Mediocrity

“Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocre minds” ~ Albert Einstein

I faced this today.

I may not be great, but the work that I and my team intended to do, was definitely great. It faced a massive backlash today. And guess what- the people who opposed it, were the very people, who were supposed to benefit from it. At least that was the intention that we had.

However, a few myopic and mediocre minds could not bear to accept the change and protested vehemently. They spread falsities and rallied support to sabotage our attempts. A lot of gullible people took the bait and joined hands with them.

Then, the final nail in the coffin came when the superiors, who were supposed to ensure harmony and peace, played their own divide and rule games.

We were not feeling helpless, when we dropped the idea of bringing the change, although we were indeed helpless. We just saw the pointlessness of it. The very people that we aimed to empower, were the ones who accused us of being power hungry. The very people whom we tried to help, considered us to be their enemies.

I don’t know about my teammates, but I’m still wondering what we could have made, had my peers been less mediocre and more receptive to change.

Nevertheless, I’m taking this opportunity and the free time to hop on to more meaningful matters.

Anatomy of a Leaderless Team

Let’s cut the chase and delve deep into the main subject straightaway.

A leaderless team is not only like a ship without a rudder but also one without a motor. Not only does it not have a sense of the direction in which it wants to go, but it barely move at all.

Such teams lack innovation. There is no incentive to think out of the box and even if a teammate tries to do that, others ensure that the idea never gets implemented, since it can potentially alter the status quo.

Such teams also see a huge increase in personal rivalry among the performing and non-performing members of the group. Frictions are bound to happen since every member wants the same respect and importance that is enjoyed by the rest, but no one wishes to emulate the work done the performers of the team.

Indecisiveness is the characteristic trait of such teams. Common ground is rarely achieved. Biasness seeps in and the team works on passions and emotions rather than on common sense and principles. Individual members run their own agendas and keep clamouring about things that matter to them alone.

The lack of accountability in such teams make matters worse. When faced with external supervision, such teams are able to finish the tasks at hand, but the work generally lacks quality. If the task leader is good, then the work done will be up to the mark. If the task leader is mediocre, their work will also reflect the same.

And the list goes on and on, but I’m sure you get the gist- leaderless teams are inefficient, and they will always remain so- unless the members are changed with those who are highly motivated, or the incumbent themselves become more motivated, or still better, the team gets a motivated Leader.

Breaking Free

I’ve been wanting to regularize my blogging for a while now. Umpteen times I began writing, but failed. I failed everytime these past few months – the topic was not good enough, the subject matter was complicated, the content was very personal and I, being protective of the “imaginary” image that I have, thought it was best to wait for this block to pass and ended up not writing anything.

Today, as I pick my metaphorical pen, I’m not worried about what anyone will think, or feel, or say. Today, I’m writing to regain my passion for writing. Today, I’m writing for myself. A few likes and comments should never have been the yard stick to measure whether I did well or not. The true measure of this whole exercise is to find happiness and getting to know the meaning of life and its intricacies while introspecting.

I still remember the initial days when I had begun blogging. I used to unlock the various mysteries of life and pen down my thoughts about the same. That gave me happiness and as a result, even in the middle of exam preparations, I used to find both- time and words – to convey what I felt was the right thing to do and the correct way to live.

Somewhere down this self awareness and self actualization journey, I fell prey to seeking validation from others. Although, I’ve always known that this path only led to gloom and despair, yet the temptation of praise and adulation got the better of me.

Today as I cast away these borrowed shackles, it makes me feel light and happy again. Now, I know that my happiness should be derived from my ability to write freely and not from other people’s praises, which may or may not be genuine. Now, I know this for sure that my days of blogging have come back, where words shall be my companions and the world shall be my subject.

Cheers!!

Life is what you make it

“..it was my life – like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me.”

~ Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Reading this book changed my life, and for good.

Although this article is written in first person, but the essence of it applies to almost everyone who reads it.

Earlier, I was this person, who just wanted to compete with everyone. This wasn’t out of some misplaced sense of pride, or satisfaction that I dervied by outdoing anyone. It was plainly because I was able to scrape through almost everything with minimal efforts. Competition, then, was good for me, because it stimulated me to go for multiple goals and achieve them all.

