Polity & Governance
- Centre bans sharing of Aadhaar details
- ‘Yatri Mitra’ to the aid of rail passengers in need of assistance
- Delink drug prices from R&D costs: UN
- Direct Tax Dispute Resolution Scheme, 2016 extended
- Gold key to lower GST rate
Bilateral & International Relations
- India, Sri Lanka sign MoU to support fishermen in Hambantota district
- India, AfDB ink MoU for hosting bank’s annual meetings at Ahmedabad
Key Facts for Prelims
- Dinesh Bharadia
- Tiangong-2 space lab
- BHVS Narayana Murthy
Polity & Governance
Centre bans sharing of Aadhaar details
The Union Government has banned agencies in possession of Aadhaar number to publish or post the information publicly to ensure that the details are not misused.
- In this regard, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has issued notification under the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, benefits and services) Act, 2016.
- These agencies have also been mandated to inform Aadhaar holders the purpose for which their details will be used. As per the rules, the biometric information cannot be shared with anyone for any reason whatsoever.
- Any violation of the Aadhaar Act will constitute an offence and is punishable under the Act.
- Penalty has been prescribed for offences such as impersonation of the Aadhaar holder at time of enrolment, tampering with data and disclosing identity information.
The move comes as part of the UIDAI’s efforts to ensure the information is not misused.[Ref: The Hindu]
‘Yatri Mitra’ to the aid of rail passengers in need of assistance
In an initiative to improve the railway travel experience of elderly, differently-abled and ailing passengers, the Ministry of Railways has announced the launch of ‘Yatri Mitra Seva’ to simplify access to wheelchairs, battery operated cars and porter services.
- ‘Yatri Mitra’ or ‘Passenger Friend’ can be an assistant or any other person nominated for the purpose.
- The scheme will be operational at all major railway stations.
- The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd. has been entrusted with implementing services.
- The services can be availed at the time of booking tickets online, accessing an app to be developed by the Centre for Railway Information Systems, calling or messaging ‘139’ IVRS, or by dialling a dedicated mobile phone number.
- The IRCTC may provide the service ‘free of cost’ through some NGO, charitable trust, PSUs, etc. However, if this service cannot be provided ‘free of cost’ due to lack of response, IRCTC may arrange this service on payment basis through a service provider or on its own.
How it works?
- Once the service is booked, the IRCTC will ensure that the ‘Yatri Mitra’ is made available at the coach when the passenger arrives at the designated railway station.
- The ‘Yatri Mitra’ would contact the passenger on the mobile number given at the time of booking and confirm the expected time of arrival.
- Yatri Mitra Seva is derived from the ‘Sarathi Seva’ introduced in the Konkan Railways.
- Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had announced in the budget that the service would be launched at all major stations.
Delink drug prices from R&D costs: UN
A highly influential and long-awaited report from the United Nations has attacked the market-based R&D approach used by the biopharma industry.
- A landmark report by the United Nations High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines has called for delinking drug prices from research and development (R&D) costs.
- The report calls for human rights to be placed over intellectual property laws and all countries must freely be able to use flexibilities granted under TRIPS to access affordable medicines.
Key recommendations of the report:
- Countries that threaten generic drug makers like India for using their entitlements under the TRIPS agreement should be forced to face serious sanctions.
- Governments should negotiate the coordination, financing and development of health technologies to aid existing models.
- Governments should also increase current levels of investment in health technology innovation to address unmet needs.
- WTO Members must register complaints against undue political and economic pressure which includes taking punitive measures against offending WTO Members.
- Governments engaged in bilateral and regional trade and investment treaties should ensure that these agreements do not include provisions that interfere with their obligations to fulfil the right to health. Public health impact assessments should be undertaken, inform negotiations, and made publicly available.
- Several United Nations agencies should collaborate with one another and with other relevant bodies with the relevant expertise to support governments to apply public-health-sensitive patentability criteria.
- It has also called for greater transparency in drug pricing and public health impact assessments in free trade agreements.
Independent review body:
- United Nations Secretary-General should establish an independent review body tasked with assessing progress on health technology innovation and access, which would monitor challenges and progress on innovation and access to health technologies under the ambit of the UN 2030 Agenda.
- Membership of this review body should include governments, representatives from the UN and multilateral organisations, civil society, academia, and the private sector.
- Separately, the report calls for the UN Secretary-General to establish an inter-agency taskforce on health technology innovation and access. This taskforce, operating for the duration of the SDGs, should work toward increasing coherence among United Nations entities and relevant multilateral organizations like the WTO.
Problems in the current model of funding R&D:
The current market innovation model of funding R&D has failed on many counts:
- According to 2009-10 data, of $240 billion, 89.5 percent of the investment is from the rich countries and therefore they form powerful lobbies and have a disproportionate influence on drug prices and access issues.
- The access to medicines is not just a poor country problem. The high prices of drugs are affecting health care around the world.
- It is ill-equipped to respond to the increasing emergence of infectious diseases, such as Ebola and Zika.
- There is a big gap in research in diseases that have a heavy burden like non-communicable diseases.
- Many tropical diseases are neglected because of the not-so-big returns for pharmaceutical companies from such investments.
