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Current Affairs - 01 July 2018

General Affairs 

Jharkhand To Send Farmers To Israel To Learn Agri Tech
  •  Jharkhand would send one farmer from each of the 24 districts of the state to Israel for agriculture exposure, Chief Minister Raghubar Das said today.
    Mr Das said he has asked the Agriculture department to select one farmer from each of the 24 districts and send them Israel for agriculture exposure.

    The farmers will visit Israel from July 23 to 28, an official release said quoting Mr Das.

    Israel is famous for producing maximum agriculture product using minimum water, Mr Das said, adding the aim to send the farmers there, is to learn the technique.

    The chief minister said it was important that farmers take such tours as they learn with experience, adding they will share their experience with other farmers in the state.

    The farmers would also get opportunity to see the system of irrigation in dry zone, Mr Das said.

Cooking Gas Price Raised By Rs. 55. Fall In Rupee A Factor
  • Subsidised cooking gas price was hiked by Rs. 2.71 per cylinder today as a result of tax impact of base price rising due to spurt in international rates and fall in rupee.
    Subsidised LPG with effect from midnight tonight will cost Rs. 493.55 in Delhi, a statement issued by Indian Oil Corp (IOC) said.

    Oil firms revise LPG price on 1st of every month based on average benchmark rate and foreign exchange rate in the previous month.

    "The increase is mainly on account of GST on the revised price of Domestic Non-Subsidised LPG," the statement said.

    As a result of higher global rates, the price of Non-Subsidized LPG at Delhi will increase by Rs. 55.50 per cylinder.

    "The balance Rs.52.79 (Rs.55.50 minus Rs.2.71) is being compensated to the customer by increase in subsidy transfer to their bank account. Accordingly, the subsidy transfer in customer's bank account has been increased to Rs. 257.74 per cylinder in July 2018 as against Rs. 204.95 per cylinder in June 2018. Thus the domestic LPG customer is protected against the increase in international prices of LPG," the statement said.

    Consumers buy non-subsidised or market price LPG after exhausting their quota of 12 subsidised cylinders of 14.2-kg each.

'If Swiss Money White, Where Is Black Money': Congress Comeback At Centre
  • The Congress delivered a stinging comeback to union ministers Arun Jaitley and Piyush Goyal who have said it was wrong to assume that all money in Swiss banks was black money. Pulling out a speech delivered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi back in 2013 where he had declared that every child knew black money was kept in Swiss Banks, the Congress asked which of these two statements was true: the one made by PM Modi or the two ministers.
    The Congress also countered the effort by the two ministers to showcase a new pact with Switzerland that would give the government access to Swiss bank transactions by Indian residents from 1 January 2018.

    "Why not from 1947... Who are you trying to protect," Priyanka Chaturvedi of the Congress said, accusing the government of fashioning its agreement Switzerland in a way that the names of people who had parked their black money in Swiss Banks for decades would never come out.

    Her colleague in the party, Randeep Singh Surjewala, tweeted his attack. "If Swiss money is white, Where Is black money," he asked.

    A promise to bring back black money stashed away in foreign banks was a key promise made by PM Modi at election rallies in the run up to the 2014 elections. He had said it would be enough to deposit 15-20 lakhs in every bank account.

    Official Swiss bank reports of a 50 per cent jump in deposits made by Indians in Swiss banks in 2017 had led to attacks from the Congress that read this spike to imply that the efforts to curb black money hadn't been as successful as suggested by the government.

    She also took a swipe at Mr Jaitley and Mr Goyal for rushing to explain the Swiss Bank deposits, asking who was the real finance minister.

    "I would want to ask the real and fake finance minister - I don't know who is real and who is fake here - that before 2014, every discussion on Swiss bank accounts was considered black money," she said.

    Mr Piyush Goyal had taken over as finance minister in May this year since Mr Jaitley had to undergo a renal transplant surgery. It is a temporary arrangement since Mr Jaitley is recuperating.

    But it was Mr Jaitley, a minister without portfolio, who last week announced in a Facebook post that the government's chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian was going to quit. On Friday, he had echoed the government's argument on the Swiss Bank data after Finance Minister Piyush Goyal had spoken.

