Finance Minister Jaitley to embark on 5-day visit to US

Apr 18, 2017 0

New Delhi–Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will make a five-day visit to the US to attend the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, an official said.

Jaitley will also take part in a G-20 meeting on the financial sector, as well as interact with American investors, he added.

The Minister will leave on Wednesday evening and arrive in Washington early morning on April 20, a Finance Ministry statement said here.

Jaitley’s delegation includes, among others, Chief Economic Adviser (CEA) Arvind Subramanian, Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Urjit Patel, it said.

On April 21, Jaitley, along with the RBI Governor and Economic Affairs Secretary, will participate in the G-20 meeting on financial sector development and regulations and other issues, the statement added.

Arun Jaitley

As per their Washington itinerary, Jaitley, Patel and Das will, on the same afternoon, attend a meeting of the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) on Global Development and Prospects.

“In the evening (April 21), the Finance Minister along with Secretary Economic Affairs will hold a meeting with the CEOs,” the Ministry said.

On April 22, following two IMFC sessions, Jaitley will meet US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, it added.

Later that day, Jaitley is slated to meet Bangladesh Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, as well as with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.

After the first leg of his tour, Jaitley will, on April 23, reach New York, where he will interact with the Council for Foreign Relations, followed by a meeting with institutional investors.

Thereafter, he will meet long-term investors on April 24, the Indian Finance Ministry said.

“The Finance Minister is supposed to meet the editorial board of the New York Times before leaving for Moscow in the evening on April 24,” it added.

Jaitley, who has additional charge of the Defence portfolio, will hold bilateral discussions in Moscow to boost India-Russia military ties. (IANS)

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Festival should not have been allowed if Yamuna was fragile: Sri Sri

Apr 18, 2017 0

New Delhi– Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on Tuesday said the authorities should have never given permission to hold the World Culture Festival (WCF) if the Yamuna was “so fragile and pure”.

He added that the fine should be levied on the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and the central and Delhi governments for giving permission to hold the event.

His remarks came after the report of an expert committee set up by NGT said it would take Rs 42.02 crore and a decade for the ecological rehabilitation of the Yamuna floodplains from adverse damages caused by the festival.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Ravi Shankar said the Art of Living (AoL) obtained all the necessary permissions including NGT’s.

“The NGT had the application file for two months and they could have stopped it in the beginning. It defies all principles of natural justice that you give permissions and slap a fine for not violating any rules.

“If the Yamuna was so fragile and pure, they should have stopped the World Culture Festival at the very beginning. A historic programme, deserving of applause and appreciation, is unjustly projected as a crime,” he said.

Ravi Shankar added that the event, which saw over three million attendees from 155 countries over a three-day period, polluted neither air, water nor land.

“The world over, cultural programmes are held on riverbanks. The whole idea was to bring awareness to save the river.

“The Art of Living, that has rejuvenated 27 rivers, planted 71 million trees, revived several ponds, is being projected as destroying a dead river,” Ravi Shankar said.

The event was held on the left bank of the river between the Barapullah elevated road and the DND flyway between March 11 and 13, 2016.

The report of the seven-member expert committee, headed by former Secretary of Water Resources Ministry Shashi Shekhar, told the National Green Tribunal( NGT) about the ecological damage caused to over 300 acres of floodplains due to the festival last year.

The experts have estimated that some 300 acres of floodplains west (right bank) of the river Yamuna and about 120 acres floodplains of the eastern side (left bank) of the river have been “adversely impacted” ecologically at “different magnitudes”.

The AoL has criticised the report stating it was deliberately leaked to the media and that some members of the committee were biased.

The next hearing over the matter in the NGT is on April 20. (IANS)

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Snapchat denies CEO’s “India is a poor country” remark

Apr 16, 2017 0

Evan Spiegel (Photo courtesy: Adweek)

New Delhi–A day after Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel’s purported disinterest in expanding business to “poor countries” like India created controversy in social media, parent company Snap Inc denied the allegation, saying no such remark was made, reports said on Sunday.

US-based news website Variety on Saturday quoted Snapchat’s ex-employee Anthony Pompliano as saying that Spiegel in September 2015 told him that “the app is only for rich people. I don’t want to expand into poor countries like India and Spain”.

