Paradise Papers: Seven Steps Modi Must Take Against Black Money

Workers wait for a cargo ship to beach at Mundra Port in Gujarat April 2, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Amit Dave

The ‘Paradise Papers’ expose carried out by the Indian Express in collaboration with a German newspaper and the International Consortium of Journalists (ICIJ) once again reveals the extent of the black money menace and the lack of political will to take it on. By now it is clear that the Narendra Modi government that rode to power on widespread popular anger against corruption and black money has let the people down and is actively collaborating in covering up rather than uncovering black money. In this context, celebrating ‘Anti-Black Money Day’ on the anniversary of demonetisation is nothing but a cruel joke on the people of this country.

There is a set pattern by now. Instead of taking proactive and concrete action, the government reacts only to leaks that come out from time to time. Whether it is the leaks about accounts in Liechtenstein’s banks or in HSBC bank or the Panama Papers or Paradise Papers, every time the government defends its own people and says that it has set up some task force or the other. Thereafter, we don’t know what happens. We have not seen any details of any accounts of Indians abroad obtained by the government on its own proactively or any amount recovered or any culprits jailed. For all big claims of black money caught through demonetisation, we are yet to see any names or lists. Even very specific information on black money given to the government has not led to any prosecution. Since all such exposés name politicians of the ruling party as well as the opposition, there is no concerted public campaign to bring the guilty to the book.

This is a global menace and arguably the biggest challenge to democracy today. The Paradise Papers, and Panama Papers earlier, present another example of how big corporates and the ultra-rich of various countries move their money to tax havens and out of their countries through shell companies and trusts created for this purpose. Siphoning off funds of corporations to tax havens in this manner is today arguably the biggest business in the world, involving amounts in excess of $100 billion a year. It is a malaise which lies at the root of corruption, black money, income inequalities and the continuing hold of corrupt politicians and their parties over the levers of power through this illicit money.

These two exposés reveal a standard modus operandi. In most cases, the money is the product of siphoned off funds from domestic companies by over-invoicing and under-invoicing through intermediary shell companies. Siphoning out of huge funds leads to non-performing assets (NPAs) since most of these companies take loans from public sector banks on the basis of over-invoiced costs, as the Adani, Essar as well as Sterling cases show. This also leads to the defrauding or cheating of electricity consumers by higher tariffs imposed upon them, as well as cheating of these public companies by their promoters. This is why we see this phenomenon of companies like those of Vijay Mallya going into bankruptcy, while the promoters manage to have huge assets, mostly abroad. Some of these funds could also be cases of tax evasion and not necessarily siphoning out by over-invoicing and under-invoicing. However, hardly any part of it is likely to be legitimate or above-board, because there was no reason to park it in tax havens. And it should have been declared upfront to the authorities.

This phenomenon is widely used by large corporates, and known and understood by the politicians and bureaucrats, and by this government. This device has been transparently visible in a number of big cases investigated recently by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Income Tax Department, the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate. Unfortunately, as the following cases show, the government has not taken any effective action.

The Modi government’s failure to tackle black money is quire evident from some of these cases:

1. Sterling Biotech: More than Rs. 5,000 crore allegedly siphoned through over-invoicing and under-invoicing

On June 28, 2011, the Income Tax Department conducted a search and seizure under Section 132 of the Income Tax Act covering 25 premises of the Gujarat-based Sterling Biotech and Sandesara Group of Companies.

