5 Cameras That Will Help You Make 2017 Memorable

 

2016 was a fabulous year for Indian travellers. They moved out of their comfort zones, chased real experiences and embraced the unknown. And now as we welcome 2017, it’s time to set new expectations, achieve new goals and visit new places. So here are 5 cool cameras that will definitely turn moments into memories.

1. Hover Camera
If 2017 is the year when you intend to take the plunge (literally), then go for this! Cliff jumping isn’t for the faint-hearted, so if you muster up the courage, then here’s the gizmo that will make you remember the moment forever. Play it on loop, all year round. It’s the perfect piece of tech that’s easy to use, pack and unveil – all in all, the best and most reasonable flying camera in town.

2. DJI Phantom 4 
Turning 30 and don’t know how to celebrate? Easy peasy. The DJI Phantom 4 is the perfect gift for you or your beloved. The good news is that it captures amazing 4K footage with a respectable battery life; the bad news is the price. Then again, it’s the big 30, make it count!

3. Photo Jojo Lenses
Have you been going through the looking-down syndrome? Photo Jojo lenses will help you master the art of optical perfection in 2017.You can strap this wonder piece to almost all smartphones and get clicking in minutes. It has a wide variety of lenses to choose from – wide, macro, fisheye, super fisheye, telephoto and a polarizer, phone-photography made easy.

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4. Samsung Galaxy S7
D-SLRs are not your cup of tea? Smartphones come to your rescue. This one specifically helps the photographer in you. It not only takes beautiful pictures in the day but also takes care of the low light memories, because life is not lived only during the day.

5. Polaroid Instax 70
For all the selfie crazies who were struggling to ace it with the Polaroid, the latest model is what you’ve been searching for. The lens comes with a small mirror adjacent to it, so you can work that selfie right! Another add-on is the automatic exposure control so you don’t end up looking like vampires, some of the other features that are worth mentioning are the self-timer, tripod socket and hi-key mode.

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Business to consumer will remain one of the fastest-growing segments

 

BNP Paribas Asset Management India Pvt. Ltd’s track record, post Anand Shah’s joining the fund house in 2011 has been good. But, the calendar year of 2016 exposed chinks in stock picking strategy. Shah, as the fund house’s chief investment officer (now he is also the deputy chief executive officer and oversees the fund management as well as sales), has always liked investing in shares of consumer-facing companies. But last year, demonetisation and the entry of Reliance Jio in the telecom space adversely impacted his portfolios. His holdings in the telecom sector proved very costly. Will he be able to recover from this fall? Mint spoke to Shah to find out his future strategy. Edited excerpts:

Earlier this year, you had said that demonetisation had impacted your fund house’s equity schemes’ portfolios. It has been around four months since demonetisation. What’s your further assessment?

Re-monetisation appears to be now happening. Money is coming in. The economy that was largely cash-led has suffered, but things there as well are slowly resuming back to normal. So, four-wheelers never really got impacted. But two-wheelers, which largely dealt in cash, were impacted. Multiplexes, which largely dealt with credit cards and online bookings didn’t suffer as much, but single screen theatres where people book tickets largely by cash, suffered. Formal economies didn’t get impacted. The informal economy got adversely impacted.

But things are getting back to normal now. Most of our equity schemes have recovered their losses more or less.

You have always liked businesses that face the consumer. After the demonetisation impact, no matter how temporary an impact it has appeared to have had on the various industries, have you changed your likings about the sort of sectors you invest in?Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

The B2C businesses has created wealth for investors for decades. They also have more entry barriers and so it is not easy to take away a retail consumer in a hurry. There are valid reasons to invest in B2C companies. Further, the other two segments (business to business or B2B and business to government or B2G) have made a comeback.

In the B2B space, the metals sector is back as the Chinese economy has normalized and there’s hope of an economic recovery in the US. We have exposure to this segment.

In the B2G segment, the government’s spending is up. There are businesses that will benefit from government spending.

A bulk of our portfolios will remain in B2C businesses because comfortable demographics will ensure that it will remain one of the fastest growing segments in the market. On top of it, before demonetisation, we were looking at these companies to do well on the back of a good monsoon last year as well as the pay commission. Both these factors are not going away in a hurry. So, to us, this (demonetisation) is temporary, the B2C segment will only bounce back with a vengeance.

Your schemes’ performance went down big time in the calendar year 2016. Was their exposure to telecom sector the only reason or were there other reasons?

Two things happened together. The good part of the portfolio, business to consumer (B2C) segment companies, which gave me 600-700 bps outperformance for the last 8 years was dealt a blow (demonetisation), which is a once in a century phenomenon. One basis point is one-hundreth of a percentage point. I believe we won’t see another demonetisation for next one century at least. So while the fall in share prices of our holdings in the telecom sector stocks could have been absorbed by the otherwise resilient B2C companies, even the latter got impacted by demonetisation.

When you were buying more shares of Bharti Airtel Ltd throughout 2015-16, did you not see Reliance Jio’s impending impact? There was a lot of buzz around—and expectation from—the telecom company. Something big was expected by most of us.

