Union Budget On Tuesday To Focus On Healthcare, Infra

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present the union budget for 2022-23 on Tuesday at a time when India’s economy is showing strong signs of recovery from the problems created by COVID-19 and the country has again emerged as among the fastest-growing economies in the world.

The budget, which will be presented at 11 am on Tuesday, will be paperless like the last year. The government is expected to announce measures to boost GDP growth and strengthen infrastructure.

The man on the street will keep a close eye on the proposals regarding income tax and the impact of announcements on prices of essential commodities. There has been no change in income tax slabs since 2014.

Some analysts believe that the Finance Minister may announce some relief to the taxpayers.

They said the basic exemption limit may be raised from the existing Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 3 lakh and for senior citizens, it may be increased to Rs 3.5 lakh. There could be changes in other slabs also.

According to a pre-budget survey conducted among different stakeholders by KPMG recently, the majority (64 per cent) of respondents expect an enhancement in the basic income tax exemption limit of Rs 2.5 lakh.

“Our pre-budget survey indicates that relief for individual taxpayers by way of an enhancement in the basic income tax exemption limit of Rs 2.5 lakh is highly awaited. Respondents also support an upward revision in the top income slab of Rs10 lakh,” said Rajeev Dimri, Partner and National Head of Tax, KPMG in India.

“Although the government has taken several measures to resolve tax disputes and overhaul the tax dispute resolution framework over the past few years, further measures in this regard may help in reducing litigation. Rationalization of TDS and TCS provisions to ease compliance burdens will also be welcome,” he added.

The government is expected to continue its focus on the healthcare sector that is in the forefront of the fight against the COVID pandemic.

Health professionals said that there is a need to further strengthen medical services in rural areas and equip tier 2-3 towns with facilities like diagnosis centres, ventilators, ICU, critical care facilities and oxygen plants.

Indian Medical Association President Sahajanand Prasad Singh said that the government should increase the allocation of GDP from 1.2 per cent to 3.3 per cent.

Speaking to ANI, Dr Suneeta Reddy, MD, Apollo Hospitals said, “The country should spend more on the healthcare system. Currently, we spend 1.15 per cent of our GDP on health care, but it needs to be 2.5 per cent soon. The Centre can also work with the private sector to be a part of this journey.”

Emphasizing research and development, Dr Reddy said the pandemic has shown the potential of India to become a global centre for drugs and vaccines. “Tax incentives should also be extended to R&D as this would encourage further innovation in healthcare.”

The realty sector is also pinning high hopes on the budget. Experts believe that the growth-oriented steps taken by the government have helped the reality sector regain momentum and more announcements in this direction can boost the market sentiment further.

For MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises), industry experts believe that steps should be taken to ensure hassle-free credit availability reduce the costs of doing business.

Pradeep Multani, President, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry

suggested extension in the timeline of the Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS) for another year till March 31, 2023.

He suggested a reduction in tax on MSME firms working as proprietorship/partnerships as it will benefit the entire MSME sector.

The chamber has suggested that export income should be made tax-free for MSMEs for three years and the income of large enterprises from incremental exports (Y-o-Y) be made tax-free.

The tourism sector is also hoping for relaxation in taxes from the Union Budget. The tourism industry is one of the most affected sectors due to COVID-19.

The government’s steps to boost exports and promote manufacturing in the country are expected to get continued attention in the budget.

The customary ‘halwa ceremony’ to mark the final stage of the budget-making exercise was not held this year due to COVID protocols. Instead, the union government distributed packed sweets among the core staff members involved in the budget-making.

The budget session of parliament is being held in two parts. The first part will continue till February 11 and the second part from March 14 to April 8. (ANI)

India To Export $400Bn Merchandise In 21-22: Economic Survey

India is well on track to achieve a merchandise export target of $400 billion in 2021-22 after the pandemic-induced slump of the previous year, with strong capital flows into India leading to a rapid accumulation of foreign exchange reserves, according to the Economic Survey 2021-22 released on Monday.

The annual survey report tabled in Parliament by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman noted that the resilience of India’s external sector during the current year augurs well for growth revival in the economy.

It, however, cautions that the downside risks of global liquidity tightening and continued volatility of global commodity prices, high freight costs, coupled with the fresh resurgence of COVID-19 with the new variants may pose a challenge for India during 2022-23.

The survey states that owing to the recovery of global demand coupled with a revival in domestic activity, India’s merchandise exports and imports rebounded strongly and surpassed pre-COVID levels during the current financial year.

