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Current Affairs - 03 September 2018

General Affairs 

Get Stamp Duty Refund For Giving Land To Bullet Train Project: Sources
  • People who cede their land for the bullet train project can get stamp duty of any property they buy reimbursed, provided they do it within three years of handing over the land, a top official said.

    The decision was taken at a recent board meeting of the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL), the implementing agency of the project, which is struggling to acquire land for the 508-km-long high-speed corridor.

    Sources in the NHSRCL said the agency will pay the stamp duty for such landowners, thus sweetening the pot for them to hand over their land required for the project.

    They also clarified that this payment will be over and above the compensation amount given to landowners.

    In most states, five to seven per cent of the total market value of the property is charged as stamp duty, while one per cent is charged as registration fee.

    While 1,434 hectares of land is needed for the project, with 353 hectares in Maharashtra and the rest in Gujarat, the agency has been able to acquire just 0.9 hectare in Bandra-Kurla Complex which has been physically handed over to it, a source had said.

    The deadline for completing land acquisition for the bullet train project is December this year.

    "We want a job for a family member in lieu of our land," said Parashuram Kashinath Gaikwad of Palghar, adding stamp duty payment will only mean something to them if they get enough money to purchase another piece of land.

    Sources said the Railways has not set any upper limit for the stamp duty and is willing to pay any amount as long as the property - either land or house - is bought within three years of handing over of the land for the bullet train project.

    This move comes at a time when the NHSRCL has already offered incentives to landowners as well as panchayats to encourage them to give up their land - from schools, wells and hospitals among other things.

    In Maharashtra, the NHSRCL is paying four times the circle rate of the land, a 25 per cent bonus on it, and a one-time payment of Rs. 5 lakh.

    On losing a house by giving up the land, the homeowner can either choose a new one built nearby (500 sq feet) or money to buy a new house elsewhere at twice the construction cost.

    For livelihood loss, the offer is Rs. 3,600 per month for one year.

    There is a provision for a one-time Rs. 5 lakh rehabilitation payment to landless agriculture workers, and a one-time Rs. 25,000 to employees of shops on land to be acquired.

    In Gujarat, the compensation under state laws comes to over four times the prevailing price.

    The state government plans to offer either 4.75 times the existing prices or the average rate within a 1.5-km radius, whichever is higher. The NHSRCL is offering bonus on the existing price of the land and the same sops as in Maharashtra for livelihood related loss.

Nations Look For Gains In China's New Silk Road, Walk Into "Debt Trap"
  • China's massive and expanding "Belt and Road" trade infrastructure project is running into speed bumps as some countries begin to grumble about being buried under Chinese debt.

    First announced in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, the initiative also known as the "new Silk Road" envisions the construction of railways, roads and ports across the globe, with Beijing providing billions of dollars in loans to many countries.

    Five years on, Xi has found himself defending his treasured idea as concerns grow that China is setting up debt traps in countries which may lack the means to pay back the Asian giant.

    "It is not a China club," Xi said in a speech on Monday to mark the project's anniversary, describing Belt and Road as an "open and inclusive" project.

    Xi said China's trade with Belt and Road countries had exceeded $5 trillion, with outward direct investment surpassing $60 billion. But some are starting to wonder if it is worth the cost.

    During a visit to Beijing in August, Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said his country would shelve three China-backed projects, including a $20 billion railway.

    The party of Pakistan's new prime minister, Imran Khan, has vowed more transparency amid fears about the country's ability to repay Chinese loans related to the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

    Meanwhile the exiled leader of the opposition in the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, has said China's actions in the Indian Ocean archipelago amounted to a "land grab" and "colonialism", with 80 percent of its debt held by Beijing.

    Sri Lanka has already paid a heavy price for being highly indebted to China.

    Last year, the island nation had to grant a 99-year lease on a strategic port to Beijing over its inability to repay loans for the $1.4-billion project.

    'Ambiguous partner'

    "China does not have a very competent international bureaucracy in foreign aid, in expansion of soft power," Anne Stevenson-Yang, co-founder and research director at J Capital Research, told AFP.