We were prepared for a 50% lower pricing in data. We were not prepared for free handouts. Nobody anticipated. We have seen in the past that competition exists where the likes of Telenor and Tata Telecom enter the markets offering 30-50% discounts in tariffs and plans. And slowly and gradually, new entrants capture market share. That’s how B2C companies work. They capture market share, but they don’t capture it overnight.

For example, despite some banks like Kotak Bank and Yes Bank offering (close to) 6% interest on savings bank rate, we don’t see people leaving their banks and queuing up outside these banks. The B2B segment is price sensitive; price doesn’t generally matter in the B2C segment.

But Reliance Jio’s strategy and entry was extremely disruptive. It destroyed the sector’s health.

What is your outlook on the telecom sector now and where do you go from here as far your schemes’ exposure to this sector is concerned?

We have already sold our holdings in Idea Cellular much earlier than when Jio came, as that’s where we suffered large underperformance. Bharti Airtel has not performed badly for us, actually.

The telecom sector now is in a complete flux where balance sheets have grown because companies now have to deliver a 4G network in 2017 and 2018, as opposed to 2020. They had to prepone their capital expenditure, be it spectrum purchase or electronic capex. Typically, there is a 10-year cycle for every technology cycle. So, if 3G came in 2010, 4G was expected in around 2020. So now telecom companies have expanded their balance sheets, but their revenues have shrunk due to stiff competition. This combination reduces Return on Capital Employed and Return on Equity, as an industry, to abysmally low levels.

Consolidation has just begun, which is good. We still have more firms than many developed nations. Abroad, there are 2-3 firms, so we will see another year of pain, before another round of consolidation happens.

Analysts have pushed back earnings visibility further. What do you think?

We do have earnings problem at Nifty level but that’s not true for quite a few companies. Despite pockets of volatility in the past 3-4 years, we haven’t had problems of earnings growth for the companies in our portfolios.

If you look at financial year (FY) 2015, the first half (up to September 2014) was profitable, we didn’t have growth issues. We had a de-growth on year-on-year earnings between September 2014 and March 2015. Most of the de-growth came from commodity producers. Earnings didn’t collapse for everybody in the second half of FY2015. And thus, if you look at entire FY15, half of the Nifty companies’ earnings grew at 15% average, and half of Nifty companies’ earnings fell by 15%. And the same story continued in first half of FY16 because year-on-year, the commodity prices were lower. While lower commodity prices were great for macro economy, it had some negative impact on the earnings of the commodity producers.

In the second half of FY16, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced asset quality review of banks’ lending portfolios. Since companies had to recognize their bad assets more stringently, their earnings, led by those of the corporate banks, fell. Those banks that had lent to metal companies suffered further as commodity prices had fallen. And in the second half of 2016, crude oil prices fell from 50$ a barrel to 30$ a barrel and steel prices further went down. So commodity producers and corporate banks dragged down Nifty earning growth in FY16. The country as a whole wasn’t messed up. Some pockets suffered. We had decent growth in earnings for our underlying companies in FY2015 and FY2016.

FY2017 was looking fine with good monsoons (after 2 years) and spending boost due to implementation of pay commission for government employees. But then, in the second half came demonetization, and that has put new doubts on earnings visibility on most of the companies.

Coming back to present times, and looking at expectations for FY2018, we believe that our economy is doing well. Growth is coming back. To a lesser extent than we would like, but I think the government and RBI are doing the right things. Lower interest rates, lower inflation, investments on infrastructure—everything is moving in the right direction. It’s the harder way of economy recovery; wherein we are spending money on roads, railways which doesn’t give us GDP growth rate immediately.

But, I believe these are the right things to do for sustainable economic growth as well sustainable earnings recovery. We believe more than half of the index companies are already benefiting from these activities and it’s not that all the segments of the market are doing badly. There are plenty of opportunities to do stock picking.

Last year apart, your overall long term performance has been good. Yet, BNP Paribas Asset Management India Ltd’s overall assets under management hasn’t grown as much, as opposed to the industry.

Till December 2015, BNP Paribas Asset Management India Ltd was one of the fastest growing asset management companies in the Indian mutual funds industry. Our distribution strength lies in global markets. So globally, we are one of the seven largest offshore funds in the world that invest in India. Our Indian arm is profitable making it one of the very few fund houses in our size bracket to be profitable.

We have to now stabilize our performance, which is happening already. We have strengthened our tie-ups with distributors and last but not the least, we are putting in place our fixed income pie. We are making investments wherever needed.

Licensing must go, else real estate will be an over regulated sector DLF

 

Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) act is expected to be implemented in Maharashtra by May 1, 2017. Rajeev Talwar, Group ED, DLF spoke about how much could the organised players in the space stand to benefit by this act.

He said the industry has taken up RERA very positively.

“Any regulation in any sector is well intentioned. With all due respect, any regulation is better than no regulation but subsequently licensing needs to go otherwise it would be an over-regulated sector”, he further added.

