New Delhi– The Government of India, following a recent tussle with social media platform (Twitter) and an OTT platform, has announced new rules to tighten the noose around them. The Government has rolled out its oversight mechanism in relation to social media platform as well as digital media and OTT platforms etc.
Yesterday, the Government announced Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. The Government said these rules have been framed under section 87 (2) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and in supersession of the earlier Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2011.
Now, OTTs will have to self-classify the content into five age-based categories. These platforms were yet to release any statement in agreement or disagreement of these Rules.
The justification given includes “misuse of social media by criminals, anti-national elements, prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, abusive language, defamatory and obscene contents and blatant disrespect to religious sentiments, prohibiting the publishing of content that the government deems unlawful, inducement for recruitment of terrorists, circulation of obscene content, the spread of disharmony, financial frauds, incitement of violence, public order etc., alarming issue of pornography on social media and its effect on children and society.”
“India is the world’s largest open Internet society and the Government welcomes social media companies to operate in India, do business and also earn profits. However, they will have to be accountable to the Constitution and laws of India,” the Government said.
New Rules, Guidelines
These guidelines include a provision to make messaging apps to break their end-to-end encryption policy to identify the origin of the messages or the users who first sent them.
“Significant social media intermediaries providing services primarily like messaging would enable identification of the first originator of the information that is required only for prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order or of incitement to an offence relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years. The intermediary shall not be required to disclose the contents of any message or any other information to the first originator.”
The Government has also included it in its rules that these platforms would have to submit a monthly report to the government giving details of compliance with the government’s order.
“Publish a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints as well as details of contents removed proactively by the significant social media intermediary.”
The social media platforms would also have to remove or prevent the publishing of whatever content the government prohibits.
“An intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge in the form of an order by a court or being notified by the Appropriate Govt. or its agencies through authorized officer should not host or publish any information which is prohibited under any law in relation to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, friendly relations with foreign countries etc.”
“Intermediaries shall remove or disable access within 24 hours of receipt of complaints of contents that exposes the private areas of individuals, show such individuals in full or partial nudity or sexual act or is in the nature of impersonation including morphed images etc. Such a complaint can be filed either by the individual or by any other person on his/her behalf.”
Though the Government has justified the formation of these Rules to safeguard the country and the interest of its people, the announcement has sparked a debate over the future of the right to speech and freedom of expression of opinion.
Currently, in India, there are 53 Crore WhatsApp users, 44.8 Crore YouTube users, 41 Crore Facebook users, 21 Crore Instagram users, and 75 Crore Twitter users.
The reason behind these new Rules, the government said,
“Persistent spread of fake news has compelled many media platforms to create fact-check mechanisms. Rampant abuse of social media to share morphed images of women and contents related to revenge porn have often threatened the dignity of women. Misuse of social media for settling corporate rivalries in blatantly unethical manner has become a major concern for businesses. Instances of use of abusive language, defamatory and obscene contents and blatant disrespect to religious sentiments through platforms are growing.”
“Over the years, the increasing instances of misuse of social media by criminals, anti-national elements have brought new challenges for law enforcement agencies. These include inducement for recruitment of terrorists, circulation of obscene content, the spread of disharmony, financial frauds, incitement of violence, public order etc.”
In respect of news and current affairs publishers are expected to follow the journalistic conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Network Act, which is already applicable to print and TV. Hence, only a level playing field has been proposed.
The Rules has divided social media into two categories -social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries. This distinction is based on the number of users on the social media platform. The government is empowered to notify the threshold of user base that will distinguish between social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries.
Part- II of these Rules would be administered by the Ministry of Electronics and IT, while Part-III relating to the Code of Ethics and procedure and safeguards in relation to digital media would be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
Digital Media Ethics Code Relating to Digital Media and OTT Platforms to Be Administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting:
“Since the matter relates to digital platforms, therefore, a conscious decision was taken that issues relating to digital media and OTT and other creative programmes on the Internet shall be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting but the overall architecture shall be under the Information Technology Act, which governs digital platforms.”
The government said that the Rules establish a soft-touch self-regulatory architecture and a Code of Ethics and three-tier grievance redressal mechanism for news publishers and OTT Platforms and digital media.
Notified under section 87 of the Information Technology Act, these Rules empower the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to implement Part-III of the Rules which prescribe the following:
- Code of Ethics for online news, OTT platforms and digital media: This Code of Ethics prescribe the guidelines to be followed by OTT platforms and online news and digital media entities.
- Self-Classification of Content: The OTT platforms, called as the publishers of online curated content in the rules, would self-classify the content into five age-based categories- U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). Platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”. The publisher of online curated content shall prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or programme together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme enabling the user to make an informed decision, prior to watching the programme.
- Publishers of news on digital media would be required to observe Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act thereby providing a level playing field between the offline (Print, TV) and digital media.