- Attempts by companies to ‘evergreen’ the patent by making meritless changes in drugs.
Direct Tax Dispute Resolution Scheme, 2016 extended
In order to reduce the pending litigation, the government has extended the time period of the Direct Tax Dispute Resolution Scheme, 2016.
- Now the Scheme can be availed upto 31st December, 2016.
- The Direct Tax Dispute Resolution Scheme, 2016 has come into force from 1st June, 2016.
- The Scheme is available to the cases pending with the first appellate authority as on 29th February, 2016, subject to certain conditions.
- It also extends to the cases pending litigation owing to retrospective amendment at different levels.
Under the Scheme, if the amount of disputed tax is
- Up to Rs.10 lakh, complete waiver from levy of penalty and from initiation of prosecution is provided on payment of assessed tax along with the interest.
- More than Rs.10 lakh, the declarant is required to pay only 25% of the minimum penalty leviable along with the due tax and interest.
In respect of penalty appeals, the declarant shall get waiver of the 75% of the penalty levied and immunity from prosecution. In respect of specified tax, the declarant gets complete waiver of/immunity from levy of penalty and immunity from prosecution.[Ref: PIB]
Gold key to lower GST rate
The Centre is set to propose that the rate of tax on gold consumption be doubled under the Goods & Services Tax (GST) regime so as to allow the GST council the elbow room to set a lower standard GST rate.
Arguments in favour of high rate of tax on gold consumption:
- To protect their revenues, States have sought that the standard GST rate, which will fall on the bulk of goods and services, be fixed at 20 per cent or higher.
- The increase in revenue from gold consumption will provide the necessary cushion for the standard GST rate to be fixed at a level lower than 20%.
- The proposal is based on last year’s recommendation from a government committee headed by Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian.
- The panel had suggested taxing gold and other precious metals at rates ranging between 2% and 6%.
- This, the panel had argued, would protect the revenues of the States even if the standard rate of GST was pegged below 20%.
- At present, the Centre and States tax precious metals at rates between 1 per cent and 1.6 per cent. Currently, about 70 per cent of goods and services get taxed at an average rate of 27 per cent.
Is the high rate of tax on gold consumption feasible?
- A system in which the rate on gold was kept low and the standard GST rate was high, would result in poor people ending up subsidising the gold consumption of the rich.
- Gold is also an item which is prone to tax evasion, being a very high-value item.
- The higher tax rate proposed for precious metals actually subsumes many hidden taxes on them and brings many parts of the jewellery industry so far outside the tax net into the tax base.
Bilateral & International Relations
India, Sri Lanka sign MoU to support fishermen in Hambantota district
India and Sri Lanka have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to support livelihood of the fishing and farming communities in Hambantota district of Sri Lanka.
- The project envisages gift of equipment and tools such as grub hoes, bicycles, life jackets and sewing machines, worth 300 million SLR, to the fishing and farming communities in Hambantota district.
- Part of the grant is expected to be used for developing fisheries villages under a national programme.
- More than 75000 people across the district will get direct benefit from the project.
- The project will be implemented in consultation with the relevant local authorities.
India, AfDB ink MoU for hosting bank’s annual meetings at Ahmedabad
India will be hosting the next Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group in Ahmedabad in May 2017.
- In this regard, a MoU has been signed between GoI and AfDB.
- The mega international event will be attended by more than 5000 delegates from 80 member countries of the African Development Bank including the Governors, Alternate Governors, Executive Directors, policy makers and businesses.
About the African Development Bank (AfDB):
- The African Development Bank (AfDB) was established in 1963 with a view to promote the Economic Development and social progress of its regional members.
India and AfDB:
- India became member of the African Development Bank (AfDB) in 1983.
- The Union Finance Minister and Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs (DEA), Ministry of Finance are the Governor and Alternate Governor of the Bank respectively.
Key Facts for Prelims
India-born researcher Dinesh Bharadia was chosen for the prestigious Marconi Society Paul Baran Young Scholar Award.
Bharadia was chosen for his contribution to send and receive radio (wireless) signals, including mobile telephony and data on the same channel.
His research disproved a 150-years long assumption that it is not possible for a radio to receive and transmit on the same frequency band because of the interference that results.
The Marconi Society is named after Nobel laureate Guglielmo Marconi, who invented radio. The Marconi Society awards annually outstanding individuals whose scope of work and influence emulate the principle of creativity in service to humanity.
The Paul Baran Young Scholar Award is an equivalent of the Nobel Prize in science and technology domain.
Tiangong-2 space lab
Recently, China has successfully launched its second space station, Tiangong-2 to develop expertise for a future space station and conduct science experiments.
The Tiangong-2, whose name means “Heavenly Palace,” will be used to test space technology and conduct medical and space experiments.
It is part of China’s ambitious Project 921-2 space station program aimed at creating a third generation space station.
The Tiangong-2 and its predecessor, Tiangong-1 (launched in September 2011), are prototypes for China’s ultimate goal to launch a permanent 20-ton space station after 2020 just as International Space Station (ISS). It will make China potentially the only country with a permanent space presence.
BHVS Narayana Murthy
Avionics scientist BHVS Narayana Murthy was appointed as Director of Research Centre Imarat (RCI), a premiere laboratory of Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO).