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New Centre for Ganga River Basin Management and Studies
Apr 18,2016

National Mission for Clean Ganga under the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation in collaboration with Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IITK) announced the formal launch of Centre for Ganga River Basin Management and Studies (CGRBMS). The Ministry signed a 10 year Memorandum of Agreement with IITK for provision of continual scientific support in the implementation and dynamic evolution of the Ganga River Basin Management Plan.

Delivering the keynote address on the occasion, Union Minister for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation explained in detail why the Centre for Ganga River Basin Management and Studies is needed for the mission and how important is this collaboration. She said, n++ We are trying to make a framework where opinions from all the people across the globe who are interested in our rivers should be invited.n++ The Minister said we are focusing on cleaning the Ganga by setting up Effluent Treatment Plants (ETPs) and Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs). Sushri Bharti said, n++These are the issues which can be solved by procuring the technologies around the world. But what is important here is how to ensure continuous flow in the rivers.n++ To solve this, efforts needs to be done by each and every one which includes government authorities, academicians, researchers etc, the Minister added

Shri Shashi Shekhar, Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources said that government has decided to implement Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) using a specific Public Private Partnership (PPP) framework called hybrid annuity model. n++The government shall be technology agnostic and neutral but it doesnt have the capacity to evaluate the technologies. The Centre must take this up as one of its task n++ he added.

Dr. Vinod Tare, Professor IITK said, the program has been aptly named as Centre for Ganga River Basin Management and Studies. He said , n++ The Centre will act as a think-tank to the government as well as knowledge hub to coordinate all activities within the Ganga river basin and these activities will include science, technology, research, innovation, social, economics, finance and investment related aspects.n++ He said that centre will collaborate with many national and international bodies. Prof. Tare said the Ganga River Basin Management Plan 2015 by IIT Consortiums has provided strategic action plans, some policy interventions and management action along with financial implications. These plans shall be further detailed by the centre with financial, social, economical and environment implications, he added.

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World Bank should increase financial commitment from 5% to at least 15% for renewable energy sector development in India: Secretary, MNRE
Apr 18,2016

The global financial institutions including the World Bank should provide a clear roadmap and increase their financial commitment from five per cent to at least 15 per cent as finance has been the biggest challenge in development of renewable energy sector in India owing to high cost of capital, a top New & Renewable Energy Ministry official said at an ASSOCHAM event.

n++The international bodies must give a roadmap i.e. they must tell how much money they will give during next five years, today World Bank gives five per cent of their money for renewable, we need at least 15 per cent and we need a roadmap from these bodies because they are the central controller of funds globally,n++ said Mr Upendra Tripathy, Secretary, Ministry of New & Renewable Energy while inaugurating ASSOCHAM Solar India Summit 2016.

He said that government was roping in multilateral and bilateral agencies and banks thereby finding new ways to reduce the cost of capital. n++We are thinking whether we can have a $1,000 million equity fund to help new companies to come up for solar to become a movement and to make a transit from megawatt to gigawatt.n++

n++The other day, I had talked to Mr Kamat from New Development Bank and he said yes we are taking it to the board that at least 15 per cent will come to the renewable energy and he said that ours must be much more,n++ said Mr Tripathy.

He said that this will provide a clear roadmap to the industry, so it knows that this much of money will come into the sector and it will help in bringing down the costs further.

n++We have some $1,000 trillion in equity, pension and insurance funds, could we have a commitment from them that at least 10-15 per cent funds will come to renewable energy sector which is a common obligation where global finance plays a very important role,n++ said Mr Tripathy.

He also said that there must be a global mechanism to bring down hedging costs, not completely but at least partially.

The secretary informed that MNRE had been negotiating with many banks to take loans including the State Bank of India (SBI), Punjab National Bank, Canara Bank and others.

n++To SBI we have told, why dont you take $500 million from the World Bank, keep it in London and give the money in India so there is natural hedging and that money we are planning to the industry at lower rate of interest for rooftops,n++ he further said.

He said that union government had for the first time gave Rs 5,000 crore for raising bonds. n++We have raised bonds and that money will also be made available to the industry.n++

Earlier in his address at the ASSOCHAM summit, Mr A.K. Kapoor, member (electrical), Railway Board had said that Indian Railways was working to get international funding to harness renewable energy related potential for its operations.

n++For international funding, be it in wind, solar, LED lights and even waste to energy, we are in different process of discussions, we will be successful in harnessing that also,n++ said Mr Kapoor.