- The platforms would have to form a self-regulatory body. There may be one or more self-regulatory bodies of publishers. Such a body would be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a High Court or independent eminent person and have not more than six members. Such a body will have to register with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. This body will oversee the adherence by the publisher to the Code of Ethics and address grievances that have not been resolved by the publisher within 15 days.
- Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will formulate an oversight mechanism. It will publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including Codes of Practices. It shall establish an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances.
At the same time, a debate is on the role of social media during protests expressing dissent that have been bothering the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at large. In fact, it’s the fundamental tendency of the governments irrespective of their ideologies to show the least tolerance towards public dissent. While, mainstream news channels well under the control of the government, social media platforms weren’t. Recent tussle between the Indian government and Twitter over removal or suspending thousands of accounts including that of Kisan Ekta Morcha and several other individuals and activists had aptly explains it.
Moreover, manipulation of existing rules (like UAPA) for suppression of dissent in several cases has come into light during the ongoing farmers’ protest over three contentious farm laws.
Featured Image: Tracy Le Blanc
South Asian Activists Join Hands to Form SAPAN (South Asia Peace Action Network)
Peace activists from India and Pakistan on March 28th through a virtual session resolved to float a South Asia Peace Action Network (SAPAN) to bring “peace-monger” groups and individuals working towards peace and stability in the region under one umbrella. These activists have been working on these issues for a long time and were talking about such a network much before the recent attempts at reconciliation between Delhi and Islamabad. Through this network they plan to urge both governments to reduce hostility and work towards a peaceful South Asia.
India and Pakistan peace activists came together for a virtual brainstorming session on March 28, inspired by the work of giants like Dr Mubashir Hasan, Asma Jahangir, Kuldip Nayar and Nikhil Chakravarty. On the agenda was the way forward for the movement, how to invigorate it by involving more allies, younger people and expatriates. The meeting coincidentally capitalised on a rare moment in recent years where there has been a deliberate lowering of hostility by both governments. With the recent announcement of a ceasefire by both armies and the meeting of the Indus Water Commissioners last week, a thaw between the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours does not seem impossible.
Regional Context, Education and Peace Journalism
“There is a need to place the India-Pakistan issue into a regional context’,’ said Beena Sarwar, senior journalist and editor of Aman Ki Asha, or ‘hope for peace. Then, Milind Champanerkar a Pune based writer and winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2017 also stated that “more progressive groups should emerge in both countries and should make peace building efforts in numerous regional languages of both countries as it would help more on the ground”. Rubina Saigol a Feminist scholar and Educationalist who was a pioneering member of the Women’s Action Forum, Pakistan, talked about how negative nationalism and infighting within the specified countries are derailing the peace process and laid emphasis on having Peace education programs for especially the youth of India and Pakistan which could help in tackling hyper-nationalism and could invariably lead to lesser defence budgets. Further, while speaking about the role of media in fuelling tensions between both countries renowned journalist Raza Rumi, editor Naya Daur said, “There is conflict reporting, but we haven’t placed enough emphasis on peace journalism,’’ specifying that something needs to be done to build the existing peace constituencies on both sides.
People to People Contact
Participants stressed the importance of urging both governments to normalise relations between the two countries and allow free movement of people across the borders.
“We need to broaden the peace constituency by bringing people together, learning from each other on issues that affect us and that have the potential to change our future”, said Ravi Nitesh, co-founder of the youth group Aaghaz-e-Dosti. Sheema Kermani, a Social activist from Sindh, Pakistan, also the founder of the Tehrik-e-Niswan Cultural Action Group said that “South Asia requires open borders and more people to people contact”, also emphasizing the fact that a better Visa policy shall be in place concerning India and Pakistan.
Siraj Khan, President of the Pakistani Association of Greater Boston who has also worked a lot in India emphasized having a better Visa regime in India and Pakistan and stated that “the artist connection is the biggest peace-builder, and more focus should be put on connecting artists of both countries”.
COVID and Beyond
Furthermore, Jatin Desai, former General Secretary of Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy, the region’s largest and oldest people-to-people group said that “Things are moving ahead. It is a very important moment, and we must take advantage of it,’’ stating that the pandemic has underscored the need for better cooperation within the region and had forced the governments on both sides to moot better connectivity projects. Farooq Tariq a Lahore based activist and General Secretary of Pakistan Kissan Rabita stated that South Asian governments shall all work together in providing Covid vaccinations for their people.
