India’s farm-produce losses at Rs 92,000 crore thrice the agriculture budget

Aug 11, 2016 0

By Charlie Moloney

Harvest and post-harvest loss of India’s major agricultural produce is estimated at Rs 92,651 crore ($13 billion), according to data published by the ministry of food processing industries.

The loss is almost three times as high as the new budget for the agriculture sector, which has seen an increase of 44 per cent from Rs 24,909 crore ($4 billion) in 2015-16 to Rs 35,984 crore ($5 billion) in 2016-17.

About 16 per cent of fruits of vegetables, valued at Rs 40,811 crore ($6 billion), were lost,according to an analysis of production data between 2012 and 2014, at wholesale prices, by the Central Institute of Post-Harvest Engineering and Technology, Ludhiana (Punjab).

An earlier government study from 2015 estimated that five per cent to 12 per cent of vegetables were lost.

The food processing ministry also reported that seven per cent of meat, valued at Rs 3,942 crore ($590 million), was lost, about 60 per cent during storage.

Almost 7,000 cold stores were created under four central programmes between 2007 and 2014 to curb supply chain losses. These projects cost Rs 2,395 crore ($358 million). An additional 609 projects have been sanctioned and subsidy of Rs 660 crore($99 million) provided between 2014 and 2016.

The National Centre for Cold-Chain Development, a government organisation, has suggested that too much money is being spent on cold storages.

Three of five components — pack houses, ripening chambers and reefer vehicles — in the cold chain are almost entirely without funding, the 2015 “All India Cold-chain Infrastructure Capacity (Assessment of Status and Gaps)” report said.

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India orders inspection of all old bridges

Aug 10, 2016 0

New Delhi– The government on Wednesday said that it has ordered inspection of all old bridges after the collapse of Mahad Bridge in Maharashtra.

“NHAI (National Highway Authority of India) has asked its field units to get all old bridges under its jurisdiction inspected through Project Director/Independent Engineer/ DPR Consultants for their fitness,” the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways said in a statement.

The ministry clarified that Mahad Bridge in Maharashtra was not under the jurisdiction of NHAI.

“Responding with extreme sensitivity to the collapse of Mahad Bridge and as explained earlier in various forums, it is again clarified that the collapsed bridge is not under the jurisdiction of NHAI,” the statement added.

The instruction from the ministry has come on the heels of the collapse of Mahad Bridge on August 3, 2016.

The tragedy has resulted in 21 deaths.

The British era bridge had caved in last Wednesday in Raigad District of Maharashtra making the government launch a massive hunt of the victims on “land, river, creek and the Arabian Sea”.

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Indian population growth less dependent on religion, more on development

Aug 10, 2016 0

By Shreya Shah

Fertility rates in India are more closely related to education levels and the socio-economic development within a state, than to religious beliefs, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of government data and research evidence.

The evidence we analyze shows that richer families, states with better health facilities and higher female literacy have lower fertility rates in India. Globally, there is little evidence to link religion and fertility rates, with poorer, conflict-ridden states and countries with lower female empowerment reporting higher population growth rates.

When the office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India released fertility rates for the Indian population last year, the conversation was hijacked by the difference in population growth rates across religions. Several newspapers emphasized that the data showed that Muslim women had higher fertility rates than non-Muslims, and that the percentage of Muslims in the population was steadily growing.

This implicit suggestion that Muslims have more children than other religious communities missed data that shows how population growth rates and the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) vary widely between India’s states. The TFR seems more closely related to per capita income, healthcare and other basic facilities in that state.

Development and fertility: The case of Kerala and UP

Compare, for instance, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh (UP). In 2011, the TFR of Uttar Pradesh, at 3.3, was higher than the Indian average of 2.4, and higher than the TFR in Kerala, at 1.8, according to census data. The Muslim population in Uttar Pradesh increased 25.19 per cent, while the Muslim population in Kerala increased 12.83 per cent between 2001 and 2011. Over the same period, the Hindu population increased 18.9 per cent in Uttar Pradesh and 2.8 per cent in Kerala.

