Polity & Governance
- Income Tax Department (ITD) launches Operation Clean Money
Bilateral & International Relations
- H-1B visa reform bill introduced in US House of Representatives
- Dubai launches programme to promote trade with India
Science & Technology
- TRAI recommends shutting down of analog transmission by 2023
- NASA’s telescope observes Gamma rays from ‘hidden’ solar flares
Key Facts for Prelims
- 31st Surajkund International Crafts Mela
- National Entrepreneurship Awards 2016
- Ireland: World’s first country to stop investing in fossil fuels
- 1st Indian Business Partnership Summit
Polity & Governance
Income Tax Department (ITD) launches Operation Clean Money
The Income Tax Department (ITD) launched Operation Clean Money (Swachh Dhan Abhiyan), an e-platform to analyse large cash deposits made during the demonetisation window (9 November to 30 December 2016).
- Under it, e-verification of large cash has been done using data analytics for comparing the demonetisation data with information in ITD databases.
- In the first batch of the operation, around 18 lakh persons have been identified in whose case, cash transactions do not appear to be in line with the tax payer’s profile.
- It comprises account-holders whose deposits did not match their incomes, as per data with the IT department, will be alerted on their e-filing portals.
- IT department has sent emails and phone text messages to these accountant holders to seek their explanation about the source of funds and a response within 10 days.
- In absence of a response, they will receive a notice from the tax department or further action. The verification will also be closed if the cash deposit is declared under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojna (PMGKY).
Bilateral & International Relations
H-1B visa reform bill introduced in US House of Representatives
A new bill introduced in the US House of Representatives proposes to limit the entry of highly-skilled workers into the country to stop companies “replacing” American workers.
- The bill is titled as the High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017.
- It will overhaul the popular H1B and L1 visas.
- This reform bill, if passed, would mean significant changes in the way the H1B visas are granted to companies and allocated to employees by them.
What is H-1B visa?
- The H1B visa is an employment-based, non-immigrant visa category for temporary workers given by the United States.
- For such a visa, an employer must offer a job and apply for your H1B visa petition with the US Immigration Department.
- The applicants must have at least a bachelor’s degree, with a master’s degree required for 20,000 of the 85,000 H-1B visas issued annually.
- This non-immigrant visa lets a firm employ foreigners for up to six years in positions for which they have been unable to find American employees.
- The H-1B visa holders can apply for permanent residency in the US and buy property in the country.
- An estimated 70% of these visas go to Indian citizens.
- However, the demand for these visas is three times higher, and H-1B visas are allocated by a lottery system.
What has been proposed in the bill?
- The new H1B visa reform bill proposes a radical overhaul of the process, increasing the minimum salary for visa holders to be $130,000, more than double the current minimum. This would mean that companies would have to either pay rather highly for the skilled workers, or not choose foreign employees in favour of American citizens.
- The new visa reform bill also eliminates the category of lowest pay, and raises the salary level at which H1B dependent employer are exempt from non-displacement and recruitment attestation requirements to greater than $130,000.
- The H1B visa bill removes the ‘per country’ cap for employment-based immigrant visas. It sets aside 20% of the annually allocated H1B visas for small companies and startup employers (50 or fewer employers) to ensure small businesses have an opportunity to compete for high-skilled workers.
Why does this worry India’s IT industry?
- The proposed new legislation mainly targets companies not based in the US that bring in foreign employees on the visa quota.
- The doubling of the minimum wage applies to “visa dependent employers” or companies with more than 15% of US employees on H-1B visas.
- It excludes American firms such as IBM or Accenture, allowing them to bring in H-1B holders at the older minimum wage, because they would have less than 15% of US employees on H-1B visas.
- This effectively targets Indian outsourcing firms and the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) has described it as “discriminatory”.
- The new bill does not treat all IT companies with H-1B visa holders equally.