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Stress assets of banks may notch upto Rs.10 lakh crore in Q4: ASSOCHAM
Apr 18,2016

Given the slowdown in certain important sectors like steel, textiles, aluminium etc, and the ongoing Asset Quality Review (AQR), may push stressed assets of the banks to Rs 10 lakh crore mark in the fourth quarter of the current fiscal, reveals the ASSOCHAM latest study.

At the end of December, the total stressed assets (Gross NPA+ restructured assets) of all the banks were at Rs 8 lakh crore which is expected to see a significant jump in the current quarter itself, adds the study.

AQR undertaken by the RBI and other factors have resulted in a spike in bad assets with lenders recognising nearly Rs one lakh of NPAs.

Total stressed assets of banks increased to Rs 7.40 lakh crore at the end of March 2015 from Rs 2.33 lakh crore as on March 2011, nearly a four-fold increase.

As regards the Gross NPAs, it surged to Rs 4,01,590 crore at the end of December 2015 from Rs 2,98,641 crore, a jump of over Rs 1 lakh crore in nine months of the current fiscal.

While releasing the study here, an ASSOCHAM spokesman said, Gross NPAs of state-run banks increased from Rs 2,67,065 lakh crore in March 2015 to Rs 3,61,731 lakh crore in December 2015. In contrast, the private sector banks Gross NPA rose to Rs 39,859 crore at the end of December from Rs 31,576 crore at the end of March 2015.

Thus, in percentage terms, the gross NPA ratio of Public Sector Banks (PSBs) increased sharply from 5.43 per cent as on March 2015 to 7.30 per cent as on December 2015 while it was milder in case of private sector banks. The upward movement was from 2.20 per cent to 2.36 per cent.

The fact that banks are expecting subdued last quarter numbers due to mounting bad loans was evident from their advance tax deposits. Quoting an example ASSOCHAM said that State Bank of India (SBI) paid an advance tax of Rs 690 crore as against Rs 1,749 crore deposited in the March quarter last fiscal, a decline in about 60 per cent.

Many banks including State Bank of India (SBI) have already projected continuation of equally bad numbers in the fourth quarter as well.

The mounting bad loans have eroded the profitability of all banks with 11 public sector lenders reporting losses of Rs 12,867 crore in the third quarter.

For example, Bank of Baroda reported a whopping loss of Rs 3,342 crore, the highest ever quarterly loss posted by any public sector bank in the industry. IDBI Bank recorded a loss of Rs 2,184 crore while Bank of India posted a loss Rs 1,505 crore for the quarter ended December.

Besides, UCO Bank reported a net loss of Rs 1,497 crore, followed by Indian Overseas Bank (Rs 1,425 crore), Central Bank of India (Rs 837 crore) and Dena Bank (Rs 663 crore).

Banks which posted sub-Rs 500 crore loss were Kolkata-based Allahabad Bank (Rs 486 crore), Oriental Bank of Commerce (Rs 425 crore), Corporation Bank (Rs 383 crore) and Syndicate Bank (Rs 120 crore).

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Railways Decides to Withdraw the Levy of Port Congestion Surcharge
Apr 16,2016

Indian Railways is moving ahead with big bang reforms as announced in the Railway Budget.

In order to attract imported freight traffic including Containers, Coal, Iron ore etc (diverted to road), it has been decided to withdraw the levy of Port Congestion Surcharge with immediate effect. This was a pending demand of the Ministries of Shipping and Ports, Steel, Container Operators and other Industries. The move will be a big boost to national industrial growth.

The surcharge withdrawn was 10% on basic freight and its withdrawal will generate additional incremental traffic.

BACKGROUNDER :

Due to the prevailing economic situation during the later part of the FY 2014-15, there had been a burgeoning growth of import traffic at ports, particularly of iron ore, thermal coal, fertilizer and containers. In order to compensate for the additional detention to railway rolling stock at the ports and the consequential loss of loading potential of revenue earning freight traffic, it had been decided to impose congestion surcharge of 10% on base freight on all traffic including containers originating from ports with effect from 24 November 2014.

