* Front Page

With economic shutters down, the State faces a revenue shortfall of 80% amid mounting healthcare and welfare costs

For a State that gets around 60% of its funds from its own tax revenue, the lockdown has been harsh on Tamil Nadu.

Going by a general yardstick, the State’s own tax revenue (SOTR) yields an average ₹10,000 crore a month. “Of this, we may realise a mere 10% or a maximum of 20% in April, the first full month after the imposition of the country-wide lockdown since March 25,” says an official of the State Finance Department.

A ban on alcohol and the slump in the sale of petroleum products in particular have hit finances hard as the two components account for nearly 50% of the SOTR.

No registrations

The contribution through two other components — registration of vehicles and immoveable properties — has been virtually nil. The property registration was allowed to resume a few weeks ago but the response has been tepid.

The woes have been compounded by the Centre’s announcement that the contributions to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund of States would not qualify to be treated under the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expenditure for COVID-19.

Even as it is struggling to earn a modest share of its budgeted revenue, the Tamil Nadu government has gone ahead with the implementation of a relief package of ₹3,280 crore for people hit by the impact of the COVID-19. Besides, migrant workers and workers in the unorganised sector, including autorickshaw drivers, are being given monetary and material support. Simultaneously, the State has been investing in putting in place the required health infrastructure.

All these have left the State government with only two options — borrowing and getting as much funds as possible from the Central government.

“We have already borrowed ₹8,000 crore in the last one month,” said the official.

For the current year, the government’s original plan, formulated during the pre COVID-19 period, was to borrow about ₹83,350 crore, keeping the net borrowing well within the permissible limit at around ₹59,209 crore.

Plea to hike limits

But post the outbreak, Tamil Nadu, whose general track record is one of sticking to stipulated fiscal indicators and not availing of the ways and means advances (WMA) from the RBI despite posting a revenue deficit, has been pressing the Centre to increase the fiscal deficit limit of 3% of the Gross State Domestic Product to 4.5% for 2020-21. It has urged the Centre to allow it this year to go for additional borrowing of 33% above the previous year’s level. Apart from demanding that the recently enhanced WMA limit be doubled, Tamil Nadu has suggested that this year’s advances be made interest-free.

Besides, the State has also requested the Union government to immediately release 50% of grants recommended by the 15th Finance Commission for local bodies; a special grant of ₹1lakh crore for all States, including ₹9,000 crore for Tamil Nadu; ₹3,000 crore for the augmentation and strengthening of health infrastructure; ₹1,321 crore towards custom milled rice subsidy for paddy procurement and an ad-hoc grant of ₹1,000 crore from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) to procure medical and protective material.

Even though the State’s needs and expenditure are increasing, the nearly ₹6,420 crore released by New Delhi for a host of purposes has come as a breather. The amount includes the first instalment of the State’s share in Central pool of taxes (₹1,928.56 crore) and that of revenue deficit grant (₹402.5 crore); GST compensation for December 2019 -January 2020 of ₹1,369 crore, apart from ₹510 crore from the State Disaster Response Fund and ₹312 crore under the National Rural Health Mission.

Veteran policy makers say that given the sweep and nature of the COVID-19, the Centre should declare it a “national disaster” and liberally assist the States through the NDRF also.

Though India has dismissed the report, the bigger worry is the CPC list

Nirupama Rao

The government has unequivocally dismissed the US Commission of International Religious Freedom’s latest report, which ranks India on the lowest grade of “Countries of Particular Concern”, citing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the proposed National Register for Citizens, both of which were announced by the government in the past year. In its statement this week, the External Affairs Ministry hit back at the USCIRF directly, calling it an “Organisation of Particular Concern”, with no “locus standi” or official standing.

The government’s stand is consistent with its policy on the USCIRF, which it has refused to cooperate with, and has disallowed its officials to visit India since 2009. The bigger worry this year is the fact that the USCIRF has recommended that India be put on the CPC list by the State Department, which is due to publish its annual report on religious freedom in a few weeks, most likely in May or June.

Former Indian Ambassadors to the U.S. point out that though a CPC designation is unlikely to make any difference to the U.S.-India bilateral relationship on other issues, it would be premature to dismiss the USCIRF’s recommendation completely.

“It’s wrong to focus just on the statements of the USCIRF on CAA and NRC and other such issues. The question is, who has supported India [in the U.S.] on these issues? No one. One can say that you don’t expect there will be reactions to such [domestic Indian] policies. Frankly, that is wishful, unrealistic thinking,” Ronen Sen, who was Ambassador in Washington in 2005 when India was removed from the State Departments’ CPC list, told The Hindu. “There is a reputational issue involved, for India, as the world’s largest democracy that draws strength from the protection of diversity,” said former Ambassador to Washington Nirupama Menon Rao, stating that the report could not be “ignored outright”. “To be clubbed with China and Burma, Pakistan and North Korea as a country of particular concern is unfortunate,” she said.