- If the objective is to protect American workers, then this bill will defeat that objective. Companies that are not dependant on H-1B visas will continue to bring in skilled workers on lower wages which will nullify the whole objective of saving US jobs.
- The bill comes at a time when India’s IT sector is already facing challenges to improve their margins and profitability.
Dubai launches programme to promote trade with India
In a bid to promote bilateral trade relations with India, Dubai’s Department of Economic Development has launched a programme, ‘Buyer Protection Programme’ that allows commercial disputes to be resolved quickly at minimal costs.
About the Buyer Protection Programme:
- Dubai Exports, the economic development departments promotion agency, launched the initiative Buyer Protection Programme as a pilot project through its Overseas Trade Office in India.
- It was designed by the Commercial Compliance and Consumer Protection (CCCP).
- The programme allows commercial disputes to be resolved quickly and at minimal costs.
- Traders in India can now approach the Dubai Exports representative office in their country to submit complaints following which CCCP will start working towards an amicable settlement.
- There would be a focus on identifying potential sectors and the impeding tariff and non-tariff barriers, exploring opportunities in services sector and formulating a sector-specific strategy to boost two way trade and investments.
- Currently, imports from India to Dubai account for 60% of the total trade value while exports from the emirate are 12% and the rest is re-exports.
- The largest export from Dubai to India is gold, which accounts half the value, followed by copper wires, base metals and polymers.
Science & Technology
TRAI recommends shutting down of analog transmission by 2023
The broadcast regulator, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), has recommended introduction of digital terrestrial transmission for broadcast services in a phased manner and complete shut down of analog transmission by end of 2023.
Recommendations made by TRAI:
- Private players should be permitted to provide DTT services along with the public service broadcaster.
- Public broadcaster may be permitted to operate maximum three transmitters at a given location out of which one may be exclusively used for provision of mobile TV services.
- Private broadcasters may be permitted to operate maximum four transmitters (with spectrum capacity of 8 MHz each) at a given location subject to availability of spectrum.
- Maximum number of DTT providers may be capped at five (one public broadcaster and four private broadcasters) as per availability of spectrum.
- TRAI has recommended that DTT should be deployed in metros by December 2019 in phase 1, cities having more than 10 lakh population as per Census 2011 should be covered by December 2021 and rest of India by December 2023.
Implications of the move:
- This is a move that may lead a combination of multiple DTT transmitters at a location, which can provide a rich bouquet of SDTV, HDTV, UHTV, mobile TV channels, radio service and other value added services.
- At present, terrestrial TV broadcasting in India is under the exclusive domain of Doordarshan (Prasar Bharati), the Public Service Broadcaster and it is predominantly analog.
- While a large number of TV channels are available to the consumers through various delivery platforms such as DTH, Cable TV, IPTV, HITS etc, the existing terrestrial TV platform provides only a few channels which do not offer a value proposition to the viewers.
- Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) is an implementation of digital technology.
- DTT provides a greater number of channels and/or better quality of picture and sound, using aerial broadcasts to a conventional antenna (or aerial) instead of a satellite dish or cable connection.
- DTT is transmitted on radio frequencies through the airwaves. This is similar to standard analogue television, with one primary difference: the use of multiplex transmitters to allow reception of multiple channels on a single frequency range.
- The spectrum used to transmit data over the air is scarce. To ensure optimum utilisation of this valuable resource, over 156 countries signed an ITU agreement in 2006, to switch from analogue to digital transmission. As part of this binding treaty, the Geneva 2006 agreement set up a frequency plan for Europe, Africa and parts of Asia. All signatories committed to switch off analogue transmission by 2015.
Advantages of DTT:
- The platform is content agnostic and can be adapted to handle new forms of content.
- Frequency use is much more efficient, allowing for the transmission of 20 to 30 SD channels in the spectrum occupied by a single television channel in an analog signal.
- DTT offers better quality of images and sound as compared to analog signals.