During the raid, certain incriminating documentary evidence was found and seized from the premises of the group at Mumbai and Vadodara. As per the FIR, a “Diary 2011” was found from the company premises during a raid, which detailed the monthly payouts to the accused income tax officials and several police officials and politicians in Gujarat. The FIR states that:

“The Documents seized revealed that the Sandesara group has been acting as a depository for receiving funds on behalf of persons including public servants and for further delivery to them at the place of convenience. The evidence collected by the Income Tax Department showed corruption of various public servants including three senior IRS officers”. More than 5000 crores were found to have been loaded by this company through over invoicing and under invoicing and more than 74 accounts were opened in foreign jurisdictions particularly tax havens. (FIR dated 25.10.2017 registered by CBI)

The Modi government, however, promoted Rakesh Asthana and appointed him as special director in the CBI despite the fact that his name figures in the list of persons who have received the payment and also despite the fact that the CBI director had strongly opposed his promotion citing the ‘integrity clause’ requirement.

A second, more incriminating FIR was lodged by the CBI on October 25, 2017 against the Sandesara Group company Sterling Biotech Limited, its directors, chartered accountant and the then director of Andhra Bank for allegedly cheating public sector banks of Rs 5,383 crore. The FIR alleges that the Sterling Biotech group companies availed of more than Rs 5,000 crore in loans from State Bank, Andhra Bank and other public sector banks, which turned into non-performing assets. The CBI has alleged that the group was laundering money through a circuitous route and indulged in insider trading. The FIR states that the directors falsified the records of the company related to production, turnover and investment in capital assets using various India-based entities and entities situated abroad. On the basis of these false and fabricated documents, manipulated balance sheets were prepared to induce the banks to sanction higher amounts of loans, which were later diverted for personal purposes.

The CBI has alleged that the company even falsely represented its market capitalisation. For this, the CBI says, “the shares in India and abroad in the names of non-promoters were in fact held by the directors themselves which were concealed from the banks with the dishonest intent to cheat them.” According to the CBI, manipulations were done in reporting turnover, investment in capital goods and taxes to be paid on the turnover. The bogus turnover was in turn arrived at through bogus sales to benami companies in Dubai and India and inflated export bills. (FIR dated 25.10.2017 registered by CBI)

2. DRI investigations of Adani Power and Essar

Indian power companies directly import the coal/equipment from the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers), based mostly in China. The foreign intermediary company is a wholly controlled/owned subsidiary of these Indian companies, set up solely for the purpose of generating two sets of invoices for such imports. The invoices generated by the OEMs on the intermediary company reflect the actual price of the imports. The invoices generated by the intermediary company on the Indian companies can be inflated almost to the extent of 400%. The amount of over-valuation is the illegal profit generated by the promoters of the Indian companies, in the garb of costs, which is siphoned out by their subsidiary intermediary foreign companies, into accounts owned by the promoters situated mostly in tax havens.

Artificial over-invoicing of coal and power equipment by such companies is a practice adversely impacting millions of consumers in the form of higher tariffs since the increase in the inflated costs of coal/equipment is realised from the consumers in the form of higher electricity tariffs. Further, the share holders of such power generating companies have been cheated of their rightful dividends since these companies artificially reduce profits by showing higher costs. Moreover, the loans issued by banks for the purpose of imports, are used to disburse the loan amount to foreign intermediaries, in the garb of inflated invoices, for generation of unaccounted profit. This is a major reason for the alarming growth of non-performing assets in the banking sector. The Income Tax Department is also unable to tax huge profits since the amount is absorbed by the foreign intermediary company, incorporated in tax havens such as UAE and Mauritius, leading to the evasion of tax of thousands of crores of rupees.

For more than three years since May 2014, the DRI sat over this matter, after its initial show cause notices to various companies which detailed the entire modus operandi of over invoicing through shell companies and money laundering to tax haven accounts owned by the relatives of the promoters. However, after The Guardianpublisheda detailed and very embarrassing story on Adani, the adjudicating officer of the DRI passed an order saying that this does not amount to over-invoicing, citing some untenable reasons.

In March 2016, the DRI issued an alert that about 30 power generating companies have been indulging in artificial over-invoicing of coal which is being imported from Indonesia. The DRI alert said that this is being done for two objectives: “(i) siphoning-off money abroad and (ii) to avail higher power tariff compensation based on artificially inflated cost of the imported coal.” (DRI alert circular dated 30.03.2016). However, no action has been taken despite the passage of more than one and a half years. No show-cause notice has also been issued so far to major companies like Adani etc mentioned in that note.

