The much awaited Panchayati Raj elections in Andhra Pradesh are to be delayed further, at least by another five months. Amidst the pandemic, there are some legal tangles that are the polls. The Supreme Court said that it is going to hear in a couple of weeks a batch of pleas, including the one filed by the Andhra Pradesh government, challenging the High Court order which struck down an Ordinance curtailing the tenure of the State Election Commissioner (SEC) from five to three years.
By reducing the tenure, Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar was sacked; however, he was reinstated by the High Court.
On 29 May, the HC had struck down the Ordinance that was issued on 10 April. The HC has quashed the appointment of the retired judge of Madras High court V. Kanagaraj as the state election commissioner. However, the Andhra government refused to restore Kumar as SEC again by saying he is a biased person.
Andhra BJP leader Lanka Dinakar told The Daily Guardian, “The Supreme Court has rejected the argument of the Andhra government. CM Jaganmohan Reddy’s behaviour has exposed his mala fide intentions against the SEC for the last 6 months.”
On the issue, TDP spokesman Pattabhi said, “SC has refused to stay the order of the High Court and this implies Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar to continue as the State Election Commissioner. The government should further facilitate him to take the charge otherwise it tantamount to the contempt of court.”
The panchayat elections in Andhra were supposed to be held in March, But citing Covid-19, SEC Nimmagadda Ramesh has postponed the polls for six weeks. The government afterward removed him by the Ordinance, saying that he did not consult the government before making the decision.
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WE BUILD FOR POSTERITY AND OUR WORK SPEAKS FOR US: SUN ESTATES FOUNDER SURAJ MORAJKAR
Suraj Morajkar, founder of Sun Estates, is on a mission to dominate the high-end luxury real estate market. Keeping Goan lineage in his heart and mind, Suraj is building luxury boutique hotels such as the Hilton Goa Resort and luxury homes for celebrities such as Neha Dhupia, Chunky Pandey, and Yuvraj Singh, among others. In a conversation with NewsX for its special series NewsX India A-List, Suraj spoke about his journey, vision for Sun Estates and more.
Reflecting on his journey so far, he said, “I was at the right place at the right time with the right people. Goa is a fabulous state, which has the influence of Europe and India. If you put that together, there is so much that we get to see here. Our product was developed keeping in mind the ethos of Goa. Having been under the Portuguese rule for 150 years, the state has so much architectural influence. Sun Estates has projects that are based on the surroundings of Goa. For us, it is more important to build homes, which has some kind of local language influence and our ideas of building the properties with the right kind of mindset so Goa adds a lot to the kind of work we do. It has helped us to build our brand from a small village entrepreneur to building boutiques homes, our work speaks for us more than anything else. “
When asked if Suraj has any favourites among his various projects, he responded, “I don’t think there is any particular project as all are special to me. Every site and every project that we have built has a lot of surrounding inputs. There are homes with river views, sea views, paddy fields or at walking distance to the beach. Everything that Goa has, we have been developing. Every project is designed by an international architect, we take our architect to different destinations of interiors of Goa, show the language, how the state has turned out over the years and every project turns out great.”
Suraj further reflected upon how the ethos of Goa is so rooted in all his projects. He said, “Our Company has one agenda: we build for posterity. Each project gets a lot of time to get rolled out as we look at it like a movie. Once you develop a project, it remains for hundreds of years. For us, it is not about the hurry to build something because we love our state. My family is almost 500 years old and we know Goa more than anybody. Our idea is to build something new all the time which remains for posterity and can add to our profile. If people like us or the young entrepreneurs do not contribute to Goa, I don’t think it has a great future so it is crucial for us to keep the ethos of Goa alive so that the state also survives.”
Goan tourism and the real estate sector have been deeply affected by the pandemic. Speaking about its impact on Sun Estates, Suraj expressed, “Fortunately, most of our work is recession-proof as our product has so much depth in creation. We have a constant interest in our work and since being very limited in our inventory we do not make too much of constructed areas. We have survived beautifully in this pandemic and have also understood the interest of people. We have developed our product based on the requests from people over the years from different sectors of society.”
On being asked how has the demand for real estate changed since Goa is the only place where people think they can have a beach holiday home, he replied, “We started our business when there were no flights coming to Goa, except Mumbai and Bengaluru. Over a period of time, we have developed the brand and tried to adapt to changing market trends and demands. We saw what our past developers in Goa did, has not added any value to the state and took that as a lesson. We started making something bigger, more liveable homes. Slowly, people started looking for slightly larger homes, now they are looking at interiors and even larger homes to feel a part of Goa. We have been doing this for 2.5 decades.”
Suraj shared his take on the real estate sector in our country, “There is a different segment that the country is currently developing. There is a section where people who do not have a house, people are building houses for them. Larger homes are being built for those with villas. The current scenario of the country is to ensure a house for everybody and in that segment, it is doing very well. As far as other segments are concerned, which do not have any ethos attached, I don’t think they are having any fortunate buyers so far.”
He spoke about the faith of his clients in Sun Estates, “We are the only developers, which I can proudly say, that have had the highest appreciation from any of our properties. If you look at any of our properties built in the last 25 years, they tell our story. Our biggest ambassadors are our buyers, they are the ones who are selling our own homes and swear by the brand. To convince any buyer, 80% of the work is done by our buyers. If I was not getting any recommendation, I don’t think people from different segments would have bought our homes.”
On a parting note, Suraj shared his vision for the company, “I want to leave a legacy. We as developers, especially our brand, do not have a mindset of accumulating capital. I believe our capital should be invested in architecture and areas where others are not looking to give back. We want to make sure that Sun Estates projects are in every village of Goa and people recognise the brand by the kind of work we have done in the last century. I want to move into areas where there is a character, where there is a history. I want somebody to get inspired and take the idea ahead.”
DEVELOPING THE ECONOMY IN HARMONY WITH ECOLOGY
The pandemic has revealed the limits of our conventional models of growth. As natural ecosystems collapse due to human activity and zoonotic diseases become more frequent, it is time to revisit our approaches and create developmental plans and policies which can anticipate and respond to such shocks in the future.
The health of the planet and of human beings are closely connected. It is a connection that has come under the spotlight during the Covid-19 crisis. The pandemic, in many ways, seems to be a reaction of the planet to human activity. In light of the current discord between ecology and economy, new models of sustainable development are needed to ensure harmony and reduce the risk of diseases of zoonotic origin and their boundless transmission. The Covid pandemic can thus be taken as a wake-up call and a point of transformation for many, with no return to the old ways. However, the “new normal” is yet to be built. This is due to several simultaneous and interdependent factors.
When you push human development into natural ecosystems, the natural balance of species collapses due to various reasons—loss of predators, parasites, scavengers and others—leading to an abundance of species that adapt to human habitats. Rats, bats and some primates are such species which can survive and multiply in human-dominated habitats, and these species put together host 75 percent of all known zoonotic viruses. Over the last 30 years, the world has seen a rise in emerging infectious diseases in humans and, of these, over 70% are zoonotic.
As we go through the coronavirus crisis, there’s a need for radical rethinking of how cities, agricultural lands, transportation and production are organized in order to reduce risks for human health and the overall health of the planet in the future.
After the SARS outbreak in 2003, China had banned wet markets selling wildlife and ocean water animals in one province, but then allowed them soon after SARS passed. That apparently brought us Covid-19 out of Wuhan in 2019. China reportedly still has not shut down wet markets selling wildlife, keeping loops open for another potential jump of a microbe into the human species. Add the factor of globalization to any such escape and you have the perfect ingredients for more global pandemics.
The last 30 years of development in many regions of the world have also been marked by rapid vertical urbanisation. Since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of half of the planet’s flora and plant wealth. Every year, we lose 10 million hectares of forests. Humans consist of 0.01% of all life on the planet, but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals. In light of the current pandemic, two hundred environmental groups have written to the World Health Organization, calling for a ban on wildlife trade. Never has there been a stronger call to stop such trade and markets. Oceans are overfished and choking with plastic waste that absorbs carbon dioxide, which in turn is acidifying the seas and harming the ocean flora and fauna. The ever-decreasing groundwater levels are also a response to rapid urbanization. However, in order to accommodate a population of 10 billion with a growing middle class, we need a radically new path. One that is not just centered around low carbon growth, but more effective sourcing of protein, fresh water and management of earth’s overall resources. This calls for new and stronger institutions for the environment—what has worked in the past 40 years may not be the sort of leadership needed for the next 40 years.
The social and economic shutdown due to the coronavirus has led to growing calls for nearshore production. The pandemic has accelerated de-globalisation. Nearshoring will definitely address the problems of the current hyper-globalised production chain systems. We’ve also seen that with critical Personal Protective Equipment production, new technologies such as 3D printing are making a resurgence in supporting the transition back to domestic production around the world.
In the medical and pharmaceutical industry, ever since the 1970s, cloth gowns and decontaminated and reusable masks were replaced with single use PPEs—plastic surgical gowns, masks and gloves. During the Covid crisis, there have been significant sightings of discarded gloves and other reusable stuff littering public spaces. The sudden increase in plastic waste and composition underlines the crucial need to reinforce plastic reduction policies, scale up innovation for sustainable and green plastics solutions, and develop dynamic and responsive waste management systems immediately. Greater efforts are needed now to prevent a second wave of discarded single-use plastic waste around the world. Moreover, the significant increase in cleaning products around the world in response to the coronavirus will no doubt soon end up in waterways and oceans around the world too. In this regard, the concept of circular economy, which has gained mainstream traction since 2015, and calls for all materials in manufacturing to be reused, recycled or be biodegradable, should find prominence in the new models of growth post-pandemic.
The Covid-19 test that is used to detect coronaviruses, known as a the PCR test (polymerase chain reaction), is a revolutionary technique which is not possible without an enzyme from a thermophilic bacteria, which had been discovered in 1969 in the hot springs of Yellowstone Park, Wyoming. Such tests would not be possible without the evolution of such enzymes in extreme environments. Besides various medicines like quinine and atropine, myriad anesthetics and a slew of drugs that are plant extracts, there are about 40 enzymes discovered that occur naturally and show activity against various coronaviruses. These may hold promise for future treatment modalities for the current pandemic and for diseases that are yet to come. Hence, it is important to understand the wealth of our natural environments which can be of immense use for mankind, before they are lost forever to activities of human growth and development.
We all have seen how lockdowns to contain the Covid crisis led to improved air quality—levels not seen since 1955—with declines in particulate matter and harmful greenhouse gases. This shows that it is possible to rapidly reduce air pollution when the world comes together. The commensurate fall in the price of oil (combined with overproduction by Russia and Saudi Arabia in an already saturated market) has also prompted greater debate on how rapidly the world can transition to more sustainable energy sources before we hit irreversible planetary tipping points.
In conclusion, as we humans have become more numerous and concentrated in cities, as deforestation has brought these generalized species closer to us, and as countries like China, Vietnam and others in Central Africa have tolerated wet markets where these virus-laden species were mixed with domesticated meats, we are seeing more zoonotic diseases spreading from animals to people. These include SARS, MERS, Ebola, the bird flu, swine flu and, of course, Covid-19. But the lesson learnt from all this is that we are messing up nature with the way we live. It may sound crazy but a periodic shutdown of life may be the much needed “new normal” where nature will get a chance to rejuvenate herself. This can be a way of life until we arrive at solutions that ensure the simultaneous well-being of the economy and the ecology.
The writer is a medical doctor (pathologist) and holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of London. The views expressed are personal.
