Ushering in big bang reforms, the Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Wednesday approved nine structural and five process reforms in the telecom sector. Among the key reforms are a four-year moratorium on payment of statutory dues by telecom companies, both AGR (adjusted gross revenue) and spectrum charges. Also, 100% FDI (foreign direct investment) in telecom via the automatic route has been approved.
These schemes are expected to protect and generate employment opportunities, promote healthy competition, protect the interests of consumers, infuse liquidity, encourage investment and reduce the regulatory burden on Telecom Service Providers (TSPs). According to the Cabinet, in the backdrop of the outstanding performance of the telecom sector in meeting Covid-19 challenges, with the huge surge in data consumption, online education, work from home, interpersonal connect through social media, virtual meetings etc., the reform measures will further boost the proliferation and penetration of broadband and telecom connectivity.
“The Cabinet decision reinforces the Prime Minister’s vision of a robust Telecom Sector. With competition and customer choice, Antyodaya for inclusive development and bringing the marginalized areas into the mainstream and universal broadband access to connect the unconnected. The package is also expected to boost 4G proliferation, infuse liquidity and create an enabling environment for investment in 5G networks,” read an official release.
The nine structural reforms introduced by the Cabinet are as follows:
* RATIONALIZATION OF ADJUSTED GROSS REVENUE: Non-telecom revenue will be excluded on a prospective basis from the definition of AGR.
* BANK GUARANTEES (BGS) RATIONALIZED: Huge reduction in BG requirements (80%) against Licence Fee (LF) and other similar levies. No requirements for multiple BGs in different Licenced Service Areas (LSAs) regions in the country. Instead, One BG will be enough.
* INTEREST RATES RATIONALIZED/ PENALTIES REMOVED: From October 1, 2021, delayed payments of Licence Fee (LF)/Spectrum Usage Charge (SUC) will attract an interest rate of SBI’s MCLR plus 2% instead of MCLR plus 4%; interest compounded annually instead of monthly; penalty and interest on penalty removed.
For auctions held henceforth, no BGs will be required to secure installment payments. The industry has matured and the past practice of BG is no longer required.
* SPECTRUM TENURE: In future auctions, the tenure of spectrum increased from 20 to 30 years.
The other structural reforms which are introduced by the Cabinet are: Surrender of the spectrum will be permitted after 10 years for spectrum acquired in the future auctions; no Spectrum Usage Charge (SUC) for spectrum acquired in future spectrum auctions; spectrum sharing encouraged—additional SUC of 0.5% for spectrum sharing removed and to encourage investment; 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) under automatic route permitted in the telecom sector. All safeguards will apply.
The five procedural reforms for the telecom sector introduced by the Cabinet today are as follows:
* AUCTION CALENDAR FIXED: Spectrum auctions are to be normally held in the last quarter of every financial year.
* EASE OF DOING BUSINESS PROMOTED: Cumbersome requirement of licences under 1953 Customs Notification for wireless equipment removed. Replaced with self-declaration.
* KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS (KYC) REFORMS: Self-KYC (app-based) permitted. E-KYC rate revised to only Re 1. Shifting from prepaid to post-paid and vice-versa will not require fresh KYC.
Paper Customer Acquisition Forms (CAF) will be replaced by digital storage of data. Nearly 300-400 crore paper CAFs lying in various warehouses of TSPs will not be required. Warehouse audit of CAF will not be required.
SACFA clearance for telecom towers eased. DOT will accept data on a portal based on self-declaration basis. Portals of other agencies (such as Civil Aviation) will be linked with DOT portal.
The Cabinet approved the following for all the Telecom Service Providers (TSPs):
Moratorium/Deferment of up to four years in annual payments of dues arising out of the AGR judgement, with, however, by protecting the Net Present Value (NPV) of the due amounts being protected.
Moratorium/Deferment on due payments of spectrum purchased in past auctions (excluding the auction of 2021) for up to four years with NPV protected at the interest rate stipulated in the respective auctions.
Option to the TSPs to pay the interest amount arising due to the said deferment of payment by way of equity.
At the option of the government, to convert the due amount pertaining to the said deferred payment by way of equity at the end of the Moratorium/Deferment period, guidelines for which will be finalized by the Ministry of Finance.
According to the official release, the above will be applicable for all TSPs and will provide relief by easing liquidity and cash flow. This will also help various banks having substantial exposure to the telecom sector.