Below is the verbatim transcript of Rajeev Talwar’s interview to Latha Venkatesh, Sonia Shenoy and Guest Editor Adrian Mowat on CNBC-TV18.

Sonia: I just wanted to open the discussion by asking you what your view is on RERA once it get implemented post the May 1st? There will be a lot of transparency in execution etc. but there are some onerous announcements, clauses that have come in on the back of RERA, so tell us what is your view on how the industry could take it as a whole?

A: I think the industry has taken up as a very positive measure. Any regulation in any sector is probably well intentioned. But we were of course quite keen that instead of having such an onerous regulation, so many clauses including imprisonment I think a simple one line order if the government had given that you cannot sell any residential apartment in view of our past experienced of our decade without completing it first or at least completing the structure, I think that would have taken care of it. But with all due humility and respect, any regulation is better than no regulation, but subsequently licensing needs to go, otherwise it would be an over regulated sector.

Adrian: How do you see this new regulation changing your business model?

A: I hope you were in touch with DLF on various other counts and we have decided as a firm for the last four years when we saw this coming forth that we would only be selling completed apartments. So, over the last four years, we have delivered or tried to deliver all our customer commitments.

Hopefully, by the end of this calendar year, all our customer commitments would be met and yet we would be having readymade stock to sell as well as ready to be occupied immediately worth about more than USD 2 billion with us.

In all, we all will change to a model which will not merely promise on paper and then find the route a little cumbersome, but with RERA coming in and laying down stipulating that you can only announce a project after all clearances have been obtained, I am certain that there would be a year to two-years gap between any new launches because all builders will have to take all approvals, all clearances, land title within those two years would be very clear. So I think in all we should see a delay in some launches but so much a better deal for the customer and the buyer.Image result for Licensing must go, else real estate will be an over-regulated sector: DLF

Adrian: Business direction has meant that some operating cash flow, free cash flows being negative for number of years. Do you think that now the adjustments being made that the real estate industry can move to a better free cash flow position?

A: Free cash flow I think in the immediate near future may be a problem and you are seeing many large companies and established companies facing a problem. But, overall yes with realisations getting better when apartments have all the clearances, their construction schedules would be online and plus with better value realisation of completed apartments, I am sure that lots of companies will change their business model and are able to adapt to new regulation will find it easier in the future, but I am not so sure in the next year or three four quarters.

Latha: I just want to take that point forward, RERA becomes a reality in Maharashtra on the May 1, now it would take a while before they are staffed, they hit the ground and some time before consumers start approaching them, so do you think immediately the real estate companies in Mumbai or in Maharashtra just be rushing to finish, initially will it be a crunch situation where they are only trying to meet old deadlines?

A: I think that was the intention of RERA itself that customer commitments must be met, they must be honoured and perhaps that is where the government, the courts and people at large including the media were finding it a problem to cope up with multiple delays in multiple projects all over the country. I am sure that it would be in good state for all real estate companies to finish their projects, to complete their customer commitments and then go in for fresh new projects. So, I think there will be two effects – one that yes customer commitments would be met, but the new system would also entail delays. So, I think in that meanwhile anyone who has a completed flat or a completed apartment will get a better value for it, so I think they would then stand to gain in the short term too.

Adrian: We have had nearly a six year downturn in the real estate industry, if we are looking at things like pre-sales. Do you think we have now got a very advantageous combination of events here, so we have got a new regulation which should improve the buyers’ confidence in the real estate product combined with the decline in mortgage rates that looks like a very attractive combination particularly considering we have been let us call it a six year bear market in residential real estate?

A: I am so glad that you deem it so yes, I think there are fortuitous circumstances taking place right now that first of all greater transparency, greater accountability. Number two- mortgage rates coming down, loan rates coming down and I think a very good direction by the government. The largest segment of housing shortage in this country is of what we now call affordable housing, 30 square meters to 60 square meters and a large number of incentives being given to them. There are still some polices tweaking which needs to be in place and no lesser than the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is on the task.

In India if you have seen it over a period of time that policy announcements once made measures taken need time to get fine-tuned, but eventually make a big difference whether it was the telecom sector, which began of in the mid-80s, whether it was the aviation sector which began off in the 90s, early 90s and now hopefully the direction being given by the current government on affordable housing will get tweaked over a period of next two to three years just like real estate investment trust (REITs) did initially and hopefully I think that would mean a big quantum jump in the volumes of work being undertaken by the construction and real estate industry. But more than that I think it will throw up a lot of people into this business afresh. That means a great jump for employment.

Sonia: Have we seen any improvement in demand at all because the NCR market is still extremely sluggish and when we spoke last during your previous quarter earnings you did mentioned that it will take at least a couple of more quarters before you see any recovery in demand, what is the status as of now?

A: I don’t think we could link demand with this oversupply. There is an oversupply it takes time to get absorbed just like the commercial sector did after the slowdown in 2008. It has taken almost seven years after that for the oversupply to get absorbed.

