Two to Tango: IPL and GST, a match report!

Dear Reader,

Hi! Here’s a piece on what happens when Parliamentarians are gripped by the IPL fever 🙂

This piece appeared in my column “Tweakonomics” in the Hindu Business Line today. You can read it at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/columns/two-to-tango/article9631178.ece, or read it here directly. Cheers!

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Team FM was celebrating. They’d pulled off the GST feat in record time i.e. before the IPL began. Many of the NDA MPs had threatened not to be present if the Bills were not introduced before April 5. That had got FM Jaitley really worried. He had been pushing his team hard, and yet, some of those clauses looked tricky. “A strategic time-out, that’s what we need,” he told his beleaguered team, working out the clauses yet again to make them Chidambaram-safe. “Such express pace! If only there was an assured follow-on in 2019. Then we’d have done this in style!”

But the PM was pitching it hard and had asked him to put his best foot forward. He had to deliver not only the doosra and the teesra, but also the choutha! The Central GST Bill, Integrated GST Bill, Compensation (to States) GST Bill and the UT GST Bill, all at the same time. And all this with the Delhi Daredevil mufflers breathing down his neck.

To add to his troubles, there was Chennai Super King P Chidambaram in the Rajya Sabha muttering about how he’d goofed up in writing the clauses of the GST, especially with the wording of the anti-profiteering clause. With the anti-profiteering clause, the FM had just wanted to make sure that if companies were not passing on reduction in the GST rate to the consumers, there would be a third umpire to examine the case. “The presence of the third umpire is ok,” said the Super King snootily. “Who is the selector, is what worries me. Unorthodox and draconian, is my verdict. Howzzat!”

The BSP had another set of issues. In the first year of implementation, an offence, if compoundable, should not be non-bailable, they kept on hankering. Normally, the stumps hold the bails, grinned the FM to himself. But here the bails have them stumped. Heehee!

But his team had delivered. On March 29, all four supplementary GST Bills were passed in the Lok Sabha by voice vote. It was actually just a noisy out-break of relief that the damn thing was done before April 5. It meant that the entire “Wah bhai Wah” IPL season could now be enjoyed happily in front of the TV without worrying about how to ask intelligent questions and participate in the debate tomorrow just as Lasith Malinga came out with that Yorker. “Neat thrownnnnnnn,” roared the Gujrat Lion, pleased with the new phrase, new bill and new year. It sounded very English, and yet, had the pleasant Mitt-rrron impact on the Parliament.

The FM was super pleased. Here was the ultimate legal boundary- all four Bills passed at the same go! In the meanwhile though, the scene had shifted to Rajya Sabha, where there was a lot disappointment because Sachin Tendulkar didn’t turn up.

“He never turns up in the other sessions. That is ok. But it should be made binding on him to turn up in March. After all, we want to discuss important issues here. What are the prospects of the Mumbai Indians winning this season, we really want to know,” said a Rajya Sabha MP.

“It’s ok, we still have Dhoni,” said Super King cleverly.

“What? Now when did he become MP? Tch, tch, I really must start reading newspapers again!”

“Idiot! I’m talking about Sakshi Dhoni making that comment on Aadhaar. Oh, we’ll raise privacy issues now. Silly point to the rescue! You want the GST, eh? We’ll catch you, alright! How? Simple! Gully, Slip and the Third man!

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Econ Mom on Cricket, Sarfarosh and the Nirmal Gram Yojana

Lord help me! It’s vacation time and Lil One is in top form. It’s cricket, 24 by 7. I have grave doubts that he may have completely forgotten me by now and generally identifies me as the screaming woman who is forever telling him to take a shower and look a little more clean. I am thinking of buying a bowler shaped umpire hat to just get his attention and to declare that Mom has “run out” of patience. Sigh!

