January 16, 2018

Current Affairs - 16 January 2018

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General Affairs 

Jab Bibi met Modi: All that happened during Netanyahu-Modi meet in India
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu concluded the official level talks on the second day of the latter's six-day visit to India.

    From strategic, security and economic cooperation to Bollywood, all aspects of Indo-Israel ties were discussed between the two leaders.

    Both leaders had a one-on-one meeting on Monday followed by delegation-level talks which closed the "momentous twenty-fifth anniversary year of India-Israel relationship and its growing partnership" according to India-Israel joint statement.

    Addressing the media, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, "My good friend, welcome to India, your visit marks a special beginning to our new year calendar,".

    PMs Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu in India at a forum of managing directors of major Israeli and Indian companies.
    The bonhomie between the two leaders was visible in the way they addressed each other. Prime Minister Netanyahu appreciated the bold steps that Modi has taken towards Israel by being the first premier to visit his land.

    "You are a revolutionary leader, you have revolutionized India and catapulting this state to the future, your visit to Israel was groundbreaking as it was the first time an Indian leader visited," said Netanyahu.

    INDIA-ISRAEL RELATIONSHIP

    While there have been a few upsets in the ties such as cancellation of Spike anti-tank missiles deal and India's vote against the US resolution on Jerusalem at the United Nations General Assembly, Israel is firm that it won't allow any single issue to derail the growing ties between the two nations.

    Israel is looking at India as an investment destination and also as a huge market for its advanced technology and innovation companies.

    A day after Netanyahu, in an interview to India Today, spoke of the problem of "bureaucracy" being an impediment in ensuring smooth business, Modi assured that India will also be cutting through the red tapism to accelerate investments.

    "Last year you said you cut bureaucratic red tape with a machete to forge ahead with speed, I'm here today to say that in India we are on our way to doing that as well," said PM Modi.

    On defence cooperation, according to the joint statement, both the prime ministers "noted the readiness of Israeli companies to enter into joint ventures with Indian companies in the defence sector under the Make in India initiative,".

    "They consider it important to set the direction for developing more business models and partnerships for the joint ventures and joint manufacturing, including transfer of technology as well as joint research and development in defence and security fields," said the statement.

    PM Modi made a push for the interests of Israeli defence companies to merge with his own 'Make in India' vision.

    "In defence, I have invited Israeli companies to take advantage of the liberalised FDI regime to make more in India with our companies," Modi said.

    While terror was a part of the discussion, there was no mention of any country but both sides affirmed that "there can be no justification for acts of terror on any grounds whatsoever and advocated strong measures against terrorists, terror organizations, those who sponsor, encourage or finance terrorism or provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups."

    At the press event, Netanyahu said, "Indians and Israelis know too well the pain of terrorist attacks. We remember the horrific savagery in Mumbai. We grit our teeth, we fight back, we never give in,".

    PM Netanyahu at an economic event during his India visit.
    He will also be paying respect to those who lost their lives in that horrific 2008 attack when he is in Mumbai accompanied by Moshe Holtzberg who was an infant when he lost his parents to the terror strike.

    As far as the issue of Palestine is concerned, Vijay Gokhale, MEA Secretary (economic relations) said that it was discussed.

    "Our side made its stand clear on the issues of Palestine & Jerusalem but our relations are much larger than single issues," he reiterated Netanyahu's sentiments although Israel continues to put its side forward.

    The big thrust in this visit was the people centric policies and areas of cooperation in the field of agriculture and health.

    "The two Prime Ministers believe that durable and multifaceted cooperation is beneficial for the welfare of the people of both countries..." said the statement.

    There are nine MoUs that were signed on Monday between India and Israel and some business related MoUs as well during the India-Israel CEOs Forum.

    Netanyahu also has made a push for connectivity with Bollywood as a part of his push for people-to-people connect. Netanyahu, or 'Bibi' as he's fondly called said that he and his wife were excited to visit Bollywood and see it first hand.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to go on sortie in Sukhoi 30MKI
  • Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman will undertake a sortie in Indian Air Force’s frontline Su-30MKI combat aircraft over Jodhpur on Wednesday, while reviewing the operational preparedness of the force .

