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.