What makes a good bad bank?

Indian banks are bracing themselves for an onslaught of bad loans brought on by the pandemic. The Indian Banks’ Association, an association of Indian banks and financial institutions, has a request of the central government. It asked the government to set up a “bad bank” to reduce the impact of the losses banks will face because of provisioning for non-performing assets (NPAs). This is how it will work: An asset reconstruction platform would buy these stressed assets from banks and then try and turn them around.    The government already thinks it is a bad idea because this bad bank would end up being government-owned. And when bad loans are transferred from a government-owned bank to a government-owned bad bank, the government will end up financing both, leading to opaqueness in its dealing with NPAs.     This Mint piece lays out all the complications of having a bad bank.   But the idea is gaining traction elsewhere. European Central Bank officials are drawing up a scheme to cope with potentially hundreds of billions of euros of unpaid loans in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
The amount of debt in the euro zone that is considered unlikely to ever be fully repaid already stands at more than half a trillion euros, including credit cards, car loans and mortgages, according to official statistics.That is set to rise as the COVID-19 outbreak squeezes borrowers and could even double to one trillion euros, weighing on already fragile banks and hindering new lending, the people familiar with the ECB plans said. Exclusive: ECB prepares ‘bad bank’ plan for wave of coronavirus toxic debt – sources​, Reuters
But I had a few fundamental questions about this. If all the banks got rid of their bad loans to this new entity, what’s the measure of success for this “bad bank”?

The volume and value of bad assets? Or the ability to turn around these assets?

If recovery of bad loans is the winning metric, what does that say about the country’s banks? A bank’s decision to lend to a borrower is based on her credit worthiness. And the fear of making bad loan decisions makes banks responsible lenders. Now, if the recovery of a bad loan is someone else’s problem entirely, that could end up shifting a bank’s priorities. 
Time to get your own Netflix subscription   Seetharaman   Eight out of 10 Indians share subscriptions to video streaming services, according to a 2018 survey. They don’t just share them with family members but also with friends and colleagues.    That might be a little tricky now, as they are all holed up at home and trying to access these services at the same time. And some of them may be struggling to watch their favourite shows, if the plight of Netflix users in the US is any indication. 
As people spend more time at home amid coronavirus restrictions, many of them are turning to video-streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Now more than ever. The problem is, so are their families and friends. Although the services allow people to share accounts, they place limits on how many devices can stream at once, stirring tensions among loved ones. You’ve shared your Netflix password…, The Wall Street Journal
Netflix, for instance, allows a maximum of four users at once in India, but that costs a pretty penny—Rs 800 (US$10.6) a month. The Rs 650 (US$8.6) plan allows two concurrent users and the Rs 500 (US$6.6) plan, just one. Globally, streaming services are said to have lost $9.1 billion to password piracy and sharing in 2019.
  If people have to get used to lockdowns and working from home till there is a vaccine for the coronavirus, will they be forced to get their own subscriptions instead of mooching off their friends and cousins? Also, could this be an opportunity for Netflix and its competitors to come up with pricier plans to allow access to more users with just one subscription? 
Atmanirbhar masks and hospital bills   Savio   We’ve increasingly been writing about masks. But not as much about the astronomical 250% rise in prices of N95 masks in India this year. But before we go there, let’s talk about hospital bills.   The Tamil Nadu Health Department recently announced three slabs of maximum daily tariff for COVID-19 patients in private hospitals. Grade A1 and A2 hospitals can charge general ward patients a maximum of Rs 7,500 a day, while Grade A3 and A4 hospitals can charge Rs 5,000 a day, at most. If one is admitted, the bill can go up to Rs 15,000, irrespective of the hospital’s grade. But while setting the tariff, the department did not specify if this included all hospitalisation costs.   “Consumables” like crepe bandage, gowns, foot covers, slippers, and disposable gloves usually add about 10% to the total bill. A 10% that health insurance does not cover because they are non-medical items.   But due to Covid-19, these consumables now include complete PPE equipment. All of which can tag on another 25% to the hospital bill. In extreme cases, PPEs account for up to half the bill.   And no, health insurers don’t cover these costs either. Why? Well, for one, there are no clear guidelines issued by any authority on this, so it’s like the Wild West. Plus…
Dr S Prakash, Managing Director, Star Health and Allied Insurance explains why some of the consumables are not covered under mediclaim policies: “Whatever consumables are reasonably required and appropriately charged are covered under the comprehensive health insurance policy. However, the problem occurs with some of the consumables where trade margin is very high. When the trade margin is too high, naturally there will not be adequate funds to pay for it. Hence, these are not covered by the insurers,” Prakash said. Your insurance may not pay for significant part of hospital treatment for coronavirus, Economic Times
Speaking of high margins, let’s come back to N95 masks. And their astronomically soaring prices.
N95 masks, bought by government agencies at Rs 12.25 including taxes in September 2019, cost them Rs 17.33 in January 2020, Rs 42 by March-end and up to Rs 63 by the middle of May, an increase of over 250% since the beginning of the year.
Yet, the price regulator NPPA has decided not to cap the price of N95 masks as it “may disincentivise domestic manufacturing”.
Instead, on June 3, it put out a list of maximum retail prices (MRP) of N95 masks manufactured by domestic companies ranging from Rs 95 to Rs 165 as reduced prices. The ‘reduced’ MRPs are 450%-850% higher than the January price paid by a government institution.   […]   “How does NPPA justify this as a price reduction when something sold for Rs 17.33 in January is now being sold for as much as Rs 165? It is plain loot or profiteering. If it can cap charges of hospitals and even airlines, why can’t they intervene to cap price of N95 masks,” asked Anjali Damania of Voice of Taxpayers, one of the petitioners in the Bombay HC over mask pricing. N95 mask prices rise 250% in 4 months, but no cap yet, Economic Times
So, I guess patients are left to pick up the tab of an atmanirbhar (self-sufficient) India.
Private schools: India’s own education bogeyman
Olina   Parents have had a hard, hard lockdown. The economy is plummeting, jobs are scarce, and now they also have to homeschool their children since there’s no clear timeline for reopening schools.   Irate parents have taken to Twitter and online petitions to make their feelings about learning online abundantly clear
The government of Karnataka, a southern Indian state, finally acted on this collective plea, banning online live classes for students upto grade 7.
 A State Cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa took the decision following parents’ outcry against several hours of online classes for students by private schools. The Primary and Secondary Education Department too received a number of complaints against conducting online classes for school students. With Karnataka ministers not in sync, confusion prevails on online classes ‘ban’, The Hindu
Live classes aren’t allowed, though pre-recorded video links are. Parents aren’t satisfied with that either. They’re now calling for a complete ban, citing far too much screen time for kids.
Online learning has been divisive to say the least. The huge digital divide, for one, has drawn a clear line between families who have access to multiple devices, rooms and robust internet connections, and those who don’t. Parents in low-income settings are especially hard-pressed as the schools they send their kids to aren’t prepared for online teaching either.
On the flip side, online classes are the only way a majority of private schools can keep their fires burning: retain their teachers, staff, pay rent.
It’s also the only way to retain students after an inordinately long summer break. It will disrupt a process that so far has been going smoothly, claims one private school founder.   But parents, who are being made to pay for these online classes, think this  is a calculated ploy for private schools to keep charging money. It’s a collective virtue-signalling act that’s roped in state governments in Delhi and now Karnataka, who are encouraging schools to cut fees instead of hiking them.
There’s no doubt that online learning, at such a massive scale, is unprecedented. It’s also unlikely that anyone—governments, schools, parents, teachers—know how much to charge for online classes.   But instead of finding market-based solutions for this academic gap, the government has turned to what it does best: form a committee.
“The expert committee… will discuss how to use technology for children, how much technology should be used and other ways to engage children of all ages.” Karnataka bans web classes from LKG to Class 5 in all boards, The Times of India
Better yet, the government has its own dedicated TV channels and online platforms like SWAYAM and DIKSHA, which broadcast classes all day. Seems like the battle-cry against limited screen time doesn’t apply here.
It’s protein Vs protein    Arundhati   The meat industry in the US is bleeding. The cramped working conditions have cast gloom on the industry as over 10,000 people have been infected from just meat plants, reports Bloomberg. This has pushed prices for meat up, making Americans turn to protein alternatives. 
Pulmuone, a South Korea-based food maker boasting a 78% share of U.S. tofu sales, with brands like Nasoya, Wildwood and Azumaya. Jay Toscano, Pulmuone’s executive vice president of sales, said three of its U.S. plants are going six days a week. Sales are so good, he said, that Pulmuone has been forced to import tofu from Korea to meet demand.   Based on Nielsen data for the four-week period ending March 28, tofu sales were up 66.7% over the same period in 2019. Sales were still up by 32.8% in May. Tofu Goes Mainstream Thanks to Big Meat’s Covid Crisis, Bloomberg
As the Asian plant protein is winning over fans in the US; Beyond Meat Inc, the US-based fake meat company valued at $12.1 billion in 2019, is heading to… China. 
Yum China, the country’s largest restaurant operator and sole licensee of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell from former parent company Yum! Brands said it will debut the Beyond Burger in some of its stores starting June 3. China Gets Its Introduction to Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger on June 3, The Motley Fool
In this protein versus protein fight, all I can say is that the world has not tasted enough paneer (Indian cottage cheese). 
Hoist the Jolly Roger   Savio   With everything locked down and shuttered, there likely were fewer cases of robbery on land in the past couple of months. Not so on the high seas.   The number of incidents involving piracy and armed robbery against ships in Asia doubled to 49 in the first five months of 2020, compared to 25 in the same period last year, according to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP), reported The Business Times.    Twenty of those 49 cases were in the past two months (9 in April and 11 in May) alone.
While Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam all saw a rise in piracy, the most concerning was the jump to 15 incidents in the Singapore Strait from seven last year.
You say potato, I say community transmission   Olina   Community transmission has been the dreaded phrase since Covid first hit India. Admitting we have reached the community transition phase would mean the virus has organically taken root in the population. No authority wants to admit that, obviously.   So they just didn’t. Or called it vague names like “local community transmission”. But with over 200,000 cases, and daily record jumps in infection numbers, governments can’t ignore it either. Instead, the definition has become something of a Kafkaesque centre-state battle.

No countries for young companies and small competitors

The last decade has seen what is arguably one of the most dizzying periods of innovation and competition in technology. The next decade will most likely look very different, unless regulators in the world’s largest economies—like the US, India and Indonesia—decide to take on the growing concentration of tech power.
Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are together sitting on cash reserves of $557 billion, says Mike Isaac in the New York Times. And while both their smaller and nimbler competitors as well as entire economies struggle to cope with the multi-year impact of Covid-19, the tech giants Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft see an opportunity to entrench their power even further as they have become near-essential services. 
The [their] expansion is unfolding as lawmakers and regulators in Washington and Europe are sounding the alarm over the tech giants’ concentration of power and how that may have hurt competitors and led to other issues, such as spreading disinformation. This week, European Union officials were preparing antitrust charges against Amazon for using its e-commerce dominance to box out smaller rivals, while Britain began an inquiry into Facebook’s purchase of the GIF company.
[…]
In doubling down on growth in a time of economic pain, the largest tech companies are continuing a pattern. In previous recessions, those that invested while the economy was at its most vulnerable often emerged stronger. In the 1990s, IBM used a recession to reorient itself from a hardware company into a software and services company. Google and Facebook both rose out of the dot-com bust about 20 years ago. The Economy Is Reeling. The Tech Giants Spy Opportunity, New York Times
If the combination of tens of billions of dollars of free cash, hundreds of millions of existing users for their products, and armies of behind-the-scenes lobbyists and PR firms wasn’t enough to deter ambitious startups from taking on these giants, add marriages of convenience with the largest local players to the mix.
For instance, Facebook’s investment in Gojek in Southeast Asia, or in Jio Platforms in India. Imagine the “kill zone” that exists around a Facebook-Gojek or Facebook-Jio combine.
There’s a reason why there’s been a virtual parade of global PE and sovereign investors pumping billions of dollars into Reliance’s Jio Platforms each week, topping Rs 1 trillion at last count. Because not only is Jio India’s largest mobile operator, but it also has Facebook and Microsoft as partners.
There is no alternative
Unless the alternatives are, say, rumoured Google-Vodafone-Idea or Amazon-Airtel combines.
That task would be up to India’s lead competition regulator, the CCI. Anupam Sanghi, a competition lawyer, covers these issues in his piece for The Wire:
There are a number of issues at play here. Firstly, the strong network effects of digital platform economies. Second, the relevance of volume and variety of data as a key factor to provide high quality service and how that serves as a competitive advantage. Third, whether the mere combination of both types of user data (WhatsApp and Jio) will allow the new entity to achieve a position that could not be replicated by competitors leading to foreclosure of the market(s).
The success of the business model of various (multi) two-sided virtual platforms like Google, Facebook, and Uber among others depends on collecting user data. The data as input may be used to get ad-revenue or improve internal algorithms for the paid side of the platform. The potential of data analytics gives a crucial competitive advantage to the advertisement-driven business model.  Facebook-Jio Deal: What India’s Competition Regulator Will Have to Consider, The Wire
Malls open while shops remain shut?   Samiran Chakrawertti   Earlier this week, some rather confusing headlines about malls in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh made the news. The malls were reopening whilst all the shops in them would remain shut. Fortunately, there was a sensible explanation at hand to dispel the confusion.   Sanjay Gupta, state president of traders’ association Adarsh Vyapar Mandal, told IANS that shopkeepers had requested mall owners to waive rent and maintenance fees for the lockdown period. The mall owners said no. As a result, the association said a majority of shops in these commercial hubs in the state remained closed on June 8 in support of their demands on the issue.   Gupta said that shops would remain closed until their demands are met. This isn’t all, the shopkeepers want the rent and maintenance fees to be slashed for the next 12 months as they suffered significant losses owing to the coronavirus-induced lockdown.   You might wonder why malls would choose to open and incur operating costs if they knew shops were likely to remain closed. The timing of the decision to open malls across the country—while cases continue to mount and indoor air conditioned spaces are particularly vulnerable—has raised eyebrows.    As it turns out, the fine print in some rental agreements states that commitments to long-term leases can be opted out of should the mall remain shut for 90 days or more, said an executive at a fashion retailer which has several outlets in Delhi. We’re currently around 80 days removed from when the lockdown kicked in.   Even shops that have opened in malls elsewhere in the country are reporting dramatic reductions in footfalls and revenue.
The Covid sanitation dovetail