    “The defence minister will undertake the sortie to gauge and review the operational preparedness and combat capabilities of the armed forces,” an Air Force spokesperson said.

    The defence minister was earlier scheduled to fly the Su-30MKI last month, but she could not go there due to her involvement in the BJP duty to elect the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh after the conclusion of assembly polls.

    Sitharaman would be sitting in the rear-seat behind the main pilot in the twin-seat Russian-origin plane. The squadron getting the honour to fly the Defence minister is 31 Squadron ‘Lions’, which is based out of Jodhpur.

    Recently, the defence minister had spent time on the INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier where she was shown the combat capabilities of the MiG-29K naval fighters along with other carrier operations of the maritime force.

    Soon after taking over as defence Minister, Sitharaman had visited the Air Force base in Jamnagar where she was briefed about the capabilities of the MiG 21 fighter plane and also the overall operations undertaken by the service.

    The Su-30MKIs form the backbone of the Indian Air Force as 13 squadrons (over 270 planes) of the aircraft would be inducted in the force by the year 2020, replacing the outgoing MiG-21s and MiG 27s of the force.

    The Jodhpur air base is part of Air Force’s Gandhinagar-based South Western Air Command whose area of responsibility is spread across Gujarat and Western Rajasthan against the Pakistan border.

    On January 8 Sitharaman had visited the Goa naval area. She was accompanied by Admiral Sunil Lanba, the Chief of the Naval Staff. The Defence minister boarded Indian Naval Ships operating off Goa for ‘Raksha Mantri Day at Sea’.

Odisha medical admission scam: Petitioners demand independent probe after CBI tape reveals Quddusi conversation
  • Complainants have come out openly with what they call are the CBI phone transcripts of a former judge's suspected conversations with lobbyists of banned medical institutions accused of selling MBBS seats.

    In September, the CBI arrested former justice IM Qudussi of the Orissa high court for allegedly conspiring to bribe top judges in Delhi and Allahabad.

    In November, CJI Misra had reversed his second-in-command Justice J Chelameswar's order to set up a constitutional bank over the alleged scam.

    Complainants in the case have now circulated transcripts of conversations suggesting retired justice Qudussi of the Orissa high court might have participated in judicial corruption linked to the admission scandal.

    According to these alleged transcripts, the former judge tried to fix the Supreme Court case in favour of the Lucknow-based Prasad Education Trust and Saharanpur's Glocal Medical College.

    The two institutions were accused of taking medical students in violation of the government's admission ban on them.

    Days before his arrest in September, former justice Quddusi was caught allegedly wheeling and dealing with medical-college lobbyists identified as Vishwanath Agarwala and BP Yadav of the Prasad Education Trust.

    Yes, yes. In that you see one thing… 100% this, our person who is our captain, it is being done through the captain, so what is the problem. Tell me?
    - Vishwanath Agarwala
    In their phone conversations, they are heard referring to the Supreme Court and the Allahabad High Court as temples, complainants allege.

    "In which is theirs, in which temple is it – temple of Allahabad or temple of Delhi?" read a transcript attributed to Agarwala.

    "No, No, it is not in any temple yet, now it needs to be," replied ex-judge Qudussi, according to the transcript.

    Agarwala also allegedly made a mention of a "captain" involved in the suspected bribing ring. "Yes, yes. In that you see one thing… 100% this, our person who is our captain, it is being done through the captain, so what is the problem. Tell me?"

    According to complainants, these alleged September conversations centered around the suspect institutions' appeal before the Supreme Court in connection with the government's crackdown on them for violating the admission ban.

    In the transcripts, middleman Agarwala appeared to be worried about the "chai-wallah" government's watchful eyes on corruption. "The luggage will have to be given before and he/they is/are saying no to meeting because the government that is going on – tea-seller’s government. That is watching everyone, that is the problem."

    According to the complainants, all the accused spoke candidly about bribe money for the judges.

    "So, how much advance has to be given?" retired justice Qudussi asked, as per the transcripts.

    "They/he said at that time, for review petition, give 100 people. If the review is allowed, then even you will get to know," replied the alleged middleman. "On Monday, we will finalise. They give us the luggage/stuff (saamaan) – some 2-2.5; no problem some order will be given."

