Poor little rich men

As all eyes of the nation would be fixed on the upcoming Union budget where finance minister Arun Jatley will present the revenue and expenditure of the nation for the ongoing year. Middle class working citizens are pining hopes that the income-tax exemption limit would be raised. Obviously, that would be a good and sincere gesture to help the needy.
Yet my point is how about minimising the income gaps between Indian elites and the have-nots. From one side, the haves are grabbing newspaper headlines for their ranking on the billionaires’ lists, and on the other, farmers are making it to the front pages of the same broadsheets by resorting to suicides. A recent Oxfam report exposed the vast and growing gap between the rich and the poor, showing that the 62 richest billionaires (1 per cent) own as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population. The responsibility lies wholly and solely on the broad shoulders of Indian elites to behave much more responsibly than their western counterparts of the 20th century. Come on, dear rich fellows, we need true reforms in the public funding of the education system and transparency in tax collection. There must be a genuine hike in ‚super-rich’ tax this time.
India is supposed to be the world’s fastest growing large economy at 7.3 per cent in 2016, but that is not enough. The country’s tax-to-GDP ratio, at mere 11 per cent, presents a dim scenario — it is insufficient to meet the challenges of inequalities. If this can’t be 100 per cent, at least our finance minister must endeavour to bring it near 50 per cent or thereabout, as in the US and European nations.
What we need now is ‚responsible citizenship sense’ to turn our nation into an economy wh­ere the difference between the haves and have-nots would be among the world’s lowest. This alone would be the greatest achievement of any democratic nation that has been colonosid for centuries and emerged as the first nation to de-colonise the big income gap.




Start afresh

The state that I belong has neither well-wishers nor fans of Narendra Modi. But when the pr­ime minister announced ‘Startup India’, the baffled youth of Kashmir along with those across the rest of the country, who are struggling for a single source of income, turned to Google, news channels, newspapers and every possible source of information to gather whatever they could about the new programme. Young Indians are often scared to start ventures on their own because of manifold problems such as, lack of knowledge about entrepreneurship, corruption and unhealthy competition among several others. Every time we the youth think Modi is just about to miss the bus, he surprises one and all.
I surmise he has the art of articulating his smart ideas passionately like a startup gentleman. His astonishing acts like the unanticipated stopover in Lahore was amazing, which might have even offended many of his own party leaders, but certainly displayed maturity and smart business on his part.
The benefits that the PM announced for startups and his promise to stop the government from poking its nose into what is not its business can make a huge difference to the country’s next generations. Young people running from door to door begging for jobs would now hopefully rediscover their potential and go out to create new opportunities for others. The doctorates will not have to apply for peons’ jobs in government offices. There is every possibility that talent and skill will find their proper place.
Startup India is the latest of a series of branded schemes launched by the Modi government. Earlier, he began smart change with Make in India, Swachh Bharat Mission, Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana and Digital India. However, as always, the efficiency of what Modi announced would depend on regulations and other details that are yet to be drafted and how they are applied. I hope and wonder if he will really be able to transform the parasite culture of our country into entrepreneurship culture?


Let’s go shopping

E-shopping is rapidly spreading its reach in the beautiful valley of Kashmir. The ease that e-shopping has brought the comfort of home shopping to students, employees, housewives and children in Srinagar. That’s why I feel that the benefits of digital shopping should not be restricted within the city limits of Srinagar alone. Instead, it should re­ach out to all choice-starved citizens across the state.
I remember, first ordering a book in 2011, while preparing for the civil services to which most students aspire across the valley’s campuses. I made several vain attempts to have the package despatched to my home in ‘Chari Sharief’, but could only get it dropped at my aunt’s address in Srinagar before being forced to spend a hundred bucks to collect my packet. Despite that, it was still cheaper to get the book than what I would have spent at the local bookstore. By the time I joined the Central University of Kashmir in 2013, I began regularly ordering books from Flipkart, which is now a generic name for e-shopping throughout the valley. That habit introduced me to different genres of literature while studying narrative journalism under my favourite professor Shahnaz Bashir, the famous author of The Half Mother.
In fact, when my teacher released his novel in Srinagar, I opted to buy it on Flipkart instead of the local store, as I was obsessed with e-shopping like my many other fellow students. Unfortunately, following the Kashmir flood of 2014, e-commerce sites started cheating by delivering soiled books to customers.
Last November, I rode the Diwali bumper offer of over 50 per cent discount and ordered 24 novels in a single despatch; so far I have bought almost 50 books online. Now in Delhi, I realise how much dependent I am on e-shopping, even for small things like a bottle or sunglasses. And I ask myself what’s this obsession all about?
And I hear a voice whispering into my head, “It’s the comfort, stupid.”


Tourism revival

The latest recommendation from the Union tourism ministry regarding expansion of the tourism sector in Jammu & Kashmir may well serve as a kickstarter for the beleagured industry, but the Centre needs to go beyond the vision to restore the lost glory of Kashmir as a holidayers’ haven. In its latest report titled ‘20 years of perspective and sustainable tourism in J&K,’ the ministry states that there is a need for expansion of Srinagar airport, state airline service as well as helicopter taxi service, besides developing Srinagar airport as an international hub of air traffic.
After the scary 2014 floods where experts pinned losses up to 1 lakh crore, every kind of business has ceased to exist. The business sector got a few hundred crores by way of compensation, but it was in no way sufficient to cover the losses.
One of the worst hit sectors was tourism where hoteliers fired over 50,000 employees after their occupancy fell below 15 per cent. The year 2015 witnessed a fall of 2 lakh tourists against the previous year. Presently, over 11 lakh people are associated with the hotel industry in the valley and owe their livelihood to tourist arrivals. The recommendations of the report, therefore, become even more significant as the same report has projected that the tourism sector will provide employment to around 34 lakh youth. “It is estimated that by 2020, tourist arrival to J&K would cross 2.5 crore per annum and generate direct employment for 5.7 lakh people and indirect employment to 23.38 lakh,” report states.
One more thing, the report has also recommended expanding Srinagar International Airport so that tourists coming from gulf countries can directly arrive in the valley. For that, the government first needs to hand the airport over to civil aviation from the army. The first thing that a tourist sees as soon as he steps off the aircraft is a posse of men in uniform all around. Hardly a pleasant sight for those wanting to soak in the spectacular scenery of paradise on earth.