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Policy & Politics

Why not one election when nation is one?

Till 1967, the Assembly elections were held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha, but politics changed this system.

Vijay Darda

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The Prime Minister has spoken about the advisability of ‘one nation one election’. This is right too. Why shouldn’t this happen? It may not be in the interest of politics but it is in the interest of the country. India’s democracy is very strong and the voters of this country have proved from time to time that India is more powerful than the United States vis-a-vis democratic values. Whenever the ruling party has lost polls, it has not stayed a minute longer in power. Today we see how Trump is behaving in America. It is said that the people of India are not very educated. They may not be educated like America, but our people are undoubtedly very intelligent. People of India know when to take a decision. Our democracy is very mature and capable of realising the idea of one nation one election. No doubt, the democracy and dignity of the tricolour of this country will always be upheld.

If we look back, our founding fathers while drafting the Constitution would not have even imagined that there would be a time when electoral activities would always be going on in some part of the country or the other! Now see, Bihar Assembly elections and bypolls in some states across the country were completed only recently and the preparations to hold elections in four other states and one Union Territory have already started. In 2021, elections are due to be held in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry. Elections will be held in Uttar Pradesh next year, i.e. 2022. Due to elections, there is a model code of conduct in force. Development work is at a standstill. The system is ruined. People get upset. The question therefore, is bound to be asked as to why there can’t be ‘one nation one election’ system? This is not a new concept! Right from the first elections held in 1951-52 to 1957, 1962 and 1967, elections were held simultaneously for the Lok Sabha and the state Assemblies across the country. The disruption came in 1968-69 when the legislative Assemblies of some states were dissolved prematurely. After this, the Lok Sabha elections scheduled to be held in 1972 were held an year before in 1971. Thus, the system was disturbed and it went on deteriorating. In the year 1999, the Law Commission suggested in its report for the first time that elections to the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha should be held simultaneously. After this, in 2015 the Parliamentary Committee on Law and Justice also recommended to hold the elections simultaneously. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also convened an all-party meeting in June 2019 but no consensus was reached. The Congress deferred the proposal by saying that it would express its opinion only after talks with regional parties and its allies. This case has been hanging fire since. I know that every party takes care of how it benefits when it is in power. That is why the opposition parties are skeptical, but it is secondary because simultaneous elections are in the public interest.

Let us now look at the election expenses. In the first election of 1951-52, about Rs 11 crore were spent. In the last Lok Sabha election, this figure reached about Rs 60,000 crore. Apart from this, the amount of black money spent is beyond estimation. It is far more than the official figure, yet it is difficult to say anything about it. The reason for this is that crores of rupees are spent in fighting elections, while the spending limit is extremely low. The spending limit should be realistic. Just imagine the cost of holding elections to different legislative Assemblies? That is why, not only Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha but the elections to the municipal corporations, municipal councils, Zilla Parishads, Zilla Panchayats and even Gram Panchayats should also be held simultaneously. Our Election Commission has proved its ability to work with the bureaucracy, police and paramilitary forces. The commission will also fulfil this obligation. Our technological progress is also such that the result of elections comes in a day.

Some people say that simultaneous elections will harm the democracy. They argue that if an Assembly is dissolved in between? If there is a need to hold elections? Many more such questions are thrown up, but my opinion is that if political parties sit together and discuss this serious issue deeply, the answer to every question can be found. Some people also say that voters can be influenced in such a system and they may vote for the same party at the Centre and the State. I do not believe this. The example of Odisha is in front of us where people voted for one party at the Centre and another party in the state. I will tell you about Aurangabad in Maharashtra. Once, veteran Congress leader Abdul Rahman Antulay contested the Lok Sabha poll and Rajendra Darda contested the Assembly election. Antulay lost but Darda won. That is why I say do not distrust the voter! ‘One nation one election’ is not the imagination of Narendra Modi alone. It is also what the common voter of this country wants. All political parties should rise above party consideration and give new direction to the world’s largest and greatest democracy. This is the demand and the need of the hour!

And yes, one thing that I want to say to the Election Commission is that millions of our paramilitary and military personnel are deprived of exercising their franchise. This is the era of technology. There should be some system where they too can cast their vote during elections.

