Salary increase; timing and impact

Rs 200/125 doesn’t buy you anything much these days. This is a fact we cannot deny

 As was to be expected, the salary compensations that were announced by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development at the beginning of the week has been met like a bitter pill to be swallowed by the intended beneficiaries and the unions. The quantum is Rs 200 for those earning up to Rs 15,000 per month, and Rs 125 for those earning between Rs 15,000 to Rs 50,000. Those earning above Rs 50,000 will not receive any compensation.

It will be noted that this announcement has been made after tripartite negotiations, and the quantum officially justified by the need to control inflation, given that the bill for this increase to both the private and public sectors is said to come to Rs 1.9 billion annually. Starting, of course, now. Truly speaking, as some reactions from the people concerned have noted, Rs 200/125 doesn’t buy you anything much these days. This is a fact we cannot deny.

That is why the timing also of the announcement and its implementation comes into play. Knowing that the mass of money in circulation will increase dramatically in this period of the end of the year, what with the salary bonus and the compensation, undoubtedly this represents a windfall for businesses. It is not that they are not entitled to making a profit, but the little increase in compensation obtained will all but be neutralised by the parallel hike in the price of goods of current consumption and those that are hot during the festive season. In the excitement of the shopping mood and spree, potential customers will probably not give too much attention to the covert increases – which already happen during the ‘sales’ that nowadays seem to take place practically throughout the year.

One example will suffice to make the point. One brand of washing liquid a few months ago was advertised as selling for Rs 29 a bottle, down from Rs 52. This lasted only for a few days, when the price went up again to the ‘normal’ Rs 52. Even at Rs 29 the seller is making a profit – so how much more at Rs 52! The same trick will be played during this season, perhaps this time with the sale price at Rs 39 instead of Rs 29. So does the customer ever win? There is only an illusion of doing so.

Perhaps, therefore, any compensation due should rather come in the middle of the year, so that the frenzy of the festive season doesn’t blind the buyer to the tricks being played on her/him!

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Public holiday on 3rd January? No!

It is a recurrent issue in our country: whenever a national event falls on a weekend, voices are heard to replace that day, Saturday or Sunday, by an additional public holiday. As we have two public holidays for New Year, starting Sunday 1st January 2017, there has been a clamour to declare Tuesday 3rd January 2017 as public holiday to make up for the ‘lost’ public holiday. We must be the country that has the most public holidays in a year, and adding one more even on an ad hoc basis, does not make any sense.

Specially as regards New Year, it may be noted that in the West where the custom of celebrating it on 1st January originated, it is only on that date that a public holiday is accorded. It’s back to normal work on the 2nd January. In some countries, e.g. India, 1st January is a normal working day.

Even as regards Christmas, it is only in the UK that they have an additional public holiday, which is the 26th December known as Boxing Day – meant to open the boxes of presents that have been given on the previous day as Christmas gift. Possibly because the merry-making does not leave one in a state to do so on Christmas day itself!

It used to be the case in Mauritius too for a Boxing Day public holiday, and it’s a good thing that it has been abolished.

So we do not subscribe to have the coming Tuesday 3rd January declared as a public holiday. In any case, save for those in essential services, most people here are pretty much slack for nearly a month, from 15th December till 15th January. An additional public holiday for New Year will not add anything to the ambient enjoyment that is ongoing anyway!

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Tamil Nadu mourns Chief Minister Jayalalitha

Jayaram Jayalalitha who was Chief minister of Tamil Nadu passed away aged 68 last Tuesday night after suffering a massive cardiac arrest. She had been in the Apollo Hospital Chennai for 75 days, having been admitted initially for lung infection which took long to settle.

After a passage at her home, her body was taken to the Rajaji Hall until she was given a State funeral on Wednesday afternoon. Her followers were able to view the body, and several high profile politicians came to pay their respects, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The President of India Shri Pranab Mukherjee was also present for the burial ceremony. She was laid to rest in a memorial monument at Marina Beach, next to that of M.G. Ramchandran (MGR), like her an actor-turned-politician who in fact is the one who brought her into politics.

Born in 1948, she lost her father early, and her mother had to struggle to support the family. She was ‘forced’ to join films at a young age to help the family as well, and played in over 100 films, most of them with her hero MGR. Three years after his death in 1987, she took over his All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Khazagham (AIADMK) party, and was elected chief minister four times. She alternated in power over most of this time with her great rival, 93-year-old M. Karunanidhi, leader of the DMK party – who also has of late been in and out of hospital.

She has been described as one of India’s most colourful and controversial politicians. Accused of corruption, she spent a brief time in jail in 1996. In 2015, a Karnataka high court order cleared her of involvement in a corruption scandal, reversing a trial court judgement of September 2014 which found her guilty of corruption and gave her a four-year jail sentence. This setback paved the way for her return to power, but not before she had to resign as chief minister and spend three weeks in prison, in one of the toughest challenges of her political career.

However, Jayalalitha’s admirers say she has played a key role in the development of Tamil Nadu as one of India’s most economically influential states. Jayalalitha had the unquestioned support of thousands of people in her AIADMK party and her lakhs – hundreds of thousands — of followers literally worshipped her as Amma, meaning Mother. She has championed the cause of the rural and urban poor by introducing subsidised food canteens, providing free laptops to thousands of school pupils and students and launching other populist schemes (all branded ‘Amma’), like giving away food mixers and grinders to families. The schemes included Amma Bottled Water, Amma Salt, Amma Pharmacies and more recently, Amma Cement.

But her critics say that she has used the Tamil Nadu Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) – which has a monopoly on the sale of alcohol in the state – to pay for many of her pet projects, and many have protested against Jayalalitha’s policies.

In an article written after her death with the rather unkindly title ‘The Egotistical State Plunderer with Decadent Wealth Aristocrat is Finally Dead’, the author dug the nail further when he wrote, ‘That lady – Jayalalitha – who plundered her own people to live a life of decadent wealth is now dead. And thankfully so…’ and gave a list of her possessions: farm houses and bungalows in Chennai, agricultural land in Tamil Nadu, a farm house in Hyderabad, a tea estate in the Nilgiris, fleet of about a dozen luxury cars (which included Bentleys, Audis, Range Rovers), valuable jewellery, industrial sheds, cash deposits and investments in banks. Further, a team of investigators who had raided her Poes garden home found the following: 800 kg silver, 28 kg gold, 750 pairs of shoes, 10,500 sarees, 91 watches.

This makes one wonder whether she took a cue from the Philippines dictator’s wife Imelda Marcos, whose luxury personal possessions included thousands of pairs of shoes among other things comparable to Jayalalitha’s.

Nevertheless, she was regarded as an icon and a very successful but authoritarian politician who paved open doors for other women – although belonging to her party only, according to Jayanti Natarajan, a well-known lawyer from Tamil Nadu and a Congress MP. She certainly was a very successful and accomplished actress, was very well educated and spoke several languages, including having a good command of English.

Notwithstanding the controversies, however, her imprint and shadow are likely to influence Tamil Nadu politics for a long time to come. She was certainly larger than life, and if only for that we must respect her in death despite everything else. R.I.P. Amma.

TP Saran

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