Olina
  We’ve all been reading enough news to figure out that Covid is a fire roaring through a house of wax. Well, houses, to be more precise.   According to an IndiaSpend article, almost 50% of households share a common drinking water source, and 41% use common toilet facilities. For a virus that spreads through touch and close contact, this is exactly the kind of fodder it needs to rip through a community. 
According to an IndiaSpend article, almost 50% of households share a common drinking water source, and 41% use common toilet facilities. For a virus that spreads through touch and close contact, this is exactly the kind of fodder it needs to rip through a community.   Reverse migration, due to Covid, might be making things even more difficult. Migrant workers, who fled their temporary homes in cities, have predictably carried the virus to more remote parts of the country. Chandra Ganapathy of WaterAid India points out that open defecation could be extremely harmful if it is discovered that Covid can spread through the fecal-oral route. The implications don’t end with open defecation though.   “Even in households where toilets and bathrooms exist, the load may be very high [due to the recent reverse migration] and it may become difficult to maintain proper hygiene and sanitation,” said Ganapathy. “This may be increasingly important in the case of confirmed COVID-19 patients and those in home quarantine.” 
Level up, not down, to equality
Olina   It was a busy Sunday afternoon for a group of parents, private schools, and educators in the city of Bengaluru. A twitter discussion—#Righttolearn—saw pointed criticism of the Karnataka government’s recent ban on online classes. The parents protested the ban, calling it “bureaucratic dictatorship” by the state government. Ironically, there is no ban on the government’s own broadcast edtech TV channels or online content. 
The ban, seemingly, is overkill. It’s also a reaction to how quickly the economic and social fault lines of the physical world transferred online—access to tech, quality of teaching, and good bandwidth for an immersive learning experience. But a blanket ban is too wide a hammer for the problem.   In fact, philanthropist Rohini Nilekani argues the opposite in a Deccan Herald opinion piece.
“We need plans, not bans. For the state, bans are the easiest exercise of its authority. But it is a blunt, ineffective instrument. This ban will not prevent the elite from giving their children the best online resources the world can offer. It will not prevent any children from accessing too much screen entertainment.   […]   Instead, the government could post guidelines on the size of the online class, the amount of screen time children should have, and the preferred methodologies for making the screen time engaging. Online classes need not count for academic grades; they could be voluntary, not mandatory. There are many possibilities for positive regulation.    We cannot level down in the name of equality. We must level up.” Lockdown: Online Classes – Let’s plan, not ban, Deccan Herald
Nilekani’s main argument is that while online isn’t a perfect medium yet, it’s a canvas for future possibilities. Especially when it comes to accessing more quality teaching. Otherwise, warns one parent, the inevitable might happen.
If the ban continues, the government would have unwittingly pitted the online and (previously) offline world in a battle for more users. The challenge is, one side knows how to play this game very well. Is it time to regulate them too?
India has a wheat-ish challenge
 
Samiran Chakrawertti
  Ever since the lockdown began, some people turned into master chefs to sate their hunger (or just pass the time). Others turned to shortcuts like readymade rotis and parotas to fill their bellies while saving time and effort.    If your tastes veer towards parotas, the flaky flatbread, rather than simple rotis (just flat bread) be prepared to shell out a bit more.    Parotas are not rotis, according to the Authority for Advance Rulings, which ruled against the applicant, ID Fresh Foods. Parotas will be subject to a Goods and Services Tax rate of 18% and will not be considered in the same category as ‘Khakhra, plain chapati or roti’ which are taxed at 5%.    The logic is that ‘(rotis) are already prepared or completely cooked products. On the other hand, parotas need to be heated before consumption.’ This nuanced reasoning found no vocal takers, with some comparing it to a previous litigation in India involving Nestle’s KitKat bars— the court had to rule on whether it was a wafer or a chocolate—and a well-known case involving Jaffa cakes in the UK.    In the Kitkat case, in 1999, the court ruled in favour of Nestle at the time, saying it was a wafer. Soon after, the rules were amended to increase the tax rate on chocolate-covered wafers, so Nestle’s joy was short-lived.    In a similarly quirky 1991 case in the UK, tax authorities challenged British snack food maker McVities’ contention that Jaffa cakes were cakes and not biscuits. That’s because, for some reason, chocolate-coated cakes attracted no value added tax (VAT), while chocolate-coated biscuits attracted a 17.5% VAT. That case was finally decided by some pretty airtight logic. The court ruled that when biscuits go stale, they turn softer, but when cakes go stale they turn harder. Jaffa cakes indeed turned harder when they were left outside, so the court ruled in favour of McVities.
Image source: Eldriva
In the roti vs parota case, a clarification made its way to the media over the weekend, attributed to an unnamed ‘government official’. While frozen or preserved parotas cannot be considered a staple food item and will be taxed at a higher rate as a luxury item, ordinary parota served at a restaurant or for takeaway would attract a 5% rate just like plain roti. But what does that mean for frozen or preserved rotis? The suspense is palpable. 
Corona cycleways   Jum   Lockdown measures may be paving the way for the Philippines to finally become bike-friendly.   With public transportation operating at limited capacity, Filipinos have been turning to bicycles to get to work in recent weeks.   That has forced authorities to install bike lanes along major Manila roads, which are super dangerous for two-wheelers. Motorcycle riders are the most frequent victims of vehicular accidents in the country, according to authorities. If mechanically propelled motorcycles are vulnerable, bicycles are even less protected. That’s why bicycles were largely banned from major roads before the pandemic.   The new bike lanes are only for the duration of the quarantine. But if all goes well, this could lead to something permanent. Who knows, it may even give birth to a new industry—bike sharing.   Groups have long been advocating for cycling to become a proper mode of transportation in the country. Not only is it environmentally friendly, it also has a good chance of easing Manila’s traffic congestion, said to be the second worst in the world. With coronavirus, bikes also allow commuters to exercise social distancing.
Image source: Daisy Chen/Unsplash
It’s a long way off, but if bike sharing does emerge, hopefully the Philippines avoids the pitfalls seen in China, where piles of impounded and abandoned bicycles have become a familiar sight.
“Gradually, and then suddenly”
Rohin   The quote is from Ernest Hemingway. The graphic is from Gautam John, a subscriber, who combined two important systems thinking models – the Iceberg Model and Pace Layers framework.

Round-tripping deserves a quiet time

Do you know what they call those rotating trays or turntables often seen in Chinese restaurants? Lazy Susans
Source: peciriacks/Pixabay 
Do you know what they’re good for? Of course, you do. Passing food around with minimal friction and maximal efficiency, till it comes back to you. Round-tripping.  
Imagine moving money around the world, instead of food around a table. That’s round-tripping. Also called, yes, Lazy Susans.
Most governments hate round-tripping. First, because it allows unscrupulous businessmen to shuffle around money through other companies, with no economic value added in the process, except showing an artificial increase in revenue or capital flows. Secondly, because in a globalised world, it allows businesses to send capital out from countries where it was either illegally generated or likely to be highly taxed into countries that don’t ask pesky questions. And then bring it right back dressed as legitimate foreign investments. 
Lastly, and most irritatingly, because it’s often really, really hard to distinguish legitimate to-and-fro transactions between companies and fraudulent ones. 
Which is why India’s reserve bank, the RBI, last year decided to treat all round-tripping as potentially suspect. Indian companies could neither acquire stakes in foreign companies that already had investments in India, nor could they set up Indian subsidiaries through foreign joint ventures or subsidiaries. No matter how minuscule the stakes.
To bypass these restrictions, companies could “approach the Reserve Bank for prior approval through their authorised dealer banks which will be considered on a case to case basis, depending on the merits of the case.”
Well, it turns out a lot of potentially legitimate Indian fish are getting ensnared in the fine round-tripping nets of its regulatory apparatus. From The Economic Times.
The Reserve Bank of India’s stand on round-tripping is creating problems for several Indian individuals over investments in overseas funds and Indian companies looking to acquire foreign companies.  The RBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED), the agency that probes money laundering, have started questioning several individuals who had invested in overseas private equity, venture capital or alternate investment funds which may have later invested in an Indian startup, companies or assets. Investors uneasy over RBI stand on round-tripping, The Economic Times
In spite of many investments being made using money on which taxes had been paid, and through legitimate channels, regulatory notices were creating a “spectre of harassment”. Leading to perhaps the opposite kind of effect as India may have liked.
Quote “These kind of regulations have forced big Indian startups to domicile outside India, hurting India’s image as a global investment destination. With $500 billion of reserves, a $3 trillion economy, we need clear, transparent, forward-looking regulations which support investment not fear creating discretionary rules which hurt investments.”  TV Mohandas Pai, chairman of Aarin Capital, to the Economic Times
It’s a good thing SoftBank isn’t domiciled in India though. Because the Financial Times reported on a rather ingenious Lazy Susan it had been using.
SoftBank invested more than US$500 million into a special class of Credit Suisse investment funds, called supply chain finance funds, which lend money to companies so they in turn can pay their suppliers. The funds in turn lent a much larger portion of their capital (including funds from other investors) back to SoftBank-funded companies.
The arrangement has allowed SoftBank effectively to provide financial assistance to other Vision Fund companies by paying their suppliers upfront but through a fund commingled with other investors and financing other companies.
[…]
Marketing documents for Credit Suisse’s main supply-chain finance fund show that, at the end of March, four of its top-10 largest exposures were to Vision Fund companies, accounting for 15 per cent of its $5.2bn assets. This included companies hit hard in the coronavirus crisis, such as Indian hotel business Oyo and struggling car subscription start-up Fair. SoftBank invests in Credit Suisse funds that finance its technology bets, Financial Times
Fixing the bounce  
Arundhati   Covid-induced problems need Covid-inspired solutions. Take the cheque bounce, for instance. It’s a criminal offence in India if you issue a cheque and your bank account doesn’t have any money in it. You could be jailed.    The Department of Finance last week, though, said: 
“Criminalising procedural lapses and minor non-compliances increases the burden on businesses and it is essential that one should re-look at provisions which are merely procedural in nature and do not impact national security or public interest at large,” the DFS said in the statement of reasons explaining the rationale behind the proposed move. Some financial offences like bouncing of cheques may be decriminalised, The Economic Times
A move like this could certainly help hapless courts with their caseload. It also helps borrowers who are saddled with job cuts and salary cuts, and could face genuine problems with repayments. After all, that’s why the country’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, allowed for a six-month temporary stay on loan repayments. Decriminalising cheque bounces in a way is a logical extension of the moratorium.    But the All India Bank Employees’ Association has been taken aback by this laxity shown by the government. After all, bounced cheques were the banks’ trump card to ensure borrowers paid back their dues.  The bank union has suggested the finance ministry should not entirely decriminalise bouncing of cheques, but instead fix financial limits for attracting criminal provisions. It wants a limit of Rs 1 lakh (US$1,315) fixed for individuals, and Rs 10 lakh (US$13,154) for companies. If the bounced cheque is worth more than that, it recommends the person be tried under the criminal procedure code.   As banks are bracing for bad loans, this statement, especially, is telling.
The union said if mens rea or mala fide and criminal intent is an important criteria, then willful bank loan default should be made a serious criminal offence, which is hitherto being treated and tried under the civil procedure code. Hence, dilution of these sections would only facilitate increase in such acts with criminal and motivated intentions. Bank employees’ union seeks fixing limits for cheque bounce, Livemint
The government’s problem and the banks’ problem are the same, yet different.
Jakarta’s big MRT pivot
Nadine   When the first subway line opened in Jakarta last year, it was the talk of the town. The city of about 12 million inhabitants had been waiting for decades to finally get a modern mass rapid transportation route.   For some glorious months, Jakartans basked in the bright, neon lights of their new MRT. It was the dawn of a better future. 
Source: Tweet via @HasianReyza
We all know what happened next. Jakarta’s MRT suffered a huge setback from dwindling passenger numbers due to the pandemic. 
The operator served an average of 90,000 to 100,000 passengers daily between January and mid-March, but the number dropped to 5,000 in April and 2,000 in May. MRT Jakarta drafts new business model… The Jakarta Post
How do you pivot a business that’s a piece of infrastructure designed to transport crowds? The city-owned company said it’s now looking for “non-farebox income” and is rolling out a “beyond ridership scheme.”   These are fancy phrases intended to build confidence in a whacky plan: re-utilise empty MRT stations as “co-working spaces” and call on startups to “develop digital ecosystems along MRT Jakarta routes.” The plan envisions tech-enabled retail, such as vending machines and pick-up lockers for e-commerce to inhabit the spaces—and, presumably, pay rent to the MRT operator.    But what’s the appeal for vendors if ridership remains low in the coming months, or even permanently?   Luckily for the MRT, its stations have–in some weird way–become attractions in their own right. With their minimalist design and cool lighting, they’ve become the backdrop for photoshoots and the subject of countless Instagram posts. Pre-pandemic, coffee shops and hipster boutiques sprouted alongside some entrances. Is there enough fertile ground for a “riderless MRT” ecosystem?
Making the most of a crisis
Arundhati   Covid-19 has extinguished many businesses in its wake, but it is also giving rise to new business models. Ideas that, in a pre-Covid world, seemed like a head-scratcher. One such idea is contactless parking.    Parking in India is a five-minute transaction. The attendant directs you to a spot to park. Then, money and tokens change hands. Now, startups want to remove that contact. Imagine if there was an app where a user can, well before going to a mall, enter their vehicle details, pay a parking fee digitally, and reserve a spot. And when the user drives into the mall parking, the attendant checks the information in their app and then allows the user to enter.    Delhi-based Park+, a Sequoia-backed startup, wants to do that. But as we wrote yesterday, in some states, malls may be open but shops aren’t. And even if they are open, footfalls may be low. So who needs parking space in those malls then? Not only are the shops seeing low footfalls, but the real estate reserved for parking is also largely unused. Now, what if that parking space can be used by other businesses? 
Quote We are collecting a fixed fee for five parking slots from malls. Then, we plan to give those slots to on-demand bike-sharing companies like Bounce and Vogo, which need to park their vehicles somewhere. Amit Lakhotia, founder of Park+, to The Ken
This model works fine for the bike rental companies. Being parked inside malls means they can cater to the last-mile mobility needs of mall-goers.    Now, what did they say about not wasting a crisis?
Everyone can fly again
Kay   Just when people thought travel might become expensive with the pandemic, cheaper fares are already on the table in Malaysia.    The country’s low-cost carrier, AirAsia, has launched a RM399 (US$93.3) “unlimited pass”. It enables pass holders to redeem unlimited flights across 16 destinations within Malaysia, for travel up to 31 March 2021.    AirAsia said it saw more than 12,000 flights redeemed in the first seven minutes after the pass went on sale. The initiative is somewhat similar to AirAsia’s ASEAN pass, which was launched in 2015 but discontinued in late 2018.    The airline announced plans to add more flights next month after the Malaysian transport industry gave the green light for transport service providers, including airlines, to run at full capacity. This comes as Malaysia entered a recovery phase on 10 June. Besides, the International Air Transport Association said there’s little evidence that Covid-19 could be transmitted within an aircraft.    With Asia’s aviation industry expected to suffer steep losses this year, and in desperate need of a restart, offering cheap fares makes sense, according to experts.
Quote Short-term, aircraft will continue to be much less full and airlines will be motivated to price seats to get customers flying safely in a Covid-19 world. Airlines have cut back their flights to absolute connectivity minimums and are losing money on the vast majority of remaining flights… Hopefully, the combination of increased Covid-19 safety measures alongside low prices will encourage a travel rebound. Joe Leader, chief executive officer, APEX (Airline Passenger Experience Association)
A rebound in travel, thanks to increased airline load capacities, helps governments avoid footing the bill for expensive bailouts. AirAsia itself supposedly didn’t get a rescue package from authorities.   But governments may find it hard to avoid a backlash from other sectors where social distancing rules are still strictly applied. Like, say, the restaurant industry. You’d think all industries are equal. But in Malaysia, some are more equal than others. 
GST = God Save Tax
Savio   India had already been struggling to pay its states their share of the centrally-collected goods and services tax (GST). Last year, a flagging economy meant the central government sent states the equivalent of a shrug emoji. So, what does the Centre do when it’s time to honour a promise to compensate states if the annual collection growth was under 14%? It’s shrug goes heavenwards.
“Compensation is a larger issue. The Centre is not going back on its promise, but should it not enforce the force majeure clause since this is an event triggered by things beyond anyone’s control? It is an ‘act of God’,” an official told TOI. GST mop-up hit by Covid, ‘act of God’: Centre, Times of India
Source: Times of India
Conditions ripe for ageism in the post-pandemic world
  Arundhati   What happens to people over 60 in the workforce as the coronavirus leaves that age group more vulnerable? The Financial Times spoke to experts on this.
Rather than talking to employees about retirement, she [Ros Altmann, a former UK pensions minister and member of the House of Lords] advocates discussions about “pretirement”, which could involve people working fewer days or job sharing. This reflects the thinking of many pre-coronavirus commentators: organisations should adopt flexible approaches to all ages in their workforce. The current widespread working from home provides clear indications that old office-based approaches are not always necessary. Will ageism get worse in the post-pandemic workplace? Financial Times