The situation has since changed with the congestion levels at almost all ports having come down due to a significant drop in import of thermal coal, iron ore, fertilizer and container traffic in recent months. The pendency of demands at ports has come down drastically prompting Railways to withdraw the port congestion surcharge with immediate effect.

Over the past few months, there had been a persistent demand from the Industry and concerned nodal Ministries to consider withdrawal of the 10%congestion surcharge on the grounds that it was having a very significant impact in the logistics cost and was leading to diversion of traffic from the more environmental friendly rail mode to road, also precipitated because of falling prices of diesel.

The withdrawal is expected to give respite to the Industry in bringing down logistics costs and thereby attract increasing volumes of traffic to the rail mode, particularly in the major segments of imported thermal and coking coal for the power sector and steel plants, imported bauxite and alumina for the Aluminum Industry, import container traffic movement from gateway ports to the hinterland, imported fertilizers, imported limestone and dolomite for the steel plants etc.

The decision to withdraw the congestion surcharge is one of the significant steps in the direction of rationalization of freight rate structure announced by the Honble Minister of Railways in this years Railway Budget. Besides this, three other policy initiatives have already been launched by Ministry of Railways in accordance with the budget announcements. These are (i) opening of loading of BCN rakes for two point destinations; (ii) incentive scheme for merry-go-round operations by Railways in colliery - power plant circuits and (iii) policy on coastal movement of iron ore, involving combination of rail cum sea movements, for steel plants located on west coast. All these policy initiatives are expected to contribute to significant increase in freight traffic and corresponding earnings during the current fiscal.

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Concor to Transport Empty Containers from Cochin Port to Coimbatore Free Of Cost
Apr 13,2016

The CONCOR has announced a special scheme to transport empty containers from Cochin Port to their Irugur ICD at Coimbatore free of cost. This major intervention will ensure that empty containers required for stacking export cargo from Coimbatore will be mobilized free of freight cost. It will reduce the overall transport cost of containers exported through Cochin as movement of empty from Cochin was one major contributor to the cost. The last quarter of the previous financial year had witnessed over 15% growth in container handling through Vallarpadam. Among the initiatives that have resulted in growth was the commencement of the regular Saturday container rail service from Coimbatore to Cochin. The present scheme announced for the next six months will further help the exporters of Coimbatore by making empty containers available readily and at less cost. The CONCOR has already put in place free storage for empty containers for a period of six months. The scheme will be effective from the service leaving Vallarpadam on 14.04.2016.

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India and South Korea sign MoU for Cooperation and Mutual Assistance in Development of Ports
Apr 13,2016

An MoU was signed by Shri Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road, Transport and Highways and Shipping, Government of the Republic of India and Mr. Kim Young Suk, Minister of Oceans and Fisheries, Government of the Republic of Korea in Mumbai today. The South Korean delegation led by Minister Kim is in Mumbai to participate in the Maritime India Summit, 2016 (MIS, 2016). This MoU is for cooperation and mutual assistance between India and Republic of Korea in port related matters.The Union Cabinet has approved the proposal of the Ministry of Shipping for signing of this MoU on 06 April 2016.

It is recalled that MIS, 2016 is a maiden flagship initiative of the Ministry of Shipping, Government of India that provides a unique platform for participants to explore potential business opportunities in Indian Maritime Sector. MIS, 2016 is being organised from April 14-16, 2016 at Mumbai and will have conference, exhibition and demo sessions. Republic of Korea is the Partner Country of MIS, 2016. A delegation of over 100 participants from South Korea are attending the Summit.

The signing of the MoU is expected to help both countries to encourage and facilitate the development of ports, port related industry, maritime relationship and cooperate in the tasks of sharing of technology, experiences in the fields of port development and operation, exchange of information on construction, building, engineering and related aspects in the field of port development, Joint participation in port-related construction, building and engineering projects that both parties are interested in, exchange of experts including officials from the relevant ministries of each country in the field of port, and related education and training, other types of cooperation that may be mutually agreed upon between the two countries.

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New Civil Aviation Policy to address issues of opening up skies & regional connectivity aggressively: Secretary, Tourism
Apr 13,2016

The new civil aviation policy of the union government which is quite on the cards, will address both the issues of opening up the skies and regional connectivity in a very aggressive and fulfilling manner, a top Tourism Ministry official said at an ASSOCHAM event.

n++The new tourism policy, which is just a matter of time, is going to highlight and emphasise a lot on the possibility of increasing Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Events (MICE) into India,n++ said Mr Vinod Zutshi, secretary, Ministry of Tourism while inaugurating a Thought Leadership Meet on MICE Tourism in India, organised by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM).

