Why GST is trouble

Australia has a GST (Goods and services tax) rate of 10%, France has 19.6%, Canada has 5%, Germany has 19%, Japan has 5%, Singapore has 7%. India’s rate of GST is set to be the highest with a figure of 26% being bandied about lately. Why do we need to pay 26%? Till recently, the Congress party was insistent that #GST rate be 18% and that the cap on it should be in the Constitution amendment bill. Now they have softened their stance, doing a major disservice to the citizens. Senior congress leader #JairamRamesh has said that “If the cap in the constitution amendment bill is unacceptable, then the government can explore the option of keeping it in the GST bill… If the government wants, a creative use of the English language can solve the impasse.” This ‘creative use’ is going to come back to haunt the middle class as the government can go on raising the GST rate at will. Fixing the rate in the legislation would have made the system extremely rigid as the Constitution would have to be amended with a two-thirds majority if the rates needed to be changed in the future. Keeping it in the GST bill instead shows that the government has every plan of raising it higher from the 26% they will start with.

GST has long been projected as the panacea for a lot of the troubles that India Inc faces. It has been described as the tax to replace all the indirect taxes and one that will help free movement of goods across state borders. The reality is that GST may only add to the mess instead of solving anything. In its current proposed form, GST would have a dual structure comprising a central component levied and collected by the centre and a state component administered by the states. The central component would comprise central excise duty, service tax and additional customs duties. The state component will include value-added tax, entertainment tax, luxury tax, lottery taxes and electricity duty. Central sales tax (CST) will be phased out entirely. Entry tax or octroi would be subsumed from the start.

Like in the case of VAT and Service tax, currently, the supplier will be able to off-set the levy through a tax credit mechanism. This means, if someone buys oranges, sugar and cans and sells canned orange juice, they can set off the GST they have paid on the purchase of oranges, sugar and cans against the GST collected on the sale of the orange juice cans. This works in theory even now with VAT and service tax. The reality is that a lot of small businesses find complying with the current system very inconvenient. So they either fail to claim the input credit and eat the cost or they do not pay the tax at all. This is why, while mega sized companies are keen on GST, it will work against the interest of small business who will continue to find the system cumbersome. This has also resulted in over 1 million service tax assessees not paying their taxes and being classified as defaulters.

Petroleum products, tobacco and alcohol will not be covered by GST and this is not surprising. Alcohol and tobacco have long been heavily taxed by opportunistic governments, well aware of the inelastic demand for them. Demand for petroleum products is also relatively inelastic and the sales are massive. The overall taxation on these is well above 26% and the government wouldn’t want to lose revenue by bringing them under GST, at least for now.

Additionally, even if we assume that GST will replace all existing indirect taxes, there is no reason to believe that the government will keep its word. There is absolutely nothing to prevent the government from imposing a new indirect tax. Right now there’s a free for all, with the Kerala government announcing fat tax on pizza, burger and other junk food last week and Haryana proposing a new indirect tax to fund protection of cows. The centre has introduced a cess for #SwachhBharat. We already pay primary and secondary education cess. A cess for for relief of Bangladesh refugee that is imposed on bus tickets has been in force since 1971. What is to prevent the government from introducing a new indirect tax? This makes all the spreadsheet calculations that you see on the internet, only speculative and fantasy. Also, since there is a state component and central component, the state component of the tax may end up becoming a bargaining tool for political parties in coalition politics, at the cost of the citizen.

Naseeruddin Shah on acting schools is only partly right

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Naseeruddin Shah says “There are no acting teachers in the country, they are all shams..all these people running acting schools are absolute and utter frauds, they are fooling the kids who come to them and teach them nothing”. #NaseeruddinShah should be taken very seriously considering his body of work and stature as an actor, no doubt about that. However, he is only partly right. It is true that the two biggest stars to emerge from India, Dilip Kumar and #AmitabhBachchan never saw the inside of an acting school. There are also acting schools in the country that have no business teaching acting. However, to say that all the acting schools in the country are a sham and actors don’t need schools is a stretch. The truth is that a lot of people who sign up at acting institutes are simply not cut out to be actors and no one wants to be the one to bell the cat. Who will tell an aspiring actor to go back to Uttar Pradesh or Punjab when he or she is willing to sign up for a course and pay a large sum of money for it? There’s a clear conflict of interest here. This also raises the question whether such people are competent enough to separate the wheat from the chaff or they could just be turning back brilliant raw talent.

