Current Affairs 2nd May 2022

April GST revenues go past Rs. 1.67 lakh crore #GS3 #Economy

India’s gross Goods and Services Tax (GST) revenues hit a fresh high of Rs. 1,67,540 crore in April, with revenues from goods imports rising 30% year-on-year and domestic transactions, along with services imports, rising 17%.

The Finance Ministry said that April’s revenues for transactions undertaken in March reflected a “faster recovery” of business activity, while industry experts attributed part of the surge to a massive uptick in input costs for producers, some of which is also visible in high retail prices as well as new and tighter input credit norms.

Overall GST revenues were 20% higher than a year ago, and 17.9% higher than the March 2022 collections of Rs. 1,42,095 crore with 7.7 crore e-way bills generated in March, 13% higher than in February 2022. “For the first time, gross GST collection has crossed Rs. 1.5 lakh crore mark,” it said.

Multiple factors

“While the GST collections in respect of March have always been high, the record collections are due to multiple favourable factors, including the recent changes on permitting input tax credits only upon timely compliance by the vendors,” Deloitte India partner M.S. Mani said.

‘Reflects price rise’

Vivek Jalan, partner at Tax Connect Advisory, said the higher revenues not only reflect the continuing economic recovery but also the tremendous price rise in input costs and the implementation of GSTR 2B under which a recipient can only take credit for inputs, whose suppliers have filed their returns.

Central GST revenues constituted Rs. 33,159 crore of April’s gross revenues from the tax, while State GST accounted for Rs. 41,793 crore and Integrated GST made up Rs. 81,939 crore, including Rs. 36,705 crore on import of goods.

GST Compensation Cess collections, used to recompense States, grew 13.08% in April over March collections, to touch Rs. 10,649 crore. The cess collections included Rs. 857 crore collected on import of goods, marking a 8.9% decline from the Rs. 941 crore cess from import of goods in March.

“This shows improvement in the compliance behaviour, which has been a result of measures taken by the administration to nudge taxpayers to file returns timely,,” the Ministry said.

e-Shram to help settle workers’ accident claims #GS3 #Economy

Top functionaries of the Union Labour and Employment Ministry said last week that the Ministry was working on a mechanism to process accident insurance claims by unorganised workers registered on the e-Shram portal, which has seen over 27 crore registrations so far.

The portal was launched six months ago with the aim of creating a national database of unorganised workers and to facilitate social security schemes for them. Among the promises made then was that the workers would be eligible for Rs. 2 lakh as accident insurance.

A senior official of the Ministry said discussions were on to link the e-Shram portal with the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana, the Centre’s existing accident insurance scheme. The scheme would allow the workers to get the direct benefit transfer (DBT) through the e-Shram unique ID number.

Same series

The official added that the unique IDs on the e-Shram portal carried the same series from the Employees Provident Fund Organisation’s (EPFO) universal account number (UAN). Another functionary said that a “mechanism for disposal” of the claims was in the works.

Trade pact between India, UAE is active #GS2 #IR

The India-UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), the biggest bilateral trade pact between the two major economies, was activated on Sunday.

The agreement was signed on February 18 between the two sides. Coinciding with the important occasion, Secretary, Department of Commerce, B.V.R. Subrahmanyam flagged off the first consignment of goods consisting of jewellery items from India to the UAE under the India-UAE CEPA at an event held at the New Customs House here.

The India-UAE CEPA is the first of the major bilateral trade pacts that India has been negotiating to kickstart international trade in the post-COVID-19 scenario.

Will try to strengthen spirit of cooperation with Europe: PM #GS2 #IR

Welfare of the Indian diaspora, the crisis in Ukraine and renewable energy are expected to be in focus during the three-nation Europe tour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that starts on Monday. In a pre-departure press statement, Mr. Modi said his visit would strengthen the spirit of cooperation between India and the European countries.

“My visit to Europe comes at a time when the region faces many challenges and choices. Through my engagements, I intend to strengthen the spirit of cooperation with our European partners, who are important companions in India’s quest for peace and prosperity,” Mr. Modi said. The visit is the first big engagement by the top Indian leadership with major European powers since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Ties with Germany

Mr. Modi will reach Berlin on Monday morning where he will hold talks with Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The two leaders will lead the Indian and German delegations during the Inter-Governmental Consultations (IGC).

“I see the IGC as an early engagement with the new government of Germany, within six months of its formation, which will be helpful to identify our priorities for the medium and long term,” Mr. Modi said.

Holding a special briefing on the visit, the newly appointed Foreign Secretary, Vinay Mohan Kwatra, said External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will accompany the Prime Minister and hold talks with their respective counterparts.

The visit by Mr. Modi comes against the backdrop of multiple visits by European leaders to Ukraine who have pressed for a common front against Russia.

Mr. Kwatra, however, indicated that India would stick to the cautious stance regarding Russia. “We have been calling for cessation of violence,” he said.

