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11 January Current Affairs

GST Council

In News:

The GST Council in its recently held 32nd meeting took a slew of decisions aimed at reducing the tax and compliance burden on small and medium enterprises.

Measures announced:

The annual turnover limit under which companies would be exempt from GST has been raised to ₹40 lakh for most States and ₹20 lakh for the North Eastern and hill states, from the earlier limit of ₹20 lakh and ₹10 lakh, respectively.

The limit for eligibility for the Composition Scheme is raised to an annual turnover of ₹1.5 crore from April 1, 2019. So far, only manufacturers and traders were eligible for this scheme. The Scheme now has been extended to small service providers with an annual turnover of up to ₹50 lakh, at a tax rate of 6%.

Kerala can levy a cess of up to 1% for up to two years on intra-State supplies to help finance the disaster relief efforts following the recent floods in the state.

Implications and outcomes of these measures:

A very large part of GST revenue comes from the formal sector and large companies. These measures have been taken to help the small and medium companies. The revenue impact due to these will be minimal.

Allowing disaster cess of 1% to be introduced in the State of Kerala on local supplies may be an administrative issue for both businesses and government and this may set a precedence for other States to demand additional levy.

Increasing the GST threshold limit would allow about 10 lakh traders to be exempt from the compliance burden of GST, and increasing the Composition Scheme limit would benefit about 20 lakh small businesses that fall between the annual turnover brackets of ₹1 crore and ₹1.5 crore.

Facts for Prelims:

The Composition Scheme currently allows companies with an annual turnover of up to ₹1 crore to opt for it, and file returns on a quarterly basis at a nominal rate of 1%.

Why do we need a GST Council?

The GST council is the key decision-making body that will take all important decisions regarding the GST. The GST Council dictates tax rate, tax exemption, the due date of forms, tax laws, and tax deadlines, keeping in mind special rates and provisions for some states. The predominant responsibility of the GST Council is to ensure to have one uniform tax rate for goods and services across the nation.

How is the GST Council structured?

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is governed by the GST Council. Article 279 (1) of the amended Indian Constitution states that the GST Council has to be constituted by the President within 60 days of the commencement of the Article 279A.

According to the article, GST Council will be a joint forum for the Centre and the States. It consists of the following members:

The Union Finance Minister will be the Chairperson

As a member, the Union Minister of State will be in charge of Revenue of Finance

The Minister in charge of finance or taxation or any other Minister nominated by each State government, as members.

GST Council recommendations:

Article 279A (4) specifies that the Council will make recommendations to the Union and the States on the important issues related to GST, such as, the goods and services will be subject or exempted from the Goods and Services Tax.

Source: The Hindu

Henley Passport Index

In News:

Henley Passport Index 2019 has been released. The Index is based on data provided by the International Air Transport Authority (IATA) and covers 199 passports and 227 travel destinations.

Background:

The Henley Passport Index (HPI) is a global ranking of countries according to the travel freedom for their citizens. It started in 2006 as Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index (HVRI) and was modified and renamed in January 2018.

Definition:

The HPI consists of a ranking of passports according to how many other territories can be reached ‘visa-free’ (defined below). All distinct destination countries and territories in the IATA database are considered.

Rankings of various countries:

India jumped two positions from 81st in 2018 to 79th this year.

Japan retained its top spot as the world’s most travel-friendly passport due to the document’s access to 190 countries.

Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nepal ranked further low at 104, 102 and 94 respectively.

South Korea edged up the ranking from October’s index to join Singapore, offering access to 189 jurisdictions.

China jumped almost 20 places in just two years, from 85th in 2017 to 69th this year.

European countries also performed favourably, with European Union member states along with Norway and the US filling in the places behind the top three nations although the UK continues to drop down the rankings, along with the US.

Source: The Hindu

Democracy Index 2018

In News:

Democracy Index 2018 has been released. It is released annually by The Economist.

Details:

The EIU Democracy Index provides a snapshot of the state of world democracy for 165 independent states and two territories.

The Democracy Index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Based on their scores on 60 indicators within these categories, each country is then itself classified as one of four types of regime: full democracy; flawed democracy; hybrid regime; and authoritarian regime.

Performance of India:

India is ranked at 41 – a notch above last year. It is still classified as a ‘flawed democracy’ according to the index. India achieved a score of 7.23 on the index to maintain its position – the same it did last year. This is the lowest ever score attributed to India in the index ever since its publication.

India ranks below the US (ranked 25th in the index) and other so called ‘flawed democracies’ like Italy, France, Botswana and South Africa.

