Jung annuls AAP govt’s appointments; Kejriwal banks on public support

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The Hindu May 20, 2015

Jung annuls AAP govt’s appointments; Kejriwal banks on public support

The Delhi Lieutenant Governor asserts that he was the sole authority in matters of ordering transfer and posting of bureaucrats.

Escalating his confrontation with the Aam Aadmi Party government, Lt Governor Najeeb Jung on Wednesday cancelled all appointments made by it in the last four days, asserting he was the sole authority in matters of ordering transfer and posting of bureaucrats.

In a letter to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the Lt Governor challenged AAP government’s order to bureaucrats not to follow his directives without securing approval from the CM or any other minister, maintaining he has the power to decide on transfers and postings.

Mr. Jung also contested AAP government’s instructions to the officials to not route files through his office, saying he has been vested with power to decide on major policy issues.

In the letter, Mr. Jung explained constitutional provisions and norms laid down in Government of NCT of Delhi Act and Transaction of Business rules of the Delhi Government, and asked the AAP government to follow the rules and procedures.

Mr. Jung said orders pertaining to transfers and postings by AAP govt in the last four days were not valid as they did not have his approval.

In a directive on Monday, Mr. Kejriwal had asked the bureaucrats including the Chief Secretary to first consult him and other Ministers before acting directions from the LG.

On Tuesday, both Mr. Kejriwal and Jung had taken their bitter fight to President Pranab Mukherjee, accusing each other of violating the Constitution and overstepping their respective jurisdictions.

On Wednesday, Mr. Kejriwal asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to allow the city government to function “independently” and accused the Centre of trying to run the Delhi administration through Jung.

In a letter to Mr. Modi, Mr. Kejriwal mentioned about the posting and transfers made by Jung and said the elected government must have a say in distribution of work to senior officials.

The appointment of Shakuntala Gamlin as acting chief secretary last week had triggered a full-blown warbetween the AAP government and Jung with Kejriwal alleging that the LG was trying to take over the administration. Each side has since appointed some officials in senior positions which were declared void by the other.

Everybody united against us, but we have public support: Kejriwal

Referring to AAP Government’s ongoing turf war with Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Wednesday said “everybody has got united against us” but asserted that till the time they have public support “we don’t have to think about anything”.

“Everybody has got united against us. Yesterday, I went to meet a senior lawyer who told me that he had seen on news channels that everyone is against us (AAP Government) but public is supporting… I replied to him that till the time public is with us we don’t have to think about anything,” Mr. Kejriwal said.

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10 years after RTI, transparency and accountability just a day dream:

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10 years after RTI, transparency and accountability just a day dream:

Ten years after the RTI Act was passed by the Parliament on May 12 2005, till now transparency and accountability in government offices are yet to flourish.

Even after a decade of enactment of RTI, government offices have poorly maintained records of their workings, as RTI act says only those information will be provided to the citizens which are kept in the government offices.

But the problem is that if government officials act irresponsibly and do not maintain records properly what information the citizens could seek?

Staffing is also at very pathetic stage, as seats of information commissioners are lying vacant and governments are not willing to fill them.

Normal waiting time for the pending cases in information commissions (in states) are as high as 60 years in Madhya Pradesh and 18 years in west Bengal and if cases are resolved at the current pace of work.

This Act (RTI Act) was passed by the Indian parliament in 2005 and it had kindled new hopes in citizens of India but now it is withering day by day and becoming toothless by the apathy of the central and state governments.

The CIC chief’s post has been lying vacant at the central information commission’s office New Delhi for quite long time and central government in no mood at all to appoint the chief.

Whistleblower protection amendment Act 2015 passed by the parliament has raised alarms about the vulnerability of information seekers, as it has diluted it and removed the protection cover earlier provided in the original Act.

In one word I would like to say in my opinion we have made so many laws but have not updated the mindset of our bureaucracy and government officials who are always giving lukewarm responses to RTIs, and always feel insulted if an RTI is filed in his/her office seeking any details of their functioning.