Briefing the media about the reforms, Union Minister for Communications, Ashwini Vaishnaw said these reforms will change the framework of the entire telecom sector. “They will deepen and broaden the industry,” he said. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a bold decision over AGR (adjusted gross revenue) today. A decision has been taken to rationalise the definition of AGR. All non-telecom revenue will be taken out of AGR,” the minister informed.
He further said that in the Cabinet meeting, it was decided that penalty on payment of licence fees, spectrum user charges and all kinds of charges have been completely scrapped. “There was a regime of heavy interest, penalty and interest on penalty on payment of licence fees, spectrum user charges and all kinds of charges. It has been rationalised today. Annual compounding (of interest) will be done instead of monthly compounding,” said the minister. “A reasonable interest rate of Marginal Cost of Funds based Lending Rate (MCLR) plus 2% interest rate has been offered and the penalty has been completely scrapped,” he added.
Vaishnaw said the move will pave way for large-scale investments in the telecom sector. “Investment means employment—more the investment, more the employment,” he stated.
A report from Mumbai said welcoming the reforms and relief package announced by Government of India, Jio said that the timely step will help in strengthening India’s telecom sector. In an official statement, the company said reforms announced by the government will accelerate the realisation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India vision and enable India’s transformation into the world’s leading digital society.
“Jio’s mission is to bring the fruits of the digital revolution to 1.35 billion Indians. Guided by this mission, we have ensured that Indians have the highest quality and the highest quantity data access anywhere in the world, at the most affordable prices. The government’s telecom sector reforms will encourage us to bring newer and greater benefits to our customers,” the company said.
Commenting on the occasion, Mukesh D. Ambani, Chairman, Reliance Industries, thanked Prime Minister for this bold initiative and said, “The telecom sector is one the prime movers of the economy and the key enabler for making India a Digital Society, I welcome the Government of India’s announcement of reforms and relief measures that will enable the industry to achieve the goals of Digital India.”
The company added that it looks forward to working with the Government of India and other industry players in reaching all the goals and milestones of the Digital India vision, “so that we can collectively make every sector of the economy productive and enhance the Ease of Living for every Indian.”
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PRESIDENT ADDRESSES SPECIAL SESSION OF HIMACHAL ASSEMBLY ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF ITS STATEHOOD
All Indians are proud of the development story written by the people of Himachal Pradesh in the past 50 years, said the President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, while addressing the special session of Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly in Shimla on Friday. This special session was being organised on the occasion of golden jubilee of statehood of Himachal Pradesh.
The President said that all the previous governments of Himachal Pradesh have played an important role throughout the journey of its development. He appreciated contributions made by former Chief Ministers— Late Dr. Y.S. Parmar, Late Shri Thakur Ram Lal, Shri Shanta Kumar, Shri Prem Kumar Dhumal and Late Shri Virbhadra Singh. He said that the initiative taken by the Himachal Pradesh government to take the development journey of the state to the people is highly commendable.
Himachal Pradesh has set new dimensions of development in various fields. He noted according to a report by NITI Aayog, that Himachal Pradesh ranks second in the country in the “Sustainable Development Goals – India Index 2020-21”. He said that Himachal Pradesh is the leading state in the country on many parameters. He appreciated the government of Himachal Pradesh for these achievements.
Pointing to the fact that water of rivers of Himachal Pradesh is clean and soil is full of nutrients, the President urged the farmers of the state to adopt natural farming more and more and keep their land free from chemical fertilizers.
The President said that eco-friendly agriculture, horticulture, tourism, education, employment, etc., have immense potential for sustainable development in Himachal Pradesh. Therefore, we should make continuous efforts for development while preserving its natural beauty and heritages, he added.
PUNJAB YET TO PROPOSE PENSION FOR HIV AIDS PATIENTS
HIV AIDS patients of Punjab have been suffering not only the disease but also bearing the sting of financial deprivation for the last many years. All neighboring states of Punjab have a pension plan for these patients, even the Capital of Punjab Chandigarh also has a pension plan. Nevertheless, Punjab State AIDS Control Society is yet in the process of thinking to create a proposal for a pension scheme and send that to State Government. Punjab has a maximum patient load of HIV-AIDS patients when compared to the neighboring states. These patients require treatment, nutrition, travel expenses, Medicine expenses but whom shall they look upto. As the government despite knowing all the ground reality sitting silent and yet thinking to propose a plan for such patients.
For an HIV patient, it takes time for him/her to reach the stage of AIDS. There are more than 40000 patients in state who are suffering from HIV, some of them had already reached the stage of AIDS. Some are residing in the border area of Punjab and a maximum of them are getting treatment from PGIMER. It’s a tedious task for an HIV Patient to travel first to the PGIMER, then seek medicine every month.
