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14 Important Points That We Are Overlooking About Startup India

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By Mahesh Peri

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses a gathering during a conference of start-up businesses in New Delhi, India, January 16, 2016. Indian Prime Minister Modi launched a number of initiatives on Saturday to support the country's start-ups, including a 100 billion rupee ($1.5 billion) fund and a string of tax breaks for both the companies and their investors. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi - RTX22ONI
PM Modi at the Startup India event. Source: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

So, the Big Bang reforms to nurture and kick-start the start-up ecosystem are done. I am a firm believer that even one problem solved is one problem less to deal with. I am very happy that the Prime Minister has tried to put together and address all issues of start-ups at one go. He also created a buzz where the government departments and banks would be more inclined, supportive and empathise with Start Ups. And the Prime Minister rightly talks of lesser government involvement to help enterprises grow faster.

Many of the issues that were dealt with are about ‘ease of doing business’s compliances, licenses, patents and IPRs. We have to make them easy and transparent, any which way; with, without and in spite of start-ups. I was eagerly awaiting the Prime Minister to make announcements on the substantive ones–Service Tax, M&As, Labor Laws, Income tax, Capital gains. He spoke more about mentorships, incubation centres, hubs, research centres, tests and events, all of which the government should have a limited role in. And I do think we could have done much more for start-ups and the risk-taking entrepreneurs behind them.

The big one everyone is talking about is the tax holiday for 3 years. Unless I am very wrong, it is a meaningless concession. In a country where not more than 2% startups survive, not even 1% make profit in the first 3 years. And as far as inspector raj goes, no inspector comes for inspection till they know you are earning a lot.

Here are my comments on the complete list of announcements:

1. Compliance regime based on self-certification.

This is for ease of doing business and must be done for all businesses and not just start-ups. From idea to kick starting operations anyways takes 6 to 18 months.

2. Startup India hub.

Government-controlled and government-operated. It contradicts Modi’s call for lesser government. They could have given those funds to organizations such as TIE, NASSCOM etc. to create those hubs and run them.

3. Simplifying the startup process.

Greater ease of doing business is needed not just for start-ups but all businesses.

4. Patent protection.

It is an announcement of intent and not a policy initiative. Will have to wait and see how corruption-mired government offices make this happen. Besides, Patent and IPR procedure must be made transparent, not just for startups but for everyone.

5. Legal support.

Government intervention. Creates another layer. Why make a complicated process and give legal support?

6. 80% rebate on patent applications.

Nothing substantive. The cost of filing an IPR are between Rs. 1,600 and Rs. 12,000. Saving of Rs. 1,300 to Rs. 10,000.

7. Relaxed norms of public procurement.

Again an announcement of intent, not a policy initiative. This has nothing to do with startups. The vice-like grip and the nexus that exists in government procurement should anyways be broken.

8. Faster Exits.

This is where the government could have made a bolder move. We should enable the profitable ones to merge with the loss-making enterprises. Very recently, We were trying to buy a company which had genuine synergies with our business. It had been in existence for 8 years and was losing money with 45 people on its rolls. When evaluating, the merger would have made sense, if the tax losses were also utilised. The price we arrived at was much more than the gains because of tax losses. But the uncertainty of allowing the M&A by tax authorities killed the deal. We should make M&A simpler, easier, and gainful even in taxation. We could have saved 45 jobs, a company and still made the entrepreneur earn something for his pain and effort. Alas, it was not to be.

9. Funds of funds of Rs.10,000 crore.

This is a government scheme. You could have run it through banks as many already have such schemes.

10. Capital Gains Tax.

This is a big move although we should await the fine print in the budget provisions. The capital gains tax currently favours investments in listed entities. Investing in startups carries higher risk and higher tax. This is a ridiculous situation when you are trying to encourage innovation and startups. If they indeed change capital gains tax and bring it on par with the existing capital gains tax, it will be a big move that can drive funding towards startups.

11. Tax exemption.

This is high in optics but doesn’t mean much. It is like giving sun-shades to the blind. In an ecosystem where not even 1% of startups survive after 5 years, not even 1% of that 1% earn a profit in the first 3 years. Tax holiday for whom? And what is it about starting after 1st April 2016?

12. Fair Market Value formula.

It was a source of harassment. An irritant has been removed.

13. Startup fests.

The government should keep away. All you need to do is remove the service tax on startup events and luxury tax on venues and you will see these taking off.

14. Launch of Atal Innovation Mission, incubators, research parks, bio-clusters etc.

Alas, the government at it again. Did I hear someone talk of lesser government involvement?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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