But the company denied the remarks reports of which had resulted in the rating of the popular app dropping to a “single star” from an apparent “five star” on the App Store.

“The simple fact is that he (Pompliano) knows exactly nothing about Snap’s current metrics. He and his lawyers are — not to put too fine a point on matters — just making things up,” Variety reported Snap’s attorneys as saying.

Denying the claims of Snapchat being termed as a ‘rich people’s app’, the attorneys termed Pompliano a “disgruntled employee fired for poor performance”.

The portal YourStory published an official statement from Snap that said: “This is ridiculous. Obviously Snapchat is for everyone! It’s available worldwide to download for free.”

Meanwhile, the rating of the popular app dropped to a “single star” from “five star” on the App Store.

According to the app info on App Store, the “Customer Ratings” of the current version of the app was “single star” (based on 6,099 ratings) and all versions’ rating was “one and half star” (based on 9,527 ratings) as on Sunday morning.

The rating for the app on Android Play Store was “four star” (based on 11,932,996 ratings).

Indians did not take the comment lightly and took to social media to lash out at the statement from the CEO. As the ratings of the app dropped, the criticism of the CEO and the app increased.

“First of all, I didn’t even want to give any freakin’ star to this app. Evan (CEO of Snapchat) shows how stupid he is by saying this. I bet 3/4th of his company is run by Indian employees. If he didn’t want to expand it to poor countries, then why is this app free? Why didn’t he put any charges on it?” a user wrote on App Store, condemning the CEO.

Some users wrote, “Poor India & Spain need better than Snapchat”, “Good bye, My Snapchat Account and Snap Inc. You’ll be product of gone by era and derision”, and “Poor Evan Spiegel”.

The app was also trolled on Twitter. #boycottsnapchat became the most trending hashtag on Twitter overnight.

“I haven’t seen any Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians etc Tweets yet. Thanks @Snapchat for Uniting us,” a user tweeted.

“I was addicted to @Snapchat but I love my country more than this app. Let’s see how you earn without Indians. @evanspiegel #boycottsnapchat,” another user wrote on twitter.

Some users even flagged the app for hateful content and left a message, “Dear @snapchatsupport, flagged you for hateful content. #boycottsnapchat”.

According to a report in Forbes on Thursday, Facebook’s photo-sharing app Instagram surpassed Snapchat in daily active users of “Stories” feature, though the format was first launched by Snapchat in 2013.

Instagram’s “Stories” feature was now used by more than 200 million people every day — an increase of 50 million since January.

On the other hand, Snapchat which launched the “Stories” format in October 2013, had 161 million daily active users in February.

“Stories” feature is an ephemeral chain of photo and video clips with filters and special effects. More recently, Facebook and WhatsApp also introduced the feature, imitating Snapchat.

Snapchat has more than four million users in India.(IANS)

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Indian students will continue to be in demand in the US

Apr 14, 2017 0

By Mohammed Shafeeq

Hyderabad– Indian students will continue to be in demand in the United States as they have been gaining advanced knowledge and technical skills, experts feel.

They believe that that the Trump administration’s proposed bar on H1B visas will have no impact on Indian students as reforms are driven by the industry’s need for advanced knowledge and skills.

“As Indian students have been gaining advanced knowledge and technical skills beyond their bachelor’s degree, through work experience and advanced degrees such as graduate coursework, they will continue to be in demand,” Patrick Phelan, Assistant Dean of Graduate Programs in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Arizona State University (ASU), told IANS.

Patrick Phelan

Holly Singh, Senior Director of International Students & Scholars Center at the ASU, didn’t agree with the view in some sections that the US is no longer an attractive destination for Indian students and pointed out that the country is still the leader in innovation.

A team from the Fulton Schools of Engineering visited India this month to recruit a new batch of international students

ASU’s International Students and Scholars Center provides support to transition from graduation to Optional Practical Training (OPT) and an H1B visa. “This unit has trained staff and counselors who support students in obtaining their OPT. The Fulton Schools of Engineering through its Career Services also holds two career fairs each year,” said Singh.

“ASU is number one in innovation two years in a row now. This is because of our focus on providing all of its students with opportunities to succeed in becoming master learners,” said Patrick, who is also a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

According to statistics, India had the highest number of enrolments at ASU in the engineering master’s programme at 54.6 per cent. For the second year in a row, the largest growth was in the number of students from India, primarily at the graduate level and in OPT.