3. Complaint against Mukesh Ambani

The Indian high commission in Singapore made a starting disclosure to the government of India in a letter dated August 31, 2011. The high commission stated that Rs 6,530 crores have come into India from Bio Matrix Marketing Ltd., a one room company in Singapore that does not do any business. It was pointed out that this is a company with no assets, no equity and does not file an income tax returns in Singapore claiming to be a small company. Yet, the huge investment by this company of Rs 6530 crores is the single biggest FDI into India from Singapore. The high commission had stated that all this money has gone into the Reliance group of companies in India with the major chunk going to Reliance Gas Transportation Infrastructure Ltd, which is a company 100% owned by Mukesh Ambani personally.

We had, therefore, made a detailed complaint on July 8, 2014 to the SIT on Black Money but still not action has been taken.

4. Complaint against Anil Ambani

The CBI in its chargesheet in the 2G scam had confirmed that Swan Telecom was set-up by Reliance Telecom owned by Anil Ambani. We all know that as consideration of the transfer of Swan Telecom to Balwa and Goenka, they could not have directly transferred the money to Anil Ambani companies since that would have exposed the fact that Swan Telecom was owned by Reliance. Hence a circuitous route had to be followed. We had therefore found and complained to the SIT on Black Money on July 18, 2014 that M/s AAA & Sons Enterprises (an Anil Ambani company) received a huge sum of $750 million from a company, EMITS Singapore in December 2007, which was later transferred to other Anil Ambani-owned Reliance group companies. The entire amount transferred by EMITS Singapore was not used for any project by AAA & Sons but only transferred to other group companies. Though this was also an apparent case of taking funds abroad and then bringing them back to India circuitously, no action was taken even on this complaint, which was backed by all documentary evidence.

5. Finance Act amendments

Instead of taking action on such clear cases of siphoning of funds through over invoicing and instead of using that money and bringing the culprits to book, the Modi government has made many retrograde amendments to the laws dealing with political funding in order to allow foreign companies and Indian corporates to donate unlimited anonymous funds to political parties.

Retrograde amendments have been made by the government through the Finance Act, 2016 and Finance Act, 2017, both passed illegally as money bills. These amendments have opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate donations to political parties and anonymous financing by Indian as well as foreign companies which can have serious repercussions on the Indian democracy. These amendments have removed the caps on campaign donations by companies and have legalised anonymous donations.

The Finance Act of 2017 has introduced the use of electoral bonds which is exempt from disclosure, opening the door to unchecked, unknown funding to political parties. The Finance Act, 2016 has also amended the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2010, to allow foreign companies with subsidiaries in India to fund political parties in India, effectively, exposing Indian politics and democracy to international lobbyists who may want to further their agenda. These Amendments pose a serious danger to the autonomy of the country and are bound to adversely affect electoral transparency, encourage corrupt practices in politics and have made the unholy nexus between politics and corporate houses more opaque and treacherous and is bound to be misused by special interest groups and corporate lobbyists.

Seven demands

If this government is at all serious about the menace of black money, it should take some immediate steps and carry out some long-term changes in the legal framework instead of sham exercises like ‘Anti Black Money Day’.

One of us (Prashant Bhushan) had, in fact, written a letter to Prime Minister Modi as far back on June 23, 2014 pointing out the steps that need to be taken to tackle black money.  The letter had suggested the following changes in the legal frameworkFirst, a new law, or an amendment to an existing law (such as the Prevention of Money Laundering Act), requiring all Indian citizens to disclose all their assets and liabilities, including their stakes in companies or trusts registered abroad, needs to be introduced. Second, any income or assets not disclosed in the required form would be deemed to be “proceeds of crime”, and included as ‘predicate offences’ defined under the UNCAC. Third, instruments such as participatory notes and anonymous investments by funds or shell companies need to be disallowed with immediate effect.  In the case of investments made in the name of a company or a trust, the major stakeholders of the company, or the trustees of the trust, must be determined and duly recorded, before the investment is allowed.

