“What I object to, is the craze for machinery, not machinery as such. The craze is for what they call labour-saving machinery. Men go on ‘saving labour’ till thousands are without work and thrown on the open streets to die of starvation.” These words of Mahatma Gandhi mirror his frustration with mechanization that swept through factories way back in 1924. Today the world and India are stuck in the quagmire called ‘technological unemployment.'
Technology is constantly re-inventing the world, and now it appears to be doing it at an incredibly accelerated pace. Today there are robotic arms that perfectly prepare Michelin starred recipes and pilot programs for self-driving cars, buses, trucks, and trains all across the world. Artificial Intelligence is blurring the line between rule and process driven tasks and creative jobs. It is already making its presence felt in the world of commercial music, like jingles and background scores for events. It is only a matter of time a higher quality of music will be composed by more complicated algorithms. Basic journalism and putting together legal briefs are some of the other areas being invaded by artificial intelligence. It is expected that biggest tech-driven disruption will be in the banking sector.
An excited doctor friend was telling me how wearable medical devices are teaming up with machine learning to save lives. Machine learning, also referred to artificial intelligence, he explained allows us to see patterns in data that were invisible before. And with high-speed data analytics and complex algorithms at work, this distilled data can be used to diagnose earlier and intervene faster to prevent suffering and save lives.
Undoubtedly, technology is a very fascinating topic, but what is more interesting is the repercussions it can have on the Indian economy. Technology is a two-edged sword – it can cut time and obstacles and dramatically multiply productivity and abundance. Technology also cuts a substantial quantum of costs and human labour. So, we have greater efficiency at reduced costs, but it also means widespread loss of jobs! In India where there is no welfare system that could mean well-stocked shelves but no people to buy them.
Numerous techno breakthroughs are rapidly shrinking the job market. The writing is on the wall! Industry veterans have warned that automation and artificial intelligence are rapidly displacing people and causing large-scale job losses. This situation is only set to get further aggravated in the near future. By 2025, 200 million young people in India are expected to be unemployed.
Technology has already demonstrated that cars can be assembled and surgeries performed by robots. Yes, technology proliferation will lead to widespread loss of jobs across all strata…from equity analysts to lower paid and less skilled workers. Even audit is prone to tech-driven disruption. So, what is the way ahead? Should India just avoid certain technologies and focus on the ones with the greater application? Or should we keep our R&D centers going full speed ahead and capitalize on marketing the patents and breakthroughs to a globally receptive market? These questions will keep bothering us and time will only tell…
Disruption also in Elections
March was a month that had us gripped by election results. What a finale it was with the BJP getting a sweeping majority in UP and Uttarakhand. It did not end here but continued its magic by grabbing both Manipur and Goa where it did not get a clear majority. One wonders whether Artificial Intelligence could have predicted this outcome. After crunching the data and trends, it is clear that the high voter turnout was the result of strong and continuous communications, particularly through rallies and social media. Voter mobilization was also undertaken in a more systematic manner with greater planning. Finally, it was the promise of a bundle of benefits that swayed voter direction. Now the key question is whether UP can shed its shady past and be re-invented to become a preferred destination for individuals, companies, tourists…
GST- knocking at our doors
The much awaited GST is progressing at a brisk pace and is very much on track to be rolled out from July 1. Designed to replace a slew of central and state taxes, GST is all set to transform Asia’s third largest economy into a single market for the first time. The GST Council, the driving force and apex decision making body for GST (with representation from the central govt. and all the state govts) has met twelve times and ironed out many contentious issues.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was very appreciative of the operating style of the council when he remarked, “…not a single decision had been taken by voting…it was a deliberative democracy and federalism in action that all decisions have been taken by consensus.” As you read this, Lok Sabha too has cleared all four GST bills now all the action in State assemblies.
The GST regime will have a set of nine rules, out of which the council has already approved five – pertaining to registration, payment, refunds, invoices and returns. The remaining four rules, viz. composition, valuation, input tax and credit transitions are in the process of being formulated. Early April, the council will undertake the key task of assigning various commodities to the different tax slabs – 5%, 12%, 15% and 28%.
GST Training at BCAS
It is estimated that there are some 22-lakh indirect tax assessees currently in India, a number which will balloon to 70 lakh with the implementation of GST. The government is roping in various bodies to help in the task of familiarizing and training people in the basics of GST. BCAS has been recognized as an Accredited Training Partner by the Government for imparting GST training to the trade and industry. A team of ten volunteers from the Indirect Taxation Committee has agreed to devote their time and efforts for this mission and to work with the Government in Nation building. My sincere regards to them. A two-day GST Workshop with 380 participants from all over India has just concluded, and there will be many more in the months to come. Indirect Tax RSC has been planned in the month of June with GST as the focus. I request you all to keep a check on the announcement and enroll at the earliest to avoid disappointment.
YRRC – an event to remember
10th to 12th March 2017 marked the 4th Year of the flagship BCAS Youth Event – the Youth Residential Refresher Course, organized jointly with the YMEC of ICAI this year. This year’s YRRC was a trend-setter from which a cue shall be taken for all future Youth events across the profession. The days were loaded with top-of-the-line speakers across various professions with topics ranging from tax and accounts to leadership and entrepreneurship to workshop on mock stock markets and nights packed with fun activities like treasure hunt and movie night; the YRRC was everything it promised to be and more. It was heartening to see the participants attend 100% and participate 110% in each and every session. The sincerity, commitment, dedication, intelligence, capabilities, excitement and energy of this new breed of Chartered Accountants gives me hope that the future of our profession is in able hands.
Felicitation and Interaction with President of ICAI – Shri Nilesh Vikamsey
Another landmark event was felicitation of Shri Nilesh Vikamsey -President of ICAI on 9th March 2017 and very candid interaction on the future of the profession. Shri Nilesh Vikamsey outlined his approach of showcasing the efforts of the profession for the society at large and towards nation building through contribution at various ministry levels on the upgrading of their accounting systems. He also lauded the efforts of BCAS for its contribution in upgrading the knowledge base of the professionals and also in providing pro active suggestions at the economy level. Vice President Mr. Naveen ND Gupta though not able to attend due to his pre-occupation at New Delhi, conveyed his sincere thanks for organizing the meeting. We also acknowledge the active participation of Central Council Members Shri. Nihar Jambusaria and Shri. Prafulla Chhajed, who interacted actively. There was presence of managing committee members, many past presidents, and active core committee members, who aired their views.
“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” - Mahatria Ra