- A combination of DTT transmitters at a single location can provide consumers with a range of content options, including radio and video feeds of various qualities.
- The DTT transmitters have lower power requirements than traditional analog transmitters. The signals can be received easily by moving vehicles and mobile phones.
- DTT transmitters can facilitate mobile data offload services, for better use of available resources.
- Luxembourg was the first country to shift from analog TV in 2006. Countries in the Americas and Europe followed suite.
- China is expected to shift by 2018, and Brazil has plans to shut off analog TV towers by 2023.
NASA’s telescope observes Gamma rays from ‘hidden’ solar flares
Scientists, including those of Indian origin, have identified the farthest gamma-ray blazars, a type of galaxy whose intense emissions are powered by supersized black holes, by using NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
What is Blazar?
- A blazar is a galaxy which, like a quasar, has an intensely bright central nucleus containing a supermassive black hole.
- In a blazar, however, the emitted light sometimes includes extremely high energy gamma rays, sometimes over a hundred million times more energetic than the highest energy X-rays.
- The most distant of the newly discovered blazars started to emit their light when the universe was just 1.4 billion years old. Previously, the most distant blazars detected by Fermi emitted their light when the universe was about 2.1 billion years old.
- Blazars are the luminous galaxies. They are the most distant ever detected and are expected to shed light on the cosmic evolution of black holes.
- Blazars constitute roughly half of the gamma-ray sources detected by Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT).
- Astronomers think their high-energy emissions are powered by matter heated and torn apart as it falls from a storage, or accretion, disk toward a supermassive black hole with a million or more times the sun’s mass.
- Two of the blazars that the team detected boast black holes of a billion solar masses or more.
Key Facts for Prelims
31st Surajkund International Crafts Mela
- The 31st edition of Surajkund International Crafts Mela was held in Haryana.
- The mela is being hosted jointly by the Haryana Tourism Corporation and Surajkund Mela Authority, in collaboration with the Union Ministries of Tourism, Textiles, Culture and External Affairs.
- For the 31st edition of the much anticipated fair, Jharkhand has been chosen to be the Theme State.
- At least 20 countries and all the states of India will be participating in the mela. This year Egypt is partner country.
- Every year from February 1–15, a colourful traditional craft festival of India is held in the precincts of Surajkund. This fair was first started in 1987.
- This fair is showcasing the richness and diversity of handicrafts, handlooms and cultural heritage of the country.
National Entrepreneurship Awards 2016
- National Entrepreneurship Awards 2016 were recently presented.
- The awards have been presented in order to recognise the entrepreneurial spirit of India’s youth and encourage more young Indians to become entrepreneurs.
- The Entrepreneurship Awards system has been created through a partnership between MSDE and a number of reputed institutions across the country including, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT – Delhi, Mumbai, Kanpur and Chennai), Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai and XLRI, Jamshedpur.
- Every year, one such institution will play the role of the lead institution to anchor the awards.
- For 2016-2017, the lead institution is IIT, Delhi.
1st Indian Business Partnership Summit
- The first Indian Business Partnership Summit will shortly be held in Bahrain to further cement bilateral trade and economic ties.
- The summit is organised by India’s PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry in association with Hilal Conferences and Exhibitions (HCE).
- India and Bahrain enjoy excellent bilateral relations characterised by strong political, economic and cultural contacts. This positive relationship is seen in the latest trade figures which valued trade between the two countries to be over 1 billion US dollars.
Ireland: World’s first country to stop investing in fossil fuels
- Ireland has become the world’s first country to completely divest public money from fossil fuels.
- In this regard, Irish Parliament passed legislation that will drop coal, oil, and gas (fossil fuel) investments from its $8.56 billion Ireland Strategic Investment Fund.
- Once enacted, the bill will force the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to sell its investment in fossil fuel industries over the next five years.
- Earlier in 2015, Norway’s sovereign pension fund had divested from some fossil fuel companies, but not fully.