The other depressing aspect is the overwhelming desire of aspiring actors and even singers to mimic their screen idols which is why when you watch short films and webisodes these days, you’ll notice girls with #KanganaRanaut’s twang and guys with a #RanbirKapoor hangover. I had an actor proudly display a showreel to me, in which he played a scene from Sunny Deol’s ‘Ghayal’ doing his best imitation of the beefy actor. How that will get him any work is a mystery unless someone is working on a parody of ‘Ghayal’ or wants to cast a lookalike of Sunny Deol. The current system is partly responsible for this. Most reality shows that claim to be talent hunts do nothing to encourage originality among artists, whether singers, actors, musicians or lyricists. The singing contests have contestants singing songs that were once chartbusters, and doing their best to sound like the original singers, from Lata Mangeshkar and Geeta Dutt to Arijit Singh and Sonu Nigam. The fact is these songs have already been sung and were well received then. One is compelled to ask what these people aspire to achieve by recreating the same melodies over and over again? Film personalities who judge these contests get paid millions to appreciate the contestants and critique them. However, if I want to listen to ‘Mere sapno ki rani..’ I would rather listen to Kishore Kumar on my iPod than to some aspiring singer from Rohtak, whatever the sob story that he’s trying to sell me! Every singer has a unique style. Give the same song to two different singers and the way they sing will be entirely different. Similarly, no two actors will perform a scene in the same way. Hell! Even the same actor won’t be able to give the exact same take twice, if he is half an actor! Acting is an organic process and every performance is at least somewhat different from the earlier one, as actors tap into a part of their inner selves. It’s important for singers and actors to find their own voice and style and we need an ecosystem that will enable that instead of turning them into mimics.

I trained professionally myself as an actor at Roshan Taneja Acting School (run by Rohit Taneja, son of renowned acting guru Roshan Taneja) before I decided to make my first film because I knew it would help me put myself in the shoes of an actor when I direct him or her. A lot of directors run roughshod over artists and I wanted to avoid doing that. I was witness to and participated in the whole process myself. There are a lot of everyday essential technicalities, from understanding a script and accepting directions from a director to blocking and dubbing, that a good acting school teaches an acting student. In the process, I also met struggling actors, from the talented go-getters to those who make you wonder why they signed up!Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

To quote Sanford Meisner, ‘Acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances’. I believe that acting as a craft and art can be taught by an articulate and perseverant teacher to a reasonably talented and keen student. Sometimes even a complete newcomer, an untrained actor at that, can get cast and deliver, given the right script and director. Some of the artists in my short film ‘Screwdriver’ had never faced the arclights but did a fabulous job! It’s also possible for a director to work around the limitations of an actor and every actor is limited in some ways. This is especially so if the artist looks the part which is half the battle won though bagging a role solely by virtue of looking the part may not take an actor very far in the long run unless he or she has talent to fall back on. Besides, acting is a very personal process, which takes a lot from the artist. You need life experiences, perseverance, sensibilities and a tremendous amount of patience. Rejection is also much more personal for an actor. It’s rare to come across sound designers and cinematographers giving up on life but failed actors taking the last desperate step is unfortunately far more common. Perhaps, this is why one hopes that genuine acting schools exist as talented aspiring actors do, so that the twain shall meet and create the magic that only moving images do!