However, in doing all this, I realized that I never really celebrated my life or any of the achievements. I was always looking out for the next goal. Now, this is not a bad trait at all. It is a very good trait to have. It keeps one motivated to reach greater heights. But my despair commences when I’m faced with the question- what happens when I reach the next level? My agony pinches me when I realize that after all, I am only running from one level to another, depriving myself to revel my accomplishments, denying myself the most basic of joys.

Put this into perspective- on 13th August 2019, I qualified as a Chartered Accountant at the tender age of 21- a defining moment in my life, right? I did bask under the glorious sun that rose on the next day, but soon after, I started preparing for placements. I got placed in the very first organization that I interviewed at and by the time, I could let this fact sink in, I was already working at a bank, in a full time job. Within a year, I had cracked an important entrance exam and was preparing for interviews at some of the top B-Schools. Soon enough, I got accepted into one of them and even before I could understand any of it, I was attending lectures, seminars, sessions- one after the other- all day, every day. Add to this, the daily grind, the presentations, some case studies and I became so busy that I literally missed to repost a status update on Facebook, celebrating the second anniversary of me qualifying as a Chartered Accountant. Yes, you got it right- in just two years, I managed to forget an important day as this one, which I had claimed and everyone will agree as being a Life Defining day. Just to add some more gravity to this is the fact that I had given 4 years of my life to qualify as a Chartered Accountant, and I forgot all about it in just two years. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

Honestly, I didn’t feel this way back then. In my mind, I was clear that there were at least a hundred more like me, who had cleared their exams in a similar fashion. How then, was my achievement any better? But I had forgotten a very important fact, that there were at least hundred thousand times hundred others, who weren’t even running the race that I had conquered.

So where did all of this brought me to? Very simple- it brought me to a conclusion that neither those 100 others like me nor those hundred thousand times hundred others who were not like me were my competition. The clichéd “I am my own competition” is the ultimate truth. Maybe others would be better off than I am or maybe, they’ll never be better off- but in either case, how does that suffice me? Does it make me content? And if not, then why have I been wasting my time to get the better of them all? What is wrong in becoming a better version of who I have been so far? A continually succeeding person where success is measured not by how I’m doing vis-a-vis others, but how I’m doing today against how I was doing yesterday. How happy I am today, as against how happy I was yesterday? And the best question- am I doing things today, that will contribute to me being happy tomorrow?

Answers to these questions will only crop up if I sit down at one place, take a pause and ponder over everything that I’ve done, am doing and plan to do. Once I understand that life is about first finding my own happiness, then the next level or goal or whatever other fancy term you want to call it becomes how do I make others around me happy? How can I contribute towards the well-being of my fellow countrymen? How can I be of service to others? Because life is an act of giving, a continuous chance to improve in any of the direction that I choose to improve myself in. Truly, life is not about factors that are forced upon me, but what I intend to make of it. And all lives have this option, “how wild it is, to let it be”.

So long! (literally)

Transformation of Agricultural Sector through new-age Technology

Blockchain is a type of database. It is a ledger of accounts, records, and transactions created and stored simultaneously by all participating entities, to ensure that data that has been collected is practically impossible to be altered and thus, it helps in creating records that are reliable and trustworthy. This feature enables it to be deployed in almost any sector ranging from finance and marketing to economics and even agriculture.

In the agriculture sector, which is largely run using traditional methods and practices, blockchain technology has far-reaching applications inter-alia in tracking the origin of food, building a reliable and robust food supply chain, and building trust between producers and consumers by displaying the contracts and records in a fair and just manner for all to see. Blockchain which is a data-driven technology makes it easier to make agriculture smarter by proving to be a reliable way of storing large amounts of data, which can be accessed by all to draw out inferences and consequently use the data for making informed decisions. In addition, along with keeping a record of contracts, it enables timely payments between stakeholders that can be triggered by data changes on the blockchain using AI or other smart technologies. This article will delve into the application of blockchain technology, artificial intelligence, and Big Data in the various agriculture-related activities mentioned above.

