The Indian Express | 5 days ago | 05-08-2022 | 03:50 am
The voices in the opposition parties, demanding withdrawal of 18 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST) imposed on garba events, grew louder on Thursday with Rajya Sabha Congress MP Jairam Ramesh taking to Twitter, calling it “Garba Samapth Tax”. Ramesh’s tweet came a day after the Vadodara city unit of the Congress protested the imposition of 18 per cent GST by playing garba on the campus of the Vadodara District Collectorate and submitted a memorandum.Navratri garba — nine nights of dance as an obeisance to Goddess Ambe — is one of the most awaited festivals in Gujarat with revellers and devotees booking passes to garba venues months in advance. When the United Way of Baroda (UWB) opened its registrations last week, patrons were taken aback to see a sharp rise in the registration fee that was “inclusive of 18 per cent GST”. While male participants have to pay Rs 4,838 this year, females will have to pay Rs 1,298. A few other garba organisers who issue passes against a fee, are yet to announce if ticket prices are inclusive of GST.Board members of UWB, an NGO, which uses the “funds” received from garba passes for social causes, said the decision followed a discussion with GST officials after the previous garba festivities held in 2019. In 2020 and 2021, garbas were not organised due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Minesh Patel, treasurer and trustee of UWB, said, “After the previous public garba in 2019, the officials of the tax departments had conducted inspections of GST records of a few other garba organisers… During that time they pointed out that issuing passes or identity cards for a fee or against an invoice would automatically make it liable for GST. To comply with the taxation laws, we have added GST this year.”UWB added that garba organisers never considered garbas as an “entertainment event” to levy GST. “We pay GST for food stalls and other services used for garba but until 2019, the actual passes were never meant for commercial sale…” Patel said, even as UWB expressed its inability to exempt players from the tax.Hemant Shah, chairman of the Resource Development Committee of UWB, said, “Since GST was introduced in 2017, garba events were not included under any specific slabs. UWB is an NGO and the money received from passes is meant to be a ‘donation’, which is diverted for social causes. For us, the garba is not a commercial activity. At the same time, we cannot pay the tax and exempt the players because 18 per cent is a huge amount.”On Thursday, Jairam Ramesh said, “There are protests happening in Gujarat over the implementation of 18 per cent GST — Garba Samapth Tax — on a cultural event that is the identity of Gujarat. What can be a more foolish decision that this?”The Vadodara Congress unit, which staged a protest at the District Collector’s office on Wednesday by playing garba, demanded immediate revision of the decision.Likening the GST on garba to the “Jizya” imposed on Hindu pilgrims during the Mughal regime, Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee spokesperson Manish Doshi told this newspaper, “The British later imposed the salt tax on Indians, so this is a third instance, where the ruling party has imposed GST on garba and hurt sentiments of Hindus. Despite calling itself the protector of Hindus, the BJP has been exploiting human psychology to orchestrate a systematic loot.”Claiming that Jizya brought the downfall of Mughals and salt tax ended the British regime in India due to the revolution led by Mahatma Gandhi, Doshi said, “Similarly, this 18 per cent GST will bring an end to the BJP.”Following the uproar, the BJP will “try to take the credit” for reversing the tax, Doshi said, adding, “The BJP is a diabolical two-faced party… They have imposed the Gabbar tax on Garba and now their leader will declare that garba has been made tax-free and try to make people sway emotionally.”Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inboxSome of the BJP leaders have also decided to pursue the matter. A senior elected representative from Vadodara said, “GST on garba has come as a surprise… While the opposition is taking full advantage of the situation, many leaders within the party have also sought time with the chief minister to see if garba can be exempted from GST.” On Wednesday, Cabinet Minister Jitu Vaghani said that the opposition was “misleading” the people over the issue of GST on garba as “all entertainment events are under GST purview”.On Wednesday, AAP workers held protests in Vadodara and Surat city with garba performances on the streets, which led to their detention by police.“People of Gujarat are very angry. The BJP formed the government with the blessings of Hindus and now the government wants to earn money by imposing tax on garba, which is a Hindu tradition and the identity and pride of Gujarat. BJP wants to destroy Gujarat’s identity…,” alleged senior Congress leader Amit Chavda.Gopal Italia, president of Gujarat AAP, shot a letter to Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel demanding withdrawal of GST on garba events.“People are attached to garba as it is a matter of our faith… There was never a tax on worshiping our gods. We condemn this act by the BJP and demand immediate withdrawal of this tax,” said Italia.(With pti)
