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For Indian intellectuals and their fraternity in civil society, it is time for in-depth self-introspection of their past and ongoing omission and commission, and to go for long due course correction. We, ordinary Indians, humbly and sincerely hope you, major stakeholders in the country’s all-round development story, won’t fail to recognize your foolishness anymore. India is in the last quarter of the first century of her freedom from nearly 10 centuries of Abrahamic subjugations. During this period of self-rule, you have a huge role and responsibility to get back India’s lost glory.

Since Independence, Indian intellectuals, by and large, have been sherpas of the Western so-called value system, which preaches tolerance, but in practice, that has been facilitating the destruction and demonization of Indian history, culture, and civilizational values that existed since ancient time – before Christ (BC) – using their strong dollar power. Also, at times, terror means appropriating the victim’s evergreen early scientific inventions.

Now, the new generation of tech-savvy Indians at large is no more enthusiastic to listen, forget about accept, your hypocrisy-wrapped intellectual greatness being narrated often in ornamental verbatim in Queen’s language; and so also, the Western political leadership from MENA to The White House via EU and from Tokyo to Canberra. Yes, the new generation is ready to endorse Queen’s language, but refuse to do so in regard to narratives her language delivers. The new generation is now very selective unlike their past generations.

Here, I would like to remind all the works of a young technocrat-turn-banker-turn-historian 41-year-old Dr Vikram Sampath, who ventured to write biography of a freedom fighter Veer Savarkar. Savarkar has so far been maligned and his works not allowed to get evaluated by established historians simply because he was an ardent supporter and propagator of Hinduvta philosophy, while fighting for freedom of the country. Savarkar’s contributions to freedom movement and social reforms have been thrown into the dustbin with an excuse that he appealed to the then British India government to release him from decade-long rarest solitary confinement in Cellular Jail — otherwise called infamous Kala Pani — for his crime of waging war against India’s subjugator, the King of England.

So far, Dr Sampath has been successful to bring to limelight the truth about Savarkar’s patriotism by presenting undeniable documents blacklisted by mainstream historians having known the Left and Nehruvian allegiance. What does young man Sampath’s venture mean? Is the so far denial of historical justice to Savarkar not intellectual hypocrisy? Many of Savarkar-like patriots face the same fate. The new generation is more concerned about truth than anything else. Dr Sampath’s argument that history as a subject is “evolving” with discovery of new evidence has more or less been accepted. In future, more and more researchers may venture into so far forbidden territories to ferret out historical truths and to disprove the traditional line of thinking that has mostly denied India her rightful place in the world of rich civilizations.

In the recent past, during an ideological encounter with Grand Old Party’s former president Rahul Gandhi in the presence of CPIM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury and regional party RJD’s tallest leader Tejashwi Yadav in UK’s Cambridge University, 31-year-old Indian IRTS officer-cum-Commonwealth scholar Siddhartha Verma told Gandhi scion that India a ‘union of states’ was ‘destructive’. Note, this expression and disapproval is an eye-opener. Has anybody ever heard a budding bureaucrat challenging politicians over ideological issue? Disputing Rahul’s view, Verma told that, as a political leader, his idea of India was “flawed”, “incorrect”, and “destructive” because it tried to “whitewash history of thousands of years”. Academic and The Print columnist Shruti Kapila, who was anchoring the Cambridge programme, said that the term “rashtra” means kingdom, to which Verma replied that it is the “Sanskrit word for nation”. Gandhi then added that “nation is a Western concept”. There was also a buzz in the crowd when Verma said, “A Constitution cannot make a nation, and nation makes the Constitution.”

Talking about Gandhi’s statement, Verma later said, “I do not understand the motive but I assume that there had been an attempt to whitewash India’s ancient history. There is also an attempt to negate pre-Independence India… they only talk about the post-Independence formation. If one reads the Constitution properly, it is there right in the Preamble that India [is] a nation.” “I think there is a lack of awareness about ancient history. I think Indian history should focus on ancient India a little more,” Verma added. Hailing from Lucknow, Verma describes himself as a “Commonwealth scholar”, “civil servant” and “patriot” in his Twitter bio. What does this rare incident denote? Certainly, there is a lesson for Indian intellectuals, who blindly follow Western intellectualism, which has been discrediting Indian indigenous intellectualism and value system.