    "So not surprisingly they're not very good at it, and it brought up political issues like Malaysia that nobody anticipated," she said.

    "As the RMB (yuan) becomes weaker, and China is perceived internationally as a more ambiguous partner, it's more likely that the countries will take a more jaundiced eye on these projects."

    The huge endeavour brings much-needed infrastructure improvements to developing countries, while giving China destinations to unload its industrial overcapacity and facilities to stock up on raw materials.

    But a study by the Center for Global Development, a US think-tank, found "serious concerns" about the sustainability of the sovereign debt in eight countries receiving Silk Road funds.

    Those were Pakistan, Djibouti, Maldives, Mongolia, Laos, Montenegro, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

    The cost of a China-Laos railway project -- $6.7 billion -- represents almost half of the Southeast Asian country's GDP, according to the study.

    In Djibouti, the IMF has warned that the Horn of Africa country faces a "high risk of debt distress" as its public debt jumped from 50 percent of GDP in 2014 to 85 percent in 2016.

    Africa has long embraced Chinese investment, helping make Beijing the continent's largest trading partner for the past decade.

    On Monday, a number of African leaders will gather in Beijing for a summit focused on economic ties which will include talks on the "Belt and Road" programme.

    'Not a free lunch'

    China bristles at criticism. At a daily press briefing on Friday, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying denied that Beijing was saddling its partners with onerous debt, saying that its loans to Sri Lanka and Pakistan were only a small part of those countries' overall foreign debt.

    "It's unreasonable that money coming out of Western countries is praised as good and sweet, while coming out of China it's sinister and a trap," she said.

    Stevenson-Yang said China's loans are quoted in dollar terms, "but in reality they're lending in terms of tractors, shipments of coal, engineering services and things like that, and they ask for repayment in hard currency."

    Standard & Poor's said Beijing structures the infrastructure projects as long-term concessions, with a Chinese firm operating the facility for a period of 20 to 30 years while splitting the proceeds with the local counterpart or government.

    The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, raised concerns about potential debt problems in April and advocated greater transparency.

Why Buying Only 36 Rafale Jets When 126 Required, Asks Congress
  • The Congress has asked the Narendra Modi government why it inked a deal with France's Dassault Aviation to buy just 36 aircraft when 126 fighter jets were required.

    The party's national spokesperson, Priyanka Chaturvedi, asked if there's any urgency, why the government did not ask the French company to supply all the aircraft in one go.

    "The first lot of the aircraft will be supplied in 2019 and the rest in 2022. If there is any urgency, the whole lot should have been supplied by 2019," she said in Mathura on Saturday.

    Ms Chaturvedi asked why the government is "afraid of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the deal, if it's fair".

    "A total of 126 aircraft were required, but the NDA government signed a pact for only 36 aircraft. This is strange," she said.

    She alleged that the government "sacrificed the country's interests to favour a millionaire friend".

    "How the cost per plane soared from Rs. 526 crore to Rs. 1,670 crore? The Prime Minister should explain why the government ignored a public sector undertaking with a 70-year-long clean record and gave the contract to a 12-day-old company which lacks experience," she said.

    The Congress leader said though the deal could not materialise during the UPA government's tenure, it ensured transparency in all matters related to it.

    Union minister Arun Jaitley had earlier said the fully weaponised fighter jets which his government is buying are 20 per cent cheaper than the ones offered under the previous UPA regime.

    In 2015, then defence minister Manohar Parrikar had said that the government had decided to buy only 36 Rafale fighter jets scrapping the earlier plan to acquire 126 of the French aircraft on grounds of huge cost.

100 Scam Ads: That's What Google Is Taking Down Each Second
  • Google is removing over 100 scam advertisements every second for violating its policies and will soon implement a verification programme to further weed out bad actors from its platform.

    After The Wall Street Journal reported that scammers were purchasing search ads and "masquerading as authorised service agents for companies such as Apple Inc", Google said on Saturday it is taking action against such scam artists.

