All in the search of food

Mumbai is at a standstill despite the ruling party saying that it would ensure that it was business as usual. For those who believed the government and made their way to work without a dabba, half the day was a long search for food.

It is called the "City that never sleeps", yet Mumbai was caught dozing off during the day today, after the bellicose call by our netas for a 'Bharat Bandh'.

Yesterday, Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan said that there wasn't going to be any bandh-like situation. Hearing that, I ventured out to my work place (after all, I work for a media organisation) at Shivaji Park in Dadar, the heart of Mumbai's right-wing Shiv Sena and its breakaway faction, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). However, once I stepped outside from my home, there wasn't a sign of the promises Mr Chavan had made.

This is the new Mumbai for you. A few years ago, Mumbaikars took pride in defying bandh calls and even the fury of nature to make their way to office. Commercial establishments and hawkers strived to remain open; but not anymore. Mumbai no longer needs to be forcibly shut down by rampaging mobs. Even on my way to work, it was evident that neither malls and shop-owners, nor the hawkers on the street were taking any chances. They had simply taken the day off. Even the legendry dabbawallahs were off today.

Around noon, it was clear that we would have to go out and hunt for food in the concrete jungle. The streets were deserted as autos, taxis and fleet cabs decided to stay off the roads. Shops and restaurants were closed. Even the road-side hawkers who supply Mumbai's countless migrants-from labour to executives-with every imaginable variety of street food were missing. Yet, you did see the occasional motorcyclist or car passing by. The police seemed to be everywhere, patiently waiting for any signs of protest or trouble. Only the mobile chaiwalas on their cycles, selling hot tea and peddling cigarettes, still dared to roam the streets.

Mumbai is a melting pot of culture and ethnicities, and this is reflected in the incredible range of its street foods and restaurants.  You can go eat a tandoori from a Punjabi dhabba or grab Maharashtra's famous vada pav. You could have some road side idlis and vada sambar, or even have some delicious pani puri. Such has been Mumbai's free enterprise.

As I set out, the hunger pangs were gnawing. There were others who didn't even have a tiffin with them, so I as pretty sure it was in their head too. As mentioned earlier not a single store was open and the vada pav or pani puri stalls were also shut. We needed FOOD!

Our first stop was at our corner vada pav wallah; he wasn't there. The stall was nicely covered with a cloth to protect it from the rain. I then made my way to Kirti College to have its famous vada pav; however, I was halted by a fellow hunter in search for food who informed me that "Kirti is also closed". By now it was beginning to dawn on me that the vada pav walah lobby had to stay shut since it owed its allegiance to Shiv Sena which controls Mumbai's municipal corporation-in other words, their legal hawking licences or hafta payments. In a flash, I recalled that all the junka bhakar and vada pav stalls mushroomed in the Sena's regime. It explained the loyalty factor as well.

So I was still without food. Right next to our office, there is an Udupi restaurant, at which I am a regular. Although its shutters were closed, I decided to try the back door and test my persuasion skills. Moneylife employees have given this place good business in the past, but it didn't relent. Once we entered the kitchen, the entire eatery was dark and you could see the workers squatting inside. One of them recognised me and said, "Saab, kya hua." I tried to look famished. Even if he gave us sandwiches, we would have been grateful. However, even in the dark I realised the answer was going to be 'no'. there were only there to safeguard the restaurant while their own dal-chawal was going to be brought from outside.
Disappointment loomed on our faces and we realised our search would be longer. We saw some youngsters trying to persuade the vada pav walah to fry a batch, but he said he wouldn't because he had no pav (buns). Finally someone told us of a place where we could get some 'tiffins'. He even took me there (towards Mahim) on his outdated Bajaj scooty, but again no luck; the owner said she only had food for two and we go to another place called the 'Canteen'. By now, I had certainly lost any hope of getting any food for my colleagues and me.

Having no choice, I went ahead. The biker was a nice guy who only spoke Marathi. He said, "You should get burji pav." I was uncertain. So, I asked him where the canteen was. He said it was at Sena Bhavan. Now, I was completely certain that we wouldn't get any food. Sena Bhavan has been the Saniks headquarters for ages. The likely thought of getting food on a bandh day like this was ludicrous. But the canteen was open. The canteen was nearly 70 steps away from the Sena headquarters and there was this South Indian guy making hot kheema and bhurji pav. His shanty was covered by a tree but it was still visible. I wasn't the only one there; there were others too who were in search of food, even some cops. So I quickly told him to pack seven plates of bhurji pav, paid for it and went back to the office with the deliciously tikka stuff.

The irony was that while most shops were closed out of fear, this South Indian hawker, whose shanty was a stone's throw away from Sena Bhavan, dared to remain open. Thank you, bhurji walah.

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NGOs ask for ban on anonymous donations to be repealed

Charitable organisations collect a substantial proportion of funds through donors who prefer not to reveal their identities—the government’s ban is eliminating their sources for finance

Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) have been crying out against the government's diktat on taxing anonymous donations for some time now. The finance ministry had clamped down on anonymous donations to (non-religious) charitable organisations to prevent money laundering. However, a number of NGOs say that because of a few isolated incidents, many charitable entities have been affected.

Noshir Dadarwala, chief executive, Centre for Advancement of Philanthropy, has sent a petition to the Parliament of India Committee on Petitions (dated 29 June 2010), asking for the curbs on anonymous donations to be repealed.

Section 115BBC was introduced for the first time in the Finance Act, 2006, to tax anonymous donations to charitable organisations at the maximum marginal rate of 30%. Subsequently, a degree of relief was granted under the Finance (No 2) Act, 2009, that such anonymous donations aggregating up to five years of the total income of an organisation or a sum of Rs1,00,000-whichever is higher-will not be taxed.