Aadhaar-PAN Linking Deadline Extended To March 31 Next Year
  • Tax payers have been given time till March next year to link their PAN cards to Aadhaar, the government announced today.
    The tax department's order was issued hours before the deadline was to end at midnight. It said the Central Board of Direct Taxes, or CBDT "extends the time for linking PAN with Aadhaar (while filing the tax-returns) till 31 March 2019".

    This is the fifth time that the government has extended the last date.

    The government had last year changed the income tax law to mandate that tax payers quote their Aadhaar number to file income tax returns and to get a new PAN card. Existing Pan card holders were also required to complete the process to link their Aadhaar numbers.

    The Supreme Court, which has heard a bunch of petitions filed against the Aadhaar law, had earlier supported the argument to push back the deadlines till the court decides the petitions.

    The court had concluded the marathon 38-day hearing of the case in May.

    The five-judge bench of the court hasn't yet delivered its ruling whether making Aadhaar mandatory for welfare schemes and financial transactions like getting a loan or filing taxes violates the constitutional right to privacy.

    India had launched Aadhaar, now the world's biggest biometric database, in 2009 to streamline welfare payments and reduce wastage in public spending.

    Since then, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been keen to mandate the use of Aadhaar for everything from filing income taxes to the registration of mobile phone numbers and booking railway tickets. Aadhaar is now mandatory for welfare, pension and employment schemes.

    Activists have challenged the validity of the Aadhaar law, claiming that forcing citizens to link the unique identification number to various services violates their Right to Privacy. The Supreme Court had last year ruled that privacy was a fundamental right. The large-scale sharing of biometric data like iris scans and finger printing also leaves room for misuse, they have contended.

Report On AI Use For Military Superiority Submitted To Defence Minister
  • The Artificial Intelligence (AI) Task Force of the Ministry of Defence led by Tata Sons Chairman N. Chandrasekaran on Saturday submitted its final report to Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on using AI for military superiority.

    "The Task Force handed over the final report to Raksha Mantri Nirmala Sitharaman to accept it and to implement its recommendations," the Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

    The Task Force was constituted in February 2018 to study the strategic implications of AI in national security perspective and in global context. It is a multi-stakeholder group comprising members from government, services, academia, industry and start-ups. 

    "AI has the potential to have transformative impact on national security. It is also seen that AI is essentially a dual use technology. While it can fuel technology driven economic growth, it also has potential to provide military superiority," the statement said.

    The government wants to leverage the country's strong IT industry and huge talent pool of engineers. The ministry has initiated the process of preparing Indian defence forces in their use of AI and how these capabilities can be increasingly developed within the country.

    The report, which studied the level of AI or machine learning (ML) development in India mainly in context of defence needs, suggested making India a significant power of AI in defence specifically in the area of aviation, naval, land systems, cyber, nuclear and biological warfare.

    It made recommendations for policy and institutional interventions that are required to regulate and encourage a robust AI based technologies for defence sector in the country. 

    Considering that most AI work is happening in private sector, it made recommendations to work with start-ups and commercial industry in the field of use of AI for defence purposes, the release said.

    As part of its deliberations, the Task Force had an intensive deliberations with all stakeholder representatives including officers from Army, Navy, Airforce, Coast Guard, representatives of all Defence PSUs, namely BEL, HAL, BEML, BDL, MIDHANI, MDL, GRSE, GSL and HSL and OFB.

Business Affairs

Many hits, few misses in one year of GST
  • The Goods and Services Tax (GST) completes its one full year of implementation with many hits and few misses. During its launch, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that GST will end harassment of traders and small businesses while integrating India into one market with one tax rate.

    Well, it seems there is a long way to go. Ironically, thousands of GST officials from CGST office itself have decided to stay away from the one year GST celebration across the country. It indicates though the BJP government is trying to make it a bigger celebration event, everything is not okay within the taxmen fraternity who alleges pressure from seniors to meet the targets.

    However, coming to the positive aspects, in last one year inflation is still in control. In fact, inflation rate didn't rise, as it was one of the major concerns during the GST launch. In transportation sector, long queues of trucks and heavy vehicles at state borders have disappeared as check posts were dismantled, creating a seamless national market and benefiting the consumers.