    "Just last year alone, we took down more than 3.2 billion ads that violated our advertising policies - that's more than 100 bad ads per second," said David Graff, Director, Global Product Policy at Google.

    "We're taking another step. We've seen a rise in misleading ad experiences stemming from third-party technical support providers and have decided to begin restricting ads in this category globally," said Graff.

    In the coming months, Google will roll out a verification programme to ensure that only legitimate providers of third-party tech support can use its platform to reach consumers.

    "One of our top priorities is to maintain a healthy advertising ecosystem, and that means protecting people from misleading, inappropriate and harmful ads," Google said.

    The move came after scammers were found using Google's advertising system to create misleading ads.

    "The ads would display a link to Apple's website, but the number in the ad would direct to a call centre that engages in tech-support scams."

"If Someone Calls For Discipline, He Is Branded Autocratic," Says PM Modi
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said calling for discipline these days is branded "autocratic", as he praised Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu for being a "disciplinarian".

    After launching a book on the experiences of Mr Naidu during his first year as Vice President and Chairman of Rajya Sabha, PM Modi said he always provides visionary leadership whenever he gets a responsibility.

    "Venkaiah ji is a disciplinarian, but our country's situation is such that it has become easy to call discipline undemocratic. If someone calls for discipline, he is branded autocratic... the whole dictionary is opened. But the discipline Venkaiah ji calls for he himself follows it," PM Modi said.

    PM Modi said whichever duty Mr Naidu had performed, he did it with utmost diligence and adapted into that role with ease. "He has been in public life for 50 years. Ten years in student politics and 40 years in state as well as national politics," the Prime Minister said.

    The 245-page book titled "Moving On, Moving Forward: A Year In Office" brings out Mr Naidu's "mission of engagement" on four key issues with various stakeholders across the country and its alignment with the mission of a new India in the making.

    Mr Naidu says in the book his mission of exploring and shaping public discourse over four key issues took him on extensive travels across the country since he was sworn in as Vice President on August 11 last year.

    PM Modi said former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee wanted to give Mr Naidu a ministry in his government, but he said he wanted to be the minister of rural development.

    "Venkaiah ji is a farmer at heart. He is passionate about the welfare of farmers and agriculture," PM Modi said.

    At the book launch event, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, former prime ministers Manmohan Singh and Karnataka Chief Minister HD Deve Gowda, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and senior Congress leader Anand Sharma were present on the dais.

Business Affairs

Mauritius tops India's FDI charts again in FY 2018
  • Mauritius remained the top source of foreign direct investment into India in 2017-18 followed by Singapore, whereas total FDI stood at USD 37.36 billion in the financial year, a marginal rise over the USD 36.31 billion recorded in the previous fiscal, according to RBI data.

    While FDI from Mauritius totalled USD 13.41 billion as against USD 13.38 billion in the previous year, inflows from Singapore rose to USD 9.27 billion from USD 6.52 billion. Even as FDI from Netherlands declined marginally to USD 2.67 billion as against USD 3.23 billion in the year-ago period.

    The provisional data for the financial year ended March revealed that foreign direct investment (FDI) into the manufacturing sector witnessed a substantial decline to USD 7.06 billion, as against USD 11.97 billion in the year-ago period.

    However, FDI into communication services rose to USD 8.8 billion in 2017-18 as compared to USD 5.8 billion. The inflows into retail and wholesale trade also shot up to USD 4.47 billion as against USD 2.77 billion, while financial services sector too witnessed a rise in inflows to USD 4.07 billion from USD 3.73 billion in the previous year.

    "The fact that these sectors have accounted for more than 50 per cent of the total FDI of USD 37.36 billion in 2017-18 reflects the kind of global interest being generated into the new areas of economy, including online marketplace, financial technologies or Fin-tech," said Assocham.

    FDI in computer services was recorded at USD 3.17 billion as against USD 1.93 billion in the previous year. Inflows in real estate activities jumped four-fold to USD 405 million as compared to USD 105 million; while FDI in Education and R&D stood at USD 347 million versus USD 205 million in FY 2016-17.

