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Cabinet approves MoU between India and Senegal in the field of Health and Medicine
Feb 09,2017

The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has given its approval for signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between India and Senegal in the field of Health and Medicine.

The main areas of cooperation between the Parties will include the following:

i. Integrated Disease Surveillance

ii. Medical Research

iii. Emergency Relief

iv. Hospital Management

v. Drugs and Pharmaceutical products/hospital equipments

vi. Traditional Medicine

vii. AIDS Control

viii. Any other areas of mutual interest

A Working Group will be set up to further elaborate the details of cooperation and to oversee the implementation of this MoU.

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Cabinet apprised of MoU between India and France in the field of Science, Technology and Innovation
Feb 09,2017

The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has been apprised of the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of Cooperation between Technology Development Board (TDB), Department of Science & Technology, Govt. of India and Bpifrance, a Public Investment Bank, France.

The agreement will ensure exchange of best practices and setting up of coordinated measures to foster technological exchanges in the field of Science, Technology and Innovation through collaboration between companies, organizations and institutions of France and India.

The agreement aims to carry out activities related to exchange of best practices in the field of Science & Technology through the Technology Development Board and Bpifrance.

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Cabinet approves Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan for covering 6 crore rural households
Feb 09,2017

The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has approved Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA) to make 6 crore rural households digitally literate. The outlay for this project is Rs.2,351.38 crore to usher in digital literacy in rural India by March,.2019. This is in line with the announcement made by Finance Minister in the Union Budget 2016-17.

PMGDISHA is expected to be one of the largest digital literacy programmes in the world. Under the scheme, 25 lakh candidates will be trained in the FY 2016-17; 275 lakh in the FY 2017-18; and 300 lakh in the FY 2018-19. To ensure equitable geographical reach, each of the 250,000 Gram Panchayats would be expected to register an average of 200-300 candidates.

Digitally literate persons would be able to operate computers/digital access devices (like tablets, smart phones, etc.), send and receive emails, browse internet, access Government Services, search for information, undertaking cashless transactions, etc. and hence use IT to actively participate in the process of nation building.

The implementation of the Scheme would be carried out under the overall supervision of Ministry of Electronics and IT in active collaboration with States/UTs through their designated State Implementing Agencies, District e-Governance Society (DeGS), etc.

Background:

As per the 71st NSSO Survey on Education 2014, only 6% of rural households have a computer. This highlights that more than 15 crore rural households (@ 94% of 16.85 crore households) do not have computers and a significant number of these households are likely to be digitally illiterate. The PMGDISHA being initiated under Digital India Programme would cover 6 crore households in rural areas to make them digitally literate. This would empower the citizens by providing them access to information, knowledge and skills for operating computers / digital access devices.

As the thrust of the Government is on cashless transactions through mobile phones, the course content would also have emphasis on Digital Wallets, Mobile Banking, Unified Payments Interface (UPI), Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) and Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AEPS), etc.

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ASSOCHAM concerned over RBI leaving n++accommodativen++ stance on interest rates
Feb 09,2017

Expressing disappointment over belying of expectations on the interest rate cut by the Reserve Bank of India, the ASSOCHAM said what is more worrying is the RBI putting an end to the n++accommodativen++ stance in the wake of the impact of demonetization.

n++The RBI, in a way, has put the ball in the court of the government for softening of the interest rates which, it said, would depend on how soon the problems of the bank non-performing assets (NPAs) , recapitalization of the lenders and re-caliberating of the small saving, are resolvedn++.. The ASSOCHAM, therefore, would urge the government to take the signals from RBI seriously and address these issues. Besides, there is a strong case for fiscal support, besides the monetary measures, to generate the consumer demand and revive the investment cycle,n++ ASSOCHAM President Mr. Sunil Kanoria said.

He said while inflation targeting remains an important mandate of the RBIs Monetary Policy Committee, subdued growth should also weigh on the policy makers. n++Besides the global factors, cited by the RBI, like firming of the crude oil and strengthening of dollar against rupee seem to have been given over-weight by the MPC. In fact, the crude oil at the present moment again appears to be easingn++.