A crypto showdown is on, but India’s out?

India’s tensions with China are only getting worse by the day. The coronavirus brought on the boycotting of Chinese apps and Chinese products, as it is, but now tensions have peaked as three Indian soldiers were killed—confirmed deaths so far—after a violent face-off with Chinese military on Chinese borders.   While these tensions will manifest in different ways, something that could hurt India, in the long run, are the alliances forming in the cryptocurrency world. India is AWOL from the cryptocurrency scene and countries are already taking sides. On one side is China, Japan and South Korea and the other side is Facebook.    In the case of China’s digital payments story, which is unrivalled, China’s gain was not India’s loss. But with cryptocurrency—a new kind of fiat money—India will have no leverage to even speak of.    As columnist Andy Mukherjee of Bloomberg wrote:
Every nation projects power when others desire its money — something that costs the home country nothing to produce. But as with any digital network, the sovereign tokens that take off first could end up winning disproportionately. The digital yuan could find customers overseas, especially in places where China is making belt-and-road investments. For one thing, they wouldn’t have to pay banks fat fees for running the $124 trillion-a-year business-to-business international transfers market.
China is taking the pole position and wants to kill multiple birds with its crypto stone.    First, it is setting the stage for global domination as China is working on an East Asia cryptocurrency scheme. 
At a meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a political advisory body, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing from May 21, 10 members proposed a plan to create a digital currency consisting of the Chinese yuan, Japanese yen, South Korean won and Hong Kong dollar.   The proposal envisions establishing a cross-border payment network in which businesses will make deals with each other using digital wallets. The network will help expand international trade as it will lessen the risk of foreign exchange volatility and allow smooth transaction, advocates say. China takes battle for cryptocurrency hegemony to new stage, Nikkei Asian Review​
Second, as Nikkei Asian Review reports, this move will let China maintain ties with Japan and South Korea at a time when the US is looking to disengage from China due to trade wars. China apparently accelerated studies on the digital yuan after seeing Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency plan—announced in June last year—as a threat.   To China, the Libra—Facebook’s digital currency—is centered on the dollar, and it seems no different from a digital dollar masked as a currency basket.
The proposal is clearly in line with China’s drive to increase the use of its currency internationally. With the U.S. successively barring dollar-based transactions as a sanction against adversarial countries, China is rushing to build a payment network independent of the dollar, which so far has been indispensable for international business transactions. China takes battle for cryptocurrency hegemony to new stage, Nikkei Asian Review​
Meanwhile, India’s different government institutions have flip-flopped on cryptocurrency, and most recently, an inter-ministerial committee is coming together to do the last rites on it, with a new bill in the making. 
Why India’s fuel prices keep rising   Rohin   India is the world’s third-largest consumer of oil, behind the US and China. It is also one of the world’s largest importers of oil, buying up nearly US$112 billion worth crude oil last year.   Petrol and diesel, the two biggest oil products, are sold domestically by a smattering of companies called “oil marketing companies”. The three largest ones who control the lion’s share are government-owned, with other players, including private ones, making up the rest.   On paper, it’s a competitive market with healthy competition. Oil marketing companies are notionally free to price petrol and diesel as they see fit, based on the prices of imported crude oil.    Off paper though, is a different matter. Since 6 June, the prices of petrol and diesel have increased every single day (going up by 8% cumulatively) even though crude prices have fallen by around 6% during the same period.   What’s actually happening is that the Indian government is using low crude oil prices to make up for what has historically been a loss-making endeavour, as India subsidises the price of petrol compared to what it imports petrol at. This chart from How India Lives, a service that aggregates and analyses public data, explains it best.
Indian consumers continued to pay high fuel prices even when crude prices crashed globally, because its central and state governments are piling on fuel taxes as one of the last reliable sources of revenue. Nearly 69% of the price of petrol in India’s capital city state of Delhi were taxes, says How India Lives.
But there remains the quandary of how petrol and diesel prices move in army-precision lockstep each day across many competing oil marketing companies. It’s not something you ever see in a competitive and free market. Business Standard uses the c-word to ask if India has a truly free market for fuel.
For one, the cartel-like behaviour being exhibited by the OMCs is quite unacceptable. If the public-sector OMCs are to be treated as proper commercial entities, and if the prices they charge are truly deregulated and free from political interference, then it would have been the case that they raised prices at different levels and at different times. That is how the market dynamics would play themselves out.
Currently, it doesn’t.
ByteDance’s spring clean: videos in, news out
Jon   In a reminder that even the biggest tech companies iterate and fail, ByteDance—the world’s highest valued startup with a $78-billion tag—shut down not one but two products this past week. The spring clean saw the Beijing firm close down global news app Topbuzz last week and lip sync app Vigo and its Vigo Lite sibling.   The Vigo apps focus on sketches and Bollywood lip sync videos and have a combined 5.5 million monthly users in India, according to TechCrunch, but they will be folded into TikTok. ByteDance is putting all its video eggs into the TikTok basket to maximise growth opportunities in India, which is the key battleground against YouTube and its 265 million local users.   Releasing Vigo and other apps were ByteDance’s early spread bet on what Indian consumers would want in an entertainment app. But now that they have chosen TikTok in droves—the app has over 200 million users in India, which is its largest market—and the competition has woken up to its threat, folding the also-runs into TikTok makes sense. The demise of Topbuzz, the news app offered outside of China, is a whole different wave that ByteDance is surfing.    To summarise in a line: Topbuzz didn’t live up to the example of Toutiao, ByteDance’s flagship news aggregator app that claims 140 million daily users in China.   It didn’t even come close. Toutiao was lauded as an example of what AI can do. Topbuzz was shamed for publishing fake news by allowing users to upload content without moderation. An important truth is that news is hard to get right, and even if you can get eyeballs, the rewards are scant.    Proof of that statement comes from Facebook—the world’s largest advertising company—which said in stark terms today that news stories do not generate meaningful revenue for its business. In fact, they are entirely expendable. Here’s the money quote from Facebook in response to an ongoing tit-for-tat with media companies in Australia:   “If there were no news content available on Facebook in Australia, we are confident the impact on Facebook’s community metrics and revenues in Australia would not be significant.”   China may be an exception. ByteDance draws most of its revenue from its home market, but we don’t know how its reported $19 billion annual sales breaks down across Toutiao and Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.   What is more clear, however, is that nobody can flip the rules of Western internet, not even the world’s highest-valued startup.
Home team 0; Bookmakers 1   Savio   After a three-month stoppage, the English Premier League season resumes on Wednesday, with a long list of rules. But without fans. And if data from Germany’s Bundesliga, which restarted a couple of weeks back, is anything to go by, empty stadiums have drastically lowered the coveted home-team advantage.
Data produced by Gracenote shows that before the Bundesliga closed down, home teams won 43% of the 223 games played, with 35% being away wins and 22% draws.   In 56 “ghost games”, home wins have plummeted to 21% while away teams have won 50% and draws are up to 29%. Premier League hosts beware – German data shows end of home advantage, Reuters
(The only good news for Liverpool, the English league leaders—and my favourite team—is they have a near unassailable lead.)   For bookmakers though, the good news is the very restart of one of the most widely followed sports leagues. It can only be a catalyst to the fortunes of the likes of William Hill, Playtech,  FanDuel-parent Flutter Entertainment and GVC Holdings.   But, if the Bundesliga data is anything to go by, some bookmakers will be scrambling to recalculate the odds. Let’s take the case of one of the first matches post resumption, in which second-place Manchester City hosts ninth-placed Arsenal.
Cloudbet’s zero-margin odds for Man City versus Arsenal will be around 1.38 for a home win, 5.75 for a draw, and 9.60 for an away win. Odds are correct at the time of publishing but will fluctuate.   However, with a full crowd and full home advantage, the odds would be 1.32 for a home win, 6.30 for a draw, and 11.60 for an away win.   It’s clear that Arsenal suddenly have a much higher winning chance than if the schedule had been played out with fans in attendance. Busting betting myths: Home truths behind closed doors, Goal.com
And it’s not just match results, even in-play bets will become interesting if you go by the cold hard stats. Without fans roaring their encouragement, home teams have had fewer goal attempts, fewer shots on target, and therefore scored far fewer goals (1.23 vs 1.74) per match. The Guardian says one study shows that without any crowd influence, referees tend to favour the away team.   The league winner may be a forgone conclusion, but the race remains just as exciting.
The probable question on WhatsApp’s mind
Arundhati   The big payments news is that WhatsApp finally launched peer-to-peer payments after a two-year delay in Brazil. It’s chosen to go the Visa and Mastercard card payments way.   In India, it picked Unified Payments Interface (UPI) for the rails.    It was an economically and politically wise choice as the government was putting its back into promoting UPI. Not to take away from the fact that it was also easy to transact. But beyond a beta launch, WhatsApp has been caught between the triumvirate of the country’s regulator, the Reserve Bank of India, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, and the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), which runs UPI. And speak to sources in NPCI or banks, and the response is that the launch in India could be “any day now.” A line that has been quoted for over a year.    A source involved in UPI said had WhatsApp picked Visa and Mastercard, its launch theoretically could have been much faster. But it would have economically been a disaster due to the fees one has to pay for Visa and Mastercard.    Guess there’s no winning. 
Source: WhatsApp
Do you have a time cone for that?
Nadine   Forget timelines. The tool strategic planners and futurists like Amy Webb prefer is a time… cone.   It’s not helpful to think of time as a continuum in which one thing neatly happens after the other, linked by cause and effect, says Webb. Especially not in uncertain times like these.
The time cone acknowledges that events can occur in parallel. It also accounts for the fact that the further out from right now, our predictions will become more fuzzy and uncertain.   Webb’s advice is to plot your expectations and goals for the future in the cone’s zones starting from the inside and moving out. Keep adjusting the cone as you/your company moves through time, and your further-out predictions will come into sharper focus with new data and evidence.