Thus, all activists hoped the current thaw in India-Pakistan relations will lead to more exchanges between the countries which will further strengthen South Asia. Participants in several breakout rooms at the meeting discussing the way forward strongly felt the need to counter the vitriol on social media targeting those who speak for peace. Other noted participants in the discussions included human rights activist Rita Manchanda, artist Salima Hashmi, former Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed, labour activist Karamat Ali, author Urvashi Butalia, General Secretary PIPFPD India chapter Vijayan M.J., Sanjoy Hazarika of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Panday, editor Kashmir Times Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, senior journalist Panneerselvan, and former Indian Navy chief Ramu Ramdas who is also a Magsaysay awardee, besides several prominent Rotarians from both sides, among others.
Videos: Uttarakhand ‘Glacier Break’ Triggers Massive Flooding, Several Dead, Over 150 Missing
Uttarakhand-A “glacier break” at Joshimath in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district today triggered a massive flood in the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers. While A dozen bodies have already been recovered, over 150 people are feared are still missing and feared to be dead. These people are mostly those working inside power projects. About 16 people, who were stuck in a tunnel of Tapovan dam, had been rescued at the time of writing. Efforts were on to rescue others trapped in another tunnel, which was being coordinated by the Army and ITBP. This natural disaster has also triggered debate among ecologists and environmental activists over building too many dams in the Himalayan region.
Videos of this tragic, as well as, horrifying incident have appeared on social media platforms. Videos showed scary scenes of the water tearing through a narrow valley below the power plant and destroying almost everything which came in its spate appeared.
#Uttarakhand_Disaster: #glacier-related disaster. Glacial Lake Outburt Flood (GLOF), same was witnessed in Kedarnath in 2013. More info awaited. #RishiGangaPowerProject destroyed. #Chamoli #PrayersForUttarakhand pic.twitter.com/9iSsptruFi
— Utkarsh Singh (@utkarshs88) February 7, 2021
According to the initial report issued by the Union Government, due to the glacier burst near Joshimath and avalanche, the flow of water increased greatly and first the water level started rising in the Rishiganga River and later in Alaknanda River. The massive flood washed away the Rishiganga small hydro project of 13.2 MW.
Heavy floods turn up in the #Joshimath Region of #Uttarakhand due to breaking up of #JoshimathGlacier today morning. The dams of the rivers also collapsed along with the #RishigangaPowerProject. High alert has been declared in #Rishinagar, #Rishikesh and #Haridwar. pic.twitter.com/h0hogxaSUf
— Mojo Story (@themojostory) February 7, 2021
The flash flood also affected the downstream hydro project of NTPC at Tapovan on the river Dhauliganga, which is a tributary of the river Alaknanda.
— SkymetWeather (@SkymetWeather) February 7, 2021
There is no danger of downstream flooding and the rise in water level has been contained, as per the information given by the Central Water Commission (CWC). There is also no threat to the neighbouring villages. At the same time, the concerned agencies of the Centre and the State were asked to keep a strict vigil on the situation, and a team from DRDO, which monitors avalanches, is being flown in for surveillance and reconnaissance. MD, NTPC has been asked to reach the affected site immediately.
— Sanjay Jha (@SanjayJha) February 7, 2021
Rescue and Relief Operations by the Centre and State Government are in full swing and 3 teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) have reached the spot. More than 200 ITBP personnel are on the spot, and one column and Engineering Task Force (ETF) of Army, with all rescue equipment, have been deployed. Navy divers are being flown in and aircraft/ helicopters of the Indian Air Force (IAF) are on standby.
— Aditya Raj Kaul (@AdityaRajKaul) February 7, 2021
“We are focusing on the second tunnel, that is tunnel number one, we’ve learnt that around 30 people are trapped there. We will be carrying out night operations also. Our teams are already on the job and we hope that we’ll be able to rescue them,” Vivek Pandey, ITBP, PRO, Uttarakhand told ANI.
— Manish rai (@ra_i_manish) February 7, 2021
IMD said that there is no rainfall warning in the region for the next two days. Efforts are being made to ensure that all missing people are traced and accounted for, the Government said.
#WATCH| Uttarakhand: ITBP personnel approach the tunnel near Tapovan dam in Chamoli to rescue 16-17 people who are trapped.
(Video Source: ITBP) pic.twitter.com/DZ09zaubhz
— ANI (@ANI) February 7, 2021
— DD News (@DDNewslive) February 7, 2021
Read All Budget 2021-22 Highlights
The Union Minister for Finance & Corporate Affairs, Smt Nirmala Sitharaman presented the Union Budget 2021-22 in Parliament on February 1, 2021.
1.Health and Wellbeing
There is increase in investment in Health Infrastructure and the Budget outlay for Health and Wellbeing is Rs 2,23,846 crore in BE 2021-22 as against this year’s BE of Rs 94,452 crore, an increase of 137 percentage.
