloitte Consulting LLP. “With this new interface, the data is now more accessible to people inside and outside the higher education community.”

The new higher education profiles provide a robust amount of data visualizations, including:

  • Admissions and financial aid
  • Majors, time to complete degrees, and jobs of graduates
  • Diversity of student and faculty populations
  • Staffing, expenses, and operations

Additionally, the individual institution profiles that also include automatically generated comparison data from peer institutions.

Data USA is the most comprehensive visualization engine for shared US government data to date, aggregating and visualizing publicly available data from multiple sources including the Department of Labor, Department of Commerce, the Census, and Department of Education, among others.

Data USA is freely available and users can browse the data and gain insights using filters or target their view using search tools. The code is open source, and the platform is scalable, allowing for new data to be added. Application developers can build on the Data USA platform using the API and integrate additional data for custom use.

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Strong outbound tourism demand from both traditional and emerging markets in 2017

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Virtually all source markets reported higher tourism spending in 2017, reflecting continued strong demand for international tourism across all world regions. Both emerging and advanced economies fuelled growth, led by the United States which spent US$ 12 billion more on travel abroad. China spent US$ 8 billion more, consolidating its leadership as the biggest spender in the world. The Russian Federation spent US$ 7 billion more and Brazil US$ 5 billion more, both rebounding from weaker spending in previous years. Strong tourism expenditure reflects enhanced connectivity, increased visa facilitation and a global economic upswing.

All top 25 source markets reported higher spending on international tourism in 2017, as highlighted in the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. China consolidated its leadership as the biggest spender in travel abroad in 2017 with US$ 258 billion in expenditure (+5% in local currency).

The other three BRIC economies all substantially increased expenditure in 2017. The Russian Federation (+13%) rebounded after a few years of declines, to reach US$ 31 billion, climbing three places to re-enter the top ten at number 8. Brazil (+20%) also recovered strongly and moved up eight places to number 16 with US$ 19 billion in expenditure. India continued its rise with 9% growth in spending to US$ 18 billion and moved up four places in the ranking to 17th.

“Emerging economies play a key role in tourism development and we are very pleased to see the rebound of the Russian Federation and Brazil, and the ongoing rise of India, as these key emerging outbound markets contribute to growth and market diversification in many destinations”, said UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili.

Advanced economies also performed robustly in 2017, led by the United States (+9%), the world’s second largest outbound market. US travellers spent US$ 12 billion more on international tourism to US$ 135 billion. Expenditure from Germany (3rd largest market) and the United Kingdom (4th) both increased 3%, and from France (5th) 1%.

Australia (6th) reported 7% growth and Canada (7th) a 9% increase. Completing the top ten are the Republic of Korea (9th) where expenditure grew by 9% and Italy (10th) where it increased by 6%.

Beyond the top ten, tourism spending also grew notably in Sweden (+14%) and Spain (+12%).

These strong results in outbound tourism are consistent with the 7% increase in international tourist arrivals in 2017. Demand for travel was particularly high in Europe, where arrivals increased 8% last year.

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