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France’s RFI public radio apologised on Monday for “mistakenly” publishing obituaries for a number of celebrities still very much alive, including Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and Brazilian football hero Pele.

Citing a “technical problem” that caused the death notices to be released on its website on Monday, the broadcaster said: “We offer our apologies to the people concerned and to you who follow and trust us. We are mobilising to rectify this major bug.”

Others RFI declared dead included Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, former US President Jimmy Carter, Cuban leader Raul Castro, actors Clint Eastwood, Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot—all in their 80s and 90s.

French business mogul Bernard Tapie, 77, whose obituary had been prematurely published by other news outlets at least twice before, was also on the RFI list.

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Dream big is my success mantra: Taxolawgy founder Farooq Haque



Farooq Haque, Founder and CEO of Taxolawgy recently joined NewsX for a chat as part of its special series NewsX India A-List. Farooq not only gave us an insight into his journey from being a CA to a successful entrepreneur but also on how certain businesses can thrive in the new normal.

Speaking about his journey and how it all led to Taxolawgy, he said, “The journey has been a rollercoaster ride. When I was doing my CA, it was quite difficult but that experience taught me a few lessons such as being resilient and to stand up and fight again. These two lessons that I learned as a student helped me throughout my career. In 1998, when I cleared my CA exams, I followed my passion rather than the norms of the industry. I started my own coaching business. Although at that time, it was not called a startup, it was a startup for sure. In two to three years, I became a top coach in Nagpur. Then I faced a dilemma, what to do next? What should you do once you reach the top of the mountain? You can either sit there and enjoy and let the money come in or dream of something bigger.”

“I dreamt of something big and came down that mountain, left Nagpur and went to Mumbai which was a bigger market. This led to another difficult phase in my life. Setting up your business is not that easy so I struggled for almost two years. Then, I moved to Pune and found myself again at the top of the game. Somewhere in 2013 when I was leading a very busy life, taking classes in Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and many other cities, I realised this is not the thing for the future. There has to be something better than this. There has to be a way through which I can reach multiple places at the same time. That’s when I came up with the idea of video classes. In 2013, I left the business of face-to-face classes and started an ed-tech company called Yo EduTech Solutions Pvt Ltd. We were the pioneers of CA online classes in India. That journey started in 2014 and continued till 2019. In 2019, I realised that there are still much better oceans out there. When GST came in, we realised that we need to have a global knowledge base, especially for taxation. So, we started building a knowledge platform where we can share knowledge. During this phase, my colleague Divya Varma came up with the idea of a freelancing portal wherein we can provide opportunities to chartered accountants and lawyers of this country. That’s how Taxolawgy came into existence and she is the Chief Operating Officer of the company as well as Co-Founder, “ added Farooq.

He shared with us the concept of Taxolawgy and his vision for the company, “We built Taxolawgyas a platform where we can collect all the domain experts such as legal experts, financial experts, website developers, digital marketers, cost accountants, and others working in a business environment and give services to businesses on a global scale. We wanted all of them to come on our platform and provide services on a global scale. It is called Taxolawgy as it started as financial domain, tax and law are the main aspects of it but slowly we expanded it on a much bigger scale. Currently, we have over 3000 experts on-board, all experts of different domains from India, Australia, the Philippines, the US and other countries.”

Along with Taxolawgy, Farooq is also the man behind successful online portals like BookMyWizard, and YoWorkPlace. Giving us an insight into these projects, he shared, “We started Taxolawgy in 2017 after GST came in. While working on this portal we realised that there are a lot of other opportunities out there. Artificial Intelligence is coming in a big way and into everything. However, when it comes to sharing real knowledge based on experience and wisdom there is nothing better than human interaction. The way one human can communicate real knowledge, understanding, and lessons to another person are through human communication. Therefore, we built BookMyWizard which is based on human intelligence and the transfer of human knowledge through human connection. We are using technology for that. What we want is that people who are experts in their domain, who are wizards of their domain, should share their knowledge with people out there and we need this on a big scale today. The world is moving so fast that people want to learn fast. They can’t attend a large number of lectures and classes to gain knowledge. If I am stuck somewhere in my venture like coding then I need help instantly. The way to do that is to connect to a domain expert. That’s what we are trying to build with BookMyWizard. The experts, who are wizards and experienced in their fields, can help people through mentoring, training, or consulting.”

When asked about YoWorkPlace, Farooq replied, “When the pandemic struck, everyone was working from home. Even today most people are working from home and big companies have said that they will continue working from home till the end of 2021. During this stage, when people realised the benefits of work from home and a lot of research was done, I had an intuition that the world is going to move permanently. The way people work is going to change in the future and remote working is going to be the thing. With YoWorkPlace, we are building a complete ecosystem around that. We realised that people who are hired for a job in an office are suddenly shifted to work from home so they face a lot of problems as they were not meant to work from home. You need a complete ecosystem to survive.”

On a parting note, when asked if the pandemic has been an opportunity for all his businesses, he answered, “Yes, I think we were at the right place at the right time. Remote working needs a lot of things to come in, including creating job opportunities. What is happening right now is that people are hired to work from the office but they are working from home. The companies who hire these people hired them as they were living in that place. The location was most important but it is going to become redundant in future as talent will rule. We want to make that shift. We should not hire someone based on his or her location but because of their talent. Since people are working from home, they feel lonely at times. To overcome that, we are building a robust community and network which will provide them with several activities and events for skill development. We are also working towards building a robust network of co-working spaces because if you are not able to work from home, you can go to a nearby co-working space, hire it and work from there.”

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The government, in association with teachers, parents and communities, has made wonderful efforts to ensure that students continue learning as smoothly as they can during the Covid-19 pandemic. After all the challenges faced and initiatives taken over the past year, everyone must rest assured that each student is well-equipped to face the upcoming examinations.



A video of the Delhi government’s Director of Education addressing school students in their classroom, telling them to “attempt every question even if it means just copying out the question again”, has raised eyebrows and become a subject of public disdain. Later, on being queried, a senior member of the Education Department clarified that the official’s statement should not be “misinterpreted” and that it is part of an attempt to encourage students in “a very bad year” as lots of them have lost out on their writing practice, and that the official was trying to tell students to “not be disheartened, not worry about the CBSE or anyone else, and just write”.

However, no clarification can justify the statement which was made. It was negative and discouraging for teachers who made Herculean efforts to complete the syllabus and also for the hardworking students who, despite the lockdown, used all available digital tools to study.

The year-long lockdown has been a matter of deep worry for one and all, especially for students, parents, teachers, administrators and law makers. A large number of questions were raised in both the Houses of Parliament during the current session about the impact of the lockdown on education and students. For instance, Ram Nath Thakur, asked a Starred Question (No.117) on 11.2.2021 in the Rajya Sabha to Ramesh Pohkriyal Nishank, Minister for Education, about the closure of schools due to COVID-19 and the action taken by the government to compensate for the loss of study hours. There were also questions in the Lok Sabha by Prathap Simha and Tejasvi Surya (SQ No.81 on 8.2.21) regarding online education. The minister informed the Parliament that education being a concurrent subject, his Ministry had taken a whole range of initiatives in the best spirit of cooperative federalism to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Instructions were issued to the States and UTs from time to time for ensuring continued education with quality and equity.

The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) conducted a survey in July 2020 with the help of Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS), Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (NVS) and the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) to understand the scenario of online learning among school students including girls and the children of migrant workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The NCERT prepared an ‘Alternative Academic Calendar’ and Students’ Learning Enhancement Guidelines. The guidelines suggest models for the following three types of scenarios to ensure that no student is deprived of the reach to education during the pandemic: learning enhancement for students without digital devices, learning enhancement for students with limited accessibility to digital devices, and learning enhancement for students with digital devices.

Further, a multi-pronged approach has been adopted by leveraging technology to reach the students. Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing Digital infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA), Study Webs of Active-learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM), SWAYAM PRABHA (32 TV channels), MANODARPAN for psychosocial support to students, teachers and families for mental health and emotional wellbeing, PRAGYATA (Plan, Review, Arrange, Guide, Yak (Talk), Assign, Track and Appreciate), etc. have been put to good effect. Guidelines on digital education, e-textbooks using e-pathshalas web portal and mobile apps for Android, iOS and Windows are being used by schools, colleges and universities to provide learning facilities. Where internet facility is not available, SWAYAM PRABHA—one class, one TV channel—is being used to impart education. Besides, community radio stations and a podcast called Shiksha Vani by the CBSE are also being used effectively in remote areas where online classes are difficult. The Ministry is also implementing Samagra Shiksha, under which a number of initiatives for the promotion of education are being taken viz., opening of schools in the neighborhood to make access easier.

To a question in the Rajya Sabha (USQ No.1177 on 11.02.2021) by Elamaram Kareem on the reduction in syllabus by the CBSE, the Minister replied that the CBSE has rationalised the syllabi for major subjects of classes IX-XII only for the purpose of summative examinations 2021 as a one-time temporary measure to mitigate the effect of school lockdown. The CBSE has reduced the syllabi by 30% for the purposes of the 2021 Board examinations for classes X and XII. The concept of ‘Fail’ has also been done away with and replaced by ‘Essential Repeat’ with effect from the 2020 Board exams.

To a question by Sanjay Singh (USQ No.1164 on 11.2.2021), the Minister replied that online classes are being conducted at schools by employing various digital tools. Various efforts have been made for the creation of a digital infrastructure which would not only be helpful in the current circumstances but would also be a valuable asset for online learning in the future. The steps taken by all the states are in the report, India Report Digital Education June 2020. Learning programmes were also started in the form of offline learning tools – radio, community radio and CBSE podcasts, toll free numbers, missed call and SMS-based requests for audio content, localised radio content for edutainment, etc. The mediums of TV and radio have been used for students who do not have digital means, besides the learning enhancement and online education guidelines which were issued on 19 August 2020 for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Responding to the question of Derek O’ Brien (USQ 1145 on 11.2.2021) in the Rajya Sabha about displaced migrant workers’ school-going children, the Minister replied that his ministry issued guidelines to all the states and UTs for the identification, smooth admission and continued education of migrant children on 13.07.2020. States have been asked to identify and enrol all children of migrant workers without any procedural hassles and maintain a database of the migrant children admitted. The Minister said that he had a series of meetings with the states/UTs where he reiterated the whole range of measures, outlined above, that have been taken to meet the challenges. Also, during the pandemic period, mid-day meals in the form of food security allowance/dry ration have been provided to students at the elementary level.

A comprehensive initiative, PM e-VIDYA, has been launched for infusing technology with equity. This overarching initiative covers in its ambit DIKSHA, Swayam Prabha, comprising of 32 dedicated channels, of which 12 channels are “one class, one TV channel”, e-content for Open School, extensive use of radio, community radio and podcasts, and e-content for visually and hearing-impaired students. DIKSHA has 1,65,204 pieces of e-content and during the pandemic period between March to October 2020, it had over 5000 million page hits and over 450 million QR scans for the e-content of textbooks. Hundreds of videos on maths and science prepared by the teachers of JNV and KVS have also been uploaded on DIKSHA. There were 70 crore total learning sessions as on 18 October 2020. Under the Vidya Daan scheme, teachers, private bodies and experts contributed 38,206 contents, of which 29,069 have been approved and are available to students. Open Virtual Labs (Olabs) too were tied up with to facilitate practicals for senior students. E-comic books were released to continue learning joyfully and imbibe critical thinking skills. Measures were also instituted to address the issues of cyber safety and prevent cyber bullying.

Under online MOOCs, there were 92 courses and 1.5 crore students enrolled, On Air-Shiksha Vani, DAISY (Digitally Accessible Information System) by NIOS for the differently-abled, e-Pathshala, National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER) to develop e-content and energise books, telecast through TV channels, e-learning portals, webinars, chat groups, distribution of books and other digital initiatives. Besides, states also managed the critical task of providing digital education at the doorsteps of the students. Social media tools like WhatsApp groups, YouTube channels, Google Meet, Skype, e-learning portals, TV, radio, etc., were used to the hilt. A total of Rs 5784.05 crores was allocated under Samagra Shiksha alone to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 during the current fiscal year. An online course for 42 lakh school teachers has been launched too, wherein 16 lakh teachers were trained as on 22 October 2020 and 17 crores courses conducted on the DIKSHA platform.

