This Also Happened: A Lokmarg Roundup

Bhutan King on India visit: Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, accompanied by Queen Jetsun Pema Wangchuk and Prince Jigme Namgyal Wangchuk, arrived on a four-day visit to India. On Wednesday, the King will meet President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will host a dinner in honour of the royal family. The foreign ministry said the visit would provide an opportunity to review the entire gamut of bilateral cooperation, including plans for celebrating in 2018 the golden jubilee of the establishment of diplomatic ties, and to advance bilateral relations of friendship and cooperation.

Five killed in Kabul blast: At least five persons were killed and many others injured when an explosion ripped through Kabul’s heavily-fortified diplomatic area on Tuesday. The blast took place in Wazir Akbar Khan area. A terrified witness told Xinhua news agency that he saw more than a dozen people, mostly civilians, lying on the street, bleeding.
No Chouhan in Vyapam chargesheet: The CBI has filed a chargesheet against 490 persons in the multi-crore Vyapam examination scam that broke out in Madhya Pradesh in 2013, while giving a clean chit to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The bureau told a special judge in Bhopal that there was no tampering with a hard disk drive seized by the Madhya Pradesh Police in the case, dismissing an allegation by senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh on this count.
Sonia attacks Modi over intolerance: Congress President Sonia Gandhi attacked the Narendra Modi government over “rising intolerance”, saying that a discriminatory view of Indianness was being thrust upon the people and that the country’s heritage was in the hands of “those rewriting history, imposing falsehood and unscientific ideas”. In a speech read out by her son Rahul Gandhi at a function in which the 30th Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration was conferred on Carnatic musician T.M. Krishna, Sonia Gandhi said, “We must be undaunted, unafraid, and uncompromising against the forces of darkness that seek to engulf our land.”
Court sets aside Praful election as AIFF chief: The Delhi High Court has set aside the election of Praful Patel as president of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and asked for fresh polls within five months. A bench headed Justice Ravindra Bhat also appointed former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi the AIFF administrator.The court, while scrapping the election of the AIFF’s executive members, said that election was conducted without following the National Sports Code.
No Brahmaputra tunnel, says China: China has  rejected a media report that Beijing is planning to build a 1,000-km tunnel to divert the Brahmaputra waters. “This is untrue. This is a false report,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said. “China will continue to attach great importance to the cross-border river cooperation,” she added.
200 die in mishap at N Korea nuclear site: As many as 200 North Korean labourers were killed after a mine shaft being dug at a nuclear test site collapsed, the media reported. The Telegraph quoted sources in North Korea saying that a tunnel being excavated by around 100 workers at the Punggye-ri test site crashed in early October. An additional 100 labourers sent to rescue their colleagues were reportedly killed when the tunnel suffered a second collapse, according to Japan’s Asahi TV.
Fiscal deficit at 91% of 2017-18 target:  The Indian budgetary fiscal deficit over the first half of the current financial year — at Rs 4.99 lakh crore – stood at 91.3 per cent of the full year’s target of Rs 5.46 lakh crore, official data showed here on Tuesday. The data furnished by the Comptroller General of Accounts (CGA) showed that April-September fiscal deficit was 83.9 per cent of the budget in the like period of the last fiscal.
(IANS)   // ]]>

Barron's wants Raghuram Rajan to head US Fed

Former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan will be an apt pick to head the US Federal Reserve, global financial magazine Barron’s has said. “If sports teams can recruit the best talent from around the globe, why not central banks?” an article in Barron’s magazine asked, as it pitched for Rajan as the next chairman of the American central bank. US President Donald Trump is expected to soon announce a successor to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, whose term will end early next year. “Nowhere on the short list of potential candidates to lead the Federal Reserve is the current star among the world’s central bankers — someone who oversaw a sharp drop in inflation, the stabilization of a currency and a 50 per cent jump in stock prices,” the article stated. “Perhaps more important, his was a lonely but prescient voice warning of a financial crisis resulting from excessive risk-taking in credit derivatives-years before it hit.” There are precedents for central banks to be headed by non-citizens such as Canadian-born Mark Carney at the Bank of England, the article said. It said “nobody is touting Rajan for a Fed post although he had been mentioned as possible Nobel laureate in economics”. In 2013, Rajan became the RBI head at a time when the rupee was sliding and prices were soaring. Despite his success in crushing the double-digit inflation, he did not get a second term. He also warned against Modi’s demonetisation plan late last year when much of the nation’s currency was withdrawn from circulation as an anti-corruption measure. Now Rajan is back at the Booth School of the University of Chicago where he had taught until 2003, when he became the youngest chief economist and director of research at the International Monetary Fund and the first non-Westerner to hold the post. He also predicted a financial crisis at an annual gathering of economists and bankers in the US in 2005.

