INDIAN EXPRESS EDITORIALS AND EXPLAINED 3RD OF JANUARY 2020

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ISSUE: REVENUE GAP

A slowing economy has taken a grave toll on government finances. At the aggregate level, the Centre’s gross tax revenues have grown by a mere 0.81 per cent in the first eight months (April to November) of the current financial year.

In comparison, the budget had pegged revenue growth at 18.3 per cent this year. With revenues falling well short of expectations, the Centre may have to cut back on spending in order to meet the fiscal deficit target.

Considering that higher government spending has propped up the economy so far, any cuts in spending will aggravate the slowdown. Lower capital spending will also have implications for the plans for the infrastructure pipeline unveiled by the finance minister recently.

A closer look at government finances suggests stress on both tax and non-tax revenues.

On the direct tax side, though the full impact of the reduction in the corporate tax rate on revenues is not immediately clear, corporate tax collections have contracted by 0.91 per cent over the same period, as against a target of 15.4 per cent. Personal income tax collections have fared marginally better.

On the indirect tax side, if Integrated GST collections in December are equally split, then Central GST collections at the end of December would stand at Rs 3.72 lakh crore, compared to the full year target of Rs 5.26 lakh crore. This implies that CGST collections, including IGST, will need to average Rs 51,207 crore per month in the current quarter to meet the target, as opposed to the current average monthly collection of Rs 41,375 crore.

Then there is also concern over meeting this year’s disinvestment target. As against a target of Rs 1.05 lakh crore, collections so far have been only Rs 17,364 crore.

It was hoped that the sale of BPCL would help meet the target but it is unlikely to materialise soon. In such a situation, it is difficult to see how the Centre can meet its revenue targets this year.

But, it’s not just the Centre. State governments are also facing difficulties with revenue growth slowing down sharply. And as, put together, spending by states far outstrips that by the Centre, cutbacks in state spending will have serious implications. Though it is possible that both the Centre and the states deviate from the fiscal road-map, borrow more to finance their spending, higher borrowing could push up bond yields, negating the impact of monetary easing.

CONCLUSION

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s maiden budget was criticised for not presenting an accurate picture of government finances. The upcoming budget is an opportune moment for the government to come clean, present an accurate picture. This could then form the basis for drafting a new, realistic fiscal road-map.

ISSUE: LORD CURZON

Lord Curzon, India’s Viceroy between 1899 and 1905, was one of the most controversial and consequential holders of that post. The partition of the undivided Bengal Presidency in 1905 was one of Curzon’s most criticised moves, which triggered widespread opposition not only in Bengal but across India, and gave impetus to the freedom movement.

Who was Lord Curzon?

Born in 1859 into British nobility, Curzon was educated at the elite Eton College school and attended Oxford.

In 1891, he became Under-Secretary of State for India (the deputy minister in the British cabinet responsible for India).

He became the youngest Viceroy of India in 1899 at age 39, and remained in office until his resignation in 1905.

Curzon was deeply racist, and convinced of Britain’s “civilising mission” in India. In 1901, he described Indians as having “extraordinary inferiority in character, honesty and capacity”. He said, “It is often said why not make some prominent native a member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council? The answer is that in the whole continent there is not an Indian fit for the post.”

What was Curzon’s role in the partition of Bengal?

In July 1905, Curzon announced the partition of the undivided Bengal Presidency. The Presidency was the most populous province in India, with around 8 crore people, and comprised the present-day states of West Bengal, Bihar, parts of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Assam, as well as today’s Bangladesh.

A new province of East Bengal and Assam was announced, with a population of 3.1 crore, and a Muslim-Hindu ratio of 3:2. Bengal, the western province, was overwhelmingly Hindu. While the move was ostensibly aimed at making the administration of the large region easier, Curzon’s real intentions were far less benign.

What happened after the partition was announced?

The partition provoked great resentment and hostility in Bengal. It was clear to the Bengal Congress and patriotic Indians in both Bengal and elsewhere that Curzon’s motive was to crush the increasingly loud political voices of the literate class in the province, and to provoke religious strife and opposition against them. But the protests against the partition did not remain confined to this class alone.

A campaign to boycott British goods, especially textiles, and promote swadeshi began. There were marches and demonstrations with the protesters singing Bande Mataram to underline their patriotism and challenge the colonialists. Samitis emerged throughout Bengal, with several thousand volunteers.

Rabindranath Tagore led the marches at many places, and composed many patriotic songs, most famously ‘Amar Sonar Bangla’ (My Golden Bengal), which is now the national anthem of Bangladesh. The message of patriotism and Bengali nationalism was showcased in Jatras, or popular theatre.

What impact did the protests have?

Curzon left for Britain in 1905, but the agitation continued for many years. Partition was finally reversed in 1911 by Lord Hardinge in the face of unrelenting opposition.

The Swadeshi movement, which had grown significantly during the agitation, later reached nationwide proportions. The partition of Bengal and the highhanded behaviour of Curzon fired the national movement and the Congress.

ISSUE: PROBLEMS WITH THE DATA PROTECTION BILL

On December 11, 2019, the Personal Data Protection Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha as a landmark legislation meant to safeguard the constitutional guarantees of privacy for Indian citizens and provide a just and equitable vision for the future of India’s digital economy.

However, an incongruent provision in the Bill departs from this expectation — clause 91 enables the central government to direct any of the regulated entities under this Act to provide anonymised personal data or non-personal data to enable “targeted delivery of services” or “evidence-based policy making”.

The implications of such a provision for India’s digital economy must be carefully considered as Parliament reviews the proposed legislation.

Recent research shows that the common methods of anonymisation applied today are imperfect and data released as “anonymous” can be re-identified, particularly with the use of modern machine learning techniques. This renders large anonymised datasets vulnerable to “re-identification attacks”, where data from other sources can be combined to re-identify anonymised data and link it back to individuals.

n the UK, personal location information has been extracted from anonymised datasets of public transit, while in Australia, individual health records have been mined from anonymised medical bills. These examples should caution Parliament from allowing the government to acquire anonymised data without further protections

The proposal to acquire non-personal digital data must also be seen in the context of the Centre’s push towards using “big data” and “artificial intelligence” technologies within governance and planning systems.

The unregulated use of private datasets in governance also has consequences for the people and communities who are being made more visible, or are being invisiblised, through the use of this data.

The regulation of non-personal data must take into account both the potential harms to individual privacy as well as the wider social and political consequences of such “datafication” of government.

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