The higher growth rates of Muslims in northern states are “more or less part of a northern culture than a Muslim culture”, N.C. Saxena, the former secretary of the Planning Commission of India, said in an interview to The Wire, a nonprofit journalism portal.

The states with the highest fertility rates in India are all in north and central India — Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan (TFR 2.9), Jharkhand (2.8), and Chhattisgarh.

These overall fertility rates seem more related to the state’s development. For instance, Kerala has a literacy rate of 93.9 per cent, compared to 69.7 per cent in Uttar Pradesh in 2011. In the same year, 99.7 per cent of mothers in Kerala received medical attention at delivery compared to 48.4 per cent of mothers in Uttar Pradesh. Besides, 74.9 per cent of women were above the age of 21 in Kerala at marriage, compared to only 47.6 per cent in Uttar Pradesh.

Another way to interpret population growth rates is through the difference in poor and rich states. Empowered Action Group (EAG) states, which include the poorest in India –Rajasthan, UP, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh — have higher population growth. Between 2001 and 2011, the population of EAG states grew 21 per cent compared to 15 per cent for the rest of India. Still, decadal population growth rates in even EAG states have fallen when compared to the decadal growth rate of 24.99 per cent between 1991 and 2001.

One reason for the higher Muslim fertility within a state, could be because of wealth-related factors.

Survey information showed that families in the lower wealth quintiles have more children than richer families. For instance, in Bihar, women in the lowest wealth quintile have a TFR of 5.08 while women in the highest quintile have a TFR of 2.12. The same holds true for a richer state, like Maharashtra, where the lowest wealth quintile has a TFR of 2.78, compared to the richest wealth quintile with a TFR of 1.74.

On average, Muslims across India are poorer than Hindus, with an average monthly household per capita expenditure of Rs 833, compared to Rs 888 for Hindus, Rs 1,296 for Christians and Rs 1,498 for Sikhs, according to a 2013 National Sample Survey report, based on data from 2009-2010.

Indian women have more children than counterparts in many Muslim countries

There is little evidence internationally of the correlation between religion and fertility rates.

For instance, according to World Bank data, in 2014, Bangladesh, India’s Muslim-majority neighbor, had a TFR of 2.2. Iran, another Muslim country, has a TFR of 1.7, below replacement level, which means the current population cannot be replaced at the prevailing population growth rate.

In India, the Muslim growth rate is falling faster than the growth rate of Hindus.

The decadal population growth rate of Muslims fell 4.9 percentage points from 29.5 per cent in 2001 to 24.6 per cent in 2011, while that of Hindus fell 3.5 percentage points, from 20.3 per cent to 16.8 per cent. In 2001, 65.1 per cent of all Hindus, above the age of 7 years, were literate, while 59.1 per cent of Muslims were literate, according to census data. In 2011, the percentage of literate Hindus rose to 73.3 per cent, while that of Muslims increased to 68.5 per cent.

Fertility rates of populations that have higher fertility, such as low-income families and Muslims, are falling faster than other groups, as methods of contraception and education spread to these groups, said one expert.

(In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform. Shreya Shah, a freelance journalist, is a graduate of the Global Human Development programme at Washington’s Georgetown University. The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend.)

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Indian Railways collects Rs 15 crore from ticketless travelers

Aug 10, 2016 0

Agartala– The Railways collected Rs 15 crore in fines in the first four months of the current fiscal from ticketless travellers in the country’s northeast.

The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) registered over two lakh cases of ticketless or improper travel in April-July, NFR’s Chief Public Relations Officer Pranav Jyoti Sharma said on Wednesday.

He said NFR’s earnings from ticket checking during this period had gone up by almost 43 per cent.

“The number of cases where penalty has been imposed has also increased by almost 36 per cent,” Sharma said, adding these efforts had led to more ticket sales.

The broad gauge railway network has been extended up to Agartala and some parts of Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland.