Talking about the e-visa for MICE, Mr Zutshi, n++We had a meeting with the Ministry of Home Affairs a few days ago, we insisted on MICE e-visa as well, we have been trying very hard for e-visa for MICE and medical and we are hopeful to have this e-visa to see the light of the day, particularly for business tourists to begin with but we are insisting that ultimately the conference visa should also be done, which we have been assured that it will be, step-by-step.n++

He also said that government had sanctioned 20 projects with an investment worth Rs 2,000 crore for infrastructure under Swadesh and Prasad schemes in terms of - coastal, eco, wildlife, Buddhist tourism circuits.

Talking about the tourism growth rate in India, he said, n++We have regained the pace that we had between 2010 and 2014, touching as much as 7-10 per cent, after a lean period of about a year in 2015, we are back in action.n++

n++The first two months January and February have recorded as much as 9.6 per cent growth, as far as FTAs (foreign tourist arrivals) are concerned,n++ said Mr Zutshi. n++Even the domestic tourism is booming with 14 per cent continuous growth rate and with an aim of achieving even more than 15 per cent augurs well as far as growth of both domestic and foreign tourism is concerned.n++

n++I think lot of credit goes to the peaceful and conducive environment in terms of law and order,n++ he added.

He also said that there is a need to identify coastal areas that can be developed as MICE tourist destinations in India, more so as there had been an investment worth Rs 500 crore made in promoting tourism in coastal states.

He also informed that the union government is working with state governments to develop Khajuraho, Sanchi, Bodhgaya, Varanasi and Tirupati as MICE tourism destinations in India.

Emphasising upon the need for aggressive promotion, marketing and branding, Mr Zutshi called for synergy between private tour operators and the government to promote tourism sector in India.

Talking about Indias weakness in international bidding, he said, n++We need to introspect and see what can be done, we tried in the last budget, as a pre-budget measure, we made a proposal to the Ministry of Finance to have a corpus by which we can be more aggressive while doing international bidding for MICE events, unfortunately it could not see the light of the day, but we will keep making those efforts.n++

Mr Zutshi said that India as a tourist destination had gained lot of mileage from the foreign visits of the Prime Minister. n++The kind of visibility India has achieved in the form of visits of the Prime Minister all over the world, this is something by which we are drawing lot of mileage, the visit is followed by memorandum of understanding, bilateral agreements, media coverage and the international conferences being held.n++

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Global Economy Faltering from Too Slow Growth for Too Long-IMF
Apr 13,2016

Global growth continues, but at a sluggish pace that leaves the world economy more exposed to risks, says the IMFs latest World Economic Outlook (WEO).

The WEO forecasts global growth at 3.2 percent in 2016 and 3.5 percent in 2017, a downward revision of 0.2 percent and 0.1 percent, respectively, compared with the January 2016.

The current diminished outlook calls for an immediate, proactive response, Obstfeld noted. To support global growth, he emphasized, there is a need for a more potent policy mixn++a three-pronged policy approach based on structural, fiscal, and monetary policies.

n++If national policymakers were to clearly recognize the risks they jointly face and act together to prepare for them, the positive effects on global confidence could be substantial,n++ Obstfeld added.

Moderate recovery in advanced economies

Growth in advanced economies is projected to remain modest at about 2 percent, according to the WEO. The recovery is hampered by weak demand, partly held down by unresolved crisis legacies, as well as unfavorable demographics and low productivity growth.

In the United States, expected growth this year is flat at 2.4 percent, with a modest uptick in 2017. Domestic demand will be supported by improving government finances and a stronger housing market that help offset the drag on net exports coming from a strong dollar and weaker manufacturing.

In the euro area, low investment, high unemployment, and weak balance sheets weigh on growth, which will remain modest at 1.5 percent this year and 1.6 percent next year.

In Japan, both growth and inflation are weaker than expected, reflecting in particular a sharp fall in private consumption. Growth is projected to remain at 0.5 percent in 2016 before turning slightly negative to -0.1 percent in 2017, as the scheduled increase in the consumption tax rate goes into effect.