(IANS)   // ]]>

India in top 100 of 'Ease of Doing Business' ranks

It has never been easier to do business in India. India welcomes the world to explore economic opportunities our nation has to offer!

— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 31, 2017 “India has moved to 100th rank as a result of a number of reforms by the government. India is moving ahead in absolute ranking as well,” Annette Dixon, Vice President, South Asia region, told reporters earlier in the day. It will be only over a period of 1-3 years that the full impact of GST reform on ease of doing business can be assessed, she added. The report captures reforms implemented in 190 countries between the period June 2, 2016 to June 1, 2017.

Getting into Top 50 within reach: Jaitley

Getting into the top 50 countries is a distinct possibility over the short term, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Tuesday. “We jumped over 30 places in three years, and as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said about setting a target to get among the top 50… I believe it is eminently doable,” Jaitley told reporters here following the release of World Bank Group’s latest report ‘Doing Business 2018: Reforming to Create Jobs’. “In 2014, we were ranked 142, and in the last two years India has gone from 131 to 130,” he said. “This is the highest jump any country has made in the ease of doing business rankings and is significant for India for our efforts on the 10 rankings’ criteria,” Jaitley said. “These 10 parameters are so tough that you don’t get credit for the reforms introduced till you actually see their results on the ground,” he said, adding that the World Bank’s cut-off date for considering performance is June of every year. Listing the areas which had boosted India’s ranking, Jaitley said that on “protection of minority investors” India had come up to fourth place on account of reforms like bringing in the Companies Act and setting up of the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).  The report recognises India as one of the top 10 improvers in this year’s assessment, though the report does not take into account the Goods and Services Tax (GST) rolled out on July 1. “The biggest jump comes in the area of taxation reforms where we were ranked 172 last year and have moved up 53 places to be at 119 this year,” Jaitley said, adding that India can hope to get credit for GST in the rankings for “subsequent years”. “India made paying of taxes easier by requiring that payments are made electronically to the Employees Provident Fund and introducing a set of administrative measures for easing compliance with corporate income tax,” the report said. “India, with eight reforms, was one of this year’s top 10 improvers worldwide and the leading regional performer. This is the first year that India is in the top 100 economies globally,” it added. The Finance Minister noted that both on “ease of getting credit” and “electricity connections” India has come up to the 29th position this year. “On resolving insolvency, we were 136… then we brought in the Bankruptcy Code and now we have climbed 33 places to 103rd position,” he said.
“India has moved to 100th position as a result of a number of reforms by the government. India is moving ahead in absolute ranking as well,” Annette Dixon, Vice President, South Asia region, World Bank, told reporters earlier in the day. “India made paying taxes easier by requiring that payments are made electronically to the Employees Provident Fund and introducing a set of administrative measures easing compliance with corporate income tax,” the report stated. The report noted that India has adopted 37 reforms since 2003 with nearly half of these reforms having been implemented in the last four years. “India, with eight reforms, was one of this year’s top ten improvers worldwide and the leading regional performer. This is the first year that India is in the top 100 economies globally,” it said. “India is the only large country this year to have achieved such a significant shift. India’s score went from 56.05 in doing business to 60.76. This means last year India improved its business regulations in absolute terms – indicating that the country is continuing its steady shift towards best practice in business regulation,” the World Bank said in a statement. Dixon said, “Having embarked on a strong reform agenda to improve the business improvement, the significant jump this year is a result of the Indian government’s consistent efforts over the past few years. It indicates India’s endeavour to further strengthen its position as a preferred place to do business globally.” This year, the indicators on which reforms were implemented in Delhi and Mumbai, the two cities covered by the report are: starting business, dealing with construction permits, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency. “India performs well in the areas of protecting minority investors, getting credit and getting electricity. The country’s corporate law and securities regulations have been recognised as highly advanced, placing India in 4th place in the global ranking on protecting minority investors,” it said. The time to obtain an electricity connection in Delhi has dropped from 138 days four years ago to 45 days now, almost 20 days less than the 78 days average in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) high-income economies. While there has been substantial progress, India still lags in areas such as starting a business, enforcing contracts and dealing with construction permits, the report notes. The time taken to enforce a contract is longer at 1,445 days than it was 15 years ago. In starting a business, India has reduced the time needed to register a new business to 30 days now, from 127 days 15 years ago. However, the number of procedures is still cumbersome for local entrepreneurs who still need to go through 12 procedures to start a business in Mumbai. “Tackling these challenging reforms will be the key to India sustaining the momentum towards a higher ranking. To secure changes in the remaining areas will require not just new laws and online systems but deepening the ongoing investment in the capacity of states and their institutions to implement change and transform the framework of incentives and regulation facing the private sector,” Junaid Ahmand, Country Director India, World Bank said. Commenting on the World Bank’s report, Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), said, “The huge improvement in ranking and score will immediately boost investor sentiments. The latest report validates the commitment of the government to fast-tracking economic reforms, addressing red tapism and facilitating business. The surge in ranking by as much as 30 places is an outcome of key reforms including digitisation of processes, enhancing tax payment and access to credit. “It is a matter of great pride that India has been named as among the top ten reforming economies in 2016-17 with as many as eight reform areas out of ten. In fact, India is well on its way to emerge as a global leader in protecting minority interests and is currently ranked 4th in the world.” Banerjee, however, rued that one of the most important reforms — GST — has not been considered in this year’s report owing to cut off date. “CII is confident that on the back of GST and other reforms that are planned, India would see an equally impressive improvement next year. It is not too distant in the future that India would break into the league of top 50 countries,” he added. (IANS) // ]]>