    "With several key indicators like corporate earnings, uptick in topline and consumer demand showing a marked improvement on the back of good and well spread monsoon, the investment sentiment is expected to gain momentum in the next few quarters and would further improve in the FY 2019-20," the chamber said.

    Sectors like construction and mining witnessed a decline in FDI inflows during 2017-18, whereas electricity and other energy generation, distribution and transmission and restaurants and hotels recorded a slight increase in inflows, as per data from the Reserve Bank of India's annual report.

Govt plans exam for aspiring independent directors to bolster corporate governance
  • The government plans to have examinations for individuals who want to become independent directors as part of bolstering the corporate governance framework, according to Union Minister P P Chaudhary.

    While there are stringent provisions under the Companies Act, 2013 to ensure good governance standards, the roles of independent directors has come under the scanner in certain instances of corporate misdoings.

    Also, at a time when the government is making efforts to make its role minimal in the affairs of corporates, the role of independent directors is more vital.

    Asserting that the government is committed to improve the fabric of corporate governance in the country, Chaudhary said strengthening the role of independent directors in the affairs of companies is one of the steps in that direction.

    The Minister of State for Corporate Affairs said that a person should have certain qualifications to become an independent director on the boards of companies.

    "The requirement with respect to independent directors to have minimum reasonable qualifications and a certification course/ exam are also being considered," Chaudhary told PTI in an interview.

    He said the ministry is "very seriously" considering the proposal and stakeholders would be consulted before a final decision is taken, he added.

    The minister also made it clear that the proposal is to have examination for individuals who want to become independent directors and not for existing people who already have independent directorship.

    "With respect to existing independent directors, there could be orientation programmes," he added.

    Independent directors have both advisory and monitoring role in the context of governance practices at the companies.

    The ministry is also planning to allow the Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs (IICA) to create and maintain a data bank of independent directors.

    Under Section 150 of the Companies Act, 2013, the ministry can notify an institution or an agency to maintain an independent directors' data bank. However, the same is yet to be notified.

    "The government proposes to amend the Companies (Appointment and Qualification of Directors) Rules, 2014 to allow the IICA as an agency to create and maintain a data bank of independent directors," Chaudhary said.

    He said the proposal is expected to be implemented "very soon".

    Earlier this month, the government-appointed committee to review offences under the Act suggested capping of remuneration of independent directors, among other measures.

Income Tax dept to wait till September 7 for Walmart to pay tax on Flipkart deal
  • The Income Tax Department will wait till September 7 for settlement of withholding tax by Walmart on payments made to about 44 shareholders exiting e-commerce firm Flipkart before it proceeds in the case, an official has said.

    US-based retail giant Walmart Inc had completed acquisition of 77 per cent stake in Flipkart for about USD 16 billion deal in mid-August. As per the provisions of the I-T law, Walmart has to deduct withholding tax on payments made to sellers and deposit it with the Indian authorities on the seventh day of the subsequent month, which falls on September 7.

    The Walmart has not yet approached the tax department to ascertain the withholding tax liability, although some shareholders of Flipkart who are exiting the e-commerce company have sought guidance on their tax liability, the officials said.

    Under Section 197, seller of shares can obtain withholding tax certificate from the tax department after providing details of the transaction and make a case for availing lower or nil tax rates. The tax rate could be lower in case the non-resident seller invokes provision of the double tax avoidance agreement.

    "Walmart still has time till September 7 to deduct and pay withholding tax on payments made to about 44 different shareholders of Flipkart," the official said, adding the department can only proceed in this case once the deadline for payment of taxes is over.

    Once the withholding tax is paid the tax authorities will scrutinise whether Walmart has deposited the taxes correctly as per the assessment made by the tax department on the basis of the share purchase agreement shared with it by Bengaluru-based Flipkart.

    However, if the Walmart fails to deposit the correct amount of taxes, then the department will write to Walmart asking for details of taxes deducted and the reasons for failing to deposit the required amount.