The revival in exports was also helped by timely initiatives taken by the Government. The USA followed by the UAE and China remained the top export destinations in April-November, 2021, while China, the UAE and the USA were the largest import sources for India.

Despite weak tourism revenues, there was a significant pickup in net services receipts during April-December, 2021 on account of robust software and business earnings, with both receipts and payments crossing the pre-pandemic levels.

The Economic Survey notes that the first half of the calendar 2021 witnessed an acceleration in the global economic activity that lifted the merchandise trade above its pre-pandemic peaks.

It says that India’s merchandise exports have followed the global trend and during April – December 2021 the merchandise exports grew by 49.7 per cent, compared to the corresponding period of last year and 26.5 per cent over 2019-20 (April-December).

The survey mentions that India has already attained more than 75 per cent of its ambitious export target of $400 billion set for 2021-22, and is well on the track to achieve the target.

It says that sharp recovery in key markets, increased consumer spending, pent-up savings and disposable income due to the announcement of fiscal stimulus by major economies, and an aggressive export push by the Government have bolstered exports in 2021-22. \

The rise in exports has been broad-based. India’s agriculture exports continue to do well, with the export of agriculture and allied products growing by 23.2 per cent during April-November 2021 over the corresponding period of last year. The Survey recommends that a push in the direction of Free Trade Agreements would help provide the institutional arrangements for India’s exports diversification.

On the issue of merchandise imports, the Economic Survey states that India witnessed a revival in domestic demand resulting in strong import growth. Merchandise imports grew at the rate of 68.9 per cent in April-December, 2021 over the corresponding period of last year and 21.9 per cent over April-December 2019, crossing the pre-pandemic level.

The survey indicates that there has been increased diversification of India’s import sources as reflected in the reduction of China’s share to 15.5 per cent from 17.7 per cent in the April-November period. The Survey indicates that the merchandise trade deficit has increased to $142.4 billion in April-December 2021.

India has maintained its impressive performance in world services trade in the post-COVID-19 period, with services exports growing by 18.4 per cent to $177.7 billion during April-December 2021 for the corresponding period of last year. The Survey says that the strong growth witnessed in services exports may also be attributed to key reforms undertaken by the Government. Services imports rose by 21.5 per cent to $103.3 billion in April-December 2021.

The Economic Survey says that India’s current account balance turned into a deficit of 0.2 per cent of GDP in the first half of 2021-22, largely led by a deficit in the trade account. Net capital flows were higher at $65.6 billion in the first half of 2021-22, on account of continued inflow of foreign investment, revival in net external commercial borrowings (ECBs), higher banking capital and additional special drawing rights (SDR) allocation.

India’s external debt rose to $593.1 billion at the end of September 2021, from $556.8 billion a year earlier, reflecting additional SDR allocation by IMF, coupled with higher commercial borrowings. (ANI)

16 Airports To Be Built In 5 Central India States: Ministry

Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, while addressing the PM-Gati Shakti Conference virtually on Monday, informed that 16 new airports will be built in all five states of central India.

These five states include Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra. The Minister stressed on the need for better integration among all stakeholders, particularly States and UTs for the success of PM-Gati Shakti.

“An airport will be built at Rewa in Madhya Pradesh. Airports will also be built in Ambikapur, Bilaspur and Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh. Nine airports will be built in Uttar Pradesh, one in Rajasthan, and two in Maharashtra. National Highways of one lakh km will be widened under the PM-Gati Shakti,” he said.

Scindia also said that only 74 airports were built in the last 70 years, now 66 more airports have become functional in the last seven years and India has a total of 140 Airports as of date.

Addressing the PM-Gati Shakti Conference today, Scindia said, “The success of PM Gati Shakti will catalyse the multi-model connectivity in the country, leading to realising the vision of USD 5 trillion economies. Gati Shakti initiative will not only help in bringing more investment in the country but also help create great employment.”

The Union Minister said that many countries of the world including South Asian countries have focused on investment in the infrastructure sector in the last 70 years and all of them have become developed countries now.

Under the leadership of PM Modi, PM-Gati Shakti is a great initiative to make India a superpower of the world, with the prowess of the best infrastructure. In the earlier governments, there was no determination about the formulation and implementation of developmental schemes, but now the picture has changed, he added.

The Minister said that during the previous governments, whereas only one AIIMS was built in 10 years, now in the regime of the current government, 15 AIIMS have been built in the last seven years.

He further added the cargo capacity in the ports has increased from 1280 million metric tons to 1760 million metric tons during the period.

