Jaitley’s dig at Sinha: Don’t have luxury of being a former FM-turned-columnist

Without naming either of them, Jaitley hinted that Sinha and former UPA finance minister P Chidamabram have decided to act in concert and then dug up a few comments the two had exchanged about each other over the years.

A day after former finance minister Yashwant Sinha accused him of making a mess of the economy in a newspaper column, incumbent finance minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday said that he doesn’t have the “luxury of being a former FM-turned-columnist”.

“(Had I been a former FM) I can conveniently forget a policy paralysis (during UPA-II). I can conveniently forget the 15 per cent NPAs of 1998 and 2002 (during Sinha’s term as finance minister). I can conveniently forget the USD 4 billion reserve left in 1991 and I can switch over and change the narrative,” he said.

Without naming either of them, Jaitley hinted that Sinha and senior Congress leader and former UPA finance minister P Chidamabram have decided to act in concert and then dug up a few comments the two had exchanged about each other over the years.

“Acting in tandem itself won’t change the facts,” he said.

Sinha was then quoted by Jaitley as saying that Chidambaram had run the Indian economy to the ground, while the latter was quoted as saying that Sinha’s performance as finance minister was one of the worst in history and his then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was forced to replace him eventually.

“Probably, a more appropriate title for the book would have been ‘India @70, Modi @3.5 and a job applicant @ 80,” the FM said referring to Sinha while speaking at the release of a book titled ‘India @70 Modi @3.5′, co-authored by Bibek Debroy.

Speaking about the achievements of the current BJP government, Jaitley said that its approach towards decision making has ensured there is no policy paralysis any more. He added the government has opened up the Indian economy step by step and has smoothed the entry of foreign direct investment.

“India has shown bold leadership… our leadership doesn’t shiver in taking tough decisions, ” Jaitley said.

The finance minister also said that the current government brought the country’s current account deficit and fiscal deficit down during its tenure and has also managed to rein in the rupee, adding that conducting business has now become easier in the country because multiple approvals and lengthy permission processes no longer exist.

In response to Sinha’s criticism about the demonetisation exercise, the finance minister said that the move was intended to change the anonymous nature of money in India, apart from bringing a larger populace under the tax net and digitizing payments across the system.

Furthermore, Jaitley iterated the effect of strong action taken under the Benami property law, saying it is sending out its own signals.

“Our government provided an opportunity to people to come clean about their accounts held abroad. Direct tax figures are 15.7 percent over and above last year’s figure, so this so-called ‘slow down’ visualised by some, hasn’t even impacted,” Jaitley said.

On the subject of GST, Jaitley said that he had never put anything to vote in the GST council despite having the numbers, adding that the finance ministers of 2 Congress-led states had told him not to blink on the GST issue. He also said that he had not expected states to reach the break-even point 2-3 months into the new GST regime.

Rail ministry may tweak flexi fare scheme: Minister

“People have brought to my notice the issue of the flexi fare scheme. It could be made better in a way that it does not hurt people’s (pockets) and also meets the revenue target,” Goyal told reporters.

Railways minister Piyush Goyal on Thursday said the flexi fare scheme of the Railways, which helped it earn an additional Rs 540 crore in less than a year, may be amended to ensure that it brings in revenues without taxing passengers.

“People have brought to my notice the issue of the flexi fare scheme. It could be made better in a way that it does not hurt people’s (pockets) and also meets the revenue target,” Goyal told reporters.

He was responding to question on whether he had reviewed the flexi fare scheme after taking charge of the ministry earlier this month.

Asked if there could be any amendments to the scheme, Goyal said, “There is a possibility of making some change”.

The scheme, launched on September 9 last year and applicable to premium trains such as the Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto, allows 10 percent of the seats to be sold at normal fare and thereafter increasing it in phases by 10 percent with every 10 percent of berths sold, with a ceiling of a 50 percent rise.