More punitive steps

The decision before U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (who will act on behalf of President Donald Trump) on whether to designate India as a CPC is significant, as it could bring other punitive actions. According to the US IRF Act, the President is obligated to take one of 15 possible actions, ranging from a demarche to cancellation of bilateral exchanges, to travel sanctions against specified officials, within 3-6 months. It was under this determination that the U.S. had banned travel visas for PM Narendra Modi (then Gujarat Chief Minister) in 2005.

Diplomats point out the State department hasn’t always followed the USCIRF’s recommendations. In December 2019, Mr. Pompeo designated nine countries including “Burma [Myanmar], China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan” that were on the recommended list, and put others like “Comoros, Russia, Uzbekistan, Cuba, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and Sudan to its ‘Special Watch list’, but left out Syria, Vietnam and Central African Republic, which were also on the USCIRF’s list.

The Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF) in the State Department and the USCIRF were created by the American “International Religious Freedom Act of 1998”, but are separate entities and the USCIRF’s recommendations are non-binding on the State Department. However, according to the State Department website, the U.S. Secretary of State, who makes the final recommendation on whether to designate a country as a CPC, “takes into account” the recommendation made by the USCIRF.

(With inputs from

Kallol Bhattacherjee)

Barring containment areas, domestic help, electricians and plumbers can work

A day after the nationwide lockdown was extended till May 17 and major relaxations were allowed, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) clarified on Saturday that taxis would be permitted with two passengers.

Inter-district movement of vehicles are allowed only for permitted activities with a maximum of two passengers. Other than these, all activities are allowed without any restriction in the orange zones.

Also, e-commerce could be used for the delivery of essential and non-essential products in districts designated as green and orange zones. In red zones, e-commerce can only be used for the delivery of essential items, an MHA official said.

Salons, liquor shops

In another significant addition, the official said barbers and salons could also open in orange and green zones. Liquor shops could open in all zones, except containment areas. In urban areas, liquor shops that are not in market complexes and malls could open everywhere.

Regarding the entry of domestic helps, electricians, plumbers and others, the official said Residents Welfare Association (RWAs) in all zones, except containment areas, should take a call “by keeping health protocols in mind”.

“In case of any mishappening, the responsibility lies with the person allowing the outsiders in their homes,” said the official.

Public transport was still barred, except in green zones where buses have been allowed to ply with 50% capacity.

MHA also issued a separate clarification for orange zones where it said that “inter-district and intra-district plying of buses remains prohibited.” According to the guidelines issued on Friday, buses were allowed only in green zones with a 50% cap.

“However, States and Union territories based on their assessment and priorities, may choose to permit a lesser number of activities,” MHA said.

Green zones are districts with either zero confirmed cases till date; or, no confirmed case in the last 21 days. Red zones are defined based on the total number of active cases, doubling rate of confirmed cases, extent of testing and surveillance feedback from the districts. The districts, which are neither defined as red nor green, shall be classified as orange zones. According to the Health Ministry’s classification, there are 130 red zone districts, 284 orange zone districts and 319 green zone districts in the country.

Social Justice Dept. writes to National Informatics Centre

Downloading of the Aarogya Setu app has been made mandatory for employees.

The government’s Aarogya Setu app to track COVID-19 cases is not accessible to persons with disabilities (PwD), particularly those with hearing and visual challenges, the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry has informed the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and the app developer, the National Informatics Centre (NIC).

Downloading the app has been made mandatory for all government staff by the Department of Personnel and Training through an order on April 29 and for all employees in the public and private sectors through a Union Home Ministry order on Friday.

The Social Justice Ministry’s Department of Empowerment of PwD (DEPwD) wrote to the MeitY and NIC on April 27 listing the shortcomings of the app.

“The Aarogya Setu app needs to have a separate section with specific information for persons with hearing impairment with sign language interpretation/close captioning. So far as persons with visual impairment are concerned, provision for audio guide for navigation, audio description of colour used, proper colour contrast etc. need to be incorporated,” the DEPwD wrote, asking the NIC and MeitY to address the concerns.

Disability rights activist and founder of Smarthyam Anjlee Agarwal said on Saturday that the app had been tested by 11 persons with visual challenges and who were associated with the NGO. The app was found to be inaccessible, which was a violation of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, she said. She added that a report of the findings of the testing had been sent to the DEPwD on Saturday.

Navigation issues

The Smarthyam report said that according to users, the screen reader in the app did not announce the purpose of all controls or the type of control, whether a link or button.

The report added users could not identify the number of slides in a carousel, so after receiving the information in the first slide they could miss out on information in other slides. On the “Your status”, “COVID updates” and “E-Pass” tabs of the app, the screen reader was not announcing the control type, so users did not know these were interactive tabs, the report said.

Pages ( 1 of 6 ): 1 23456Next »