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IIT Bombay, Intel and government to support hardware-based start-ups

Aug 9, 2016 0

New Delhi–In order to make the Digital India initiative more successful, Department of Science & Technology (DST), Intel India and the Society for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (SINE) at IIT-Bombay have joined hands to launch the Collaborative Incubation Programme for hardware and systems startups.

The programme has been designed to support hardware and systems-based start-ups in the country through mentoring, training, lab facilities, hardware kits, prototyping, business services and fundings.

HK Mittal

HK Mittal

“Department of Science and Technology (DST) is deeply committed in supporting technology and entrepreneurship initiatives that are of relevance to national needs. For the first time, DST, Intel and SINE are collaborating to incubate hardware and systems startups in India,” said HK Mittal, Advisor, National Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board, DST in a statement.

Through the programme, DST, Intel India and SINE aim to support up to 20 start-ups and the call for applications to the first batch will be announced in early August this year.

During the year-long programme, start-ups will be supported for six months on-site at SINE, IIT, Bombay or Intel India, Bengaluru. After six months, the start-ups’ solutions will be showcased to investors and industry players.

“Intel has a strong focus on accelerating innovation and entrepreneurship in India, and we are committed to help enable startups in the systems area, both hardware and software. Along with DST and SINE, IIT Bombay, Intel India will also provide the critical support these starts ups need to be able to excel in creating market ready products and solutions,” said Nivruti Rai, General Manager, Intel India. (IANS)

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Will try to keep GST target of April 1, 2017: Meghwal

Aug 9, 2016 0

New Delhi– The government has set a April 1, 2017 target for implementing the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime and was hopeful of achieving this Union Minister of State for Finance Arjun Ram Meghwal said here on Tuesday.

“We are targeting April 1, 2017, for GST implementation. And we are working towards it and hopefully will achieve it,” Meghwal said on the sidelines of the 2nd Indian Cost Accounts Service Day event.

Arjun Ram Meghwal

Arjun Ram Meghwal

Meghwal said that after 50 per cent of the states ratify the constitutional amendment bill, three laws — central GST, inter-state GST and state GST — will be formulated.

As many as 60,000 officials will be trained to implement the GST, he added.

“There will be challenges to implement the GST because of the number of taxes that will be subsumed and on building a consensus,” Central Board of Excise and Custom Chairman Najib Shah said during a panel discussion on the GST at the event.

“The broad understanding is that all indirect taxes will be subsumed into the GST but the final decision in this regard and the tax rate will be taken by the GST Council,” Sharma said.

The empowered committee on GST, which is headed by West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra and has state finance ministers as its members, will be converted into the GST Council and is expected to retain all members.

Another challenging task is to integrate the IT structures of the Reserve Bank of India, GSTN (Goods and Services Tax Network) and ministries, B.N. Sharma, Additional Secretary, Department of Revenue, said.

GSTN, a non-profit company, was formed in 2013 to prepare the IT framework for GST.

On the dual control issue, Shah said there is expected to be a single control, either of the Centre or the states.

“We are working towards single control — either it will be the states or the Centre. We do not wish to unleash two tax authorities on taxpayers,” Shah said. (IANS)

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Interest rates unchanged in Rajan’s last monetary policy update

Aug 9, 2016 0

Mumbai– Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan kept key policy rates unchanged in his last monetary policy review on Tuesday with little elbow room for easing due to the country’s retail inflation inching closer to the upper tolerance level of 6 percent.

The repurchase (repo) rate, or the interest commercial banks pay the central bank for short-term loans, remains unchanged at 6.5 per cent. The cash reserve ratio (CRR) that scheduled banks have to keep in liquid funds also remains unaltered at 4 per cent of deposits.

In the previous policy update, too, conducted on June 7, the policy rates were left unaltered.

“Recent sharper-than-anticipated increase in food prices has pushed up the projected trajectory of inflation over the rest of the year,” Rajan said. Strong improvement in sowing on the back of good monsoon rains and supply-side management auger well for food inflation outlook, he added.