Blockchain and Land Records
In the Indian context, the agriculture sector is plagued by two major issues – small land-holdings and plots stuck in litigation. The small farmers are unwilling to pool their lands despite knowing the benefits of pooled farming, due to the fear of losing their lands owing to shoddy paperwork and lax laws in place to unencumber their own lands. Blockchain technology can go a long way in restoring the lost faith of these farmers, who form the majority of the Indian agriculture sector.
An efficient and fair system of land records is the prerogative of the government of the land. Although digitization of the records is underway in a lot of the states, however, a lot is left desired.

Blockchain and Contract Farming
Contract farming as a concept is not new to our country (ITC farming contracts are very well documented). However, it has come to the limelight only after its mention in the farm laws. The major pain point of the farmer groups is that Corporates will use legal verbiage to bind the common farmer to produce crops well suited for the business while completely undermining the autonomy of the farmer. Again, solutions can be found in blockchain technology wherein all the contracts are readily available for everyone, including the competent authorities to see and deliberate upon. This can prove to be a game-changer if it is deployed in all earnestness.

Artificial Intelligence and Irrigation
AI-based technologies are already available in the market that aid and assist farmers, who opt for farming using unconventional means such as hydroponics and aeroponics. AI is being used in maintaining the optimum environment in which the crops can grow naturally. This enables the farmers to not just farm a higher number of crops per season, but it also uses less water and is not affected at all by the weather conditions outside of the farm area. The only drawback is the high set-up costs. However, farmers in various areas of Kutch and Punjab are pooling their resources and successfully using these techniques to produce greater quantities of output and have become profitable.

Artificial Intelligence and Conventional Farming
As per a Forbes report on Agriculture, a typical farmer carries out close to 40 major and minor processes every day. It includes the obvious activities of watering the crops and removing the weeds and pests to the not so obvious activities of keeping track of migratory birds and changes in the climatic and weather conditions. AI has a wide range of applicability in this area, especially in the case of large landholdings. AI can be deployed to automate a majority of these processes. In fact, new-age technology has become so advanced, that it has now become possible to manage all farming activities end to end without human intervention.

Big Data and Sowing Patterns
Big Data refers to large volumes of data that are generated every day and which can be used to synthesize meaningful insights and inferences. In the agricultural sector, big data has gained prominence in the past decade in much of the western world as the developed countries are using facts backed by data to make informed decisions in every aspect of farming – right from sowing the most appropriate kind of seeds according to the geography, to making decisions based on rainfall patterns, etc. These decisions often help them in reducing the resources and in optimizing returns.

Big Data and Smart Farming
With smart machines and smart sensors cropping up on the agricultural fields, lots of hitherto uncollected data is now being captured viz. the effects of pesticides on crops, the temperature that best supports the crops, climate and weather conditions, and the ilk. All this data can be used to automate a host of activities, essentially turning the traditional farms into data-driven and data-managed automated farms.
Another well-documented aspect of big data is in agricultural and crop insurance. Policies are made around the inferences drawn from big data sets of continuous information across multiple geographies.

Conclusion
A report from the Wall Street Journal states that in the next hundred years, every company shall be a technology company. AI and Big Data will be at the helm of the paradigm shift that the world economy has already started to witness. Blockchain will work as the perfect abetment towards enabling this shift in a manner that is most transparent and one that people will trust. In the agricultural sector too, major inroads are being made by these new technologies. The case of AI and Big Data in the Supply Chain cannot even be fathomed at this point in time. The next couple of decades will set a framework of how we use these technologies for the greater good and eventually, how we relegate ourselves to just the decision-making roles, while machines alongside these adaptive technologies do everything else.

Vodafone Idea Limited – An Imminent Bankruptcy?

