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BW Businessworld

It’s Getting Quite Fishy

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The beef ban story in Maharashtra is getting curiouser and curiouser. A clutch of PILs and writ petitions have challenged the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act banning the slaughter of bulls and bullocks and criminalising consumption and possession of beef. At a hearing of these petitions, the Bombay High Court sought to know from the state’s advocate-general why the ban had been limited to bulls and bullocks and not extended to goats if the rationale for the ban, as the Maharashtra government had pleaded, was to prevent cruelty to animals. The reply left the courtroom quite shocked. “We have made a start with cows and its progeny. At least we have made a beginning. The state might consider others.” The divisional bench hearing the matter did not quite relish the idea of Maharashtra being gradually pushed towards compulsory vegetarianism, and quipped: “That may lead to migration from the state. Don’t consider a ban on fishes, though!”
— Gurbir Singh
Passing The Health Buck
The ruling BJP’s 52-page election manifesto had used the term ‘health’ at least 50 times. The party had promised to introduce, with the help of states, a National Health Assurance Mission, with a clear mandate to provide universal healthcare that is not only accessible and affordable, but also effective, and reduces the out-of-pocket spending for the common man. Technically, the ruling party has kept its promise. It has announced a mere 2 per cent increase in budgetary allocation — from Rs 29,000 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 29,700 crore in 2015-16 — and asked the states to shoulder more burden. Neither health activists, nor private healthcare providers see this as a positive development. Given the new Centre-state revenue sharing pattern, states can legitimately think of allotting more funds to the health sector, but that should not be seen as an opportunity for the Centre to shy away from its responsibility.
— Joe C. Mathew
Cloak  And Dagger Games
The government’s decision to levy minimum alternate tax (MAT) on foreign portfolio investors should be seen as a walk-away from the promise that two successive governments made to overseas investors. Both the Manmohan Singh-led UPA and the Modi-led NDA had assured foreign investors that taxes would not be levied retrospectively. The imposition of MAT on foreign portfolio investors goes against the stated intent and spirit of the two governments. One cannot help but think that the authorities have been making false claims to attract foreign investments into the country. And now that the investments are here, the government seems to be moving back to its arbitrary style of tax collection. The government should collect taxes, but not in a manner that would make the country tax-unfriendly. Tax policies have to be clear and constant; changes are perfectly legitimate, but they should be prospective in nature. Retrospective taxes will lessen the confidence of foreign investors on India. Levies such as MAT would only take India off their investment radars. 
— Shailesh Menon
A Step Towards Regulated Realty
Itis a step forward, with the Union cabinet clearing the amended Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill, 2013. The cause of transparency and keeping builders on leash will be partly served if Parliament passes this piece of legislation. The Bill will set up a real estate regulator both at the Centre and in the states. Other key provisions include registration of all projects; registration of real estate agents who sell plots or apartments; public disclosure of all project details including layout plans and statutory approvals; and the establishment of an appellate tribunal and a fast-track dispute resolution machinery. The Bill also includes an elaborate penalty system wherein fines are calculated based on a percentage of the project cost. Some of the more stringent provisions of the previous Bill though have been diluted in favour of builders. For instance, earlier, developers were required to deposit 70 per cent of the proceeds raised from a project in an escrow account to meet the construction cost of the project. This was to prevent diversion of consumers’ hard-earned funds raised from bookings to dubious ends. This provision has now been watered down and developers now need to deposit only 50 per cent in an escrow account. Besides, there are no provisions to hold government officers accountable for delays and wrongdoing. In a sector where consumers are subject to extreme exploitation and hoodwinking, a progressive regulatory legislation is welcome. However, it remains to be seen whether the Modi government will have the spunk to push the Bill through. In this case, the Opposition should have no issue. Or, will the two sides unite and ensure regulation of real estate stays on the backburner?
— Gurbir Singh
(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 04-05-2015)