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Current Affairs - 1 April 2017

General Affairs 

80,000 Gram Panchayats Provided With Broadband: Government
  • The government today said 80,000 gram panchayats in the country have been provided with broadband connectivity under BharatNet programme and the rest of the targeted 1 lakh villages will be given the facility by the next month.

    Communications Minister Manoj Sinha said in the Rajya Sabha that under phase-I of the plan, a total of one lakh gram panchayats were to be provided with broadband connectivity under BharatNet by March end this year.

    The government finally intends to provide such broadband connectivity to 2.5 lakh gram panchayats across the country.

    "For providing internet-based services to citizens in rural areas, WiFi hotspots are proposed to be set up in all Gram Panchayats in the country, leveraging the infrastructure of BharatNet, in the phase II of the BharatNet scheduled to be completed by December 2018," he said in his written reply.

    Mr Sinha said cable-laying work in many states like Kerala, Karnataka, Chhatisgarh, Haryana, parts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh is almost 100 per cent complete.

    He said a total of 1,127 WiFi hotspots in various gram panchayats will be set up in the coming days and a total of 25,000 public WiFi hotspots at rural telephone exchanges are to be installed and 5,000 WiFi 'chaupals' are to be set up.

    He added that preference is also being given to areas affected by left-wing extremism.

    The Minister, however, admitted that West Bengal has lagged behind in broadband connectivity but efforts will be made to speed up the work soon.

    He added that a total of Rs. 71.71 crore has been earmarked for increasing connectivity in West Bengal during the year 2016-17.

AAP Refuses To Accept Panel Order To Pay Rs. 97 Crore Fine For Ads
  • The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) today claimed the three-member panel, which recommended recovery of Rs. 97 crore from the Delhi government for spending on advertisements, does not have any mandate for the same.

    Delhi Deputy Chief Minister and senior party leader Manish Sisodia, who also holds portfolio of Information and Publicity, said the AAP government was being "selectively targeted" when no questions are being raised on ads issued by other state governments.

    Mr Sisodia added that the AAP government did not splurge money, but tried to communicate the "good work" done by it to the people.

    He also appeared defiant and said the AAP government would "continue to engage with people" through ads despite the recovery suit.

    Earlier this week, Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal had directed that Rs. 97 crore be recovered from AAP that was allegedly "splurged" by the city government on advertisements in violation of the Supreme Court guidelines, following the recommendations of the Centre-appointed three-member panel.

    The three-member committee comprised adman Piyush Pandey, journalist Rajat Sharma and former chief election commissioner B B Tandon.

    "The Supreme Court guidelines did not give any such power to the committee to order recovery of ad spending of any government.

    "The court had also ordered that the committee should comprise of people with impeachable neutrality and impartiality. However, two members of the committee have close links with the BJP," Mr Sisodia said in a press conference here.

    "Other state governments also organise events in five star hotels outside their states," Mr Sisodia said.

    He remained non-committal on how the party would respond to the recovery notice.

    "We will inform you about (our) legal course," he said.

    Hitting out at the BJP without naming the party, Mr Sisodia said, the recovery notice was being issued after the AAP announced to abolish residential house tax if it came to power in the MCD.

Nominated MPs Should Participate In House: Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar
  • There is "no celebrity or non-celebrity" in Parliament and every member should participate in discussions on public welfare, Union Minister Ananth Kumar today said after questions were raised on absence of nominated MPs Sachin Tendulkar and Rekha in the Rajya Sabha.
    "Parliament is the highest forum to discuss people's welfare.... For Parliament, we are all servants, there is no celebrity and non-celebrity. Everybody should participate and contribute," Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar told reporters.

    Endorsing his views, actor-turned-BJP MP Hema Malini too suggested that the two MPs should take up their job as a Parliamentarian "fully, not half-heartedly".

    Comments from Mr Kumar and Ms Malini come a day after Samajwadi Party MP Naresh Agarwal questioned cricket icon Tendulkar and Bollywood actor Rekha over their absence from the Upper House and wondered if they should resign.

    Congress leader Rajiv Shukla had yesterday said the issue of low attendance of Mr Tendulkar and Ms Rekha was being raised because they are celebrities.