“In view of this configuration of risks, it’s appropriate for the Reserve Bank to keep the policy repo rate unchanged at this juncture, while awaiting space for action. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative and will continue to emphasise adequate provision of liquidity.”

Raghuram Ranjan

Raghuram Ranjan

Rajan also said easy liquidity conditions are now prompting banks to modestly transmit the past policy rate cuts of the central bank on to customers and that pro-active liquidity management by them should facilitate more such pass-through.

The stock markets, which had opened on a positive note on Tuesday, soon started edging lower as the time for policy update drew nearer. Once it was made known that the policy rates have been left unchanged, the markets took a sharp dip. But they recovered some ground eventually.

The sensitive index (Sensex) of the BSE had opened nearly 110 points, or 3.8 percent up, but soon fell into the negative zone. At 11 a.m, when the policy was announced, it fell nearly 85 points, but recovered ground immediately. An hour later, it was 56.01 points, or 0.20 per cent down.

Tuesday’s policy update will also be the last one that will afford the central bank governor the liberty to fix policy rates, with the government set to entrust such a task with a soon-to-be-constituted Monetary Policy Committee, facilitated by amending the statute.

The target inflation rate has already been set at 4 percent — plus or minus 2 percentage points. Against this, the central bank retained the inflation projection of 5 per cent by March 2017 with risks tilted to the upside.

On growth, Rajan said the momentum was expected to be quickened by the normal monsoon that should raise agricultural output and rural demand. A stimulus to consumption spending was also expected on account of the Pay Commission award.

“The passage of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill also augurs well for the growing political consensus for economic reforms,” he said, but added timely implementation will be challenging. On the whole, he said, this new tax regime should boost government finances and investor mood.

Since January 2015, when the central bank started seeing improvement in the economy and external factors, the short-term lending rate has been cut by 150 basis points — the last one on April 5 of 25 basis points. During his tenure, Rajan has raised the rates thrice and cut them five times.

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Book Review: Chidambaram artificially lowered fiscal deficit in interim budget

Aug 9, 2016 0

By Meghna Mittal

Title: Modi And His Challenges; Author: Rajiv Kumar; Publisher: Bloomsbury; Pages: 307; Price: Rs 499

Former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s last budget artificially brought down the country’s fiscal deficit, leaving the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government with a huge unpaid bill, says economist Rajiv Kumar in his latest book.

“P. Chidamabaram, the outgoing UPA finance minister, left an unfriendly parting gift in the interim budget for 2014-15 that he presented in February 2014. He artificially brought down the fiscal deficit for 2013-14 fiscal year that was ending in March 2014, to 4.6 per cent by slashing plan expenditure and bringing forward dividend payments by public sector enterprises to boost his revenues,” Rajiv Kumar writes.

Modi and his challenges“Thus, Chidambaram, brought in by the UPA in September 2012 to try and retrieve the economic situation, left a huge unpaid bill for the next government.”

The author, who is the Founder Director of Pahle India Foundation, a non-profit research organisation that specialises in policy-oriented research and analysis, says Chidambaram had dressed up the budget estimates for 2014-15 by assuming optimistic revenue and subdued expenditure growth estimates.

“Evidently, Chidambaram was already convinced that a Congress finance minister would not have to present the next budget.”

The author also questions India’s high growth rate, calling it a chimera. He writes that RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan and Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian had both questioned the high GDP rate of over seven per cent.

“Both not only questioned the new estimates but asked for them to be reviewed,” the author writes.

The author needs to be credited for the fact that he has tried to explore as well as analyse in totality governance during Modi’s rule with its challenges, shortcomings, expectations, failures and plans for the future.

The book’s avowed rather heroic goal is to try and understand if the present prime minister’s track record as Gujarat’s chief minister has equipped him sufficiently to tackle the enormous challenges that face him in Delhi.