The ASSOCHAM, however, welcomed RBI Governor Dr Urjit Patels advice to the banks, saying there is still scope for further transmission despite no fresh cut in the Repo rate, based on the 175 basis points earlier reduction by the policy rates while the pass-on has been only half of that quantum.

Besides, the RBI stance of taking away the n++accommodativen++ stance appears to be different from the signals from the government which has been assuring the industry and the people of subdued interest regime, going forward.

Mr Kanoria said after a helping hand from the Finance Minister Mr Arun Jaitley on the housing sector, granting infrastructure status to the affordable housing, the follow up action by the RBI has been put on the backburner. n++To that extent, it is a letdownn++ for the key sector.

However, ASSOCHAM welcomed the RBI decision to set up a standing committee on cyber security, especially in the wake of increased focus on digitalization of the economy, post demonetization.

On the issue of NPAs, the chamber said, all the stake holders, including the banks, RBI and the government along with the industry need to work out pragmatic solutions.

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Cabinet apprised of Framework Agreement between India and Vietnam on cooperation in exploration and uses of outer space for peaceful purposes
Feb 09,2017

The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has been apprised of the Framework Agreement between India and Vietnam on cooperation in the exploration and uses of outer space for peaceful purposes. The Framework Agreement has been signed on September 03, 2016.

The Framework Agreement will enable pursuing the potential interest areas of cooperation such as space science, technology and applications including remote sensing of the earth; satellite communication and satellite-based navigation; space science and planetary exploration; use of spacecraft and space systems and ground system; and application of space technology.

Cooperation with Vietnam through this Framework Agreement would lead to development of joint activity in the field of application of space technologies for the benefit of humanity.

The Framework Agreement will provide impetus to explore newer research activities and application possibilities in the field of remote sensing of the earth; satellite communication; satellite navigation; space science and exploration of outer space.

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Phase I of Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) programme at 3 locations has capacity of 5.33 MMT
Feb 08,2017

The Minister of State (I/C) for Petroleum & Natural Gas Shri Dharmendra Pradhan informed as part of Phase I of Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) programme, SPR facilities are at three locations viz. Vishakhapatnam, Mangalore and Padur with a total capacity of 5.33 MMT. On 25 January 2017, the Definitive Agreement on Oil Storage and Management was signed between Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserve (ISPRL) and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) of UAE for filling up one of the two caverns at Mangalore SPR facility. The other cavern at Mangalore has already been filled by Government. He also informed that the Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserve (ISPRL) which is the SPV for construction of SPR facilities invited preliminary Expression of Interest (EoI) from reputed international parties for filling up of Padur SPR facility.

There is 63 days of existing storage based on estimated commercial reserve of crude oil, petroleum products and gas. The total 5.33 MMT reserve of Phase-I of the SPR programme is currently estimated to supply approximately 10.5 days of Indias crude requirement according to the consumption during 2015-16.

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RBI maintains status quo-Sixth Bi-monthly Monetary Policy Statement, 2016-17
Feb 08,2017

The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), Reserve Bank of India in its sixth Bi-Monthly Monetary Policy Statement, 2016-17 kept the key policy rates unchanged same as in the fifth Bi-Monthly Monetary Policy Statement, 2016-17. The policy repo rate, at which it lends to the scheduled banks borrowing for the short liquidity gaps, under the liquidity adjustement facility (LAF) thus stands unchanged at 6.25%. The decision of the MPC is consistent with a neutral stance of monetary policy in consonance with the objective of achieving consumer price index (CPI) inflation at 5 per cent by Q4 of 2016-17 and the medium-term target of 4 per cent within a band of +/- 2 per cent, while supporting growth. Consequently, the reverse repo rate under the LAF remains unchanged at 5.75%, and the marginal standing facility (MSF) rate and the Bank Rate at 6.75%.