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal Sunday (August 7) declared a six-point “guarantee” for tribals in Gujarat’s Chhota Udepur district, including the “strict implementation” of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act.The PESA Act was enacted in 1996 “to provide for the extension of the provisions of Part IX of the Constitution relating to the Panchayats to the Scheduled Areas”. Other than Panchayats, Part IX, comprising Articles 243-243ZT of the Constitution, contains provisions relating to municipalities and cooperative societies.Under the Act, Scheduled Areas are those referred to in Article 244(1), which says that the provisions of the Fifth Schedule shall apply to the Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes in states other than Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram. The Fifth Schedule provides for a range of special provisions for these areas.The PESA ActThe PESA Act was enacted to ensure self-governance through Gram Sabhas (village assemblies) for people living in the Scheduled Areas. It recognises the right of tribal communities, who are residents of the Scheduled Areas, to govern themselves through their own systems of self-government.The Act empowers Gram Sabhas to play a key role in approving development plans and controlling all social sectors. This includes the processes and personnel who implement policies, exercising control over minor (non-timber) forest resources, minor water bodies and minor minerals, among other things.Ten states — Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Telangana — have notified Fifth Schedule areas that cover (partially or fully) several districts in each of these states.After the PESA Act was enacted, the Union government circulated model PESA Rules. So far, six states have notified these Rules.PESA in GujaratGujarat notified the State PESA Rules in January 2017, and made them applicable in 4,503 gram sabhas under 2,584 village panchayats in 53 tribal talukas in 14 districts.This was announced in Chhota Udepur by then CM Vijay Rupani ahead of the last Assembly polls.Five years later, current CM, Bhupendra Patel, Tuesday told a rally in Dahod that all tribals had been covered under the Act and empowered under its provisions.Legal experts, however, say the Act has not been enforced in letter and spirit.Implementation gapsIn November 2020, Gujarat notified the Statue of Unity Area Development and Tourism Governance Authority (SoUADTGA) to administer villages around the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel statue in Narmada, a tribal district.This gave SoUADTGA powers to override panchayat decisions.Simultaneously, the district administration issued an order based on a central notification to declare forest area in 121 Narmada villages of as ‘eco-sensitive’. The district revenue department also moved to include ‘state government’ as the ‘second owner’ of land in these villages.After stiff opposition, including from BJP’s Bharuch MP Mansukh Vasava, authorities decided to drop the “second owner” mention.However, the eco-sensitive zone notification remains in force. The SoUADTGA has also taken charge of its command area that includes six tribal villages.In March this year, the Centre was forced to scrap the Par-Tapi Narmada (PTN) river linking project as tribals held protests.Tribal votebankGujarat is among the 10 states that have Schedule Areas, and accounts of 8.1% of the ST population. The tribals are concentrated in the eastern districts, along the Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra borders.There are 11 major tribes in Gujarat, the largest being Bhil which is nearly 48% of the state’s total tribal population.The tribals have been a loyal voters of the Congress. In 2017, of the 27 reserved ST seats, the BJP won eight, Congress got 16, and its alliance partner, the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) bagged two. One Congress rebel won as an Independent. Since then, Congress’s three tribal MLAs have joined the BJP. The Independent MLA was disqualified, and BJP won the bypolls in 2021. This time AAP is also targeting this constituency and has allied with the BTP.However, the BJP does not see the implementation of the Act as an election challenge as several Congress states are yet to implement it.