Even Indian intellectuals are not so honest in their endorsement of so-called Western value system which they often refer to while commenting over present system of governance in India. In a response to a newspaper question: The election for Congress President is coming up. Will you be a candidate?, the eminent scholar, former UN diplomat and now Congress leader, MP Shashi Tharoor, replied, “Just wait for the election to be announced and see what the options are. I am not saying I would necessarily be a candidate. If the “heir apparent” chooses not to be a candidate, then others will come forward and we will have a good set of choices.” Note the mention of “heir apparent”! What does he mean to justify when he uses the phrase such as “heir apparent”? Is the party Presidentship in a democracy hereditary? If the party President post is accepted as hereditary today, the revisit of 1975’s slogan that “India is Indira and Indira is India” with names such as Rahul, Tejashwi, Mamata, etc. replacing Indira with intellectuals approved hereditary governance of nation is not very far? Decades back, we heard, “Jab tak hey samosa mey aloo, tab tak hey Bihar mey Lalu.” What kind of democracy promotes this kind of sloganeering? It is different matter that since then Lalu Raj has seen many ups and downs.

Will the concept of right of “heir apparent” not destroy the beauty and essence of India’s democracy? Is this in practice in Western democracies which have been an inspiration of Indian intellectuals? This exposes Indian intellectualism is nothing less than opportunism which the new generation Indians are not ready to bear anymore.

Now, despite massive anti-India campaigns in the West and the Middle-East, mostly promoted and funded by White Supremacists, Evangelists and Islamists, their democratically-elected or otherwise-made political leadership refuse to succumb to the propaganda anymore. Whether they have understood their past foolishness of supporting radicalized preaching in India or not needs an exclusive in-depth academic research to ferret out and ascertain the truth. But, certainly, they have started realizing that their past acts have weakened culturally-rich Hindutva and democratic India and they now need to fight totalitarian China in Far East and Islamic terror in Middle-East and South Asia in order to safeguard their commercial interests as well as their world leadership status. The US allowing India’s military attaché for unescorted entry, and long queues of Nordic countries’ head of governments, the countries allegedly have been major source of a lot of money in evangelization, and promoting so-called Western defined Human Rights and secularism using India’s so-called intellectual sherpas in India, to meet Hindutva icon PM Modi during his recent past tour of the region, are no less significant to note. And in MENA, many countries have been eager to build cordial political, commercial and cultural relations with India, so they sign the FTA.

In view of the above, any loss of time in reading the writing on the walls on the part of Indian intellectuals may be suicidal as their present attitude is leading them towards national irrelevance. It is not good for any thriving nation. Let us go for course correction to remain in the safe side, and positively contribute to nation’s growth story during Amrit Kaal.

Bimal Prasad Mohapatra is a Senior Research Fellow, Defence Research and Studies and Faculty of Management Studies, Trident Group of Institutions

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own

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Govt extends date for submission of R&D proposals



The Government has extended the deadline for submission of proposals related to R&D scheme under the National Green Hydrogen Mission. The R&D scheme seeks to make the production, storage, transportation and utilisation of green hydrogen more affordable. It also aims to improve the efficiency, safety and reliability of the relevant processes and technologies involved in the green hydrogen value chain. Subsequent to the issue of the guidelines, the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy issued a call for proposals on 16 March, 2024.

While the Call for Proposals is receiving encouraging response, some stakeholders have requested more time for submission of R&D proposals. In view of such requests and to allow sufficient time to the institutions for submitting good-quality proposals, the Ministry has extended the deadline for submission of proposals to 27th April, 2024.

The scheme also aims to foster partnerships among industry, academia and government in order to establish an innovation ecosystem for green hydrogen technologies. The scheme will also help the scaling up and commercialisation of green hydrogen technologies by providing the necessary policy and regulatory support.

The R&D scheme will be implemented with a total budgetary outlay of Rs 400 crore till the financial year 2025-26. The support under the R&D programme includes all components of the green hydrogen value chain, namely, production, storage, compression, transportation, and utilisation.

The R&D projects supported under the mission will be goal-oriented, time bound, and suitable to be scaled up. In addition to industrial and institutional research, innovative MSMEs and start-ups working on indigenous technology development will also be encouraged under the Scheme.