A new centrally sponsored scheme, PM AatmaNirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana, will be launched with an outlay of about Rs 64, 180 crore over 6 years. The aim is to develop capacities of primary, secondary, and tertiary care Health Systems, strengthen existing national institutions, and create new institutions. This will be in addition to the National Health Mission. The main interventions under the scheme are:
- Support for 17,788 rural and 11,024 urban Health and Wellness Centers
- Setting up integrated public health labs in all districts and 3382 block public health units in 11 states;
- Establishing critical care hospital blocks in 602 districts and 12 central institutions;
- Strengthening of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), its 5 regional branches and 20 metropolitan health surveillance units;
- Expansion of the Integrated Health Information Portal to all States/UTs to connect all public health labs;
- Operationalisation of 17 new Public Health Units and strengthening of 33 existing Public Health Units at Points of Entry, that is at 32 Airports, 11 Seaports and 7 land crossings;
- Setting up of 15 Health Emergency Operation Centers and 2 mobile hospitals; and
- Setting up of a national institution for One Health, a Regional Research Platform for WHO South East Asia Region, 9 Bio-Safety Level III laboratories and 4 regional National Institutes for Virology.
Provision of Rs 35,000 crore made for Covid-19 vaccine in BE 2021-22.
The Pneumococcal Vaccine, a Made in India product, presently limited to only 5 states, will be rolled out across the country aimed at averting 50,000 child deaths annually.
Government will merge the Supplementary Nutrition Programme and the PoshanAbhiyan and launch the Mission Poshan 2.0. Government will adopt an intensified strategy to improve nutritional outcomes across 112 Aspirational Districts.
Universal Coverage of Water Supply and Swachch Bharat Mission
JalJeevan Mission (Urban), will be launched for universal water supply in all 4,378 Urban Local Bodies with 2.86 crore household tap connections, as well as liquid waste management in 500 AMRUT cities. It will be implemented over 5 years, with an outlay of Rs. 2,87,000 crore. Moreover, the Urban Swachh Bharat Mission will be implemented with a total financial allocation of Rs 1,41,678 crore over a period of 5 years from 2021-2026. Also to tackle air pollution, government proposed to provide an amount of Rs. 2,217 crore for 42 urban centres with a million-plus population in this budget. A voluntary vehicle scrapping policy to phase out old and unfit vehicles was also announced. Fitness tests have been proposed in automated fitness centres after 20 years in case of personal vehicles, and after 15 years in case of commercial vehicles
2.Physical and Financial Capital and Infrastructure
AatmaNirbhar Bharat-Production Linked Incentive Scheme
PLI schemes for an AatmaNirbhar Bharat have been announced for 13 sectors. The government has committed nearly Rs.1.97 lakh crore in the next 5 years starting FY 2021-22. The Minister claimed that this initiative will help bring scale and size in key sectors, create and nurture global champions and provide jobs to our youth.
A scheme of Mega Investment Textiles Parks (MITRA) will be launched in addition to the PLI scheme. The Minister claimed that this will create world class infrastructure with plug and play facilities to enable create global champions in exports. 7 Textile Parks will be established over 3 years.
The National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) was launched with 6835 projects; the project pipeline has now expanded to 7,400 projects. Around 217 projects worth Rs 1.10 lakh crore under some key infrastructure Ministries have been completed.
Infrastructure financing – Development Financial Institution (DFI)
A Bill to set up a DFI will be introduced. Government has provided a sum of Rs 20,000 crore to capitalise this institution and the ambition is to have a lending portfolio of at least Rs 5 lakh crore for this DFI in three years time.
Monetizing operating public infrastructure assets is a very important financing option for new infrastructure construction. A “National Monetization Pipeline” of potential Brownfield infrastructure assets will be launched. An Asset Monetization dashboard will also be created for tracking the progress and to provide visibility to investors. Some important measures in the direction of monetisation are:
- National Highways Authority of India and PGCIL each have sponsored one InvIT that will attract international and domestic institutional investors. Five operational roads with an estimated enterprise value of Rs 5,000 crore are being transferred to the NHAIInvIT. Similarily, transmission assets of a value of Rs 7,000 crore will be transferred to the PGCIL InvIT.
- Railways will monetize Dedicated Freight Corridor assets for operations and maintenance, after commissioning.
- The next lot of Airports will be monetised for operations and management concession.
- Other core infrastructure assets that will be rolled out under the Asset Monetization Programme are: (i) NHAI Operational Toll Roads (ii) Transmission Assets of PGCIL (iii) Oil and Gas Pipelines of GAIL, IOCL and HPCL (iv) AAI Airports in Tier II and III cities, (v) Other Railway Infrastructure Assets (vi) Warehousing Assets of CPSEs such as Central Warehousing Corporation and NAFED among others and (vii) Sports Stadiums.
Roads and Highways Infrastructure
By March 2022, Government would be awarding another 8,500 kms and complete an additional 11,000 kms of national highway corridors. The Minister also provided an enhanced outlay of Rs. 1,18,101 lakh crore for Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, of which Rs.1,08,230 crore is for capital, the highest ever.