    "There are many members who do not come to the House but the issue of their absence is not being raised. Reason being, they are not celebrities. These two are celebrities, which is why people are raising the issue," Mr Shukla had said.

    Ms Malini today suggested that the members take up their roles as Parliamentarians "properly".

    "Once you take up this job, then you have to get into it properly, fully, not half-heartedly. That is my advice," Ms Malini said.

Life Term For Cow Slaughter In Gujarat, Assembly Clears Tougher Law
  • Punishment for cow slaughter in Gujarat will be a life term after an amended law was cleared on the last day of the state assembly session today. Gujarat, where elections will be held later this year, now has the toughest law against cow slaughter in the country.

    The Gujarat Animal Preservation Act of 1954 also says the punishment for transporting of cows will be 10 years in jail.

    In the current law, which was amended in 2011, the maximum jail term for cow slaughter was seven years. The new law also increases penalty from Rs. 1 lakh to 5 lakh.

    The bill was passed in the absence of the opposition Congress, which had walked out on some other subject.

    Over the past few weeks, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has often talked about bring in harsher laws to protect cattle. The BJP is committed to protect "Gau (cow), Ganga and Gita", he declared earlier this month. This was days after the ruling BJP won giant victories in state elections, especially in Uttar Pradesh, where the party has appointed as Chief Minister the saffron-robed Yogi Adityanath - one of its loudest cow protection campaigners.

    Yogi Adityanath has also been invited to campaign in Gujarat, a move that the opposition Congress says indicates a plan to polarize voters.

    The slaughter and transport of cows was banned in Gujarat in 2011, when the state was ruled by Narendra Modi, now Prime Minister.

    The BJP has governed the PM's home state since 1998. As it seeks a fifth consecutive term this year, it faces the challenge of disenchantment among its former supporters the Patels over quota and anger over attacks on Dalits.

    The party's slogan "UP mein 325, Gujarat mein 150" (325 seats in UP, 150 in Gujarat) conveys its aim to win Gujarat with a record margin, the sort it won in India's most populous state.

Neptune-Sized 'Lost' Planet Discovered 3,000 Light Years Away
  • Astronomers have discovered a 'lost' planet about the size of Neptune tucked away in a solar system 3,000 light years from Earth.

    The new planet, Kepler-150 f, was overlooked for several ears, according to researchers at the Yale University in the US.

    Computer algorithms identify most such "exoplanets", which are planets located outside our solar system.

    The algorithms search through data from space mission surveys, looking for the telltale transits of planets orbiting in front of distant stars.

    However, sometimes the computers miss something. In this case, it was a planet in the Kepler-150 system with a long orbit around its sun.

    Kepler-150 f takes 637 days to circle its sun, one of the longest orbits for any known system with five or more planets.

    The Kepler Mission found four other planets in the Kepler-150 msyste - Kepler-150 b, c, d, and e - several years ago. All of them have orbits much closer to their sun than the new planet does.

    "Only by using our new technique of modeling and subtracting out the transit signals of known planets could we then actually see it for what it really was," said Joseph Schmitt, graduate student at Yale.

    "Essentially, it was hiding in plain sight in a forest of other planetary transits," said Schmitt.