Emerging and developing economies slowing further

While emerging markets and developing economies will still account for the lions share of world growth in 2016, prospects across countries remain uneven and generally weaker than over the past two decades.

The WEO projects their growth rate to increase only modestlyn++relative to 2015n++to 4.1 percent this year and 4.6 percent next year.

This forecast reflects a variety of factors:

n++ Slowing growth in oil exporters, with oil price decline, and still weak outlook for non-oil commodity exporters, including in Latin America.

n++ The modest slowdown in China, where growth continues to shift away from manufacturing and investment to services and consumption.

n++ Deep recessions in Brazil and Russia, and weak growth in some Latin America and Middle East countries, particularly those hit hard by the oil price decline and intensifying conflicts and security risks.

n++ Diminished growth prospects in many African and low-income nations due to the unfavorable global environment.

On the positive side, India remains a bright spotn++with strong growth and rising real incomes. The ASEAN-5 economiesn++Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnamn++are also performing well. And Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean are beneficiaries of the U.S. recovery and, in most cases, lower oil prices.

Risks are on the rise

In the current environment of weak growth, risks to the outlook are now more pronounced.

These include:

n++ A return of financial turmoil, impairing confidence. For instance, an additional bout of exchange rate depreciations in emerging market economies could further worsen corporate balance sheets, and a sharp decline in capital inflows could force a rapid compression of domestic demand.

n++ A protracted period of low oil prices could further destabilize the outlook for oil-exporting countries.

n++ A sharper slowdown in China than currently projected could have strong international spillovers through trade, commodity prices, and confidence, and lead to a more generalized slowdown in the global economy.

n++ Shocks of a noneconomic originn++related to geopolitical conflicts, political discord, terrorism, refugee flows, or global epidemicsn++loom over some countries and regions and, if left unchecked, could have significant spillovers on global economic activity.

On the upside, the recent decline in oil prices may boost demand in oil-importing countries more strongly than currently envisaged, including through consumers possible perception that prices will remain lower for longer.

Raising growth still a priority

More aggressive policy actions to lift demand and supply potential could foster stronger growth in both the short and longer term.

The WEO emphasizes a three-pronged approach of mutually reinforcing policy levers. These include (1) structural reforms, (2) fiscal support, with growth-friendly composition of revenue and spending, and fiscal stimulus where there is a need and where fiscal space allows, and (3) monetary policy measures.

There is strong need and scope for further structural reforms. Analytical work featured in the WEO finds that labor and product market reforms in advanced economies can give a strong boost to growth prospects over the medium to long term. Carefully prioritizing and sequencing reforms is essential to boost their short-term effects.

Product market reformsn++which aim to boost competition among firms and make it easier to start a business or attract investmentn++should be implemented forcefully, as they boost output even under weak macroeconomic conditions and without weighing on public finances. Where possible, narrowing unemployment benefits and easing job protection should be accompanied by other policies to offset their short-term cost on vulnerable groups.

Reforms that are coupled with fiscal support will be the most valuable at this juncture, including reducing inefficient taxes on labor and increasing public spending on research and development and active labor market policies (reforms aimed at getting the unemployed back into work, such as job training programs).

In many advanced economies, accommodative monetary policy remains essential to support economic activity and lift inflation expectations. In many emerging market and developing economies, monetary policy must grapple with the impact of weaker currencies on inflation and private sector balance sheets. Exchange rate flexibility, where feasible, should be used to cushion the impact of terms of trade shocks.

Finally, further financial sector strengthening is essential, including to create a context in which monetary, fiscal, and structural policies can be most effective.

The WEO warns that policymakers also need to make contingency plans and design collective measures for a possible future in case downside risks materialize. Cooperation to enhance the global financial safety net and global regulatory regime is also central to a resilient international and financial system.

In a recent speech, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde warned that the recovery remains too slow, too fragile, with the risk that persistent low growth can have damaging effects on the social and political fabric of many countries.

n++Lower growth means less room for error,n++ said Maurice Obstfeld, IMF Economic Counsellor and Director of Research. n++Persistent slow growth has scarring effects that themselves reduce potential output and with it, demand and investment,n++ he added.