Indian Railways have prepared a National Rail Plan for India – 2030. The Plan is to create a ‘future ready’ Railway system by 2030. It is expected that Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) and Eastern DFC will be commissioned by June 2022.
For Passenger convenience and safety, the following measures are proposed:
- Introduction of aesthetically designed Vista Dome LHB coach on tourist routes to give a better travel experience to passengers.
- The safety measures undertaken in the past few years have borne results. To further strengthen this effort, high density network and highly utilized network routes of Indian railways will be provided with an indigenously developed automatic train protection system that eliminates train collision due to human error.
- Budget also provided a record sum of Rs. 1,10,055 crore, for Railways of which Rs. 1,07,100 crore is for capital expenditure.
Government will work towards raising the share of public transport in urban areas through expansion of metro rail network and augmentation of city bus service. A new scheme will be launched at a cost of Rs. 18,000 crore to support augmentation of public bus transport services.
A total of 702 km of conventional metro is operational and another 1,016 km of metro and RRTS is under construction in 27 cities. Two new technologies i.e., ‘MetroLite’ and ‘MetroNeo’ will be deployed to provide metro rail systems at much lesser cost with same experience, convenience and safety in Tier-2 cities and peripheral areas of Tier-1 cities.
The Minister claimed that during the past 6 years, 139 Giga Watts of installed capacity has been added, connecting an additional 2.8 crore households and addition of 1.41 lakh circuit km of transmission lines.
Finance Minister proposed to launch a revamped reforms-based result-linked power distribution sector scheme with an outlay of Rs. 3,05,984 crore over 5 years. The scheme will provide assistance to DISCOMS for Infrastructure creation including pre-paid smart metering and feeder separation, upgradation of systems, etc., tied to financial improvements.
Ports, Shipping, Waterways
Major Ports will be moving from managing their operational services on their own to a model where a private partner will manage it for them. For the purpose the budget proposes to offer more than Rs. 2,000 crore by Major Ports on Public Private Partnership mode in FY21-22.
A scheme to promote flagging of merchant ships in India will be launched by providing subsidy support to Indian shipping companies in global tenders floated by Ministries and CPSEs. An amount of Rs. 1624 crore will be provided over 5 years. This initiative will enable greater training and employment opportunities for Indian seafarers besides enhancing Indian companies share in global shipping.
Petroleum & Natural Gas
Following key initiatives are being announced:
- Ujjwala Scheme will be extended to cover 1 crore more beneficiaries.
- Government will add 100 more districts in next 3 years to the City Gas Distribution network.
- A gas pipeline project will be taken up in Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir.
- An independent Gas Transport System Operator will be set up for facilitation and coordination of booking of common carrier capacity in all-natural gas pipelines on a non-discriminatory open access basis.
The Finance Minister proposed to consolidate the provisions of SEBI Act, 1992, Depositories Act, 1996, Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1956 and Government Securities Act, 2007 into a rationalized single Securities Markets Code. The Government would support the development of a world class Fin-Tech hub at the GIFT-IFSC.
Increasing FDI in Insurance Sector
She also proposed to amend the Insurance Act, 1938 to increase the permissible FDI limit from 49% to 74% and allow foreign ownership and control with safeguards. Under the new structure, the majority of Directors on the Board and key management persons would be resident Indians, with at least 50% of Directors being Independent Directors, and specified percentage of profits being retained as general reserve.
Disinvestment and Strategic Sale
The Finance Minister said a number of transactions namely BPCL, Air India, Shipping Corporation of India, Container Corporation of India, IDBI Bank, BEML, Pawan Hans, NeelachalIspat Nigam limited among others would be completed in 2021-22. Other than IDBI Bank, Government propose to take up the privatization of two Public Sector Banks and one General Insurance company in the year 2021-22.
In 2021-22, Government would also bring the IPO of LIC for which the requisite amendments will be made in this Session itself.
The Finance Minister said that in the AtmaNirbhar Package, she had announced to come out with a policy of strategic disinvestment of public sector enterprises and said that the Government has approved the said policy. The policy provides a clear roadmap for disinvestment in all non-strategic and strategic sectors. Government has kept four areas that are strategic where bare minimum CPSEs will be maintained and rest privatized. In the non-strategic sectors, CPSEs will be privatised, otherwise shall be closed. She said that to fast forward the disinvestment policy, NITI Aayog will work out on the next list of Central Public Sector companies that would be taken up for strategic disinvestment. Government has estimated Rs. 1,75,000 crore as receipts from disinvestment in BE 2020-21 .
3.Inclusive Development for India
The Finance Minister announced to cover Agriculture and Allied sectors, farmers’ welfare and rural India, migrant workers and labour, and financial inclusion.
The Minister said that the MSP regime has undergone a sea change to assure price that is at least 1.5 times the cost of production across all commodities. The procurement has also continued to increase at a steady pace. This has resulted in increase in payment to farmers substantially.
In case of wheat, the total amount paid to farmers in 2013-2014 was Rs. 33,874 crore. In 2019-2020 it was Rs. 62,802 crore, and even better, in 2020-2021, this amount, paid to farmers, was Rs. 75,060 crore. The number of wheat growing farmers that were benefitted increased in 2020-21 to 43.36 lakhs as compared to 35.57 lakhs in 2019-20.
For paddy, the amount paid in 2013-14 was Rs. 63,928 crore. In 2019-2020, this increased to Rs.1,41,930 crore. Even better, in 2020-2021, this is further estimated to increase to Rs. 172,752 crore. The farmers benefitted increased from 1.24 crore in 2019-20 to 1.54 crore in 2020-21.
In the same vein, in case of pulses, the amount paid in 2013-2014 was ` 236 crore. In 2019-20 it increased to Rs. 8,285 crore. Now, in 2020-2021, it is at Rs.10,530 crore, a more than 40 times increase from 2013-14.
The receipts to cotton farmers have seen a increase from Rs. 90 crore in 2013-14 to Rs. 25,974 crore (as on 27th January 2021).
Early this year, Honourable Prime Minister had launched SWAMITVA Scheme. Under this, a record of rights is being given to property owners in villages. Up till now, about 1.80 lakh property-owners in 1,241 villages have been provided cards and the Finance Minister proposed during FY21-22 to extend this to cover all states/UTs.
The Government has enhanced the agricultural credit target to Rs. 16.5 lakh crore in FY22. Similarly, the allocation to the Rural Infrastructure Development Fund increased from Rs. 30,000 crore to Rs. 40,000 crore. The Micro Irrigation Fund, with a corpus of Rs.5,000 crore has been created under NABARD will be doubled.
The scope of ‘Operation Green Scheme’ that is presently applicable to tomatoes, onions, and potatoes, will be enlarged to include 22 perishable products.
Around 1.68 crore farmers are registered and Rs. 1.14 lakh crore of trade value has been carried out through e-NAMs. 1,000 more mandis will be integrated with e-NAM. The Agriculture Infrastructure Funds would be made available to APMCs for augmenting their infrastructure facilities.
To start with, 5 major fishing harbours – Kochi, Chennai, Visakhapatnam, Paradip, and Petuaghat – will be developed as hubs of economic activity.
Migrant Workers and Labourers
Government has launched the One Nation One Ration Card scheme through which beneficiaries can claim their rations anywhere in the country. One Nation One Ration Card plan is under implementation by 32 states and UTs, reaching about 69 crore beneficiaries – that’s a total of 86% beneficiaries covered. The remaining 4 states and UTs will be integrated in the next few months.
Social security benefits will extend to gig and platform workers. Minimum wages will apply to all categories of workers, and they will all be covered by the Employees State Insurance Corporation. Women will be allowed to work in all categories and also in the night-shifts with adequate protection. Compliance burden on employers will be reduced with single registration and licensing, and online returns.
To facilitate credit flow under the scheme of Stand Up India for SCs, STs, and women, the Finance Minister proposed to reduce the margin money requirement from 25% to 15%, and to also include loans for activities allied to agriculture. Government has provided Rs. 15,700 crore to MSME sector – more than double of this year’s BE.
More than 15,000 schools will be qualitatively strengthened to include all components of the National Education Policy. The Minster also announced that 100 new Sainik Schools will be set up in partnership with NGOs/private schools/states. She also proposed to set up a Higher Education Commission of India, as an umbrella body having 4 separate vehicles for standard-setting, accreditation, regulation, and funding. For accessible higher education in Ladakh, Government proposed to set up a Central University in Leh.
Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Welfare
Government has set a target of establishing 750 Eklavya model residential schools in tribal areas with increase in unit cost of each such school from Rs. 20 crore to Rs. 38 crore, and for hilly and difficult areas, to Rs. 48 crore. Similarly, under the revamped Post Matric Scholarship Scheme for the welfare of Scheduled Castes, the Central Assistance was enhanced and allocated Rs. 35,219 crore for 6 years till 2025-2026, to benefit 4 crore SC students.
5.Innovation and R&D
The Finance Minister said that in her Budget Speech of July 2019, she had announced the National Research Foundation and added that the NRF outlay will be of Rs. 50,000 crore, over 5 years.
Government will undertake a new initiative – National Language Translation Mission (NTLM). This will enable the wealth of governance-and-policy related knowledge on the Internet being made available in major Indian languages.
The New Space India Limited (NSIL), a PSU under the Department of Space will execute the PSLV-CS51 launch, carrying the Amazonia Satellite from Brazil, along with a few smaller Indian satellites.