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India, Brazil, South Africa to press for labour & social issues, sustainability



The Indian delegation also comprises Rupesh Kumar Thakur, Joint Secretary, and Rakesh Gaur, Deputy Director from the Ministry of Labour & Employment.

India, on Thursday, joined the G20’s two-day 2nd Employment Working Group (EWG) meeting under the Brazilian Presidency which is all set to address labour, employment and social issues for strong, sustainable, balanced and job-rich growth for all. India is co-chairing the 2nd EWG meeting, along with Brazil and South Africa, and is represented by Sumita Dawra, Secretary, Labour & Employment.

The Indian delegation also comprises Rupesh Kumar Thakur, Joint Secretary, and Rakesh Gaur, Deputy Director from the Ministry of Labour & Employment. India has pointed out that the priority areas of the 2nd EWG at Brasilia align with the priority areas and outcomes of previous G20 presidencies including Indian presidency, and commended the continuity in the multi-year agenda to create lasting positive change in the world of work. This not only sustains but also elevates the work initiated by the EWG during the Indian Presidency.

The focus areas for the 2nd EWG meeting are — creating quality employment and promoting decent labour, addressing a just transition amidst digital and energy transformations, leveraging technologies to enhance the quality of life for al and the emphasis on gender equity and promoting diversity in the world of employment for inclusivity, driving innovation and growth. On the first day of the meeting, deliberations were held on the over-arching theme of promotion of gender equality and promoting diversity in the workplace.

The Indian delegation emphasized the need for creating inclusive environments by ensuring equal representation and empowerment for all, irrespective of race, gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic background. To increase female labour force participation, India has enacted occupational safety health and working conditions code, 2020 which entitles women to be employed in all establishments for all types of work with their consent at night time. This provision has already been implemented in underground mines.

In 2017, the Government amended the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961, which increased the ‘maternity leave with pay protection’ from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for all women working in establishments employing 10 or more workers. This is expected to reduce the motherhood pay gap among the working mothers. To aid migrant workers, India’s innovative policy ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ allows migrants to access their entitled food grains from anywhere in the Public Distribution System network in the country.

A landmark step in fostering inclusion in the workforce is the e-Shram portal, launched to create a national database of unorganized workers, especially migrant and construction workers. This initiative, providing the e-Shram card, enables access to benefits under various social security schemes.

The portal allows an unorganized worker to register himself or herself on the portal on self-declaration basis, under 400 occupations in 30 broad occupation sectors. More than 290 million unorganized workers have been registered on this portal so far.

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India to spend USD 3.7 billion to fence Myanmar border



India plans to spend nearly $3.7 billion to fence its 1,610-km (1,000-mile) porous border with Myanmar within about a decade, said a source with direct knowledge of the matter, to prevent smuggling and other illegal activities. New Delhi said earlier this year it would fence the border and end a decades-old visa-free movement policy with coup-hit Myanmar for border citizens for reasons of national security and to maintain the demographic structure of its northeastern region.

A government committee earlier this month approved the cost for the fencing, which needs to be approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, said the source who declined to be named as they were not authorised to talk to the media. The prime minister’s office and the ministries of home, finance, foreign affairs and information and broadcasting did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Myanmar has so far not commented on India’s fencing plans. Since a military coup in Myanmar in 2021, thousands of civilians and hundreds of troops have fled from there to Indian states where people on both sides share ethnic and familial ties. This has worried New Delhi because of risk of communal tensions spreading to India. Some members of the Indian government have also blamed the porous border for abetting the tense situation in the restive north-eastern Indian state of Manipur, abutting Myanmar.

For nearly a year, Manipur has been engulfed by a civil war-like situation between two ethnic groups, one of which shares lineage with Myanmar’s Chin tribe. The committee of senior Indian officials also agreed to build parallel roads along the fence and 1,700 km (1,050 miles) of feeder roads connecting military bases to the border, the source said.

The fence and the adjoining road will cost nearly 125 million rupees per km, more than double that of the 55 million per km cost for the border fence with Bangladesh built in 2020, the source said, because of the difficult hilly terrain and the use of technology to prevent intrusion and corrosion.

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However, Stock highlighted the enormity of the challenge, noting that between 40% and 70% of criminal profits are reinvested, perpetuating the cycle of illicit financial activity.