He wakes up really late and then has a shower that will put the meanest water conservationist to shame (yesterday he emerged from the bath in a record 55 seconds looking dirtier than he looked when he headed in), gulps down breakfast and then literally rushes for his galli cricket. Lunch is but a cricket affair. All of my culinary feats (well, to be fair, that just includes cut mangoes, sigh!) lie neglected in the discussion of Lil One’s runs, his sixes and fours, his amazing new style of bowling and ouch! injuries. “I got that bruise when I dived in order to take that catch, Mom. You should have seen it! And this one is, well, the opposition team didn’t like the fact that I did a hat trick.” I had a mental vision of Lil One running giggling and teasing followed by ruffianish kids holding bats and stumps.

“Please! Do you guys go after each other when someone does a hat-trick?”

He shrugged and rolled his eyes at me as if to say that this is the basic rule of galli cricket 101.

“In our days,” I started, “cricket was called a gentleman’s game.”

“Yes!” snorted Lil One immediately, “and they had to be gentlemen for 5 days! How boring, Mom! Our way is better, more direct. 5 hours, if there’s no hat trick.”

“And if there is one?”

“5 minutes!” he grinned evilly at me.

Gawd! Boys! I don’t remember ever running after another child armed with a bat in all of my childhood. The max damage I guess we girls inflicted on each other was biting or pulling each other’s hair; hmmm, though I remember Mom’s lecture after I had clawed the face of this girl, when I was 6, after she called me a monkey. I also remember that nothing in the lecture had managed to wipe off that vague feeling of …satisfaction I had after that amazing fight. “Genes, my dear” whispered my darker mind to me evilly, but I shrugged off that feeling uncomfortably. And coming back to the present sharply, I ticked him off in my usual Maya Sarabhai tone. “Running after each other with bats” I told him with an upturned nose, “is hooliganistically middle class.”

“Heehee! Mom, can I please have another Rs.20?”

“What! You lost the ball you bought yesterday too?” I looked at him in dismay. You get a rubber ball for Rs. 20 and a tennis ball for Rs. 40 and a season ball for Rs. 150. A single window pane costs Rs. 80 to fix and an entire window, well, Rs. 200. Guess how I know all of this? Sigh!

“Mommy, Swapnil hit a six and it went over the rooftop…his mom won’t get him a new ball, please Mom?”

“But really…”

Lil One suddenly adapted Veeran’s character from the movie Sarfarosh (He’s really good at mimicry). “Yeh bat hain. Lekin agar tumne mujhe Rs. 20 nahi deeye, toh yeh kya hain? Patthar hain, patthar!”

Interesting, thought Econ Mom, that dialogue from Sarfarosh. “Patthar hain, patthar,” is what Veeran says to convince the arms seller that a gun without bullets is as good as stone. Interesting, because I had thought of the same dialogue just yesterday, when I was on a field visit to this remote hamlet in Raigad.

The past month has been extremely taxing. I’m currently working on a project for the State Election Commission and we’ve been all over Maharashtra, talking to Zilla Parishad members and Government officials in remote, faraway Panchayat Samitis. It’s been taxing, but I’m not complaining. The learning’s been so huge that it takes away the physical discomfort of travelling in the burning sun.

Now, as we all know, the spread of a village is not too huge geographically. But this village has some “wadis” or small hamlets included in it, some of which are 17 kms away from the main market of the village! The reason of including these into the village is that the population in those wadis is hardly 150-200 tribals and hence, these wadis have not been granted the status of a separate village.

Now, there was this tribal lady (a Gram Panchayat member) who had come walking 17 kms down the mountains just to meet us and be part of the Gram Panchayat meeting. When I expressed dismay that she had to walk just to see us, she shrugged. “That’s fine. We do this everyday anyways.”

Our team was there to understand the dynamics of a gram panchayat with reservations for tribals. One point led to another and we were soon asking the villagers what their plans were for the development of the village. “We really want to get the Nirmal Gram Puraskar in the next couple of years,” said their Sarpanch.

For the uninitiated, Nirmal Gram award is given to villages that completely stop open defecation and achieve full sanitation.

“We built toilet blocks last year itself in our wadi!” declared the tribal lady, who’d come walking down from her wadi.

“That’s amazing!” I said. “So is your wadi completely sanitized?”

“Madam, we built toilet blocks because there was a scheme under which we got funds for it. But there’s no water supply. Our wadi is in such a remote location that water supply is a permanent problem. So all the community toilets are extremely dirty and no one uses it. Open defecation is…normal.”