The recently released IAMAI Kantar, Internet in India, ICUBE 2021 study has some interesting findings on how the country is fast emerging as one of the world’s largest markets for internet-based apps and services. The report was released around the same time India witnessed significant bidding for the 5G spectrum. At the intersection of both of these lies perhaps the world’s most unique digital polity of first-time, non-English internet users who think, act and transact “mobile first”. Their numbers will soon reach a billion as India focuses efforts on expanding rural 4G access and high-speed internet. With anywhere between two to eight hours of daily usage, the Indian internet user is the ideal test case for any platform or app-based service looking to tap a global audience. Little wonder that we have witnessed over the years intense efforts to sway the Indian internet user through borderless activism in the name of “saving the internet”, “online free speech”, and “data surveillance”.With the Narendra Modi-led NDA government withdrawing the earlier proposed Personal Data Protection Bill, the stakes have become even higher for borderless activism seeking to influence how India regulates the internet-based economy.The reasons for the high stakes in internet regulation in India become apparent when one looks at the demographic shift in the country — the statistics revealed by the IAMAI report also underline this shift. As per the UN’s estimates for births in India, the cohort born between 2002 and 2006 is one of the largest, with yearly births having peaked in the country between 2001 and 2002. This makes the cohort of nearly 150 million first-time voters in the 2024 General Elections a sizable and distinct digital constituency. As India’s largest cohort that has been “Digital First” from the cradle, this generation of first-time voters has experienced all the significant digital shifts in their formative years. Having been born around the same time as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, this generation came of age with the touchscreen revolution. Their teen years witnessed an explosive growth in smartphone usage. This is also the generation that had the highest exposure to online education due to Covid-19 vastly increasing their screen time and use of internet tools and services.While the IAMAI report does not reveal much on the age-wise demographic split of the various kinds of internet users, it was interesting to note that online gaming has nearly five times the number of users relative to those using the internet for online education. Internet-based gaming is the mainstay of this cohort with new-age interactive platforms such as Twitch and Discord emerging as hubs of their peer groups. The divide with earlier generations of voters is quite stark as this cohort barely reads newspapers or watches conventional television. While YouTube and WhatsApp are most likely their primary sources of news to them, Facebook and Twitter are already legacy social media platforms belonging to an earlier era. Indicators of this inter-generational schism are already visible the world over with older users of services like Instagram unhappy with the shift towards tik-tok style short videos and algorithmic feeds.The unique digital characteristics of this demographic of first-time voters will require creative approaches for political engagement ahead of the 2024 elections. The Election Commission of India recently announced further liberalisation of the voter registration process with 17-year-olds being able to register a year ahead of being eligible to vote, apart from opening up the voter registration process once every quarter. Creative engagement of this digital-first generation would perhaps require interactive live streaming on platforms like Twitch apart from volunteer engagement efforts through “servers” on Discord. How India approaches digital regulations would be of utmost importance to this cohort. It will necessitate a sustained dialogue on the government’s approach to techno-nationalism as a counter to the borderless activism that has sought to skew digital policy debates in India.India is not alone in its pursuit of techno-nationalism. We are already witnessing a wave of regulatory moves from Indonesia on not just controlling online gaming apps and services but also actively promoting indigenously developed gaming apps. While China requires licences for online games by a dedicated gaming regulator, Indonesia requires formal registration to be compliant with local laws governing what are called “private electronic systems”. From Kenya to Brazil we are also witnessing preemptive actions to insulate the electoral processes of their respective democracies from the spread of viral fake news and disinformation on WhatsApp.While the 2009 elections saw the advent of blogs in the political debate, the 2014 elections were the first time internet streaming played a significant role in disintermediating broadcast media. The 2019 elections were marked by the extensive role played by social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp. With the unique demographic characteristics of first-time voters, perhaps the 2024 elections will see algorithms and gaming apps and services play an influential role.From securing semi-conductor supply chains to regulating data flows, techno-nationalism is on the political agenda of western democracies and eastern nations alike. Over the next two years as the government seeks to put in place a comprehensive digital regulatory framework governing data, privacy, apps and algorithms, engaging the first digital generation of new voters on techno-nationalism will be crucial at every step.The writer is former CEO of Prasar Bharati, India’s Public Broadcaster