Further, he stressed that PM-Gati Shakti which will cost Rs 100 Lakh Crore, is indeed a campaign to transform India into a global superpower. (ANI)

Russia To Face Consequences If It Attacks Ukraine: Biden

The United States and its allies are ready to engage with Russia in good faith if the latter is sincere about addressing their security concerns, President Joe Biden said on Monday, adding, “If the country chooses to walk away from diplomacy and attack Ukraine, Moscow will face swift and severe consequences.”

In a White House statement on Monday, the US President informed that America presented in detail the full nature of Russia’s threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“And we made clear to the international community the full implications of that threat — not just for Ukraine, but for core tenets of the UN Charter and the modern international order,” he said.

“If Russia is sincere about addressing our respective security concerns through dialogue, the United States and our Allies and partners will continue to engage in good faith. If instead Russia chooses to walk away from diplomacy and attack Ukraine, Russia will bear the responsibility, and it will face swift and severe consequences,” Biden further said in the statement.

He said that the US and its allies continue to prepare for every scenario.

“The world must be clear-eyed about the actions Russia is threatening and ready to respond to the risks those actions present to all of us. Today’s Security Council meeting is a critical step in rallying the world to speak out in one voice: rejecting the use of force, calling for military de-escalation, supporting diplomacy as the best path forward, and demanding accountability from every member state to refrain from military aggression against its neighbours,” Biden said.

In recent developments, the head of states and governments of France, Germany, Ukraine and
Russia
met on January 26 in Paris under the Normandy format and called for an unconditional ceasefire in the Donbas region of Ukraine.

The officials reaffirmed that the Minsk agreements signed in 2014 are the basis of the work of the Normandy format, the four-party diplomatic group which was set up to resolve the conflict in the Donbas region.

The UNSC meeting on the Ukraine conflict was held today with Norway chairing the Security Council. (ANI)

Mamata Blocks Governor Dhankhar On Twitter, Says ‘Not His Servant’

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday blocked Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar on microblogging site Twitter alleging that the latter makes unethical and unconstitutional statements against the state administration.

Banerjee held a cabinet meeting at the state secretariat ‘Nabanna’ on Monday. Following the meeting, the chief minister said, “Every day, the Governor abuses my administration. Makes unethical and unconstitutional statements. We have to listen to him as if we are his servants. He treats the elected government as bonded labour. Today I blocked him. I am sorry but I was forced to do this. I had written to Prime Minister several times on this issue.”
“He calls my officers daily. From DMs, SPs to the chief secretary, he is threatening everyone. People of Bengal do not fear anyone and bow down heads. He should not interfere in policy decisions. Pegasus is happening from Raj Bhawan. The Pegasus is used by the Centre as well as the Raj Bhawan,” she added.

Meanwhile, West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar hit back at chief minister Banerjee saying that dialogue amongst constitutional functionaries is the essence and spirit of democracy and mandate of the constitution.

Taking to Twitter, the Governor said, “Under Article 167 it is Constitution ‘duty’ of the Chief Minister to furnish such information relating to the administration of the affairs of the State and proposals for legislation as the Governor may call for. Why ‘block’ information to Governor now for two years?”

Referring to constitutional provisions, the Governor said Article 159 of the Constitution mandates to ensure none in the state “blocks” Constitutional Norms and Rules of Law and those in authority “bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India.”

Dhankhar also shared his WhatsApp message to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sent on Monday morning.

“Dialogue and harmony amongst constitutional functionaries is essence and spirit of democracy and mandate of the constitution. This can blossom with mutual regard and respect. There has been all through highest personal regard for you from my side. Am sure this will receive your thoughtful consideration. Regards,” reads the message.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar are at loggerheads after the latter took office. The chief minister had several times alleged that the Governor makes statements in political interest and interferes in the business of State government. Governor Dhankhar on other hand accused the state government of mishandling the law and order situation. (ANI)

Indian Coast Guard To Celebrate Its 46th Raising Day On Tuesday

Indian Coast Guard (ICG) will celebrate its 46th Raising Day on Tuesday.

As per a press release from the Ministry of Defence, from just seven surface platforms in 1978, the ICG has grown into a formidable force with 158 ships and 70 aircraft in its inventory and is likely to achieve targeted force levels of 200 surface platforms and 80 aircraft by 2025.
As the fourth largest Coast Guard in the world, it has played a significant role in securing the Indian coasts and enforcing regulations in the maritime zones of India.