In the residential sector because of loan rates coming down, mortgage rates coming down, I think when Adrian was giving the example of Mexico he touched on a very critical point which is mortgage rates and the tenure of mortgages, we will come to that a little later. But, I think this oversupply will get absorbed on better earnings by the other industries in general in the economy and that will add fillip with lower interest rates to getting this oversupply in the residential segment absorbed.

I think that should take about three to four quarters, but within that period I think a newer regime would come into place, newer emphasis on affordable housing, more tweaking of policy on issues like floor area ratio (FAR), floor space index (FSI), density, standardised plans a larger number of projects being launched, public-private partnership on government lands and PSU lands which is public sector enterprises and public sector undertakings on those lands I think all that will mean a huge jump in the coming five years.

Latha: Your best place to advice audience on this entire Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana itself, the affordable housing scheme. Who is likely to benefit most? If you were a betting man would you bet on cement, would you bet on housing finance companies, would you bet on real estate?

A: I think real estate, yes, how many of them would go public first of all and what kind of partnerships shape out, but of course the companies which supply the basic raw materials whether it is cement, steel, ceramics and of course housing finance companies they would do rather well.

Google Translate and Gboard Improve Indian Languages Support, Google Search Will Include Hindi Dictionary Results

Google on Tuesday announced that the company is introducing improved support for Indian languages in its products. After introducing support for machine-learning based translation for Hindi last month, the search giant has now extended its neural machine translation to 9 more Indian languages. The company has also extended its new translation technique’s support to Chrome browser’s built-in auto-translate functionality. Additionally, it has announced that its Gboard Keyboard app will now support all 22 scheduled Indian languages. Finally, Google Search results will now include results from Hindi dictionary as well.

Coming first to the neural machine translation support, Google has announced that Google Translate will now use this improved technique to translate to and from Indian languages including Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Malayalam, and Kannada. “Neural translation offers a huge improvement over the old phrase-based system, translating full sentences at a time, instead of pieces of a sentence. This change improves the quality of the translation in a single jump than seen in the last ten years combined,” the company said in a press release.

 Google Translate and Gboard Improve Indian Languages Support, Google Search Will Include Hindi Dictionary Results

Google has now extended the Neural Machine translation to Chrome browser’s built-in auto-translate functionality as well in order to make full-page translations more accurate and easier to read. This means that users will be able to browse through websites with content translated from foreign languages to the aforementioned 9 languages. As the new technique has been claimed to be far superior to earlier one, the change is likely to make Web more user-friendly for people in India.

The search giant has extended the neural machine auto-translation to Google Maps as well and users will now be able to read the translated reviews for restaurants, cafes, or hotels among other places through the app in their local language as well.

In Google Search, users will now be able to see Hindi dictionary results from Rajpal & Sons dictionary in collaboration with Oxford University Press, the company said. “This new experience will also support transliteration, allowing users to use their existing keyboards to find meanings in Hindi. So when you’d like to know more about a word, say “Nirdeshak”, you can just type in “Nirdeshak ka matlab” in Search, and you’ll instantly get to see word meanings and dictionary definitions on the search results page, including English translations,” it said.

“The most important aspect of making the web more useful and meaningful for all of India is to make India’s Internet more representative of the India we live in. India today has 234 million Indian language users who are online, compared to 175 million English web users, we expect another 300 million Indian language users to come online in the next four years. With today’s launches, we are taking a huge step forward to bring down the barriers that stop Indian language users to get more out of the Internet and also help the industry to solve for the needs of billions Indians,” Rajan Anandan, vice-president of Google’s India and South East Asia operations was quoted as saying in company’s release.

Google introduced the neural machine translation to Google Translate last year and claimed that the technique makes articles “smoother and easier” to read.

 

Himalayan blunder: Pakistan’s Indus Cascade plan will reduce food and water security

The five dams forming the North Indus River Cascade that China has just promised to finance and build in Pakistan – including Pakistan-administered Kashmir – has the potential to generate over 22,000 megawatts in an energy-starved country. But the dams will also stop the flow of silt, which is the lifeline of agriculture downstream. In non-monsoon months from October to June, they may also reduce the flow of water down the Indus to Pakistan’s Punjab and Sindh provinces.

Climate change is making water flow along rivers more erratic – especially along rivers like the Indus that flow down from the Himalayas. Pakistan’s entire water supply for agriculture, factories and homes is dependent on rivers in the Indus basin. Water availability is already below the 1,000 cubic metres per person per year level at which a country is described as water-scarce, according to the global norm followed by most United Nations agencies.

In this situation, it is critical to look at the food, energy and water together, as a nexus. Instead, the planners of Pakistan appear to be looking at energy alone.Himalayan blunder: Pakistan’s Indus Cascade plan will reduce food and water security

Money, CPEC, OBOR

China is providing Pakistan with $50 billion for the Indus Cascade. A memorandum of understanding was signed to this effect during the recent Belt and Road Initiative – previously known as One Belt, One Road – conference in Beijing. China’s National Energy Administration will oversee the funding. China Three Gorges Corporation – which runs the world’s largest hydroelectricity project at the Three Gorges Dam – is the frontrunner to build the five dams that will form the cascade.