Baaghi movie review

‘Baaghi’ is an action film all the way, with martial arts sequences. Ronnie (Tiger Shroff) and Siya (Shraddha Kapoor) meet on a train and fall in love. Raghav (Sudheer Babu) gets obsessed with Siya and impresses Siya’s father (played by Sunil Grover) with his ill-gotten billions and goes so far as to take Siya hostage to convince her to marry him. ‘Tiger Shroff’ excels. You can see the amount of effort that has gone into making the intricate action sequences come alive. They are choreographed to showcase what Tiger Shroff can do. And he delivers! As a dancer, Tiger has tremendous grace and lights up the screen with his energy. His dance moves were welcomed by the squeals of teen girls in the multiplex where I watched the film! The raw intensity Tiger exudes in the sequence when he rescues a kid from a gang that has abducted him or in the scene when he breaks down after cremating someone dear shows how much more he can deliver as an actor, with the right script and director. While his looks, easy charm and dialogue delivery are reminiscent of his father ‘Jackie Shroff’, in some scenes he reminds one of a young Sanjay Dutt is the post-Naam phase.

#ShraddhaKapoor plays a character quite similar to the one in ‘Ek Villain’, except this one is capable of neutralizing dreaded gangsters. Her smile, screen presence and the rain dance add a lot to the film. She has little else to do though. Shifuji Shaurya Bhardwaj, as Tiger Shroff’s guru impresses. This doesn’t seem like his debut at all.

The casting doesn’t always work though. Sudheer Babu (playing Raghav, the antagonist) is a competent actor but seems miscast here. He doesn’t appear anywhere as dangerous as he is made out to be. A lot more drama and euphoric moments could have made the film work even better. The interval could have been at the point where Tiger’s close-up appears after his passport is stamped. His return towards the end could also have been delayed and played up to enhance the drama. The director, Sabbir Khan, delivers, in his third film (his second consecutive film with Tiger Shroff). The cinematography by veteran Binod Pradhan is flawless. The background score goes well with the mood of the film, especially a haunting score that plays at key moments. Some of the songs have already caught on and will probably be more of a rage as the film holds its own at the box office.

There was some controversy over the similarity between ‘Baaghi’ and ‘The Raid: Redemption’ and the climax does seem inspired from that film, with Tiger Shroff battling goons on every floor to reach the top of a skyscraper so he can rescue his beloved trapped there. There have also been reports about the similarity with ‘Varsham’ because the producer Sajid Nadiadwala had the rights to remake it in Hindi. While there is a lot of similarity, the martial arts sequences and the rescue makes it different.Watch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)

A film like ‘Baaghi’ is a larger-than-life thriller and has to be evaluated in that context. There are some situations that may seem somewhat implausible but if you like the sub-genre of action films, vendetta films and martial arts films or if you like song and dance, this is the film you should watch this weekend! Tiger Shroff will keep you entertained!

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Director : Fausto Brizzi.
Producer : Erik Paoletti.
Release : December 15, 2016
Country :
Language : Italiano.
Runtime : 94 min.
Genre : Comedy.

Movie ‘Poveri ma Ricchi’ was released in December 15, 2016 in genre Comedy. Fausto Brizzi was directed this movie and starring by Christian De Sica. This movie tell story about The “Tucci” are a poor Italian family living in a small village in Lazio. Father, mother, a conceited daughter and a genius son, forced to pretend being stupid to keep up with the family. One day something unexpected happens: the family wins one hundred million Euros. Excited, they decide to keep the winning a secret, but as soon as a single word slips out from the mouth of the householder, they only have one choice to avoid being persecuted by friends and acquaintances: run away. They leave at night, heading to Milan. They will realize as soon as they arrive that today’s rich people behaves very differently from the past, and being rich has become a real bother… this discovery will make things way different from what Tuccis’ expected.

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The Jungle Book Movie Review

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Just watched ‘The Jungle Book’ today. It’s a lovely film. Neel Sethi is fabulous! Great animation and VFX though I’m not sure tigers and bears can climb that high!! It brought back memories of reading ‘The Jungle Book’ during my vacations when I was a little kid. It was a large sized comic with beautiful illustrations printed on thick chrome yellow colored paper. I remember a sequence in ‘The Jungle Book’ comic when Baloo, having participated valiantly in the battle against Sher Khan, is apparently dead. Both Bagheera and Mowgli are grief stricken. Bagheera recalls what a great friend Baloo was to both of them and consoles a heartbroken Mowgli. As Mowgli tears up, suddenly Baloo awakens laughing and they realize he was playing a prank. Bagheera and Mowgli are relieved and thrilled and then the three of them ride off into the sunset. This is a very touching sequence that would have made for a fantastic closing scene. It moved me when I read the comic, as a little kid. I’m quite disappointed that for some reason they chose not to include it in the film. It would have elevated the film further. It’s a nice film for the family nevertheless, unless you want to sneak in your kids to watch ‘Love Games’, which would be hard to explain to a kid anyway, ‘This uncle is going with that aunty and that aunty is..’..never mind!

