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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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More research needed into COVID-19 effects on children

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Students at a primary school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on the second day after their school reopened. The students, teachers and school administrators wear masks while at the school and maintain physical distancing. UNICEF/Seyha Lychheang

More research is needed into factors that increase the risk of severe COVID-19 disease among children and adolescents, the head of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) has said, adding that while children may have largely been spared many of the most severe effects, they have suffered in other ways. 

Joining the heads of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), at a press conference on Tuesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus outlined that since the start of the COVID pandemic, understanding its effects on children has been a priority.  

“Nine months into the pandemic, many questions remain, but we are starting to have a clearer picture. We know that children and adolescents can be infected and can infect others”, he said. 

“We know that this virus can kill children, but that children tend to have a milder infection and there are very few severe cases and deaths from COVID-19 among children and adolescents.” 

According to WHO data, less than 10 per cent of reported cases and less than 0.2 per cent of deaths are in people under the age of 20. However, additional research is needed into the factors that put children and adolescents at an increased risk. 

In addition, the potential long-term health effects in those who have been infected remains unknown. 

Referring to closure of schools around the world, which has hit millions of children, impacting not only their education but also a range of other important services, the WHO Director-General said that the decision to close schools should be a last resort, temporary and only at a local level in areas with intense transmission. 

Keeping classrooms open, ‘a job for all of us’

The time during which schools are closed should be used for putting in place measures to prevent and respond to transmission when schools reopen. 

“Keeping children safe and at school is not a job for schools alone, or governments alone or families alone. It’s a job for all of us, working together,” added Mr. Tedros. 

“With the right combination of measures, we can keep our kids safe and teach them that health and education are two of the most precious commodities in life,” he added. 

Guidance on reopening schools, while keeping children and communities safe 

Although children have largely been spared many of the most severe health effects of the virus, they have suffered in other ways, said Director-General Tedros, adding that closure of schools hit millions of children globally. 

Given different situations among countries: some, where schools have opened and others, where they have not, UNESCO, UNICEF and WHO, issued updated guidance on school-related public health measures in the context of COVID-19.  

Based on latest scientific evidence, the guidance provides practical advice for schools in areas with no cases, sporadic cases, clusters of cases or community transmission.  They were developed with input from the Technical Advisory Group of Experts on Educational Institutions and COVID-19, established by the three UN agencies in June. 

Schools provide critical, diverse services 

Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General, also highlighted the importance of school, not only for teaching, but also for providing health, protection and – at times – nutrition services. 

“The longer schools remain closed, the more damaging the consequences, especially for children from more disadvantaged backgrounds … therefore, supporting safe reopening of schools must be a priority for us all”, she said. 

In addition to safely reopening schools, attention must focus on ensuring that no one is left behind, Ms. Azoulay added, cautioning that in some countries, children are missing from classes, amid fears that many – especially girls – may not ever return to schools. 

Alongside, ensuring flow of information and adequate communication between teachers, school administrators and families; and defining new rules and protocols, including on roles of and trainings for teachers, managing school schedules, revising learning content, and providing remedial support for learning losses are equally important, she said. 

“When we deal with education, the decisions we make today will impact tomorrow’s world,” said the UNESCO Director-General. 

A global education emergency 

However, with half the global student population still unable to return to schools, and almost a third of the world’s pupils unable to access remote learning, the situation is “nothing short of a global education emergency”, said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. 

“We know that closing schools for prolonged periods of time can have devastating consequences for children,” she added, outlining their increased exposure risk of physical, sexual, or emotional violence. 

The situation is even more concerning given the results from a recent UNICEF survey which found that almost a fourth of the 158 countries questioned, on their school reopening plans, had not set a date to allow schoolchildren back to the classrooms. 

“For the most marginalized, missing out on school – even if only for a few weeks – can lead to negative outcomes that last a lifetime,” warned Ms. Fore. 

She called on governments to prioritize reopening schools, when restrictions are lifted, and to focus on all the things that children need – learning, protection, and physical and mental health – and ensure the best interest of every child is put first. 

And when governments decide to keep schools closed, they must scale up remote learning opportunities for all children, especially the most marginalized.  

“Find innovative ways – including online, TV and radio – to keep children learning, no matter what”, stressed Ms. Fore. 