The memorandum of understanding was signed by Pakistan’s Water and Power Secretary Yousuf Naseem Khokhar and Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Sun Weidong in the presence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

This is in addition to the $57 billion China is providing to Pakistan for a series of infrastructure projects along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a part of the Belt and Road Initiative. The infrastructure projects include the building of coal-fired power stations and the port at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea, at the end of the corridor.

The Indus Cascade

The cascade is planned all the way down the Indus from Gilgit-Baltistan to the existing Tarbela dam near Islamabad. It will effectively turn this huge transboundary river into a series of lakes in the last part of its journey through the Hindu Kush Himalayas to the plains of South Asia.

The uppermost of the five dams is being planned at Bunji near Skardu in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed territory claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, though both only control parts of it, with China also controlling some.

The 7,100-megawatt Bunji Hydropower Project has been described by Pakistan’s Water and Power Development Authority as a run-of-the-river project. But the same promotional video (for the entire cascade), which provides this description, also says this project will have a reservoir that will be spread along a 22-km stretch of the Indus and inundate a 12-km stretch of the road between Gilgit and Skardu – the two main towns of Gilgit-Baltistan. So, despite the description, this may not be an run-of-the-river project.

The next dam in the cascade is the big one – Diamer-Basha – with a planned live storage of 6.4 million acre feet of water and a hydropower generating potential of 4,500 megawatts. From Diamer-Basha, the projects run along the Karakoram Highway, which China built in the 1960s through Pakistan-administered Kashmir despite strenuous objections from India. The reservoir that will form behind the Diamer-Basha dam will submerge 104 km of the Karakoram Highway and displace about 30,000 people, according to the Water and Power Development Authority.

The Diamer-Basha dam is being promoted by the Water and Power Development Authority as a sediment trap and therefore good for downstream hydropower projects. But the same sediment – mainly silt – rejuvenates the soil downstream every year and has been the main reason why agriculture has been sustained in the Indus valley for millennia.

Building the Diamer-Basha dam is estimated to cost $15 billion. For years, Pakistan has been seeking the money from multilateral funding agencies, to no avail. Experts at the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have advised Pakistani planners to think of smaller dams instead. Now China has promised funding.

Just downstream of Diamer-Basha is the third dam in the cascade – the 4,320-megawatt Dasu Hydropower Project. This will have a reservoir that will stretch upstream for 74 km along the Indus, all the way to the Diamer-Basha dam, according to the Water and Power Development Authority. It will also submerge 52 km of the Karakoram Highway. Some of the peripheral work for this project has started, and people have already been displaced, with the Water and Power Development Authority seeking contracts for resettlement and providing free transport to resettlement sites.

And immediately downstream of that, the Water and Power Development Authority has planned the 2,200-megawatt Patan Hydropower Project, with a 35-km-long reservoir that goes up to the Dasu dam.

Once again, the fifth dam in the cascade is just a little downstream – the 4,000-megawatt Thakot Hydropower Project in which the plan is to divert the Indus waters through four headrace tunnels to generate electricity.

By the time the Indus emerges from the tunnels, it will be close to the existing dam at Tarbela, which has been in operation since 1976.

The plan, the effect

The electricity that will potentially be generated by the five new projects forming the Indus Cascade adds up to a little over 22,000 megawatts. Officials in Pakistan’s Ministry of Water and Power have been telling the domestic media that experts from the Chinese National Energy Administration conducted a feasibility study of the entire cascade this February and were satisfied about the feasibility of the whole project.

The officials say that now, after the signing of the memorandum of understanding, the Chinese experts will conduct a more detailed study for three months to finalise both financing and execution of the projects. In 2015, China Three Gorges Corporation had said it wanted to be part of a financing consortium with a $50-billion fund to build hydroelectric power projects in Pakistan.

The corporation may be the frontrunner to build the dams, but it is not the only competitor. After the memorandum of understanding was signed in Beijing, several Chinese power sector companies showed willingness to join the project. This will be the first large-scale private sector hydroelectricity project in Pakistan.

At the memorandum of understanding signing ceremony, Nawaz Sharif spoke glowingly of cooperation between the two governments to overcome Pakistan’s energy crisis. “Development of the North Indus Cascade is a major focus of my government and the construction of Diamer-Basha dam is the single most important initiative in this regard,” the prime minister reportedly said. He also said, “Water and food security are of paramount importance for Pakistan keeping in view the challenges posed by climate change.”

The Indus Cascade will reduce water and food security in Pakistan instead.

One proven effect of climate change is an intensification of the water cycle. In lay terms, it means fewer rainy or snowy days but more intense rainfall or snowfall in those days. Pakistan is already suffering the effects. For the first nine years in this century, the Indus failed to reach the sea. Then there was such a cloudburst in 2010 that a fifth of the country was flooded. The floods also brought down, and continue to bring down, huge sediment loads that reduce the working lives of dams. To build more large dams in this situation appears dangerously short-sighted.