My conversations with the Education Ministers of states like Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Manipur, Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan and with the senior officials of many states have made it emphatically clear that in areas of poor connectivity, other available means were put to use effectively with the willing cooperation of the community. To everyone’s delight, the attendance percentage was higher than the usual school attendance. This proves beyond any manner of doubt that despite the pandemic, our students and their parents, the teachers, the line departments and the community made wholehearted and sustained efforts to learn and impart education, thanks to India’s fast expanding digital architecture. Our students are well-equipped mentally and emotionally to write the Board exams.

Thus, the talk of ‘copy the questions’ is absurd and undermines the self-esteem and ability of our students and the honest efforts made by the teachers to impart education. In the hoary tradition of India, meditation, concentration and self-study occupy preeminent place. Eklavya’s story is more apt and inspirational in these pandemic times. Our students have faced the challenges of the pandemic with grit, determination and great perseverance, made full and proper use of digital tools and they will surely come off with flying colours in the exams. Exams are like festivals—let us celebrate them instead of fearing them.

The author is former Additional Secretary, Lok Sabha, and a scholar of comparative governments and politics. The views expressed are personal.

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On a mission to solve data-related problems using AI, Sachin Sinha talks about IQLECT’s novel database BangDB



Sachin Sinha

Sachin Sinha, the founder, and CEO of IQLECT, recently joined NewsX for an insightful conversation on Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence as part of special series NewsX India A-List. On a mission to solve data-related problems using Artificial Intelligence, IQLECT aims to create a cost-effective AI-enabled data analytics platform.

“Our mission is very simple, we want to simplify and democratise the way data is being ingested, processed and analysed so that any big or small company can leverage the intelligence of data,  apply it in the ongoing operations and take the benefits of the data. We work towards simplifying the whole procedure and make it available for everyone, not just the big enterprises,” he said.

IQLECT presents a method of converging everything data-related to its clients so that one doesn’t need to collect different data from different sources. He shared, ”We have created a platform and if you think of it as a black box, then what comes at the top is the set of solutions that are domain-specific. We have created different applications that cater directly to all kind of domains, where all the user has to perform is a sign-up and get ready to receive benefits of the platform.”

Speaking about the range of product lines offered by IQLECT to its clients, Mr Sinha said, ”If someone is running, let’s say a consumer internet service, and wants to understand every single user in a better way so that they can ensure engagement to have a better conversion rate at the end of the day; what they can simply do is take our ShopIQ app. Once you plug it in, you will start getting all the intelligence instantly, which is the core of your every single customer on the visitor domain. You can then decide what appropriate action needs to be taken.” When asked about the expansion of IQLECT, Mr Sachin expressed that not only big but small businesses are also collaborating with the organisation and the company’s focus is currently on the infrastructure domain.

Talking about their most highlighted product BangDB, a novel database and first of its kind from Asia, that performs 2X better than most of the leading big products in the market, he emphasised, ”We want to analyse the data as it is being generated. If you see this from a layman’s perspective, data, like vegetables, are perishable in nature. If you don’t use it immediately, the value of it gets decreased by 80%, so you need to capture the data in order to extract the intelligence. BankDB comes with an inbuilt streaming engine and processing workflow, which you can utilise to ingest any kind of data. As long as you have BankDB, it can ingest any kind of data irrespective of its shape, colour, and size.” What makes the product novel is that it is completely built in India- from scratch, which makes it best in the world.

On the incorporation of Artificial Intelligence in BangDB, Mr Sinha added that the product allows the user to have a predictive analysis as it requires latency in terms of rapidness. ”You need AI to be present where the data is, instead of taking the data to the AI. Since BangDB deals with the data, we can not offload the responsibility of AI to the user. Hence, what we have done instead, is integrate both the AI and the data together and the data remains right where the BangDB is. Once you have the BangDB, you have the AI as well as the streaming, which will allow you to easily ingest the data and the AI would then do the predictive analysis.”