    Meantime, senior lawyer and petitioner Prashant Bhushan has sought an independent and impartial investigation into the alleged transcripts.

HRD ministry to integrate J-K youth with rest of country through exchange programme
  • Bridging the socio-cultural chasm between the youth of Jammu and Kashmir and students from the rest of the country, the Narendra Modi government has set the ball rolling for cultural assimilation of students from the state through extensive exchange programmes.

    On Monday, the J&K government and the Centre signed a Memorandum of Understanding that paves the way for students from across the country to travel to the troubled state to get a feel of its ground realities and absorb its cultural richness while Kashmiri students will move out to explore the cultural diversity of the nation.

    Kicking off the exchange programme, a batch of Kashmiri students will head to the national Capital on January 18, and over the following week, witness the grand Republic Day celebrations. Officials of the HRD ministry pointed out that this will not be “a merely onetime exchange” but a regular mingling of students to help “harbour friendship” with children from other states.

    “The underlying principle is to converge so that children in J&K can interact with children from across the country and unnecessary apprehensions in the minds of people are dispelled,” said a senior government official. “This will involve around 9,000 to 10,000 students who will travel across the country.”

    The move comes at a time the Modi government has been attacked by the Opposition for the continuing instability and law and order issues in J&K.

    Government officials maintained that the move is essentially to bridge the cultural chasm between J&K and the rest of the country and to instill a sense of belonging in the Kashmiri youth. “Our ministry has been engaging intensively in a bid to engage with children to see how education can be used as a tool for bringing about more and more normalcy in the state of Jammu and Kashmir,” said Anil Swaroop, secretary (school education and literacy), HRD ministry.

    “A team from HRD ministry visited J&K on a number of occasions and had an intensive discussion with the governor, chief minister and state administration on this. The actual action has begun on the ground.”

    As the ministry attempts a nationwide experiment, Operation Digital Board, reminiscent of the revolutionary Operation Blackboard, where digital learning platforms will take over classrooms, J&K is set to receive special attention as it grapples with issues like lack of electricity.

    The Centre while empowering the state education system will offer digital platforms and ensure they are solar-powered and do not go kaput due to its infrastructural exigencies.

'Rebel' Supreme Court judges not included in constitution bench for key cases
  • The four seniormost judges in the collegium, who raised a banner of revolt against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra over allocation of cases, surprisingly does not figure in the constitution bench announced on Monday to hear eight sensitive cases despite them raising related issues.

    They were also not part of the constitution bench, which recently completed hearing in five other cases that included power tussle between Delhi government and the L-G, and euthanasia and ‘living will’ matters.

    It is to be noted that calling a controversial press conference after handing over a seven-page letter to CJI, the four judges — Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph — said that CJI, though a master of the roster (one who decides which bench will hear which case) was exercising the power arbitrarily.

    Though master of roster, he is only “first among equals” and not a superior authority. But he behaved like one. Cases having “far-reaching” consequences for the nation and institution had been assigned by CJI selectively to the benches “of his preferences”, they said.

    The hearing in the cases which will begin on January 17 include constitutional validity of Aadhaar cards, scrapping of section 377, IPC, plea to make adultery law gender neutral and petition seeking lifting of ban on entry of women into Sabarimala shrine in Kerala.

    The constitution bench will be headed by CJI Dipak Misra and justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan. They were the same judges which heard the earlier five cases too.

    Meanwhile, Attorney General K K Venugopal said the crisis triggered by four senior Supreme Court judges calling a press conference against the CJI “has been settled”.

    “Everything has been settled... Everything is under control. They had a meeting over tea in the morning. It was all mutual understanding,” Venugopal told Mail Today.

    Venugopal said that the unprecedented move by the four senior SC judges in holding a press conference could have been avoided and the judges would now have to act in statesmanship to ensure complete harmony. The Bar Council of India (BCI) said the crisis has been “resolved internally and the story is over now”.

    BCI chairman Manan Kumar Mishra, who led a sevenmember delegation and held hectic parleys with 15 judges including the CJI , said the controversial issues flagged by the four revolting judges were internal issues of the family which have been resolved internally.

    “Kahani khatam ho gaya (the story is over now),” he said even as he cautioned political parties and their leaders not to take undue mileage from the January 12 press conference by the four judges to raise problems, including the assigning of cases, saying the matter should not be politicised.