There you go. It’s such a shame. In the past one month, I’ve come across such umpteen horrors from the field, where you see how hotch-potch implementation creates really bad issues. Whoever said that India is a poor country? We are spending money by the crores, literally be the crores, on thoughtless, hopeless, badly implemented programs, so that next year people will come back craving for more from corrupt officials who don’t care a damn.

“But you are an elected member of this Panchayat. How did you contest elections if you do not have a toilet block at home?”

“Madam, there are only 2 houses in our wadi that have attached toilets. Ours is one of these and hence I could contest.”

“But then, how do you get the water for your toilet facilities?”

Now here, the lady looked distinctly uncomfortable. What she said next really tore at my heart.

“See Madam, we are relatively well off in our wadi. We have a bullock cart. So we fetch water by loading pails into the bullock cart. I tried telling the other people in my wadi that they too should get water from the river and use it to keep the toilet clean. But no one else has bullock carts. And when you walk 3 kms in one direction just to get 4 pails of drinking water in this hot sun, Madam, there’s not enough life left in you to walk another 6 kms to get water for sanitation. No one is willing to do this. I’ve antagonized all other women in my wadi by telling them to get water for the toilet blocks. They believe that rich people like us do not understand their problems. So now you tell me, how can the Nirmal Gram Yojana help my wadi in which water supply is itself an issue?”

Nirmal Gram cannot happen in a suspended framework. Water has to reach the villages. It has to be stored properly. Only then can the funds for building toilets be sanctioned. Also, someone will have to also look at the feasibility of maintaining the toilet facility once it’s ready. And that someone is supposed to be the elected member in the Gram Panchayat or Panchayat Samiti or Zilla Parishad! Where the hell are these people? And why is no one working for these outcomes? This is just going to become another yojana, under which we build toilet facilities which in fact create more sanitation and health hazards than a scenario under which there are no toilet blocks.

I thought of not only toilets without water, but also of the pathetic quality of politicians who have not been able to drive this change in the past 70 years since independence and my mind said passionately, angrily, in a Veeran tone, “Patthar hain, patthar.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing by the book

Dear Reader,

Hi! Did you know that the FM had tied up the state of the Indian economy sub-consciously to the performance of the Indian cricket team in WC T2o? 😛

Well, here’s the relationship between fiscal deficits and cricket! The piece appeared today in “Tweakonomics,” a column on econ-humour I write for the Hindu Business Line. You can read it at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/columns/playing-by-the-book/article8429549.ece, else read it here directly.

Enjoy! And do send in a comment or two!

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Fiscal targets and Indian cricket

Many an eye was left wet and leaking in that last over of the India-West Indies semi final, as the six hit off-Kohli rocketed into the stands. Chartered Accountants, many of whom had created internal deadlines of 6 p.m. on March 31 just so that they could watch the match were particularly indignant about the whole thing and were left vengefully thinking how cricketers could possibly be taxed more.

But no eye watered and no nose sniffed harder than that of the FM, who had somehow tied up the state of the economy with the fortunes of the Indian cricket team in T20s.

The FM too had cricketing aspirations, when a young wisp of a boy. However, as the years passed, the bye-laws began beckoning more sharply than the leg-byes, after which he decided to give a bye to that leg of the aspiration.

The many fascinations of allocation, distribution and stabilisation functions of the fiscal policy overtook those passions of batting, bowling and fielding. The classical version that Tendulkar played seemed almost “normative”; how cricket ought to be. It was rapidly getting replaced by “positive” cricket; higher speed, higher octane T20 cricket with crazy looking shots getting titled the Pallu shot and the Helicopter shot. Cricket, in which what ought to be, got replaced by what is.

Rather like the changes which happened to the NDA in the political arena. After a few years spent in taking interesting jibes at how governments ought to function and budgets ought to be, here was the NDA, now being asked to perform the helicopter shot. That the PM took this literally is another ball-game. And the FM found himself talking to the media not about how the budget ought to be, but about what it actually is.