Throwing light on its market functionality of India, Mr. Sinha said that the risk-taking capabilities in the market have increased over the years. BangDB has filed for dozens of patents and already got a few, along with backing from many leaders. The community version of the database is free of cost and allows the user to ingest and extract data and intelligence. As IQLECT looks to take head on with some of the leaders in the global market , Mr Sinha said on a concluding note, “We are the only company from India, which has created such a high-core tech platform.’

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It’s a pleasant surprise: Shreya Ghoshal as Angana Morey hits No.2 on Billboard Triller Global Chart



Shreya Ghoshal

Popular singer Shreya Ghoshal recently got candid with NewsX in an exclusive interview as a part of its special series NewsX India A-List, wherein she spoke about her latest song release Angana Morey, her musical journey and more. Angana Morey is garnering a phenomenal response in India and around the world.

Not only the song is being loved by the listeners but is also smashing records of popular singers like Selena Gomez and has made it to number 2 on Billboard’s Top Triller Global chart. Angana Morey is even more special to Shreya as it is in collaboration with her brother Soumyadeep Ghoshal. 

Expressing her gratitude to all the love and appreciation coming her way for Angana Morey, Shreya said, “While making this song, we did not have any such expectations. I think it’s a pleasant surprise, it’s a great feeling! Not just me, especially the fans are rejoicing. Somewhere they always hoped that Shreya or as they call me Shreya Di, will make it to the Billboard one day. So it’s a sweet gesture and I feel very happy, I hope it’s the start.”

Sharing insights from the making of Angana Morey, Shreya further added, “Angana Morey was born in the lockdown, so it was a very interesting experience. Soumyadeep is a fabulous musician. This was our 2nd project together. Over the phone and on video calls, we only talk about music and the possibilities of doing so many different things. So, he pushed me into it and said that don’t worry about what the trends are or what are people doing off late, whatever you want to do, you should do and stop thinking about it. That is how Angana Morey was born. This is a very different kind of a song from my kitty anyway and that’s why I went Indie and when you are doing independent music, you have no pressures of following any rules. So, I broke all of them and did a slightly classical-based number with a very modern, electronic and transient, groovy kind of a song.” 

Talking about her first song and how that proved to be a ‘game-changer’ for her, Shreya said, “The first song that I did, would always be the most momentous experience and time of my life. Devdas- Bairi Piya, it changed my life. I was about 16-years-old. Being called for a song like that by Sanjay Leela Bhansali for a film of that stature, was definitely unexpected. It was amazing, and from there onwards, there has been no looking back. There have been many more such songs, milestones, concerts, world tours and experiences, which of course have added so many different layers to my life and how my journey has moved from here to there. But, it’s too hard to count them now, it’s lovely! I am very blessed but I will always look back at my first song, my first film as the most sentimental and the most emotional and important milestone of my life.”

The interview ended on a musical note with Shreya singing one of her songs, Ghar More Pardesiya from the film Kalank.

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Nothing can be greater than playing for India: Saba Karim



Saba Karim, former national selector and cricketer, joined NewsX India A-List for an exclusive conversation. Saba has been vocal about his views on various cricketing aspects and shared insights and expertise regarding the sport with us.

Talking about how 2020 and the pandemic have been for him and how things were for the cricketing world, he said, “2020 for me as well as for cricketers and cricket, in general, was a tough year because of so much uncertainty. Initially, if you recall March 2020, we were going through our domestic season when it all happened. We had to cancel two or three tournaments and everyone felt sorry for the girls who were prepped up to play these tournaments but that’s the way it turned out. Happily, the Women’s World Cup took place in Australia then the Indian team managed to play the Test series in New Zealand. And all this happened after they came back to India so we didn’t have any problems in terms of managing their safety regulations. But the entire summer that included the IPL had to be postponed. It was eventually played in October. So cricket has had a tough time.”