We therefore demand that:

  1. Specific and immediate action must be taken in all the cases detailed above.
  2. The government must disclose full details of the action it has taken on black money by way of recovering any money from named individuals as well as prosecutions of named individuals.
  3. Instead of making vague claims about the unearthing of black money through demonetisation, the government should disclose the details and make public all the cash deposits made by all MPs, MLAs or political parties and their office bearers between November 8 and December 31, 2016.
  4. We understand that the SIT on Black Money has also made several recommendations to the government but in most cases these recommendations have not been implemented. The government must therefore place the reports and recommendations of The SIT before the people as well as the action taken by it on those.
  5. The government must rollback the retrograde amendments made in the finance act of 2016 and 2017 relating to the FCRA as well as the funding of political parties, including electoral bonds.
  6. A law must be passed on the lines suggested above requiring all citizens to declare their foreign assets and providing for confiscation of all undisclosed assets.
  7. Rakesh Asthana must be removed from the CBI forthwith as suggested by the CBI director.

Source:-thewire.

Renault Captur launch by Diwali, to take on Creta, XUV 500

While a launch date hasn’t been specified, the Renault Captur is expected to go on sale in India around Diwali in October. Photo: AFP

While a launch date hasn’t been specified, the Renault Captur is expected to go on sale in India around Diwali in October. Photo: AFP

Mumbai: French auto major Renault is planning to do an encore of its runaway success with the Duster and the small car Kwid, with its new premium SUV, the Captur that’s slated for Diwali launch.

Sumit Sawhney, managing director & chief executive of Renault India told PTI that the much-talked-about launch will take place in the December quarter, but refused to specify whether it could be a Diwali offering or not. The crossover SUV is also known as Kaptur in some global markets like Russia and Captur in Europe which is based on the Clio’s platform. But the Captur that’s coming to the domestic market is a crossover on the Duster platform and will be “positioned at a very premium over the Duster,” he said.

Sounding very bullish, he said Captur is a globally tested SUV having already sold over 1 million units. “We hope to repeat the same level of success here with the Captur”. According to industry analysts, the Captur will take on the Hyundai Creta and the top-end model may take on the Mahindra XUV500, the recently launched Tata Hexa and also Nissan’s Kicks expected by the end of the year.

According to analysts, the SUV may come in two engines options—a 1.6-litre petrol and a 2-litre diesel power train and may be priced around Rs12 lakh, which is the more or less same at that of the Creta. The compact SUV segment is the fastest growing cornering a fourth of the market pie. Launch is expected to cash in on this segment as Renault’s larger SUV, the Koleos, has failed in India therefore withdrawn now.

“The five-seater compact SUV with ‘cross-over DNA’ will be a very premium offering and much higher than the Duster. The new SUV will be rolled out from the company’s Chennai plant,” Sawhney said. The largest European car brand in the country with around 5% market share has primarily two models—the entry level SUV Duster and two variants of its small car Kwid-0.8 litre and 1 litre, which has been specially made for this market and the biggest volume grosser.

Despite media reports that Kwid is facing some headwinds, Sawhney said the “car is selling as per expectation, in fact exceeding our expectation of 8,000-10,000 units in all the seven months of 2017. In fact in most of the months, we have crossed 10,000 units. Together, we have sold around 58,000 units so far in 2017. We were the seventh largest carmaker here and still continues to be now.

“We have completed a little over five years but we are already the No. 1 European car brand here. We’ve a long-term commitment to this market and will continue to aggressively ramp up our network and build on our product offensive strategy to drive volumes. We still stick to our target of being the among the top five players by 2020,” he said.