“Indian graduate students form not only the largest cohort of our master’s students, but also play a vital role in ASU’s engineering research programs at the master’s and PhD levels,” said Tirupalavanam G. Ganesh, Assistant Dean of Engineering Education and Associate Research Professor of Engineering Education in the Fulton Schools of Engineering.

The number of international students awarded with graduate degrees in engineering increased from just over 300 in academic year 2010-11 to over 1,000 in 2015-16. Over this same time, overall enrollment in Fulton Schools of Engineering grew from over 7,000 to about 20,000.

ASU is home to over 10,000 students from 135 countries and has recorded for its fall session, over 2,000 enrolments from India, alone, while the Fulton Schools have over 1,000 students from India.

ASU offers students the opportunity to be a part over 45 engineering student organisations and student professional societies giving them leadership opportunities and hands-on experience.

The engineering students at ASU have an opportunity to begin their entrepreneurship journey from the moment they start their course, with programmes like the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative, which awards students with $20,000 in seed funding and office space, or the Innovation Challenge competition which provide places for students to learn more about start-ups, said Ganesh.

The number of foreign students in the US topped 1 million for the first time in 2016. According to the Institute of International Education, engineering as a field of study bought in 216,932 students — 20.8 percent of the international student population. (IANS)

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Infosys elevates director Ravi Venkatesan as Board Co-Chair

Apr 13, 2017 0

Bengaluru–Software major Infosys Ltd on Thursday appointed its Independent Director Ravi Venkatesan as Co-Chairman of the Board.

In a regulatory filing to the BSE, the IT firm said Venkatesan had made valuable contribution to the company’s development of strategic direction during his tenure since April 2011.

“Ravi will help me enhance the Board engagement in supporting the management in execution of the company’s strategy,” said Infosys Board Chairman R. Seshasayee in the filing.

Ravi Venkatesan

On his elevation to the new executive post, Venkatesan said he was delighted to have the opportunity to work more closely with Seshasayee and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Vishal Sikka and his leadership team.

“This is an exciting time for the technology industry and I am delighted to work with Seshasayee and Sikka and the leadership team in their transformational journey,” said Venkatesan in a statement here.

The 53-year-old former Chairman of the global software product major Microsoft’s India subsidiary (2004-11), Venkatesan is currently also Chairman of the state-run Bank of Baroda.

“Venkatesan is also the founder Chairman of Social Venture Partners India, a partner at Unitus Seed Fund and a fund advisor at Kalaari Capital,” said Infosys in a profile of its management team members.

Venkatesan also serves on the boards of Rockefeller Foundation in the US and several advisory boards worldwide.

“Venkatesan is the author of an acclaimed book ‘Conquering the Chaos: Win in India, Win Everywhere’, published by Harvard Business Review.

A science graduate from IIT-Bombay and a post-graduate from Purdue University in the US, Venkatesan has an MBA from Harvard Business School where he was also a Baker Scholar. He was voted as one of India’s best management thinks by Thinkers50.

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Service tax rate to rise from 15 percent to 18 percent under GST: Hasmukh Adhia

Apr 13, 2017 0

By Meghna Mittal

New Delhi– Services sector is likely to attract a higher tax rate of 18 per cent from the current 15 per cent under the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime, thus making services “slightly” more expensive, Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia has said.

“Yes, for the services sector the standard rate may move to 18 per cent,” Adhia told IANS in an interview here.

However, those exempted at present — like healthcare, education and agriculture — are likely to remain so.

“Whatever is in the present exempt list, we will try to continue it. We would recommend this to the Council and it will take a view on it. Most probably they should agree. Our attempt is not to upset too many things in one go,” he said.

At present, the services sector is taxed at 14 per cent with two additional cesses — Swachh Bharat Cess and the Krishi Kalyan Cess attracting half a per cent each — taking the burden to 15 per cent.

However, those who earn less than Rs 20 lakh a year will not have to register under the GST or pay any service tax, Adhia clarified later. At present, service tax has to be paid if the income is above Rs 10 lakh.