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Let Panama papers noise not drown out legal overseas transactions: ASSOCHAM
Apr 13,2016

In the backdrop of screaming headlines on the Panama Papers and some prominent Indian entities and individuals figuring among them, as much as $1.32 billion (about Rs 9,000 crore) was remitted out of India in a perfectly legal way under the RBIs Liberalised Remittance Scheme (LRS), apex industry body ASSOCHAM stated today.

Of $1.32 billion remitted by individual residents in the fiscal 2014-15, the maximum remittance took place under the Gift head ($403 million), followed by Studies abroad ($277.1 million) and Maintenance of close relatives ($174 million). Investment in equity/debt amounted to $195.5 million, according to the RBI data accessed by the ASSOCHAM Economic Research Bureau.

Instead of seeing all the remittances abroad with a needle of suspicion in the context of the so-called Panama Papers, we must realise a fair amount of liberal foreign exchange regime is in operation and which is how it should be, ASSOCHAM Secretary General Mr D S Rawat said.

He said, Let us not pre-judge the outcome of the investigations being done by a multi-agency government team. It would certainly find out what is permissible and what is not.

As per the Master Circular of the RBI, investment under the LRS is permitted in several activities including acquisition of shares or debt instruments, immovable property outside India, up to $2,50,000 per year, without prior approval of the central bank. Moreover, remittances under the scheme can be consolidated in respect of family members subject to individual family members complying with its terms and conditions.

Besides, resident individuals can set up Joint Ventures (JV)/Wholly Owned Subsidiaries (WOS) outside India for bonafide business activities within the overall limit of $2,50,000.

Under the RBI scheme authorised dealers may freely allow remittances by resident individuals up to $2,50,000 per financial year (April-March) for any permitted current or capital account transactions or a combination of both.

Since some reports suggested how money was remitted abroad for acquisition of expensive paintings etc, it must be noted that the LRS eminently allows such a proposition. According to the RBI Master Circular, Remittances under the Scheme can be used for purchasing objects of art.

A resident individual can invest in units of mutual funds, venture capital funds, unrated debt securities, promissory notes etc. under this scheme. Further, the resident can invest in such securities out of the bank account opened abroad under the Scheme.

Outward Remittances under the Liberalised Remittance Scheme (LRS) for Resident Individuals:

(US$ Million)Item2014-15Outward Remittances under the LRS1,325.801.1 Deposit51.41.2 Purchase of immovable property45.51.3 Investment in equity/debt195.51.4 Gift403.51.5 Donations3.21.6 Travel111.7 Maintenance of close relatives174.41.8 Medical Treatment7.21.9 Studies Abroad277.11.10 Others157.1Others include items such as subscription to journals, maintenance of investment abroad, student loan repayments and credit card payments.
Source: RBI

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Industry loosing Rs 350 cr/day due to ambiguity over policy on graphic health warning on tobacco products: ASSOCHAM
Apr 13,2016

Tobacco industry is facing losses worth over Rs 350 crore each day as cigarette makers have been forced to shut operations due to lack of clarity on proposed graphic health warnings on tobacco items and opened floodgates in terms of illegal imports to the extent of 90 per cent, apex industry body ASSOCHAM said.

n++Livelihood of more than 45 million people engaged in tobacco industry across India are being threatened due to this ambiguity on policy related to graphic health warnings on tobacco products,n++ said The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) in a communication addressed to the union government.

n++Today, the legal cigarette industry accounts for just 11 per cent of total tobacco consumption across India due to high taxation thereby leading to exponential growth in sales of duty-evaded illegal cigarettes without pictorial health warnings,n++ it said.

In its letter, ASSOCHAM has also pointed out that acute financial distress being faced by farmers engaged in tobacco farming had led to spurt in farmer suicide in major tobacco growing states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana.

n++Already over 10 states in India are facing acute drought conditions and the present imbroglio will only serve to pull many more farmers in huge financial strain.n++

ASSOCHAM also highlighted that government exchequer was being denied one-fifth of total tobacco industry revenue i.e. worth over Rs 9,000 crore which has led to sharp rise in seizure of contraband cigarettes thereby converting India into a major global hub for smuggled cigarettes.

Even retailers are forced to sell illicit, contraband and illegal, local and international brands of cigarettes to safeguard their livelihood.

The Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation had also recommended that new health warnings be modified to occupy 50 per cent of front and back panes of cigarette packs.