Business Affairs 

Demonetised notes: RBI closes window for Indians abroad; NRIs can exchange till June 30
  • The limited period window for exchange of junked Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes by Indians who were abroad ended today with many failing to do so because of limited counters and lack of procedural awareness.
    However, additional time period of three months is available to non-resident Indians (NRIs) with a rider of exchange of Rs 25,000 per individual. The exchange window for NRIs will close on June 30.
    Long serpentine queues of people were seen outside five RBI offices in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Nagpur - the designated offices for exchange of scrapped notes - today.
    People had to travel long distances due to limitation of designated branches to deposit scrapped currency notes. In many cases, people had to wait for 6-7 hours and in some cases it took days for exchange due to lack of required documents.
    Earlier this week, Minister of State for Finance Arjun Ram Meghwal had informed the Rajya Sabha that ineligible persons queueing up at the Reserve Bank were responsible for long queues.
    The minister said RBI had posted detailed instructions on its website clearly showing the eligibility parameters and other necessary documents required to be tendered for exchange of old notes.
    "Long queues are formed in Mumbai and Delhi only as a number of persons from the neighbouring states are turning up here. Several staff members have been engaged to attend to the large number of people at the counters," Meghwal had said.
    After scrapping old notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 on November 8, the government had permitted people to deposit the same in banks up to December 30, 2016.
    Meghwal stated that while there was no monetary limit for exchange of currency notes for residents who were abroad during the demonetisation period, there was a cap for NRIs as per FEMA regulations.
    NRIs coming to India are required to come through Red Channel disclosing to the Customs authorities at the airport the amount of now-defunct notes and secure a certificate to be tendered at the RBI at the time of exchange.
    The exchange facility till June is subject to the Foreign Exchange Management (Export and Import of Currency) Regulations, 2015. As per these regulations, bringing back such currency into the country is restricted to Rs 25,000 per person.
    The government had declared 500 and 1,000 denomination bank notes as illegal tender from November 9, 2016. Subsequently, the President approved the promulgation of the Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities Ordinance) Ordinance, 2016 on December 30.
    The ordinance imposes penal liabilities on the holders of scrapped notes after the specified date. It makes holding, transfer and receiving of the demonetised notes a criminal offence, punishable with a fine of Rs 10,000 or five times the cash held whichever is higher.

Mahindra, Maruti offer discounts on cars after BS-III vehicles ban
  • As Supreme Court ban on sale and registration of BS-III vehicles comes into effect by April 1, car-dealers across the country have gone on a discount spree to clear their inventory.
    Auto companies such as Maruti, Honda and Mahindra and Mahindra are wooing buyers with huge discounts.
    In order to get rid of their BS-III stock of vehicles, Mahindra and Mahindra is offering heavy discounts and benefits on the Bolero, Scorpio and the Thar SUVs in the country.
    The BS III Mahindra Bolero DI, Thar DI and Scorpio Getaway are being offered with a discount of up to Rs 90,000 and the discount is valid only for today only at selected dealerships, Financial Express reported.
    Mahindra is offering a discount of up to Rs 90,000 on the Mahindra Scorpio Getaway with BS III emission norms. The BS III Mahindra Scorpio Getaway is priced between 8.96 lakh and Rs 9.95 lakh, ex-showroom, Delhi.
    Mahindra Thar is being offered with a discount of Rs 76,000.
    Other carmakers including Maruti Suzuki, Honda, Volkswagen are too selling cars at huge discounts.
    Volkswagen is giving a flat 10% discount on its Polo hatchback and Vento. The offer is valid till March 31.
    Honda's premium hatchback Brio is being offered at a discount of Rs 15,000. Amaze comes with benefits of up to Rs 93,000 and Jazz has a cash benefit of Rs 20,000.
    Maruti Suzuki has offered discounts of up to Rs 20,000 on Alto, WagonR and a few other models.
    Earlier on Wednesday, the Apex Court banned sale and registration of all vehicles not complying with Bharat Stage IV or BS-IV emission norms from April 1, 2017. The court verdict jolted the auto industry which was saddled with an inventory worth Rs 20,000 crore.
    As per the apex court's ruling, around a million vehicles, including 7.51 lakh two-wheelers, cannot be sold after March 31 due to BS-IV non-compliance.
    According to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), the manufacturers have a total stock of 8,24,275 BS-III-compliant vehicles.