And he made his pitch, like Captain Cool. As Team India strode as favourites into the World Cup T20 series, the FM felt his spirits rise. Yes, we shall deliver as promised! The UPA may well raise its delicate eyebrows, but fiscal deficit will be contained at 3.9 per cent!

To be defeated by 47 runs by New Zealand was such a shocker; no one had expected NZ to exhibit such form! The FM’s tummy churned unpleasantly. The last he’d felt so stunned was when RaGa had demanded a cap on taxes to get the GST passed.

With that Bill not getting through, the taxes wouldn’t show the expected buoyancy in the next fiscal; but the boys were back in the field laden with the expectations that only an India-Pak match can bring on, looking as buoyant as ever. And what a win! The emotional high of the moment could only bring on fond memories of the HR Minister decimating a cowering Opposition with tears and a voice shaking with high drama. We will not only do a 3.9 per cent fiscal deficit this year, we’ll also do a 2 per cent next year, thought the FM, high on positivity.

And to see Virat Kohli take on the Aussies was to believe that we’ll deliver a balanced budget next year! Zero per cent fiscal deficit target; ha, take that, you disbelievers!

Against WI, Virat and Dhoni’s batting was like watching the markets rise. Chris Gayle fell, as will the repo next month. But what’s this? How could we lose? By 7 wickets! The FM’s hand shook as he took a call from the CSO. “Sir, even if Kohl sector is up, we’ve real bad news. Fiscal target looks difficult because we’ve overspent.” The FM sighed. We’ve overspent by 7 per cent.

The Fed Rate Hike: Mann ki Baat

Dear Reader,

Hi! What could be the Mann ki Baat of Ms. Yellen and Dr. Rajan pre- and post- rate hike? What do Central Bankers talk to each other about?

Get the answer in the article Mann Ki Baat, which appeared today under Tweakonomics, my column at the Hindu Business Line! You can read the article at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/mann-ki-baat/article8011018.ece, or read it here directly.

Incidentally, with this piece, I complete a hundred blogs. Thank you for being here and for reading through random thoughts. Enjoy!

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When the Fed and the RBI chat

JY (jovial): Hi, there, Raghu! How’s everything?

RR (sourly): How do you think everything would be? We’re sweating here, Janet. All because the growth numbers are so hot in the US. You put in a rate hike tomorrow and the Sensex will swing. And then the currency markets. And now I need to figure out the equilibrium exchange rate at which intervention needs to begin. Where should I intervene? At 68? At 69? And are FOREX reserves of $350 billion enough? Has the market truly factored in all the information? Oh God, aren’t you supposed to be a dove?

JY (smiling): Well, you know what it means to be an economist, Raghu. The best of doves develop claws when data tells you job growth and consumer sentiment is strong. Just like you said so intelligently, my dear. My name is Janet Yellen, and I do what I have to do.

RR (dourly): At least keep it at 25 bps. Don’t you overdo it. What with the Yelling in the Parliament and Yellen in the Fed, my job has really become Yecarious, errr, precarious.

JY (laughing now): You never really know, do you? Keep your fingers crossed and those dollar reserves ready. You are going to need them!

17th December, 2015. Call is placed from RBI to the Fed.

RR (jovial): Hi there, Janet! How’s everything?

JY (sourly): How do you think everything would be, Raghu? Everything’s gone off smooth as silk. These analysts are all talking in glorious terms about the Fed managing market expectations correctly. But I am so bugged, I can’t tell you. Managing market expectations means that once the Fed puts in the hike, it does not create a tsunami, like the one Ben caused with the taper tantrum. But, no matter how much you manage expectations, Asian stocks and currencies have to fall. Period. That’s International Macroeconomics 101. But almost all Asian markets have risen a bit. Aaaaargh! Even China. Currencies are holding up so well, it’s positively embarrassing. We are the dollar, dammit. Some respect is due, bro.

RR (smiling): Well, you know what it means to be an economist, Janet. The best of claws won’t help in making a killing on markets if data suggests there is better sentiment elsewhere. So, you did what you did and I’ll do what I have to do now, which is incidentally, not much!