The Irony of Judgement

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Every single day, I see people saying ‘Don’t judge anyone’ or ‘Don’t judge women’ through memes, short films and articles in mainstream media. The fact is, everyone is being judged. All the time. Your school teachers judge you to decide if you’re getting promoted or staying back. Your SAT scores decide whether you get into that university you’ve been dreaming of. Your friends on Facebook judge you from your pics and posts. Your employers judge you, to decide whether you move up the ladder or are out of a job. Potential mates judge you to determine if you’re tall/fair/wealthy/easygoing/romantic. Your friends, relatives, acquaintances and neighbors judge you. Your bank judges you when you want a loan for a larger apartment. The government judges you to determine if you’ve paid your taxes. Similarly you judge everyone else, even the government, when you spend all day arguing politics and when you cast your vote. So, judgements are just a part of life. There is no escape. Deal with it. – Vikkramm Chandirramani

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Director : D.J. Caruso.
Writer : Chad St. John, F. Scott Frazier.
Producer : Neal H. Moritz, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Joe Roth, Samantha Vincent, Vin Diesel.
Release : January 13, 2017
Country : United States of America.
Production Company : Paramount Pictures, Original Film, Revolution Studios, One Race Films.
Language : English.
Runtime : 107 min.
Genre : Action, Adventure, Crime, Thriller.

Movie ‘xXx: Return of Xander Cage’ was released in January 13, 2017 in genre Action. D.J. Caruso was directed this movie and starring by Vin Diesel. This movie tell story about Extreme athlete turned government operative Xander Cage comes out of self-imposed exile, thought to be long dead, and is set on a collision course with deadly alpha warrior Xiang and his team in a race to recover a sinister and seemingly unstoppable weapon known as Pandora’s Box. Recruiting an all-new group of thrill-seeking cohorts, Xander finds himself enmeshed in a deadly conspiracy that points to collusion at the highest levels of world governments.

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Why Net Neutrality is Important to Prevent Monopolies and Protect Freedom of Expression

The Internet has long been a level playing field for entrepreneurs, companies and individuals who want their voice to be heard. This may all change very soon if TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) has its way. As per a proposal on its website, TRAI is in favor of Telecom Companies being able to charge for OTT (Over the Top) applications. This is going to destroy innovation as new startups will find it difficult to pay these fees.

What is going to be be much worse if TRAI has its way is that ISPs will have the discretion to prioritize a select bunch of apps and websites over others. You may be a regular buyer at Flipkart and Amazon and compare deals between them to get the best but if all other book selling websites started loading at a snails pace in your browser, how long will it be before Flipkart and Amazon are tempted to take advantage of this monopolistic situation by rigging prices? You may express your opinion on your website or on an internet forum but if that is outside the select list of websites that load fast, how hard will it be to shut you out and make sure your opinions are never read?

While this is an attempt by the Indian government to thwart net neutrality, internationally, net neutrality has been upheld and enforced by USA. US broadband service providers cannot, by law, strike deals with content firms, known as paid prioritisation, for smoother delivery of traffic to consumers. They also cannot block or speed up connections for a fee. All ‘interconnection deals’  where content companies pay broadband providers to connect to their networks, are regulated.

While here in India, in another development, Airtel has launched Airtel Zero, which offers access to a select few applications for free. Any other application will require a paid internet plan.  Companies including Google and Facebook which have long taken the high road have no qualms about being part of Airtel Zero while continuing to make the right noises when it comes to net neutrality. More than 150 startups have shown interest to be part of ‘Airtel Zero’.

This isn’t something new. Some telecom service providers have been offering Google, Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp at reduced prices or free, for a while now. Ironically, Google has long had the motto ‘Don’t be Evil’ and there have
often been questions about whether the motto still applies.