    “We met around 15 judges on Sunday and all of them said that BCI has done a very good job and this mediation was required. They have now resolved the issue. BCI has been successful in its effort. No outside interference was required in the matter and even we will not impose any condition on them and they themselves would solve their differences over a cup of tea,” he said.

Business Affairs

E-way bill trial run tomorrow; system can handle up to 50 lakh bills per day
  • In a bid to bring uniformity across the states for seamless inter-state movement of goods, the government is set to implement the electronic way bill or e-way bill system from February 1. E-way bill is a system generated bill which every transporters, exceptions in some cases, will have to carry to move the goods from one place to another. These electronic bills can be generated from the GSTN portal. The e-way bill system was introduced under the Goods and Services Tax , but couldn't be implemented earlier as the required IT infrastructure wasn't in place. Last month, the GST Council decided to implement the e-way bill mechanism throughout the country from February 1. In a notification released earlier this month, the GSTN informed the transporters that E-way bill would become mandatory for inter-state movements of goods from February 1, 2018. It further said that the nationwide e-way bill system would be ready to be rolled out on a trial basis by January 16.

    Ahead of the trials on e-way bill generation, which start tomorrow, GST Network CEO Prakash Kumar talked to BusinessToday.in and explained the system's preparedness and infrastructure capabilities to handle the transition. He said that the e-way bill system is designed to handle around 50 lakhs e-way bills per day. The GSTN expects 10 lakh bills for interstate and 35-40 lakh bills for intra-state. The software for the new system has been developed by the government's premier science and technology organisation: National Informatics Centre. While, the GSTN owns the software, it will be run and operated by the NIC. "NIC is data centre we are using here, like bandwidth we are paying for the connectivity," Kumar said adding that "the main data centre is in Delhi". He also informed that the development of infrastructure for E-way bill system has cost Rs 40 crore to the government. 

    Speaking on the data protection issues, the GSTN CEO said: "None of us has any accessibility to any individual tax payers data. Tax payers' data can only be accessed by two people, the taxpayer himself and tax officer. In case of any investigation, then investigation team can take approval of a senior officer and then they will see that data. They can only see." When asked whether the government was taking any measure to simplify or streamline the whole process of filling the tax, he said that a committee headed by GSTN Chairman Dr AB Pandey with members from both centre and state was working on it. "The Committee will submit the report to the council," he said. 

    GSTN NOTIFICATION
    In the notification, the GSTN also stated that while the system for both inter-state and intra-state e-way bill generation will be ready by January 16, the states may choose their own timings for implementation of e-way bill for inter-state movement of goods on any date before June 1. There are certain states which are already having system of e-way bill for intra-state as well as inter-state movement. Some of these states can adopt national e-way Bill system early for intra-state movement as well. "In any case uniform system of e-way bill for inter-state as well as intra-state movement will be implemented across the country by June 1," the GSTN notification had said. 

    ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT E-WAY BILL

    What is e-way bill?
    E-way bill is an electronic document generated on the GST portal evidencing movement of goods. Every registered person who causes movement of goods (which may not necessarily be on account of supply) of consignment value more than Rs 50000 is required to furnish the details of GSTIN of recipient, place of delivery, invoice or challan number and date, value of goods, HSN code, transport document number (Goods Receipt Number or Railway Receipt Number or Airway Bill Number or Bill of Lading Number) and reasons for transportation and transporter details (Vehicle number).

    Who should generate it and why? 
    E-way bill can be generated by the consignor or consignee himself if the transportation is being done in own/hired conveyance or by railways by air or by Vessel. If the goods are handed over to a transporter for transportation by road, the bill will be generated by the transporter. Where neither the consignor nor consignee generates the e-way bill and the value of goods is more than Rs.50,000 it shall be the responsibility of the transporter to generate it.

    Purpose of e-way bill
    E-way bill is a mechanism to ensure that goods being transported comply with the GST Law and is an effective tool to track movement of goods and check tax evasion.