Let us talk about Vodafone Idea Limited (VIL) .
The giant telco came into existence after the merger of Idea and Vodafone – both giants for all facts and purposes.
However, the merger was more of a necessity than a meeting of minds. Facing stiff competition from the big players and a market disruption caused by Jio, both Vodafone and Idea had only two options – come together or perish. The fact that the majority of the mid and small players were already driven out of the market was not particularly encouraging.
Even after the smooth merger, the woes of this telco have not reduced. If anything, it has only increased and has reached such proportions that all projections predict the company to file for bankruptcy in the foreseeable future.
The main culprit is the much-debated AGR dues issue which has been plaguing the company and its predecessors. The Supreme Court is adamant on its stance regarding the collection of the dues and government is very vague in its approach towards the resolution of the issue and has no set deadlines.
All this is gradually hurting the chances of this telecom behemoth. Markets have become apprehensive about its capability to repay and the risk of default looms large.
So, what is at stake?
A struggling company with a 15,000+ strong workforce (direct) and much more indirect.
Banks – private and public – with additional bad debts and NPA in their books.
Dwindling investor confidence and subsequent exit from the Indian Markets.
A nation already derided the world over for tax terrorism – with a new case study and lower goodwill.
And finally, a government, which still won’t be able to recover its dues.

One would ask why is the Government so adamant and keen to recover its AGR dues. Turns out, it is not. Yet, the lack of proper policy is hurting us more than we actually know. Either the government is really inefficient in the way it works or it probably doesn’t care about the welfare and just wants to collect more revenues.
Whatever be the case, it is we, the common citizens of the country, who will eventually end up losing.
A duopoly market, thousands of job losses, funds flowing out and subsequent fall in the markets, rising NPAs in Banks which are already a bit fragile, tax terrorist nation tag, fall in ease of doing business rankings, and so much more.
It is high time that government seriously reconsiders its approach because of the cash cow that Vodafone Idea is (and all other companies in the telecom sector have been), its closure would hurt the government treasury more than it staying in business ever would.

P.S. The government has introduced the Taxation Laws (Amendment) Bill this evening, while I wrote this article. This bill is slated to primarily benefit VIL and hence, I’m hopefully putting a question mark in the title.

Stay tuned for latest updates!

Should GST exemption be granted to Covid-19 vaccines?

A burning issue in the past few days is whether GST should be charged on the vaccines and other Covid-19 related products ?

At the outset, the answer which any sensible layman will give is – No, taxes shouldn’t be charged, especially in times such as these. The view is only amplified, if one follows prime time news shows.

But, there’s a catch, one which the layman is completely unaware of. Let’s unclutter this.

The entire issue is more about the GST structure and less of the actual taxation on vaccines and other related products and the credit on the inputs.

If one were to understand exact law and rules pertaining to Input Tax Credit (ITC), it is clearly mentioned that Input credit shall only be allowed if GST is leviable on the final product or if the sale of the final product is classified as a “zero-rated supply” i.e the product is either being exported or excursively sold to units within SEZs.

Hence, if the vaccines are exempted from GST, then the companies manufacturing them won’t get credit of taxes paid while purchasing the inputs for preparation of the vaccines. This will inadvertently lead to jacking up the price of the final product viz. the vaccine, by the manufacturer to cover its costs and maintain its profits.

Let’s understand by a simple example. ABC Ltd is purchasing inputs for manufacturing it’s vaccine worth Rs. 50 and paying Rs. 9 (18% – general rate) as GST on the said purchase, which becomes its input tax.
At the time of sale, it sells the vaccine at, say, Rs. 100 and charges Rs. 5 as GST (current rate). The customer pays Rs. 105 for the product, while the manufacturer makes a profit of Rs. 41. But wait- it also stands to get a refund of Rs. 4 (it paid Rs. 9 initially and of that Rs. 5 used to pay off as the tax on it’s actual sale of Rs. 100) and it has already collected Rs. 5 from the customer, which it can keep. So in effect, the manufacturer makes Rs. 50 (41+4+5).

In a situation, where the vaccines are exempted and the manufacturer collects only Rs. 100 from the customer- its profit from the entire deal will be Rs. 41 (100-59). The manufacturer will definitely not be ready to take this hit and it will naturally increase its selling price by the amount of shortfall i.e Rs. 9 (Rs. 50-41). So the new selling price which it will charge will be Rs. 109, thereby increasing cost for the end user by Rs. 4/-

This is a very crude example, but I hope you got the gist of how this works.