In a press briefing held on Wednesday, Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock unveiled alarming statistics regarding the extent of undetected money laundering and illegal trade transactions plaguing the global banking network. Stock revealed that over 96% of the money transacted through this network remains undetected, with only 2-3% of the estimated USD 2-3 trillion from illegal trade being tracked and returned to victims.

Interpol, working in conjunction with law enforcement agencies and private financial sectors across its 196 member countries, is committed to combating the rising tide of fraud perpetrated by illicit traders. These criminal activities encompass a wide spectrum, including drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms dealing, and the illicit movement of financial assets.

Stock emphasized the urgent need to establish mechanisms for monitoring transactions within the global banking network. Currently, efforts are underway to engage banking associations worldwide in setting up such a framework. However, Stock highlighted the enormity of the challenge, noting that between 40% and 70% of criminal profits are reinvested, perpetuating the cycle of illicit financial activity. The lack of real-time information sharing poses a significant obstacle to law enforcement agencies in their efforts to combat money laundering and illegal trade.

Stock underscored the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in exacerbating this problem, citing its use in voice cloning and other fraudulent activities. Criminal organizations are leveraging AI technologies to expand their operations and evade detection on a global scale. Stock emphasized the importance of enhanced cooperation between law enforcement agencies and private sector banking groups. Realtime information sharing is crucial in the fight against illegal wealth accumulation.

Drawing inspiration from initiatives such as the “Singapore Anti-Scam Centre,” Stock called for the adoption of similar models in other countries to strengthen the collective response to financial crimes. In conclusion, Stock’s revelations underscore the pressing need for concerted action to combat global financial crimes. Enhanced cooperation between public and private sectors, coupled with innovative strategies for monitoring and combating illicit transactions, is essential to safeguarding the integrity of the global financial system.

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FM defends Atal Pension Scheme, highlights guaranteed returns



Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman defended the Atal Pension Yojana (APY) against Congress criticism, asserting its design based on choice architecture and a guaranteed minimum 8% return. She emphasized the scheme’s opt-out feature, facilitating automatic premium continuation unless subscribers choose otherwise, promoting retirement savings. Sitharaman countered Congress allegations of coercion, stating the APY’s guaranteed returns irrespective of market conditions, supplemented by government subsidies.

Responding to Congress’s claim of scheme misuse, Sitharaman highlighted its intended beneficiaries – the lower-income groups. She criticized Congress for its alleged elitist mindset and emphasized the scheme’s success in targeting the needy. Sitharaman accused Congress of exploiting vote bank politics and coercive tactics, contrasting it with the APY’s transparent framework. The exchange underscores the political debate surrounding social welfare schemes, with the government defending its approach while opposition parties raise concerns about implementation and efficacy.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s robust defense of the Atal Pension Yojana (APY) against Congress criticism highlights the ongoing debate over social welfare schemes in India. Sitharaman’s assertion of the APY’s design principles, including its opt-out feature and guaranteed minimum return, underscores the government’s commitment to promoting retirement savings among lower-income groups. The Atal Pension Yojana, named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was launched in 2015 to provide pension benefits to workers in the unorganized sector. It aims to address the significant gap in pension coverage among India’s workforce, particularly those employed in informal and low-income sectors. The scheme offers subscribers fixed pension amounts ranging from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 5,000 per month, depending on their contribution and age at entry, after attaining the age of 60. Sitharaman’s response comes after Congress criticism alleging the APY’s inefficacy and coercive tactics in enrolment.

Congress General Secretary Jairam Ramesh described the scheme as poorly designed, citing instances of subscribers dropping out due to unauthorized account openings. However, Sitharaman refuted these claims, emphasizing the APY’s transparent and beneficiary-oriented approach. The finance minister’s defense focuses on three key aspects of the APY: Choice Architecture: Sitharaman highlights the opt-out feature of the APY, which automatically continues premium payments unless subscribers choose to discontinue.

This design element aims to encourage long-term participation and ensure consistent retirement savings among subscribers. By simplifying the decision-making process, the scheme seeks to overcome inertia and promote financial discipline among participants. Guaranteed Minimum Return: Sitharaman underscores the APY’s guarantee of a minimum 8% return, irrespective of prevailing interest rates. This assurance provides subscribers with confidence in the scheme’s financial viability and incentivizes long-term savings.