Ahead of Union Budget 2021-22, Akshaya Motors presents riveting session on top budget expectations
Days ahead of the Union Budget, NewsX was recently joined for a riveting discussion on ‘2021 Union Budget: My Expectation’ presented by Akshaya Motors. This show included experts namely DN Prahalad, Former Independent Director, Infosys, & Founder, Surya Software, Dr. MP Shyam Shetty, President, FADA, Karnataka, and K Gururaj Acharya, leading CA in Bengaluru.
Days ahead of the Union Budget, NewsX was recently joined for a riveting discussion on ‘2021 Union Budget: My Expectation’ presented by Akshaya Motors. Considering how 2020 and the pandemic went for all, it’s important that we have a well-balanced budget to give a boost to most of the sectors. This show included experts namely DN Prahalad, Former Independent Director, Infosys, & Founder, Surya Software, Dr. MP Shyam Shetty, President, FADA, Karnataka, and K Gururaj Acharya, leading CA in Bengaluru. They spoke about the various industries and what they expect from the Budget this year and sharing insights on their respective sectors.
Since work from home became the new normal Mr. Prahalad talked about how the industry has done during this time. He said, “It’s a mixed bag out there. The industry can be divided into services and products. In services, those companies who operate above 100crore will do well because first, they were able to get people working from home very fast. 95% of the workforce was working from home effectively, within a month. Therefore, most customers believe they should be bet on. We have a phenomenon called vendor consolidation happening, so IT companies will do well. When it comes to productivity, work from home has thrown the Jekyll and Hyde phenomenon. People who were productive before have increased their hours of productivity whereas people who weren’t productive before, have gone down to zero. Therefore, work from home has had its ups and downs but I expect people to get back to the office soon. I expect 30-40% of the workforce to continue working from home. Lastly, we’ll have profits because we have not been traveling for projects, sales and it amounts to 2% or more of expenses, so we’ll show profits but they will be pseudo profits because the sales are cannibalized of later years. Overall, the industry is resilient and will prosper the moment traveling starts”.
Automobiles was one of the sectors which took a hit by the lockdown for the first two quarters, sharing his insights, Dr. Shyam said, “The automobile industry has bounced back after the pandemic. The problem it is facing today is the problem of supply, not demand. Because of this pandemic, people have come back to the dealerships to buy personal cars due to safety concerns about using public transport. The industry has come back and 2021 will be a good year for the industry. Due to the pent-up demand, since the market was down in March, April, May, and June, July and August were slow. Demand picked up during the festival season but as of now dealers have less inventory and there is a backlog with almost all companies and they have sold out the 2020 stock. The problem is of stock supply to the dealers”.
For taxmen, it’s been an equally tough year as deadlines have been extended on a number of occasions. Mr. Acharya, said, “Timelines were pushed for individuals and companies. The time given was sufficient but those who do not want to pay taxes will ask for more extensions. When govt announced the ‘aatmanirbhar’ scheme they did good and went to the extent of reducing the TDS rates by 25% and leaving that much money in the hands of the payer. There is still a grudge against the government, questioning what has been given. Whatever reduction has been done in TDS will come back in the form of advance tax, if we look at the person who’s suffering real losses, he’s actually left with that much more money which would’ve earlier been paid to the tax department. That way, the reduction of TDS rates by the government is welcomed. Our institute gives a lot of recommendations to the government about what should be added to the budget. This time we haven’t asked for reduction in the rates because the government has already reduced the rates to rock bottom. Pre-pandemic, the government had slashed the corporate rates and made them as low as 15%. Reduction in taxes even for individuals, they are given the option.”
Mr. Prahalad further spoke about how beneficial were the ‘Aatmanirbhar’ packages provided by the government. He said, “If you see it only from the point of view of the IT industry, I don’t think it’s relevant because most IT companies have a positive cash flow or they are well-funded. For MSME’s in general, the credit guarantee scheme for me is fantastic as it didn’t cost anyone anything but helped everyone instead. People got credit guarantee under this scheme, it should be seen whether this guarantee scheme should be given to big companies because the banks can’t lend, so they need to create opportunities”. Referring to the financial fugitives in India, Mr. Prahalad said, “We should not have uncontrolled lending and the crookedness of an individual doesn’t depend on the scheme or the bank. There will always be people who will defraud but they need to be punished. The credit guarantee scheme really worked for people”.