Hasmukh Adhia

The GST law also says that agriculturalists — who employ themselves or their family members — will not come under GST even if their turnover is over Rs 20 lakh annually. Those who are employing persons and have a turnover of over Rs 20 lakh a year will have to register under the GST.

Currently, sericulture, floriculture, dairy, horticulture, fishing that usually employ outside labourers on a large scale are exempt from service tax as they come under agriculture. But whether these will attract tax under GST is still debatable.

“Those who are dealing in anything except what we have defined as ‘agriculturalist’ will have to register (under GST). But whether their products are taxable or not will have to be decided by the Council,” he said.

“We have not yet decided on the exemption list. That will be decided separately by the Council, I don’t think it will want to tax many agriculture products,” Adhia told IANS.

He also said that some services which currently have less than 15 per cent tax rate may attract lower rates.

“Wherever the services at present attract lower than 15 per cent rate of service tax because of certain reasons, we will try to maintain that. Transport sector, for example, attracts lower than 15 per cent tax right now. We will put these in either 5 per cent or 12 per cent,” he said.

The Revenue Secretary also noted that since petrol and petroleum products have been kept zero-rated under the GST regime, transport can be a good candidate for 5 per cent tax rate.

The GST Council had decided to impose tax at four slab rates of 5 per cent, 12 per cent, 18 per cent and 28 per cent, apart from the zero tax level.

Currently, there are about 60 services which are exempt from service tax, including education, healthcare and religious pilgrimage.

In terms of goods, Adhia said that whatever is the exact incidence of excise plus VAT, the fitment will be into a tax slab closer to that. But depending on whether the goods are put in the higher slab or the lower slab, the taxes may increase in a few cases.

“Most of the items will be as per formula, only a few items will need discussion. In a few cases, the taxes may increase, but not in all cases. Every year, the Council will meet and revise rates,” he said.

Though the GST Council took 13 meetings to decide on the enabling laws, Adhia said that since fitment of goods and services is a straightforward thing, it should not take too much time.

The Council is slated to meet on May 18-19 in Srinagar to decide on GST Rules, after which the fitment discussions will be taken up.

Adhia said that the government is determined to roll out the GST regime from July 1 despite some industry stakeholders demanding further postponement of the new tax regime.

“We are determined to roll out GST from July 1, it doesn’t seem to be a problem. The live testing of GST is scheduled to begin from first week of May,” he said.

Adhia agreed that GST will have a greater compliance burden as companies having physical presence in more than one states need to do multiple registrations and pay taxes separately to each state.

“I won’t say it will complicate, but yes there is a slightly greater compliance burden on the centralised service sector operators because they have to pay tax to all the states. Centralised registration is not possible in the GST model,” he said.

“GST is a consumption-based taxation model, in which states want to calculate how much services are provided in their jurisdiction. That’s why the returns have to be filed separately for every state,” he added.

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H-1B visas help uplift welfare of Americans: Study

Apr 13, 2017 0

New York–Even as uncertainty continues to mount over H-1B visa regulations promised by US President Donald Trump, a new study has found that foreign computer scientists granted such visas have helped increase welfare of Americans.

The H-1B visa allows US companies to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialised occupations. The number of these visas granted annually is capped by the federal government.

The researchers found that the high-skilled immigrants had a positive effect on innovation, increased the overall welfare of Americans and boosted profits substantially for firms in the IT sector.

Nicolas Morales

Researchers John Bound and Nicolas Morales of the University of Michigan and Gaurav Khanna of the University of California – San Diego studied the impact that the recruitment of these foreign computer scientists had on the US economy.

They selected the time period of 1994-2001, which marked the rise of e-commerce and a growing need for technology workers.

Immigration lowered prices and raised the output of IT goods by between 1.9 per cent and 2.5 per cent, thus benefiting consumers, the findings showed.

Such immigration also had a big impact on the tech industry’s bottom line.

“Firms in the IT sector also earned substantially higher profits thanks to immigration,” said Morales in a statement released by the University of Michigan.

On the flipside, the influx of immigrants dampened job prospects and wages for US computer scientists, the study said.

US workers switched to other professions, lowering the employment of domestic computer scientists by 6.1 per cent, according to the model developed by the researchers.

Indian techies have been the biggest beneficiaries of the H-1B visas — obtaining about 70 per cent of such visas — with companies posting thousands of employees to the US.