Speaking about the upcoming Uttar Pradesh polls, the author states: “Modi and the BJP will have to work extraordinarily hard to come even somewhat close, let alone repeat, the astounding success it managed in the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh when the state goes to the polls in 2017.”

The author states that though the astounding success of mission 272-plus made Modi the face of the BJP in the 2014 general elections, the circumstances are changing.

“That Modi had a relatively short time-horizon to deliver on his promises became crystal clear in January 2015, only nine months after the famous (2014) victory when the BJP was trounced in the Delhi elections.”

“Recent elections in Bihar have seriously dented Modi’s stature as a national leader and set back the emergence of BJP as a national party,” Rajiv Kumar writes.

The book is balanced in the sense that the author has articulately brought out the positives and negatives of Modi’s policies. While he credits him for hyper-active foreign policy and a governance marked by the absence of reports of corruption, he also talks about not taking many policy initiatives to make a clean break from the past.

The book is noteworthy for separately detailing the policy aspects of the Modi government in each sector.

It also lays out challenges the government faces in the social sector as 150 of India’s 650 districts are afflicted by left-wing extremism or Maoist activity, news of farmers’ suicides continue to come in from different states and increasing reports of Indian youth being attracted to terrorist organisations like the Islamic State and other domestic fundamentalist groups. (IANS)

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India has huge potential for cloud services

Aug 9, 2016 0

By Gaurav Sharma

Beijing–India is a potential market for cloud computing services, Yu Sicheng, Alibaba Group vice-president, said on Tuesday.

Yu made the remarks in an event on the sidelines of an event of the Alibaba Cloud Global, the subsidiary of Chinese e-commerce giant. He also announced the opening of cloud data centres in Europe and West Asia.

“India is definitely a country with huge potential and we will definitely let the audience know whenever we have a concrete plan,” Yu told IANS.

There are reports of Alibaba Cloud Centre Global mulling to open a cloud data centre in India, which has the world’s second-largest internet using population. The group has already entered Indian e-commerce market by investing in Snapdeal and Paytm.

Cloud computing allows one to store and access data on the internet rather than hard drive of a computer and server which is more prone to cyber-attacks.

The Alibaba entry could add to the fierce competition between Amazon and Microsoft in India. Microsoft already has cloud data centres while Amazon has announced it would set up five by the end of 2016.

“We will have four data centres in Japan, Dubai, Australia and Europe by the end of 2016,” Yu said at the launch of AliLaunch — a programme under which foreign companies will use the cloud system to do business in China.

Alibaba took a shot at cloud computing seven years ago and is rapidly growing.

The Ali Cloud, known as Aliyun in Chinese, saw an increase of 175 per cent at $165 million in the quarter ended March 2016.

It has cloud data centres in Singapore and the US.

The company is also trying to use the cloud technology in predicting weather and natural disasters. (IANS)

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Electronic filing of income tax returns in India sees three-fold growth

Aug 8, 2016 0

New Delhi–Electronic filing of income tax (IT) returns grew more than three times as over 226.98 lakh e-returns were filed in the current fiscal till August 5 as compared to only 70.97 lakh for the same period in 2015-16, an official statement said on Monday.

The growth was over 9.8 percent even if comparison is made with 206.55 lakh e-returns filed as on September 7, 2015.

The finance ministry statement also said the facility of e-verification of IT returns has been used by over 75.3 lakh taxpayers till August 5, as compared to 32.95 lakh taxpayers as on September 7 last year.

Of these Aadhar based e-verification was used by 17.68 lakh taxpayers during the current year as against 10.41 lakh during the same period in 2015-16, a statement said.

Taxpayers have appreciated the early processing of income tax returns by CPC Bangalore last year, and keeping the same momentum, the CPC Bengaluru has already issued over 54.35 lakh refunds totalling Rs 14,332 crore.

“The (income tax) department is committed to continuous improvement of taxpayer services and seeks the cooperation of all taxpayers in contributing their fair share of taxes voluntarily,” the statement said. (IANS)

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