In this regard he also said the company has already opened 300 outlets, making it the fastest network ramp-up in the country and will have 20 more by December. “Our network expansion is more focused on small towns. For instance we opened 10 outlets on a single day in Kerala taking the overall number 30 in the Southernmost state,” Sawhney added.

On the new launch he said, the Captur has a sensual crossover French design which is a unique vehicle class, clearly reflecting our new global design DNA. The Captur will have features like projector headlamps with C-shaped LED DRLs, large front grille and alloy wheels. Inside the cabin, the crossover will have a 7-inch touch screen compatible with Bluetooth, USB and AUX apart from steering mounted controls, automatic climate control and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.

[“Source-livemint”]

Flipkart Sale to Take on Amazon, Airtel 399 Pack Rivals Jio, iPhone Rumours, and More: Your 360 Daily

Flipkart Sale to Take on Amazon, Airtel 399 Pack Rivals Jio, iPhone Rumours, and More: Your 360 Daily

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Flipkart’s sale starts from August 9 and ends on August 11
  • Airtel’s new 399 is pretty similar to Reliance Jio’s plan
  • New iPhone 8, iPhone 7s, and iPhone SE rumours galore

It’s Amazon vs. Flipkart all over again, with the two e-commerce giants set to go head to head with their respective sales this week. The Big Freedom Sale is Flipkart’s answer to Amazon’s Great Indian Sale, which was announced this week. With both e-commerce giants wrestling for a share of your wallet, it means better discounts for all. The Flipkart Big Freedom Sale starts on August 9 and ends on August 11. Discounts on several high-profile mobile devices are already listed on Flipkart.

This includes the Moto M and Moto G5 Plus, usually priced at Rs. 15,999 and Rs. 16,999 respectively, will be available for Rs. 12,999 and Rs. 14,999 respectively during the Flipkart sale. In addition to this, the Lenovo K5 Note (Rs. 12,499) can be purchased at Rs. 9,999, while K6 Power (Rs. 9,999) will have a Rs. 1,000 discount and will be up for grabs at Rs. 8,999. Google Pixel XL’s price will be slashed from the official Rs. 67,000 to Rs. 48,999 during the Flipkart sale. The company is hinting iPhone 6 32GB will get a price cut too. Furthermore, the Redmi Note 4 sale will run through the duration of the Flipkart sale with buyers getting Rs. 1,000 over the exchange value of their old phone.

This isn’t all, TVs and laptops see discounts too, with the company teasing bargains on the Sony HD Ready LED Smart TV, Vu’s 45-inch UDH Smart TV, Intel Core i3 laptops, the Canon 1300D DSLR camera, and Skullcandy headphones to name a few. Flipkart will be running Spotlight of the Hour deals, and providing new arrivals and exclusive launches in TV and mobile phone categories during the Big Freedom Sale.

Meanwhile, the Amazon Great Indian Sale will see upto 35 percent on iPhone models and upto Rs. 5,000 off on Lenovo smartphones. Discounts of upto Rs. 2,000 on Samsung, OnePlus, and Moto phones will also be available too and Honor models see upto Rs. 1,000 off. Samsung and BPL TVs will have their prices slashed by up to 35 percent, while Sanyo and TCL televisions will have discounts of up to 33 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Laptops by Apple, Dell, Lenovo and HP will be up to 20 percent cheaper during the Amazon sale.

Let’s see what else made else made the news today.

Airtel offers 84GB data for 84 days at Rs. 399 to beat Jio Dhan Dhana Dhan offer
Another week, another plan to counter Reliance Jio. This time it’s Airtel. The company has announced a new plan that offers 84GB of data for 84 days at Rs. 399. Users will get unlimited local and STD calls and 84GB of data, with an FUP of 1GB per day. Airtel has clarified that the new prepaid plan offer is applicable only on 4G SIMs and cannot be clubbed with any other plan or offered by the company.