JY (dourly): Look, Raghu, at least don’t let the Rupee appreciate too much. Keep the Rupee at about 66.5, okay? Don’t you overdo it. I am taking such an image beating here.

RR (laughing now): You never really know, do you, Janet? But don’t worry. We are not in a mood to get into steep appreciation right now.

JY (thoughtfully): What I can’t fathom, Raghu, is how investors are staying with India. Your basic tax reforms are pending. Your Parliament won’t pass GST citing some of the craziest things I ever heard. And if your MPs don’t learn to de-link the intolerance debate from the GST, you’ll find some very intolerant movements on the markets. With such terrible political vibes and the Fed hike, I was sure that FIIs would move away from India. How did you manage to retain them?

RR: Well Janet, markets are subject to push and pull forces. Financial Economics 101.We may have some of the most misbehaved Parliamentarians here creating a push. But you have Donald. Our Trump card!

Delhi traffic: At odds and evens

Dear Reader,

Hi! This article appeared under my column “Tweakonomics” in the Hindu Business Line today. You may like to see it at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/columns/at-odds-and-evens/article7966663.ece. Else, read it here directly! Enjoy and do send in your comments!

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Dunno if Delhi’s pollution will be controlled. But Delhi’s GDP is definitely set to go up as the Government will only allow even-and-odd numbered cars on alternate days. The multiplier effect will now explode, thereby creating jobs, employment, growth, and more number of cars for the Aam Admi, and a seriously good chance of getting re-elected for the Aam Admi Party. Ms. Sheila Dixit is ruing how she missed this bus, errrr, this passenger car.

Just look at the numbers. There are 260 lakh passenger cars registered in Delhi as of March 2015. In 2014-15, Delhiites added 1.8 lakh cars to their already enviable and unviable kitty. At least 15000 of these must have been bought by those on whom P. Chidambaram wistfully dreamt of levying the super rich tax. At least 3000 of these will now make a beeline to the nearest Audi/ BMW/ Mercedes-Benz showroom, trying to buy a car which hosts that super number so that one can manage to reach the workplace even at odd times. Another 2000 may settle for an odd City or even a Jetta. Car makers are rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect.

Those not having the budgets or the parking spaces to buy a new car need not despair. A new range of services are being offered by roadside repair shops, which will now sell instant plate-change offerings. Due to heavy demand, the price of getting another number plate done has increased from Rs.1000 to Rs.5000. The casts and moulds industry is experiencing heavy demand to fabricate such insta-change car accessories.

Patanjali is thinking of seriously getting into the segment. The idea is that the one should be able to change the Patanjali number-plate in the 2 minutes in which the Patanjali noodles get cooked. Later, wash the hands with Patanjali soap and you are as good as new.

The demand for new cars and accessories will thus act as the ultimate growth driver, pushing Delhi’s growth rate to an unbelievable 20%. And that’s not all. For every new car manufactured, 7 more people get employed. All those poor crooks who used to surreptitiously paint cars and number plates after robberies will now get to legitimize their skilful profiles. Such a surge in employment was not seen in Delhi even during the good old days of the Commonwealth Games.

In all the merriment that ensued in the corridors after such cheerful thoughts, there came a more sobering, practical problem. How in the world will the Delhi Police, who stand steadfast in their duty at the traffic signal, read the number plates of those cars that zip through happily at 95 kmph? Visibility tests startlingly revealed that one can only read the numbers if the car passes at a more sedate pace of 25 kmph. Hence, in addition to the earlier even and odd guideline, the Delhi Government is now in the process of issuing a speed limit guideline as well. The number of cars will be halved and the time taken to office will be doubled.

Schools are thrilled to bits with the new pedagogy with which to make Maths more interesting. They have appealed to the Delhi Government to also have days when only composite or prime numbers will be allowed. One school has raised an RTI against the RTO demanding an explanation as to why number plates cannot be issued in all rational numbers on the number line and why only positive integers have been allowed so far. A case for fractions is also being fought. A divisive number game on irrational traffic integration. It’s the limit!