As part of the Gaganyaan mission activities, four Indian astronauts are being trained on Generic Space Flight aspects, in Russia. The first unmanned launch is slated for December 2021.
6.Minimum Government, Maximum Governance
The Finance Minister proposed to take measures to rationalised the functioning of Tribunals. Government has introduced the National Commission for Allied Healthcare Professionals Bill in Parliament, with a view to ensure transparent and efficient regulation of the 56 allied healthcare professions. She also announced that the forthcoming Census could be the first digital census for this Rs. 3,768 crore allocated in the year 2021-2022.
Against an original BE expenditure of Rs. 30.42 lakh crore for 2020-2021, RE estimates are Rs. 34.50 lakh crore. The capital expenditure, estimated in RE is Rs. 4.39 lakh crore in 2020-2021 as against Rs. 4.12 lakh crore in BE 2020-21.
The Finance Minister said fiscal deficit in RE 2020-21 is pegged at 9.5% of GDP and it has been funded through Government borrowings, multilateral borrowings, Small Saving Funds and short-term borrowings. She added that the Government would need another Rs 80,000 crore for which it would be approaching the markets in these 2 months. The fiscal deficit in BE 2021-2022 is estimated to be 6.8% of GDP. The gross borrowing from the market for the next year would be around 12 lakh crore.
Sitharaman announced that the Government plan to continue the path of fiscal consolidation, and intend to reach a fiscal deficit level below 4.5% of GDP by 2025-2026 with a fairly steady decline over the period.
“We hope to achieve the consolidation by first, increasing the buoyancy of tax revenue through improved compliance, and secondly, by increased receipts from monetisation of assets, including Public Sector Enterprises and land”, she said.
In accordance with the views of the 15th Finance Commission, Government is allowing a normal ceiling of net borrowing for the states at 4% of GSDP for the year 2021-2022.
The FRBM Act mandates fiscal deficit of 3% of GDP to be achieved by 31st March 2020-2021. The effect of this year’s unforeseen and unprecedented circumstances has necessitated the submission of a deviation statement under Sections 4 (5) and 7 (3) (b) of the FRBM Act which the Finance Minister laid on the Table of the House as part of the FRBM Documents.
On 9th December 2020, the 15th Finance Commission submitted its final report, covering the period 2021-2026 to the Rashtrapatiji. The Government has laid the Commission’s report, along with the explanatory memorandum retaining the vertical shares of the states at 41%. On the Commission’s recommendation, the Budget provided Rs. 1,18,452 crore as revenue deficit grant to 17 states in 2021-22.
In Part B of the Budget Speech, the Union Minister Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman seeks to further simplify the Tax Administration, Litigation Management and ease the compliance of Direct Tax Administration. The indirect proposal focuses on custom duty rationalization as well as rationalization of procedures and easing of compliance.
DIRECT TAX PROPOSALS
The Finance Minister provided relief to senior citizens in filing of income tax returns, reduced time limit for income tax proceedings announced setting up of the Dispute Resolution Committee, faceless ITAT, relaxation to NRIs, increase in exemption limit from audit and relief for dividend income. She also announced steps to attract foreign investment into infrastructure, relief to affordable housing and rental housing, tax incentives to IFSC, relief to small charitable trusts, and steps for incentivizing Start-ups in the country.
Sitharaman, in her Budget speech, said that in the year 2020, the income tax return filers saw a increase to 6.48 crore from 3.31 crore in 2014.
The Budget seeks to reduce compliance burden on senior citizens who are of 75 years of age and above. Such senior citizens having only pension and interest income will be exempted from filing their income tax return. The paying Bank will deduct the necessary tax on their income. The Budget proposes to notify rules for removing the hardship of non-Resident Indians returning to India on the issue of their accrued incomes in their foreign retirement account. The Budget proposes to make dividend payment to REIT/InvIT exempt from TDS. For Foreign Portfolio Investors, the Budget proposes deduction of tax on dividend income at lower treaty rate. The Budget provides that advanced tax liability on dividend income shall arise only after the declaration or payment of dividend. The Minister said that this was being done as the amount of dividend income cannot be estimated correctly by the shareholders for paying advance tax.
The Finance Minister proposed to extend the eligibility period for claim of additional deduction for interest of Rs. 1.5 lakh paid for loan taken for purchase of an affordable house to 31st March, 2022. In order to increase the supply of affordable houses, she also announced extension of eligibility period for claiming tax holiday for affordable housing projects by one more year to 31st March, 2022. For promoting supply of affordable rental housing for the migrant workers, the Minister announced a new tax exemption for the notified affordable rental housing projects.
Sitharaman announced extension in the eligibility for claiming tax holiday for start ups by one more year till 31st March, 2022. In order to incentivize funding of start ups, she proposed extending the Capital Gains exemption for investment in start ups by one more year till 31st March, 2022.