India has refused to endorse an outrightly pro-Ukraine line at the United Nations and has maintained neutrality in the face of mounting pressure from Western countries.

Indian diaspora

Mr. Kwatra said outreach to the Indian diaspora would be an important part of Mr. Modi’s visit.

“Continental Europe is home to over one million persons of Indian origin, and Germany has a significant proportion of this diaspora,” Mr. Modi said, adding that he would meet “brothers and sisters there”.

From Berlin, Mr. Modi will fly to Copenhagen where he will lead the Indian team at the second India-Nordic Summit along with the Prime Ministers of Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Sweden and Norway. The summit is expected to focus on the post-pandemic economic path, climate change, digitisation and renewable energy.

On his way back, Mr. Modi will meet French President Emmanuel Macron who recently won the re-election against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

“President Macron and I will share assessment on various regional and global issues and will take stock of ongoing bilateral cooperation. It is my firm belief that two countries that share such similar vision and values for the global order, must work in close cooperation each other,” Mr. Modi said in his statement.

Keep health facilities prepared for heatwave cases, says Centre #GS3 #Environment

Health facilities need to increase resilience to extreme heat by arranging uninterrupted electricity supply for cooling appliances and installing solar panels, wherever feasible, and taking steps to reduce indoor heat through special roofing, window shades, and such other measures, the Health Ministry said on Sunday.

The Ministry has written to the Chief Secretaries of the States and the Union Territories advising that the preparedness of health facilities must be reviewed for the availability of adequate quantities of essential medicines, IV fluids, ice packs, ORS and equipment.

Sufficient drinking water

The availability of sufficient drinking water at all the health facilities and the continued functioning of cooling appliances in critical areas must be ensured. It added that the rainwater harvesting and recycling plants may also be explored for attaining self-sufficiency in water supply.

The Ministry said that the seasonal and monthly outlook from the India Meteorological Department for March-May forecasts above normal maximum temperatures in many areas of the country and much higher temperatures in the central, western and northern parts of the country.

Temperatures have already touched 46 degrees Celsius at some places and deviation up to six degrees Celsius from expected normal temperatures have also been reported, the Health Ministry said.

“States may also use Information, Education and Communication (IEC) as well as community-level awareness materials regarding the precautions to be taken by population to safeguard themselves against heatwave,” Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said in his letter.

Standard template

The Health Ministry has disseminated a standard template of Public Health Advisory incorporating dos and dont’s, prepared by the National Centre for Disease Control. It added that this can be used as a template and customised to suit local needs as well as translated in local languages for wider dissemination. He urged to disseminate the guideline document “National Action on Heat Related Illnesses” to all districts.

Railway restructuring to lead to closure of major wings #GS3 #Economy

Going ahead with its downsizing plan, the Indian Railways has announced the closure of the Special Railway Establishment for Strategic Technology and Holistic Advancement (SRESTHA), Lucknow.

Established in March 2016, the SRESTHA directorate, part of the Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO), was tasked with the role of taking up long-term railway research projects requiring technological advancement.

As part of the restructuring plan, the Railways also decided to merge 32 directorates of the RDSO and brought them under seven verticals — administration, infrastructure, rolling stock, traction and power supply, signal and telecommunication, resource and testing and traffic and psychology.

Another notification is that the Geotech Engineering Directorate will be merged with the Track and Bridges & Structures Directorate.

The establishment of Principal Executive Director, Defence Research, at the Defence Research and Development Organisation, New Delhi, was detached from the RDSO.

The Railways also proposed to create new posts in the rank of Executive Director, Design, to be posted at the Integral Coach Factory, Chennai, Rail Coach Factory, Kapurthala and Modern Coach Factory, Rae Bareli, under the Railway Board’s Rolling Stock Directorate. The creation of the top-ranking posts assumes significance against the backdrop of the decision to roll out more than 200 Vande Bharat rakes at an estimated Rs. 26,000 crore.

Sanyal’s proposals

The restructuring plan of the country’s largest employer and transporter which is resulting in the closure or merger of major establishments and private participation in running hospitals and schools is in line with the recommendations for rationalisation of government bodies made by Principal Economic Adviser Sanjeev Sanyal.

In his proposal to the Railway Minister, Mr. Sanyal called for the winding up of organisations such as the Central Organisation for Railway Electrification (CORE), the Central Organisation for Modernisation Of Workshops (COFMOW), the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) and the Indian Railways Organisation for Alternative Fuel (closed on September 7, 2021).

The Railways was continuing with the closure/merger of crucial establishments despite stiff resistance from the employees’ unions, said N. Kanniah, president, All India Railwaymen Federation.

“Similarly other establishments proposed for closure have crucial modernisation, technological and research-oriented goals in the near future. Winding them up prematurely not only defeats the very purpose of their creation but demoralises the officers/employees,” he warned.

In a letter to Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, National Federation of Indian Railwaymen general secretary M. Raghavaiah said there was widespread unrest and resentment against the proposal of the Principal Economic Adviser .