“We somehow tried to engage them through our online discussions and online monitoring, in terms of their fitness, nutrition, and growth. India is a large country, hence there were different regulations for different states. One had to be specific so that the players can understand and whenever they get an opportunity to go out and practice they were able to do so but fortunately, players could figure out that these are challenging times and had loads of patience to work on this. Thankfully things have changed now and it’s good to see cricket being played, not only in India but all over the world. It is opening up,” added Saba.

He wears many hats from playing cricket for India at the highest level, managing cricket, being a cricket expert, and talking about it on television. Opening up about which stint he has enjoyed the most, Saba said, “Nothing can be greater than playing for India. I think everybody would say the same. It’s a crazy feeling when you play for your country and step onto the field with your colleagues. You want to do well whenever you go out and play for your country. You know the entire dressing room atmosphere and the team spirit. The kind of high you get after a winning experience you possibly cannot compare it with any other activity you do the rest of your life. The other experiences also have been quite rewarding. My stint with BCCI was an exciting phase. I was General Manager, Cricket Operations for three years. There are some new systems and processes we brought in to spur the growth of cricket in India and it was beneficial not only for cricketers but also for some of the remote parts of the country where we were able to build infrastructure. This has been a pleasant and happy experience.”

He shared some memorable moments on the field with us, “The most memorable moment was when I made my debut for the Indian team for an India vs South Africa match in 1997 I played my first One Day International. The second biggest moment came when I played a Test match for India which was Bangladesh’s inaugural Test match. In all those moments one tends to be nostalgic but those are cherishable moments.”

Talking about has wicketkeeping changed now keeping in mind how the level of athleticism and fitness has evolved more specifically after the advent of the IPL, and whether the competition is cutthroat now, Saba said, “The basics haven’t changed and remains the same. The role of a wicketkeeper has evolved. One expects a wicketkeeper to score some handy runs which are good for the game, the team, and the individual as you need to develop your game in terms of wicketkeeping skill but also batting skill. I’ve always maintained wicketkeeper is more or less an all-rounder now so you complement each other’s skills. If you happen to be a very good wicketkeeper that will rub onto your batting skills and vice versa. If you’re scoring runs in your batting that confidence will help to improve your wicketkeeping. That is the chain which I have noticed and is crucial for the progress of the game.”

Coming to fitness levels, he said, “It has gone off to a different dimension altogether. It’s about how quickly you recover. That is the biggest game I’ve noticed in modern-day cricketers. It is not about your fitness level but fitness level is judged by how quickly you recover after playing a game, after a very intense session, after playing a T20 game or a One Day game or a Test match. That has become crucial and the new essences are the fitness trainers that are with all the national teams now. Now fitness levels are judged more on recovery and less on the number of 100 meters you run or the number of tests you do. It’s more important to recover quickly and all these tests are designed to help you to recover as soon as possible.”

The Indian team on the backfoot has been portrayed as an underdog and then they come out with mammoth victories and that’s exactly what happened in Australia as well. India was perhaps pivoted in the same space in 1983 as well. Nobody gave us a chance against the mighty West Indies in 2007 but India eventually went on to win it, added Saba.

Expressing his views on the current Indian team as a whole, he said, “The game has changed immensely now and India has grown as a cricketing nation. It is good to see that the Indian team has done very well in Australia this time but this was expected. We had to win as there is so much talent and potential coming through. This is the time for India to progress on these lines regularly.”

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The ongoing agitation against the privatisation of the Visakhapatnam steel plant has presented the government with the complex task of managing a loss-making PSU while being sensitive to a matter of regional pride. The government must take into account these public sentiments while explaining to people that disinvestment might actually keep the steel factory alive, not take it away from them.

Dinakar Lanka



The primary aim of a democratically elected government is to provide good governance without an authoritarian approach to the administration of the people. Generally, the government concentrates on matters pertaining to financial and economic policies along with other functions like internal and external security and foreign affairs. Apart from this, it gives the utmost priority to public health, value addition for human resources, infrastructure for the ease of living and industrial setups, remunerative prices for agriculture and farm infrastructure, trade, industries and commerce for the furtherance of the nation with social responsibility.