A side effect of the cascade project will be the need to rebuild large parts of the Karakoram Highway. Building a road in the mountains always has a strong negative effect on the environment and increases the risk of landslides manifold.

Raising tensions

India has already boycotted the Belt and Road Initiative conference because many of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects are in Kashmir. Addition of a project as big as the Indus Cascade to that list is likely to lead to more protests from India and to raise tension in the region.

This article first appeared on The Third Pole.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.

 

Skype Gets a Facelift! How Will the Big Redesign Change Your Business?

 

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has launched a new and revamped Skype featuring a host of new features that are obviously inspired by messaging rivals such as Snapchat and Messenger. That basically means that the Microsoft application now features a redesign that puts the camera only a swipe away as well as a Stories-like feature dubbed “Highlights.”

The ‘Next Generation of Skype’

Highlights allows you to record your day using video clips and photos. And you can then select if you want them seen by a select few or by all your connections. This feature most obviously gives business owners and marketers alike the option to feature and advertise their products to their Skype connections.

The new Skype also dresses up conversations with emojis, stickers, GIFs, along with @mentions, giving marketers a chance to showcase their personalities and even have some fun when promoting their products.

Skype is also leveraging the Bing search engine, Microsoft’s Cortana virtual assistant and third-party chat bots and add-ins from the likes of Upworthy, YouTube, Giphy and BigOven.How Will the 'Next Generation of Skype' Change Your Business?

Also described by the Skype Team as “the next generation of Skype,” the new design noticeably focuses on messaging. The messaging interface now includes chat, find and capture. Chat basically features the conversation view with options for picture additions and emoji. The Find section allows you to search through a conversation, find restaurants, images and even add-ins like Giphy. Capture allows you to capture pictures or videos with an option to add stickers and text, just as you would on Snapchat.

Skype isn’t losing its heart, though, as it still allows for video connectivity between contacts. That’s still there.

The rollout for the new Skype will be gradual as it will first hit Android devices and iOS devices will follow. Windows and Mac versions will be released over the next few months. The Skype Team didn’t say anything about potential changes to Skype for Business.

 

Snapchat Introduces New Feature: Will it Help You with Marketing?

 

Introducing Snap Map

Snap Map, as it’s called, is a location based service that shows Snapchat users where their friends are hanging out nearby. So if someone is posting snaps from a local restaurant, you can see that on an actual map instead of just watching their snaps and wondering where all that great food is coming from. Of course, there’s also a ghost mode for people who don’t want everyone else to constantly know their location on Snapchat.

The feature is meant to help Snapchat users find more fun activities in their local area and make it easier to meet up with friends. But it could definitely have some benefits for local businesses as well.Snapchat Introduces Snap Map: Will it Help You with Marketing?

If Snapchat users are constantly sharing their location and inviting friends to meet up with them at your business, it could lead to lots of new customers. So you could encourage that type of sharing by putting up signage asking for customers to post on Snapchat, offering special events. Or you could even create your own location based Snapchat frame or filter to get people really interested in sharing on the platform.

It’s just one feature on a platform that offers limited benefit to marketers compared to other social media platforms. But for local businesses, especially those that target young, social customers, it could provide a bit of a boost.

 

GST impact on real estate: Will new tax system bring property prices down?

 

After demonetisation, the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act or RERA is being enforced to realise the ‘housing for all’ initiative by the government, and the implementation of the upcoming Goods and Services Tax (GST) will further streamline the real estate segment in India. GST is designed to encourage transparency and ease of doing business in the realty sector, but whether it will bring down property prices or not, is still debatable.

If we look at the current tax levels, these include 4.5 per cent service tax (with input tax set off available) plus 1 per cent value-added tax or VAT (in Maharashtra, without any set-off benefits). In the GST regime, the tax on under-construction projects will be 12 per cent. On the face of it, there is an increase of 6.5 per cent regarding the tax payable by apartment purchasers. However, there is the option of getting full input tax set off on all input side if GST is paid.

 Will GST bring property prices down

It is expected that the net effect of the credit set off benefit will leave the overall tax revenue to the government as neutral. However, the entire concept of GST is that the final consumer bears the overall tax and compared to the earlier regime, the tax rate to the end consumer is much higher. It is likely to lead to a reduction in the per-square-foot rate quoted by developers (since they will be able to get the benefit of input tax credit). On the other hand, the total cost to the end consumer may change slightly depending on the actual specifications, location and other details of the project.

However, GST is not applicable to ready-to-move-in properties. As a result, developers will either have to bear the tax burden since it cannot be passed on to end consumers or prices of apartments, which are ready for possession, will increase in step with the taxes. Again, it will lead to a change in the quoted price by the developer, but the overall cost to the end customer will stay largely unchanged.

Unfortunately, the government has not addressed the aspect of stamp duty, which continues to be extremely high for land and apartment sales. There is no input tax set off available for the stamp duty paid for the land, and this goes against the basic concept of GST. Hopefully, it will be addressed by various state governments shortly.