Flawed democracy:

The report defines a flawed democracy as nations that “have free and fair elections and, even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties are respected. However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.”

Source: The Hindu

World Gold Council (WGC)

In News:

WGC has released a report on gold demand in 2019.

Important observations made:

Performance of financial markets, monetary policy in key economies including India, and the dollar movement will determine gold demand in 2019.

Since gold is considered a safe haven, during choppy markets, the demand for gold improves, normally. Emerging markets, led by India and China–the biggest consuming markets–make up 70% of consumer demand for the metal.

About World Gold Council:

The World Gold Council is the market development organisation for the gold industry. It works across all parts of the industry, from gold mining to investment, and their aim is to stimulate and sustain demand for gold.

The World Gold Council is an association whose members comprise the world’s leading gold mining companies. It helps to support its members to mine in a responsible way and developed the Conflict Free Gold Standard.

Headquartered in the UK, they have offices in India, China, Singapore, Japan and the United States.

Source: The Hindu

National Clean Air Programme

In News:

The government has announced the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP). This is the first ever effort in the country to frame a national framework for air quality management with a time-bound reduction target.

Details:

The programme will not be notified under the Environment Protection Act or any other Act to create a firm mandate with a strong legal back up for cities and regions to implement NCAP in a time bound manner for effective reduction.

Key features of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP):

Achieve a national-level target of 20-30% reduction of PM2.5 and PM10 concentration by between 2017 and 2024.

Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) will execute this nation-wide programme in consonance with the section 162 (b) of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1986.

The programme has been launched with an initial budget of ₹300 crore for the first two years.

The plan includes 102 non-attainment cities, across 23 states and Union territories, which were identified by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on the basis of their ambient air quality data between 2011 and 2015.

Non-attainment cities are those which have been consistently showing poorer air quality than the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. These include Delhi, Varanasi, Bhopal, Kolkata, Noida, Muzaffarpur, and Mumbai.

As part of the programme, the Centre also plans to scale up the air quality monitoring network across India. At least 4,000 monitors are needed across the country, instead of the existing 101 real-time air quality (AQ) monitors, according to an analysis.

The plan proposes a three-tier system, including real-time physical data collection, data archiving, and an action trigger system in all 102 cities, besides extensive plantation plans, research on clean-technologies, landscaping of major arterial roads, and stringent industrial standards.

It also proposes state-level plans of e-mobility in the two-wheeler sector, rapid augmentation of charging infrastructure, stringent implementation of BS-VI norms, boosting public transportation system, and adoption of third-party audits for polluting industries.

Various committees: The national plan has proposed setting up an apex committee under environment minister, a steering committee under-secretary (environment) and a monitoring committee under a joint secretary. There would be project monitoring committees at the state-level with scientists and trained personnel.

Benefits of the programme:

NCAP has certainly helped kick start the much-awaited good practice of setting air pollution reduction targets. The biggest advantage of such targets is that it helps decide the level of stringency of local and regional action needed for the plans to be effective enough to meet the reduction targets.

Need of the hour:

The MoEF&CC, as a nodal central and apex agency, will have to flex its authority to ensure all NCAP indicators are integrated with multi-sector and inter-ministerial programmes to align with the air quality target and objectives.

NCAP should not become only a top-down prescriptive approach. In fact, within the federal structure, NCAP, while ensuring compliance, will also have to create enough room for tighter action that can be even stronger than the common minimum national programme as defined by NCAP.

State governments and city authorities should be encouraged and enabled to take those extra steps to meet local targets. City-wise air quality targets will clearly show where much deeper cuts will be needed for hotspot and stronger regional action.

NCAP will also have to join all critical dots with clarity. For instance, in case of vehicular pollution, the main body of the plan has ignored mobility, transportation and urban planning strategies, though fortunately, the indicative broadsheet of action at the end has listed public transport, transit-oriented development policies, and non-motorised transport. But these will have to be detailed out with clear pathways and milestones and integrated well with the NCAP strategies.

NCAP will also have to be more nuanced and adopt appropriate approaches for small and big cities according to their dominant pollution profile while several strategies may remain uniform.

Source: The Hindu

ECO Niwas Samhita 2018

In News:

Bureau of Energy Efficiency and CPWD sign MoU on promoting energy efficiency in buildings

Details:

According to the MoU, BEE and CPWD will cooperate on promoting designs and construction of Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) compliant new buildings, star rating of CPWD managed buildings across the country with no registration or renewal fee, awareness on energy efficiency in building sector and support for capacity building of CPWD officials in ECBC.