In whose interest is it anyway?

The loan moratorium theatre in India has entered a new phase, with the Supreme Court now involved.   On 29 March, the country’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, allowed all borrowers to avail a moratorium—basically a holiday from paying any monthly installment—until 31 August. And that has become a bone of contention.   The Supreme Court on Wednesday heard a plea by a petitioner Gajendra Sharma, who said that no interest should be charged during the moratorium because people are facing “extreme hardship”.   The Supreme Court bench, presiding over the matter, is now asking the same questions about the RBI’s decision that borrowers may have had. Especially now, after choosing the moratorium and staring at a fatter repayment.   This is an excerpt from a fascinating conversation published in LiveLaw, a legal news website:   Solicitor General, on behalf of the government and RBI: Moratorium effectively means “deferment”.   Justice Bhushan: Then the deferred amount should stay as it is while it is under moratorium.   Justice Kaul: What you are saying is you are doing them a favour by deferment for three months?   Solicitor General: That is for the banks to answer.   Justice Kaul: See that’s the problem. RBI says its the central government’s prerogative, the government says its the banks. ………   Harish Salve, representing the banks: According to authoritative estimates, the world will see a meltdown by 2022. Not charging interest during this period will put the entire banking sector under a lot of distress.   Senior Advocate Rajiv Dutta, representing the petitioner, interjects. But there’s already a pandemic going on! ………   Salve says that simply doing away with interest during this time is not a viable thing to do.   Justice Kaul: We are aware of all these concerns. We are talking only about interest on interest. For these three months, you have deferred but then you have not done away with interest on interest.   Mukul Rohatgi, the senior advocate representing banks: The benefit of deferment has to come with a cost. It cannot be availed and not come at a cost.   Justice Shah tells the Solicitor General that the Central Government has to step up and take a stand: You can’t have a notification saying so and then step out of it. You took the time to answer this. What you are saying was said by RBI.   Salve: Can I make a suggestion? Let’s wait for three months and see where this is going.   Dutta: I am obliged to your lordship for understanding the problem that petitioners are suffering. We are in an unprecedented situation. In the midst of a pandemic. They are over-complicating everything.   Dutta: Today the RBI wants to make money out of banks? In this serious situation? What about those people who have taken huge sums of money from banks and have fled the country? How were they excused?   Bench – Justice Bhushan dictating order: The issues in pleas are that Interest should not be charged during moratorium and at least interest on interest should not be charged. Let the petition be listed again by 1st week of August and the Centre and RBI will review the issue.   Now, if only this conversation happened *before* they rolled out the moratorium. 
Aarogya Setu (Mitr) could be a cat with nine lives
  Shreedhar   The Aarogya Setu app began as a contact tracing app. It amassed more than 100 million downloads in India. And then, it included an ancillary service called Aarogya Setu Mitr, which included telemedicine and e-pharmacies.   When the government launches a product and gets everyone, from social media platforms to schools, to promote it, getting on it is lucrative. The problem? Those that eventually benefit from the platform are also those that built it, as we wrote last month.   Alongside telemedicine startups, the biggest beneficiaries of Aarogya Setu Mitr were e-pharmacies such as 1mg, PharmEasy and Practo. And the biggest losers? An organised body of 850,000 chemist outlets throughout the country, which saw this as giving undue advantage to companies already on shaky legal ground.   The government seems to have caved in, for the time being.
The Narendra Modi government Tuesday informed the Delhi High Court that it will suspend the Aarogya Setu Mitr portal, which is linked to the Aarogya Setu app to promote online sale of medicines, following objections by nearly 8.5 lakh brick-and-mortar retail chemists across India.   The court was hearing a petition filed by the South Chemists and Distributors Association, which alleges that the portal is promoting online pharmacies through the Aarogya Setu app Govt suspends Aarogya Setu portal for e-pharmacies after chemists move Delhi HC against it, The Print
This is unlikely to be the end of Aarogya Setu Mitr. The government has been very keen to push for the adoption of Aarogya Setu, which is both built and maintained by the companies that see the business sense in Aarogya Setu Mitr. Incentives upon incentives.   In all likelihood, e-pharmacies won’t be kept away from Aarogya Setu for very long, just as they weren’t kept away from operating even after an e-pharmacy ban. Wait to see them rebrand and re-enter.
Taj Mahal Ho(spi)tel
Rohin
It was just 15 months ago that the Tata Group won back the ownership of one of Delhi’s oldest luxury hotels, the Taj Mahal hotel. Established in 1978, it had been a symbol of luxury and wealth till 2011, when the 33-year-old lease on the land on which it stood ran out. The government of Delhi, led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, decided to put the hotel up for sale instead of renewing its lease.   The Tata Group fought the Delhi government tooth and nail, but ultimately lost the case. Since then, it pays the Delhi government close to a million dollars each month. For this.
Its close proximity to the seat of government, the city’s diplomatic corps, commercial hubs, cultural centers and iconic heritage wonders, has furthered the hotel’s reputation as the epicentre of the capital. Taj Mahal, New Delhi provides luxury like none other. All around, grandeur meets elegance—antiques, priceless art, and traditional accents and colours are impeccably woven together with contemporary style and modern amenities. The 292 luxurious rooms including 26 suites, all of which offer stunning aerial views of Delhi’s historic skyline, or the one-of-a-kind Presidential Suite, are all perfected to host dignitaries and celebrities from across the globe.
Source: Taj Hotels (and some photoshop)
Yesterday, though, the Delhi government (still led by Arvind Kejriwal) “attached” it to one of the city’s private hospitals, the 675-bed Sir Gangaram Hospital.   The hospital and the hotel are seven kilometres apart. What the Delhi government did was to order the Taj Mahal hotel to turn itself into a Covid-19 treatment facility, under the control of the hospital. In doing so, the Taj Mahal became the sixth luxury hotel to be thus “attached” to a hospital.
The order also said that the hospital would be responsible for proper disposal of biomedical waste generated at the hotel.
All hotel staff will be provided with protective gear and basic training to handle Covid-19 patients, it said.   Ambulance for transfer of patients will be the hospital’s responsibility, while food, housekeeping service and disinfection of premises will be done by the hotel.   The charges for using the rooms will be collected by the hospital, which will then hand it over to the hotel, the order said.
The reason Delhi’s government is doing this is because it foresees a projected requirement of 150,000 hospital beds by the end of July. Delhi is currently one of the worst Covid-19 affected cities in India.
Luxury hotel groups are worried at the example being set by the Delhi government. If things continue to get worse in India, it might be used by other states too. Instead, they say, use large facilities like stadiums. Some are also rightly asking how they can compel their staff to work in what is now a high-risk Covid-19 hospital.   Unlike many western countries, India does not recognise the right to private property as a fundamental right. Plus, the laws under which India is managing its pandemic response (Disaster Management Act 2006, Epidemic disease Act 1897) give its governments pretty much the right to order whatever they feel appropriate without having to explain themselves. We wrote about it in an earlier issue of The Nutgraf, our weekly newsletter.   I presume the Taj Mahal management will continue to pay the Delhi government its nearly million-dollar monthly rental, while being forced to run it as a Covid-19 hospital.
Colleges need new gatekeepers   Seetharaman   The world’s most exclusive universities have, for years, been told that their admission process was not fair. Now, they have been forced to listen. Thank the pandemic for that.    Harvard University has joined its Ivy League peers like Yale University, Dartmouth College, and Columbia University in temporarily doing away with standardised admission tests—the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and American College Testing (ACT).   The reason for this are problems in scheduling these tests in light of the pandemic. The nonprofit that conducts the SAT has said offering it online “would require three hours of uninterrupted, video-quality internet for each student, which can’t be guaranteed for all.” The ACT, on the other hand, will have an online version.   This is an opportunity for colleges to weigh these tests against using high-school grades, as critics of admissions tests have been demanding. After all, race and income play an important role in how a student scores on the standardised tests.
In 2019, 55 percent of Asian-American test takers and 45 percent of white test takers scored 1200 or higher on the SAT. For Hispanic and black students, those numbers were 12 percent and 9 percent.   SAT scores also correlate with income: In general, students from wealthier families — who tend to reap the benefits of better-funded schools and can pay thousands of dollars for private coaching and test prep — do better than those from lower-income ones. At poverty levels, the scoring disparity is twice as large for black students than for white ones. Will the coronavirus kill college admissions tests?, The New York Times
There are already signs that the change may be more lasting. The University of California is planning to eliminate the SAT or ACT requirement for California students by 2025. It plans to come up with its own replacement test.   In India, there have been unsuccessful attempts in the past to scrap the entrance exam to the elite Indian Institutes of Technology. The IIT entrance exam gives an edge to those who can afford to pay for coaching classes.   But could this pandemic rekindle debates about how colleges around the world admit students?
Buildings of the future    Ben   Covid-19 has led to many standards being challenged; the latest being modern building standards. Building codes determine various standards, from air conditioning and ventilation to how wide windows can be opened above a certain floor.   Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority is now looking into whether air conditioning and ventilation rules should be revised due to the pandemic. The last time the code was revised, in 2016, it sought to mitigate fine haze particles into buildings.   New building standards might now be formulated as a way to reduce transmission risk in future pandemics. From windows that could open and close to ventilation systems that incorporate both natural and mechanical systems—such solutions could be taken up as a way to ensure fresh air is circulated. Contactless solutions could also be a permanent fixture as new buildings are built to stave off the next pandemic.
Source: Facebook
Surviving “social jetlag”   Olina   Nope. It’s not a fancy term for re-entering society after months of self-imposed isolation. It’s actually a quasi-medical term for what your body does between weekends and weekdays. But that’s when we had weekdays and weekends, instead of the parallel reality of unstructured time we live in now.   Social jetlag, as defined in a 2019 Guardian article, “is a consequence of being forced to shift our bodies between two time zones: one dictated by work and social obligations, the other by our internal timing system, the circadian clock. It is estimated that two-thirds of us experience at least one hour of social jetlag a week, and a third experience two hours or more – equivalent to flying from London to Tel Aviv and back each week.”   Now freed of social obligations, researchers claim that social jetlag levels have also come down. We’re able to sleep in for longer, thus synching the circadian clock with our actual social life during waking hours (which is heavily curtailed during a pandemic).   But does this mean we’re getting more sleep? Technically, yes. But that doesn’t mean we’re sleeping any better. A study conducted by the University of Basel, Switzerland, shows that although social jetlag reduced, sleep quality deteriorated during the lockdown. Christine Blume, one of the neuroscientists behind the study, explains:
We think that the self-perceived burden, which substantially increased during this unprecedented COVID-19 lockdown, may have outweighed the otherwise beneficial effects of a reduced social jetlag. How COVID-19 lockdown has altered sleep in the US and Europe, Science Daily
There’s just no winning against Covid-19.