The ICG has saved over 1,200 lives at sea in the last year and more than 11,000 since its inception. It has also rescued approximately 13,000 personnel to date during various ‘Aid to Civil Authority’ operations viz. assistance provided to civil authorities during floods, cyclones and other natural calamities; most recently during the recent floods in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa, added the release.

Despite the restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ICG maintains round-the-clock vigil in the Exclusive Economic Zone by deploying about 50 ships and 12 aircraft daily.

One of the primary duties of the Indian Coast Guard is the prevention of smuggling through maritime routes in its area of responsibility. In the last one year, it has seized drugs and contraband worth nearly Rs 4,000 crore. Around Rs 12,000 crore of drugs and contraband have been seized by the ICG since its inception.

As per the release, the ICG has, so far, apprehended more than 13,000 crew and over 1,500 boats involved in illegal activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone. Forty foreign crew and seven boats were apprehended by the ICG in 2021. It is also collaborating with littoral countries to combat transnational maritime crimes and enhance maritime safety in its area of responsibility and in the Indian Ocean Region.

In line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of ‘SAGAR’ – Security and Growth for all in the Region & ‘Neighbourhood First’, the Indian Coast Guard has nurtured professional relationships across oceans and established ties with countries in the Indian Ocean Region for Ocean Peacekeeping.

The ICG has successfully averted major ecological disasters and emerged as the ‘First Responder’ in the region by undertaking major fire-fighting and pollution response operations off the Sri Lanka coast, the most recent being ‘Sagar Aaraksha-II’ onboard Chemical carrier MV X-Press Pearl, the release added.

The Indian Coast Guard also conducted National Maritime Search & Rescue Board meeting to harmonise the maritime and civil aviation search & rescue (SAR) mechanism. It is also working in close coordination with Central and State agencies to put in place a robust coastal security mechanism. The ICG’s reach was demonstrated during the flag hoisting on 100 inhabited & uninhabited far-flung islands as part of the ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ celebration on August 15, 2021.

The ICG has been a pioneer in inducting indigenous assets which have enabled it to remain operationally active and responsive throughout the year. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, it has added five new-generation ships and eight Advanced Light Helicopters to its fleet in the last one year, which are fine examples of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ and ‘Make in India’ envisioned by the Prime Minister.

The President, Vice President, Prime Minister and Union Defence Minister congratulated the Indian Coast Guard for its yeoman service to the nation, appreciating the remarkable role played by the service in securing the nation’s interests in the maritime zones. (ANI)

COVID-19: Online Education To Continue In Gujarat Till Feb 5

The Gujarat government on Monday directed that the online education will continue for classes 1 to 9 in the state till next February 5.

State government spokesperson and Education Minister Jitu Vaghani while explaining this decision of the Core Committee, said that “only online education will continue for classes of 1 to 9 in the state till next February 5.”
The decision was taken after a comprehensive review of coronavirus transition status, which expires today.

“The state government will review the situation on February 5 and take appropriate decisions regarding classroom teaching in schools,” Vaghani said. (ANI)

Govt: No Legislative Agenda In RS In First Half Of Budget Session

Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu on Monday held a virtual meeting with the floor leaders of 15 political parties.

According to sources, Naidu stated that during the ten sittings in the first part of the Budget Session till February 11, only 23 hours of time will be available for business other than Zero Hour, Question Hour and Private Members’ Business.
“Discussion on Motion of Thanks to the President for his address to members of both the Houses today and discussion on Union Budget 2022-23 to be presented tomorrow will get priority during the first part of the session,” sources said.

He informed the leaders that these two major items of business took a total time of over 26 hours during the last budget session and 23 hours time is available for the same in the first part of this budget session.

Leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha, Piyush Goyal informed the members that due to the time constraint, there would be no legislative business in this part of the session.

Many leaders mentioned the same priorities for the first part of this budget session and called for a disruption-free session.

The meeting of the Rajya Sabha’s Business Advisory Committee would take place tomorrow after the presentation of the Union Budget to allocate time for the two discussions that would take place in this first part of the Budget Session.

Meanwhile, Opposition party Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Prasanna Acharya urged all parties and members of respective parties not to disrupt Zero Hour and Question Hour since Chairman Naidu has been endeavouring to give opportunities to as many members as possible thereby enabling wider participation of members of Rajya Sabha.

Stating that Rajya Sabha loses an hour per each sitting due to the staggered sitting of both Houses, Naidu said, “The Budget session provides guidance to help the national economy recover from the impact of COVID pandemic over the last two years which continues with the third wave.”

