COVID-19 Hits NRI Deposits
Major private sector banks are refusing foreign currency deposits by Non Resident Indians (NRIs) over fears that transmission of COVID-19 could occur via foreign currency notes.
A ‘Non-Resident Indian (NRI)’ is an Indian citizen resident outside India for the purpose of employment, etc.
NRIs have been parking funds in Indian banks largely due to the wide interest rate differential between their country of residence and country of origin, enjoying the rate advantage.
They have the option of parking money in:
These accept any permitted foreign currency.
FCNR Accounts are Term Deposit Accounts and not Saving Accounts.
The currency risk (change in price of one currency in relation to another) is borne by the bank.
They are fully repatriable (ability to move money abroad).
The NRE account is an Indian rupee-denominated account, offering complete security.
These accounts can be in the form of savings, current, recurring, or fixed deposits.
The currency risk is on the depositor.
They are fully repatriable.
It is for NRIs to manage their deposits or income earned in India such as dividends, pension, rent, etc.
This account allows NRIs to receive funds in either Indian or foreign currency.
However, only Indian currency can be withdrawn as NRO Accounts are kept in Indian currency and are not freely repatriable.
There are no currency risks involved.
Taxation on NRI deposits:
Interest earned on NRE and FCNR accounts is tax-free in India.
The tax rate for interest income from NRO accounts is 30%. However, NRIs living in countries with which India has a Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) can avail of lower tax rates.
Anosmia and Ageusia: Possible Signs of COVID-19
Recently, Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialists have noted a growing number of patients with anosmia (the abrupt loss of smell) and ageusia (loss of sense of taste). Both anosmia and ageusia could be signs of COVID-19 in people who otherwise appear well.
The World Health Organisation lists the most common signs of COVID-19 as fever, tiredness and dry cough.
Anosmia is the partial or complete loss of the sense of smell. This loss may be temporary or permanent.
It is caused by a swelling or blockage in the nose that prevents odors from getting to the top of the nose.
Respiratory viral infection is a common cause of loss of smell. The sense of smell usually returns when the infection is over.
Other main causes of anosmia:
1) Irritation to the mucous membranes lining the nose.
2) Blockage of the nasal passages.
3) Brain or nerve damage:
Complications: People with anosmia may not be able to fully taste foods and may lose interest in eating.
This can lead to weight loss or malnutrition.
Ageusia is a condition that is characterized by a complete loss of taste function of the tongue.
People who have a reduced ability to taste are said to have hypogeusia.
2) Nasal airway problems.
3) Upper airway infection, such as sinus infection, tonsillitis, or sore throat.
Digitised Scripts of Yakshagana
Recently, the voluntary community effort by the trust named Yakshavahini has made more than 900 Yakshagana scripts digitised and available online for free.
Yakshagana is a traditional theatre form of Karnataka.
It is a temple art form that depicts mythological stories and Puranas.
It is performed with massive headgears, elaborate facial make-up and vibrant costumes and ornaments.
Usually recited in Kannada, it is also performed in Malayalam as well as Tulu (the dialect of south Karnataka).
It is performed with percussion instruments like chenda, maddalam, jagatta or chengila (cymbals) and chakratala or elathalam (small cymbals).
World Tuberculosis Day
World Tuberculosis (TB) Day is observed on 24th March every year to raise public awareness about the devastating health, social and economic consequences of TB and to step up efforts to end the global TB epidemic.
The date 24th March is chosen to commemorate the anniversary of Dr. Robert Koch’s discovery of the cause of Tuberculosis (Mycobacterium Tuberculosis) in 1882.
TB remains the world’s deadliest infectious killer.
Each day, over 4000 people lose their lives to TB and close to 30,000 people fall ill with this preventable and curable disease.
Theme for 2020: ‘It’s time’. It puts the accent on the urgency to act on the commitments made by global leaders to:
(A) Global Efforts:
The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a joint initiative “Find. Treat. All. #EndTB” with the Global Fund and Stop TB Partnership.
It aims to accelerate the TB response and ensure access to care, in line with WHO’s overall drive towards Universal Health Coverage.
WHO also releases the Global Tuberculosis Report.
(B) India’s Efforts:
The Government of India has committed to eliminate the prevalence of TB by 2025, with commensurate resources to rapidly reduce TB incidence prevalence and mortality in India.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is implementing the National Strategic Plan (NSP) for Tuberculosis Elimination (2017-2025).