    Validity of e-way bill
    The validity of e-way bill depends on the distance to be travelled by the goods. For a distance of less than 100 Km the e-way bill will be valid for a day from the relevant date. For every 100 Km thereafter, the validity will be additional one day from the relevant date. The "relevant date" shall mean the date on which the e-way bill has been generated and the period of validity shall be counted from the time at which the e-way bill has been generated and each day shall be counted as twenty-four hours. 

    What if goods cannot be transported within the period?
    In general, the validity of the e-way bill cannot be extended. However, Commissioner may extend the validity period only by way of issue of notification for certain categories of goods. Further, if under circumstances of an exceptional nature, the goods cannot be transported within the validity period of the e-way bill, the transporter may generate another e-way bill after updating the details again.

    Cases where e-way bill is not required 
    According to CBEC, there are some exceptions to e-way bill requirement. It said: "No e-way bill is required to be generated in the cases where goods being transported by a non-motorised conveyance; goods being transported from the port, airport, air cargo complex and land customs station to an inland container depot or a container freight station for clearance by Customs; and when Consignment value is less than Rs 50,000 among others."

Aadhaar safety: UIDAI's latest security feature, face authentication, to begin from July 1
  • Earlier this morning Ajay Bhushan Pandey, CEO of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) tweeted, "UIDAI introduces yet another landmark technology for authentication - Face Authentication. #AadhaarFaceAuth will help all elderly or others facing issues with fingerprint authentication. Service to be launched by 1 July 2018."

    So what is this new face authentication system? It's basically your photograph. A big grouse against the biometric data currently required to get an Aadhaar card is that it inconvenienced the elderly with fading fingerprints and ageing irises as well as leprosy patients. According to the National Leprosy Eradication Programme's annual report for 2016-17, there were 88,166 leprosy cases on record as on April 1, 2017 and India, reportedly, remains home to 57 per cent of the world's leprosy patients. Even if only a fraction of these patients have lost their limbs and eyesight to the debilitating disease, a significant number of Indians were being excluded from the Aadhaar umbrella. It would pose a huge problem for them come March 31, the deadline for mandatory Aadhaar-linkages to bank accounts, PAN cards, mobile SIM cards, insurance policies and sundry government welfare schemes. Hence, facial authentication comes in as a second layer of verification to ensure that those having difficulty with their fingerprints/iris authentication are no longer excluded.

    Moreover, since residents are already photographed at the time of Aadhaar enrolment, this new measure does not require any additional effort from existing Aadhaar holders. "Since the photograph is already available in the UIDAI database, there is no need to capture any new reference data for the Central Identities Data Repository," said a circular released today by UIDAI, adding that, "Camera is now pervasively available on laptops and mobiles making the face capture easily feasible for authentication user agencies (AUAs) without needing any additional hardware."

    However, the circular specifies that this new measure shall only be allowed in "fusion mode along with one more authentication factor", be it fingerprints, iris scan or OTP (one-time-password).

    UIDAI will work with biometric device providers to integrate facial modality into the certified registered devices and may also provide standalone registered device service as required by the ecosystem. UIDAI will also provide face capture software development kits to AUAs. The body hopes to release necessary implementation details by March 1.

    This new move by the UIDAI comes just five days after introducing a new two-layer security system comprising Virtual IDs and Limited KYC to protect Aadhaar cardholders. To remind you, VID is a temporary, 16-digit, randomly-generated number that an Aadhaar holder can use for authentication or KYC services along with his/her fingerprint in lieu of the Aadhaar number. On the other hand, under limited KYC, a majority of AUAs will neither get access to full KYC of an individual, nor will they be able to store the Aadhaar number on their systems. Instead, they will get a tokenised number issued by UIDAI to identify their customers.

    These measures have already been rejected by opposition party members and some sections of the public as ideas too late in arriving. After all, as of last month, close to 14 crore out of about 30 crore Permanent Account Numbers had already been linked to Aadhaar and 70% of the estimated 100 crore bank accounts had been seeded. This will be the case for insurance policies as well as all government-sponsored welfare schemes and services since the Supreme Court ruling to extend the deadline for mandatory Aadhaar linking came just a fortnight before the government's December 31 deadline. Besides, in the absence of a legal mandate to delete all previously collected Aadhaar data, AUAs can very well choose to retain it on their servers, leaving it open to any number of security breaches in the future.  