ECO Niwas Samhita 2018 an Energy Conservation Building Code for residential buildings, to push for energy efficiency in residential sector was launched on December 14, 2018. It aims to promote design and construction of homes including apartments and townships to give benefits of energy efficiency to the occupants. Ministry of Power launched the ECO Niwas Samhita 2018.

Aim of ECO Niwas Samhita 2018:

To benefit the occupants and the environment by promoting energy efficiency in design and construction of homes, apartments and townships.

Roles and Responsibilities:

Role of BEE –

  • Processing of application for star rating of buildings
  • Preliminary scrutiny of application
  • Data verification of CPWD maintained buildings
  • Installation of smart meters
  • Award of certificate & label
  • Support for Energy Efficiency in Buildings
  • Support for construction of ECBC complaint buildings
  • Efficient coordination with CPWD
  • Capacity building of CPWD officials

Role of CPWD –

  • Completely filled application for star rating
  • Support and facilitation to data verification and monitoring
  • Construction of ECBC Complaint buildings
  • Support for Energy Efficiency in Buildings
  • Efficient coordination with BEE
  • It is anticipated that this initiative will result in energy saving of more than 260 million units in the first stage with operational savings of about Rs. 100 crore.

Star Rating for Commercial Buildings:

It is based on the actual performance of a building in terms of its specific energy usage in kwh/sqm/year.

It rates office buildings on a 1-5 Star scale, with 5 star labelled buildings being the most efficient.

It is on a voluntary basis and label provided under it is applicable for a period of 5 years from the date of issue.

It provides public recognition to energy efficient buildings, and creates a “demand side” pull.

Various categories of buildings like Day Use Office Buildings, BPOs, Shopping Malls and Hospitals in the five climatic zones have been identified under the scheme.

Background:

About Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) –

Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) is a statutory body, set up by the Government of India on 1st March 2002 under the provision of the Energy Conservation Act, 2001.

The mission is to assist in developing policies and strategies with a thrust on self-regulation and market principles with the primary objective of reducing energy intensity of the Indian economy within the overall framework of the Energy Conservation Act, 2001.

This will be achieved with active participation of all stakeholders, resulting into accelerated and sustained adoption of energy efficiency in all sectors.

About Central Public Works Department (CPWD) –

CPWD came into existence in July, 1854 when Lord Dalhousie established a central agency for execution of public works and set up Ajmer Provincial Division.

It is headed by DG who is also the Principal Technical Advisor to the Government of India.

It has PAN India presence and has ability to undertake construction of complex projects.

It has been involved construction of stadiums and other infrastructure requirements for Asian Games 1982 and Commonwealth Games 2010.

CPWD is now engaged in construction of Afghan Parliament Building (beyond national boundaries).

Source: PIB

Sino-Indian Digital Collaboration Plaza

  • The Sino-Indian Digital Collaboration Plaza (SIDCOP) is an initiative to bring Indian IT companies and Chinese enterprises closer to each other on a single AI enabled platform was launched recently
  • This is a partnership by National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) with Municipal Governments of Guiyang and Dalian.
  • A Joint Venture comprising of one Indian and Chinese company has been tasked with the running of the platform.
  • Indian IT enterprises are world renowned for their expertise in business transformation and operational optimization by using IT tools in complex business environments.
  • SIDCOP is a boundary-less marketplace.
  • This platform could be useful to connect with top providers from India and help Chinese enterprises source the right solution providers for their projects.

Renukaji Multipurpose Dam Project

  • An agreement for Renukaji Dam Multipurpose Project is to be signed soon among six states- Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand.
  • Three storage projects are proposed to be constructed on the river Yamuna and two of its tributaries – Tons and Giri in the hilly regions of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh of Upper Yamuna Basin.
  • Two of the are Lakhwar project on river Yamuna in Uttarakhand , Kishau on river Tons in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
  • The other one is Renukaji Dam project has been conceived as a storage project on Giri River (tributary of river Yamuna) in Sirmour District of Himachal Pradesh.
  • These three projects were identified as National Projects in 2008 under which 90% funding of the cost will be provided by the Govt. of India as central assistance and the rest 10% will be borne by the beneficiary states.
  • Stored water of Renukaji Dam will be used by UP, Haryana & NCT of Delhi from Hathnikund Barrage, by NCT of Delhi from Wazirabad Barrage and by UP, Haryana and Rajasthan from Okhla Barrage.