    With registrations crossing 10 million, it indicates more businesses are signing up for GST. The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) claims nowadays, more people are filing income tax returns which is definitely linked with GST.

    The corporate India is delighted with GST roll, but expects the government to add few more items in the list, and importantly, the petroleum products. At the same time, the business community appreciates government's sacrifice towards revenues, as GST has improved compliance a bit and transparency across India.

    But as said, there are misses too.

    The GST has adversely been impacting real estate sector. Experts say when GST rates were revised to 8 per cent for affordable housing and 12 per cent for other segments of housing, this had created an uneven level playing field. A uniform rate of 6 per cent for all categories of housing will benefit home buyers and the industry.

    The biggest dampener was the compliance process, as information technology glitches took more than the anticipated time to be resolved. A new return form is being crafted to help make the process much less painful for businesses and is likely to be available soon. Exporters are still complaining about refund mechanism, including data matching law, particularly the small and medium size companies that saw their working capital requirements rising.

    The matter is still under examination by GST Council. The rise in petrol and diesel prices has burnt a hole in the pocket of the common citizen and experts call for bringing the two fuels under GST.

Tata Steel-Thyssenkrup joint venture approved, will become second-largest in European steel market
  • The Tata Steel board gave the green flag to the joint venture with German steel giant Thyssenkrup today. Back in Germany, the Thyssenkrup supervisory board also approved the collaboration with the Indian steel manufacturer. This deal will see both steel majors combine their European businesses to form a 50:50 joint venture.

    The resultant entity, which will be called Thyssenkrup Tata Steel BV , will be the second-largest steelmaker in European steel sector after Lakshmi Mittal's ArcelorMittal. It will have around 48,000 workers and about 15 billion euros in sales. The definitive agreement signed today will be formally executed shortly, Tata Steel said in a BSE filing.

    Meanwhile, Thyssenkrup said in a statement that joining forces with Tata Group will help with its transformation into an industrial and service group, and will help to improve its financial standing.

    Both parties expect the deal to be completed within 12-18 months from the date of execution of the transaction documents, the statement said, given that they get the required regulatory approval in time.

    Tata Steel and Thyssenkrupp had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) back in September 2017 to this effect after announcing plans to combine their European businesses and form a joint venture. Now that they are together, the steelmaking joint venture aims to produce 35,000 million tonnes of cold rolled grain oriented steel every year from its expanded factory, instead of the earlier capacity of 10,000 tonnes per annum. The company had said the new product line set-up will help in meeting the continuously increasing demand for cold rolled grain oriented in the Indian market.

    According to a Reuters report, the German steelmaker is expecting annual synergies of 400 million to 500 million euros from the transaction, having previously communicated a maximum of 600 million. Tata Steel's Dutch facility will be part of the cash pooling mechanism of the JV, which had been a key demand for German workers concerned that Tata would give its own workers better conditions in the new company.

    In case of an initial public offering (IPO) of the joint venture, which is widely expected by investors and has been flagged by both companies, Thyssenkrup would get a bigger share of the proceeds "reflecting an economic ratio of 55-45," the report further said.

    The Tata Steel-Thyssenkrup deal comes in the backdrop of heavy tariffs of 25 per cent imposed by the Trump administration on steel imports from both European Union and India.

Reliance Industries signs $74-million acquisition deal to boost 5G, IoT push
  • Reliance Industries has signed an agreement to acquire US-based open telecom solutions provider Radisys, according to a statement. The cash acquisition is aimed at cementing Jio's position in futuristic areas such as 5G and Internet of Things (IoT). Sources familiar with the development said that the deal involves a valuation of roughly $74 million, and that Radisys will be delisted post the acquisition.

    With headquarters in Hillsboro, Oregon, Radisys has nearly 600 employees. The Nasdaq-listed company also has an engineering team in Bangalore, along with sales and support offices globally, a joint statement by the two companies said.

    "Radisys Corporation... a global leader of open telecom solutions... and Reliance Industries Limited, India's largest private sector company have entered into a definitive agreement under which Reliance will acquire Radisys for $1.72 per share in cash," the statement said.