Pragya Thakur (Name Changed) of Amritsar told The Daily Guardian, “It’s like adding insult to injury for me, I hardly could manage nutritious food for myself as after popping these medicines one need nutritious food to survive and then traveling this long for medicine and treatment, I have no option but to strive hard for myself and my kids who also turned out to be HIV positive”.
“Maybe it is not my mistake but once someone turns HIV Positive, people in society would not let him or her life with dignity. I was thrown out of my job after my boss get to know that I am HIV positive. Even my family too had cornered me. I became HIV positive in 2020 after infected blood was infused in me by a govt hospital in Bathinda. Government is other states provides pension to HIV patients but here in Punjab no one cares,” says Sudhanshu Mishra from Bathinda
Talking about this grim situation, Project Director of Punjab State AIDS Control Society IAS Amit Kumar exhorted, “ We know life is not easy for them. We are going to propose a Pension scheme to the Government comprising many other benefits that we could provide to these patients. Also, we are trying to collaborate with the POSHAN scheme so that we may contribute nutritious food to them. Moreover, We are also in process of providing free travel to these patients. We are hopeful that state government shall soon pass this proposal.”
BJP CHANGES ITS STRATEGY AGAINST MAMATA IN BHABANIPUR, TO RUN CAMPAIGN ‘SECRETLY’
There are only a few days left for the Bhabanipur by-election in the state of West Bengal. The propaganda storm of all the camps is at its peak. Complaints and counter-allegations are also coming to the fore in the atmosphere of propaganda. This time the BJP changed its campaign strategy. Their new strategy with Bhabanipur is that the campaign will be run secretly. The BJP leadership will reach different parts of Bhabanipur without informing anyone. Recently, Priyanka Tibrewal, the BJP candidate in the Bhabanipur by-election, has been accused of violating the Covid-19 rules. But her counter-claim is that some unknown people are reaching out during her campaign, and that’s why the crowds are getting bigger. So, this time the state BJP decided to change the campaign strategy for Bhabanipur.
BJP candidate Priyanka Tibrewal alleged that a group of 15 to 20 people were behind her campaign team wherever she went. Priyanka claims that although these unidentified persons are claimed to be police, there are doubts as to whether they are police at all. The BJP leader estimates that they are not police at all. They are the ones who are motivating the crowd in campaign, she said. And seeing the crowd, there admin puts the allegations of breaking the Covid-19 rules. The BJP demanded that if those people were policemen, they should come in police uniforms.
SCRAP FARM LAWS, TALK TO FARMERS TO FIND WAY FORWARD, PUNJAB CM AMARINDER SINGH TELLS CENTRE
As the nation marked one year of the Farm Laws, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Friday demanded immediate scrapping of the legislations by the Centre, calling for detailed discussions with the farmers to find a way forward.
Pointing out that many farmers had died in these protests, the Chief Minister said it was high time the Central Government realised its blunder and withdrew the legislations in the interest of the farmers and the nation.
The Chief Minister, wearing a #nofarmers_nofood bade, was inaugurating the 3rd state level virtual Kisan Mela organised by Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana. The 2-day mela is centered on the theme : ‘KARIE PARALI DI SAMBHAL, DHARTI MAA HOVE KHUSHHAL’, in line with the state government’s focus on eliminating stubble burning.
“Till date, the Indian Constitution has been amended as many as 127 times, so why can it not be amended once again to scrap the Farm Laws and resolve the imbroglio resulting from them,” asked the Chief Minister. “What is the problem in doing it a 128th time,” he demanded to know from the BJP-led government at the Centre.
What was happening with the farmers today was extremely sad, given the immense contribution made by them to India’s development and progress, said Captain Amarinder, calling for immediate revocation of the laws, which he said were detrimental to the interest not just of the agricultural community but the entire country.
Recalling that he had been asked by the Centre to stop Punjab’s farmers from going to Delhi last November, the Chief Minister said he had refused point blank to do so, as protest is the democratic right of farmers. “Why should they not protest? How can I stop them,” he asked, making it clear that he continues to stand with the farmers in their fight against these legislations, with his government continuing to give compensation and jobs to the families of the deceased farmers.