The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi already has a majority in the Lok Sabha and will soon have one in the Rajya Sabha too. Therefore, it appears certain that he will realise the idea of ‘one nation one election’. An Ordinance can also be brought in, if need be. The system of ‘one nation one election’ is necessary too. The Law Commission too had suggested ‘one nation one election’ 19 years ago.

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Policy & Politics

Freedom of speech & sedition law in India : An analysis in the light of recent controversy

The definition of sedition must be narrowed down to encompass only the problems pertaining to the territorial integrity of India, in addition to the sovereignty of the country. The word ‘sedition’ is extraordinarily nuanced and needs to be implemented with caution. It should rarely be used but kept by and large as a deterrent.

Raju Kumar

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INTRODUCTION

It is an irony for the mostdemocratic nation, ie, India, where freedom of speech and expression has been granted under the Indian Constitu- tion, and while exercising their power enshrined un- der the Constitution of India. they are being booked for the offence of sedition. Accord ing to the report of Rights and Risks Analysis Group, as many as 55 journalists were targeted by the government during 25 March and 31 May for covering facts about the government handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Recently, the Supreme Court of India has quashed the sedition case registered against senior journalist Vinod Dua in Himachal Pradesh. The verdict was pronounced by a single judge bench led by Hon’ble Justice UU. Lalit.

Vinod Dua was booked for sedition for criticising the Narendra Modi government’s handling of the Covid-19 lock down and had uploaded the same on Youtube last year, While granting the relief the court relied on the principles laid down in the Judgment of Kedar Nath. The judg ment was delivered in the year 1962, where the consti- tutional validity of sedition law in India was validated. However, it was observed that free speech, discussions on matters of government functioning and their criti cism, and freedom of press are “essential for the proper functioning of the processes of popular government Currently, in the Vinod Dua case, the Hon’ble Court has also observed that the jour nalist will be entitled to pro tection under the judgment”.

It was further observed that “It must, however, beclarified that every Journalist will be entitled to protection in terms of Kedar Nath Singh, as every prosecution under Sections 124 and 505 of the IPC must be in strict conformity with the scope and ambit of said Sections as explained in, and completely in tune with the law laid down in Kedar Nath Singh”. The Court Held that

HISTORICAL

BACKGROUND OF SEDITION LAW

Sedition laws were enacted during 17th century England, when the lawmakers believed that only good opinions of the government should survive as the criticism of a Govern- ment may result in detri- mental to the government and monarchy. The law was originally drafted in 1837 by the father of the Indian Penal Code, Thomas Macaulay, but it was omitted when the In- dian Penal Code (IPC) was enacted in the year 1860.

Many freedom fighters were charged under this provision which includes the case of Joggendra Chandra Bose, who was the editor of the newspaper, Bangbosi, who wrote an article criticis ing the age of consent Bill for posing a threat to the religion and for its coercive relation ship with Indians.

Great freedom fighters like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi were also booked under this offense.

SEDITION LAW IN INDIA: CURRENT SCENARIO

Sedition is an offense under Sectio 124A of the Indian Penal Code (Hereinafter re- ferred to as IPC), 1860. See tion 124A IPC, defines the offense sedition when “any person by words, either spo- kenorwritten, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or con- tempt, or excites or attempts toexcite disaffection towards the government established by law in India”. Disaffection also includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. How ever, it is here notable that comments without exciting or attempting to excite ha tred, contempt or disaffee tion, will not constitute an offense under this section.

PUNISHMENT FOR SEDITION

Sedition is a non-bailable offense. Punishment un der Section 124A ranges from imprisonment up to three years to a life term. to which fine may be added. It is also notable that if a person is charged under this law, he will be barred from a govern ment Job. They have to live without their passport and must produce themselves in
constitutional. Furthermore, it was also held that the dis turbing the public order will mean nothing less than en dangering the foundations of the Stateor threatening its overthrow: These Judgments prompted the First Constitu tion Amendment, where Ar ticle 19 (2) was rewritten to replace “undermining the security of the State” with “in the interest of public order”. In the year 1962, in the historic judgment of Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar. the supreme court decided on the constitutionality of See tion 124A. The Hon’ble court upheld the constitutionality of sedition, but had limited its application to “acts involving intention or tendency tore ate disorder,ordisturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence”. Itdistinguished these from “very strong speech” or the use of “vigor ous words” strongly critical of the government.