Five years after he resigned as Chief Minister and walked out of the Mahagathbandhan when RJD leader and Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav refused to step down in the wake of an alleged corruption case, JD (U) leader Nitish Kumar returned to the Mahagathbandhan and Tejashwi.On Tuesday, Nitish ended his alliance with the BJP, resigned as the coalition Chief Minister, only to stake claim again hours later with Tejashwi as his deputy. He is all set to form a new government with the support of the RJD, Congress, CPI, CPI (M-L) and HAM (S) and an Independent — they together make a team of 164 MLAs in a House of 243.Before Nitish submitted his resignation to Bihar Governor Phagu Chauhan in the afternoon, the JD(U) and RJD held separate meetings with their MLAs. The RJD reposed faith in Nitish’s leadership and did not put any pre-condition for extending him support to form a government. The Congress and CPI (M-L) had already offered their support to Nitish on Monday.Nitish met the Governor again in the evening along with Tejashwi, carrying signed letters of support from all allies to form the next government. The Governor is yet to decide on a date for the swearing-in ceremony.After emerging from the Raj Bhavan, Nitish said, “I have nothing much to say on how suffocated we felt in the NDA… There was a dominant view in the party about snapping ties with BJP. Now, the Grand Alliance has seven parties.”Taking a swipe at the BJP, he said, “Everyone knew what kind of an atmosphere was being built. We will continue to work for BIhar.”Asked if he aspired to become a PM candidate, he said, “I have a mandate to work for Bihar.”Tejashwi said, “In the entire Hindi heartland, the BJP has no ally now. It is all because the BJP tries to finish its ally… Hamare purkhon ki virasat koi aur lega kya? (Can someone else hijack our legacy?)… I am happy Nitish Kumar decided to come back to us. We thank Lalu ji. He is the one who stopped L K Advani’s rath. We will not allow the BJP to fulfill its agenda.”He called Nitish “the most experienced CM in the country”. Asked if Nitish will be a PM candidate in the 2024 polls, he said: “I leave this question to Nitish Kumar ji… Bihar will continue to move forward under his leadership… We are chacha-bhatija, we fought each other and we are together again.”Earlier, as Nitish’s car moved inside Raj Bhavan, a small group of JD (U) supporters, waving party flags, chanted slogans of “Desh ka Pradhan Mantri kaisa ho, Nitish Kumar jaisa ho.” He returned from Raj Bhavan within 15 minutes and made a brief statement to the media that he had tendered his resignation to the Governor.Sources said Tejashwi will be the lone Deputy CM in the new government. Although the Congress also hopes to get a Deputy CM position, Nitish is unlikely to agree, sources said, adding that there could be too many power centres.Dumped by Nitish a second time, the BJP pointed to his “habit” of political somersaults. BJP leader and Union Minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey said, “Nitish Kumar is a perennial ‘Paltu Ram’ (turncoat). No one can trust him now. People of Bihar are going to see another round of jungle raj.”Neither the BJP’s central leadership nor its state unit tried to dissuade Nitish from ending the alliance. Nitish had snapped ties with the NDA in June 2013 but had returned in July 2017 after being in power with the RJD for 20 months.Several BJP leaders called the break-up with Nitish “good riddance”.PTI adds: At a press conference in Patna, former Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad accused Nitish of inconsistency in beliefs.“You talk about communalism but you aligned with us in the 1990s when the Ayodhya movement was at its peak. You fought with us against Lalu Prasad on the issue of his involvement in fodder scam. In 2013, your personal dislike for Narendra Modi made you leave us and join hands with the RJD president,” Prasad said.“You left the RJD in 2017 after Tejashwi Yadav’s name cropped up in a corruption case. You are now pushing Bihar back into the era of lawlessness and corruption which you claimed credit for bringing the state out of,” alleged the Patna Sahib MP.Speaking at the same press conference, state BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal alleged that Kumar was a “habitual betrayer” (‘aadatan dhokhebaaz’) who will be punished by the people of Bihar for betraying the “mandates of 2019 (Lok Sabha polls) and 2020 (Assembly elections)”.