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Shri Piyush Goyal to launch TAMRA Portal and Mobile Application to ensure transparent award of Statutory Clearances for Mining Operations
Feb 08,2017

With an objective to enhance transparency and accountability as a part of the Ease of Doing Business in the Mining sector, Union Minister of State (IC) for Power, Coal, New & Renewable Energy and Mines, Shri Piyush Goyal will launch TAMRA (Transparency, Auction Monitoring and Resource Augmentation) portal and Mobile Application here on 10th February, 2017. Ministers of Mining and senior officers from 12 mineral rich States would also be connected through videoconferencing.

In context of Prime Minister , Shri Narendra Modis Ease of Doing Business initiative, which advocates facilitating overall business activity in India, the Ministry of Mines has developed the TAMRA Portal and Mobile Application which is a step to speed up mining activity in India and facilitate all the stakeholders to track the status of the statutory clearances associated with mining blocks for getting mines to reach till operationalisation for the same. TAMRA will be an interactive platform for all the stakeholders to compress the timelines for statutory and other clearances as it would help minimize the gestation period for commencing production.

Further, TAMRA covers block-wise, state-wise and mineral-wise information of the blocks to be auctioned, monitors various statutory clearances, and also highlights the additional resources generated through e-Auction. In case of delay in obtaining any clearances, TAMRA will send triggers to the concerned authority so that the remedial steps can be taken immediately by those responsible. The Ministry of Mines will also receive triggers generated by TAMRA and will facilitate in expediting clearances. This portal also enables successful bidder to give suggestions/inputs.

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Vodafone India - Idea Merger to Improve Industry Dynamics; Near Term Headwinds Persist
Feb 08,2017

The proposed merger of Vodafone India and Idea Cellular Ltd (Idea) will be credit positive for the telecom industry by eliminating duplication of spectrum and infrastructure capex, says India Ratings and Research (India Ratings). However in the near term India Ratings believes that the intense competition from Reliance Jios freebees will continue to pressurise telecom companies (telcos) financials. The sector is capital intensive with multi-players operating, and thus the merger will be favourable for both operators and subscribers, resulting in better pricing discipline in the long term. India Ratings estimates the return on capital employed will improve for the industry by around 300bp over FY17-FY19 (FY16: 8.4%) while the total capital deployed will increase 90% by FY19 over FY16.

The combined entity will be much larger in size, with a subscriber base of over 380 million (37% market share) compared to Bharti Airtel Limiteds (Bharti) 262 million subscribers. The combined entities revenue market share will be around 40%, while Bhartis stands at 30%. The merger will complement the circle presence of both the entities - Idea has strong presence in rural areas and Vodafone India in urban areas. It will also improve the competitiveness of the resultant entity compared to other telecom leaders in around 60% of circles (based on subscriber market share) where the merged entity will become a leading operator as it can offer services at better price points due to the operational synergies in those circles.

India Ratings expects the combined entities operating margins to improve by around 300bp, due to cost synergies in networking and selling, general and administrative expenses. The merger will also result in capex synergies, since it will eliminate the duplication of spectrum capacity and infrastructure related requirements. India Ratings notes that the spectrum of Vodafone India (in seven circles) and Idea (in two circles) which are expiring in FY22 are not in common circles, and there could be potential spectrum capex synergies (the cumulative worth of spectrum in these nine circles is over INR120 billion, based on the latest auction prices in those circles). The combined entities revenues will be around INR775 billion-INR800 billion and EBITDA margins of around 28%.

India Ratings notes that the merger, in case it materialises, will also require regulatory clearances, including the ones related to spectrum holding share, subscriber market share and revenue market share in some of the circles where the combined holding will cross the prescribed threshold limits. India Ratings expects the combined entity to breach the spectrum holding limit in five circles under the 900MHz band, one circle under the 1,800MHz band and two circles under the 2,500MHz band with the cumulative worth of around INR90 billion (based on last auctioned prices). The key challenge for the merger will also be operational and management control of the merged entity, along with the outstanding tax matter of Vodafone India.