    Nangia Advisors LLP Managing Partner Rakesh Nangia said: "If Walmart is liable to withhold tax, non-withholding of appropriate taxes would entail implications under Section 201 of the I-T Act, i e Walmart shall be construed as an 'assessee in default' liable to pay interest and penalty for failure to withhold and deposit to the credit of the government the appropriate taxes".

    "The question arises what could be the possible reason behind Walmart's strategy of not approaching Income-tax authorities to obtain lower/nil withholding order under Section 197? Though order under Section 197 acts as a provisional assessment of the transaction between Walmart and shareholders of Flipkart, it is not an appealable order."

    Walmart had in July assured the I-T department that it will fulfil all tax obligations. Flipkart had in May shared share purchase agreement with tax authorities, based on which the I-T department has assessed the tax rate that would be applicable for investors in Flipkart who are selling the shares to Walmart.

    Significant shareholders in Flipkart, like SoftBank, Naspers, venture fund Accel Partners and eBay, have agreed to sell their shares. Also co-founder Sachin Bansal has decided to sell his stake to the US retail major.

    The department has been reviewing Section 9 (1) of the I-T Act, which deals with indirect transfer provisions, to see if the benefits under the bilateral tax treaties with countries like Singapore and Mauritius, could be available for foreign investors selling stakes to Walmart. Singapore-registered Flipkart Pvt Ltd holds majority stake in Flipkart India.

Govt may give extension to Bank of Baroda chief P S Jayakumar
  • The government may give extension to Bank of Baroda Managing Director and CEO P S Jayakumar based on the assessment of his three-year performance. Jayakumar was one of the two selected from the private sector and joined the state-owned bank in October 2015. He was appointed for a three-year term that will come to an end on October 12, 2018.

    According to sources, the government will take a final call on his extension after the objective assessment of his performance.

    Soon after he assumed charge, BoB made a loss of Rs 3,342 crore in the third quarter (October-December) of 2015-16. In the subsequent quarter too, the lender posted a loss of Rs 3,230.1 crore.

    However, the situation got better from the first quarter of 2016-17 when the bank earned a profit of Rs 423.6 crore going further up in the second quarter to Rs 552.1 crore but it declined to Rs 252.6 crore in the third quarter and in the last quarter, it was Rs 154.7 crore.

    The bank again posted a hefty loss of Rs 3102.3 crore in the fourth quarter (January-March) 2017-18. However, the bank earned a profit of Rs 528.2 crore in the first quarter of the current fiscal, as per data available on the BSE.

    So during Jayakumar's stint of 11 quarters, the bank has posted a loss of Rs 9,674.4 crore while earned a profit of Rs 2,581.5 crore. On the net basis, the bank posted net loss of Rs 7,092.9 crore during his stint.

    Jayakumar's assignment also assumes significance as the government introduced a significant policy change allowing private sector professionals to head public sector banks.

    In mid-August 2015, the government had roped in private sector professionals to run two of its largest banks -- Bank of Baroda and Canara Bank.

    The government named Rakesh Sharma of Lakshmi Vilas Bank the new MD and CEO of Canara Bank.

    To induct private sector professionals at top positions at PSBs is seen as a part of process to reform the public sector industry, which accounts for over 70 per cent of the banking business, but is struggling to deal with mounting bad loans.

Wipro bags over $1.5 billion deal from US-based Alight Solutions
  • IT services major Wipro on Sunday said that it has won an over USD 1.5 billion engagement from Alight Solutions LLC, its biggest deal till date. Under the 10-year deal, Wipro will provide a comprehensive suite of solutions and services to the Illinois-based Alight Solutions that provides technology-enabled health, wealth, HR and finance solutions.

    "This deal will result in revenues of USD 1.5 to 1.6 billion for Wipro over the tenure. This is Wipro's largest win to date," Wipro said in a statement.

    This engagement will enable the digital transformation of Alight's offerings and enhance the employee experience of Alight's clients by leveraging Wipro's strengths in digital technologies, cognitive automation and data analytics, it added.

    "Our industry-leading partnership with Wipro will enhance our client experience by drawing on Wipro's leading position in automation and innovation, while allowing Alight to invest in its health, wealth and cloud-based solutions to meet the needs of our clients," Alight Solutions Chief Executive Officer Chris Michalak said.