This visa allows work in the particular area for six years, extendable after that. It is also the route to a US permanent residency or a US Green Card.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on March 31 issued a clarification that computer programmers, to be eligible under the H-1B visa norms, must prove that theirs is a specialty occupation. Merely obtaining a computer degree may not be enough.

Coming just ahead of start of the new season for H-1B visas for skilled workers, it was largely seen as the tightening of norms by the US authorities for hiring computer programmers.

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Jet Airways wins best Indian airlines in TripAdvisor survey

Apr 12, 2017 0

New Delhi–Jet Airways on Wednesday won the ‘Best Airline – India’ in the TripAdvisor’s first annual Travellers’ Choice awards for airlines, said a company release.

Emirates was named the top airline in the world, followed by Singapore Airlines and Azul.

The awards honour 50 airlines overall, including top lists for the World, Europe, North America, the Middle East and Africa.

Speaking on the occasion Chief Commercial Officer of Jet Airways Jayaraj Shanmugam said: “We are extremely pleased to receive TripAdvisor’s ‘Traveller’s Choice Best Airline – India’ award for 2017.”

“What makes this recognition extra special is that it is purely based on guests’ experience and feedback. We will continue to work harder to set new product and services benchmarks to delight all those who fly with us,” Shanmugam added.

IndiGo has won top honours in the ‘Low Cost Airlines – Asia Pacific’ category.

In his comment,IndiGo President and Whole Time Director Aditya Ghosh said: “Ten years ago, when we flew our first aircraft, we aimed to redefine air travel in India by making low fare flights the first choice of travellers.”

“We are happy that our passengers have consistently chosen to fly with us and that inspires us to strive harder every day. This is one of the best and most credible awards as it is the voice of travellers,” Ghosh said.

The winners were determined by the quantity and quality of airline reviews and ratings submitted by travellers worldwide, over a 12-month period.

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ScoopWhoop co-founder booked for sexual harassment

Apr 12, 2017 0

New Delhi– ScoopWhoop co-founder Suparn Pandey has been booked for sexual harassment and criminal intimidation by the Delhi Police on a complaint by a 27-year-old former woman employee. Police said Pandey will be called for questioning soon.

On March 28, the woman filed a complaint at the Vasant Kunj police station that Pandey touched her inappropriately and even sent her obscene videos, police said.

“Pandey has been booked for sexual harassment, using word or gesture to outrage the modesty of woman and criminal intimidation. The woman said when she complained against Pandey in office, her pleas were ignored by the administration,” Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police Chinmoy Biswal told IANS.

Suparn Pandey

In an official statement, online news portal ScoopWhoop said: “We are extending full cooperation to the police for a full and fair investigation into the matter.”

“ScoopWhoop strongly condemns any kind of harassment at the workplace. We work towards ensuring a safe and secure workplace for all our employees and take any complaints of harassment extremely seriously. We are fully prepared to accept the findings of the investigations and dutifully take necessary action, if (he is) found guilty,” it said.

The matter is also being inquired by ScoopWhoop’s Internal Complaints Committee, it said. (IANS)

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Delhi court issues open-ended non-bailable warrant against Mallya

Apr 12, 2017 0

New Delhi–A court here on Wednesday issued open-ended non-bailable warrant (NBW) against liquor baron Vijay Mallya in case of alleged violation of foreign exchange rules.

Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Sumit Dass issued the NBW after Mallya did not appear in the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) violation case.

The court fixed November 8 for further hearing but asked the probe agency to file a status report within two months.

Vijay Mallya

The court was hearing the final arguments in the 2000 case related to alleged violation by Mallya of the erstwhile FERA provision in arranging funds to advertise his company’s liquor products abroad.

On October 4 last year, the Enforcement Directorate told the court that Mallya can obtain emergency travel documents to return to India and face the FERA violation case.

The court has observed in its three-page order that Mallya failed to obtain the emergency travel documents as he has no intention to return to India.

Mallya on September 9 sought exemption from personal appearance in court and said he is unable to return and face trial as the Indian authorities had suspended his passport.

On July 9 last year, the court asked Mallya to personally appear after allowing the Enforcement Directorate’s plea to withdraw the exemption given to him from personal appearance in the case. (IANS)

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