Current Affairs 7th July

GST mop-up in June falls below Rs. 1 lakh cr. #GS3 #Economy

Goods and Services Tax (GST) collections in June fell to Rs. 92,849 crore from Rs. 1.02 lakh crore in May, marking the first time after eight months that indirect tax collections fell below the Rs. 1 lakh crore mark.

While lockdowns aimed at curbing the second wave of COVID-19 hit economic activity and moderated GST revenues in June, the Union Finance Ministry said the collections were 2% higher than a year ago and would improve from this month.

“During May 2021, most of the States/UTs were under either complete or partial lockdown due to COVID,” the Ministry said, citing a 30% fall in e-way bill generation in May from April’s numbers.

“However, with reduction in caseload and easing of lockdowns, the e-way bills generated during June 2021 is 5.5 crore (from 3.99 crore in May) which indicates recovery of trade and business… It is expected that while the GST revenues have dipped during the month of June, the revenues will see an increase again from July onwards,” it added.

The June GST figures are related to business transactions made during May and also include taxes on domestic transactions between June 5 and July 5, due to extended compliance deadlines for taxpayers. Tax experts said the decline in GST revenues was expected. “With significant relaxations in lockdown and business supplies picking up the collections should see a definite uptick in the coming months.

Amid Cabinet reshuffle buzz, a slew of gubernatorial changes #GS2 #Governance

Ahead of a much-anticipated Cabinet reshuffle, the Rashtrapati Bhavan announced a slew of gubernatorial appointments, including that of Union Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawarchand Gehlot as the Governor of Karnataka, replacing Vajubhai Vala.

This was the surest sign that a Cabinet reshuffle, regularly postponed since the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, will finally take place as early as Wednesday evening.

Former MP and former BJP president of the erstwhile combined State of Andhra Pradesh K. Hari Babu was appointed the Governor of Mizoram, while senior BJP leader and former Tribal Affairs Minister in Gujarat Mangubhai Patel was named the Governor of Madhya Pradesh. Former Speaker of the Goa Assembly Rajendra Arlekar will be the Governor of Himachal Pradesh.

Several Governors saw a change in States. Former Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya has been transferred from Himachal Pradesh to Haryana, senior BJP leader from Chhattisgarh Ramesh Bais from Tripura to Jharkhand, Satyadev Arya from Haryana to Tripura, and BJP leader from Kerala S. Sreedharan Pillai from Mizoram to Goa.

While it was a fairly extensive rejig in terms of Raj Bhavans, informed sources said the Cabinet rejig would be extensive as well. The Council of Ministers has around 28 vacancies, with only 53 of the 81 slots allowed under the Constitution occupied.

Government sources said that as many as 20 new faces would be included, and in total, around 24 Ministers belonging to the Other Backward Classes would find representation in the Council of Ministers at the end of this exercise. “Among these new faces will be very young MPs, bringing down the average age of the Council of Ministers to probably its lowest ever since Independence,” said a senior government source. Sources said equal focus would be on the professional qualifications of Ministers as well as community representation issues.

New Ministry

The government has also decided to create a separate ‘Ministry of Co-operation’ with the aim of ‘Sahkar se Samriddhi’ (prosperity through cooperatives).The Ministry will provide a separate administrative, legal and policy framework for strengthening the cooperative movement in the country.

It will, said government sources, “work to streamline the processes for ‘Ease of doing business’ for co-operatives and enable development of Multi-State Co-operatives (MSCS).

‘Super censorship’: MPs’ panel grills Ministry #GS2 #Governance

The Standing Committee on Information and Technology headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, at a meeting, grilled the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on the “super censorship” clause introduced in the draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021.

The committee members, according to sources, asked the Ministry to explain the “reasons” and “motivation” for introducing the provision which allows the government to order recertification for a film already certified by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). This was the first meeting of the Parliamentary Panel on the Bill.

The Ministry officials, sources said, were at pains to explain. “They claimed that the Bill has been misunderstood and that the Ministry itself will have no powers to censor any film. The Bill only allows the Ministry to return the film for recertification,” one of the members said on condition of anonymity. Ministry officials also said that the clause would only be invoked if the content of a film impinged on security and integrity of the nation.

Not satisfied with the explanation, the members asked why, when there were existing penal provisions to deal with such a situation, did the Ministry felt it necessary to incorporate this in the Bill. “If any person or group feels that a film or part of it hurts their sentiment or imperils the country, they can go to court. Our basic question was why should this power to adjudicate be vested with a bureaucrat,” another member said.

The members, sources said, also pointed to the Supreme Court order passed in 2000 that the government could not exercise revisional powers on films already certified by the CBFC.

The Bill was placed in the public domain till July 2 inviting comments. Filmmakers across the country has slammed the Bill, with veteran filmmaker Adoor Gopalkrishnan calling it an attempt by the government to bring in “super censorship”.

IT rules: Centre asks SC to transfer pleas to itself #GS2 #Governance

The Centre has asked the Supreme Court to transfer to itself cases pending in various High Courts challenging the validity of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules of 2021.