Talking about the automobile industry, the recent tensions with China, and whether the government could’ve done better, Dr. Shetty said, “What the government could do is that a lot of dealers fall under MSME category, under 400 crores and a lot of them are partnership firms. Corporate taxation should be reduced for proprietary companies and partnership firms as that will help the automobile industry because it directly employs almost 2.5 million people and 5 million people indirectly. The second thing to look at is, there is a high rate of taxes on luxury cars, the GST is 28%, which can be reduced to boost demand. Third, 80% of the vehicles sold are two-wheelers, three-wheelers, and light vehicles so, public transport isn’t very good in the country and people are scared after the pandemic. So, reducing taxes on two-wheelers because it’s what the common man wants”.
Coming to taxation and talking about the need of the hour, things that are archaic and can be done away with in order to help taxation at all levels, Mr. Acharya said, “What we have recommended is to reduce the burden on businessmen and focus on the ease of doing business. The industry wants a reduction in paperwork, archaic laws, and various rules and inconsistencies in Acts. The wish list is, first, tax the untaxed, those who work under the radar. Second, reduce the burden. Third, dividend income was taxed last year but if it was a loan, eventually people may have to incur losses. Fourth, set on of losses or carry backward of losses. Certain companies do very well but a lot of them have incurred losses but this year the turnover has reduced drastically to provide support in present times. While work from home has been a boon for many industries, the real estate sector has suffered because this sector needs to be handheld. They have inventory that is unsold, the company holding the inventory ought to pay taxes on the notional rent that has to be collected. I would like to put personal taxes on two levels- the businessman’s personal tax and the salaried man’s personal tax. This country traditionally survives on a salary man’s taxes and I’d ask the government to look into- an increase of standard deduction and give certain relaxations and liberalize some rules”.
The software industry enjoys certain perks, talking about his expectations for the software industry, Mr. Prahalad said, “The tax rate has reduced already. Two things, product companies have a rough time because the first five years are an investment and they need support, I would suggest there be no tax on them because the reduction will give them money to grow, create employment and companies between 10-100 crores”.
Speaking about startups and the schemes for those, Mr. Prahalad said, “Socially, we must understand that failures are okay because our society thinks it’s bad. Second, people have given up in the beginning but they shouldn’t for the first five years. Startups should have zero complaints in the beginning”.
Giving the wish list of the automobile sector, Dr. Shyam said, “We’re thankful that the government has brought in the new depreciation scheme which is valid till March 2021 and should be extended to 2022 so that people can buy more vehicles. Second, individuals should be allowed depreciation in their hands so that they can purchase vehicles. Third, reduction of corporate tax for companies, we request the government to do so for partnership firms and proprietary firms because the auto dealers come under this category. Fourth, auto dealers should be kept out of the annual TCS because every transaction with banks, there’s a payment of 0.1% TCS and this leads to blockage of funds. Lastly, an attractive scrap age policy. This would boost the industry and hopefully the government comes out with such a policy to boost the manufacturing sector in automobiles, lead to the higher collection of GST, boost sales, and have 360-degree benefit”.
Watch the telecast here:
WONDERFUL COINCIDENCE THAT AUSTRALIA DAY IS INDIA’S REPUBLIC DAY: AUSTRALIAN PM
As January 26 marks the celebration of India’s Republic Day and also Australia Day, Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday extended greetings to India on the occasion, calling it a wonderful coincidence.
“What a wonderful coincidence it is of our history that January 26 Australia Day is India’s Republic Day! A national day shared between friends,” Morrison said in a video message on Twitter adding that Canberra and New Delhi share more “than just a national day”. “We pursue the same ideals — the ideals of democracy, freedom, liberty, diversity, enterprise, opportunity (and) building a world on these same ideals. Our history is long and our connections are many. With each year, we become even closer. The global pandemic has not divided us but has made us appreciate these shared ideals even more,” he added.