The implementation of the post-1990s reforms became mandatory for the country irrespective of the ruling party, especially for executing their tasks in all the sectors connected to finance and the economy. The primary goal of any popularly elected government was to discharge its responsibilities for serving basic amenities to the people, along with the vital tasks of internal and external security, and minimize their role in other unimportant functions since the government had a limited role in those areas in the post-Reforms era. The then Union Government had established Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) after 1947, since India was formed as a structured democratic country with new aspirations after the freedom struggle. Thereafter, there was a requirement to provide employment opportunities and boost economic activity for our new country as there was a huge investment crisis domestically at that point in the private sector, due to limited resources and other constraints. These PSUs have served the nation all these years without any doubt, but simultaneously, there have been a lot of changes in the global economic scenario in the last 30 years. These have impacted India, and given the competitive environment today, the output of our economic activity has become important because it affects our presence in the global market.

In the year 1990, the then Union Government had taken a policy decision to remove the License Raj and facilitate Foreign Direct Investment. It had recommended disinvestment from PSUs in a phased manner as taxpayer money was being utilized to provide assistance for the losses. Such assistance is seen as unproductive expenditure and such approaches caused a shortage of funds which were needed for productive developmental expenditure. But, instead of shutting down the PSUs causing losses, the Union Government is accepting offers for private participation by means of divestment of shares, in part or whole, in the loss-making non-strategic PSUs. The objective of disinvestment is to either operate the loss-making PSUs by provisioning to perform capacity utilisation efficiently to achieve productivity with the available sources and alternatives or to accept private participation by the disinvestment of government shares for achieving the targets of production, productivity and cost effectiveness by optimum utilization of existing capacities or the expansion of the capacities of the entities with automation and the use of modern technology. Both options are a positive approach to turn around sick and potentially sick PSUs.

Another option is that PSUs can have a synergy by the disinvestment of government shares to prestigious and internationally renowned firms with a good brand image and output quality. A success story in this case is that of Maruti Suzuki. The car brand reveals how synergy could be created through timely strategic decisions. The success of the joint venture of Maruti Suzuki led Suzuki to increase its equity from 26% to 40% in 1987, then 50% in 1992, and further to 56.21% in 2013. Simultaneously, Maruti Udyog Limited (MUL) showed remarkable performance. MUL sold about 1.20 lakh cars in FY 1993, which increased to 18 lakh cars in 2018-19, with present cash reserves around Rs 40,000 crores. Their healthy financial condition also served direct and indirect taxes of around Rs 1.80 lakh crores, created millions of jobs and supplied exports to numerous countries across the globe.

The CAG reported that 80% of 189 underperforming PSUs have eroded their capital and now account for accumulated losses of around Rs 1.50 lakh crores, which are a huge burden on the Union Government exchequer. The Union Government has tried to revive some of these entities by providing financial assistance through various measures, but most of them are still rated as underperforming. One important case study here is Air India. Although the Union Government provided it a bailout package of Rs 30,000 crores in 2012, the turnaround plan was a total failure and Air India has not shown the desired results. It continues with its operational losses with more than Rs 50,000 crores in debt.

The Union Government has kept its eye on underperforming PSUs in order to take appropriate remedial measures as per expert opinion with the consultation of the NITI Aayog. But the Vizag steel plant has now become a significant case study in the divestment in PSUs as it has taken the form of an emotional issue. Besides being an economic concern, it has established itself as a matter of Andhra pride, because it was built with the sacrifice of 32 lives in 1982. The steel factory had been established under the name Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited, with the support of the USSR, in the pre-reforms era. It began with a 3.5 metric ton capacity per annum. At that point, there was a lack of private investment opportunities for the corporate sector and it had been incorporated by the Union Government as a PSU. This company has been registering operating losses (profit before taxes) continuously: in the years 2015-16 it was Rs 1,702 crores, in 2016-17, Rs 1,690 crores, in 2017-18, Rs 307 crores, and in 2018-19, Rs 1,369 crores. The exact amount of losses during 2019-20 will be known after audited financial statements are available. Moreover, during the Covid-19 lockdowns, the capacity utilization of the plant reduced 13,000 tons to 14,000 tons of metal per day as against the previous capacity of 20,000 tons.