The Railways earned an additional revenue of Rs 540 crore from September 2016 to June 2017 through the scheme, its data show.

The minister said the railways was also working to ensure efficient and faster services.

“It is proposed to increase the speed of around 700 trains with effect from November 1, 2017. This exercise will help in converting 48 Mail Express trains to the Super Fast Express category,” he said.

He said all stations and trains will have high-speed wi-fi connectivity, but did not specify when this would be implemented.

To ensure transparency, all Railway Protection Force (RPF) staff and Travel Ticket Examiners (TTEs) will be in proper uniform while on duty, Goyal said.

The RPF staff will not check tickets, which is the function of the TTEs, but they will assist ticket checking squads, he said.

He added that India’s space research body, ISRO, had offered to map all railway assets.

“We also plan to eliminate 5,000 unmanned level crossings in a time-bound manner,” Goyal added.

Govt extends deadline for obtaining Aadhaar for govt schemes to December 31

The Centre on Wednesday extended the deadline for obtaining Aadhaar for availing government schemes and subsidies by three months to December 31.

The extension is, however, only for those who are yet to apply of Aadhaar, an order issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said.

As many as 135 schemes (of 35 ministries) including the free cooking gas (LPG) to poor women, kerosene and fertiliser subsidy, targeted public distribution system (PDS) and MGNREGA will be covered by the extension.

The government had previously made quoting of Aadhaar necessary for availing government benefits and subsidies like those on cooking gas LPG. Those who did not have Aadhaar were asked to procure the unique identification number by September 30.

This deadline has now been extended till December 31, the order said.

“As a result of the review of welfare schemes covered and to provide the benefits of such schemes to all eligible beneficiaries of the scheme, it has been decided to further extend the stipulated date in all such notifications up to December 31, 2017,” the order said.

The extension would also apply for Employees’ Pension Scheme of 1995, scholarships, housing subsidy benefit, stipend to SC/ST trainees for coaching guidance and vocational training, stipend to handicapped, Aam Aadmi Bima Yojana, national apprenticeship and skill development schemes, crop insurance schemes, interest subvention scheme, scholarship and fellowship schemes, various education programmes such as mid- day meal for children and Atal Pension Yojana.

“It is hereby clarified that this extension shall only apply to those beneficiaries who are not assigned Aadhaar number or those who have not yet enrolled for Aadhaar. Such beneficiaries are required to enroll for Aadhaar by December 31, 2017 and provide their Aadhaar number or enrolment ID,” it said.

A source said that there will be no denial of services in the interim period.

India’s Aadhaar rivals growth of Windows, Android, Facebook: Satya Nadella

Nadella, in his book ‘Hit Refresh’, which was released during the ongoing Microsoft Ignite 2017 conference, has praised India’s leap forward in the digital and technological arena.

India’s Aadhaar identity system rivals the growth of other platform innovations like Windows, Android or Facebook, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has said.

Nadella, in his book ‘Hit Refresh’, which was released during the ongoing Microsoft Ignite 2017 conference, has praised India’s leap forward in the digital and technological arena.

“Aadhaar now has scaled to over one billion people, rivaling the growth of other platform innovations such as Windows, Android or Facebook,” the 50-year-old wrote in his book that hit the book stores today.

He praised the creation of the new digital ecosystem IndiaStack.

IndiaStack is a set of APIs (application programming interface) that allows governments, businesses, startups and developers to utilise an unique digital Infrastructure to solve India’s hard problems towards presence-less, paperless, and cashless service delivery.

“China strategically used the global supply chain and their own domestic market to amplify their comparative advantage and bootstrap their economic growth,” the India-born CEO noted.

“The combination of industrial policy, public sector investment, and entrepreneurial energy is what many other countries will also look to replicate from China’s success. I see the beginnings of this in India with the creation of the new digital ecosystem known as IndiaStack,” Nadella said.