In the year 1965, the Su preme Court, in the judgment of Balwant Singh vs State of Punjab, held that mere slo ganeering which evoked no public response did not amount to sedition.

ARGUMENTS FOR SECTION 124A

The Provision of Sedition law has its application in fighting anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements. It is argued withinside the fa- vour of this law that, it pro tects the elected government from tries to overthrow the authorities with violence and unlawful means. The continued existence of the government set up through regulation is an important circumstance of the stability of the State. Furthermore, it is also believed that if Contempt of court results in the penal action, the contempt of Gov ernment should also attract
the same.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST SECTION 124A

The Provision of Sedition Law isarelic of colonial lega cyand it is not fit for democra- ey This is a restriction on the legal exercise of the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution. Government disagreements and criti cisms are an important part of healthy public debate in dynamie democracy. They should not be constructed as sedition. It is notable that The British who resisted the suppression of the Indians overturned their countrys laws. India has no reason not to abolish this part and
the time has come to amend this portion. It is also argued against this law that the terms usedunder Section 124A like disaffection are vague and subject to different interpre- tations to the whims and fan- cies of the investigating offi- cers. The sedition law isbeing misused as a tool to persecute political dissent. A wide and concentrated executive dis- cretion is inbuilt into it which permits the blatant abuse.

CONCLUSION AND WAY FORWARD

Dr Justice (Retd.) Balbir Singh Chouhan has observed that “The sedition law needs reconsideration”. Since the creation of this British Sedition Law, its application has always been inconsistent. In all cases, its application is vague and self-contradictory. Considering that it is used to suppress the masses, when it serves the masses, its application was initially vague. It is used as a tool to strengthen political motivations by preventing speeches that threaten the authority of the country. A clear and unam- biguous explanation of the crime. In recent years, the ap- plication of the sedition law has been too arbitrary and has become a controversial topic. Although our sedition position was established in 1960, it still exists. Over the past 50 years, Indian society has developed rapidly, and people have shown “toler ance” towards summons and violence. The nature of the government has also changed, and people’s under- standing of the government is different from that of its representatives.

India is the largest de- mocracy of the world and the right to free speech and expression is a vital aspect of democracy. The expres- sion or thought that isn’t in consonance with the policy

Freedom of speech & sedition kew in India: An analysis in the light of recent controversy

of the government of the day must now no longer be taken into consideration as sedition. Section 124A mus now no longer be misused as a device to scale down loose speech. The SC caveat, giver in Kedar Nath case, on pros ecution beneathneath the regulation can test its misuse It needs to be tested under the modified facts and situation: 1 additionally at the anvi of ever-evolving tests of ne cessity, proportionality and arbitrariness. The higher judiciary must use its super visory powers to sensitize the magistracy and police to the constitutional provision: protective free speech. The definition of sedition mus be narrowed down, to en compass only the problem: pertaining to the territoria integrity of India in addi tion to the sovereignty of the country. The word ‘sedition is extraordinarily nuancec and needs to be implement ed with caution. It is sort of a cannon that ought now no longer for use to shoot a mouse; however the arsena additionally needs posses sion of cannons, by and larg as a deterrent, and sometimes for shooting.

India is the largest democracy of the world and the right to free speech and expression
is a vital aspect of democracy. The expression or thought that isn’t in consonance
with the policy of the government of the day must now no longer be taken into
consideration as sedition. Section 124A must now no longer be misused as a device
to scale down loose speech. The SC caveat, given in the Kedarnath case, can test its
misuse. It needs to be tested under the modified facts and situations and additionally
at the anvil of ever-evolving tests of necessity, proportionality and arbitrariness.

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Policy & Politics

Tax on ocean freight: A case of inequitable double taxation at its best

Supply of ocean freight service is not covered either by Section 7 (inter-state supply) or Section 8 (intra-state supply) of the IGST Act. The Act does not contemplate levy or collection of tax from a person who is neither the supplier nor the recipient of supply.

