Talks, if any, with Pakistan would focus only on PoK, says Rajnath Singh
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday said any future talks with Pakistan would focus only on the status of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Mr. Singh, who was addressing the BJP’s ‘Jan Aashirwad Yatra’ in Haryana’s Kalka, said Pakistan wanted to destabilise India through terrorism, and there would be no talks with the country unless it acted against terrorists and stopped supporting terror activities.
Prime Minister Imran Khan had recently acknowledged the killing of terrorists in the IAF’s Balakot air strike after denying it earlier, Mr. Singh said. “Pakistan’s Prime Minister a few days ago said in PoK that India is planning an air strike even bigger than the Balakot one.
This means that Pakistan’s Prime Minister has accepted the fact India conducted an air strike in Balakot and a large number of terrorists were killed in it. Mr. Singh said Article 370 and 35A have been revoked from Jammu and Kashmir, which would remove all obstacles in the path of holistic development of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
India, Bhutan natural partners: Modi
No two countries in the world understand each other so well or share so much as India and Bhutan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday, as he emphasised that New Delhi and Thimphu are such “natural partners” in bringing prosperity to their peoples.
Addressing students of the prestigious Royal University of Bhutan here, Mr. Modi said it is natural that the people of Bhutan and India experience great attachment to each other.
India is fortunate to be the land where Prince Siddhartha became Gautam Buddha. And from where the light of his spiritual message, the light of Buddhism, spread all over the world. Generations of monks, spiritual leaders, scholars and seekers have burnt that flame bright in Bhutan.
The two countries inked 10 MoUs in the fields of space research, aviation, IT, power and education to infuse new energy in their ties.
In a first, Pune Metro to get aluminium-bodied coaches- Shoumojit Banerjee
In what is touted as a game changer for Indian Metro rail projects, the Pune Metro is set to get ultra-modern, state-of-the-art aluminium-bodied coaches. Thus far, Metros in the country have used stainless steel-bodied coaches.
A consortium formed by Kolkata-based wagon manufacturer Titagarh Wagons with its wholly-owned subsidiary Titagarh Firema SPA recently won the international bid to supply 102 aluminium coaches to the Pune Metro project.
The Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. (Maha Metro) had issued a tender for “design, manufacture, supply, testing, commissioning of passenger rolling stock (electrical multiple units) and training of personnel”.
This will be the first time that aluminium-bodied coaches, which are said to be lighter in weight, more energy efficient and have better aesthetics, will be manufactured in India. The company will manufacture 25% of the coaches at their plant in Italy and 75% will be produced and commissioned at the Maha Metro coach manufacturing plant in Nagpur.
Officials from the Pune Metro project said that initially, the trains will consist of three coaches, which will subsequently be converted into six as per requirement. They said these coaches would be fully air-conditioned with humidity control, provided with digital route and station display and international standard interiors.
“The coaches will have 100% CCTV camera coverage. [Passengers with disabilities] will be able to travel seamlessly to/from the station entry to the train with specially earmarked places for wheelchairs. Mobile and laptop charging facility will also be provided on board.
The coaches are to be ergonomically and aerodynamically designed, with the coach exterior reflecting the history and cultural heritage of Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad. They will have a maximum speed of 95 kmph and the capacity to accommodate more than 925 passengers.
They are energy efficient and will be equipped with a regenerative braking system. They will also be capable of operating in driverless mode.
Modi strikes a chord with Bhutan students
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday gave a pep talk to students in Bhutan, saying they had the power and potential to do extraordinary things, which will influence future generations. Addressing the students of the Royal University of Bhutan in Thimpu, Mr. Modi encouraged the “brightest” Bhutanese youth to work hard and take the Himalayan nation to great heights.
Mr. Modi said India was keen on cooperating extensively on new frontiers, from schools to space, digital payments to disaster management. “Our cooperation in all these sectors will have a direct impact on young friends like you,” he said, citing cooperation between India’s National Knowledge Network and Bhutan’s DrukREN as an some example.