Highlighting the distinct deviation from global trends, ASSOCHAM letter noted that global average size of pictorial warnings on tobacco products is about 31 per cent whereas as per the notification of union health ministry, tobacco products are required to have pictorial warning on 85 per cent of packaging space.

n++With such excessive warnings, cigarette packets will virtually become unbranded thereby giving a fillip to illegal and smuggled products,n++ it said.

It further noted that the size of pictorial warnings in India is much larger than the average of 20 per cent that is prevalent among top five tobacco producing countries - Brazil, China, Malawi, USA and Zimbabwe, comprising around 90 per cent of global tobacco production.

Moreover, the top three cigarette consuming countries - China, Japan and USA that together account for 51 per cent share in global cigarette consumption have only text based warnings (about 30 per cent in size) and have not adopted pictorial warnings.

In 2012, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down similar pictorial warnings as unconstitutional, as they were found to be factually inaccurate and misleading.

ASSOCHAM has thus urged the government to urgently look into the matter and take a balanced and moderate view on issue of graphic health warnings and policies do not fall prey to misinformation campaign led by people with vested interests that is only promoting illegal trade.

n++Until the government has considered the Parliamentary Committees recommendations, it would be appropriate to retain current warnings so that the industry is able to resume operations and farmers do not lose their precious livelihood,n++ it further said.

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Indo German Agreement on Namami Gange Signed
Apr 13,2016

An Implementation Agreement for Ganga Rejuvenation under the Namami Gange Programme was signed between the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and German International Cooperation (GIZ) of Germany.

The objective of the agreement is to enable responsible stakeholders at National and State level to apply integrated river basin management approach for the rejuvenation of the river Ganga. This will be based on Indo-German Knowledge exchange and practical experience on strategic river basin management issues, effective data management system and public engagement. The project will closely cooperate with other National and international initiatives including Indo-German bilateral projects like Support to National Urban Sanitation Policy (SNUSP) and Sustainable Environment-friendly Industrial Production (SEIP). The project duration is three years i.e. from 2016 to 2018 and the German contribution in the project will be to the tune of Rs. 22.5 crore. Initial actions will focus on the State of Uttarakhand, with scope of expansion to other upstream Ganga States. The ultimate goal is to adopt the successful river basin management strategies used for Rhine and Danube and replicate the same, wherever possible for attaining the pristine status of river Ganga.

Namami Gange Programme, is a flagship programme of Government of India with a renewed impetus to decrease river pollution and conserve the revered river Ganga. In this connection, the Indian Government solicited support from various countries to rejuvenate the Ganga. Government of Germany, with its vast experiences in cleaning and rejuvenating European rivers such as Rhine, Elbe and Danube, was keen to join hands for collaboration with Government of India.

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Interest rates for NSSF loan to Centre and States for FY 2016-17 revised and fixed at 8.8% in place of 9.5%
Apr 13,2016

In line with the revision of interest rates of small savings schemes, interest rates for the National Small Savings Fund (NSSF) loan to Centre and States for FY 2016-17 has been revised and fixed at 8.8% in place of 9.5%.

The National Small Savings Fund (NSSF) invests its net collection as loan to Centre and State/UT Governments. The interest rate of NSSF loan to Centre and States for Financial Year 2015-16 was 9.5%. This interest rate was felt to be burdensome on States economies.

In the context of easing the transmission of the lower interest rates in the economy, the Government has taken a comprehensive view on the social goals of certain National Small Savings Schemes. The interest rates for First Quarter of the Financial Year 2016-17 in respect of various small savings schemes were communicated through O.M. dated 18 March 2015.

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MoU between India and Bangladesh on cooperation in the field of Fisheries
Apr 13,2016

The Union Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, was apprised about the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between India and Bangladesh in September, 2011 on bilateral cooperation in the field of Fisheries and aquaculture and allied activities.

The MoU has strengthened the friendly relations between India and Bangladesh and promote development of cooperation in fisheries and aquaculture and allied sectors through mutually agreed activities and procedures.

The MoU will remain in force for a period of five years unless either of the Parties give prior written notice of at least six months in advance to the other Party of its intention to terminate the MoU. This MoU could be extended for further period as may be mutually agreed upon.

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ASSOCHAM seeks government intervention for betterment of Jewellery industry
Apr 13,2016

Industry body ASSOCHAM National Council on Gems & Jewellery said today we should form a gold council which would have representation from both the industries as well as government so that any new gold policy which is announced should be in consultation with the industry so there are no more conflicts.

