Capex data, Rajya Sabha polls, April Fool’s Day

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Every Monday, Mint’s Plain Facts section features key data releases and events to look for in the coming week. Elections for 13 Rajya Sabha seats are due this week. On 1 April, covid-19 containment measures at a national level will come to an end officially, even as the pandemic rages in parts of Asia and Europe. Brace for April Fools’ Day as well. Here is what to watch for:

1.Rajya Sabha elections

The first wave of Rajya Sabha retirements this year is due in early April, with 13 members of the Upper House set to vacate their seats. Elections for these seats are due on Thursday. Five of the members are from Punjab, three from Kerala, two from Assam, and one each from Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and Tripura. They will be picked by members of the Legislative Assemblies of their states through single transferable votes, which will be counted on the same day.The Congress will lose six members and looks unlikely to gain as many back as it does not have the numbers in the respective Assemblies. After its dominant win in Punjab, the Aam Aadmi Party will look to shore up its strength, which is currently at three. These polls will also be keenly watched ahead of the presidential polls slated for July. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies look comfortably placed to pick its presidential choice because of its Lok Sabha numbers.

2.Bankers’ strike

Banking services across the country will be affected on Monday and Tuesday as public sector bank (PSB) employees go on strike. The strike is against the government’s move to privatize PSBs and also against the Banking Laws Amendment Bill, 2021, which was expected to bring down the minimum government holding in PSBs to 26% from 51%, said the All India Bank Employees’ Association. The trade union has also laid down demands such as proper recovery of bad loans instead of haircuts, increasing interest rates on bank deposits, and more recruitment. The government had, in the budget proposal for 2021-22, announced the privatization of two PSBs, along with that of IDBI Bank. A cabinet decision on the disinvestment is yet to be taken, but expressions of interest for IDBI Bank’s divestment will be sought after roadshows that the government is holding. The Banking Laws Amendment Bill has not yet been listed in Parliament.

3.Capex growth

The investment climate in India has not been great for the last few years. Covid-19 further sapped the confidence of investors and capital expenditure has remained low. The last quarter hardly saw any improvement. Companies announced new projects worth 3.3 trillion compared with 3 trillion in the July-September quarter, as uncertainties have not completely waned. The government’s capex plan saw an improvement, though private sector companies kept the powder dry. How the current quarter fared will be known on Friday when the database of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy is updated. Again the government appears ready to do the heavy lifting on capex, the latest budget showed. Whether the announcement helped crowd in private investment will be seen in the coming quarters.

4.Covid updates

India is set to withdraw on 1 April national disaster management measures adopted two years ago to tackle the covid-19 pandemic. This comes just days after the resumption of regular international flights and is a milestone in India’s fight against the pandemic at a time the country’s infection count has descended to its lowest in two years. The use of masks and hand hygiene will continue, and local governments can still enforce containment measures if needed. Meanwhile, some other parts of the world are experiencing fresh waves of the pandemic. The global infection curve, which had been on a decline since December, is again on a rise. In South Korea, Vietnam, and New Zealand, infections are at unprecedented levels, led by the BA.2 sub-lineage of the Omicron variant. However, the Omicron wave has been relatively short-lived elsewhere, and these countries will hope for a peak in the coming week.

5.April Fools’ Day

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Be prepared for unexpected pranks and hoaxes as friends, family and colleagues try to outwit you on 1 April. It’s April Fools’ Day. The origins of the annual ritual are contested. However, it has entered tradition in most parts of the world for its sheer fun. The banter had been on a pause for the last two years because of the pandemic. Even Google had stopped its yearly hoax. In 2020, the first wave of covid-19 had stunned the world into immobility and in 2021, the Delta variant of coronavirus had just begun to spread gloom. This year, vaccinations give us a hedge against further tragedy. Google’s prank, in which it fools netizens with bogus product announcements (see chart), could be back. However, once the day is over, it will be time to humble down. It’s International Fact-Checking Day on 2 April, a time to realize that reckless pranks in today’s world have costs for civil society.

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