India cotton imports set to surge to record amid rampant rupee
  • India's 2016-17 cotton imports are set to jump more than a third from a year ago to a record 3 million bales as the rupee's rise makes buying overseas cheaper, senior industry officials and executives said.
    The strong rupee - now at its highest level in 18 months - has also braked cotton exports from the world's biggest producer of the fibre, a trend that has helped rival suppliers in Brazil, the United States and some African countries boost their own exports.
    "Usually (textile) mills in southern India import cotton," said K. Selvaraju, secretary general of the Southern India Mills' Association (SIMA), in a recent interview. "This year mills from even the north are importing. Overseas supplies have become competitive due to the strong rupee."
    India's currency has risen 4.8 percent so far in 2017 versus the U.S dollar. Indian mills have contracted to import around 1.5 million bales and another 1.5 million bales will be imported by end of the current crop year, ending Sept. 30, Selvaraju said.
    That total of 3 million bales would be 36 percent more than the 2.2 million bales imported in the 2015-16 crop year, with stocks coming mainly from African countries, the United States, Brazil and Australia.
    Tightness in domestic supply is also boosting imports, as Indian farmers hold off on deliveries in the hope of achieving higher prices later in the crop year.
    Usually Indian mills import cotton in the second half of the crop year as domestic supplies dwindle. But this year they began importing in January as local prices jumped due to limited supplies, said Chirag Patel, chief executive of Indian exporter Jaydeep Cotton Fibers.
    The state-run Cotton Advisory Board has forecast production of 35.1 million bales in the current crop year, but industry officials say production is likely to be around 34 million bales as output was hit in southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu by a drought.
    The rampant rupee has also dented cotton exports from India.
    "Because of currency fluctuation right now Indian cotton is not competitive in the world market," said Jaydeep Cotton Fibers' Patel. "Traders want to export but they couldn't sell."
    The country has so far contracted to export 4.5 million bales in the current crop year, and total exports in the season could be around 5 million bales, down 30 percent from a year ago, he said.
    Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and Vietnam are key buyers of Indian cotton.

    Income Tax returns filing gets simplified; here's the new form for FY 2017-18
    • In a bid to reduce the compliance burden on the individual tax payer, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) on Friday notified a new simplified Income-tax Return or ITR forms for the current assessment year.
      The Board today issued a press statement saying one of the major reforms made in the notified ITR Forms is the designing of a one page ITR Form-1 (Sahaj).
      "This ITR form-1(Sahaj) can be filed by an individual having income upto Rs 50 lakh and who is receiving income from salary, one house property and other income," the press statement said. Various parts of ITR Form-1 (Sahaj) parts relating to tax computation and deductions have been rationalised and simplified for easy compliance.
      This initiative will benefit more than two crore tax-payers who will be eligible to file their income tax returns in this simplified Form.
      The Board has also reduced the number of ITR Forms from the existing nine to seven forms. "The existing ITR Forms ITR-2, ITR-2A and ITR-3 have been rationalized and a single ITR-2 has been notified in place of these three forms. Consequently, ITR-4 and ITR-4S (Sugam) have been renumbered as ITR-3 and ITR-4 (Sugam)," the CBDT said.
      There is no change in the manner of filing of ITR Forms as compared to last year. All these ITR Forms are to be filed electronically.

      Black money hoarders need to fill official form under PMGKY by April 10
      • Authorities today extended the time period for those who were unable to submit a form that made declaration under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojna (PMGKY) scheme official.
        The CBDT, the policy-making body of the Income Tax department,  today said those who were declaring assets under the PMGKY scheme would be allowed to file declaration under the stipulated Form 1 by April 10, if tax and penalty was paid by the deadline. The deadline is today. 
        "Representations have been received from various stakeholders regarding difficulties in uploading of declaration in Form No 1 under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojna (PMGKY) scheme. 
        "Instances have been communicated wherein despite making payment of tax, surcharge, penalty and deposit under the scheme, challan identification number or the deposit reference number with respect to the payment of tax, surcharge, penalty and deposit under the scheme has not been provided by the banks," the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) said in a notification issued today. 
        It added, hence, the assessees are unable to upload or submit Form No 1 by the deadline that ends today. 
        "Considering the rush in banks during last days of financial year, which also happens to be the last date (March 31, 2017) of filing declaration under the scheme, CBDT has decided that if an assessee has made payment of tax, surcharge, penalty and deposit under the scheme, in the banks by the closing hours of March 31, 2017, he shall be allowed to file declaration in Form No 1 under the scheme by April 10, 2017," it said. 
        The Form 1 is the authentic declaration format that has to be submitted by the black money holder to the designated tax department authority via a hard copy or the online medium. 
        Following, this the taxman will issue a Form 2 or certificate stating that his or her declaration has been accepted and is valid under the PMGKY. 
        The CBDT had yesterday issued orders that all designated offices of the Income Tax department which can accept declarations under the black money window of PMGKY will remain open till the midnight of March 31. 
        A person or entity who opts for PMGKY will have to pay 49.9 per cent tax on the undisclosed income, whereas a person who does not opt for the scheme but offers his black income in his Income Tax Returns will face a tax and penalty rate of 77.25 per cent. 
        The one who does not offer his stash funds under the scheme but is caught with undisclosed income in scrutiny assessment will face 83.25 per cent tax rate. 
        For those who do not declare their stash under the PMGKY and are raided will face 107.25 per cent tax and penalty, if they surrender thier undisclosed income during the action. 
        Those who do not surrender such hidden income even during searches will stand to face the highest level of penalty and tax at 137.25 per cent. 
        The Centre had come out with the PMGKY scheme after its decision to demonetise the two high value currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 last year. 
        A quarter of the total sum will also have to be parked in a non-interest bearing deposit for four years under the said scheme. 
        The scheme had commenced on December 17 last year.