Dumb money and smart money

“Dumb Money”   In the world of investing, institutional investors like to be known as ‘smart money’ and the individual investors get to be called ‘dumb money’.   And what better archetype for dumb, clueless investors than new users of the US investing app, Robinhood. So many of them signed up in droves as the pandemic started to take effect in early March that on 2 March, Robinhood suffered an outage for an entire trading session in the US.   Not only do Robinhood users not pay any fees for their trades, but the average account balance for an average user is also estimated at between $1,000 and $5,000. Compare this with the average account balance of $900,000 in Morgan Stanley, a wealth manager for the truly rich.   Robinhood has added three million of these new users since the beginning of 2020, taking its total accounts to 13 million.   But this isn’t how it was supposed to play out.   When times are scary, the stock market, which is an indicator of economic health, panics. There is a ‘flight to safety’ or put simply, investors prefer the safety of government bonds, gold, and even cash in their bank accounts.   The end result is a stock market crash because investors don’t like uncertainty. In the US, the tech-heavy NASDAQ 100 index fell by over 25%  in a matter of weeks in March.
But why were Robinhood’s users signing up to invest in the stock market during such times?   Some of the answers being trotted out in the US include:   Being in a lockdown and having nothing better to do Casinos being shut so turning to the stock markets for a gamble and a punt Easy access to trading apps which are also free Overload of news calling this a once in a lifetime buying opportunity Stimulus cheques that are being used for stock trading   There’s some truth to all of this, even in India.   The founder of online discount brokerage Zerodha had this to say: (The Ken wrote on their Covid-19 surge recently).  
Behaviourally, the only things missing were casinos and stimulus checks.
But, what if retail investors are the ones currently following the adage of ‘buy when others are fearful’? Could that be why the Nasdaq 100 index is at a record high despite being in the middle of a pandemic?
“Smart money”
The median age of Robinhood users is 30—the archetypal millennial. Which means for the majority of its users, this is the first big market crash they’re experiencing. And like all things millennial, they did the exact opposite of what was suggested.   When the most famous investor of our generation Warren Buffet was dumping his airline stocks admitting ‘he was wrong about the business’ due to its uncertain future, retail investors decided to buy instead.   Airline stocks have risen between 40 to 90%.   Companies like Hertz and JCPenney that had declared bankruptcy? Up a whopping 870% and 450% from their lows respectively.   Naturally, ‘smart’ investors are blaming the millennials of Robinhood for this ‘micro-bubble of irrationality’ in stocks.   This chart from Investopedia shows the movement of Hertz’s stock price and the number of Robinhood users who are invested in it. A jump from 3,000 users who owned Hertz on 18 March to 142,000 today. But remember, correlation isn’t causation.
As ‘rational and smart’ money managers are waiting on the sidelines for the markets to test the levels of March again, the millennials are currently laughing their way to the bank saying ‘Ok Boomer’.
On the flip side, a free app with a snazzy UI, volatile markets, and inexperienced traders can result in unintended consequences too.
A Modicare for mental health
Vandana   Mental health has forced itself back into mainstream conversation as people increasingly feel weighed down by Covid-induced anxiety and loneliness. Amid the barrage of posts and self-proclaimed psychiatrists on Twitter and LinkedIn, one major issue has been flagged with regards to therapy in India—its prohibitive cost.   A single therapy session can cost anywhere between Rs 500 ($6.5) to Rs 19,000 ($250). And most of the time, patients need multiple sessions, not to mention money spent on medicines.
The catch-22, however, is that one needs a full-time job to be able to afford regular therapy. Life, for most working young adults with mental health challenges, is a never-ending struggle between finding a full-time job that helps them afford regular mental healthcare and staying mentally healthy enough to hold down a full-time job.   ..   The acute shortage of mental health professionals in India (about one professional for every 100,000 people) means most people who require regular mental healthcare need to access private mental health professionals. Unaffordable mental healthcare puts additional stress on millennials, Livemint
That is why India’s Supreme Court’s notice on 16 June to the Centre and the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority (IRDA) on insurance cover for mental illness is important.   After the enactment of the mental healthcare act in 2017, the IRDA issued a circular on 16 August, 2018, asking all insurers to comply with the provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act. That basically meant mental health had to be a part of insurance policies. Advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal, who filed the petition in the SC, says that hasn’t happened. Worse, the IRDA hasn’t taken any action against them for non-implementation.   An insurance cover for mental health in a country like India where such issues are stigmatised will be a tremendous leg-up for patients seeking help.   First, it may encourage mental health literacy.
For instance, individuals who opt for health insurance or who receive it from their employers are assumed to have a fairly good understanding of the treatments involved for physical illnesses. Surgery, chemotherapy, and the like are familiar terms of treatment. However, if individuals are uneducated about treatment counterparts in mental healthcare (for example, the types of psychotherapy, psychopharmacological medicines, etc.), they may not understand what mental health treatment entails, thereby perpetuating a cycle of ignorance and stigma. A market for mental health insurance, Livemint
Second, when mental health is given the same importance as other diseases through an insurance cover, it helps break the associated myth and stigma. It may also help increase access to mental health professionals.   “Insuring psychiatric and psychological illnesses can increase the accountability of professionals, formalize treatment modalities, and decrease the likelihood of clients visiting pseudo-professionals for mental health concerns. Fourth, acknowledging that some mental disorders have a biological basis helps determine the actuarial risk of such illnesses and educate relevant stakeholders,” says Hansika Kapoor in the article. Kapoor is a practicing clinical psychologist and research author at the department of psychology at Monk Prayogshala, a not-for-profit academic research institution.   The World Health Organization estimates that between 2012-2030, India’s mental health emergency will cost the economy more than $1 trillion in lost productivity. The apex court’s concerns couldn’t have come at a better time. Insurance companies have both a challenge and an opportunity to create a product that could change the way mental health is availed in India. For the government, the incentive to push this could be cost-effective mental health services and policy implications for its National Mental Health Programme.
‘Pay now, work later’   Jum   With lockdowns and the pandemic dealing a big blow to businesses, Asia stands to suffer 68 million job cuts—and this is just an initial Asian Development Bank estimate. So no wonder that those who’ve managed to keep their posts and receive salaries even as offices were shut couldn’t be more grateful.   But for many of them, apparently, there’s a caveat.   In Singapore, workers have been asked to return the working hours that the salaries were for by putting in overtime once the city-state’s “circuit breaker” ends.   Some felt the “pay now, work later” concept was unfair, but Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower said it was understandable. Since March, about 4,000 companies have informed the ministry of cost-cutting measures, and 120 of them are adopting the “pay now, work later” scheme.   However, there’s the possibility of companies abusing the scheme and asking employees to work more hours than they really should. This is something that the government promised it would watch out for.   If that’s the situation in Singapore, in the Philippines, a “pay now, work later” arrangement is the best news daily wage workers could hope for at this time. In fact, local authorities are pleading for it just so low-income families could continue to earn.   Depending on the circumstance, it’s either glass half empty and glass half full.
The mall is now in retailers’ court   Seetharaman   In the tussle over rentals between malls and their occupants, malls have blinked first. As India’s lockdown restrictions are gradually eased, DLF, a major mall operator, has decided to waive its tenants’ rents fully or partially till March 2021, with the concessions being reduced gradually.
In a letter to its tenants, the realtor said it “plans to waive off the entire MG (modified gross) rent from the beginning of the lockdown period up till 15 June”. It has offered 75 per cent waiver on MG rent from 15-30 June. During the second quarter of 2020-21 (July-September), it offered to waive off half of the rent. During the next quarter, the extent of waiver on MG rent has been set at 25 per cent.
In the fourth quarter (January-March 2021), 10 per cent waiver has been offered. Covid-19 crisis: DLF takes lead, waives rent for beleaguered mall tenants, Business Standard
Other mall owners have followed suit, agreeing to more revenue-sharing arrangements and doing away with minimum guarantees. This means a retailer or a restaurant is not on the hook for rent if there is another shutdown.
In pre-Covid times, malls functioned on three revenue models—rental, revenue-sharing and a limited hybrid model of minimum guarantee and revenue-sharing. The new contracts in the works tilt towards revenue-sharing except some fixed costs like electricity and maintenance. Kolkata malls, retailers rework revenue model with eye on survival, The Times of India
Malls did not have much choice but to give in to their tenants. Retailers refused to reopen their stores if malls did not play ball. So we had a weird scenario in which malls opened their gates again but there were not too many shops for visitors to walk into.   Fixed rentals will clearly fall out of favour with stores and may not resurface for the foreseeable future. It’s not going to be an easy transition for malls like Mumbai’s Infiniti Mall, almost all of whose lease agreements are on fixed costs. The shift to revenue-share may not bode well for mall operators’ loan repayments predicated on fixed rentals. But they clearly don’t have the upper hand here.   Even if the rent waivers and revised lease agreements convince stores to reopen, multiplexes, which are key to a mall’s footfalls, are a different kettle of fish. They are still shut and are unlikely to see people flocking to them for weeks after they start screening movies again.   As of last year, India’s top seven cities had 50 million sq ft of mall space, and 15% of the mall area in cities like Bengaluru and Hyderabad was unoccupied. The pandemic is without a doubt an existential crisis for them. The ones that survive this will hardly be the same as before.
When the first bell didn’t ring
Olina   Kerala’s trying hard to flatten all kinds of curves. This time around, it’s the number of students without access to a television or smartphone to attend recorded school lessons. As part of an online learning initiative ‘First Bell, the Kerala government, like other Indian state governments, started broadcasting daily lessons for its student population in early June. But over 200,000 students were caught on the wrong side of the digital divide.   The Kerala government seems to have used two main levers to bridge this gap:   Challenges:
In some villages, WhatsApp groups and alumni associations donated money to buy TVs or smartphones. In others, local businessmen provided TV sets as part of a “TV challenge’’ launched by the state’s Industries Department. The government, meanwhile, allowed MLAs (Member of Legislative Assembly) to use their local development fund to buy TVs and laptops for students. And the state’s local self-governing bodies stepped in to complete the chain. Kerala joins hands for its children to access online classes, Indian Express
…and community:
What helped, say officials, was that almost all villages in Kerala have at least one common centre, be it an anganwadi, a reading room or a sports club, for the education department to set up a classroom. Here, teachers of government and aided private schools were placed in charge. Kerala joins hands for its children to access online classes, Indian Express
Both approaches—learning independently or accessing a community centre—claim officials, have shrunk the gap from 261,000 without access to 120,000 students. The combination of incentive-driven donations and community centres could work in other states as well, where online learning was recently banned by the state government citing accessibility gaps.
Graduating to a blue collar job
Ben   The economic downturn brought about by Covid-19 saw job offers rescinded by employers, leaving many graduates adrift. Even big tech companies weren’t immune.   Where does this leave graduates then? While many jobs have disappeared, there are some that are still available, namely blue-collar jobs. These are the kind of jobs that graduates tend to shy away from, preferring to leverage their degrees into a cushy nine-to-five.   But when all avenues have been exhausted, some might just have no other choice.   Blue collar jobs may be less glamorous, but are, by no means, unskilled. Operating heavy machinery is a skill. It is a reality graduates in these pandemic times have to accept.
Normal life… loading… loading…   Savio
Source: Visual Capitalist
Need a Friday lockdown game?   Olina
Source: https://www.donewith2020.com/