New iPhone 8, iPhone 7s Plus, and iPhone SE refresh rumours
In the run up to Apple’s yearly iPhone event, a flurry of leaks have given us an idea of what to expect. The latest, derived from the HomePod’s firmware code that was inadvertently made public, has suggested that the iPhone 8’s Face ID recognition system will work even if the phone lies flat. The code contains words ‘resting’ and ‘unlock’. Another leak shows the vertical dual camera alignment of the iPhone 8, and comes from tipster Benjamin Geskin. The smartphone appears to have two camera sensors on the rear panel, with Geskin adding the smaller represents the wide-angle lens, and the larger represents the telephoto lens.

The iPhone 7s Plus could use wireless charging according to dummy images via tipster Sonny Dickson. The dummy is seen to sport a glass back, pointing to the inclusion of the wireless charging feature that’s long been anticipated for the iPhone series.

The iPhone 8 and iPhone 7s Plus aren’t the only phones to see leaks. The budget-focussed iPhone SE may see a refresh early next year according to a report that cites the company’s supply chain. The report adds that India will be the first market to receive the new iPhone SE before it is made available more broadly, and it will be manufactured by Wistron at its Bengaluru facility. The new iPhone SE will reportedly start shipping in the first quarter of next year. Wistron is the same supplier that started assembling current-gen iPhone SE units in the country earlier this year.

Paytm now lets you automatically add money to your wallet, send post cards
Paytm has added postcards on both iOS and Android versions of its app. If you are wondering what these postcards do, they essentially allow you to send money to your loved ones with customisation options and personalised text messages. Alongside, the company also introduced Paytm Automatic, which automatically tops up your Paytm wallet balance. Only available on the Android app at the moment, Paytm Automatic will let users set a particular amount as a minimum balance for the wallet, and also set the recharge amount whenever the balance dips below the minimum. This would essentially top-up the user’s balance whenever it’s running low.

OnePlus 5 OxygenOS 4.5.8 update rollout begins after game stutter issue
The OxygenOS 4.5.8 update for the OnePlus has begun rolling out after the company halted the OxygenOS 4.5.7 update earlier due to a game stutter issue. This new update brings the same changes as the bug-laden update, sans the game stutter issue of course.

In its post on official forum, OnePlus said regarding the OxygenOS 4.5.8 update, “OxygenOS 4.5.7 was withdrawn, we are pushing out the incremental roll-out of OxygenOS 4.5.8 OTA for the OnePlus 5 instead.” To recall, earlier this month, it was reported that OnePlus started rolling out its OxygenOS 4.5.7 update the ability to record videos in 4K resolution with electronic image stabilisation (EIS) on OnePlus 5.

LG Q6 India launch set for Thursday
LG Q6, which is amongst LG’s first Q-Series phones, is coming to India this week. Its exclusive online retail partner Amazon is teasing an August 10 launch while detailing that India will be getting the 3GB RAM + 32GB storage variant. In case you missed all the hype last month, LG’s Q-Series bring a lot of premium features seen in the flagship G-Series in a more affordable package. The LG Q6 variant launching in India also supports dual-SIM cards, and runs on Android 7.1.1 Nougat.

Amazon India officially launches ‘Local Finds’
Amazon India has finally made its Local Finds platform open to customers in India. Local Finds is a platform that allows Amazon users in Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Mumbai to find and sell used and new goods to others in their city. Amazon takes care of delivery and payments for Local Finds transactions. The company boasts that customers are adding “hand crafted and rare products” daily. The Bengaluru pilot prior to Local Finds officially launching saw roughly 600 sellers, and up to launch, it has seen 30,000 customers use the service across all four cities.