We inaugurated the Thimphu Ground Station of the South Asia Satellite and expanded our space cooperation. Through satellites, benefits of tele-medicine, distance education, resource mapping, weather forecast and even warning of natural disasters will reach even remote areas,” he said.
Referring to India’s space programmes and the Chandrayaan-2 mission, Mr. Modi said Bhutan is also on its way to having its own satellite.
Finance Ministry asks PSBs to align with national priorities- Manojit Saha
A recent communication from the Finance Ministry will make public sector banks (PSB) burn midnight oil over this weekend and the next as well.
The Finance Ministry’s note has asked banks to align themselves to the national priorities and to seek feedback on several issues such as the rise in bad loans and slow credit growth in the last five years, and to prepare a roadmap for the coming years. PSBs have been asked to involve all their approximately 1 lakh branches in the exercise.
Some of the national priorities to which banks need to align include doubling farm income, Jal Shakti Mission, housing for all, education loans, ease of living, corporate social responsibility and financial inclusion.
The Union Bank of India, which also conducted a similar exercise, said specific areas of discussion during the meeting included doubling farmers’ income, enhancing credit to small businesses, particularly through the PSB59 and MUDRA Schemes, and empowering women and Schedule Caste/Scheduled Tribe entrepreneurs.
The exercise, termed as “bottom-up consultative process” for PSBs, is the first comprehensive review of PSBs after Nirmala Sitharaman took charge of the Finance Ministry in May, which will also provide a direction to the banks for the next five years.
UAE to give Modi highest civilian award
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit the UAE on August 23 and 24 where he will receive the Order of Zayed, the highest civilian award of the country. An External Affairs Ministry statement on Sunday said Mr. Modi would pay a state visit to Bahrain on August 24 and 25 where he would launch the renovation of a temple of Shreenathji.
“The order in the name of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founding father of the UAE, acquires special significance as it is awarded to Prime Minister Modi in the year of the birth centenary of Sheikh Zayed
The visit acquires importance as it would be the first by Mr. Modi to a leading member of the Organisation of Islamic Countries after India had changed the status of Kashmir.
PM Economic Advisory Council: Need to set up GST Council-like body for public spending
With the economy on a continuous slide, the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council Chairman Bibek Debroy said it is high time the government focused on expenditure and recommended a GST Council-like mechanism for the Centre and states to strategise on public expenditure for maximum impact.
The key question today is whether we are on a 7% GDP growth rate trend, or a 6% trend. The Prime Minister’s Office and the Finance Minister have been meeting various stakeholders over the last week to discuss the slowdown which is adversely impacting various sectors now.
Pointing to the phenomenal success of the GST Council as a decision-making body, he said, “This (GST Council) was about indirect taxes. Time has now come for a similar body on public expenditure to do exactly what the GST Council did for taxes. This body should decide on what should be public expenditure.”
“There are questions within the PM EAC on whether the slowdown is ‘cyclical’ or ‘structural’ in nature,” Debroy said, but advised against widening the fiscal deficit. “If I just look at it from an academic point of view, I’d probably say, yes, to expanding the fisc. But looking at the past, the moment you open the tap, there is no controlling it.”
Elaborating on government expenditure, Debroy said there are limits to public expenditure because there are fiscal consolidation issues. But focused and strategic expenditure by the Centre and states together could yield efficiency gains, he said.
Some aspects the government can address on the tax side include streamlining and harmonisation of GST rates, and reduction in direct tax rates, the PM EAC Chairman said. “A lot can be done on GST. As an economist, I would argue, there should be a single GST rate.
In practice, it is impossible. No country in the world has a single GST rate. From a pragmatic point of view, we must have three GST rates. For illustrative purposes, say 6%, 12% and 18%. Everyone wants the 24% to come down to 18%, but no one wants the items under 0% to come under 6%,” Debroy said.
