Citizens' Issues
‘Right to die with dignity and living will are important for all of us’
On Thursday, California became the sixth state in the US to allow assisted suicide, following Oregon, Washington and Vermont. A few countries in Europe too allow assisted suicide. Coincidentally, Moneylife Foundation organised a discussion on the right to die with dignity, living will and euthanasia in its Knowledge Centre at Dadar, Mumbai.
 
In India euthanasia is illegal and is classified as murder. Living will is not recognised. Indeed, a pending bill on these issues has clear provisions asking doctors not to take cognisance of living will and medical power of attorney given to a doctor to put one to death. However, there are complex issues involved and it is not easy to take sides on this issue. Moneylife Foundation which takes up many citizen’s issues, invited Dr Suren Dhelia, a senior physician practising in South Mumbai and the Joint Secretary of Society for Right to Die with Dignity, and RN Bhaskar, a senior journalist, who has worked with several leading business papers and magazines to discuss this issue.
 
Bhaskar who is, or has been, a Consulting Editor with Free Press Journal and Forbes India, DNA, Business India and others, opened the discussion with a short presentation on the case of Aruna Shanbaug who was in a state of permanent vegetative state (PVS) after being raped and assaulted by a ward boy at Mumbai’s KEM Hospital. He explained how this case focused the country’s attention on the issue of euthanasia as it was debated and discussed all the way up to the Supreme Court, which eventually turned down a petition to let Ms Shanbaug die. Bhaskar explained the many dimensions of the issue that Supreme Court went into. Interestingly, the apex court hinted at the fact that had Ms Shanbaug had a living will expressing her preference to die in case she was in a PVS, the court might have considered it.
 
Dr Dhelia explained the many terms associated with the topics and the international scenario. He offered several strong ethical, philosophical and medical reasons why India must recognise doctor-assisted death, living will and medical power of attorney. The session ended with questions and answers from a packed audience, eager to know the ramifications of the issues.
 

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Nifty, Sensex may remain under pressure – Thursday closing report
We had mentioned in Wednesday’s closing report that Nifty, Sensex were struggling to head higher. The major indices of the Indian stock markets suffered a correction on Thursday and closed with losses of upto 0.95% over Wednesday’s close. The trends of the major indices in the course of Thursday’s trading are given in the table below:
 
 
 
Key Indian equity market indices were trading in the red during the afternoon session on Thursday as technology related stocks plunged. Good buying was observed in metal and oil and gas sectors. Selling pressure was seen in IT and technology, media and entertainment (TECK). Cues from Asian markets were in the negative and the major indices of the Indian stock markets also fell accordingly.
 
The US dollar dropped against most major currencies as investors lowered expectations for an interest-rate hike as early as June. In late New York trading on Wednesday, the euro rose to $1.1400 from $1.1365 of the previous session, and the British pound decreased to $1.4508 from $1.4564. The Australian dollar went up to $0.7472 from $0.7455. The dollar bought 106.86 Japanese yen, lower than 107.29 yen of the previous session. The dollar fell to 0.9587 Swiss francs from 0.9650 Swiss francs, and it inched down to 1.2711 Canadian dollars from 1.2767 Canadian dollars. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Monday that further US interest rate-hikes are likely on the way, but did not mention the timing of the hikes. She did not give a time-frame for raising interest rates like she did in May, which was interpreted by many market observers as "dovish".
 
The Indian rupee did not benefit from the troubles of the US dollar vis-à-vis other currencies. The US dollar was at Rs66.7755, up 0.45% in the afternoon on Thursday. Exporting companies in India are likely to come under revenue pressure. Overall, interest rates and currency markets are likely to have a bearing on FII (foreign institutional investors) investments in Indian stock markets rather than just corporate performance.
 
The Karnataka government on Wednesday announced a new retail trade policy to attract fresh investments into the state. "The policy relaxes retail norms and listing of food and grocery business under 'essential services' to protect establishments from closing during shutdowns and increases stocking limit," state Law Minister T.B. Jayachandra told reporters after the cabinet approved the policy. The new policy also allows the state labour department to simplify labour laws and prevent workers of retailers from resorting to strike or agitation under the Shops and Establishments Act. "The policy enables business establishments to work long hours and engage women workforce in night shift with conditions to ensure their safety and security," Jayachandra said. The government is of the view that the new policy would generate jobs and create opportunities for taking retail trade to rural areas and expand its presence in cities and towns across the state of Karnataka.
 
US stocks traded mostly higher as investors shifted their focus from a possible interest rate hike to gains in oil prices. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 30.51 points, or 0.17%, to 17,968.79 on Wednesday. The S&P 500 gained 1.85 points, or 0. 09%, to 2,113.98. The Nasdaq Composite Index ticked up 1.15 points, or 0.02%, to 4,962.90. Oil prices extended recent gains to trade nearly 1% higher on Wednesday. Both Brent and WTI held strong above $50 a barrel in early session, helped by a larger-than-expected US crude stockpile draw. US stocks closed mixed on Tuesday, as Wall Street continued to assess US Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's speech on the US economy.
 
The top gainers and top losers of the major Indian indices are given in the table below:
 
 
The closing values of the major Asian indices are given in the table below:
 

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West Bengal power sector illustrates the difficulties of power reform
The number of electricity connections in West Bengal nearly doubled to 16.37 million from 8.57 million between 2011 and 2016. Distribution transformers too increased by two-thirds to 2,22,000 from 1,34,000 over the same period. A majority of these additions was at the lower end of the consumer base as the government wanted to fulfil poll promises of assuring electricity connections.
 
However, there is not much to cheer about for the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Electricity Board (WBSEDCL) despite the huge rise in electricity connections. ICICI Securities estimates that West Bengal's Aggregate Technical & Commercial (AT & C) Losses are likely to increase to around 30% for FY15-16 as compared to around 25.8% in FY08-19. A weak law and order situation and large scale addition to the lower end of the consumer base only lead to lower collections and electricity theft, according to ICICI Securities. 
 
West Bengal offers Rs200 crore – Rs250 crore subsidy to low end consumers. However, no subsidy is offered to agricultural consumers. Agricultural consumption of power merely stands at 5%. Industrial power consumption is down due to stress on iron ore businesses and weakness in commodity cycle. There is good demand for power from the service sector led by the Information Technology (IT) sector. Due to cross-subsidisation, industrial consumers in West Bengal need to pay a higher rate of electricity tariff. 
 
ICICI Securities estimates that state discom's FY15-16 revenue gap is around Rs20 billion. It has a whopping Rs130 billion loan for which WBSEDCL is paying interest at 10.5% p.a. Its debt equity ratio is high at 7.5, which rose from 6.2 in FY12-13. The discom reported marginal profits of Rs20 crore in FY14-15, which fell from Rs82 crore in FY12-13. However, despite these profits, the discom has been marred by large arrears and late payment charges. 
 
 Discoms in India are reeling under losses and huge debt burden. Their accumulated losses are approximately Rs3.8 lakh crore and outstanding debt of around Rs4.3 lakh crore. As part of the power sector reforms, the Central government has launched, Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY), a financial turnaround package for electricity distribution companies. However, West Bengal has not agreed to sign up for UDAY. 

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