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World Bank Project to Boost Household Access to Affordable Energy

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Today, the World Bank Board of Directors approved $150 million in financing to improve access to modern energy for households, enterprises, and public institutions in Rwanda and to enhance the efficiency of electricity services. $75 million will be provided as grant funding, and $75 will be provided as a loan.  

Building on the achievement of previous World Bank support to the energy sector, the Rwanda Energy Access and Quality Improvement Project (EAQIP) will advance Rwanda’s progress towards achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, while also contributing to the country’s aim of reducing reliance on cooking fuel by 50%.

“The proposed project is well-timed to build on the World Bank’s decade-long support to the Government’s energy sector agenda. It will contribute directly to Rwanda’s push toward universal energy access by 2024 and universal access to clean cooking by 2030”, said Rolande Pryce, World Bank Country Manager for Rwanda. “We are honored to be a long-term partner in this journey.”

Rwanda EAQIP aims to improve electricity access by providing funding for the country’s ongoing program of expanding grid connections for residential, commercial, industrial, and public sector consumers, as well as by providing grants to reduce the costs of off-grid solar home systems. The project will also enhance the availability and efficiency of low-cost renewable energy by restoring capacity at the Ntaruka Hydro-Power Project, reducing voltage fluctuations on transmission lines, and supporting the national smart meter program.

The project includes the World Bank’s largest clean cooking operation in Africa, and the first project co-financed by the recently launched Clean Cooking Fund (CCF), hosted by the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP). The CCF will provide $20 million for clean cooking, with $10 million provided as a grant and $10million extended as a loan. The project targets 2.15 million people, leveraging an additional US$30 million in public and private sector investments. By incentivizing the private sector and improving the enabling environment, the project aims to develop a sustainable market for affordable clean cooking solutions in Rwanda. 

The project is part of the Rwanda Universal Energy Access Program (RUEAP), which coordinates the efforts of development partners supporting the energy sector to contribute to the achievement of the targets set out in the National Strategy for Transformation (2017-24).

“The World Bank is proud to have led the RUEAP on behalf of the development partners, including the French Development Agency (co-financing the EAQIP). The World Bank looks forward to supporting the implementation of the ongoing program and expects to report positive outcomes in the lives of Rwandans” said Norah Kipwola, World Bank Senior Energy Specialist and the project Task Team Leader.

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ILO: Developing countries should invest US$1.2 trillion to guarantee basic social protection

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To guarantee at least basic income security and access to essential health care for all in 2020 alone, developing countries should invest approximately US$1.2 trillion – on average 3.8 per cent of their GDP – says a new ILO policy brief.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic  the social protection financing gap has increased by approximately 30 per cent according to Financing gaps in social protection: Global estimate and strategies for developing countries in light of the COVID-19 crisis and beyond .

This is the result of the increased need for health-care services and income security for workers who lost their jobs during the lockdown and the reduction of GDP caused by the crisis.

The situation is particularly dire in low-income countries who would need to spend nearly 16 per cent of their GDP to close the gap – around US$80 billion

Regionally, the relative burden of closing the gap is particularly high in Central and Western Asia, Northern Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa (between 8 per cent and 9 per cent of their GDP).

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, the global community was failing to live up to the social protection legal and policy commitments it had made in the wake of the last global catastrophe – the 2008 financial crisis.

Currently, only 45 per cent of the global population is effectively covered by at least one social protection benefit. The remaining population – more than 4 billion people – is completely unprotected.

National and international measures to reduce the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis have provided short-term financing assistance. Some countries have sought innovative sources to increase the fiscal space for extending social protection, like taxes on the trade of large tech companies, the unitary taxation of multinational companies, taxes on financial transactions or airline tickets. With austerity measures already emerging even with the crisis ongoing, these efforts are more pressing than ever, the study says.

“Low-income countries must invest approximately US$80 billion, nearly 16 per cent of their GDP, to guarantee at least basic income security and access to essential health care to all,” said Shahrashoub Razavi, Director of the ILO’s Social Protection Department. “Domestic resources are not nearly enough. Closing the annual financing gap requires international resources based on global solidarity.”

Mobilization at the international level should complement national efforts, says the ILO. International financial institutions and development cooperation agencies have already introduced several financial packages to help governments of developing countries tackle the various effects of the crisis but more resources are needed to close the financing gap, particularly in low-income countries.

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