On the direct tax side, he said the rates can be reduced significantly. “But this can be done only when both corporate and income tax exemptions are removed,” Debroy said. He also advised against sectoral tax sops. “We should not have any sector-specific interventions. These will create distortions. Fiscal concessions to specific sectors will complicate the tax story even further,” he said
What is NASA’s Parker Solar Probe
On August 12, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe completed a year in service. It is part of NASA’s “Living With a Star” programme that explores different aspects of the Sun-Earth system. The probe seeks to gather information about the Sun’s atmosphere and NASA says that it “will revolutionise our understanding of the Sun”. It is also the closest a human-made object has ever gone to the Sun.
On August 16, the Parker Solar Probe turned on its four instrument suites. During the spacecraft’s first two solar encounters, the instruments were turned on when Parker was about 0.25 AU from the Sun and powered off again at the same distance on the outbound side of the orbit.
For this third solar encounter, the mission team turned on the instruments when the spacecraft was around 0.45 AU from the Sun on the inbound side of its orbit and will turn them off when the spacecraft is about 0.5 AU from the Sun on the outbound side.
The mission’s central aim is to trace how energy and heat move through the Sun’s corona and to study the source of the solar wind’s acceleration. The mission is likely to last for seven years during which it will complete 24 orbits.
Madhya Pradesh wants Legislative Council: what it entails
The Madhya Pradesh government has indicated that it plans to initiate steps towards creation of a Legislative Council. Not all states have two Houses. Which are the ones that do, and why is a second House needed?
Why a second House
Just as Parliament has two Houses, so can the states, if they choose to. Article 71 of the Constitution provides for the option of a state to have a Legislative Council in addition to its Legislative Assembly. As in Rajya Sabha, members of a Legislative Council are not directly elected by voters.
Opinion in the Constituent Assembly was divided on the idea. Among the arguments in its favour, a second House can help check hasty actions by the directly elected House, and also enable non-elected individuals to contribute to the legislative process. The arguments against the idea: a Legislative Council can be used to delay legislation, and to park leaders who have not been able to win an election.
Under Article 169, a Legislative Council can be formed “if the Legislative Assembly of the State passes a resolution to that effect by a majority of the total membership of the Assembly and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of the Assembly present and voting”. Parliament can then pass a law to this effect.
States with LCs
Currently, six states have Legislative Councils (see box). Jammu and Kashmir too had one, until the state was bifurcated into the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh.
Tamil Nadu’s then DMK government had passed a law to set up a Council but the subsequent AIADMK government withdrew it after coming to power in 2010. Andhra Pradesh’s Legislative Council, set up in 1958, was abolished in 1985, then reconstituted in 2007.
The Odisha Assembly recently passed a resolution for a Legislative Council. Proposals to create Councils in Rajasthan and Assam are pending in Parliament; the PRS Legislative Research website lists the status of both Bill as pending.
Under Article 171 of the Constitution, the Legislative Council of a state shall not have more than one-third of the number of MLAs of the state, and not less than 40 members. In Madhya Pradesh, which has 230 MLAs, the proposed Legislative Council can have at most 76 members. As with Rajya Sabha MPs, the tenure of a Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) is six years, with one-third of members retiring every two years.
One-third of the MLCs are elected by the state’s MLAs, another one-third by a special electorate comprising sitting members of local governments such as municipalities and district boards, 1/12th by
an electorate of teachers and another 1/12th by registered graduates. The remaining members are appointed by the Governor for distinguished services in various fields.
LC vis-à-vis Rajya Sabha
The legislative power of the Councils is limited. Unlike Rajya Sabha which has substantial powers to shape non-financial legislation, Legislative Councils lack a constitutional mandate to do so; Assemblies can override suggestions/amendments made to a legislation by the Council.
