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A centre for public finance for TN

In the heydays of the SPIC Group, its head A C Muthiah liberally endowed resources for research and development. The SPIC Science Foundation, the Chennai Mathematical Institute, the SPIC Agro Biotech Centre and the Madras School of Economics (MSE) under the chairmanship of Dr R J Chelliah were established. Another architect of economic reforms, Dr C Rangarajan, present chairman of MSE, along with director K R Shanmugam, called on TN Chief Minister E K Palaniswami on 27 January and suggested MSE setting up a Public Finance Policy Institute.

In his budget speech, TN Finance Minister O Panneerselvam proposed legislation to recognise the MSE as an institute of special importance. In a fitting tribute to the pioneering work done by Dr Chelliah in the area of fiscal policy, the E K Palaniswami government has agreed to allot land adjacent to MSE at Kotturpuram for establishing the centre along with a grant of Rs 5 crore: (in 1993, then CM J Jayalalithaa provided land for MSE).

Similar institutes have been set up in Karnataka, Kerala and in a few other states. MSE, under Raja Chelliah, set up the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy in New Delhi. The NIPFP has been rendering advice to the government on tax policies and other fiscal issues.

MSE has been presenting special lectures on current and emerging economic issues by eminent leaders. It is also providing the infrastructure for the Chennai International Centre for holding lectures and discussions.

MSE lends its expertise and cooperation to the Central University of Tamil Nadu (CUTN), Thiruvarur, to offer an undergraduate programme and eight postgraduate courses in economics.

The initiatives taken by Dr Rangarajan and Director Shanmugam have helped MSE access funds from several progressive corporates. The Cognizant Foundation has recently made a handsome donation to set up a video conference room at MSE.

The expertise offered by the Centre for Public Finance at the MSE should be of special value to policymakers of the state in strengthening and fine-tuning the state’s fiscal policies.

Trust judges’ integrity

Media thrives on gossip and contrarian views. For its daily grind media, especially electronic is ever ready for projecting every bit of development with an eye on the controversy. This makes it particularly juicy when prominent personalities are involved. With a divisive polity, there is no dearth of opinions.

The President appointed former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi as a Member of the Rajya Sabha within four months of his retirement has expectedly made headline news. There were wild insinuations on the judgments delivered by his bench as partial to the government resulting in the appointment as a reward.
The Supreme Court was often at loggerheads with Minister of Law and Justice, Ravi Shankar Prasad, on several issues, especially over delays at the executive end in clearing the Supreme Court’s proposals.

Gogoi was one of the four judges who were critical of the actions of his predecessor Chief Justice accusing him for the opaqueness of the collegium that decided higher judicial appointments. Gogoi set a punishing schedule for his colleagues and himself in deciding to clear several important cases in the last few weeks of his tenure. He did succeed in the court, delivering quite a few landmark judgments, especially during the last few weeks of his tenure. The most famous of these was the one on the Ayodhya land dispute. It was a good precedent for the administration of the Supreme Court to set definite, timelines for the disposal of cases.
The President appoints musicians (eg., Lata Mangeshkar) sportspersons (eg., Sachin Tendulkar) and others for their contribution in their fields. There is the view that a retired judge could be appointed to offer his/her expertise on judicial reforms?

For decades one trusted the judges for their integrity. Should one not also do this post-their retirement? And should the relation between the judiciary and executive be always adversarial?

Another public-spirited cancer hospital

P N Vasudevan, the promoter of the Equitas Group of institutions engaged in microfinance, education, healthcare and banking has been known for his social concerns. His institutions focus in serving the weaker sections. Even while sections of corporates grumble over allotting 2 per cent of profits for CSR, Vasudevan earmarked 5 per cent! He has been involving public spirited leaders like TN’s former finance secretary, P V Rajaraman, another ex-bureaucrat, C K Gariyali, Exnora Founder, M B Nirmal and another former bank executive familiar with lending small, John Alex in his enterprises. He persuaded N Rangachary to head his dream ventures. The group serves extensively micro and small businesses through women self-help groups promoting savings and entrepreneurship; runs schools that offer quality education at modest fees and organises free medical camps.

The latest appears an ambitious and much-needed service: a cancer hospital near Velachery with Dr V Shanta, C K Gariyali, N Rangachary and Vasudevan as trustees. The Sringeri Sankara Mutt has donated an acre of land in Gowrivakkam, opposite to the SIVET College. At the present high land costs, this should be worth close to Rs 100 crore. The Tata Trust is to take care of infrastructure, buildings, and equipment for the 100-bed multispecialty hospital. With such an auspicious start, the Equitas Healthcare Foundation can be expected to provide quality treatment to this dreaded disease at affordable cost.