Kheda became the 23rd district to be affected by Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD) that killed 149 cattle Tuesday and took the total number of deaths to 2,782 in the state. Kutch continues to be the worst-affected with 67 cattle deaths registered Tuesday. Bhavnagar (20 deaths), Rajkot (19), Surendranagar (11) and Banaskantha (11) saw a number of deaths.Banaskantha, which has a high concentration of milch animals, reported the maximum number of new LSD cases at 1,076. Devbhumi Dwarka and Rajkot reported 241 and 168 new cases respectively.Overall, the state reported 2,517 new cases Tuesday as the virus spread to 134 new villages. So far, over 74,400 cattle have been infected by the virus of which 53,453 have recovered from the disease. The state government has, so far, vaccinated 30.61 lakh cattle, including 2.27 lakh on Tuesday. Currently, Gujarat has over 17.38 lakh doses of vaccine in reserve.
Opposition parties on Tuesday slammed the Maharashtra government over induction of controversial ministers and non-inclusion of woman legislators in the newly-formed cabinet.“I am happy that many of our former colleagues are now part of the new cabinet. But it also proves that the allegations made by the BJP against them earlier were baseless,” said Leader of Opposition and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar.He added that women have played an important role in the development of a progressive and secular Maharashtra. “Women representatives should have been in the cabinet. It is extremely sad that no woman was part of the cabinet expansion,” said Pawar.“While we congratulate the newly sworn-in ministers, we expect the portfolio distribution to take place at the earliest. This expansion has happened after a delay of 40 days. We expect that the newly sworn-in ministers will not waste time in accepting felicitations but instead start working on delayed projects and pro-people initiatives at the earliest,” said the NCP leader.Lok Sabha Member of Parliament and NCP leader Supriya Sule termed non-inclusion of women in the state cabinet as an insult to “women power”. Sule said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks about women empowerment and asks women to not only be home-makers but also nation builders. “Not including a single woman is an insult to women power,” she said.Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant, meanwhile, hit out at the induction of Sanjay Rathod, who had to resign from the Maha Vikas Aghadi government over the suicide of a woman, and Abdul Sattar, whose daughters have been named in connection with alleged malpractices in the teacher eligibility test. He said the BJP is like a washing machine as whoever joins the party comes out clean.“The BJP is like a washing machine. Whoever joins the party, they come out clean. Fadnavis should answer how the same person, whose resignation he was demanding, can be included in the ministry now,” asked Sawant.Shiv Sena spokesperson Manisha Kayande also took a dig at BJP leader Chitra Wagh, who had raised her voice against Rathod in the past, and said it was unfortunate that there was not a single woman minister in the Shinde-led cabinet.“Looks like Chitra Wagh, who had demanded the resignation of Rathod and fought for justice for Pooja Chavan, was used by the BJP as per their convenience. First they tarnished the image and now they are giving clean chit to the same person. All those who are going to the BJP are getting clean chits,” said Kayande. She also challenged Wagh to join the Sena if she wanted justice for women.Congress legislative party leader Balasaheb Thorat said, “I hope the differences between the BJP and Shinde groups are over now. Whether this government is legal or not, it will be decided by the courts. But I wonder why do they not have a woman member in the cabinet. Aren’t they bothered about representation by women? In fact, someone who has committed atrocity against a woman has been included.”NCP state president Jayant Patil said stories about who wanted to become a minister and who was denied ministerial berth will soon be out. “The BJP has taken along those against whom it worked. I am sure it is not an easy task but they have done it,” taunted Patil.State Congress chief Nana Patole said, “Cabinet expansion has been done after a delay. The state has sanctioned Rs 6,000 crore for the bullet train to connect Maharashtra with Gujarat. They are doing things to benefit Gujarat, but not helping those suffering due to floods in Maharashtra.”