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 to feature in-screen fingerprint sensor: KGI
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 smartphone will see an under-display fingerprint sensor instead of the Galaxy S9 according to a report from KGI Securities. As per KGI’s report, Samsung doesn’t have to risk the quick implementation of the under-the-display fingerprint scanner with Galaxy S series models as Apple planned to with the iPhone 8. The firm predicts Samsung will place the fingerprint scanner at the rear of the Galaxy S9 flagship models next year, just like it did with Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+.

However, in its report, KGI has said that the Galaxy S9 models will come with some other selling points including advanced iris recognition as well as dual cameras. These features have been said to buy the company the time it needs to introduce an under-the-display fingerprint scanner in a manner that’s market-ready.

TRAI calls on speed test apps to understand their methodologies
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is calling major speed test apps for a presentation to “understand” their methodology. This should result in a “paper” that will be made available publicly in the months to come. The sector regulator plans to meet 7-8 mobile Internet speed testing firms, including Ooklaover the next one or two months, in this regard. The move assumes significance as Airtel has used Ookla results in the past to assert itself as fastest network, a claim contested by Reliance Jio. TRAI hopes that its initiative would not only help raise consumer awareness about the various apps and choices available to users but could also lead to improvements in its MySpeed app.

Apple Watch Series 3 said to sport LTE connectivity
Apple is said to be planning to launch a version of the Apple Watch with cellular connectivity. This will reduce its reliance on the iPhone according to those familiar with the matter. Intel will reportedly supply LTE modems for the new watch. Apple is in talks with carriers in the US and Europe. It could choose to debut its new watch models alongside the new iPhone like it did last year.

Disclosure: Paytm’s parent company One97 is an investor in Gadgets 360.

[“Source-gadgets.ndtv”]

Education in 2020s: your AI-powered teacher will take your attendance and predict your grades

The steady march of technology is making some jobs obsolete. While reskilling is one solution, can AI be used to change the way students learn and make reskilling easier for future generations?

Andrew NG, Co-founder of Coursera and former chief scientist at Baidu recently likened Artificial Intelligence (AI) to ‘electricity of the 21st century’. He said at a Wall Street Journal event,

Whatever industry you work in, AI will probably transform it, just as 100 years ago the rise of electricity transformed industry after industry. So, I hope that whatever industry you’re in, you’ll figure out how to leverage AI, because I think it will create new winners and losers in almost every category.

What about the new generation of students just entering academia? There is a great need to prepare them for this new, ‘AI-first world’, as Google CEO Sundar Pichai calls it. Academic courses though haven’t been able to keep pace with some of the real-world needs. What is the best way to transform education? Through AI, of course!

Anshul Bhagi and Nikhila Ravi, computer scientists and education entrepreneurs who met as graduate students at Harvard University, recently co-founded OpenEd.ai, a non-profit to develop and promote open-source AI for education. Here is their story.

Taking AI from the dorms of Harvard University to IIT Delhi and beyond

Anshul, a Computer Science graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MBA from Harvard, founded and runs Camp K12, an education startup bringing coding to K-12 education in India. Nikhila on the other hand is an alumna of University of Cambridge and Harvard University (ML/AI), and is now an engineer at Facebook.

Talking about how OpenEd.ai came about, Anshul says,

Throughout these projects, they found open-source code, pre-trained models, datasets and tutorials created by the likes of Denny Britz (WildML.com) and Andrej Karpathy to be of tremendous value. They came to the conclusion that given the steep learning curve ML often requires, and the fast pace at which the field moves within academic/research silos, the ML community will continue to benefit immensely from open-source initiatives that bridge learning and informational gaps.

With a long-term goal of democratising AI in education, Nikhila and Anshul decided to set up OpenEd.ai, a non-profit dedicated to developing and promoting open-source AI for education.

The team then added Shreyas Deshmukh, a Microsoft Product Manager and computer scientist/AI developer, to the organising committee for OpenEd.ai’s inaugural event, and together they orchestrated the AI for Education HackWeek that is currently in progress (July 28-Aug 11). The first offline leg of the event took place at IIT Delhi from from July 28 to August 4.