TN is thus throwing up another iconic fundraiser for high-quality healthcare like – Dr Shanta, Dr S S Badrinath and Dr Govindappa Venkataswamy.

Jai Microfinance!

Lending to weaker sections, now widely known as microfinance loans, was among the objectives of the nationalisation of banks in 1969. The measure helped the spread of banking to the masses.

With great passion, several of the public sector banks, notably Bank of Baroda, set up special cells to lend to small businesses. I remember the enthusiasm of the young recruits working for the Multi-Service Agency cells of Bank of Baroda, busy extending loans to small borrowers like vegetable and fruit vendors, salons… These waned after the cost of servicing these small loans shot up and bank employees’ salaries ballooned.

In another wave post-liberalisation in 1991, hundreds of microfinance institutions and NBFCs surfaced. For a while, microfinance, the brainchild of Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, expanded fast. But the interest waned due to lack of an effective structure and regulation.

Over the past decade, the mistakes and drawbacks seem to have been learnt and sought to be corrected. Well-educated young entrepreneurs with global exposure are today promoting fintech start-ups. With their skills, agility and enthusiasm, these constantly fine-tune easy lending and ensure prompt recoveries. There is also a lot of innovation in raising funds, lending these safe and to profit. Look at the initiative of Jai Kisan that focuses on meeting the financial needs of rural India.

Arjun Ahluwalia did his Masters at the University of Texas and was engaged in a lucrative job as a finance executive. He left it and joined hands with Adriel Maniego, his colleague at UT A&M to launch Jai Kisan that effectively uses mobile and web-based apps. Equipment financing is made available at over 410 dealer/retailer partners across four states that sell a cumulative of 55+ OEM brands. Jai Kisan leverages its marketing clout to get support from equipment sellers and offers easy credit at around 16 per cent interest. Ahluwalia mentions Jai Kisan works with over 15 institutions serving a farmer pool of over three lakh farmers.

In TN, Jai Kisan has been working with one of its institutional partners to provide finance to 250 farmers (70 per cent women) within a span of 5 days in the tribal villages of the Nilgiris. Look now at the ‘ease of doing small business’ with interest rates that have fallen steeply from those charged by usurious moneylenders, quick evaluation, little paperwork, trust and safety built by peer pressure and community involvement! Jai microfinance!

Ghost flights

A frequent flier who flies more than 200,000 miles a year, mentioned the severe impact of COVID-19 on the civil aviation sector. Here is some dirge news:
• Ghost flights are becoming common in Europe. These fly across cities without any passenger. Airlines win the bid for and get slots for landing and parking in crowded hubs like London Heathrow or Frankfurt. They are required to use these to a certain high percentage; failing this, they might lose the right. So, to retain the right won with great effort, stiff competition and cost, airlines fly their fleet even without passengers!

• American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines, accustomed to large clientele for domestic and international travel, are severely hit. Their share prices have crashed, and if this situation continues, they will have to risk survival. Round-trip-fares of even $100 are offered from and to any domestic destinations – a small fraction of the normal fares. These demand government support for survival.

• Indian airline companies also look for government support and reliefs.

• The impact on the ground services that offer a vast range of essential services in quick time and efficiency is severe.

• The ban on international flights, quarantines and visa cancellations severely impact airlines, tourism, hotels and related services.

There are cancellations galore of seminars/conferences until mid-April. CII used to hold such meets almost daily through March at different cities. The one planned for Southern Regional meet with great preparation was cancelled. Similar is the fate of the spate of programmes offered by MMA.

The US has closed schools. Using technology, it is endeavouring to teach children at home. With modest facilities, India is not equipped yet to do this. With exams underway, the cancellation of exam schedules is a nightmare for students.

As the country enters the more critical phases, sterner measures are introduced. It is bound to test the capacity and ingenuity of the administration.

Tribute – K Anbazhagan

In the demise of K Anbazhagan (97), the DMK had lost one of its founders. KA was a close associate of DMK founder C N Annadurai and was also deeply involved with E V Ramasamy Naicker’s self-respect movement. Like another tall DMK leader, V R Nedunchezhiyan, K A also served Pachaiyappas College, Chennai as a lecturer in Tamil before plunging into full-time politics.

KA served the longest term as the General Secretary of the DMK under M Karunanidhi. He had no ambition to be the number one and was content to work with Karunanidhi. KA was a prolific writer and speaker on the history and evolution of the Tamils.

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