 

 

Econ Mom visits a doctor

I was feeling a bit breathless and wound up. From a variety of friends, I got only one response. “I think you’re working too hard. You need to relax.” And from the one quack in my life, Hubby, I got a variety of responses ranging from “It could be the pollen count” and “OMG, is it asthma?” and “You are working too hard” to “You need to talk less” and “You definitely need to argue less.” Hmmmm. Exactly the type of response that warrantees a good argument.

Anyway, upshot is that Hubby took me to an allergy specialist, who’d apparently cured him around 20 years ago, for an opinion. Hubby is choosy about his doctors. He doesn’t like most of them and feels that most don’t match up to his superior quack skills. But even quacks can be smitten. And Hubby loves this doc. After all of the medical faculty apparently failed to even identify the allergen that had struck Hubby 20 years ago, this good Doctor had breezed in and cured my quack.

And, a quack once smitten, is hard to cure. I have spent the past 14 years of my marriage hearing stories and stories about this Superman. Well, however, with no trace of allergy at all in both of us, except for the severe one which we developed for each other over a period of time, we never really had any reason to meet with Superman. But this time around, I had no option. Hubby was pretending to look quite worried about my breathlessness, but I am sure inwardly he was quite looking forward to meet the Messiah.

And so the great meeting happened. After 20 long years. I was relieved when Hubby didn’t breakdown or something and made some general wheezing noises to remind the two of my presence and the true reason of our visit.

Well, Doc got me talking. “And what do you do for a living, Manasi?” “Well, I’m an economist and…” “Really?” Doc looked up with a grimace. “Economist?” he said, with such apparent disdain that I was thrown off track from allergies and breathlessness issues.

“Why?” I asked a bit defensively. “Oh, nothing. Anyone with any heart disease/ history/ disorders?” Was the measured response. “No”, I answered grumpily.

“Oh, but your great grand-father died of a heart attack!” that was Hubby, determined to get some data for his fav Doc. “Yes, but that was not a disease. I mean, there was no history…” I faltered as Doc raised his eyes to the ceiling and said “Aaaaargh! Economists!”

Really, now this was too good to be ignored. The allergy doctor obviously has some kind of an allergy to economists and I am going to cure you before leaving, I grinned to myself.

But there was no time to cure him because he suddenly pushed a machine into my mouth instructing me to make rude blowing noises like a dying hen while inhaling and exhaling through the damn thing. Hubby was staring appreciatively at the whole process. It can’t get better for him, I thought grumpily. He’s reliving his past through these idiotic noises I’m making and is in the presence of his fav Doc and wife’s red in the face and looking like a fool. Oh, I’ll get you, I thought, blowing some more air with vengeance into the strange contraption.

After the ordeal was over and I was back to my calm and collected econ-self, I asked Doc, “Errr…so, do you have a problem with economists?”

Imagine my surprise when the guy said cool as a cucumber, “Well, I think they’re all crooks.” Now really!

He continued “Have you seen the Inside Story? Crooks, all of them. And when Raghu (first name basis with my fav Guv!) wrote a paper on it, they blasted it…”

“Larry Summers blasted it,” I said helpfully.

“Yes, him and the earlier Chairman.”

“Alan Greenspan,” chipped in Hubby, earning himself an appreciative glance from Superman.

Now Doc was getting into form. “Summers and Greenspan and Paulson. Oh, they created the problem. And then who was put in charge of solving it? Summers and Greenspan and Paulson! Crooks, all of them!”

Ok, now I know what’s wrong. My diagnosis was ready. “But Doctor, surely you are not going to base your opinion about economists based on one popular movie. I’ve read all the Robin Cook books and then that’d mean that I’d believe that all doctors are people with devious intentions out to genetically modify people or get their organs.”

“Hahaha, this is not a discussion of your profession vs. mine. Look at the results. Economists generally don’t seem to be able to diagnose the basic health problem properly is what I’ve noticed. Are we doing well in this country? Are we doing well anywhere? We seem to be breathless with problems.” Nice one, that! I like this guy.

“So Manasi, you’ve to see me again next week. It’s a nasty allergy, this one.”

“”Yes, Doc” I replied with an evil grin. “You’ve got a real nasty allergy. I’ll meet you again till I cure you completely!”