During the global HackWeek, OpeEd.ai offered free computing resources and research resources for all participants courtesy Amazon, IBM Watson, and Digital Ocean; special online workshops courtesy Google, IBM Watson, and Amazon. OpenEd.ai is also offering $19,000 in prizes, including a $6,000 grand prize for the best solution, which will be evaluated by Harvard CS faculty and members of the global ML community.

Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog, in his keynote address, talked about the challenges in the Indian education system and how technologies like AI could help the country leapfrog. He also announced two additional challenges for the participants, which are also open to the general public.


Related read: Can you solve these ‘AI in education’ challenges? You may get to present the solution to government officials


Here is an overview of some of the other workshops at the event.

Can AI lead to better learning outcomes?

Vishal Dixit and Sarvesh Kanodia from Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam, talked about unsolved problems and startup opportunities in education AI. Omidyar Network has committed more than $1 billion to for-profit and non-profit organisations. Some of their bets in the education space include ventures like like Code.org, Khan Academy, AltSchool, Teach for India, and Aspiring Minds.

Vishal remarked that every child should have individualised access to education. The challenge is to go from self-paced e-learning solutions to more adaptive and conversational tutoring methodologies. He said,

AI is the process and not the product…. The end game has to be better learning outcomes. I don’t believe that teachers will be redundant because of AI, it will instead act as force multipliers for teachers.

Roopa Kudva, Partner and Managing Director for India at Omidyar Network, in a statement said,

Our support to OpenEd.ai HackWeek is aligned with our commitment to supporting innovations in technology. This is an attractive platform for developers to learn from experts working in the cutting edge of AI and leverage their skills towards solving some of the key problems in education.

Man and machine, power extreme

Danish Contractor from IBM Research gave the audience an overview of how IBM is leveraging AI in education to predict future performance and aid childhood learning. He said that by gathering data from schools from Class I to VIII and studying the patterns, they are now able to predict with great accuracy what a grade 4 student would be likely to achieve by grade 8, assuming the same learning trajectory.

Danish also spoke about how learning content analytics and cognitive career counselors could help decrease the burden on human teachers. With Watson’s cognitive solutions, IBM aims to transform the learning experience through personalisation, and help educators gain insights into learning styles, preferences, and aptitude of every student.

Talking about the complementary and symbiotic role of AI in education, Sriram Raghavan, Director, IBM India Research & CTO, IBM India/South Asia, in a statement said,

We see AI as Intelligence Augmentation (IA) — cognitive systems that work together with humans to enhance (rather than replace) human capabilities. Our goal is to develop technology that works seamlessly with teachers and students and uses AI-driven insights to assist human stakeholders in performing their tasks better — whether it is pedagogy, learning, or administration.

TensorFlow and the basics of machine learning

Manoranjan Padhy and Rohit Gupta from Google gave the audience an overview of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Starting with the basic terminologies used in machine learning they went on to explain the different categories in machine learning, which include supervised, unsupervised, semi-supervised, and reinforcement learning.

With most of the explaining done, they then introduced the audience to TensorFlow, an open-source software library developed by Google for Machine Intelligence and took them through a few demo challenges.

Six challenges to hack away at…

After the workshops concluded, participants had the option of working on any of the challenges put forth, including two by the Government of India, three by IBM, and one wildcard challenge. It read as:

Apply your knowledge of CS, Data Science, Machine Learning, and NLP to build open-source AI for education, solve any problem in education you’re passionate about.

A participant’s output can be any of the following:
* Usable products (e.g. chatbots, web apps, mobile apps).
* Data sets (eg scrape public sources to collect data useful for future AI work in education).
* Tutorials and how-to articles for AI-education work you’ve previously done.

Submissions are open until 11.59 pm on Friday, August 11. Learn more about all six challenges and submit your hack here at OpenEd.ai.

Source:-Yourstory