Complicated, no?

So what can be done to reduce complications for the manufacturer and benefits for the end user? In my opinion, the definition of zero rated supply should be expanded immediately to include these specific products, or a new supply type should be introduced wherein different goods and services can be placed during times of emergencies so that such situations don’t arise. Putting it in the lowest tax bracket of 0.25% can do no harm either.

In the long run, structural changes are needed to be made to the GSTN to accommodate for such contingencies, because it will be really difficult to micro manage what products and services to be exempted and what not to be exempted during times of emergencies akin to this. I feel the next GST Council meet is going to witness some spectacular showdowns – spectacular but unnecessary and uninformed.

So, the conclusion to the question above is that in the short-term, ceteris-paribus, GST exemption should not be given as it will do more harm than good.

But some quick action needs to be taken in this regard so that the cost is brought down by cancellation of the taxes levied.

If you’ve come this far- I would like to urge you, You – my reader, to get yourself and your family vaccinated at the earliest instance.

Wear masks and stay safe, because better days are just around the corner.

Until next time!

GST collections for April 2021 is Rs. 14,10,00,00,00,000/-

Yes, it is true – GST collections in India for the month of April 2021 is Rs. 1.41 lac crore and everyone is baffled as to how the economy has shown such resilience even as the pandemic continues to rage across the nation.

I’ve heard a lot of people saying that this is a made up figure, as businesses were shut in most parts of the country throughout April and industry revenues have been hit across the economic spectrum. Well, correct! Economy has been hit, but the collections done in April are of the period from 1st March to 31st March 2021, when the pandemic had just started it’s resurgence and when economic output had picked up steam.

Now, 1.41 Lac crores is a lot of money. What is praiseworthy is the fact that this sum has been collected at a time when lockdowns had been reimposed in many big states including Maharashtra, Gujarat, UP, etc. We should rather be asking that how this sum has been collected- what are the main factors?

Factor 1 – Past Experience. Work from home has been aced by many corporate houses. Everything has more or less become paperless. Life has shifted from on-site to online. And so has the Accounts Department. When data is available on time, lockdown or no lockdown- taxes can be paid on time and before the due dates.

Factor 2 – Price rise in major volume-intensive commodities. GST is an indirect tax which is charged on the invoice value. If the value of the goods or services increases, GST automatically increases. GST collections have received a major fillip due to rise in prices of steel, cement, etc.

Factor 3 – Stricter Vigilance. As the GST law gains vintage and some familiarity develops, government brings about various fundamental changes to improve the system and close all gaps. With GST gaining adequate vintage, now the council has enforced a lot of strict rules. Fake billing has reduced considerably. This has helped in preventing tax revenue leakage, which happened freely hitherto. News of Directors/CAs/management being arrest and charged with fraud have become commonplace these days thanks to tightening of the norms. This is the hallmark of a robust economy undergoing paradigm changes.

Factor 4 – March means Year End. India follows April to March Financial Year. As March comes, everyone moves to record all such transactions, which have been done throughout the year but not yet recorded, or which are on-going on the balance sheet date. This leads to increased revenues, even though just on paper. And increased revenues translate into increased GST collections.

While there is no denying the fact that the economy was not just recovering, but growing in leaps and bounds post the first wave subsided, it should be kept in mind that in a country like India, with it’s enormous population – economy is always expected to grow as long as businesses run. The demand supply gap is huge and if trends are anything to go by, it is ever increasing.

We ought to praise all our businessmen, for paying up their dues at a time when one would be tempted to save every last penny. We ought to praise our GST practioners, who, despite everything going digital so quickly, have adapted and delivered.

However, before bidding adieu, I’ll just leave you with one food for thought- regarding collections for the month of May 2021 (i.e GST for the period 1st April to 30th April 2021). The same should fall drastically on account of multiple factors. It won’t be a surprise, if it dips below Rs. 1 lac crore. Though, that would be an issue of discussion for some other blog.