Again, unlike Rajya Sabha MPs, MLCs cannot vote in elections for the President and Vice President. The Vice President is the Rajya Sabha Chairperson; an MLC is the Council Chairperson.
What next in MP
Having promised a Legislative Council for Madhya Pradesh in its election manifesto, the ruling Congress is working on a resolution that will be presented in the next Assembly session. Rajendra Singh, chairman of the Congress manifesto committee in 2018, said the party has discussed the issue and is serious about constituting a second House.
A senior bureaucrat in the Parliamentary Affairs Department said the proposal is under consideration but it would be too early to give a timeline.
Rural service centres can fuel rural India’s growth, bridge the digital divide
Data show that between 2014 and 2019, that the total number of transactions at Common Service Centres (CSCs) have grown from 4.5 crore to 17.4 crore and, in terms of value, they have gone up from Rs 1,560 crore to well over Rs 28,000 crore. Karishma Mehrotra caught up with Dinesh Tyagi, the CEO of CSC initiative to understand what has led to the growth in CSCs and what lies ahead.
Can you describe the basic structure of a CSC?
The CSCs were introduced to provide citizens access to services through a digital framework. Every CSC has a basic infrastructure, which is a computer, a webcam, a scanner, and a printer, and some facility for power and connectivity. In some places, the connectivity is through a landline, in others through the fibre, and some places still use data cards.
The connectivity is done by the entrepreneur themselves. BharatNet (world’s largest rural broadband project) came a little later, and BharatNet access to CSCs is still going on. The village-level entrepreneur who runs a CSC has some basic qualifications — Class 10 pass. He should have the interest to run an enterprise, the capital to make the initial investment, and he should be a risk-taking person.
What is the underlying business model?
Entrepreneurs make their living by delivering services and charging a service fee either from the citizen or the government (in case it is providing a service). But someone pays him an incentive to deliver the service. Government services are only enablers; they alone cannot create a sustainable business model because of the frequency in which the citizens use them.
It was very necessary to do B to C (Business to Consumer), which is based on the local demand. B to C was added in order to create a sustainable business model.
What type of services do citizens avail?
After 2014, many central government services were added. In addition, there are state government services. For example, in Haryana almost anything a citizen needs can be initiated at a CSC, including paying government taxes. That means a citizen doesn’t need to go to government offices at all and that is the objective of the entire framework.
In the B to C frame, financial inclusion, banking, insurance, pension are the major drivers. Railway ticketing is done, passport application is done. Also, if a person in a village wants to buy some product from ITC, Godrej, Patanjali, or IFFCO, or even a computer or phone, they can use the common service centre.
What are the most recent changes?
We have tied up with HDFC bank to give some new products to rural India. There is a card, called the HDFC card, which can be given to any small and medium enterprise based on one-year bank statement. At the backend, the bank will calculate the credit limit and give him a credit card.
You can benefit six crore small and medium business. They will be able to do more business and create more employment. This is going to redefine the way credit is extended to people across the country.
What are the focus areas in the future?
One is education. We want every citizen in the rural area should be able to access education facilities similar to what is available to citizens in urban areas. You can do a digital literacy program, a computer program, an MBA program, or even a law course sitting in a village through online courses.
You can give prepare for various exams such as the IIT entrance exams. We are introducing new courses on artificial intelligence, blockchain, machine learning for a very nominal fee.
Second is making every CSC a banking, insurance and pension service provider. Today, about half of them are not covering these areas. Our effort is to use every access point to deliver banking services. And of course, we are doing telemedicine, homoeopathy, ayurvedic, allopathy. We are using emerging technology for diagnostic tests as well.
We have got a mandate for managing BharatNet for the last mile for 1,20,000 panchayats. Our focus is to streamline the entire BharatNet network. It is proven that 10 per cent enhancement in internet usage will increase about two per cent of GDP. There will be phenomenal growth potential for the rural economy if we can try to maintain the BharatNet system.