The Zero MDR boogeyman is coming back

If startups in India are the harbingers of change, then the payments industry has a gut punch coming its way.    I was speaking to the co-founder of a payments startup called BharatPe, which caters to merchants. What he said will make the collective hair of payments companies stand. “I want to make MDR on *all* payments zero,” said Ashneer Grover.    MDR, or merchant discount rate, is the most contentious three-letter abbreviation in the payments world. It is the charge that merchants bear when you swipe a credit card (2%) or debit card (1%). Merchants pay this charge to the banks, which maintain the payment infrastructure. And Grover now does not want to collect any charge on any payments among the merchants he works with.    The Indian government set these charges. Earlier this year, the finance ministry decided to make MDR zero on mobile-based payments (UPI) and Rupay-based debit cards to drive cashless transactions. It saw a furore among payments companies and every other entity in the space.    The payments body, National Payments Corporation of India (which runs UPI and Rupay), the State Bank of India, and other banks opposed it. The banks even tried asking for an annual compensation of Rs 2,000 crore (US$262 million) from the finance ministry to foot the losses. The government said, ‘no’.    Global payments technology company Visa, too, criticised the move.
If there is going to be no skin in the game for anybody to deploy these terminals, and roll them out geographically in tier-III and IV cities, it’s like saying voice is free and data is free, but without the supporting infrastructure,” said T R Ramachandran, group country manager India and South Asia. “Why would a bank go and deploy these machines (POS) or do KYC? To stick a QR code (at merchant points), it costs money and somebody’s got to pay for it…I’m a firm believer in low economics but no economics student can believe in no economics.” VISA criticizes government’s zero Merchant Discount Rates move, The Economic Times
And now, Grover’s move could give ideas to a government that needs the support of over 50 million traders in India who are economically hit. A move like this will certainly make merchants rejoice, but it will bring the payments roof down.    When the government brought MDR down to zero on UPI and Rupay, the NPCI was the one taking the revenue hit. But if Grover’s move finds takers in the government, the entire raison d’etre for Visa and its rival Mastercard will be lost. They, along with banks and other payments companies, could lose their revenue source.    Grover’s logic is that payments are anyway commoditised and there is little money to be made. So might as well just do the inevitable and take all the payments fees down to zero.  Companies will be forced to scramble for other revenue sources. Meanwhile, BharatPe will also need a new business model.     Grover says he will absorb the MDR hit, but on the condition that merchants agree to keep the money that they were supposed to earn with BharatPe for 15 days in an escrow account. This way, the company would earn interest on that float money, which will make for revenue. In case the merchants want the money immediately, they can pay 1% (which is the average MDR fee anyway) and access it, he says.    He hopes to take this to 1,000 merchants in Bengaluru and Delhi by the end of this month, and is supplying them with entirely new point of sale machines.    Other payments companies can only hope the government is not watching any of this. 
To fight China, India turns inward and backward
Rohin
Last week, 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives after a brutal hand-to-hand fight (involving wooden staves and nail-studded clubs) with Chinese soldiers at a disputed Himalayan border.
While jingoistic media coverage of various border conflicts has carefully nurtured anti-China sentiment over the last year, the horrific death of 20 soldiers is a catalysing event. While, at number four, India is just behind China in the world’s military rankings, the two armies are vastly different in size, equipment and budgets. China’s military budget is nearly five times India’s. The two are also nuclear powers. Military revenge is, thus, out of the question.
As a result of which, India is contemplating economic revenge. A wave of anti-China sentiment is being directed at Chinese imports, Chinese companies, Chinese capital, and, most ridiculously, Chinese food.
Like most countries around the world, India too did not choose Chinese imports or products for their nationality. Instead, it chose them for their global competitiveness. A Business Standard article estimated that it’s often up to 30% cheaper to import from China, over other countries.
The same logic applies while banning Chinese products, too. You may think you’re rejecting them over their nationality, but in reality you’re rejecting their global competitiveness. The tab for the higher costs (10%? 20%? 30%?) will be picked up by India’s economy and its consumers. 
Decoupling from a global economic engine like China is fraught with risk. For India, because its exports account for just 3% of China’s. In Business Standard, China expert Ravi Bhoothalingam says that such a decoupling makes no sense for India. “Some industrialists might gain (emphasis added), but investment, public welfare and growth will suffer,” he says in his column.
Business Standard’s editor, TN Ninan, is even clearer. He says India risks shooting itself in the foot.
And what if China hits back? India’s imports from China are equal to about a fifth of total Indian manufacturing. If Chinese products have no ready substitutes domestically, the risk is of disruption along the supply chain. In the case of some products (like strategic materials) where it has market dominance, China could even deny sales to India as it did once with Japan during a dispute over some islands off the Chinese coast. At the least, sourcing from alternative suppliers would be at a much higher cost. Advice for shoot-from-the-hip nationalists: Take aim before firing, Business Standard
Ninan, too, like Bhoothalingam, warns of special interests using the current anti-China sentiment to gain market share and profits, even as India’s economy pays the higher costs, and its manufacturing sector loses global competitiveness. “The lessons learnt on the way to 1991 have been forgotten,” says Ninan.
What happened in 1991? Well, it’s better to ask what happened before 1991. The “License Raj” did.
Hospital redesign — from hacks to wholesome
Savio   By now, all of us have read or seen how stadiums, markets, convention centres, and other spaces were transformed into emergency medical centres. While this was necessary and had its role in helping fight the coronavirus, it has also shone a light on just how ill-equipped hospitals were to handle a pandemic. In fact, modern hospital architecture—empty white walls, bare floors, clean metal fixtures—is a carryover from the designs of the early 20th century, when tuberculosis was a pressing health concern. Covid-19 is demanding an overhaul.
Unlike the airy, pristine emptiness of modernism, the space needed for quarantine is primarily defensive, with taped lines and plexiglass walls segmenting the outside world into zones of socially distanced safety. How the Coronavirus Will Reshape Architecture, New Yorker
Nonprofit architecture firm MASS Design Group looked into how The Mount Sinai Hospital, at the epicentre of the pandemic in New York City, adapted. Their conclusion: hospitals are not designed for pandemic surge. 
Changes were ultimately bounded by inherited and inflexible infrastructure. Within adult ICU units, it was not possible to integrate antechambers due to the spatial constraints of the floorplan, as well as the need to maintain direct visibility and access to patient rooms for high-level nursing care. Shifting IVs and monitors outside the patient room was necessary, but created more congestion in the corridors. And while the HEPA filtration fixtures were necessary, they took up an immense amount of space within patient rooms and were loud, constraining staff movement, communication, and workflows. Redesigning Hospital Spaces on the Fly to Protect Healthcare Workers, MASS Design
Some of the “design hacks” noted by MASS Design
The hospitals of the future will have to be flexible, as well as scalable. Flexible to convert hospital rooms to critical care or isolation, and scalable in terms of increasing the bed capacity.
Multi-story car parks can replace the traditional car parks above the ground with an underground entrance for an ambulance which would create an easy passage for emergency patients. The elevators could be used to take doctors and patients above ground to the pavilion structures. The above-ground structures will be a collection of separate structures that are connected through the underground level and occasional sky-bridge. These buildings can house patients wards, administrative buildings that are not linked to medical treatment. In a crisis like this, it can become isolation wards for the staff. Rethinking Hospitals for a Pandemic Prone World, The Blue Circle
But, are there incentives for hospitals to do so?
For example, hospitals have traditionally measured their success in terms of bed occupancy. Consequently, their design features many private rooms and little space for walking. But current medical thinking holds that for a great many patients and conditions, getting up and around is essential for recovery. The traditional hospitals are delivering health care, but not necessarily health, which should be the ultimate objective. How the Architecture of Hospitals Affects Health Outcomes, HBR
The rapid spread of the virus has made people wary of visiting hospitals for regular tests and surgeries. The number of surgeries and OPDs (outpatient departments) have reduced, leading to lost revenue. Change rarely comes without incentive. The question is: Is Covid-19 incentive enough?
Heartbroken and hungry
Jum   The pandemic has worsened the plight of domestic workers in Hong Kong. Imagine leaving your family to take care of someone else’s in a foreign land because there are no jobs for you in your country. Then, when you get there, you end up starving in a crowded quarantine facility that raises the risk of you catching the fatal virus.   That’s the situation many domestic workers arriving in Hong Kong at this time are finding themselves in, according to migrant worker groups. Workers were reported to have been left by employers to fend for themselves while in 14-day quarantine.   Some have been eating noodles for days or, in the case of Muslims, food that’s disallowed by their religion.   Some were even fired for exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms even though they didn’t test positive. This could push domestic workers further into debt. Most of them often borrow money to pay for recruitment costs just so they could land a job.
Quote Domestic workers are being placed in a vulnerable situation–put under quarantine and not paid. Many don’t want to complain… they don’t want to be terminated and some are not aware of their rights. Sringatin, chairwoman of Indonesian Migrant Workers Union, to South China Morning Post
These cases worry the unions as thousands of other migrants, mainly Filipinos and Indonesians, are expected to land in the city in the coming months.   They’re urging the Hong Kong government to make sure domestic workers are given proper accommodation, food allowance, and other safety nets during quarantine.   It’s unclear what action the government has planned, but unions hope it’s more than a simple reminder to employers to “comply with their obligations under the standard employment contract.”   After all, there’s more than enough reasons for the government to care. Not only do migrant domestic workers help increase Hong Kong households’ income by relieving families of daytime responsibilities, but research shows they make a major contribution to the economy (US$12.6 billion spending in 2018 alone) as well.
Sound of silence
Savio   For some, the protracted absence of vibrant sounds of a normal society—traffic, markets, industries, sirens, etc—may be an uncomfortable reminder of their inactivity and lack of income. But the silence has created an extraordinary opportunity for scientists to conduct studies on topics ranging from acoustics to atmospheric science to ecology.
Take the UK-wide scheme called The Quiet Project, which enlisted a network of acoustic engineers and researchers to map out changes to the ambient soundscape during lockdown. It has been building up a database of sound measurements that should act as an invaluable resource for understanding our acoustic environment: how sound correlates with economic activity, say, and how it affects wellbeing.   […]   This acoustic information could be useful for planners – for example, for cost-benefit analyses of how designated “tranquil areas” in cities can be preserved from development, or to plan for potential changes in the future. It should help to make better predictions of what things would be like if all vehicles were electric, say – which is possible in 10 years’ time. “You could quantify what you’d get to acoustically,” said Dance, “and put a value on it – which is a factor in the economic costs of making that change.” Why lockdown silence was golden for science, The Guardian
Education vs technology   Olina   In a previous edition, we wrote about how the Indian state of Karnataka banned online classes for all students up to grade 5. The government says it was concerned about the quality of online classes and the extended “screen time” for kids. Concerned parents came out swinging with a social media campaign, #righttolearn.   While quality is an arguable metric, an opponent of the ban decided to take on the issue of screen time in a rather creative way. No matter what side of the debate you’re on, this is an interesting POV about the future of online learning.

Glenmark’s stock rises, standards for repurposed drugs must as well

The money matters first. 
 
Indian pharma company Glenmark saw its share price trade at a new 52-week high on Monday, closing 27% higher. The rally was obviously on the back of the news it broke on Saturday that it had obtained “restricted use approval” for a drug called Favipiravir, to be used in mild to moderate cases of Covid-19. 
 
The drug has been in use in a few countries since 2014 for treating influenza. It is one of many other drugs that are being repurposed and studied for Covid-19 treatment. 
 
Glenmark said:
“Favipiravir can be used in COVID-19 patients with co-morbid conditions such as diabetes and heart disease with mild to moderate COVID 19 symptoms. It offers rapid reduction in viral load within 4 days and provides faster symptomatic and radiological improvement. Of most importance, Favipiravir has shown clinical improvement of up to 88% in COVID-19 mild to moderate COVID 19 cases.”
The markets were ecstatic but medical practitioners, particularly a handful articulate ones, were not. The regulatory approval is not backed by strong data. 
“We don’t have a randomised trial which shows a clinically meaningful benefit with the drug. The results of the 150-patient study Glenmark has done in India is not published, and data is not available. I am not comfortable prescribing to our patients now. I hope there is data that gets published soon that will make me change my mind,” Dr CS Pramesh, a director at Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, told me yesterday. 
 
While the Indian drug regulator hasn’t issued any statements or accompanying documents, Glenmark did cite some references in its release but they don’t inspire much confidence. 
 
Like a few Covid-19 vaccine makers in the US, Glenmark has rushed to disclose early read-outs from its ongoing trial with 150 people which will conclude in 3-4 weeks. Given that 80% of mild to moderate cases recover by symptomatic treatment, why did the company and the regulator not wait for the trial to conclude? 
 
Who was more desperate—Glenmark or the Indian regulator? Especially because a government-funded Favipiravir study is also underway. 
 
The larger issue here goes beyond this particular drug. It concerns all repurposed drugs. If a quick, small study is done to get early data and push the drug in the market, will the same company or medical group come back at the end of the infection peak to do a larger study? COVID-19 is expected to be active permanently, and several seasons of disease peaks are likely before herd immunity is established.
“The key issue with any of these potential treatments is to balance the oppositional needs of making treatment decisions for individual patients during epidemic peaks on the basis of clinical studies that involve small numbers of patients with ensuring that well-designed, randomized clinical trials are carried out rapidly to provide proof that they are safe and efficacious. 
 
The difficulty is to coordinate rapid hypothesis-generating studies during this first peak to justify a smaller number of well-controlled large trials to be executed in later peaks to provide the data needed for approval of drugs for COVID-19. Researchers, ethics boards, and regulators are accustomed to developing trial plans over months, not weeks—a time frame that is not afforded during this emergent situation. It is necessary for all involved to work faster and more efficiently and then position the well-justified drugs for registration-enabling trials during the next peak.” Rapid repurposing of drugs for Covid-19, Science
What may seem efficacious in 150 people, may not be efficacious in a large group of 500 or 5,000. (Remember the early days of coronavirus testing? The Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology were only approving kits with 100% sensitivity and 100% specificity. That was because those kits were tested over a few samples; once scaled to a sample size of thousands, both sensitivity and specificity declined. Which is why no mature regulator sets the benchmark as 100% for approving a diagnostic kit. Sample size matters. A lot.) 
 
India rushed to prescribe hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) as a prophylaxis, only to roll it back. Have we not learnt our lessons?  
 
“No, we haven’t learnt the lessons from HCQ,” says Dr Pramesh.
Cyberattacks already the first line of attack
Shreedhar   “World War III will be waged online,” goes the feeling. It may not count as a world war, but cyberattacks seem to be mushrooming.   In India, the Computer Emergency Response Team, an office within the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, released an advisory warning against impending large-scale phishing attacks.
Malicious actors are planning a large-scale phishing attack campaign against Indian individuals and businesses (small, medium, and large enterprises).   The phishing campaign is expected to use malicious emails under the pretext of local authorities in charge of dispensing government-funded Covid-19 support initiatives. Such emails are designed to drive recipients towards fake websites where they are deceived into downloading malicious files or entering personal and financial information.   The phishing campaign is expected to be designed to impersonate government agencies, departments, and trade associations who have been tasked to oversee the disbursement of the government fiscal aid. The malicious actors are claiming to have 2 million individual / citizen email IDs and are planning to send emails with the subject: free COVID-19 testing for all residents of Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and Ahmedabad, inciting them to provide personal information. COVID 19-related Phishing Attack Campaign by Malicious Actors, CERT-in
India isn’t alone here. Last week, the Australian prime minister said the country has been under a cyber attack by a “malicious” and “sophisticated” state-based actor. He did not say more, but China has been the natural suspect.
Relations between Beijing and Canberra have cratered in recent months. Australia led the call for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, and was damning in its criticism of China’s initial handling of the outbreak. Beijing then imposed tariffs against Australian beef and barley, and Chinese officials have threatened a consumer boycott if relations continue to worsen.   China has long been accused by foreign powers of orchestrating large-scale cyber attacks against other governments. Most recently, Washington in May warned that China was likely behind efforts to steal coronavirus vaccine research from US research institutions and pharmaceutical companies. Australia says it has been targeted by a ‘sophisticated’ state-based cyber attack, CNN
While the Indian government hasn’t said who they think is targeting India, two things are happening. One, India’s northern border with China has been tense—20 Indian soldiers have been reported killed in a clash with Chinese troops. Two, Indians are clamouring for a war on the economic front with China.   We know who cyberattack buck is most likely to be passed on to… 
Indonesia’s personal data protection time bomb
Nadine   Data privacy isn’t a mainstream topic in Indonesia. But recently, several high profile data breaches and the fact that digital services are taking up more and more space in our lives, is forcing the debate to the forefront.   On Detik.com, one of Indonesia’s busiest news sites, a 1,200-word opinion piece by Teguh Arifiyadi and Satriyo Wibowo, two cyber law experts, lays out why Indonesia’s non-existent personal data protection regulation is a ticking time bomb in the time of Covid.   Using digital services is no longer an option, it became a quasi-necessity to get basic needs met during lockdowns. Citizens are handing over private details like address, bank account, ID numbers, phone numbers, and emails to private companies and government agencies—without a lot of protection.    Even companies as big as Indonesia’s largest e-commerce marketplace Tokopedia aren’t immune to cyberattacks. A large data breach occurred just a few weeks ago. The problem with existing laws is that they don’t come with clear sanctions. So that in the case of the Tokopedia breach, the matter was settled with just an apology. As customers, they felt let down, the authors of the article wrote.   Indonesia has had a data privacy regulation in the works since 2014, but the fast-paced development of the sector meant it’s gone through several iterations and delays. Why, Arifiyadi and Wibowo ask?
“Maybe because from the perspective of investment and business, personal data protection isn’t sexy. It contains only obligations and sanctions, extra costs and legal risk without direct benefit.” Without personal data protection, new normal is a time bomb, Detik (link in Indonesian)
Contentious skin products finally face shade   Jon   We live in a world that’s truly connected. One in which America’s Black Lives Matter protests ushered in a new era for Asia’s most controversial beauty trend: skin lightening.   Skin lightening—also known by its more-PR friendly term ‘skin brightening’—is a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. Still, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson announced plans to stop producing skin lightening products in response to complaints that they imply white skin is more desirable and representative of fairness.
Source: Jon Russell
“This was never our intention—healthy skin is beautiful skin,” the company said in a statement. Products already on shelves won’t be pulled, but it will no longer produce the products or sell them worldwide, Johnson & Johnson said.