Never before in the history of the country, so many changes have taken place at the same time to impact the real estate sector. Demonetisation, RERA and GST are all critical changes, but when all of these are implemented within a period of eight months, it is nothing short of a tsunami for the entire sector.

Consequently, developers have to rethink their entire approach to business. For a long time, many developers followed the business model whereby profit was made by shortchanging customers, constructing houses illegally and using customers’ money without returning any value to them. Promises made to customers were not intended to be kept or at least, that was the norm. All this will change when developers are forced to define in writing what they will give to the homebuyers and by when it will be provided. The option of selling apartments without approvals is no longer available, and the capital requirements (for developers) will also go up. An industry, which has, for a long time, seen people with very little capital take up large projects, will have to change its current practices. Of course, all this would be excellent news for homebuyers.

(Rohit Gera is Managing Director, Gera Developments, and Vice President, CREDAI-Pune Metro)

 

From automobile to real estate and consumer goods: What will be the impact of GST

 

India is all set for its most ambitious reform in decades, which is expected to transform the world’s fastest growing major economy into a single market for the first time. The long-awaited Goods and Services Tax (GST) rolls out Saturday even as businesses complain they are ill-prepared for the massive changes about to ripple through India’s unwieldy $2 trillion economy. (Dibyangshu SARKAR / AFP)

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) has been termed a potential game changer, the single biggest tax reform in independent India, one that the government says is founded on the concept of “one nation, one market, one tax”.

The GST, according to the government, will be extremely beneficial to consumers, as it will bring down the price of goods and curb inflation. It is also said to reduce the delays in tax payments and ensure more stringent checks on the same.

What remains to be seen, however, is how the GST rates—from 5% to 28%—will affect various consumer-facing sectors of the Indian Economy. A look at some of these sectors and how GST will impact them.

GST adds to the challenges the sector has faced, from demonetisation and then implementation of more stringent emission norms. The passenger car segment is expected to see an overall reduction in tax outgo, with bigger cars and sport utility vehicles (SUV) benefiting from lower tax rates.India is all set for its most ambitious reform in decades, which is expected to transform the world’s fastest growing major economy into a single market for the first time. The long-awaited Goods and Services Tax (GST) rolls out Saturday even as businesses complain they are ill-prepared for the massive changes about to ripple through India’s unwieldy $2 trillion economy. (Dibyangshu SARKAR / AFP)

CEMENT: A marginal tax relief

Contrary to expectations of cement firms, which were hoping for an 18% GST rate, the sector has been categorised in the 28% slab. Despite that, cement makers will see some relief in tax payout as the effective tax rate for packaged cement is anyway 29-31%.

CONSTRUCTION, REAL STATE: Input cost credit to offset higher rate

So far, the construction sector, including real estate, has had an effective tax outgo of between 11% and 18%. Under GST, the entire works contract is charged 18% tax. However, the sector is likely to gain from the input tax credit that is available under GST rules.

CONSUMER GOODS: Anti-profiteering measures to keep a lid on gains

Packaged consumer goods makers’ sales growth will be hit in the near term as trade channels have cut purchases in the run-up to GST. Overall impact is seen as neutral as rates have been cut on mass consumption items and hiked on higher-end products.

JEWELLERS: No dent to demand

The GST rate on gold jewellery has been fixed at 3%, lower than expectations of a 5% rate. The new rate is close to the current 2%. Hence, it should not affect consumer buying dramatically.

LUXURY HOTELS: High-end chains will pay more

From a pre-GST tax rate that varied between 18% and 25% based on state levies, GST classifies hotels into four buckets based on room tariffs. Those with room rates below Rs1,000 will be tax-exempt, although the rest will be taxed at 5%, 12%, 18% and 28%.

MULTIPLEXES: Input tax credit will bring benefits

Multiplexes are expected to benefit, primarily owing to input tax credit on fixed costs such as rent and common area maintenance. The GST rate has been fixed at 28% for tickets costing over Rs100.

TELECOM: Hit by higher tax burden

Telecom companies, already weighed down by high taxes and levies, now need to contend with an additional 3% tax with the shift to GST. A service tax of 15% applied to telecom services earlier.

VALUE FASHION: Gets a leg-up

The 5% GST rate on apparel priced below Rs1,000 is expected give a fillip to the value fashion business. Post GST, the entire value chain—raw material to the finished product—will come under the tax net.

 

‘The party will be over’: How GST will affect businesses that don’t pay tax

 

Rakesh Sachdeva sells auto parts in a busy market in central Delhi, just a few miles from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office. Yet despite having a flourishing business he does not pay any tax.

Until now, his rundown premises and small scale operation has kept the business below the radar of India’s tax officials. Come July 1, however, “the party will be over”, says the 51-year-old, with a resigned shrug.

A nationwide Goods and Services Tax (GST), set to come into effect on Saturday, has faced criticism for its complex design. But the country’s biggest tax reform since independence is promising to bring millions of firms like Sachdeva’s into the tax net, boosting government revenues and India’s sovereign credit profile.