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Why the RTI Act is in danger

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Rediff News…

Why the RTI Act is in danger

‘The prime minister has taken pre-emptive action by not appointing a Chief Information Commissioner at all to render it dysfunctional.’

‘The bureaucracy is also hardening its stand and in most cases has realised that the commissioners are not really committed to transparency,’ says former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi.

The Right to Information Act has caught the imagination of people and the way it has spread is being appreciated and admired around the world. A great change has come in India in the last decade in the power equation between the sovereign citizens and those in power.

This change is just beginning and if we can sustain and strengthen it, our defective elective democracy could metamorphose into a truly participatory democracy within the next one or two decades. We have just begun this journey towards a meaningful Swaraj.

I believe the media — visual, print and social — and RTI have been a fortunate heady mix. They have the potential of actualising the promise of democracy. However, there are also signs of regressive forces which could stymie these promises.

I am going to refer to the two biggest dangers to RTI:

Most established institutions are unhappy with the RTI Act. When the power equation changes between those with power and the ordinary citizen, resistance is to be expected. Everyone in power generally feels transparency is good for others, whereas they should be left to work effectively. It is implied that transparency is a hindrance to good governance.

We have travelled some distance away from the statement made by a seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court in the S P Gupta vs President of India & others (1982): ‘There can be little doubt that exposure to public gaze and scrutiny is one of the surest means of achieving a clean and healthy administration. It has been truly said that an open government is clean government and a powerful safeguard against political and administrative aberration and inefficiency.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh — harried by the uncovering of various scams by RTI – said at the Central Information Commission’s convention in October 2012: ‘There are concerns about frivolous and vexatious use of the Act in demanding information the disclosure of which cannot possibly serve any public purpose.

The present prime minister has taken pre-emptive action by not appointing a Chief Information Commissioner at all to render it dysfunctional. The bureaucracy is also hardening its stand and in most cases has realised that the commissioners are not really committed to transparency.

This coupled with the long wait at the commissions and the stinginess of the commissions in imposing penalties is slowly making it difficult to get sensitive information which could aid citizens to expose structural shortcomings or corruption.

A former Chief Justice of India said in April 2012, ‘The RTI Act is a good law, but there has to be a limit to it.‘ I am amazed at the suggestion that there should be a limit to RTI.

The limit has been laid down in the law by Parliament in terms of exemptions. Any interpretation beyond what is written in the law will be a violation of citizen’s fundamental right to information.

A greater danger comes from the selection of information commissioners as a part of political patronage. Most have no predilection for transparency or work. Their orders are often biased against transparency and in many places a huge backlog is being built up as a consequence of their inability to cope.

Consequently, a law which seeks to ensure giving information to citizens in 30 days on pain of penalty gets stuck for over a year at the commissions. Most of these commissioners do not work to deliver results in a time-bound manner and lose all moral authority to penalise public information officers who do not work in a time-bound manner. Commissioners are slowly working less and less.

In the Central Information Commission, six commissioners had disposed 22,351 cases in 2011, whereas in 2014 seven commissioners disposed only 16,006 cases!

Whereas civil society and media are rightly critical of the government for not appointing the balance four commissioners, at the current rate of disposal even 11 commissioners will not dispose over 25,000 cases a year.

In 2014, the CIC received 31,000 cases and presently has a pendency of over 38,000 cases. It is evident that at this languorous pace of working the RTI will slowly become like the Consumer Protection Act — mainly in existence for the commissioners.

Citizens must wake out of their slumber and focus on getting commissioners who will dispose over 6,000 cases each year and give clear signals that they will not tolerate tardiness from public information officers or commissioners.

Eternal Vigilance is the price for democracy. We have a very useful tool to make our democracy meaningful and effective. It will work and grow if we struggle to ensure its health.

We need to put pressure on various institutions so that they restrain from constricting our right, ensure a transparent process of selection of commissioners and adequate disposal of cases at the commissions. If we are lazy this right will also putrefy.

Shailesh Gandhi is former Central Information Commissioner.