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HOW TAX ON OCEAN FREIGHT WORKS

 Ocean Freight is a method of transporting huge quantities of goods through the sea. The levy of taxes on Ocean Freight has been a matter of dispute in India for a while now. The GST law requires the importers to pay tax on ocean freight services under Section 9(3) of the CGST Act and Section 5(3) of the IGST Act, better known as the ‘Reverse Charge Mechanism’.

The location of the Service Provider (SP) and the Service Recipient (SR) must be considered. If the location of the SP and the SR is in India, Section 12(8) applies. But when the Location of SP or SR is outside India, the location of the SR is considered, unless the location of the SP is not known, then the SP’s location is considered but only for transportation [under Section 13(9)]. If the SP and SR are both outside India, the Importer is liable to pay IGST @ 5%. In addition to this, the importer also pays customs duty, freight on the CIF (Cost, Insurance and Freight) value and insurance even if the importer has paid IGST on the CIF value, he is still required to pay GST on ocean freight. This, is what any prudent person would term as “double taxation”.

When it comes to import on the CIF basis, the foreign supplier transports goods from a place outside India through a foreign shipping agency, to a port located in India. In CIF, the freight is paid by the foreign exporter to the shipping agency and the foreign supplier transports such shipment through the foreign shipping agency.

BEFORE GST

 From 01.06.2016, transportation of goods from a place outside India up to the customs clearance station in India became liable to service tax, through the Finance Act, 2016. But an exemption was given for services by way of transportation of goods by an aircraft from a place outside India up to the customs clearance station.

If the service provider was situated outside India, the liability to pay service tax would be on the service recipient. In Free on Board (FoB) imports, service tax would be payable by the shipping line, if the shipping line was based in India; and the service tax would be payable by the importer under reverse charge if the shipping line is not based in India.

In case of CIF imports, there was no service tax levy on freight, as the service provider as well as the service recipient are situated outside India.

There existed ambiguity in levy of service tax that was attracted on ocean freight component only in case of FOB imports, and not attracted for CIF imports.

Vide Notifications dated. 12.01.2017 (Notification 3/2017) and 20.06.2012 (Notification 30/2012 ST), some efforts were made to clear the ambiguities. In addition to this, in respect of services provided or agreed to be provided by way of transportation of goods by a vessel from a place outside India up to the customs clearance station in India, the person liable for paying service tax other than the service provider would be the person in India who complies with sections 29, 30 or 38 read with section 148 of the Customs Act, 1962.

In addition to this a series of Notifications were issued pursuant to the problem at hand:

 1. Vide Notification dated. 13.04.2017 (Notification 2/2017 ST), the definition of “person liable for payment of service tax” under Rule 2 (1) (d) (i) was amended and a new sub rule (Rule 7CA) was introduced in the Service Tax Rules, 1994.

 2. Vide Notification dated. 13.04.2017 (Notification 14/2017 ST), a new rule, Rule 8B was introduced in Point of Taxation Rules, 2011, which spoke about the “Determination of point of taxation in case of services provided by a person located in non-taxable territory to a person in non-taxable territory.”

3. Vide Notification dated. 13.04.2017 (Notification 10/2017 CE NT), the definition of “input service” in the CENVAT Credit Rules, 2004, was amended to further facilitate proper implementation of the respective tax provisions.

The importer was thus made liable to pay service tax for the services of transportation of goods by vessel from a foreign port to Indian port in case of CIF imports.

 The above position continued up to 30.06.2017, i.e., until the introduction of GST.

UNDER GST

 And as per Section 14 of the Customs Act, 1962, the value of the imported goods shall be the transaction value of such goods for the purpose of levy of Customs duty and such transaction value in the case of imported goods shall include, in addition to price, any amount paid or payable for costs and services, including commissions and brokerage, royalties and licence fees, costs of transportation to the place of import, insurance, loading, unloading and handling charges to the extent as per Rule 10(2) of the Customs valuation (Determination of Value of Imported Goods) Rules, 2007.

Section 5(3) of the IGST Act, 2017 empowered the Centre to issue notification, specify categories of supply of goods or services or both, the tax on which shall be paid on reverse charge basis by the recipient of such goods or services or both and the recipient of such goods or services or both is liable to pay tax under reverse charge in relation to the supply of such goods or services or both.