Noting the contribution of Punjab and its farmers to the country’s growth, the Chief Minister said the state, with only 1.53 % of total geographical area of India, produces about 18% of the country’s wheat, 11% paddy, 4.4% cotton and 10% milk. For the past many decades, Punjab has been contributing about 35-40% of wheat and 25-30% of rice to the central pool, he said, expressing pride in the achievements of the state’s farmers.
No passport to government employees in J&K till they get vigilance clearance
The administration in Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory on Thursday made the latest vigilance clearance mandatory for obtaining a passport by a government employee.
“The passport to the citizens including Government employees is issued on the basis of verification carried out by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). The current system does not contain any mechanism that would help deny the passport to such employees who are either under suspension or facing departmental inquiry or prosecution on account of serious charges,” reads a government circular, a copy of which lies with the ITV Network.
Hitherto, a Government employee was only required to inform his employer for applying for a passport. “Also, the guidelines for obtaining passport have been reviewed by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Department of Personnel & Training, GoI in consultation with the Central Vigilance Commission and Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and vide Office Memorandum No. F. No. 11012/7/2017- Estt.A-111 dated February, 2020, elaborate instructions have been issued for obtaining fresh vigilance clearance while considering grant of passport to Government employees,” it reads.
The government said Anti Corruption Bureau, J&K has also brought into its notice that the present mechanism for issuance of passport to Government employees without obtaining requisite vigilance clearance results in the issuance of passport to those employees against whom vigilance cases are pending. “Thus, there is an urgent necessity to instruct all the departments to issue the NOC for issuance of passport on the basis of vigilance clearance only.”
Accordingly, the government has impressed upon all the Administrative Departments/Heads of Departments to mandatorily obtain the latest vigilance clearance in respect of an employee applying for obtaining passport in terms of Office Memorandum dated February, 2020 issued by DoPT, GOI, strictly.
MAMATA WILL BE THE FACE IN 2024, NOT RAHUL: TMC
In Trinamool’s internal meeting in Kolkata on Thursday, MP Bandyopadhyay said that it is West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, and not Rahul Gandhi, who is the face of the Opposition against PM Modi.
Narendra Modi and Amit Shah had long dreamt of clinching the seat of power in West Bengal. However, the people of the state relied on the ‘daughter of Bengal’ again. As Mamata Banerjee assumed power for the third consecutive time in a row, her eyes are settled on the main epicenter of power in New Delhi. Meanwhile, Mamata is moving from pillar to post in order to look for like-minded people who could join hands with her ahead of 2024 Lok Sabha Elections. As TMC is looking to form a grand alliance, to tackle the BJP juggernaut, the party wants to portray Mamata Banerjee as the main face against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2024 elections.
The Trinamool has already started bringing the like-minded opposition parties under one umbrella to win the capital. That list includes parties like Congress, NCP, SP, Shiv Sena, UP, DMK. However, the Trinamool wants to establish itself as the main face of the BJP opposition. This is clear from a report published in the Trinamool mouthpiece ‘Jago Bangla’ on Friday.
The title of the report suggested: “Rahul Gandhi could not defeat Modi, Mamata is an alternative face.” According to political analysts, the Trinamool wants to portray Mamata as the main face against Modi, even if there is an alliance with the Congress.
In the TMC’s internal meeting in North Kolkata on Thursday, senior MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay said that it is West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and not Rahul Gandhi, who is the face of opposition against Narendra Modi.
“We are not talking about an alliance without the Congress. I have observed Rahul Gandhi for a long time and he has not developed himself as an alternative to Modi. The entire country wants Mamata so we will keep Mamata’s face and will campaign,” Bandyopadhyay was quoted saying by News 18.
Meanwhile, Adhir Chowdhury, the president of the West Bengal Congress, has strongly opposed this message. In this way, Mamata Banerjee is indirectly strengthening the hand of BJP.
Adhir Chowdhury’s response to the report was: “On the one hand, they are saying that all the opposition parties should be one. Again, without taking the views of the opposition parties, insulting them, without discussing with them, Mamata is writing in her party’s mouthpiece that she wants to be the Prime Minister of India. It is extremely unfortunate. I think the BJP’s hand is indirectly getting stronger by making these things happen. Because, BJP wants to see discord brewing within the opposition. The Chief Minister of Bengal herself is facilitating this. The BJP will benefit in the end. ”
However, in a bid to clear the air, Kunal Ghosh said, “There is no question of disrespecting the Congress or disrespecting Rahul Gandhi, nor is there any alternative to excluding the Congress. That being said, people are not accepting Rahul Gandhi as an alternative face to Narendra Modi. He is not ready yet.”
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