Critics are saying that the operating losses are only due to the higher side of the raw material input cost since no mines of its own are available to RINL. Hence, intellectuals are requesting the Union Government and State Government to allocate mines for its captive consumption to make the unit profitable or merge RINL with SAIL for its sustainability, keeping in view the emotions of the people of Andhra Pradesh, especially as “Vishaka ukku, Andhrula hakku” (the Visakha steel unit is the right of Andhra).

But there is a point of contention here. On 20 May 2006, the then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, had appealed to the Prime Minister not to merge the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant with SAIL. The Prime Minister had shown his concern for the state by allocating Rs. 8,600 crores for the expansion of the steel plant with an intention to merge it with SAIL. But it had been stopped due to the CM’s appeal. If RINL had been merged with SAIL then, the Visakha steel factory unit of RINL might have continued as part of SAIL today, without the problem of not having its own mines.

Prior to this, the Union government under the leadership of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had provided assistance by restructuring capital two times. The first time, in 1993-94, the Government of India had converted a loan of Rs. 1,184 crores to equity capital and Rs 1,604 crores as 7% non-cumulative redeemable preference shares. Further, the Union Government had assisted with a Rs 149.40 crore loan interest waiver and converted a payable interest of Rs 791 crore into an interest-free loan. This had been facilitated to save about Rs 582 crore in interest per annum. The second time, in the year 1998, GoI had converted a Rs 1,333.47 crore loan into 7% non-cumulative redeemable preference shares to save about Rs 325 crore as interest per annum. Hence, the Union Government provided assistance as and when it was required, but the unit failed to turn around in its operating profits.

The privatization of the steel plant has caused an emotional outburst in Andhra Pradesh. However, the Union Government is concerned about the continuous losses, which will lead to the shutdown of the unit. The sacrifices of the 32 people will amount to nothing if the plant cannot be saved. The unit needs to be revived with the world-class, efficient management of South Korean steel giant POSCO. It is required to safeguard existing employees and others who are dependent on RINL. There is a lot of speculation about this proposal since the assets of RINL hold more than 24,000 acres of highly valuable lands, which may be alienated at a cheaper cost and incur huge losses for the Union Government. Meanwhile, POSCO has been approached by both the Union Government and State Government of Andhra Pradesh to express their interest in setting up the Greenfield Integrated Steel Plant in Visakhapatnam and it entered into an MoU with RINL. RINL Visakhapatnam has a 7.30 million tonne capacity plant and is a sea shore-based integrated steel plant. It holds over 24,000 acres of land with access to the Gangavaram Port, where raw materials arrive.

Earlier, POSCO had proposed a 12 metric tonne per annum capacity plant at Jagatsinghpur, Odisha at the projected cost of more than Rs 50,000 crores on 4000 acres for the Greenfield plant, with 1000 acres for developing a residential and commercial township. An MoU had been signed between POSCO and the Government of Odisha in 2005, but it did not materialise due to protests by locals. However, less than 5000 acres of land was more than sufficient for POSCO’s setup. In a nutshell, the assessment of land requirements shall be evaluated carefully and land shall be developed by the Union Government on its own for the better utilisation of resources in that local area by establishing a SEZ for auxiliary units for the proposed new steel plant with buyback tie-up and other possible future industrial development projects can be taken up. Otherwise, the decision of the disinvestment process of RINL will be black spotted and opposition parties will use it as a political opportunity against the BJP as both regional parties have already started agitations to oppose the disinvestment process in RINL by wooing people with provocative speeches. All this is just to grab the attention of the public, rather than solving the problem.

The world is now a global village and creating an environment conducive to the ease of doing business is a vital part of trade, commerce and industry. Hence, governments of all the countries need to review their priorities and align them towards inclusive growth and better living standards for all people, along with the growth of the economy. The aspirations of people have also changed over the last 70 years. Emotions are important, but in economics, the end result prevails over emotions since inclusive growth and prosperity are a priority. If disinvestment in PSUs is not done at the appropriate time, it may lead to disaster. However, the government must keep in mind public sentiments and ensure that all reasonable options are exercised before it begins the process of disinvestment.

The writer holds a degree in commerce and works as an FCA.

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