Where the value of taxable service provided by a person located in non-taxable territory to a person located in non-taxable territory by way of transportation of goods by a vessel from a place outside India up to the customs station of clearance in India is not available with the person liable for paying integrated tax, the same shall be deemed to be 10 % of the CIF value of imported goods.

How ocean freight suffers double taxation

Ocean freight component suffers tax twice; first, it suffers IGST as component of Customs Duty on imported goods on CIF basis and second time IGST @ 5% in the form of Import of Services (Reverse Charge Mechanism) for payment by the importer. Therefore, IGST payment is levied twice on Ocean freight in the guise as part of transaction value of imported goods.

The impugned notifications are contrary to the provisions of Article 265 of the Indian Constitution which says that “no tax shall be levied or collected except by authority of law”. A delegated legislation (includes the notifications herein or rules) cannot provide levy or collection of tax which is not authorised by the parent statute.

 Supply of ocean freight service is not covered either by Section 7 (inter-state supply) or Section 8 (intra-state supply) of the IGST Act. The Act does not contemplate levy or collection of tax from a person who is neither the supplier nor the recipient of supply.

A person other than a recipient cannot determine the “time of supply” as per the provisions of Section 13 of the IGST Act. In addition to this, Input Tax Credit can only be availed by the recipient of the supply which are intended to be used in the course of furtherance of business, under the provisions of Section 16 of the Act.

 The Supreme Court in case of State of Rajasthan v. Basant Agrotech (India) Limited [2014 (302) E.L.T. 3 (SC)], held that the rule of construction of a charging section is that before taxing any person, it must be shown that he falls within the ambit of the charging section by clear words used in the section. No one can be taxed by implication. A charging section has to be constructed strictly. If a person has not been brought within the ambit of the charging section by clear words, he cannot be taxed at all.

Commissioner of Central Excise v. Acer India Limited [2004 (172) E.L.T. 289 (S.C.)], the SC held – “The intention of the legislature in a taxation statute is to be gathered from the language of the provisions particularly where the language is plain and unambiguous. In a taxing Act it is not possible to assume any intention or governing purpose of the statute more than what is stated in the plain language. It is not the economic result sought to be obtained by making the provision which is relevant in interpreting a fiscal statute. Equally impermissible is an interpretation which does not follow from the plan, unambiguous language of the statute. Words cannot be added to or substituted so as to give a meaning to the statute which will serve the spirit and intention of the legislature. The statute should clearly and unambiguously convey the three components of the tax law i.e. the subject of the tax, the person who is liable to pay the tax and the rate at which the tax is to be paid. If there is any ambiguity regarding any of these ingredients in a taxation statute, then there is no tax in law.”

The Hon’ble Gujarat High Court in the case of Mohit Minerals Pvt. Ltd. Vs. Union of India [Special Civil Application No. 726 of 2018], has set aside IGST on Ocean Freight and held that no tax is leviable under the IGST Act, 2017 on the ocean freight for the services provided by a person located in a non-taxable territory by way of transportation of goods by a vessel from a place outside India up to the customs station of clearance in India and the levy and collection of tax of such ocean freight under the impugned Notifications is not permissible in law and that taxing ocean freight is ultra vires and leads to double taxation.

Despite the attempts of the judiciary in defending the very concept of negating any occurrence of double taxation, the efforts made to amend the imprudent levy of IGST on ocean freight, or so to say, the lack thereof, is still very unsettling.

A person other than a recipient cannot determine the “time of supply” as per the provisions of Section 13 of the IGST Act. In addition to this, Input Tax Credit can only be availed by the recipient of the supply which are intended to be used in the course of furtherance of business, under the provisions of Section 16 of the Act.

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Policy & Politics

NCRTC SIGNS MOU WITH SECL FOR USING BLENDED RENEWABLE ENERGY FOR ITS DELHI-GHAZIABAD-MEERUT RRTS CORRIDOR

Tarun Nangia

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In line with its vision to improve the quality of life of people, National Capital Regional Transport Corporation (NCRTC) has signed MoU with SECI (Solar Energy Corporation of India) today to harness blended renewable energy for RRTS. MOU has provisions to explore possible opportunities in electric/ transformative mobility, Hydrogen based economy, and other alternative sources of fuels and energy.