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Export of Oilmeals during January 2017 has jumped more than doubled
Feb 08,2017

The Solvent Extractors Association of India (SEA) has compiled the export data for export of oilmeals for the month of January 2017. The export of oilmeals during January 2017 has jumped more than doubled and reported at 165,980 tons compared to 71,890 tons i.e. up by 131%. The overall export of oilmeals during April 2016 to January 2017 is reported at 1,335,894 tons compared to 1,300,465 tons during the same period of last year.

SEA has revised export data from April16 onward for soybean meal and de-oiled rice bran with update data collected for export by surface transport to neighboring countries.

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Fitch: India Oil Merger May Boost Efficiency; Faces Challenges
Feb 08,2017

A proposed merger of Indias state-controlled oil companies could reduce inefficiencies across the sector. It would also create an entity that is better placed to compete globally for resources, and less vulnerable to shifts in oil prices. However, a merger would face significant execution challenges, particularly in terms of managing the integration of employees, addressing overcapacity in the merged entity, and winning the backing for the merger from private shareholders, says Fitch Ratings.

Fitch would expect the merger to give the new entity much stronger bargaining power with suppliers, and greater financial clout to secure oil resources. Most Asian countries have just one national oil company integrated across the value chain. In contrast, there are 18 state-controlled oil companies in India, with at least six that can be considered key players - Oil India Limited, Indian Oil Corporation, Bharat Petroleum Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation and GAIL (India) (all BBB-/Stable) and ONGC. Proposals to consolidate Indias oil & gas sector have been floated before, but last week the idea was presented in a budget speech for the first time. No details have yet been provided on which companies would be involved, but the aim is to create an integrated public sector oil major.

A merged entity would have opportunities to save on costs and improve operational efficiency. For example, there would be less need for multiple retail outlets in a single area. Transport costs could be reduced by retailers sourcing from the nearest refinery, rather than the ones they own - as is currently the common practice. A merged entity would also be able to share expertise for exploration and acquisition of resources.

The integration of upstream, refining and retail companies would have the additional benefit of spreading the impact of oil prices movements across the various parts of the value chain, which would reduce volatility in cash generation.

However, there will be considerable difficulties involved in merging a number of entities with differing structures, operational systems, and cultures. Political sensitivities are likely to limit job cuts, and personnel-related issues are likely to arise from the need to manage hierarchies and potential overcapacity in the integrated entity. Moreover, all are listed companies, with public shareholding ranging from 51%-70%. That could cause some problems in obtaining approval from the 75% of shareholders that is typically required to approve a merger, particularly if there are concerns over valuation.

There is also a question of how the state will handle the likely decline in competition after a merger. Consumers have benefitted from competition among the state-controlled retail companies, which has supported improvements in service standards. Private companies are increasing their market share from a low base, but could find it even harder to compete with a single large state-controlled company.

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ASSOCHAM seeks fine prints of electoral bond scheme
Feb 08,2017

ASSOCHAM today said the fine prints of the electoral bond scheme for donations to the political parties by businesses and wealthy individuals should aim at maximising clean-up of the system and transparency in political funding.

n++Reducing the political anonymous donations limit to Rs 2,000 from Rs 20,000 per individual may not be fool-proof but is certainly a step forward. Along with this the other big move by the Finance Minister Mr Arun Jaitley to bring in the electoral bonds is an out of box idea. While there is a popular pressure for full transparency and disclosure of names of both the donors and the receivers of the political funds, there is also a merit in the government contention about protecting the identity of the donors as their identification could lead to bigger problems, n++the ASSOCHAM Secretary General Mr D S Rawat said.

He said no industrial house would like to be identified whether it donated to one political party or the other. This way, business houses could be trapped in political rivalry.

The ASSOCHAM said the fine-prints of the electoral bonds scheme should be worked in a manner to make it a credible tool of transparency in the election funding.

Alongside, the n++idea of state funding of elections should also be considered seriouslyn++.the industry which is committed to work for strengthening the Indian democracy would be happy to work with the Election Commission, government, political parties and the civil society to find a common solution to reduce the money power in the electoral process so that well meaning people who do not have financial resources can also come forward and make a qualitative changes in the Indian policy,n++ the chamber said.