“India is leapfrogging from once being an infrastructure-poor country to now leading in digital technology. IndiaStack ushers in a presence-less, cashless, paperless economy for all its citizens,” said the Indian American CEO from Microsoft.

In his book, Nadella wrote that on a trip to Bengaluru he engaged in a conversation with Nandan Nilekani about IndiaStack and its future road map.

“Nandan is the legendary founder of Infosys, who went on to create a new startup working with the Indian Government- Aadhaar-the identity system that is at the center of IndiaStack,” he said.

Nadella has also mentioned about Enlightiks, a startup that was acquired by Practo, a leading e-health company in India.

“I met the founder of Enlightiks on the same trip to Bengaluru. They are using the latest cloud technology and AI from Microsoft to create a state-of-the-art health care diagnostics service that can, for example, detect an Atrial fibrillation event before it happens because of the rich data going from the personal device of the patient directly to the cloud,” he said.

“In turn, this cloud service can be made available to hospitals in Smaller towns or rural areas in India. Enlightiks also has plans to take advantage of IndiaStack to authenticate the user, accept payment, create portal medical records, and much more. This Indian innovation is now looking to expand in the US, Africa and everywhere else,” he wrote.

According to Nadella, this dynamic is not unique to China or India.

“I saw this across Chile, Indonesia, and Poland, and also in France, Germany, and Japan. Reflecting on my earlier visit to Egypt, it’s clear they are investing in human capital,” he said.

RBI caps banks’ investment limit in deposit-taking NBFCs at 10%

RBI notified that banks investing in such firms must have a minimum regulatory capital.

Banks can no longer hold more than a 10 percent stake in a deposit taking non-banking finance company, with the exception of lenders owning equity in housing finance companies, and also regulated their commodity derivatives play, according to a Reserve Bank of India circular.

In amendments to the Master Direction – Reserve Bank of India (Financial Services provided by banks) Directions, 2016, the central bank said banks should not invest more than 10 percent of the unit capital of a real estate investment trust (ReIT) or an infrastructure investment trust (InvIT) subject to overall ceiling of 20 percent of its net worth.

The master directions first issued in May last year did not provide for investments in the ReITs and InvITs, both newly introduced instruments.

Banks will not be allowed to hold more than 10 percent of the paid up capital of a company, not being its subsidiary and engaged in non-financial services or 10 percent of the bank’s paid up capital and reserves, whichever is lower.

The RBI will also not allow holding more than 20 percent stake through the bank’s subsidiaries, associates or joint ventures or entities directly or indirectly controlled by the bank; and mutual funds managed by Asset Management Companies (AMCs) controlled by the bank.

RBI notified that banks investing in such firms must have a minimum regulatory capital. Here, the capital computation must also include the so-called capital conservation buffer (CCB).

Earlier, the RBI had mandated at least 10 percent capital adequacy ratio and there was no mention of CCB.

Similarly, banks looking to undertake insurance and pension fund management business must also have minimum prescribed capital. Before this circular, RBI had mandated 10 percent capital adequacy of ratio for banks post such investments. Banks must have minimum total capital including CCB, of 10.875 percent by March 2018.

Commodity derivatives

The banking regulator also barred banks from investing in category III alternative investment funds (AIFs), specified norms for their participation in commodity derivatives clearing.

Category III AIFs employ complex trading strategies sometimes on borrowed money, while category II funds do not use leverage other than to meet daily requirements. category I AIFs invest in start-up ventures, SMEs and other sectors preferred by the government or regulators.

Banks may invest as much as 10 percent in the paid-up capital/unit capital in category I and II funds, but cannot invest in category III funds. So far, there was no specific rule on investing in AIFs.

“No bank shall (make) investment of more than 10 percent of the paid-up capital/unit capital in a category I/ category II alternative investment fund,” said an updated master circular on financial services offered by banks.

The central bank also said banks wishing to undertake commodities derivatives clearing must set up a separate subsidiary for the purpose and adhere to membership criteria of stock exchanges and Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) regulations.