The Finance Minister said that delay in deposit of the contribution of employees towards various welfare funds results in permanent loss of interest/income for the employees. In order to ensure timely deposit of employee’s contribution to these funds by the employers, she announced that late deposit of employee’s contribution shall never be allowed as deduction to the employer.
The Budget provides reduction in the time-limit for reopening of income tax proceeding for three years from the present six years. In serious tax evasion cases, where there is evidence of concealment of income of Rs. 50 lakh or more in a year, the assessment can be reopened upto 10 years but only after the approval of the Principal Chief Commissioner.
The Finance Minister said that the Direct Tax Vivad se Vishwas Scheme announced by the Government has been received well. Until 30th January, 2021, over one lakh ten thousand tax payers have opted to settle tax dispute of over Rs. 85 thousand crores under the Scheme. To further reduce litigation of small tax payers, she proposed to constitute a Dispute Resolution Committee. Anyone with a taxable income upto Rs. 50 lakh and disputed income upto Rs. 10 lakh shall be eligible to approach the Committee. She also announced setting up of National Faceless Income Tax Appellate Tibunal Centre.
To incentivize digital transaction and to reduce the compliance burden of the person who is carrying almost all of the transactions digitally, the Budget proposes to increase the limit for tax audit for persons who are undertaking 95 per cent of their transaction digitally from Rs. 5 Crore to Rs. 10 Crore.
To attract foreign investment into infrastructure sector, the Budget proposes to relax certain conditions relating to prohibition on private funding, restriction on commercial activities and direct investment in infrastructure. In order to allow funding of infrastructure by issue of zero coupon bonds, the Budget proposes to make notified infrastructure debt funds eligible to raise funds by issuing tax efficient zero coupon bonds.
In order to promote International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) in GIFT City, the Budget proposes more tax incentives.
The Budget proposes that details of capital gains from listed securities, dividend income and interest from banks, post office etc. will also be pre-filled to ease filing of returns. Details of salary income, tax payment, TDS etc already come pre-filled in returns.
In order to reduce compliance burden on the small charitable trust running educational institutions and hospitals, the Budget proposes to increase the limit on annual receipts for these trusts from present Rs.1 Crore to Rs. 5 Crore for non-applicability of various compliances.
INDIRECT TAX PROPOSALS
With respect to the custom duty policy, the Finance Minister proposed to review 400 old exemptions in the custom duty structure this year. She announced that extensive consultation will be conducted and from 1st October, 2021, a revised custom duty structure free of distortions will be put in place. She also proposed that any new custom duty exemptions henceforth will have validity upto to the 31st March following 2 years of the date of its issue.
The Finance Minister announced withdrawal of a few exemptions on parts of chargers and sub-parts of mobile phones further some parts of mobiles will move from “NIL” rate to a moderate 2.5 per cent. She also announced reducing custom duty uniformly to 7.5 per cent on semis, flat, and long products of non-alloy and stainless steel. She also announced exempting duty on steel scrap for a period upto 31st March 2022.
The Finance Minister announced bringing nylon chain on par with polyester and other man-made fibers. Announcing uniform deduction of the BCD rates on Caprolactam, nylon chips and nylon fiber and yarn to 5 per cent, the Minister said this will help the textile industry, MSMEs and exports too. She also announced calibration of customs duty rate on chemical to encourage domestic value addition and to remove inversions. The Minister also announced rationalization of custom duty on gold and silver.
The Finance Minister said that a phased manufacturing plan for solar cells and solar panels will be notified to build up domestic capacity. She announced raising duty on solar inverter from 5 per cent to 20 percent and on solar lanterns from 5 per cent to 15 per cent.
She announced revision in duty rates on certain items immediately including tunnel boring machine and certain auto parts.
The Budget proposes certain changes to benefit MSMEs which include increasing duty on steel screws, plastic builder wares and prawn feed. It also provide for rationalizing exemption on import of duty free items as an incentives to exporters of garments leather and handicraft items. It also provides withdrawing exemption on imports of certain kind of leather and raising custom duty on finished synthetic gem stones.
To benefit farmers, the Finance Minister announced raising custom duty on cotton, raw silk and silk yarn. She also announced withdrawing end-use based concessions on denatured ethyl alcohol. The Minister also proposed an Agriculture Infrastructure and Development Cess on a small number of items. She said “while applying the cess, we have taken care not to put additional burden on consumers on most items.
Regarding rationalization of procedures and easing of compliance, the Finance Minister proposed certain changes in the provisions relating to ADD and CVD levies. She also said that to complete customs investigation, definite time-lines are being prescribed. The Minister said that the Turant Custom Initiative rolled out in 2020 has helped in putting a check of misuse of FTAs.
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