All you wanted to know about Aadhaar

What is Aadhaar? Aadhaar, which means foundation or basis, is the name for unique identification numbers (UID) issued by a statutory body to every resident of India. The objective of Aadhaar is to create an easy, cost-effective proof of identity that is hard to duplicate and eliminates fake identities. It proves identity, not citizenship. Aadhaar is issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). The UIDAI was created by a notification of the Planning Commission on January 28, 2009. The UIDAI got statutory backing when the Aadhar Act was passed by Parliament in 2016, though even that has been legally challenged.

Why is it needed?

Multiple government-issued documents proving identity—ration card, driving licence, passport, Permanent Account Number (PAN)-had led to a situation where duplication and forgery had become common. More importantly, and the primary reason for Aadhaar, the long road to beneficiaries of government subsidies and services was beset with corruption and leakage. One of the government’s major missions is the JAM plan for financial inclusion of the masses: linking millions of zero-balance Jan Dhan accounts that have been opened for the poor with Aadhaar numbers and Mobile numbers so as to effect direct transfers of subsidies and benefits. Over the years, Aadhaar has become linked with scores of government schemes, including LPG subsidy and mid-day meals for children in government schools. In 2009, Aadhaar was thus envisaged as a tamper-proof unique identity for every resident, the biometric component of the enrolment—iris  and fingerprint scans—making it unique and solid. Aadhaar now covers 99 per cent of the Indian population, and is the largest and most sophisticated programme of its kind in the world.

 So what’s the problem?

The Aadhaar initiative has three major problem areas, and these are the major issues that will now be resolved by the Supreme Court :
  1. Compulsory nature: Why must there be a mandatory scheme for the government to fulfil its statutory and social responsibilities?
  2. Privacy and threat of surveillance: The linkage of Aadhaar to bank accounts, mobile numbers, income tax filings among a host of other government services and schemes raises the issue of violation of privacy and surveillance of individuals. In other words, if the government has its way, everything an India resident does can be known to those with access to the UIDAI database. The potential for misuse is huge.
  3. Data theft concerns: What if the repository of all things Aadhaar is hacked? In the information age, data is the new currency, and such incredibly detailed and authentic personal data a goldmine. What if the private firms involved in the data collection leak it, or worse, sell it?
Other issues pertain to linkage of Aadhaar with PAN, upheld recently by the Supreme Court with some relaxation for those yet to get Aadhaar, and the challenge to the Aadhaar Act being passed as a money bill, which is a matter with the apex court now.