    The deal is subject to statutory and regulatory approvals and nod of Radisys' shareholders. It is slated to close in the fourth quarter of 2018.

    RIL plans to fund the transaction through its internal accruals, the statement added.

    "Radisys' top-class management and engineering team offer Reliance rapid innovation and solution development expertise globally, which complements our work towards software-centric disaggregated networks and platforms, enhancing the value to customers across consumer and enterprise segments," Akash Ambani, Director of Reliance Jio said.

    The acquisition is aimed at accelerating Jio's innovation and technology position in the areas of 5G, IOT and open source architecture adoption.

    "The Radisys team will continue to work independently on driving its future growth, innovation and expansion. The addition of Reliance's visionary leadership and strong market position will enhance Radisys' ability to develop and integrate large-scale, disruptive, open-centric end-to-end solutions," Brian Bronson, CEO of the US based company said.

Cisco commits to positively impact 50 million people in India by 2025
  • As a part of giving back to society, companies are moving from one-time donations to investing in social organisations and skilling programmes to create a sustainable impact that can be replicated and scaled. Cisco has committed to positively impact 50 million people in India by 2025 through social initiatives and partnerships. Globally, the uber target for the networking giant is at one billion and they have reached out to some 220 million people so far.

    In India, giving back to society is done through the compliance mandate of investing two percent profit into CSR initiatives and employee volunteering programmes.

    "Even though there is a 2 per cent mandate, there is no formal investment amount set. For every hour an employee puts in volunteering, Cisco matches that and puts in the money into the CSR fund. All programmes are run that way," says V. C. Gopalratnam, Trustee, Cisco Foundation & Senior Vice President, IT & CIO. Earlier the focus was on emergency donations, cash grants, product grants which is still there but there is also an increasing interest in leveraging technology for social good, he adds.

    The four main focus areas include solving critical human needs, skill development, sustainability and economic empowerment. As part of that, Cisco recently announced an Accelerator for NGOs in partnership with N/Core tech to incubate early-stage nonprofits that leverage digital technology to solve India's social challenges. Eight NGOs have received the grant so far and the target is to reach 20 organisations this year. Each start-up receives a grant of Rs 10 lakh and access to mentors and technology experts from Cisco.

    Along with that Cisco is setting up five "Cisco thingQbator" that are innovation labs and makers spaces in academic institutions to enable students to get hands-on experience with technology and conceive digital solutions to local problems. The five academic institutions are Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management, (IIITMK), Kerala; IIT-BHU Varanasi; Amrita University Coimbatore; Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical University for Women- Delhi and Trident Academy of Technology Bhubaneswar.

    Given the huge skills gap in the country, the third leg of their CSR programmes is around skilling. Around 170,000 people have been through 306 Cisco Networking Academies across the country. "These people didn't have any computer background and now have a technology certification in computer networking, security and IoT which enables them to get a job improving the entire household's economic condition," says Gopalratnam. The company has also partnered public sector organizations like The Telangana Academy for Skills and Knowledge, and the ICT Academy of Kerala, to provide training on networking and cybersecurity skills to improve the employability of engineering graduates in those states. By 2020, Cisco aims to create a pipeline of 250,000 skilled students in India.

    But, should CSR be made a part of business? Gopalratnam doesn't believe so. "It is a business imperative to do CSR, but it cannot be made into a commercial initiative. It has to be kept separate from business."

One year of GST: One tax for petrol, diesel, and much more left to be desired
  • The Modi government rolled out the Goods and Services Tax (GST) with much fanfare on July 1, 2017. We have come a long way since then. There is the e-way bill to ease transportation of goods, the tax net has grown, and more - courtesy GST. Quite recently, the Indian economy has finally shaken off the shocks that accompanied the biggest tax reform seen by India. So is it smooth sailing from here on?

    It seems not. A lot more has been expected from GST - ranging from easier tax return filing process and even lesser tax slabs for ease in compliance, and even taking a call on bringing petroleum products under the ambit of the unified tax regime. The demand to fix a uniform tax structure for petrol and diesel was strongly raised recently after fuel prices skyrocketed to new heights. Goes on to show how much taxpayers are depending on GST to help them out with managing their bills, as was promised.