“I earnestly appeal to all the leaders to enable a productive budget session by urging members of respective parties so as to make meaningful contributions for economic recovery and all-around development at this hour of challenge,” he added.

The Upper House has been at the centre of disruption in the last two sessions including the Monsoon and the Winter Session of Parliament in 2021.

In last year’s Winter Sessions, 12 members of the Opposition were suspended for the entire session for unruly behaviour during last year’s Monsoon Session. The Opposition united and had refused to participate in a major part of the proceedings in the last session in protest.

Today’s meeting was attended by Anand Sharma, Bhupendra Yadav, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Derek O’Brien, Tiruchi Siva, Prasanna Acharya, Premchand Gupta, Dr K Kesava Rao, Ramnath Thakur, Praful Patel, Vijayasai Reddy, Kanakamedala, Ravindra Kumar, Birendra Prasad Baishya and Abdul Wahab. (ANI)

Sexual Assault Case: SC Judge Recuses From Hearing Tarun Tejpal’s Plea

Supreme Court judge, Justice UU Lalit on Monday recused himself from hearing an appeal filed by former Editor-in-Chief of Tehelka magazine Tarun Tejpal challenging the order of the Bombay High Court at Goa which has rejected his application for in-camera hearing in the 2013 sexual assault case.

The matter was listed for hearing today before a bench headed by Justice Lalit.
“Justice Lalit is not going to hear the matter”, said Justice PS Narasimha. The Bench also comprised Justice S Ravindra Bhat.

Earlier Justice L Nageswara Rao had recused himself from hearing the case saying that he had appeared in 2015 as the counsel for the state of Goa in the case.

Tejpal in his appeal has sought an in-camera hearing of the appeal filed by the state of Goa against his acquittal in the sexual assault case.

A trial court in Goa on May 21, 2021 had acquitted Tejpal of all charges levelled against him including wrongful confinement, assault or criminal force with intent to outrage modesty, sexual harassment and rape against his female colleague.

After the Goa police filed an appeal against Tejpal’s acquittal, he moved the High Court with an application seeking an in-camera hearing of the matter. The High Court had rejected his plea.

Tejpal was accused of sexually assaulting a then colleague in an elevator of a hotel in Goa on November 7, 2013, and November 8, 2013. On May 21 last year, a trial court acquitted him of all charges. (ANI)

Priyanka Begins Door-To-Door Campaign In Noida

Hitting the ground for the first time in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh since the imposition of ban on physical rallies, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Monday kickstarted her door-to-door campaign in the Noida Assembly constituency from city’s Kali Mata Mandir and said that the party candidate Pankuri Pathak will defeat sitting MLA Pankaj Singh, son of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

Priyanka Gandhi beginning her campaign with the temple in Noida is seen as a direct competition to the BJP as the latter has fielded Singh once again from the constituency.
The temple is located at Sector 26 in Noida and is said to be 40-years-old with more than 2,500 listed members. There are more than three lakh Bengali-speaking voters in the constituency, it is likely that to get her message across to the lakhs of Bengali voters in the city, the Congress leader began by offering prayers in the temple and then kick-started her campaign.

Speaking to ANI, during her campaign for Pathak in the city, Priyanka Gandhi termed the Congress candidate “daughter of the city” and expressed confidence in her defeating son of the Defence Minister.

“Yes, I went to the temple, spoke to the people. Congress has fielded Pankhuri Pathak in this election. She is a daughter of the city who is connected with the people. Sitting MLA Pankaj Singh is never seen in his constituency. Only his posters are seen. There are problems in front of the people and Congress wants to solve them. Pankhuri Pathak will defeat sitting MLA Pankaj Singh in the elections,” she said.

Congress has repeatedly raised the issue of unemployment in the state and surrounded the Yogi Adityanath government on the matter.

Highlighting the issue once again, Priyanka Gandhi reiterated that Congress is reaching out to the youth and telling them how the party, once comes to power, will give them employment.

“Giving employment to the youth is the biggest issue. Congress is reaching out to the youth and telling them how we can give them employment,” she said.

The Congress general secretary also hit out at Yogi Adityanath for his 80 versus 20 remark and said that only the politicians benefit from such remarks.

“BJP talks about 80 versus 20 per cent. Such slogans only benefit the political parties and politicians. The people are not benefitted from these slogans. Therefore, the Congress party is in the electoral fray with the help of a manifesto based on youth,” she said.