It said, the Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modis suggestion of holding simultaneous elections for both the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies should also be considered seriously by all the political parties. n++Besides, exerting a lot of pressure on the administrative machinery of security forces, bureaucracy, teachers, frequent elections in some state or the other lead to enforcing Election Commission Code of Conduct, delaying the developmental schemes. Besides, it also leads to populist competitive politics, that may not always be growth oriented. Some of the schemes may yield immediate political dividend, but could be detrimental for long term gainsn++.

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The Government is not thinking to hike service tax if GST roll out is delayed
Feb 08,2017

The Government is not thinking to hike service tax if GST roll out is delayed. The Government is taking steps to expedite the GST and to take the concerns of the States on board.

Goods and Services Tax Council (GST Council) has been constituted on 15 September 2016 under Article 279A of the Constitution. The GST Council consists of the Union Finance Minister, the Union Minister of State in charge of Revenue or Finance and the Minister in charge of Finance or Taxation or any other Minister nominated by each State Government. The GST Council is presently deliberating on various issues entrusted to it. The GST Council has held nine meetings so far and has made recommendations with respect to thresholds, tax rates, GST Rules, treatment of existing tax incentives, Draft GST Compensation Law and Model GST Law for implementation of GST. All the decisions taken by the Council so far have been based on consensus. The Government is making concerted efforts in the form of IT readiness, rigorous consultations, workshops and training sessions for the industry and traders, and all other stake holders involved.

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Protection of consumers interests in digital mode of payment
Feb 08,2017

Instructions have been issued on Merchant Discount Rate (MDR) Structure on June 28, 2012 capping the MDR @ 0.75% for payment made through debit cards upto Rs. 2000/- and @ not exceeding 1 % for transaction value above Rs. 2000/-. Further, in order to facilitate wider acceptance of card payments, following temporary measures have been introduced for the period from Jan 1, 2017 applicable till March 31, 2017:

i. For transactions upto Rs. 1000/- MDR shall be capped at 0.25% of the transaction value.

ii. For transactions above Rs. 1000/- and upto Rs. 2000/-, MDR shall be capped at 0.5% of the transaction value.

Reserve Bank of India has been continuously striving to promote electronic transactions by making it safe, secure accessible and efficient. Toward this end, a number of measures have been taken on n++Security and Risk Mitigation Measures for Securing Electronic Payment Transactionsn++ which can broadly be put in to 4 categories.

i. Securing Card Present Transactions

ii. Securing Card not Present Transactions/On line card not present transactions.

iii. Securing Payments through Internet banking /Electronic Payments-RBI has required banks to introduce additional measures to secure electronic mode of payments like RTGS, NEFT and IMPS.

iv. On line alerts for all type of card transactions - RBI instructed banks to send on line alerts to customers for all type of card transactions

Honble Finance Minister in Budget Speech 2017-18 has proposed to create a Payments Regulatory Board in the Reserve Bank of India by replacing the existing Board for Regulation and Supervision of Payment and Settlement Systems. Necessary amendments are proposed to this effect in the Finance Bill 2017.

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Amendment in Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Deposit Scheme (PMGKDS), 2016
Feb 08,2017

The Government of India, in consultation with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), had notified Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Deposit Scheme (PMGKDS), 2016 vide Notification No. S.O.4061(E) dated December 16, 2016. The deposit under this Scheme shall be made by any person who declared undisclosed income under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, 2016. The deposit sum, which shall not be less than twenty-five per cent of the declared undisclosed income, can be deposited at the authorized banks (as notified by Government of India) from December 17, 2016 (Saturday) to March 31, 2017 (Friday).

In this connection, the Government of India has decided to allow declarants to make deposits on one or more occasions in the PMGKDS, 2016. Accordingly, para 4(4) of the notification stands amended as under:

n++4. Subscription and Mode of investment in the Bonds Ledger Account- (4), the deposit to be made under sub-section (1) of Section 199F under this Scheme can be made, on one or more occasions. The deposits shall be made before filing declaration under sub-section (1) of section 199C.n++

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