MoU was signed in presence of Jatindra Nath Swain IAS, Secretary (Fisheries), GOI & CMD/SECI, Vinay Kumar Singh, Managing Director/NCRTC and Mahendra Kumar, Director(E&RS)/NCRTC alongwith other senior officials of NCRTC and SECI.

NCRTC, as part of its Energy Management Policy, intends to maximize the use of blended renewable energy such as solar power etc. for meeting full energy requirement of NCRTC. SECI, being an industry leader, will help in arranging blended renewable energy to NCRTC round the clock at affordable rates for Delhi-Ghaziabad-Meerut Corridor and cooperation to extend the same for other future corridors.

Use of clean energy, through this association will ensure reduction in expenditure on electricity and significantly lesser CO2 emissions, which is essential for sustainable development.

This cooperation is a part of NCRTC’s long term strategy to make RRTS and NCRTC financially as well as environmentally sustainable.

NCRTC is adopting following measures also for energy efficiency in India’s first RRTS corridor-

1. All elevated RRTS stations and depots will be provided with solar panels.

2. NCRTC is targeting to generate minimum 10 MW renewable energy.

3. 40% of the total energy requirement of Delhi Meerut RRTS corridor is targeted to be procured/generated from renewable energy.

4. RRTS rolling stock will be provided with state-of-the-art regenerative braking system which converts train’s kinetic energy into electrical energy..

5. Regenerative braking will result in reduced wear and tear of wheels, brake pads and other associated moving brake-gear parts of rolling stock resulting in significantly less consumption of these spare part/items during train maintenance life cycle which again will result in substantial reduction in CO2 emission which otherwise would have been generated in the manufacturing and supply chain process of these spare parts/items.

6. RRTS trains will have push buttons for selective opening of doors on need basis. This eliminates the requirement of opening all doors at every station, thus leading to energy saving. RRTS rolling stock will have lighting and temperature control systems to enhance the passenger experience with less energy consumption.

7. All RRTS station and their premises, depot, office spaces and trains will be equipped with energy-saving LED lights.

8. Platform Screen Doors will be installed at every RRTS stations that will help in saving significant energy consumption in underground stations.

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Policy & Politics

TARGETED POLICY SUPPORT TO ENGINEERING EXPORT SECTOR NEEDED, SAYS EEPC INDIA

Tarun Nangia

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The growth in outbound shipments has been robust in the last few months and the outlook remains positive for the current year but rising cost of key raw materials especially steel is an area of concern, said EEPC India Chairman Mr Mahesh Desai.

As expected, the value of engineering goods exports jumped 53% to US$ 8.64 billion in May, 2021 as against US$ 5.65 billion in the corresponding month last year primarily due to low base effect and increasing demand from key markets.

“Soaring prices of various metals is a big challenge for the engineering goods manufacturers which were badly affected by the Coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent lockdowns,” he said.

While hoping that the rates for the export promotion scheme RoDTEP would be announced shortly, the EEPC India Chairman expects the government to provide more targeted support as suggested by the RBI.

Announcing the decisions of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) on June 4, RBI Governor Mr Shaktikanta Das had said that conducive external conditions were forming for a durable recovery beyond pre-pandemic levels. He further said that the need of the hour is for enhanced and targeted policy support for exports.

EEPC India Chairman said that while the export outlook has been projected to be positive in the current fiscal, there were downside risks too given that public health experts have predicted a possible third wave of the pandemic.

“The efforts must be made now to minimise the impact of pandemic on trade and business as protecting livelihood is no less important than lives. The plans should be in place to ensure goods movement, especially export consignments, are not affected by lockdowns, night curfews or any other restrictions imposed by states to prevent the spread of virus,” Mr Desai said.

Announcing the decisions of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) on 4 June, RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das said that conducive external conditions were forming for a durable recovery beyond pre-pandemic levels.

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Policy & Politics

India’s exports continue to perform impressively for third month in a row

FIEO president reiterated that though the government has announced a slew of measures to support exports, the need of the hour is to soon notify the RoDTEP rates to remove uncertainty from the minds of the trade and industry, thereby helping in further forging new contracts with the foreigner buyers.

Tarun Nangia

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Responding to the trade data for May, 2021, Sharad Kumar Saraf, President, FIEO said that the continuing impressive growth in exports by about 70% to USD 32.27 billion compared to a low base of USD 19.05 billion during May 2020, reiterate our assessment that order booking position of our exporters is not only extremely good but also the gradual opening up of major global markets and improvement of situation in the country is expected to push exports growth further. President FIEO said that growing by over 8% even on the base of May 2019 reflects a positive trend for the sector. Saraf particularly emphasised that the growth in labour-intensive sectors like Cereal preparations and miscellaneous processed item, Gems & Jewellery, Engineering goods, Leather and Leather Products, Ceramic products and glassware, Cotton yarn/fabrics/made-ups, handloom products, Marine products, Spices, Carpets and Man-made yarn/fabrics/made-ups etc. augurs well for the job scenario, which is most relevant in the current context.

FIEO Chief added that such a growth during the month has been mainly on account of growth in Petroleum products, Engineering goods, Organic & Inorganic Chemicals and Gems & Jewellery, the major contributors to the country’s export basket, which have shown impressive performance compared to May, 2020. He also said that 25 out of 30 major product groups of exports have either shown a very high growth or are in positive territory defying all the odds when there is still a bit of scepticism persisting in the global economy on the expectation of a third wave of Covid-19 pandemic.

Sharad Kumar Saraf further reiterated that continuing on with such a growth performance in exports during the second month of the new financial year not only shows signs of resilience of the exporting community facing squeezing profits but also the resolve of the government. FIEO Chief complimented the government for its continuous support during such challenging times. Increase in May 2021 imports by about 74 percent to USD 38.55 billion compared to the same period during the previous fiscal led to the increase in trade deficit of USD 6.28 billion, which is an increase of over 99.61 percent during the month and should be looked into.

FIEO President reiterated that though the government has announced a slew of measures to support exports, the need of the hour is to soon notify the RoDTEP rates to remove uncertainty from the minds of the trade and industry thereby helping in further forging new contracts with the foreigner buyers. Mr Saraf also reiterated that the government must address some of the key issues including priority status to exports sector, extension of Interest Equalisation Scheme beyond June 2021 till at least 31st March, 2024, release of the necessary funds for MEIS and clarity on SEIS benefits, resolving risky exporters’ issues and continuance of seamless refund of IGST and more importantly continuing with IGST option for exports to further give boost to the sector during these challenging times.

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Policy & Politics

Making it happen: Covid management in Sonipat

Imaginative planning, meticulous execution and untiring efforts by young IAS officer Shyam Lal Poonia and his team have helped the district sail through the second wave.

Anil Swarup

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Corona

Like many regions of the country, the second wave of the Covid hit the district of Sonipat (adjoining Delhi) really hard with the positivity rate reaching a high of 54.71% on 25 April 2021. With the second wave came different sorts of challenges of which oxygen supply was most critical, given the non-existent perennial supply system for the hospitals including the 500-bedded Medical College at Khanpur Kalan. 

The challenge of medical oxygen was altogether new for Sonipat like many other districts in the country. This, coupled with close to 60% patients coming from Delhi, led to quick saturation of bed capacity in Covid hospitals of the district by 25 April 2021. Consequently, a dual challenge of increasing oxygen beds on one hand and managing oxygen demand within the available quota on the other was faced. As on 24th April, the district was receiving a daily quota of 9 MT liquid oxygen. To add to the worries, the agency responsible for supplying around 4 MT daily oxygen to Medical College had pulled out. As the state allocated oxygen quota was being determined elsewhere, the focus was on mobilization of resources and managing within this quota for which the following line of action was undertaken: 

PSA Plant: A 200 LPM capacity PSA plant approved under PM Cares Fund was lying idle since February as the Agency didn’t install it and district health team didn’t realise its importance. With the help of one Prof. Jogendra from Pacific College, Sonipat, PSA oxygen plant was commissioned at Civil Hospital Sonipat on 30th April. This helped increase the number of oxygen beds at Civil hospital.  