For this, banks must set up internal risk control measures and take board approvals to decide the extent to which they can fulfil pay-in obligations arising out of trades executed by clients and set prudential norms on risk exposure, among others.

“The bank shall not undertake trading in the derivative segment of the commodity exchange on its own account and shall restrict itself only to clearing and settlement transactions done by the trading members/clients on the exchange,” said the RBI circular.

PM Modi to launch Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana today

The scheme aims at providing ‘last mile electricity connectivity to all rural and urban households’.

In what is being billed as a major announcement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to unveil ‘Saubhagya – Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana’ in Delhi on Monday.

The scheme aims at providing ‘last mile electricity connectivity to all rural and urban households’.

The televised announcement, set to be made at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s National Executive meet in the capital, will reinforce the ruling party’s Electricity-for-All target, which was recently advanced from 2019 to 2018.

The announcement will be made on the occasion of the birth centenary celebration of Bharatiya Jana Sangh politician and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideologue Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya.

Minister of State (MoS) for Power RK Singh on Friday had hinted that PM Modi was likely to make a ‘major announcement’ regarding the power sector on September 25.

“There will be a major announcement relating to the power sector on September 25 by the Prime Minister. We are excited about it. It will be very important for the people,” Singh had told Shereen Bhan.

The Prime Minister had in 2015 said that the government has set a 1,000-day target to electrify over 18,000 villages that don’t have access to electricity at all.

A year later in his Independence Day speech, PM Modi said, “I can say that not even the half of the 1,000 days have passed, we are far away from the half-way mark, and yet 10,000 villages out of 18,000 have received electricity.”

However, even as the government has made some headway in electrifying villages, there have been concerns over whether the government would be able to achieve its dream of providing stable, 24-hour power to all households.

The prime minister is also expected to dedicate Deendayal Urja Bhawan – ONGC’s new corporate office in Delhi along with Booster Compressor Facility in Bassein Gas Field-Western Offshore, Mumbai High and ONGC’s Paperless Office Project (DISHA) in Gujarat.

I-T department asks taxpayers to update self info on e-filing portal

The department today issued an advisory asking taxpayers to furnish their latest information such as personal and secondary email and mobile phone numbers, address and bank account details.

The Income Tax Department has asked taxpayers, who file ITRs and conduct other I-T businesses online, to update their profiles and vital details on the official e-filing portal to ensure an “effective communication” between the two.

The department today issued an advisory asking taxpayers to furnish their latest information such as personal and secondary email and mobile phone numbers, address and bank account details.

These details will be verified and processed after the taxpayer is sent a One Time Password (OTP) over the email and through SMS over the phone.

“New registration process to facilitate effective communication between the taxpayer and the department is enabled. The existing e-filing users are required to update their profile by logging into e-filing account. Users who have registered already and not activated has to register again,” the advisory said.

The updated information, a senior official said, is being sought to ensure that a communication sent to a taxpayer reaches him without fail and in good time.

“A taxpayer can do any business using their personal e- filing account only after updating the details,” he said.

The taxpayers can access their personal e-filing account at https://incometaxindiaefiling.gov.in/.

Aadhaar soon to be mandatory for businesses, NGOs

As per a report, Aadhaar of top management personnel will be needed at the time of registration of companies and partnership entities.

After making Aadhaar mandatory for Permanent Account Number (PAN) and social schemes, the government will soon make it a mandatory document for businesses and non-governmental organisations (NGO).

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) has proposed amendments to the Income Tax Act and Prevention of Money Laundering Act for the same, a report in the Times of India said.

As per the report, Aadhaar of top management personnel will be needed at the time of registration of companies and partnership entities. This will make directors and promoters easily traceable and make it difficult to form shell companies.

PAN is already mandatory while registering the company. Making Aadhaar mandatory will bring partnerships and trusts under the same regulations, which is not the case currently, the report said.