Calling Indian Prime Minister Modi, a good friend, Morrison said the two prime ministers signed a comprehensive and strategic partnership, which is “a major step forward” for trade and investment, defence and scientific partnerships.“It speaks to our trust in each other. Our common interests and common values. We keep nurturing the people to people ties — the threads that bind us together,” he said.
“One of the things we celebrate on Australia Day is our diversity. Today there are more Australians with Indian ancestry than ever before — great citizens and great neighbours adding another dimension to our shared Australian story,” Morrison added.
The Prime Minister said Australia is looking forward to welcoming “more of our Indian friends, families, students and residents” to the country ‘when we get to the other side of this pandemic’.
TARLOCHAN SINGH: THE MOSAIC OF PR MAN
Feathers in the glorious turban worn by Sardar Tarlochan Singh are many: Publicity chief of Bhakra Nangal Dam, Delhi Asian Games, setting up of Delhi Haat and Hauz Khas tourist complexes, serving as press advisor in Rashtrapati Bhavan, among others.
Publicity chief of Bhakra Nangal Dam, Delhi Asian Games, setting up of Delhi Haat and Hauz Khas tourist complexes, serving as press advisor in Rashtrapati Bhavan in a turbulent period, member of the core team which strategised the media strategy of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in its nascent year, 1998… feathers in the glorious turban worn by Sardar Tarlochan Singh are many. This 87-year-old communicator par excellence along with 99-year-old archaeologist Braj Basi Lal, whose work on Indus Valley, Mahabharat and Ramayan sites are legendary, are some of the highlights of the Padma awards list of 2021. Singh and Lal are among the Padma Bhushan recipients of 2021.
Tarlochan Singh, serving as district public relations officer of Ferozepur in 1957, caught the attention of the then Punjab Chief Minister, Pratap Singh Kairon, who entrusted him the publicity of the niche Bhakra Nangal Project in 1958. After the dam was inaugurated in 1962 he was posted in Punjab Markfed, which is Asia’s largest cooperative marketing organisation. He was sent to erstwhile East Germany to learn about mechanised farming and was entrusted with publicising the introduction of harvesting combines in India. While in Markfed he produced the first Sikh calendar, highlighting Sikh history.
Gyani Zail Singh, the minister for cooperatives in Punjab, who oversaw Markfed, became the CM and Tarlochan Singh moved into the Chief Minister’s office in 1972. He was to remain with Zail Singh as his media advisor till 1988, when Gyani retired as President. 1984-88 was a turbulent period when the President of India had run-ins with the Prime Ministers, on Operation Blue Star and the Postal Surveillance Bill, inter alia. Zail Singh never got negative media, thanks to the skills and rapport of Tarlochan Singh.
Prior to moving to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Tarlochan Singh served as Media Director for the 1982 Asian Games. Post Rashtrapati Bhavan he headed the Delhi Tourism Development Corporation. Delhi Haat, Hauz Khas complex, and new areas like adventure tourism were pioneered by him.
In 1998 when the NDA was formed, Tarlochan Singh, who had overseen Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s publicity during the Lok Sabha election in Lucknow, was in the core team which strategised media outreach. He was appointed vice-chairman and later Chairman of National Commission on Minorities by the Vajpayee regime. In 2004 with the support of Chaudhary Devi Lal and Vajpayee he got elected to the Rajya Sabha as an Independent from Haryana.
Currently, Tarlochan Singh is heading a memorial committee for the martyrs of the Komagata Maru massacre of 1924—migrants from India travelling to Canada by a Japanese ship Komagata Maru, who were denied entry in Canada, were brutally fired upon and killed by police as they returned to Indian shores—a memorial is being built at Budge Budge on the banks of the Hooghly south of Kolkata at the spot where they were massacred. Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri laid the foundation of the memorial, which shall commemorate this event of colonial highhandedness.