Evidence suggests that it’s high time corporations like Johnson & Johnson took action on an industry that is dogged by health warnings.
The Local Government Association in the UK has described skin lightening products as “the biological equivalent of paint stripper” due to the presence of chemicals such as hydroquinone, steroids or mercury. Products containing mercury, for example, are banned in the UK, US and other countries, but they are still sold in Asia and Africa despite efforts from the UN and WHO to raise awareness. In a tacit admission of the dangers, India implemented a ban on skin lightening product ads. The products themselves remain legal though—the Indian market for them is estimated at $500 million annually. 
These concerns aren’t a revelation by any stretch of the imagination but it has taken Black Lives Matter for Johnson & Johnson to react. The social movement is putting other products from Asia under the microscope, too.
Colgate-Palmolive, for one, is reviewing its ‘Darlie’ brand, which includes top-selling’ toothpaste products. Marketed in China and Southeast Asia, the toothpaste is fronted by “a racially ambiguous man in a top hat.” Its Chinese brand name translates to “Black people toothpaste,” NBC News reports
“We are currently working with our partner to review and further evolve all aspects of the brand, including the brand name,” said a Colgate-Palmolive spokesperson.
Build a better particletrap, and the world will beat a path to your door
Rohin   Given the sheer demand for face masks globally, one would assume that many companies have managed to differentiate themselves by building a better…particletrap. Instead, barring niche products, face masks have stubbornly remained a commodity, even as their prices rocketed up.
Japan’s Uniqlo begs to disagree.
The much anticipated Friday release of Uniqlo’s AIRism face masks met with massive demand online and off, as would-be customers overwhelmed servers and stood in long lines as rain poured down outside of stores, prompting a flood of social media photos.
“There is currently a problem with the connection to our online store due to a large number of accesses from customers,” Uniqlo says on its website. “We apologize for any inconvenience. Please wait a while and try to access the website later.”
The servers remained down past midday. Uniqlo says it is working hard to restore the site.
At Uniqlo’s physical stores, customers were pictured standing in lines while hoisting umbrellas and waiting for stores to open. One photo showed dozens of customers in several lines inside a shopping mall. Uniqlo flooded with customers for its ‘cool and dry’ masks, Nikkei Asian Review​
Here’s a picture of customers queuing up to buy Uniqlo masks.
It’s interesting though that the simple and unassuming Uniqlo (which despises being called a “fast-fashion” brand) and not rival Zara seems to have created a desirable face mask. Could it be because one of Uniqlo’s philosophies is to make timeless “essentials”?
The masks are made of the same material used for the brand’s AIRism underwear. The material is marketed as being cool and fast drying. The masks are made of three layers, one of which is a filter to block bacteria and pollen. Another layer blocks ultraviolet rays.
With summer’s first big hit product on its hands, Fast Retailing is again hoping to demonstrate its ability to design products customers feel they need. Uniqlo flooded with customers for its ‘cool and dry’ masks, Nikkei Asian Review​
Penny-foolish, UPI-wise
Savio   First, the US cash registers couldn’t stop ringing as Americans hoarded toilet paper, water and other essentials. Now, the problem is the cash register is running out… of nickels, dimes, quarters, and even pennies. First, the US Mint cut back production, like all businesses, and then ran into distribution problems, again like all businesses. It’s not only that, NPR reports.
During the lockdown, many automatic coin-sorting machines that people typically use to cash in loose change were off-limits. And with many businesses closed, unused coins piled up in darkened cash drawers, in pants pockets and on nightstands, even as banks went begging. The Latest Pandemic Shortage: Coins Are The New Toilet Paper, NPR
But it’s just loose change, right? Wrong.
The congressman warned that if businesses are unable to make exact change, they’ll be forced to round up or round down, “in a time when pennies are the difference between profitability and loss.” The Latest Pandemic Shortage: Coins Are The New Toilet Paper, NPR
Can. You. Imagine. The. Volume. Of. Unaccounted. Funds? 

Maybe the US Federal Reserve will now seriously consider Google’s recommendation that the Fed replicate India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) digital payments model.

Where does the H-1B ban hurt the most? It’s not an obvious answer

Donald Trump is readying himself to walk the presidential plank later this year. That’s why it makes sense that his administration would announce a ban on issuing any more H-1B, H-2B, and L-1 visas till 31 December, 2020.   Now, such news was bound to shock the Indian IT services sector to the core. Just last year, Indians made up a whopping 71.7% of all immigrants who’d applied for fresh H-1B visas or renewals, according to a report by credit ratings agency ICRA.
(Source: ICRA)
But Indian IT services firms like Infosys, Wipro, and TCS have kept a close watch on the US government’s hardening stance against immigration. And acted accordingly.
According to Kotak Institutional Equities more than half of Infosys, Wipro Ltd and HCL Technologies Ltd’s workforce deployed in the US are hired locally. This reduces the dependence on visas, although it does impact margins. Why Trump’s visa restrictions will have limited impact on Indian IT companies, Mint
If Indian IT firms saw this shift coming from a mile, the US tech firms that are the biggest employers of H-1B visa holders, hadn’t really prepared for the talent gap this new policy will spawn.    They have summarily slammed the US government’s decision. There’s going to be a disproportionate talent fallout at Google, Facebook, and Amazon.   The shoe, as they say, is on the other foot.
Sheela Murthy, founder, Murthy Law firm, an immigration firm in the US, said…that this shift would only hurt the US economy as not only Indian firms but also top US tech companies will look at countries like India to set up offshore centres.
The scenario is not too far off going by the recent H-1B approval rates. The top five US tech companies’ dependency on H-1B had increased 43 percent, whereas India’s dependency decreased by 50 percent over the last couple of years. H-1B visa ban may not make that big a dent in top IT firms’ revenues, Moneycontrol
The best illustration of just how much the US might lose out through its hardened immigration policies is this image
The US bar graph tells a story of a nation built on the back of progressive immigration policies. A reversal in policy may end up hurting the US more than it does countries like India, which can now count on more offshoring of talent.
Newspaper PDFs, platforms and intermediary liability
Rohin
We’ve written about newspapers in India getting PDF-ed before. When physical delivery got severely curtailed due to lockdowns, many publishers tied up with any consumer platform with reach (like payments platform Paytm or apartment community app MyGate) to give away their entire newspapers as free PDFs. Just to ensure readers didn’t lose their newspaper reading habit.
“Habits eat piracy for breakfast,” we’d written. Sadly, the PDF solution could turn out to be a problem.
Inc42 looked into a court case filed last month by Dainik Jagran, India’s most read newspaper with over 20 million readers per issue, against messaging service Telegram over the distribution of its newspapers as PDFs.
The lawsuit said 10 Telegram channels publicly broadcast the PDF to its members. In Telegram, there’s no limit on the number of members in a channel and new members can see the entire message history for any channel on joining. 
The Telegram channels identified by Dainik Jagran were said to be uploading PDF format of the publication’s Hindi newspaper on a daily basis. This allowed channel subscribers to have free access to the newspaper’s content current and past editions, which are otherwise only available to paid subscribers. According to Jagran, “(It) caused serious financial loss to the publication and also violated the trademark rights as well as copyrights in the e-newspaper.” Dainik Jagran Vs Telegram Revives Platform Liability Debate Over Newspaper PDFs, Inc42
While the channels in question have since been deleted, the focus has since shifted to Telegram instead, especially because it appears it chose not to respond to Dainik Jagran’s complaints.
The high court, on May 29, asked Telegram to disclose the identity of these Telegram channel owners and also take down the channels contributing to the alleged copyright infringement. 
Dainik Jagran argued that Telegram cannot escape liability of these channels under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act because an intermediary is required to conduct due diligence on being informed about the misuse and pull down the channels within 36 hours. But in this case, Telegram did not respond to the four notices and reminders sent by Dainik Jagran, the company alleged. Dainik Jagran Vs Telegram Revives Platform Liability Debate Over Newspaper PDFs, Inc42
Internet platforms are typically absolved of liability thanks to “safe harbour” laws, which treat them as mere intermediaries. These also include telecom firms, like Reliance Jio, which last week told an Indian court that it was not liable for any “unlawful activity” committed by its users. “Under Section 79 of the IT Act, intermediaries are exempt from liability under the Act in respect of any third-party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted by them,” Jio told the court as its response to a case filed by Paytm.
But just last year, the same Jio had submitted a detailed filing arguing against blanket safe harbour to intermediaries. Jio argued for a severely more restrictive treatment of intermediaries, including making them more liable for the actions of their users. Scroll to page 471 in this PDF to read Jio’s submissions.
What changed Jio’s mind from last year to this?
Go east, past China, to Japan
Rohin
The two biggest pools of venture and corporate capital in the world are the US and China. But with Chinese capital becoming unwelcome in light of India’s border conflict with China (which left 20 Indian soldiers, and an unspecified number of Chinese, dead), Japanese capital and investors are being viewed in a new light.
The Nikkei Asian Review talks about early attempts by Indian startups and industry associations to court Japan.
The effect of anti-China sentiment is already being felt across the industry. Indian startups have raised $17.9 billion this year, according to figures compiled up to June 15 by Indian research firm Tracxn. But that figure included $13.7 billion raised by Reliance Jio Platforms, the telecoms business of billionaire Mukesh Ambani. Factoring out that megadeal, the remaining $4.2 billion puts the pace of fundraising far behind last year’s $15.1 billion.
Most of the investment in Reliance Jio Platforms came from U.S. investors, such as Facebook and private equity companies KKR and Silver Lake. But Japan is also emerging as another key player, especially for young startups, as a growing number of companies look outside their home market for innovation. Indian startups court Japan to fill funding gap and skirt China, Nikkei Asian Review
There’s just one issue. Some of the biggest bets made by Japanese investors in India have gone down the drain.
Japanese companies have a rocky history of investing in India. Two major deals more than a decade ago — Daiichi Sankyo’s 500 billion yen (around $5.1 billion at the time) acquisition of pharmaceutical company Ranbaxy Laboratories in 2008 and NTT Docomo’s 250 billion yen investment in a telecoms business of Tata in 2009 — led to bitter legal disputes and are widely regarded as cautionary tales. Indian startups court Japan to fill funding gap and skirt China, Nikkei Asian Review
When life gives you Covid, make rubber gloves   Jon   The first major IPO in post-pandemic Thailand has a distinctly Covid-19 flavour. Rubber glove maker Sri Trang Gloves Thailand is set to raise 14.9 billion baht ( US$480.34 million). Thailand is the world’s biggest maker of rubber, and that has enabled this listing, which will go towards paying off debt.
The rubber glove maker, a subsidiary of the country’s biggest natural rubber producer Sri Trang Agro Industry Pcl , booked revenue of 3.79 billion baht in the three months ending in March, up 25% from 2.98 billion baht a year ago, according to the filing. The increase was driven by rubber glove sales of 6.2 billion pieces, up 28.7% from the same period a year ago, and new production lines and factories in southern Thailand. The company said sales had increased partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gross profit nearly doubled in the first quarter this year, jumping 79.7% to 706.6 million baht, also helped by lower oil prices. Thai rubber glove maker Sri Trang plans IPO to raise $480 mln, Reuters
Green is good for billionaires   Seetharaman   Indian billionaire Gautam Adani’s eponymous conglomerate got a new flagship company on Tuesday, going by market value.    Adani Green Energy edged past Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone to become the Adani Group’s most valuable company. It closed the day with a market capitalisation of Rs 72,500 crore (US$9.6 billion), compared with Adani Ports’ Rs 72,300 crore (US$9.58 billion). It even broke into the top 40 among listed companies. All unthinkable even a few weeks ago.    The company’s shares have been on a tear lately, nearly doubling over the past month, helped by  a Rs 3,700 crore (US$490 million) investment from French energy company Total SA in a solar project. An 8 GW solar power tender Adani Green Energy bagged recently took its total portfolio to 15 GW, making it India’s largest clean energy company.   While these developments have certainly enthused investors, their optimism also has to do with the general outlook for renewable energy companies in India and around the world. The shift from coal-fired power to solar and wind energy has been accelerated by the pandemic.
In a report, the IEA (International Energy Agency) said the most severe plunge in energy demand since the second world war would trigger multi-decade lows for the world’s consumption of oil, gas and coal while renewable energy continued to grow.
The steady rise of renewable energy combined with the collapse in demand for fossil fuels means clean electricity will play its largest ever role in the global energy system this year, and help erase a decade’s growth of global carbon emissions. Covid-19 crisis will wipe out demand for fossil fuels…, The Guardian
Countries like India make it mandatory for utilities to absorb whatever clean power is produced and reduce a proportionate intake of conventional power. As a result, the contribution of clean power to total electricity generation has seen the steepest climb in India during the lockdown. 
Source: Nelson Mojarro/IEA, World Economic Forum
So, it’s not surprising that Adani Green Energy’s dream run comes at a time when the group’s thermal power company, Adani Power, is trading at half its 52-week high, making it cheap enough for Gautam Adani to take it private.
India’s China detox is India’s China tax
Rohin
India wants to get rid of anything Chinese from its economy these days, after a bloody border fight that left 20 of its soldiers dead. One sector discussed most commonly is consumer electronics, which is dominated by Chinese brands that sold products worth nearly US$20 billion last year.
In the smartphone space, the share of Indian companies is a ridiculous 1%.
An editorial in the Economic Times floated an even more ridiculous solution—the setting up of massive government-owned electronics companies.
Widely-regarded economist Rathin Roy was asked about the matter of India’s China boycott in an interview by Arup Roychoudhury of the Business Standard. Here’s Roy’s response, with the emphasis mine.
Q. The Prime Minister has called for ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’, and the recent tensions have led to calls to boycott Chinese goods. Can we actually do that?
A. We are not buying Chinese goods today out of any love for China. Why are even our sewing needles manufactured in China? We are not able to manufacture even low-end products as cheaply as China is. And therefore it is a rational economic decision to buy something from somewhere when it is sold as cheaply as possible.
If you choose not to do that, then your economy becomes more expensive and then your growth falls, and you lose. You have two options. Either you accept that you are going to become a more expensive country, or you put in place a plan to produce the things you take from China, more cheaply in India. India has been in a situation where we can produce high-end products for our consumers, but when it comes to mass market items, we are uncompetitive, compared to other countries, not just China.
We have to grow up and do much more than just, in a fit of childish pique, say that we are boycotting Chinese products. We will have to put the hard work in to make things here that people of India want to consume and reduce our dependence on the rest of the world. We have to recognize that you cannot compete with China when so much of your GDP comes from low-end services. Our imports are driven by pure economics, not love for China: Rathin Roy, Business Standard
Will India choose to become a more expensive country, or put in place plans to become as competitive and cheap as China? 
India’s Commerce and Industry Minister, Piyush Goyal, gave a hint.
The dragon ate my gear
Savio   Continuing with the anti-“Made in China” sentiment, let’s see how it affects the sports industry, which is reeling perhaps more than most given there is no concrete timeline for live events to resume. For any sport. When they ultimately do, they might have another concern, perfectly summarised by this chart in the The Indian Express.
So, “Make in India”.
But India’s reliance on China goes deeper than importing finished products, say officials and players. Domestic manufacturers, who mainly export hockey sticks and balls, cricket bats and balls, boxing equipment and chess boards, among other items, “depend a lot” on raw material from China.   Vikas Gupta of Soccer International, a Jalandhar-based export house that manufactures the Vector brand of footballs, volleyballs, basketballs and rugby balls, says they import polyurethane and ethylene-vinyl acetate foam from China for their products.   “The raw material quality in India is not good and we cannot reach the desired standard to export our products to major markets in Europe and USA as well in India. Chinese manufacturers provide us with high-quality raw material at a very competitive price,” he says. China boycott call rattles sports market: ‘Can’t suddenly do it’, The Indian Express