What’s happening in the Supreme Court?

A number of petitions have been filed against the Aadhaar scheme and now the law since 2014. These pleas, 22 of them, have been bundled into one case which will now be heard by a Constitution Bench, starting later in November. The Aadhaar petitions say the use of biometric information is a violation of physical and informational privacy, that Aadhaar’s mandatory nature restricts the freedom of citizens, and that the law backing the scheme is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has delivered judgements and made observations on some aspects of Aadhaar in recent years. Here are some of the key ones: September 23, 2013: In an interim order, the Supreme Court says the Aadhaar numbers cannot be made mandatory for availing the benefits of government services and subsidies. August 11, 2015: A three-judge bench says Aadhaar enrolment must be voluntary, restricts its use to only Public Distribution System (price-controlled rations) and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (cooking gas) distribution. September 14, 2016: Restraining the Centre from making Aadhaar number a mandatory requirement for the purpose of grant of scholarships, Supreme Court reiterates that Aadhaar could not be made a mandatory condition for any government scheme. June 9, 2017: The Supreme Court upholds the validity of an Income Tax law amendment linking PAN with Aadhaar for filing tax returns and making Aadhaar or Aadhaar enrolment slip compulsory to apply for a Permanent Account Number (PAN) card. It does, however, issue a ‘partial stay’ on a proviso which mandates that those who do not link Aadhaar with PAN by July 1 would invite automatic invalidation of their PAN. June 27, 2017: The Supreme Court refuses to pass an interim order against a Central government notification making Aadhaar mandatory for availing benefits of various social welfare schemes. August 24, 2017: The Supreme Court rules that the right to privacy is a fundamental right under the Constitution. A nine-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice J.S. Khehar rules that “right to privacy is an intrinsic part of Right to Life and Personal Liberty under Article 21 and entire Part III of the Constitution”. The government will now have to convince the court that the right to privacy is limited only by fair, just and reasonable “procedure established by law”.

Read at Lokmarg

Constitution Bench to hear Aadhaar petitions

How many government schemes are linked to Aadhaar now?