In 1998 when the NDA was formed, Tarlochan Singh, who had overseen Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s publicity during the Lok Sabha election in Lucknow, was in the core team which strategised media outreach. He was appointed vice-chairman and later chairman of National Commission on Minorities by the Vajpayee regime.
Future of Homes: Creaticity presents a discussion on consumer behaviour in retail & home industry
NewsX was recently joined by a power-packed panel of India’s biggest business leaders from the Retail & Home industry for a session on consumer behaviour. Six business leaders were part of the panel who reflected upon their learnings from the pandemic and discussed that what lies ahead for the industry in the year 2021.
The panel included Mr Mahesh M, CEO of Creaticity & Session Convenor, Mr Govind Shrikhande, Mentor & Ex-MD at Shoppers Stop, Ms Latika Khosla, Founder & Design Director of Freedom Tree Design, Mr Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO at RAI (Retailers Association of India), Ms Kavitha Krishna Rao, Country Commercial Manager at IKEA India and Mr Ashish Shah, Co-founder & COO at Pepperfry.
Addressing the pandemic, Mr Ashish Shah, Co-founder & COO at Pepperfry said, “Pandemic, of course, was a very different event for all of us. I think what it did to us is that it bought all of us sitting at home, as we spent more time at home, not only our appreciation for and liking for the living things but also, all the non-living things went up significantly. Therefore, in my mind, it did a lot of good to the category and people started thinking about the piece of sofa that should be replaced so that they can watch Netflix at home more properly, suddenly, they realized the need for having a dining table so that the family can have lunch together, etc. So just by the means of observation that people started doing at their home, the category started to benefit significantly.”
Mr Shah further said that early on, when things were opening-up in May-June-July, the way he saw it was that it was the first time in life that they got time to sit back and think about themselves. He added that this event kind of redesigned things for them.
“I think all of us here would have restated our priorities, our value systems for the future and therefore, there are very clearly called out action points that we would want to take in our lives or lead a certain way of life going ahead and I do not see that changing because I would not want to go back to times when I used to be in the office at 9.30 in the morning and leave at 11, 6 days week and working 14 hours a day, etc. I know that all of that can be accomplished through Zoom calls, being at home and also spending time with family. So I think there is a significant change in what we are now defining as our priorities. Therefore, going back to the same regime, way of working, etc, in my mind, won’t happen. So therefore in my mind, this is something which is going to stay. I think it is a very different way of consuming things, not only what we want to consume but how we want to consume and where want to consume has also changed and therefore I don’t see this going back in a short time,” said Mr Shah.
The Country Commercial Manager at IKEA India, Ms Kavitha Krishna Rao joined in the conversation and shared her views on the topic. Ms Kavitha shared two perspectives on the topic, the first one being around the pandemic and the second one was the home category in itself, despite the pandemic. Agreeing to Ashish’s statement on how people have started spending more time at their homes, Kavitha added that clearly the need for furniture and furnishing related to home has increased and it was exactly the trend they saw at IKEA as well. She said that it was not just the work from home space but there were a lot of aligned categories like cooking & eating, storage & organizing, outdoor furniture, etc where they had seen an increase in the interest among consumers. She added that there’s a lot of growth that is coming within the home category.
Putting forth her second perspective, Ms Kavitha said, “We’ve looked at a lot of reports and it talks about typical households spending about 2.5 per cent of their income on products related to home or services related to the home. This is still very low if you compare it with the global averages, which also means that as consumers begin to see how essential furniture and home furnishing is and the fact that it can actually make a difference to their everyday lives, I clearly see that the Indian household is also going to start spending much more money in the home category. So that is also the reason why I feel that this growth and this increase in interest in the category is something that is going to stay for the long term. So if you look at the next 10 years, I definitely expect that this is a category that is going to see immense growth.”