    Will UIDAI's new facial recognition gambit woo detractors? Only time will tell, but if Apple's experience with facial recognition technology is anything to go by, all it takes to fool the system are 3D printed masks or a strong familial resemblance.

Air India stake sale: Airline to be 'split' into four, employees could be absorbed in PSUs
  • The government seems to have changed its earlier stance of not selling the entities of India's national carrier Air India separately as it now wants to split the company into four different verticals for its sale in December this year. In a relief to the Air India employees, reports suggest the Narendra Modi government may consider absorbing them in various public sector undertakings (PSUs).

    This is the second major development in the Air India divestment process in a week after the centre government brought in a change in the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) norms to allow 49% foreign investment in Air India. Earlier, the government had said splitting Air India into parts could decrease its total valuation, though it's not clear what prompted it to take the current decision.

    Union minister Jayant Sinha has said Air India and its subsidiary Air India Express will be sold as one company, and the government will assume non-core debt. The government will also take into consideration the non-core assets of the company, he assured. The government on January 11 permitted foreign airlines to invest up to 49 per cent in disinvestment-bound Air India.

    While foreign airlines were allowed to invest up to 49 per cent in the paid-up capital of Indian private airlines under the government approval route, this provision was not applicable to Air India. The government has also made it clear that the substantial ownership and effective control of Air India would have to remain with Indian nationals. A group of ministers is in the process of finalising the contours for the proposed strategic stake sale in the national carrier and expression of interest is likely to be invited from bidders soon.

    On January 7, a parliamentary panel said this was not an appropriate time to divest government stake in Air India, which should be given at least five years to revive. The panel is also understood to have concluded that the equity infusion in the national carrier, as part of the turnaround plan (TAP), was made on a "piece meal basis", adversely affecting its financial and operational performance and "forcing" the airline to take loans "at a higher interest rate to meet the shortfall".

    The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture concluded that the government should review its decision to privatise or disinvest Air India and explore the possibility of "an alternative to disinvestment of our national carrier which is our national pride". Observing that Air India has always "risen to the occasion" at times of need like calamities, social or political unrest in India or abroad, the Committee said "it would be lopsided to assess and evaluate the functioning of Air India solely from business point of view, as has been done by the NITI Aayog."

    Air India has a total debt of about Rs 48,877 crore at the end of March 2017, of which about Rs 17,360 crore were aircraft loans and Rs 31,517 crore were working capital loans.

Diesel prices shoot up to Rs 61.74 per litre in Delhi, petrol now more than Rs 71
  • Diesel prices have touched a record high of Rs 61.74 per litre and petrol prices have crossed Rs 71.18 per litre in Delhi as international oil rates continue to rally. Petrol prices rose to its highest since August 2014 today, according to daily fuel price list of state-owned oil firms. Diesel is being sold at Rs 65.74 in Mumbai, where the local sales tax or VAT rates are higher.

    Prices have been on the rise since December 12, 2017. Diesel in Delhi on that day was priced at Rs 58.34, and in past one month has risen by Rs 3.4. Petrol price has risen by Rs 2.09 during the same period, according to oil companies.

    Two of the most traded benchmark crude globally have risen the most since December 2014 - Brent touched USD 70.05 a barrel last week and WTI reached USD 64.77.

    The rally in oil prices has renewed calls to the government to cut excise duty to cushion the burden on common man. The BJP-led NDA government has cut excise duty only once during its tenure - by Rs 2 per litre in October 2017 when petrol price had reached Rs 70.88 per litre in Delhi and diesel was priced at Rs 59.14. Because of the excise duty cut, diesel prices had come down to Rs 56.89 and petrol to Rs 68.38 on October 4, 2017.

    However, subsequent rally has wiped away all the gains and prices have touched new highs.

    Last week, Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan responded to questions on whether the Centre would cut excise duty on the two fuels, by asking states to first cut VAT. "Why dont you ask state governments to reduce first," he said on January 1 while responding to reporters question on excise duty cuts. "Government of India reduced excise duty (in October last year). We are appealing to states to reduce VAT."

    Some state governments had followed that excise duty cut with reduction in VAT. "Why Delhi government has not reduced VAT," he asked. Price of petrol and diesel in Delhi is the lowest in all metros.