    Wipro's larger peer Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has bagged three large multi-year deals totalling over USD 5 billion in revenue since December 2017.

    The current deal will come as a shot in the arm for the Bengaluru-based firm, which saw its first quarter profits this fiscal grow over 2 per cent to Rs 2,120 crore and revenue rising 4.72 per cent to Rs 14,307 crore as compared to the previous year.

    Wipro CEO and Executive Director Abidali Z Neemuchwala said the deal reflects the capabilities the company has built through strategic investments in Wipro Digital, cloud platforms and cognitive platform Wipro HOLMES.

    "We will leverage this expertise to digitalise and modernise Alight's core across platforms, technologies and operations," he added.

    In July this year, Wipro had partnered Alight Solutions to take over the latter's captive operations in India - Alight HR Services India - for a consideration of USD 117 million.

    In a separate BSE filing today, Wipro said "the transaction has been completed on August 31, 2018".

    Alight HR Services India (formerly known as Aon HR Services India) was set up in September 2016. It has about 9,000 employees and registered revenue of Rs 1,132 crore in 2017-18. It has centres in Gurugram, Noida, Mumbai and Chennai.

General Awareness

    Department of Official Language
    • What to study?

      For Prelims: Department of Official language, constitutional provisions related to official language.
      For Mains: Hindi as official language- issues associated, concerns and what needs to be done?

      Context: The Union Home Minister Shri Rajnath Singh recently chaired first review meeting of the Department of Official Language of MHA to discuss the functioning and issues related to implementation of Hindi language in official work.

      Department of Official Language:

      With a view to ensuring compliance of the constitutional and legal provisions regarding official language and to promote the use of Hindi for the official purposes of the Union, the Department of Official Language was set up in June 1975 as an independent Department of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Since then, this Department has been making efforts for accelerating the progressive use of Hindi for the official purposes of the Union.

      In accordance with the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961, this Department has been entrusted with the following items of work:

      Implementing the provisions of the Constitution relating to the Official Language and the provisions of the Official Languages Act, 1963 (19 of 1963), except to the extent such implementation has been assigned to any other Department.
      Prior approval of the President for authorising the limited use of a language, other than English, in the proceedings in the High Court of a State.
      Nodal responsibility for all matters relating to the progressive use of Hindi as the Official Language of the Union including Hindi Teaching Scheme for Central Government Employees and publication of magazines, journals & other literature related thereto.
      Co-ordination in all matters relating to the progressive use of Hindi as the Official Language of the Union, including administrative terminology, syllabi, textbooks, training courses and equipment (with standardised script) required therefor.

      Constitutional provisions:

      Part 17 of the constitution of India (Articles 343 to Article 351) makes elaborate provisions dealing with the official language of the Republic of India. The main provisions dealing with the official language of the Union are embodied in Articles 343 and 344 of the Constitution of India. The Official languages have been listed in the 8th schedule of Constitution of India.

      Official language of union:

      Hindi written in Devanagari script is the Official Language of the Union.  The original constitution provided that for a period of 15 years from the commencement of the constitution, English will continue to be used for all official purposes of the Union.

      The constitution made it clear that President may, during the said period, by order authorize the use of the Hindi language in addition to the English language and of the Devanagari form of numerals in addition to the international form of Indian numerals for any of the official purposes of the Union.

      The constitution also makes it clear that even after 15 years, the Parliament by law may provide for the continued use of English for any specific purpose.
      The constitution has put all authority in the hands of the central government both for formulating and implementing the language policy.
      It is also special responsibility of the centre to develop and spread the official language (Hindi) of the union (art. 351).

      Facts for Prelims:

      The department has developed a computer software called “Kanthasth” for translating the all kinds of official files from English to Hindi and vice versa to make the translation work simpler and quicker.

      An E-learning platform called the “Pravah” also being developed by the department for use in 16 Indian languages including English. Anybody can learn Hindi through his mother tongue with the help of this E-learning platform.

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