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a) Fuel fractions: on petrol, diesel prices

Last Wednesday, the public-sector oil marketing companies cut the prices of petrol and diesel by one paisa a litre — the first reduction for a while in motor fuel prices that had been frozen for 19 days in the run-up to the Karnataka elections, only to creep up thereafter. Not surprisingly, the Centre, already under fire for persisting with high fuel taxes despite the rise in the global prices of crude in recent months, faced fresh flak over this cursory cut. The same day, the Kerala government approved a reduction in the sales tax on motor fuel products to effect a ₹1 cut in prices per litre in the State starting June 1. For the BJP-led government at the Centre, gearing up for several Assembly elections this year followed by the general election in 2019, the pressure to check pump-level fuel prices is intensifying. Several formulations are said to be under consideration to soften the blow to the consumer, including a reversion to old-fangled ways such as asking oil producers to bear some of the burden. But there still remains great reluctance to consider the option of reducing excise duties that were raised nine times between November 2014 and January 2016 when global crude oil prices had gone down. It is in this context that Kerala’s decision to slash the sales tax on fuel changes the narrative of the debate as States have also been raking in easy oil revenue. In all, the government raised central excise duties by ₹11.77 and ₹13.47 for a litre of petrol and diesel, respectively, followed by a ₹2 a litre cut announced in October 2017, when prices started rising. Additionally, States impose ad valorem duties on fuel products, which go as high as 39.27% (in Maharashtra) and average about 26% — so higher prices mean more tax revenue for them. To make matters worse, they levy value-added tax on the fuel price inclusive of central excise duties, not the base price, leading to double taxation and further price amplification. An SBI research report reckons that prices could go down for diesel by ₹3.75 and petrol by ₹5.75, a litre, if only this tax-on-tax-included-price anomaly was fixed. Giving up easy money is never easy, but the recent robust collections from GST should embolden both the Centre and States to bite the bullet now. Rising crude prices spike inflation and the trade deficit, putting pressure on the rupee and GDP growth. Industry has warned that domestic oil pricing policies are hurting the nascent recovery, and global rating agencies are already slashing India’s growth expectations for this calendar year, citing the oil issue. Two years ago, Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had said that the government was raising excise duties to protect the consumer. The logic: consumers could become vulnerable if exposed to low prices and feel a greater pinch when prices went up. The obvious corollary of that stance — that high taxes on fuel need to be cut when prices rise again — has been ignored so far.

b) Fire without smoke: on chewable tobacco consumption

A report from the World Health Organisation on the occasion of World No Tobacco Day (May 31) suggests that India’s efforts to cut the prevalence of cigarette smoking are paying off. Between 2000 and 2015, this fell from 19.4% to 11.5%. By 2025, the report projected, it could drop to 8.5%, putting India well in line to meeting its 2025 target under a WHO global plan to tackle non-communicable diseases. While this is excellent news, it needs to be highlighted that smokeless tobacco is the bigger scourge in the country. The WHO report doesn’t model usage trends in this segment because of the paucity of global data. Other data, however, suggest that India is lagging on this front. Even though there is a 2011 government ban on the sale of food items with tobacco or nicotine in them, the consumption of gutkha, khaini and zarda continues to be rampant. The Global Adult Tobacco Survey in 2016, for example, found that 29.6% of Indian men and 12.8% of Indian women were users. Children are victims of this lethal addiction too. The WHO report noted that 7.9 million adolescents, between 13 and 15 years, used smokeless tobacco in the South-East Asian region. Given that 66% of the world’s smokeless-tobacco users are in India, a sizeable chunk of this number would be Indian teenagers. Against this background, the drop in cigarette smoking rates gives India little cause to celebrate. Gutkha and other chewable tobacco items are equally, if not more, harmful compared to cigarettes. Surveys show that these products are sometimes mixed with carcinogenic compounds called nitrosamines. This is why India banned their sale under the 2011 Food Safety and Standards Regulations. Why do they continue to be consumed, then? Experts blame their availability on loopholes in the law. The food safety rules target pre-mixed tobacco products, such as gutkha, which contains lime, sugar and other spices. This leaves unflavoured items, such as khaini or surthi, out of regulatory purview. Meanwhile, mislabelling of smokeless tobacco is common. Even when a product contains tobacco, it is passed off as being tobacco-free. Worse, one of the tactics of the tobacco industry is to use flavours such as cardamom and saffron to attract youngsters, triggering life-long addiction. The WHO report notes that as cigarette usage has fallen in high-income countries, the tobacco industry has targeted younger users to make up for the revenue shortfall. While this trend applies to smoking, there is evidence that children are also a target of the chewable tobacco industry. With its war against smoking seemingly on the right track, India must turn its focus to the smokeless tobacco segment. The challenge is bigger, but so will be the reward.


1) Run-up

Meaning: The period before an important event.

Example: Wolfson is playing a key role in the run-up to the elections.

2) Creep up

Meaning: If the value or amount of something creeps up, it slowly increases.

Example: Over the last year, the rate of inflation has crept up to almost seven percent.

Synonyms: Increase, Intensify

3) Persisting

Meaning: Continue in an opinion or course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.

Example: “the minority of drivers who persist in drinking”

Synonyms: Persevere, Continue

Antonyms: Abandon, Stop

4) Flak

Meaning: Strong criticism.

Example: “you must be strong enough to take the flak if things go wrong”

Synonyms: Criticism, Censure

5) Cursory

Meaning: Hasty and therefore not thorough or detailed.

Example: “a cursory glance at the figures”

Synonyms: Casual, Superficial

Antonyms: Thorough, Painstaking

6) Gearing up

Meaning: To prepare for something that you have to do, or to prepare someone else for something.