      General Awareness

      Parliament Passes Finance Bill 2017

      • On 30th March 2017, the Indian parliament passed Finance Bill 2017. The passage of this bill before the beginning of next financial year justifies Govt.’s move of advancing the date of presenting Union Budget and thus will lead to early implementation of proposals.
        Important events leading to the passage of Finance Bill 2017:
        Finance Bill 2017, which was laid as Money bill was passed with 40 amendments in Lok Sabha earlier this week.
        • On 29th March 2017, Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Indian Parliament)had returned the Finance Bill 2017 to the Lok Sabha with five amendments moved by the member of opposition party – three amendments moved by Digvijay Singh of Congress Party and two amendments moved by Sitaram Yechury of  CPI-M party. In this context, it is important to note that BJP-led NDA Govt. does not have a majority in Rajya Sabha.
        • The five amendments made by Rajya Sabha were pertaining to curtailing the powers of tax authorities and placing a limit on donation made by companies to political parties.
        • On 30th March 2017, during the debate on amendments in Lok Sabha, Union Finance Minister Mr. Arun Jaitley said that amendments made to Finance Bill 2017 by Rajya Sabha are not acceptable to Govt. Thereafter Lok Sabha passed the Finance Bill 2017 through voice vote, rejecting all five amendments made by Rajya Sabha.
        Key Provisions about Money Bill as per Indian Constitution:
        Details pertaining to Money Bill are provided in Article 110 of Indian Constitution. It primarily deals with subject of taxation and other matters which have financial implications for Government of India.
        • Money Bills can be introduced in Lok Sabha only. Whether a particular bill is a Money Bill or not, is to be decided by Speaker of Lok Sabha. His/her decision in this regard is binding upon both the houses.
        • After the Money Bill is passed by Lok Sabha it is sent to Rajya Sabha.  Power of Rajya Sabha in context of Money Bill is limited. It can amend the Money Bill and send it back to Lok Sabha.
        • But such amendments by Rajya Sabha are only of recommendatory nature. The Lok Sabha can accept or reject the amendments and pass the Bill for President’s assent. In short, the ruling party in Lok Sabha has full control over the origin and fate of Money Bills.
        • Following President’s assent to Finance Bill 2017, several reform oriented proposals of Budget 2017-18 will become law. Most prominent ones will be those related to electoral fundingtax evasionease of doing business and drive towards cashless economy.
        Financial Year 2017-18 will prove as the litmus test year for the NDA government, as it will move ahead to implement the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and will also try to leverage the gains made post demonetisation drive.
        Latest Development on GST Bill:
        Aimed at amalgamating all indirect central Govt. taxes, PM Narendra Modi’s Govt. has set a deadline for implementing Goods and Services Tax (GST) by 1st July 2017.
        • GST has been dubbed as India’s most comprehensive tax reforms since independence. On 29th March 2017, Lok Sabha approved four crucial bills required to implement Goods and Services Tax (GST).
        These four bills are
        (i)Central Goods and Service Tax Bill
        (ii) Union Territory GST Bill,
        (iii) Integrated-GST Bill and
        (iv) GST (Compensation to States) Bill. Maximum GST rate will be 40

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