    As GST nears its first anniversary, here's a look at all that remains on the to-do list of GST Council in days to come:

    Petrol, diesel prices under GST

    Despite repeated demands to bring petrol and diesel under the GST regime, the GST Council has not taken a call on the matter. The request was raised prominently a few weeks back once again after petrol breached the Rs 84-mark, an all-time high for the primary transportation fuel.

    As reports suggest, the GST Council might consider including natural gas and aviation turbine fuel (ATF) in GST in its next meeting. Recently, Finance Secretary Hasmukh Adhia said that these two petroleum products are easier to bring under the GST regime.

    Simplifying GST return filing

    Compliance remains a thorn in the side of GST despite a year since its rollout. And the complicated return filing process under GST remains one of the major reasons behind this. While the GST Council has made a few tweaks to help, they have failed to meet the expectations of taxpayers who have been asking for a simpler GST filing mechanism since its rollout.

    Delays in filing tax returns often hold up the tax refunds to taxpayers, which is causing troubles for them, especially businesses.

    Fewer tax slabs

    India is one of the handful countries that have four tax slabs under GST - including Pakistan, Luxembourg, Ghana and Italy. While the possibility of a single tax slab has been plainly turned down by the government, there remains a possibility that we might get fewer tax slabs. As of now, GST is charged at 28 per cent, 18 per cent, 12 per cent, and 5 per cent. Several items have been placed under the zero per cent tax slab, whereas gold attracts GST at 3 per cent. There are chances that there could be only two tax slabs in future.

    Bringing real estate under GST

    Real estate, like petroleum products, is exempt from GST. There were speculations that the GST Council might take a decision on bringing real estate under the GST regime, there is no word on such a decision yet.

    General Awareness

    Ranking of Aspirational Districts
    • Context: The NITI Aayog has launched the first Delta ranking (incremental progress) for the Aspirational Districts.

      Delta ranking:

      The ranking is based on self-reported data of districts across five developmental areas of Health and Nutrition, Education, Agriculture and Water Resources, Financial Inclusion and Skill Development, and Basic Infrastructure. Districts to provide real-time data points by filling up the Champions of Change Dashboard.

      Significance of delta ranking:

      The ranking is also a tool to identify sectors and indicator specific challenges so that Team India, which is driving this programme, can take immediate corrective measures.
      This Delta ranking takes a step further and looks into specific aspects of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and analyses how districts have performed in last two months across important sectors.
      This grouping and positioning would aid the District Magistrates/Collectors to focus more on these sectors and improve their ranking in future.

      Performance of various districts:

      Dahod district of Gujarat improved 19.8 points to rank first.
      West Sikkim district in Sikkim stood second with 18.9 points.
      Bijapur district in Chhattisgarh is ranked 6th position.

      About the scheme:

      Launched in January this year, the ‘Transformation of Aspirational Districts’ programme aims to quickly and effectively transform some of the most underdeveloped districts of the country.
      The broad contours of the programme are Convergence (of Central & State Schemes), Collaboration (of Central, State level ‘Prabhari’ Officers & District Collectors), and Competition among districts driven by a Mass Movement or a Jan Andolan.
      With States as the main drivers, this program will focus on the strength of each district, identify low-hanging fruits for immediate improvement, measure progress, and rank districts.

      Focus of the programme:

      To enable optimum utilization of their potential, this program focuses closely on improving people’s ability to participate fully in the burgeoning economy. Health & Nutrition, Education, Agriculture & Water Resources, Financial Inclusion & Skill Development, and Basic Infrastructure are this programme’s core areas of focus.

      Significance of the scheme:

      If these districts are transformed, there would be tremendous improvement in the internal security environment of the country. If Prabhari officers can bring convergence in the development efforts of different Ministries and state Governments and the schemes specially launched by Home Ministry in these districts, it would serve as a great opportunity to ensure rapid development in the country.

      What’s important?

      For Prelims: About the scheme for transformation of backward districts.
      For Mains: Development of backward districts- need, challenges and efforts.

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