Wednesday, January 24, 2007

# 18

....A word suspended
in thoughtless vacuum,
glazed with a pause of
jarring silence......

Pension Pains Interest Gains

"What would you choose to be if not yourself? Anyone, any object, anything at all.." Thus reads one interesting question HRD often asks prospective employees. If I was at the receiving end of one such, I'd say I want to be the Fin Min's mind.

The move to get rid of pensions in stages is long overdue and kudos to the FM for saying it aloud. Subsidies are another area whose time for the chopping block has to come soon.

The rising pension bills at all levels of the government would be increasingly difficult to finance in future, given the other demands that are there on our resources, particularly for enhancing our expenditures on essential social sectors such as health and education. The pension expenditure of the Centre could reach Rs 35,020 crore by 2009-10. For the states, the projected figure is as high as Rs 65,081 crore.

The much needed Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) Bill is awaiting clearance from Parliament.

Meanwhile, under the New Pension Scheme, employees contribute 10% of the sum total of their basic salary and dearness allowance. This is matched by an equal contribution by the government. Earlier, employees were not required to contribute anything and it was entirely on the government to provide for pensions. The objective is to offer a new pension system to all citizens employed in organized and unorganized sectors.

As expected, there is a hue and cry over slashing of pension and naturally so. Apart from one time MPs and MLAs who eat up precious resources, there are genuinely needy people who have all their hopes pinned on pensions. I have had a first hand experience of this at a bank which distributes pensions. Old folks will wait for hours on end at the beginning of each month of get that prized sum which sustains them till the next month.

To offset this cut, it would be just and timely to raise interest rates on FDs, bonds, government saving schemes. As the employee starts contributing to the pension plan, it will mean tax saving along the way. Also doing away with tax on interest gains will go a long way in encouraging people to plan their retirement through investments. There is news that the government plans to invest the corpus that is gathered from pension benefits in the share market. The left thinks it is fashionable to oppose any scheme that the government can come up with and so they will do just that.

The question now is will this move lead to increased saving and less spending? This question comes at the crucial time. With VAT and a slew of services coming under the service tax net with every Finance Bill in March, the government is hoping that people’s spendthrift ways will add more to their kitty.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

India poised?

A small news item in the national daily went unnoticed. The Nithari carnage and election fever takes up all real estate in print these days. The news in that item was worth a headline. I could not let it pass without giving it thought or a mention in these columns.

A farmer in a tiny WB village, yes, the very state simmering with discontent over land acquisitions and anti- SEZ sentiments, has found a simple way to spray fertilizers on this newly sowed crops. It’s very simple, really. But the convenience it has brought the inventor and his family can only be imagined.

It began when he ran out of ‘means’ and ways to fertilize his fields. He hitched three bicycle wheels together (like a rikshaw’s three wheels) and mounted a tank on top. The tank had shower like outlets on both sides. At the backend he attached a bicycle handle with to be able to maneuver the mobile tank. The handle also had brake like devices. And guess what powered this contraption? The wheel movement and pressing of those brake like devices from which sprung the small air pumps. Easy? Simple? For you and me, maybe. For mister poor farmer from WB…….very very ingenious!!

The reporter was good enough to further state how this clever man sings contently everytime he uses his invention to care for his crop.

This is that India straining at the leash to spring forth and grow. Let us urbanites, all techno-savy and worldwise, not be lenient on ourselves nor let us be fooled that we are the ones on the cutting edge waiting for that next big wave. Let us not dominate the stage and dictate how the world sees us. Let us make way for what happens behind that wall of statistics. Let the people behind the news come forward. What may come to us with ease comes to others after a trial by fire. And this is what makes their little victories all the more important and noteworthy.

On a trek in the Himalayas a few years ago, I saw how villagers had diverted a fast flowing stream through a man made channel and used the hydel power thus generated to operate their corn grinding machine. It was an ‘Aha!’ moment. There will, I am sure, be thousands of such souls, looking inward for help than anywhere else. There will be many success charted by India Inc, there will be the pride of acquisitions in foreign lands, there will be sunrise industries and careers. When they are all long gone, and the sun has set, it is these pockets of brilliance that will sustain……and show the way.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

hum ne dekhee hai.....

hum ne dekhee hai, un aakhon kee mahakatee khushaboo
haath se chhuke ise, rishto kaa iljaam naa do
sirf yehasaas hain ye, ruh se mahasoos karo
pyaar ko pyaar hee rahane do koee naam naa do..

pyaar koee bol nahee, pyaar aawaaj naheen
yek khaamoshee hain sunatee hain kahaa karatee hain
n ye buzatee hai, n rukatee hai, n thhaharee hain kahee
noor kee boond hai, sadiyon se bahaa karatee hain ..

muskuraahat see khilee rahatee hain aankho mein kahee
aaur palako pe ujaale se zuke rahate hain
hothh kuchh kahate nahee, kaapate hothhon pe magar
kitane khaamosh se afasaane ruke rahate hain ..

by Gulzar

PS. I listened to Lata croon this song as I stared out from the train on New year's night. The lyrics hit home.