The TRAI proposal has accelerated the protests.

For a large percentage of internet users in India, the internet comprises of Google, Facebook and Whatsapp. Once a ‘free zone’ for internet access has been established by taking money from companies that want inclusion, it will be near impossbile for competitors to come up thus strangling competition and ultimately giving the consumer a raw deal. Overregulation, licensing and monpolization is what has led to almost all Indian banks having profit margins of over 70%. Restricting the choices of the consumer artificially is never a good idea.

The TRAI, in its proposal where it seeks to benefit from OTT services, justifies this, offering various arguments, all of which have been demolished by various writers across websites. TRAI claims that the companies have invested heavily in infrastructure to provide internet services to us. While that may be true, it is also true that a major chunk of their investment is in licensing ‘air waves’ that belong to the country. The government has taken tens of thousands of crores for these. Despite huge investments, they have turned this into an immensely profitable business.

The reality is that telecom businesses in India are cash cows for the owners!

Sample this:

Vodafone India reported an earnings before interest, depreciation, taxes and amortization (EBIDTA) of Rs 13,399 crores in FY14.

Bharati Airtel reported an EBIDTA of Rs.15,608.70 crores in FY14.

So, these companies have turned their businesses in India into huge cash cows.
One of the reasons these companies are so profitable is because they have stopped investing in innovation and providing better services to the consumer.

..and the concept of ‘Broadband internet’ in India is laughable!

‘Broadband’ internet acess in India is defined at 512 kbps as notified by TRAI.

It used be even worse. I remember having a 2.4 kbps connection when internet was launched in India. This went up to 14.4 kbps soon after. In the United States, ‘Broadband internet’ is defined by FCC as internet over the speed of 25 MBPS.

USA’s ‘broadband internet’ is 50 times faster than our broadband internet! Otherwise it’s not considered ‘broadband’ at all. The cost of accessing the internet is prohibitively high in India already.

In Hong Kong a 1 GBPS connection costs only $26 a month.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

In Mumbai, you pay MTNL Rs.1599 for a 10 MBPS line.

A 1 GBPS internet line is literally a hundred times faster than a 10 MBPS line! (1 GB = 1024 MB).

This is literally a 100 times what people in Hong Kong pay because you are getting one-hundredth the speed at the same price! The fastest Fiber-to-the-home line that MTNL offers is 100 mbps, 1/10th of the speed of the Hong Kong connection mentioned that this costs Rs.6999 or more than 5 times as much! Other companies including Airtel, Reliance, Vodafone, Idea, Tata etc also have prices similar to MTNL.

The consumers are getting a raw deal already from internet service providers in India. Now they want to make money from over the top services such as applications.

Telecom companies have been known to be using Voice over Internet Protocal (VoIP) technology to route phone calls and bill consumers at regular prices. They have also been charging extremely high prices for text messages. All of this is hurting the telecom companies now because there are apps like Whatsapp and Skype which will let you call for free and send messages for free. So they can’t profiteer as much as they would like to. This is a result of innovation. It’s what led to the decline of the Blackberry Messenger (BBM) after Whatsapp emerged as a free alternative.

Dividing the internet into parts, some of which are more equal than others is a dangerous trend and must be stopped. The internet in India has emerged as a strong voice of people influencing government policies, shaping opinions, toppling governments and bringing parties to power. It must remain the equalizer it is. The government shouldn’t be in a position to dictate which websites can be accessed by people at large and which can’t.

The Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi has been giving speeches about supporting small business, innovation and technology. This latest development is at odds with all these claims and declarations. If we have to have companies of the size of Facebook, Twitter and Google emerging from India, we must offer a level playing field to new startups and entrepreneurs. TRAI’s apparent stance against net neutrality will curtail competition and threaten the freedom of speech of the common man and needs to be protested against, vigorously.

The Great Indian Banking Con – Banks to Hike Service Charges upto 60% from Today

ICICI bank to charge Rs.5 per 1000 from customers depositing cash.

From April 1, 2015, banking in India is going to be more expensive than ever as you are charged money to withdraw and deposit your own money. Despite indications to the contrary, the government continues to look the other way as banks exploit customers. From next week private banks are going to hike up their charges by upto 60%.