The new tax will require firms to upload their invoices every month to a portal that will match them with those of their suppliers or vendors.

Because a tax number is needed for a firm to claim a credit on the cost of its inputs, many companies are refusing to buy from unregistered businesses. Those who don’t sign up risk losing any customer who has.

“I have no option, but to register with the new system,” said Sachdeva, who spoke to Reuters on condition the name and precise location of his shop were not disclosed.

Improved tax compliance should shore up public finances, augmenting resources for welfare and development spending and giving a lift to the $2 trillion economy.

India currently has one of the worst tax-to-GDP ratios among major economies at 16.6%, less the half the 34 percent average for the members of the OECD and also below many emerging economies.

While there is no official estimate of the potential fiscal gain, some tax experts say the measure, after the initial teething trouble, would lift the tax-to-GDP ratio by as much as 4 percentage points as the number of tax filers is estimated to more than treble to 30 million.Image result for ‘The party will be over’: How GST will affect businesses that don’t pay tax

“In future, compliance is going to be extremely crucial,” Rajiv Nair, chief executive officer at Kaya Ltd., told Reuters. “Since we are also responsible for compliance across the supply chain, we have to ensure that the suppliers we have are in a position to work with us in a compliant manner.”

Nair’s company, which makes beauty and personal care products, has just streamlined its supply chain, dropping vendors that were not going to be GST-compliant.

Other companies are doing the same. Elior Group, a French catering and food service company, said it has mandated GST-compliance as one of the eligibility criteria for its orders.

A REVAMP 17 YEARS IN THE MAKING

India is all set to keep its July 1 date with the Goods and Services Tax (GST), a reform that has been in the making for 17 years. GST will unify India into one market place with one uniform tax, shore up government revenue and is expected to spur economic growth.

Timeline of the long journey to GST rollout:

  • 2000 Vajpayee government started discussion on GST by setting up an expert panel headed by Asim Dasgupta, former West Bengal finance minister
  • 2003 The Kelkar Task Force suggested the need to have a comprehensive indirect tax reform through GST
  • 2006 UPA finance minister P Chidambaram proposes GST in his Union budget. The Empowered Committee (EC) of state finance ministers was assigned the responsibility to chalk out a road map for its implementation
  • 2008 Empowered Committee submits a report ‘A Model and Roadmap for GST in India’
  • 2009 The EC after holding discussions with the Centre and the states submits the first discussion paper
  • 2011 Constitution Amendment bill introduced in Lok Sabha and referred to the Standing Committee on Finance for scrutiny
  • 2013 Standing Committee submits its report to Parliament. But UPA government fails to take the legislation forward. The bill lapses with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha
  • 2014 Finance minister Arun Jaitley introduces the Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill, 2014 in Lok Sabha on December 19
  • 2015 Jaitley in his budget speech sets GST rollout deadline on April 1, 2016. Lok Sabha approves the bill on May 6. The Congress demands capping GST rate at 18%. The NDA government fails to get it passed in Rajya Sabha
  • 2016
    ■ Centre and states agree on Constitution Amendment Bill without a cap on the rates. The bill is approved by the RS on August 2016. The amended bill is passed in the LS on August 8
     The GST Council headed by the Union finance minister is formed. The council decided on a four-slab rate GST structure of 5%, 12%, 18% and 28%. The ‘sin’ or “demerit” products such as tobacco items, aerated drinks and luxury cars, would come under the highest tax slab and may attract a cess, which could raise the tax burden to 40%
  • 2017 The date for the implementation of the new tax structure is shifted to July 1, 2017, as the Centre and states took time to finalise the draft bills— CGST, IGST, SGST and UT-GST
    May: GST Council during its meet in Srinagar fixes rates of goods and services

Winners and losers

The unorganised sector of India’s economy is vast, employing an estimated nine out of 10 workers.

While staying outside the GST regime risks losing business, joining it will necessitate an overhaul of firms’ accounting systems and an investment in technology.

The new tax system requires three filing a month plus an annual return – a total of 37 filings – for each of India’s 29 states in which a firm operates. For smaller companies operating on wafer thin margins, hiring accountants and technical staff could substantially dent their bottom line.

Sanjiv Mehra, head of a traders’ body in Delhi, reckons a “prohibitive” cost could prove to be counterproductive.

“Compliance is needed for input tax credit,” he said. “But what if you are in a business where margins are strong and allows you to forsake credit?”

But despite its flaws, many analysts think the new tax will be good news for bigger established businesses, because it will sweep away an array of federal and state sales taxes, levied at different stages of the supply chain, that often result in double taxation.

The government estimates the GST will save companies around $14 billion because it will allow them to organise their warehouses and supply chains more efficiently.

Firms can now move to demand-based “hub-and-spoke” models used globally, rather than operating state-by-state.

“Those companies which can wring out the maximum cost efficiency are the ones investors should bet on,” said Ajay Bodke, head of portfolio management services at financial firm Prabhudas Lilladher in Mumbai. “All consumer-facing industries will be big beneficiaries of the GST.”