Oxygen Audit: Nodal officer was appointed for oxygen supply and officers were positioned at each of the bottling plants and hospitals. A multi-pronged approach was adopted to prevent wastage and siphoning off of medical oxygen at bottling plants and in hospitals.  A formula was put in placeabout average consumption on the basis of guidelines issued by MoFHW. Accordingly, average consumption in all hospitals was calculated. A committee was also constituted for oxygen consumption audit in all hospitals. Quota was now being allocated to hospitals based on their patient load. These steps helped save 2-3 MT of LMO per day.  This resulted in the increase of oxygen beds from 605 to 791 by 1st May. Moreover, the district quota was increased to 13 MT on 2nd May by the Government which helped further increasing the number of oxygen beds to 950 including 90 ventilators.

Augmenting Oxygen Storage: By end of April, 2021, the district had only one Bottling Plant with storage capacity of 20 MT which was catering to more than 25 hospitals. Through concerted efforts two more bottling plants licenses were facilitated for medical oxygen and a storage capacity of 50 MT was added within 15 days.

LMO Tank at BPS Government Medical College, Khanpur: With a daily oxygen demand of more than 450 D-Type cylinders, the Medical College was the major consumer for oxygen in the district. With every passing day and increase in patient load, it was becoming difficult to maintain regular supplies through cylinders. With the help of one of the Bottling Plants, an LMO storage tank with 12 MT capacity was installed within a week at BPSGMC. This gave a major boost to oxygen supply at the Medical College and the number of oxygen-supported beds increased from 150 to 350. This also resolved issues related to oxygen flow pressure and refilling and transportation of oxygen cylinders.

PSA Plant at BPSGMC: To further augment oxygen availability in the district and to tackle any unforeseen situation in days to come, a PSA oxygen generation plant under CSR has been installed at Govt Medical College, Khanpur with a capacity of 1000 LPM. Installation of one more PSA Plant with 1000 LPM capacity by DRDO is under progress.

At one point in time, the district had more than 7000 active cases and 90% of them were under home isolation spread across the geography of the district. To monitor them on a regular basis was a challenge given the inadequate manpower in the field. 

With the support from young MBBS/PG medical students from BPS Medical College, a motto  – Chase The Patient – was coined. Tele-consultation services were provided for all home isolated patients. 120 PG students of the Medical College were engaged to monitor all the home isolated patients of the district. The students were divided into 15 area-wise teams, each team connected with their respective Community Health Centre (CHCs) and Urban Health Centres (UHCs). 

A team of IMA doctors was roped in which constantly supported patients with their COVID treatment, psycho-social care and post COVID recovery issues. Timely tele-consultation meant that scores of patients were provided early medical care and prevented from being hospitalized.

Even as oxygen bed capacity was being increased across the district, it was observed that admission in COVID facilities was leading to disconnection of patients with their family members, due to restrictions. This was especially true for those not possessing smart phones. Covid treatment protocols couldn’t be violated. However, families were especially feeling anxious to talk to patients and know their health status. The District Administration accordingly initiated e-Samvaad wherein 6 tablets have been provided to Civil Hospital, Sonipat and BPS Govt Medical College to facilitate interaction of admitted patients with their family members. During a fixed time slot, the attendant/ family members can now interact with their patient on video call through WhatsApp/ Google Meet/ Zoom. The Nursing Staff dedicates themselves for this purpose in the given time slot. 

Given the exponential rise in cases across Sonipat, it was important to set up a central COVID Control Room to address all citizen queries and to manage the situation on-ground.  A team of 40 teachers and operators was trained to work round the clock in three shifts. Dedicated helpline catering to all citizen queries around vaccination, testing, bed availability, oxygen cylinders, movement passes and for lodging complaints against black marketing, overcharging, were made operational.

Imaginative planning, meticulous execution and untiring efforts by this young IAS officer, Shyam Lal Poonia and his team have helped the district sail through the second wave. Positivity rate is now below 2% and hospital bed occupancy is less than 20%. They made it happen amidst trying set of circumstances. 

Anil Swarup has served as the head of the Project Monitoring Group, which is currently under the Prime Minister’s Offic. He has also served as Secretary, Ministry of Coal and Secretary, Ministry of School Education.

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