If you read this blog, you know that I sent a letter to the Honorable Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi in May last year, when he took charge of the top chair. The letter put forth over 30 suggestions on how to prevent Indian banks from profiteering at the cost of customers, suggestions on making India entrepreneur friendly, introduce tax reform and capital market reform.

So I was delighted when the PMO turned my letter into a petition and then I received a reply from RBI, a second reply from RBI and a reply from SEBI. What was even more encouraging was when some of my suggestions were implemented while some others came close to being implemented. In November 2014, the RBI asked banks to lower their bank charges for customers not maintaining a minimum balance.  It said ‘charges should be directly proportionate to the extent of shortfall observed’. This means if you are Rs.100 short of the minimum balance, you can’t be charged Rs.300 as bank charges.

In February this year the RBI announced that credit card companies would be asked to bring down interest rates in line with other financial products with similar risk. I had asked for this. Then the government announced that it is considering making credit card usage mandatory for bills in five star hotels where the amount exceeds Rs.5000. This too is something I had suggested.

However, this latest development is a shocker. Private banks have been allowed to hike up their charges by upto 60%. From April 1, 2015.

Banks including ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank, Axis Bank and Kotak Mahindra Bank are going to increase charges and penalties from April 1, 2015.

I quote from the news report (The formatting of text is mine) published in Business Standard newspaper:

ICICI Bank, India’s largest private lender, will charge Rs 100 more for non-maintenance of average monthly balance in metros and Rs 50 more in semi-urban areas. The bank will also charge cash deposits by customers or customer representatives at branches not in the city where the account is opened. While it will levy Rs 5 for every Rs 1,000 deposited at counters, deposits in machines will be free for the first transaction every month; Rs 5 for every Rs 1,000 will be charged from the second transaction.

From April 1, HDFC Bank will charge Rs 75 for every 25-page chequebook beyond the first. It will charge Rs 150-600 for non-maintenance of minimum average monthly balance for urban customers (minimum average monthly balance Rs 10,000) and Rs 150-300 for semi-urban customers (minimum average monthly balance Rs 5,000).

Axis Bank has increased service charge for the ‘Prime Plus’ account segment from Rs 250 a month for non-maintenance of minimum balance to Rs 5 for every Rs 100 shortfall compared to the average monthly balance requirement or Rs 350, whichever is lower.

Kotak Mahindra Bank has raised the charges for non-maintenance of average monthly balance in ‘Edge’ savings accounts. If the average balance is less than the required amount but more than half of it, a charge of Rs 300 will be imposed (earlier Rs 250). If the average balance is less than half the required amount, the bank will charge Rs 400 (against Rs 350 earlier).

This flies right in the face of the claims of inclusive banking. I remember speaking with some of my friends from Bihar and North East India who spoke about having to pay bribes to withdraw their own money from their bank accounts. Now it almost seems like these amounts are being made official and banks are being given a free reign to exploit customers to the hilt.

Credit Card payments May Soon be Mandatory at Five Star Hotels When the Bill Exceeds Rs.5000

The government is setting up a committee to that will come out with structures that can be put in place to encourage use of credit or debit cards. One of the measures is to make mandatory, credit card payments for transactions over Rs.5000 at five star hotels. Here’s a news story with all the details.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Card-payment-may-soon-be-mandatory-for-5-star-bills/articleshow/46436750.cmsWatch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

This is a welcome development. I had written about large scale tax evasion by restaurants and hotels, in my letter to the Prime Minister’s Office.

To quote from my letter:

Today a salaried person who has dinner out with his or her family often doesn’t leave with the restaurant’s bill. Restaurants often tear up or modify the bills to under-report sales. This causes losses of not only direct taxes but also indirect taxes such as VAT (Value added tax) and service tax. When credit cards are widely used, this malicious practice will be curtailed. The tax revenue generated will also indirectly help infrastructure growth and result in lower our cost of production, thereby enhancing our competitiveness.

I had written about the need for lowering credit card interest rates, increasing credit card penetration in the country and preventing tax evasion.