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Ramdev was not considered for Padma awards: RTI response

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Ramdev was not considered for Padma awards: RTI response

TOI  May 12, 2015 NEW DELHI: Noted movie writer Salim Khan, former diplomat K S Bajpai and spiritual gurus Sri Ravi Shanker, Mohammed Burhanuddin and Mata Amritanandamayi had refused to accept the Padma awards this year while Ramdev was not considered for the honours, according to an RTI response.

To a query seeking to know the names of persons who were shortlisted for the civilian honours but turned it down, the Home Ministry said Salim Khan, former diplomat K S Bajpai and spiritual gurus Sri Ravi Shanker, late Mohammed Burhanuddin and Mata Amritanandamayi had refused to accept the Padma awards.

The Ministry in an RTI response to activist Subhash Agrawal referred him to web site which had lists of people considered for Padma awards and those shortlisted for them but it did not have name of yoga guru Ramdev. 

Two days before the awards were to be presented on January 26, 2015, Ramdev had claimed that he had written to Home Minister Rajnath Singh declining the award as he came to know that he was being considered for it.

“Meeting of the Padma Awards Committee was held on October 31, December 5, and December 13-14, 2014 for two days. The minutes of the meeting were not maintained,” the Ministry said in its response.

The reply said recommendations for the awards were dispatched from MHA to Awards-Committee members for their study and perusal before the meeting of the committee on October 25, 2014.

The Ministry refused to give information about persons whose names were recommended but were not considered following objections from agencies like CBI, IB and tax authorities saying information received from such agencies is secret in nature and cannot be provided under RTI Act.

It said search committee meetings were held on August 21, 2014 and September 8, 2014.

Recently, Ramdev created controversy saying lobbying takes place for Padma awards.

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The Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets (Imposition of Tax) Bill, 2015, popularly known as blackmoney bill was passed in Lok Sabha on Monday.

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The Hindu May 11, 2015

The Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets (Imposition of Tax) Bill, 2015, popularly known as blackmoney bill was passed in Lok Sabha on Monday.

In a step towards delivering on the BJP’s poll promise of unearthing black money stashed abroad, government has introduced the Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets (Imposition of Tax) Bill, 2015, in the parliament.

Here are the salient features of the Bill

1 Tax on all foreign income will have to be paid at the flat rate of 30 per cent without any exemption, deduction, set off or carry forward losses that the Income Tax Act permits.
2 Enhanced punishment of jail for 3-10 years for wilful evasion of tax on foreign income along with a penalty equal to three times the amount of tax evaded or 90 per cent of the undisclosed income or the value of the asset.
3 There is a limited compliance window offer. Offenders would have to pay tax at the rate of 30 per cent but concessional penalty would be equal to the tax amount.
4 Failure to file returns of foreign income or assets will attract a penalty of Rs. 10 lakh.
5 Second and subsequent offence will be punishable with rigorous imprisonment of 3-10 years with a fine of up to Rs. 1 crore.
6 Undisclosed holdings of less than Rs. 5 lakh at any time during a year not reported out of oversight or ignorance will not entail penalty or prosecution.
7 The Bill empowers the Centre to enter into agreements with other countries for the exchange of information, recovery of tax and avoidance of double taxation.
8 To include tax evasion under the proposed legislation as a scheduled offence the Bill proposes to amend the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.
9 The right to appeal will be to the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal and to jurisdictional High Courts and the Supreme Court on substantial questions of law.
10 The tax authorities will have powers of discovery and inspection, issue of summonses, enforcement of attendance, production of evidence and impounding of account books and documents.

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LS passes bill to deal with black money stashed abroad

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The Hindu May 11, 2015

LS passes bill to deal with black money stashed abroad

Jaitley said there would be a compliance window in two parts — to declare assets and to pay 30 per cent tax and 30 per cent penalty.

Lok Sabha on Monday passed a bill to deal with black money stashed abroad through high monetary penalty and criminal prosecution with the government allaying fears that innocent people could be harassed under the proposed “deterrent” law.

Piloting the Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets (Imposition of Tax) Bill, 2015, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said there would be short compliance window for persons having undisclosed income abroad to come clean by paying 30 per cent tax and 30 per cent penalty.