Throwing some light on “massive shifts” in the home lifestyle, Mr Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO at Retailers Association of India (RAI) said, “One of the things that we realized almost at the start of the pandemic was that suddenly everybody is refocusing on where they are. Recently, I had a chance to go out of the house and I went to one of the Shivaji Maharaj forts in Maharashtra and I was wondering if, at that time, a fort was getting created, the kings would make sure that the fort had everything inside to make sure that even if they have got somebody coming and attacking them, just being inside the fort, they can handle everything. This is what individuals felt like when they were sitting inside their houses when this whole pandemic started. Suddenly, 1000-2000-3000 square feet house became the fortresses that they were inside. This meant that every single customer was looking at that place and thinking that it’s not just my house, it’s also the place where I am going to work from, this is also the school for my kids, this is also the place from where I am going to do my gym, many also decided to make their own gardens. So I think lots of new initiatives started and then they also realized that they are talking to various people, so multiple studios were there in the house for them to do various things.”
“When someone from outside came to their house, they also had to make sure to take all kinds of precautions and that created its own protocols. So this is exactly the way people would have felt when they were sitting inside the fort in those days and this has definitely shifted. Also, the thing is that when you are sitting inside a fort and when you have to go out, you start thinking about what do I need to do to make sure that I am safe and how do I come back after accomplishing what I want to accomplish and this is what I am seeing happening to consumers. So if you look at all our retailers, the first good news is that one of the earliest categories to recover was definitely home. The ticket size has also doubled and I think that is because they were sitting in the house browsing as to what they want. The home also became the place where the discovery phase of shopping was happening, so they were thinking about various things from a digital perspective and then they were going to the store and buying whatever they wanted to buy and come back soon enough into their houses,” said Mr Rajagopalan.
Joining in the conversation around consumer behaviour, Ms Latika Khosla, Founder & Design Director of the Freedom Tree Design started her address by saying that the way things have been, there’s been no place to go but home for the last few months. She said, “People would ask earlier, there’s competition. I would not consider other home brands as a competition but your competition as somebody stops and decides to have lunch or they have got some school things to do for their children, so the budget goes into that. If there’s a vacation or there is a family wedding, the interests were distracted. At the moment, we have all been blessed that the interest is entirely on home and the lessons to learn from that have been that there’s been just an over utilisation of home, the capacity over utilisation of home.”
Latika added that she feels that the realization that its time to look after home because there are a lot of people who buy from them particularly at Freedom Tree were busy professionals and they have been blessed with this time to be able to look after their home. She said that she feels that people had realized that it was the space that nurtured them the most for when they really do need to step out.
“The two biggest shifts that really have happened for us was very quick online and offline seamlessness, anybody who came to the store, made a purchase. They were not generally browsy, they risked to come out and they would make a purchase. What surprised me the most was the unusual categories, the bigger category investments. What also surprised us was the purchases of better quality, higher-value products. I guess people are thinking that look I am buying it for myself, finally you really are investing for yourself,” said Ms Latika.
Mr Govind Shrikhande, Mentor & Ex-MD at Shoppers Stop said, “Covid has been one of the worst phenomenons for working women and I think I would like to highlight it because classically a working woman was leaving home to her mates, leaving the kids to school and was then going to work peacefully. Now that she is at home, she has to take care of her own work, she has to take care of her husband, she has to take care of her home as well as the kids, so normally she works 8 hours a day is now 24 hours a day. So I think it has been one of the worst impacts, this was part one. Part two is, yes, WFH will stay on but I still believe that human beings are social animals, we love touch, we love feel, we like to talk to people so we cannot be stuck in a fortress. There’s a great word in Marathi, “Natyabhoomi”, it’s called “Firta Rangmanch”. So in Marathi when you say firta rangmanch, the same drawing hall suddenly becomes a playground, the same playground becomes a kitchen and the same kitchen becomes a school which is what it is.”
Mr Shrikhande further said that certain things that were luxury till yesterday have become a necessity today, some wants that were really wants yesterday have become needs today, for example, now that the maids were not coming, a dishwasher became a permanent part of people’s home.
Reflecting upon the change in consumer behaviour, Mr Govind said that all the additions actually became a need from a luxury earlier and that is the change in consumer behaviour.
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