Well over a hundred at last count, though the rush to link Aadhaar with services and government schemes is on hold now that the apex court is dealing with it. Aadhaar is needed or linked to:
  1. Proof of identity to obtain documents and services like passport, driving licence, railway tickets and concessions, open bank accounts, getting a landline or mobile phone connection, obtaining insurance.
  2. To help clean up electoral rolls
  3. To file Income Tax returns
  4. Maintain a provident fund account, and to invest in mutual funds
  5. Digital payment platforms: Unified Payment Interface and BHIM app introduced by the government
  6. Direct transfers of subsidies to accounts of beneficiaries
No less than 92 Central government schemes run from 19 ministries are part of the direct benefit transfer mechanism (DBT), the first major Aadhaar initiative. These are:
  • PAHAL, the Hindi abbreviated name of the government scheme that directly transfers LPG subsidy to accounts of beneficiaries.
  • Cash transfer for food subsidies
  • Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, or MGNREGS, a social security measure that seeks to generate employment and provide the right to work.
  • List of Centrally sponsored schemes linked to Aadhaar:
  • Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme
  • Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme
  • Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme
  • Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme
  • Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna (Grameen)
  • BSR Doctoral Fellowship in Sciences
  • Dr. S. Radhakrishnan Post Doctoral Fellowship In Humanities
  • Emeritus Fellowship
  • Kothari Post Doctoral Fellowship in Sciences
  • National Research Professorship
  • Ishan Uday Scholarship Scheme for North Eastern Region
  • National Eligibility Test-Junior Research. Fellowship
  • P.G. Indira Gandhi Scholarship for Single Girl Child
  • P.G. Scholarship for Professional Courses for SC or ST candidates
  • P.G. Scholarship for University Rank Holders
  • PG Scholarship for GATE qualified PG Students
  • PMSSS for J and K Students admitted in rest of India
  • Post Doctoral.Fellowship for Women
  • Post- Doctoral Fellowship for SC or ST Candidates
  • Pragati Scholarship for girls Diploma Institutes
  • Pragati Scholarship for girls in Degree Colleges
  • QIP for faculty deputed for PhD studies at QIP centers
  • Saksham Scholarship for differently abled students of Degree College
  • Saksham scholarship for differently abled students of Diploma Institutes
  • Scholarship To Universities /College Students
  • Swami Vivekananda Single Girl Child Scholarship
  • Artistes Pension Scheme and Welfare Fund
  • Financial Assistance for the Cultural Function Grant Scheme
  • Financial Assistance for the development of Buddhist / Tibetan Organizations
  • Financial Assistance to Cultural Organization
  • International Cultural Relation
  • Production Grant
  • Repertory Grant Scheme
  • Scheme for the Award of Fellowship to outstanding persons in the field of Culture
  • Scheme for Scholarships to Young Artistes in different cultural fields
  • Tagore National Fellowship for Cultural Research
  • Maternity Benefit Programme
  • Inclusive Education for Disabled at Secondary Stage
  • National Means Cum Merit Scholarship
  • National Scheme For Incentive For The Girl Child For Secondary Education
  • Maulana Azad National Fellowship
  • Merit Cum Means Scholarship For Minorities
  • Post Matric Scholarship Scheme For Minorities
  • Pre Matric Scholarship Scheme For Minorities
  • Housing Subsidy To Beedi Workers
  • Housing Subsidy To Iron/Manganese/Chrome Ore Workers
  • Housing Subsidy To Lime Stone and Dolomite LSDM Workers
  • Rehabilitation Assistance
  • Scholarship To The Children of Lime Stone and Dolomite LSDM Workers
  • Scholarship To The Children of Beedi Workers
  • Scholarship To The Children of Cine Workers
  • Scholarship To The Children of Iron/Manganese/Chrome Ore Workers
  • Stipend to children in the special schools under the National Child Labour Project
  • Stipend to Differently Abled Candidates under Scheme of Vocational Rehabilitation Centre
  • Stipend To Trainees Under The Scheme Of Welfare Of SC/ST Job Seekers
  • Post-matric Scholarship for Persons with Disabilities
  • Pre-matric scholarship for Persons with disabilities
  • Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship for students
  • Scholarship for Top Class Education
  • Janani Suraksha Yojana
  • Aam Aadmi Bima Yojana
  • Life Insurance-linked with Jan Dhan Yojana
  • Assistance for procurement of modified scooter
  • Assistance for purchase of Tool Kits
  • Assistance for treatment of cancer and dialysis
  • Assistance for treatment of listed serious diseases
  • Interest subsidy on home loan upto max Rs 1 lakh
  • Prime Minister Scholarship Scheme
  // ]]>

Army to build three rail overbridges in Mumbai

My views on the illogical move to involve army to build the #Elphinstonebridge.

— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) October 31, 2017

“The army was to be a measure of last resort to be called upon in extreme emergency. Now it seems like it’s the 1st number on the speed dial,” said Abdullah.

Nirupam tweeted: “Calling Army to make a bridge in Mumbai underlines failure of corrupt Shiv Sena-BJP ruled BMC. Hope army will not be asked to fill potholes here.” Attacking the move, Nationalist Congress Party spokesperson Nawab Malik said the Indian Army must be given such responsibilities “only in dire emergencies”. Terming it an “endorsement of the abject failure” of the railway, which indicated that its not capable of building even FOBs and has to call in the army, he demanded the Railway Minister’s resignation. Rail Yatri Sangh National President Subhash Gupta termed the decision as “a slap in the face of railway engineers” and one which raised “serious question marks” over the capabilities of the massive engineering department. “It’s the duty of the railway engineering departments and their engineers to construct bridges on an ongoing basis throughout the year. If the government feels that army can do it faster, then the railways should start recruiting people from the armed forces,” he said. The proposal had been first mooted by Mumbai BJP President Ashish Shelar. Earlier, the Army helped construct a foot overbridge during the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games when an under-construction bridge outside Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the main venue for the event, collapsed days before the games were to start. The new bridge was built within five days. The Army was also involved in making pontoon bridges across the Yamuna last year when a World Culture Festival was organised on the flood plains of the river by the Art of Living group. Involving the Army for the private event was criticised by many. (IANS) // ]]>