Example: Politicians are already gearing up for the election.

Synonyms: Preparing

7) Intensifying

Meaning: Become or make more intense.

Example: “the dispute began to intensify”

Synonyms: Escalate, Increase

Antonyms: Lessen, Abate

8) Blow

Meaning: To cause someone or something, usually a plan or hope, to fail or to be affected very badly.

Example: The latest trade figures have dealt a severe blow to hopes of an early economic recovery.

9) Reversion

Meaning: A change back to a previous and often worse condition.

Example: The new procedures are being seen as a reversion to old, inefficient ways of working.

Synonyms: Change

10) Old-fangled

Meaning: Not modern; belonging to or typical of a time in the past.

Example: She’s very old-fangled in her outlook.

Synonyms: Old, Old-fashion.

11) Reluctance

Meaning: Unwillingness or disinclination to do something.

Example: “she sensed his reluctance to continue”

Synonyms: Unwillingness, Disinclination

Antonyms: Willingness, Eagerness

12) Gone down

Meaning: To move down to a lower level or place.

Example: He went down on his knees and begged for forgiveness.

13) Slash

Meaning: Reduce (a price, quantity, etc.) greatly.

Example: “the workforce has been slashed by 2,000”

Synonyms: Reduce, Cut

Antonyms: Raise, Create

14) Narrative

Meaning: A spoken or written account of connected events; a story.

Example: “a gripping narrative”

Synonyms: Account, Description

15) Raking in

Meaning: To earn or get a large amount of money.

Example: He rakes in over $200,000 a year.

Synonyms: Earning

16) Ad Valorem

Meaning: (of the levying of tax or customs duties) in proportion to the estimated value of the goods or transaction concerned.

Example: “ad valorem stamp duty at the rate of 1 per cent is payable”

17) Amplification

Meaning: The action of making something more marked or intense.

Example: “you’re an actor in that you are using emotion and amplification of ideas to make your point”

18) Reckons

Meaning: Establish by calculation; be of the opinion.

Example: “his debts were reckoned at £300,000”

Synonyms: Calculate, Compute

19) Anomaly

Meaning: Something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected.

Example: “there are a number of anomalies in the present system”

Synonyms: Peculiarity, Irregularity

20) Robust

Meaning: Strong and healthy; vigorous.

Example: “the Caplan family are a robust lot”

Synonyms: Strong, Vigorous

Antonyms: Weak, Frail

21) Embolden

Meaning: Give (someone) the courage or confidence to do something.

Example: “emboldened by the claret, he pressed his knee against hers”

Synonyms: Encourage, Hearten

Antonyms: Dishearten, Discourage

22) Bite the bullet

Meaning: Decide to do something difficult or unpleasant that one has been putting off or hesitating over.

Example: “decisions have to be taken and as director you have got to bite the bullet”

23) Nascent

Meaning: (especially of a process or organization) just coming into existence and beginning to display signs of future potential.

Example: “the nascent space industry”

24) Citing

Meaning: To mention something because it proves an idea, explains why something happened, or is an example of what you mean.

Example: Johnson resigned from the board after just six months, citing “differences of opinion”.

25) Vulnerable

Meaning: Exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.

Example: “we were in a vulnerable position”

Synonyms: Endangered, Unsafe

Antonyms: Invulnerable, Resilient

26) Pinch

Meaning: (of a shoe) hurt (a foot) by being too tight.

Example: “my new shoes pinch my big toe”

Synonyms: Hurt, Pain

27) Corollary

Meaning: A direct or natural consequence or result.

Example: “the huge increases in unemployment were the corollary of expenditure cuts”

Synonyms: Consequence, Result

Antonyms: Cause, Origin

28) Prevalence

Meaning: The fact or condition of being prevalent; commonness.

Example: “the prevalence of obesity in adults”

Synonyms: Generality, Regularity

29) Paying off

Meaning: If something you have done pays off, it is successful.

Example: All her hard work paid off in the end, and she finally passed the exam.

Synonyms: Achieving, Fulfilling

30) Communicable

Meaning: (of a disease) able to be transmitted from one sufferer to another; contagious or infectious.

Example: “the fight against communicable disease”

Synonyms: Contagious, Infectious

31) Scourge

Meaning: To cause great suffering or a lot of trouble.

Example: The country has been scourged by (= has suffered very much because of) famine in recent years.

32) Paucity

Meaning: The presence of something in only small or insufficient quantities or amounts.

Example: “a paucity of information”

33) Lagging

Meaning: Fail to keep up with another or others in movement or development.

Example: “they waited for Tim who was lagging behind”

Synonyms: Straggle, Dawdle

Antonyms: Lead, Hurry

34) Rampant

Meaning: (especially of something unwelcome) flourishing or spreading unchecked.

Example: “political violence was rampant”

Synonyms: Uncontrolled, Unchecked

Antonyms: Controlled, Under control

35) Chunk

Meaning: A significant amount of something.

Example: “she invested a chunk of her inheritance in the stock market”

36) Loopholes

Meaning: An ambiguity or inadequacy in the law or a set of rules.

Example: “they exploited tax loopholes”

Synonyms: Escape, Clause

37) Purview

Meaning: The scope of the influence or concerns of something.

Example: “such a case might be within the purview of the legislation”

38) Passed off

Meaning: To happen.

Example: The pop festival passed off peacefully, despite the fears of local residents.

Synonyms: Occurring, Happening

39) Triggering

Meaning: Cause (an event or situation) to happen or exist.

Example: “an allergy can be triggered by stress or overwork”

Synonyms: Active, Stimulate

40) Make up

Meaning: Compensate for something lost, missed, or deficient.

Example: “I’ll make up the time tomorrow”

Synonyms: Expiate, Requite

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