Stay Home. Stay Safe.

We, the People..

If you have even a little bit inclination towards politics, it is highly probable that you would have heard this line atleast once – “Yeh Desh toh Ram bharose he chal raha hai”

It’s common news that the second wave of coronavirus has wreaked havoc and we have been left to fend for ourselves, because neither the infrastructure nor the government were prepared in any way for facing this overwhelming situation. The steps taken by various governments at various levels, is just not enough and many a people have said, and rightly so, that the government should have taken adequate measures when the numbers had declined and the nation was strong and emerging from the first wave.

There are so many allegations from various quarters of the society and counter allegations from those within the government. There are steps being taken, but they seem to be so minuscule compared to the difficulty at hand. It’s as if pails of water are being used to douse the London Fire.

We have all seen on media and social media- how people are running from pillar to post to get the required medical aid for their family and friends. All this is certainly not lost upon any of us.

We have seen people losing their loved ones. We have seen people losing faith. But we have also seen that people have still not given up on one very important and basic thing- Hope. During a time when institutions of the government have all but crumbled under this immense crisis, the common citizenry has awaken – once again.

Volunteer groups, resident groups, NGOs, intellectuals, even the rickshaw drivers and their ilk- all have combined in their own ways to help the country come out of this disaster – one person at a time and sometimes entire communities.

Now coming back to our original discussion. This country is not run by any God (we may surely have his blessings) but it is run by it’s People. When the government is helpless, the people who have elected the government – you and I – We step out and run it. Selfless service from countless people of this great nation ensure that every time we face any disaster, we are able to overcome it.

Let it not be lost on anyone that this great nation is wholly and completely being run by it’s People – at all times and for times to come!

***

How can I help?

It’s easy. If you can go out and contribute responsibly, only and only then step out. For most of us who can’t – let’s pledge to stay at home, unless going out is a necessity. This saves us as well as others with whom we stay. Let’s pledge to wear masks (double masks, if you’re comfortable with it). Strive to spread optimism – remember that miracles happened even in Auschwitz and Dachau.

Last but not the least, let’s pledge to always be grateful to those, who are risking their lives so that we and our fellow countrymen can live.

Mental Health

Let’s discuss mental health.

Also, let’s keep it short and to the point.

***

So what is mental health and why is it gaining so much attention of late?

Mental health, per se, refers to cognitive, behavioral and emotional well-being. It is all about how people think, behave and feel.

However, when we speak about mental health, we – wittingly or unwittingly – imply depression, anxiety, stress, etc and these are the words which are gaining traction.

Well, to put it into perspective – these above mentioned terms are all issues, which adversely affect our ‘mental health’.

So what’s the solution to this growing menace, which has been exacerbated due to covid 19 pandemic, which has forced people to stay at home. Can you imagine – People, who used to be Hunter-Gatherers, who used to live in big groups, in whose DNA this group affinity still persists, these people are forced to stay confined in their homes. No doubt that they’ll be safe there from bodily diseases, but on the flipside- diseases of the mind have already started taking over.

Living in groups again surely won’t help. Going out and socializing wouldn’t help either (though, these are some of the most powerful tools otherwise). We can have hobbies, read books, keep ourselves occupied, but these are all superficial ways. From my limited yet fruitful experience, I’ve realized that we can always take some time out and connect with our family and friends. Just as we would like to be called and talked to, there’s no reason to point out that others won’t like the same – so :- do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Also, if someone gathers courage and reaches out to you, offer them your full support and encouragement. You never know that a few ordinary words from you, if the timing is proper, might help in influencing the entire life of another person (check butterfly effect) without you even knowing about it. Now isn’t that something!

To conclude: I know that I’ve not given some out of the box solutions, but these are some of the most beneficial ones. Social animals that we are, let’s cooperate with each other and help each other through this mental health crises, because if we don’t help one another now, it’ll soon be the doctors, who will be helping us. 😜

***

Any topics for the next write up ? I, personally, decided upon butterfuly effect as an option. Though it’ll eventually depend on what you decide. So please do mention it in the comments section.