While addressing the meeting Mayank Khemka, Managing Director of Khemka Group of Companies said that the government accepted industries suggestions of gold monetization scheme and gold bond schemes which has already seen moderate success and will go a long way in reducing import of gold and thus saving valuable foreign exchange and will improve our CAD (Current Account Deficit) but the scheme should be more modified to effectively market the concept to the end users.

Khemka also suggested that in order to promote export of gold Jewellery MAT (Minimum Alternate Tax) should be removed from SEZ (Special Economic Zone). This will make India a major manufacturing and export hub of the world for gold jewellery. He also said that interest subvention scheme to should be extended.

Nominated agencies to be allowed to import dore for value addition. Also the norms for import of gold dore especially the need to have a mining certificate should be relaxed and gold dore should allowed to be imported from multinational bullion banks and LBMA certified refiners and aggregators, adds the ASSOCHAM.

n++There is a need to simplify these laws to provide ease of doing business in the Industry. Jewellery industry is an essentially handcrafted industry, the rules should be tailor-made to allow the small artisans and Jewellers to operate without hasslen++, said Sankar Sen, Chairman of ASSOCHAM Gems & Jewellery at an ASSOCHAM event.

The Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) will work for preparing a comprehensive A Vision document for betterment of the industry which may add growth to the economic development of India and also submit to the relevant ministry to get it implemented.

Sen further said that extension of time limit for export obligation beyond 90 days and amended to 120 days.

The artisan and craftsman should be given training for skill development and there should be process of smooth re-absorption in the industry. The Jewellery sector in India is unique industry which gives employment of crores of self engaged artisans who acquire skills through generations. There is an immediate need to include the Gems & Jewellery industry in the Make In India progarmme taking into account on necessary inputs that will make the Jewellery industry a truly make in India initiative .

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Memorandum of Understanding between India and United Arab Emirates on cooperation in preventing and combating of Human Trafficking
Apr 13,2016

The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has given its approval for signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between India and United Arab Emirates (UAE) on cooperation in preventing and combating of Human Trafficking. The MoU is expected to be signed very soon after the approval.

The MoU will strengthen the bonds of friendship between the two countries and increase the bilateral cooperation on the issues of prevention, rescue, recovery and repatriation related to human trafficking especially women and children expeditiously.

The following are the salient features of the MoU:

(i) To strengthen cooperation to prevent all forms of human trafficking, especially that of women and children and ensure speedy investigation and prosecution of traffickers and organized crime syndicates in either country.

(ii) Taking preventive measures that would eliminate human trafficking in women and children and in protecting the rights of victims of trafficking.

(iii) Anti-trafficking Cells and Task Forces will work on both sides to prevent human trafficking.

(iv) Police and other concerned authorities will work in close cooperation and exchange information which can be used to interdict human traffickers.

(v) The repatriation of victims would be done as expeditiously as possible and the home country will undertake the safe and effective re-integration of the victims.

(vi) A Joint Task Force with representatives from both sides would be constituted to monitor the working of the MoU.

Background:

As a destination of trafficking, South Asian countries are mainly affected by domestic trafficking, or trafficking from the neighboring countries. However, South Asian victims are also increasingly detected in the Middle East.

India is a source and transit country as far as trafficking to UAE is concerned, whereas UAE is a destination and transit country for men and women, predominantly from South, Southeast and Central Asia and Eastern Europe who are subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. Migrant workers, who comprise over 95 percent of the UAEs private sector workforce, are recruited primarily from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iran and East, South and Southeast Asia. Some of these workers face forced labour in the UAE. Women from some of these countries travel willingly to the UAE to work as domestic workers, secretaries, beauticians and hotel cleaners, but some are subjected to forced labour by unlawful withholding of their passports, restrictions on movement, non-payment of wages, threats and physical or sexual abuse.

The reinforcement of anti-trafficking efforts at all levels between the UAE and India is essential for prevention and protection of victims. This requires mutual cooperation among both the countries for intelligence sharing, joint investigation and a coordinated response to the challenges of human trafficking. For this purpose, it is proposed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with UAE. We have already signed one MoU to prevent trafficking with Bangladesh and another with Bahrain is to be signed during this month.

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