The High Courts, including Delhi, Bombay, Madras and Kerala, are hearing the petitions against the new IT Rules. The Delhi High Court is hearing the case concerning Twitter.

Recently, the government informed the Delhi High Court that micro-blogging site Twitter had failed to comply with the law regulating tech companies rendering their services as ‘intermediaries’.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity), in an affidavit, said despite three months being granted to all Significant Social Media Intermediaries (SSMIs) to comply with the Rules, Twitter has failed to fully comply with the same.

Last week, Twitter informed the court that the interim Resident Grievance Officer and the interim Nodal Contact Person had resigned from their positions in June. The tech giant had said it was in the final stages of appointing a replacement. Meanwhile, “the grievances of Indian users are being addressed by the Grievance Officer”.

On September 24, 2019, hearing a petition filed by Facebook, the apex court had shown deep concern at the utilisation of social media for committing crime. It said the medium had become a source for pornography. Paedophiles used social media in a “big way”. Criminals exploit it to run weapons, drugs and contraband. Hate and violence are shared and spread through these virtual platforms.

Tender for 10 counter-drone systems floated #GS3 #Defence

The Indian Air Force has issued a tender for procurement of 10 counter-drone systems, Counter Unmanned Aircraft System (CUAS), through indigenous route. Incidentally, the Request For Information was published a day after the attack on Jammu air base believed to have been carried out using drones.

“The CUAS is intended to detect, track, identify, designate and neutralize hostile UAS. Laser Directed Energy Weapon (Laser-DEW) is essentially required as a kill option,” the RFI published on June 28 said on the intended use of the equipment and operational requirements.

All the ten CUAS are required in mobile configuration mounted on indigenous vehicles with cross country capability and powered by indigenous electrical power supply.

Health officials flag laxity during travel #GS3 #SnT

India has registered a decline of 13% in average daily new COVID-19 cases last week, Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Health Ministry, said on Tuesday. However, he cautioned against letting the guard down during what is being called “revenge tourism”, in which people travel with a vengeance after being confined to their homes during the lockdown.

At a press conference, Mr. Agarwal described the trend of tourists failing to observe COVID-appropriate behaviour in hill stations as dangerous.

Balram Bhargava, Director-General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), too expressed a similar sentiment. “We have to be careful, responsible and cautious as the second COVID-19 wave is still on in some parts of this large country.

The Health Ministry, in its presentation, added that 80% of new COVID-19 cases were now being reported from 90 districts with Maharashtra (19), Tamil Nadu (15), Kerala (14), Odisha (11), Andhra Pradesh (10), Assam (9) and Karnataka (8) leading the tally.

“COVID surge in India began with a single case reported last year so we have to understand that we can’t afford to forget the spread and devastation this virus is capable of causing. We can’t let down our guard just yet. We are looking at strict local containment in areas and pockets that are seeing a large number of cases. He said the virus had not got exhausted yet.

Quoting a recent online survey indicating gross violations in terms of use of masks and physical distancing, Mr. Agarwal noted that there was no compliance in 24%, limited compliance in 45% and good compliance in 29% of the survey respondents.

“Vaccination and COVID-appropriate behavior are key to keeping the virus under control,” Dr. Bhargava said. Stating that 73 districts in India still have over 10% test positivity, while 65 districts have 5-10% positivity, he said that this trend was a cause of worry. To a question on vaccine boosters, he said that while it was known that COVID-19 antibodies persisted for seven to 12 months after infection, “we are still looking at the cover that vaccines offer in terms of the length of the time period. Research is on about booster doses.”

SC comes to the aid of those in mental health institutions #GS2 #SocialIssues

The Supreme Court asked the Centre to ensure that patients in mental health institutions are tested for COVID-19 and vaccinated.

A Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah directed States and Union Territories to extend cooperation and participate in the meeting of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to be held on July 12.

It asked the States and the Union Territories to remove the discrepancies in figures submitted about the people treated but are languishing in the institutions and those who still need treatment. The Bench decided to monitor their welfare, terming it a sensitive issue.

The court was hearing a plea filed by advocate Gaurav Bansal that nearly 10,000 people, fit to be discharged, were forced to live in mental hospitals due to social stigma.

Additional Solicitor-General Madhavi Divan, appearing for the Centre, said there were some discrepancies in the data provided by the States and the matter had been pointed out to the governments.

“It is a very serious matter. Many people who are cured may not be accepted by their families. Tell the authorities concerned to be serious and ensure that court’s order is complied with. The Bench also objected to the practice of the Maharashtra government in shifting these patients to beggar homes as it was in violation of the Mental Health Act.

Mr. Bansal pressed that those in mental health institutions be tested for COVID-19 and get the benefit of vaccination as they make up the most vulnerable section of society.

The Bench said it is time the matter was taken up with alacrity, and directed the Chief Secretaries to send their representatives to participate in the meeting of July 12. The court posted the matter for further hearing on July 27.

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