"We are of the view that Section 115BBC, even after the amendment made by Finance (No 2) Act 2009, is a deterrent for genuine charitable organisations to mobilise funds for welfare and developmental work from the general public or ordinary citizens who are motivated to give for altruistic and not money laundering  reasons," said the petition sent by Mr Dadarwala.

Mr Dadarwala, along with other NGOs, has met members of the Parliament of India Committee on Petitions in Mumbai to discuss the scrapping of taxes on anonymous donations.

NGOs argue that a number of leading charitable organisations mobilise their funds by placing their donations in collection boxes at shopping malls, airports, hotels and other public places where a number of ordinary  citizens feel motivated to contribute money for a good charitable cause, be it for senior citizens, the
visually-impaired, impoverished street children or cancer patients.

"We are however of the view that a very large number of genuine charitable organisations and NGOs raise funds through collection boxes and people who put money into these boxes mainly comprise children and ordinary citizens of this country who may have heard about 'black money' but don't have any and contribute to charitable institutions only out of a genuine charitable impulse," added Mr Dadarwala.

Schools and colleges also raise money for various charitable causes with students going from door to door or requesting ordinary citizens in the streets to put money in collection boxes. According to Mr Dadarwala, NGOs which cater to orphans, cancer patients, and the mentally disabled are the ones who are most affected, as these organisations get nearly 30% of their annual donations from charity boxes.

"Leading NGOs collect lakhs of rupees annually through such collection boxes. Now, thanks to Section 115BBC of the Income-Tax Act,  several NGOS have been forced to pull out these collection boxes," he added.

According to Shailesh Mishra, the founder of Silver Lining, an NGO which looks after senior citizens larger NGOs are affected by the provisions as they receive more anonymous donations, while smaller NGOs may not be affected.

The change of rules regarding anonymous donations had come about in 2006, when the then finance minister P Chidambaram made anonymous donations taxable by framing a new law under Section 115BBC of the I-T Act. At that time, he had said that anonymous donations to wholly charitable institutions needed to be taxed at the highest marginal rate, whereas donations to partly religious and partly charitable institutions or trusts could be taxed only if the donation is specifically for an educational or medical purpose. However, donations to wholly religious institutions and religious trusts were not to be taxed.

"Since the advent (of the new provisions) to the I-T Act in 2006, we have raised very limited funds through anonymous donations," said Kreeanne Rabadi, regional director, Child Rights and You (CRY).

Before the regulation was passed, charitable institutions and organisations were exempt from paying any tax if they claimed in their I-T returns that they had received secret donations. According to some, this allowed people to donate black money to a trust and then take grants against it, thereby making their black money legitimate.

In January 2008, various NGOs-which included HelpAge India, AccountAid, Oxfam Trust and the National Foundation for India-had sent a letter to Mr Chidambaram, Montek Singh Ahluwalia (deputy chairman, Planning Commission) and Indira Bhargava (chairperson, Central Board of Direct Taxes).

In these letters, these NGOs made the recommendation that the I-T authorities can get details of the anonymous donor from his banker and anonymous donations should not be made taxable as there are a lot of individuals and organisations who would like to remain anonymous while giving for charity.

"The government is trying to curtail crime, but it is a huge problem for people who want to remain anonymous," Mr Mishra said.

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TP Viswanathan

9 years ago

Anonymous donations by check or other negotiable instruments could be left undisturbed, provided the donors provide PAN details. Huge donations in cash must be under strict watch and Government is right in tightening the norms.

Fuel price de-control: What does it mean for the customer?

Don’t expect any price wars, but it is time to start searching for more fuel-efficient vehicles

So what does the freeing of the fuel price mechanism really mean for us in India, on the street and at home, and where does this go next?

By all reckoning, it goes only one way, and that is straight up. A cynical way of looking at things would be that the cost of the cleanup of the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill in the US, and the resulting reduction in oil production as well as increased cost of future offshore drilling especially in the US, will cause a spike in crude oil prices worldwide-which will further notch up prices for fuel at the retail outlet in India. That's certainly the larger picture, and winter crude price predictions are touching three figures in dollar terms per barrel, again. Add to that all the predictions for inflation, worldwide, staring us in the face.

At the time of writing this article, the oil companies had not provided their dealers with any indications on what this would really mean in the future, barring the notified hike on the night of Friday, 25th June. Prices of petrol, diesel and kerosene at the retail outlet, as well as LPG and CNG, would continue to be "administered" by the parent company-chances of any price-wars at this level are totally ruled out. And the buzz with dealers is that public sector oil companies, who have an almost 100% presence and dominance in urban locations, are likely to form a "consultative committee" once again to "set" prices at their outlets.

The few private oil company outlets that exist in India are largely on the outskirts of cities or on highways, and it is not expected that they will go into any price-war or any sort of loss-making method to gain market share, as was done in telecom. They are expected to willy-nilly follow the larger public sector oil company pricing policies, and will hope to make better margins out of efficiency, as well as allied usage of retail outlets.

What may also increase is advertising spend and perception management. Beyond that, time to start looking at more fuel-efficient motor vehicles again, and on that, luckily, we seem to be moving towards a vast choice in all segments.

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datar ashok

9 years ago

right oil prices - i.e. higher prices should encourage users to be very efficient in its use. it will also give a chance to alternative sources of clean energy to develop. hence we must welcome the higher price.
there should be a cess of one rupee per litre on all oil products to prepare for a contingency fund for any calamity.

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