    Pradhan had said that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has already written to the states seeking reduction in VAT.

    The October 2017 excise duty cut cost the government Rs 26,000 crore in annual revenue and about Rs 13,000 crore during the remaining part of the current fiscal year that ends on March 31, 2018.

    The government had between November 2014 and January 2016 raised excise duty on petrol and diesel on nine occasions to take away gains arising from plummeting global oil prices.

    In all, duty on petrol was hiked by Rs 11.77 per litre and that on diesel by 13.47 a litre in those 15 months that helped government's excise mop-up more than double to Rs 242,000 crore in 2016-17 from Rs 99,000 crore in 2014-15.

    State-owned oil companies in June last year dumped the 15-year old practice of revising rates on 1st and 16th of every month and instead adopted a dynamic daily price revision to instantly reflect changes in cost. Rates during the first fortnight starting June 16 dropped but have been on the rise since July 4.

    Since then prices are revised on daily basis. Today, price of petrol went up by 12 paisa per litre and that of diesel by 18 paisa.

Telecom loses 40,000 jobs since 2017, may cull 50,000 more: Report
  • Faced with uncertainty, the once-sunshine telecom sector will continue to witness decline in headcounts for the next six-nine months, taking the total number of job losses to 80,000-90,000, says a report.

    The sector, which has been witnessing rough weather in terms of profitability due to rising competition and lower margins, has witnessed large scale lay-offs making job scenario uncertain, said a CIEL HR Services in a report today.

    The report is based on a survey among around 100 senior and mid-level employees of 65 telecom and software and hardware service providers to telecom companies.

    According to the report, since last year the sector has already lost around 40,000 people and the trend is likely to continue for the next six-nine months and may see the culling touching 80,000-90,000.

    "The attrition rate is like to remain high at least for the next two-three quarters and the sector is likely to reduce around 80,000-90,000 people," the Bengaluru-based company's chief executive Aditya Narayan Mishra told PTI.

    He said, employees worried over the uncertainties about their career with their present employer and the increased levels of anxieties are contributing to speculation.

    High cost of loan servicing, aggressive competition for market share, uncertainty of mergers among others have been hindering further investment by telcos resulting in layoffs, the report said.

    Further, the report said, salary hikes have been muted compared to other sectors and about 69 per cent got annual salary hike of 7 per cent, while almost one-third of them received less than 5 per cent hike, it added.

    The report also revealed that most people leaving their telecom jobs are seeking opportunities utside the sector. "This trend highlights the fact that the sector is not recruiting unless it is a critical need that has to be filled by external talent," it added.

    "The telecom industry has lost its lustre and this negative sentiment is failing to attract any talent into the sector. The vacant seats continue to remain vacant with no fresh applications," Mishra said.

    The report estimates that 25 per cent of people leave or lose their jobs in the telecom sector without having another at hand. However, 69 per cent feel that them can find employment in other sectors.

    This points to the fact that skilled employees are quick to find jobs in other sectors, hence, the sector has to put additional measures to retain their top talent.

    Going forward, Mishra said, the sector will begin to recruit, which will be mostly be freshers from campuses.

    "Except for a few critical positions, we expect telcos to hire freshers. However, there is likely to be 25 per cent reverse movement mostly comprising those who had gone into consulting or not with any employment," he added.

General Awareness

Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.
Rashtriya Sanskriti Mahotsav-2018

  • Context: To celebrate the idea of unity in diversity, the Ministry of Culture is organising the 7th edition of the Rashtriya Sanskriti Mahotsav.

    The Mahotsav will cover a profusion of art forms from classical and folk, music and dance, theatre to literature and the visual arts and would offer the chance to experience the best in established and emerging virtuosity. A handloom and handicrafts-utsav is part of the proposed event. The gastronomic culture of several partnering states will be showcased through a food festival.

    Facts for Prelims:

    The Ministry of Culture is organising the event under the Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat matrix.
    The event will be held in Karnataka. The State paired with Karnataka is Uttarakhand.

    Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat:

    The Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat programme was launched by the Prime Minister on 31st October, 2016 to promote engagement amongst the people of different states/UTs so as to enhance mutual understanding and bonding between people of diverse cultures, thereby securing stronger unity and integrity of India.

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