The government’s commitment to subsidizing any shortfall in actual returns further strengthens the attractiveness of the APY as a retirement planning tool. Targeting the Needy: Sitharaman defends the predominance of pension accounts in lower income slabs, arguing that it reflects the scheme’s successful targeting of its intended beneficiaries – the poor and lower-middle class. She criticizes Congress for its alleged elitist mindset and suggests that the party’s opposition to welfare schemes like the APY stems from a disconnect with the needs of marginalized communities. Sitharaman’s rebuttal also addresses broader political narratives surrounding social welfare policies in India.

She accuses Congress of exploiting vote bank politics and coercive tactics, contrasting it with the transparent and inclusive framework of the APY. The exchange underscores the ideological differences between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress, with each side advocating for their vision of social welfare and economic development. In addition to defending the APY, Sitharaman’s remarks shed light on the broader challenges and opportunities facing India’s pension sector.

Despite significant progress in expanding pension coverage through schemes like the APY, the country still grapples with issues such as financial literacy, informal employment, and pension portability. Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach involving government intervention, private sector participation, and civil society engagement.

As India strives to achieve its vision of inclusive and sustainable development, initiatives like the APY play a crucial role in promoting economic security and social equity. Sitharaman’s defense of the scheme underscores the government’s commitment to addressing the needs of vulnerable populations and ensuring their financial well-being in the long run.

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Regulatory steps will make financial sector strong, but raise cost of capital



India’s financial system regulator, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), is demonstrating a serious commitment to improving governance and transparency at finance companies and banks, with the RBI’s recent measures aimed at curtailing lenders’ overexuberance, enhancing compliance culture and safeguarding customers.

While the global ratings firm has appreciated the RBI’s “diminishing tolerance for non-compliance, customer complaints, data privacy, governance, know-your-customer (KYC), and anti-money laundering issues”, it has cautioned that increased regulatory risk could impede growth and raise the cost of capital for financial institutions. “Governance and transparency are key weaknesses for the Indian financial sector and weigh on our analysis. The RBI’s new measures are creating a more robust and transparent financial system,” says S&P Global Credit Analyst, Geeta Chugh. “India’s regulator has underscored its commitment to strengthening the financial sector. The drawback will be higher capital costs for institutions,” Chugh cautions.

The RBI measures include restraining IIFL Finance and JM Financial Products from disbursing gold loan and loans against shares respectively and asking Paytm Payments Bank (PPBL) to stop onboarding of new customers. Earlier in December 2020, the RBI suspended HDFC Bank from sourcing new credit card customers after repeated technological outages. These actions are a departure from the historically nominal financial penalties imposed for breaches, S&P Global notes.

Besides, as the global agency points out, the RBI has decided to publicly disclose the key issues that lead to suspensions or other strict actions against concerned entities and become more vocal in calling out conduct that it deems detrimental to the interests of customers and investors. “We believe that increased transparency will create additional pressure on the entire financial sector to enhance compliance and governance practices,” adds Chugh. The global agency has also lauded the RBI’s recent actions demonstrating scant tolerance for any potential window-dressing of accounts.

These actions include the provisioning requirement on alternative investment funds that lend to the same borrower as the bank finance company. Amidst the possibility of some retail loans, such as personal loans, loans against property, and gold loans getting diverted to invest in stock markets and difficulty of ascertaining the end-use of money in these products, S&P Global underlines the faith of market participants that the RBI and market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, want to protect small investors by scrutinizing these activities more cautiously.

On the flip side, at a time of tight liquidity, the RBI’s new measures are likely to limit credit growth in fiscal 2025 (year ending March 2025). “We expect loan growth to decline to 14 per cent in fiscal 2025 from 16 per cent in fiscal 2024, reflecting the cumulative impact of all these actions,” says Chugh. The other side of the story is that stricter rules may disrupt affected entities and increase caution among fintechs and other regulated entities and the RBI’s decision to raise risk weights on unsecured personal loans and credit cards may constrain growth. Household debt to GDP in India (excluding agriculture and small and midsize enterprises) increased to an estimated 24 per cent in March 2024 from 19 per cent in March 2019. Growth in unsecured loans has also been excessive and now forms close to 10 per cent of total banking sector loans.

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