The President of India had appealed to all the stakeholders to come together to reinforce the efforts in “TB Harega Desh Jeetega Campaign” to make it a true people’s movement.
Finance Bill, 2020 Passed
Recently, the Lok Sabha passed the Finance Bill, 2020 without any debate due to the situation arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic.
A Finance Bill is a Bill that, as the name suggests, concerns the country’s finances — it could be about taxes, government expenditures, government borrowings, revenues, etc. Since the Union Budget deals with these things, it is passed as a Finance Bill.
Rule 219 of the Rules of Procedure of Lok Sabha states: ‘Finance Bill’ means the Bill ordinarily introduced in each year to give effect to the financial proposals of the Government of India for the following financial year and includes a Bill to give effect to supplementary financial proposals for any period.
It is introduced in Lok Sabha after the presentation of the annual Budget is passed by the House. It is also certified as a Money Bill.
The Constitution defines financial legislation into two categories: Money Bills and Financial Bills.
Money Bills –Article 110
Financial Bills (I)– Article 117 (1)
Financial Bills (II)– Article 117 (3)
Only those financial bills are Money bills which contain exclusively those matters which are mentioned in Article 110 of the Constitution.
Money bills are certified by the Speaker of Lok Sabha.
A financial bill (I) contains not only any or all the matters mentioned in the Money Bill, but also other matters of general legislation. It is dealt under Article 117 (1) of the Constitution.
It is similar to a money bill in two respects–
Both of them can be introduced only in the Lok Sabha and not in the Rajya Sabha.
Both of them can be introduced only on the recommendation of the President.
In all other respects, a financial bill (I) is treated as an ordinary bill. ie.
A financial bill (II) contains provisions involving expenditure from the Consolidated Fund of India, but does not include any of the matters mentioned in Article 110. It is dealt under Article 117 (3) of the Constitution.
It is governed by the same legislative procedure which is applicable to an ordinary bill.
Such Bills can be introduced in either House of Parliament. However, recommendation of the President is essential for consideration of these Bills by either House and unless such recommendation is received, neither House can pass the Bill.
In other words, the recommendation of the President is not required at the introduction stage but is required at the consideration stage.
Parliamentary standing committees
All meetings of parliamentary standing committees have been deferred indefinitely because of the lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.
‘Standing’committees: Their existence is uninterrupted and usually reconstituted on an annual basis. Some standing committees are departmentally related.
‘Select’ committees formed for a specific purpose, for instance, to deliberate on a particular bill. Once the Bill is disposed of, that select committee ceases to exist.
Finance committees are considered to be particularly powerful. The three financial committees are the Public Accounts Committee, the Estimates Committee and the Committee on Public Undertakings.
Parliamentary committees draw their authority from Article 105 (on privileges of Parliament members) and Article 118 (on Parliament’s authority to make rules for regulating its procedure and conduct of business).
Committee reports are usually exhaustive and provide authentic information on matters related to governance. Bills that are referred to committees are returned to the House with significant value addition. However, Parliament is not bound by the recommendations of committees.
Why have parliamentary committees?
Parliament is the embodiment of the people’s will. Committees are an instrument of Parliament for its own effective functioning.
The smaller cohort of lawmakers, assembled on the basis of the proportional strength of individual parties and interests and expertise of individual lawmakers, could have more open, intensive and better-informed discussions.
Members of Parliament may have great acumen but they would require the assistance of experts in dealing with such situations. It is through committees that such expertise is drawn into lawmaking.
Executive accountability to the legislature is enforced through questions in Parliament also, which are answered by ministers. However, department standing committees go one step further and hear from senior officials of the government in a closed setting, allowing for more detailed discussions.
This mechanism also enables parliamentarians to understand the executive processes closely.
How can these committees be made more effective?
Parliamentary committees don’t have dedicated subject-wise research support available. The knowledge gap is partially bridged by expert testimony from government and other stakeholders. Their work could be made more effective if the committees had full-time, sector-specific research staff.
Currently, the rules of Parliament don’t require every bill to be referred to a parliamentary committee for scrutiny. While this allows the government greater flexibility and the ability to speed up legislative business, it comes at the cost of ineffective scrutiny by the highest law-making body. Mandatory scrutiny of all bills by parliamentary committees would ensure better planning of legislative business.