The aim is to curb black money and the government is looking for a mechanism to get entities with cumulative transactions of over Rs 2 lakh annually under a regulatory regime.

These amendments will help check possibility of any misuse in the system, the report said.

Till now, the PAN was treated as the unique identification number for all the businesses.

In its battle against the shell companies, the government recently banned nearly 2 lakh defunct companies and also identified 106,578 directors of shell companies to be disqualified.

Bullet train project to create 20,000 jobs: SBI report

“After the commissioning of the project, direct employment of 4,000 employees will be created for the operation and maintenance. Further the project is likely to generate about 16,000 indirect employment opportunities,” said the note.

As India takes a giant leap with plans to have a bullet train, it is estimated that about 20,000 jobs will be created from it, according to a State Bank of India research note.

India’s first bullet train project was inaugurated on Thursday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Ahmedabad. The project, which will connect Ahmedabad and Mumbai, is expected to be completed by 2022.

“After the commissioning of the project, direct employment of 4,000 employees will be created for the operation and maintenance. Further the project is likely to generate about 16,000 indirect employment opportunities,” said the note.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe laid the foundation stone for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail (MAHSR) project in Ahmedabad today, joining the list of around 20 countries.

This project will herald a new era of safety, speed and service for the people and help Indian Railways (with its third longest network) to become an international leader in scale, speed and skill, the SBI note said.

Besides job creation, the project will bring skills in the field of ballast-less track construction, installation of communications and signalling equipment, power distribution system.

Modern and world-class practices will be adopted for maintenance of therailway system, which is expected to bring a paradigm shift in the maintenance practices currently being followed in Indian Railways, the note said.

Soumya Kanti Ghosh, Chief Economic Adviser of SBI, in the report, said that the introduction of the Japanese bullet train technology should not just be seen from the prism of economic opportunities. It will also have immense social and psychological benefits by bringing elite technology to the masses or bridging the gap between the elite and masses.

The state-of-the-art railway project that is being implemented is estimated to cost Rs 88,000 crore and the project is being funded by Japan at a nominal cost of only 0.1 percent (comparable rates are of 5 -7 percent) with a much larger repayment period.

With the commissioning of the bullet train project, around 40,000 passengers per day are expected to travel through this mode.

Test runs of pod cars to begin in Varanasi, Nagpur and Gurugram

Varanasi and Nagpur may have been handpicked as they are represented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari respectively in the Lok Sabha.

Three cities – Varanasi, Nagpur, and Gurugram – have been shortlisted to test pod cars, reports Mint.

Pod cars are driverless, ball-shaped cars which will run along a pre-determined course. This is one out of the six proposals NITI Aayog had proposed to improve India’s transportation system.

Varanasi and Nagpur may have been handpicked as they are represented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari respectively in the Lok Sabha.

The vehicles will be built by NASA’s Skytran and UK’s Ultra Global PRT, at first. The two companies, which were left out of the four initially chosen, have to partner with Indian firms by forming joint ventures. The pod cars will be tested over a 1-km test stretch.

“The expert panel formed to lay down safety standards for pod taxis in the country has shortlisted the two cities in addition to Gurugram for the companies to build a prototype for a 1-km stretch to showcase their technology. Two of these three cities will finally showcase the prototypes from the respective firms,” sources told Mint.

NITI Aayog’s Transport expert Manoj Singh stated that was Varanasi as a “good choice”. He reasoned, “It’s a congested city and overhead pod taxis can be experimented with to see how this mobility solution works. Besides, being a heritage city, pod taxi can be a tourist attraction if managed and planned well.”

NITI Aayog has asked the authorities to first run a 1-km pilot stretch before the project runs in full force as the technologies are still “unproven,” making it one of the reasons why the project has been delayed.

A committee of professionals with years of experience in their field was formed under a transport expert Dharam Adhikari. The panel will lay down the standards and specifications for Public Rail Transport systems and will present a report this month.