The gloom in India’s falling jobless rate

As the world’s longest and strictest lockdown is gradually relaxed, India’s job numbers have begun to improve. Its unemployment rate for the week ended 21 June was 8.5%—similar to pre-lockdown levels—according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). This is a welcome fall from the peak of 27.1% in early May.    If the significant improvement in the jobs data runs counter to what you are hearing from your friends and colleagues, you are not mistaken.    The jobs which are being added are in the informal sector, says Mahesh Vyas, CEO of CMIE, in an interview with IndiaSpend
In April—the first full month of lockdown—the loss of jobs was 122 million. In May, 20 million of those jobs came back. If you see which jobs came back, it is predominantly street hawkers and daily wage labourers. Of 22 million jobs, 14.4 million jobs were of this category. The remaining that came back were largely in the small businesses—basically small shops, very small businesses [that] have opened up again as the lockdown was relaxed in May.
On the other hand, 100,000 additional salaried jobs were lost in May, according to Vyas. There are no signs yet that companies will start hiring again soon.    Even in villages, where the unemployment rate is lower than in urban areas, the revival has been led by the government. There were 565 million person-days of jobs created under India’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in May, over 50% higher than in the same month of 2019. (Person-days are the number of people working multiplied by the number of days worked.)
Source: CMIE
The state of Rajasthan has asked for the limit on the number of days a household is eligible for work under the scheme to be doubled to 200 days. But, as this article points out, the average duration of employment provided in 14 states in 2019-20 was just 50 days.    A good monsoon forecast and increased sowing for the current crop season notwithstanding, MGNREGA will be the key mode of job creation in rural India. But the government does not have a magic pill for the unemployed in the salaried class. 
India’s diesel price-hike flow chart   Savio   Fuel prices in India have been rivalling the jump in Covid-19 cases in the past couple of weeks. The price of diesel rose for the 18th day in a row on Wednesday, but petrol price remained unchanged. This means that for the first time EVER, diesel costs more than petrol in the national capital.    Diesel costs Rs 79.88 (US$1.06) per litre now, while petrol is at Rs 79.76 (US$1.05). The difference (petrol > diesel) was as much as Rs 30 (US$0.40) in 2011.   That major differential, historically, was a key reason diesel cars gained popularity in India. But since India shifted to a daily price revision system for fuel in 2017, the price gap has been narrowing and diesel cars are losing their popularity. So much so that market leader Maruti Suzuki India Ltd is exiting the segment. In fact, the share of diesel vehicles among India’s passenger vehicles may fall to a decade low of 18.5% in 2020, from a record 47% in 2013, according to market research firm IHS Markit.   But that’s old news. The bigger story now is in the heavy-vehicle industry, where trucks, buses, tractors, construction equipment are all diesel-powered due to a lower per-litre cost. But the string of price hikes have put paid to that.
All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), a body which represents 95 lakh truckers and entities in India recently stated that 65% of all trucks are parked currently due to the high fuel costs. The operations are increasingly becoming unviable as about 60 per cent of the transport operating cost is of diesel and about 20 per cent constitute toll,” AIMTC President Kultaran Singh Atwal told PTI. “Already, the demand is low and the idling of the vehicles is at about 65 per cent. More and more small operators are going bust and vehicles are coming to a halt.” Have diesel cars become ‘white elephants’ in current times of fuel price hikes?, Hindustan Times​
Lockdown or not, it’s the trucking industry that has been crucial to keeping the supply chain running, however curtailed, while passenger cars remain in garages. And as India gingerly starts exiting the lockdown, the resumption of construction activity and other industries will gradually drive fleet utilisation. But will the rising diesel price hikes let it? Or will the higher costs flow down the line to the consumer?   And if it does, can she afford it? We may have an answer.
India’s bottom trawling of China nets great white sharks and killer whales   Rohin   Bottom trawling—the industrial fishing practice of dragging massive, weighted nets across the ocean floor, scooping up every living thing in its path—is one of the most environmentally destructive forms of fishing. Because it indiscriminately catches every fish, mollusc, crustacean or even coral in its path. Bottom trawling destroys ocean ecosystems.   Often, 90% of a catch is thrown back into the ocean as “bycatch”. The bycatch could include even large fauna like dolphins, sharks and whales who just happened to get caught.   Something similar is happening in India’s tech and e-commerce ecosystem because of the country’s increasingly larger nets designed to catch Chinese investments.    Great white sharks, like Zomato—India’s leading restaurant and food delivery unicorn—are getting caught. 
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Zomato has been in talks to raise about $500 million since late last year. It has also got interest from both new and existing investors for the fresh round, emphasised Info Edge in an analyst call on Tuesday, as losses have come down. “The balance amount is yet to come,” said Sanjeev Bikhchandani, executive vice-chairman at Info Edge, when asked if the remaining $100 million has come in and if it will need government approval. “We are still evaluating, but the company has got inbound investor interest from other investors also who don’t need permission.” New FDI rules may cloud Ant’s investment in Zomato, The Times of India
Killer whales, like Facebook, are checking if they’re ensnared too.
Facebook (FB), ahead of its $5.7-billion investment in Jio Platforms, has sought legal advice pertaining to India’s new foreign direct investment (FDI) policy towards neighbouring countries, particularly China and Hong Kong. While the social media giant is founded and headquartered in the US, being a public-listed company it has investment from several funds based out of China and Hong Kong. Facebook seeks legal advice on $5.7-billion investment in Jio Platforms, Business Standard
While sharks and whales get talked about, the small fish are what make up most of the bycatch that gets dumped back into the ocean, dead. We’ll have to wait and see who are the other casualties in this hunt for Chinese investments.
WhatsApp payments: DoA (Dead on Arrival)   Arundhati   WhatsApp can’t seem to catch a break. After it announced that it is launching payments over the messaging app in Brazil, 10 days ago, Brazil’s Central Bank suspended the payment feature in the country. Brazil is the app’s second-biggest market with more than 120 million users, after India, with over 400 million users.    Watch the words of the central bank for suspending it, because I’d bet my last buck many in India are watching it. WhatsApp’s payments feature has been stalled in India for over two years and hasn’t taken off after its limited rollout. 
The decision aims to “preserve an adequate competitive environment, that ensures the functioning of a payment system that’s interchangeable, fast, secure, transparent, open and cheap,” the monetary authority said in a statement on its website.  Brazil’s Central Bank Suspends WhatsApp Payments, Bloomberg
The words to note in the Indian context here are “competitive” and “interchangeable”. Let’s talk about the competitive part first: With a large user base of 400 million, anything WhatsApp launches is likely to become a runaway success. World over, WhatsApp users spent 15 billion minutes on voice calls a month.   WhatsApp’s might is scary. That’s why even before it launches a feature, the anti-competition arguments are readied.    Even before WhatsApp could launch payments in India, the National Payments Commission of India (NPCI), the body that runs the retail payments system, wanted to put a 33% market share cap on payments apps. There has been no decision on this yet.    As for the interchangeable part, in the Indian context, it would be interoperable. As in, if you have WhatsApp payments, you should be able to transact to someone who does not have payments on WhatsApp. But in India, interoperability is just theory. Every payment app forces both the sender and receiver to transact using the same app if you want a frictionless experience. So far, NPCI has not given payments apps like Google Pay, Walmart-owned PhonePe or Paytm a hard time for this.    If WhatsApp did the same in India, and going by Brazil’s precedence, the ball could very well end up in regulator Competition Commission’s court. 
China and the changing Covid clock
Durga   Scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology in Gujarat—IIT Gandhinagar—have been busy. They’ve tested wastewater to find genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus—colloquially known as Covid in its disease form. The scientists claim that “increased ‘gene copies’ of the virus in Ahmedabad’s wastewater matched the incidence of the disease in the city”.   India isn’t alone in this sewage fixation. The US, Finland, Germany, Scotland and the Netherlands are all sifting through their waste-water.   Italy, though, found something curious. According to a study performed by the country’s ISS National Health Institute, Covid-19 was swimming in Milan and Turin’s sewage as early as December.   That’s two whole months before the first case was detected in Italy.
“Traces of SARS-Cov-2 have been found in samples of waste water taken in Milan and Turin on Dec. 18 and in Bologna on Jan. 29,” said Giuseppina La Rosa, who led the research for a coming study from the country’s ISS National Health Institute. “More traces were detected in other test samples through January and February.”
 
The report is part of a regular round of testing on environmental virology that’s been carried out since 2007 by the ISS’s environment and health department. Overall, 40 samples were analyzed from October 2019 to February 2020 with an additional 24 from September 2018 through June 2019 used as controls. Italy had coronavirus in sewage as early as December, study says, The Indian Express
This potentially resets the clock for Covid, putting China in an interesting spot. China, which has been claiming that the Covid strain detected in Beijing came from Europe.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has already questioned the Chinese officials’ claims that the virus was traced to the imported salmon in Xinfadi and purported origins to Europe saying that there is no evidence to back it.
It is not yet clear whether China shared the genome sequence with the WHO which had asked for it.   Ever since US President Donald Trump blamed China for not containing COVID-19 when it first showed up in Wuhan in December last year, the debate over the origin of the virus has intensified. Coronavirus strain in Beijing has EU origins: Chinese virologists, Outlook
The Covid clock has had a few time turns so far. Last month, a patient in Paris being treated for pneumonia turned out to be a Covid case. From December.   Even in the US, the first case was considered to be one in Seattle, caught on 26 February. But autopsies on two people who died on 6 and 17 February showed they succumbed to Covid.   What does any of this mean for China—widely held as responsible for the global spread of Covid? It’s not like traces of the virus in sewage in Italy absolves China of its slow reaction time.   Yet, it could give the international boycott of China a rethink.
Digital nomadism rises in LATAM
Jon   In the world of digital nomads, Latin America is in and Southeast Asia is out.    Warmer climates and low cost of living make Southeast Asia a mecca for remote workers, but the Covid-19 outbreak has prompted a surge in countries like Mexico, Argentina and Brazil according to Nomad List—a community for remote workers that crunched the data on over 110,000 check-ins worldwide.
The site’s top 10 remote work destinations—which include Bangkok, London, Berlin and Bali—have all posted drops in check-ins.   The 2020 data provides an interesting—if incomplete—picture of the situation given the varying state of travel bans and restrictions worldwide. Then there’s the challenging job market right now. Economic reopenings and travel bubbles will likely dictate where the digital nomads flock to next.
Chip labour
Kay   Covid-19 has rendered human touch undesirable until a vaccine is found. In the meantime, Country Garden, one of China’s largest property developers has built the world’s first robot restaurant complex in the country’s Guangdong province.    Robots being used by restaurants to serve customers was a novelty, but in the face of a global pandemic and rising wages, a push to robotics seems rather inevitable. 
Chinese restaurants started to replace their workers with robots as early as 2006. Though some have proven pretty incompetent, they’re still cheaper than human wait staff — the approximate $1,200 up-front cost per robot is just a couple months’ salary for an average server in China (though robot prices vary). Restaurants in China are replacing waiters with robots, Business Insider
Source: Country Garden
Country Garden claimed the robot chefs will be able to serve a meal in 20 seconds—is there any human chef out there that could compete with that? Let’s hope that by the time robots become the norm, new jobs would’ve emerged for human chefs and wait staff. Perhaps they would be supervisors to these robots?