Once the compliance window closes, anyone found having undeclared overseas wealth would be required to pay 30 per cent tax, 90 per cent penalty and face criminal prosecution, he said while winding up the debate on the bill which was later approved by the House.

For those wanting to come clean, Jaitley said there would be a compliance window in two parts — to declare assets and to pay 30 per cent tax and 30 per cent penalty.

Citing an example, he said, there could be a two-month window to declare overseas assets and within six months one would have to pay tax and penalty.

Jaitley said the law will help bring black money in the declared economy, improve tax collections and would eventually facilitate lowering of tax rates.

Noting that this bill was specifically to target black money stashed abroad, he said a separate benami bill will soon be brought before Cabinet to tackle domestic black money.

“This law will act as a deterrent…It will act as a deterrent and help us in getting the assets back by people declaring them,” he said, adding the law also had a provision for attachment of equivalent properties in India.

Rejecting the opposition charge that the stringent provisions could result in harassment of innocent people and students, he said, “we don’t want to proceed against trivial violations. But then the big fish must not get away in the garb.

“Let us not fire from the shoulders of these innocent students in order to make sure that no harsh action is taken on the big fish itself.”

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MEA refuses to reveal expenses on Obama visit

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The Hindu May 5, 2015

MEA refuses to reveal expenses on Obama visit

The Ministry of External Affairs has declined to reveal how much money was spent by India on U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to New Delhi in January this year, claiming it was sensitive information and could put under strain relations between the two countries.

In response to an RTI query filed by Mumbai-based freelance journalist Anil Galgali, the Ministry said information seeking details of the money spent on the security of Mr. Obama and his entourage was classified

Mr. Obama, accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, was in India on a three-day visit in January as chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations. Mr. Galgali had sought to know the specifics of the accommodation and security provided to Mr. Obama and his entourage, apart from the expenses incurred on hosting the delegation.

‘Sensitive’

The MEA said the information was not only “sensitive” but also pertains to India’s relations with the U.S. and, therefore, could not be disclosed. The Ministry cited Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act 2005, which allowed information to be withheld if its disclosure could affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the state, relation with foreign state or lead to incitement of an offence.

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Rise above partisan considerations: Jaitley

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The Hindu May 5, 2015

Rise above partisan considerations: Jaitley

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley: “If the GST Bill was sent back to the panel, it would deny the benefits to the States by another financial year as the deadline of April 1, 2016 will be missed”

Revenues of States will not be hit in the long run after implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Tuesday.

“As tax rates during GST regime will be closely aligned to the revenue neutral rates (RNR) of the Centre and the States, revenues of the central and state governments will not be impacted in the long run,” he said in a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha.

RNR is the rate at which there will be no revenue loss to the States after GST implementation. The RNR for GST is under consideration and a final view on this would be taken by the GST Council.

The GST Council will have Mr. Jaitley as its Chairman and comprise two-third of members from states and one-third from the Centre.

The Constitution Amendment Bill on GST was introduced in the Lok Sabha in December 2014. The Bill was taken up for consideration by the House on Tuesday.

GST will be the biggest indirect tax reform since 1947. A single rate GST will replace central excise, state VAT, entertainment tax, octroi, entry tax, luxury tax and purchase tax on goods and services to ensure seamless transfer of goods and services.

To address the concerns of states on account of transition to a new indirect tax regime, Mr. Jaitley said, the Centre has allowed states to levy 1 per cent additional tax on inter-state trade for a period of two years.

The Centre has also agreed to compensate the States for revenue loss arising out of GST implementation for a period which may extend up to five years, he added.

Besides, petroleum and petroleum products would not come under the GST levy till a date recommended by the GST Council.

Once GST is implemented, the Centre and states will have concurrent power to levy tax on goods and service.

Congress wants Bill to be sent to panel

The Congress on Tuesday supported Goods and Services Tax (GST) in Lok Sabha but opposed some of the provisions of the bill on it introduced by the BJP government, demanding that it be sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee, which was supported by parties like AIADMK and BJD.

TMC said it was “broadly supporting” the bill while AIADMK said it was against it as Tamil Nadu ruled by it would lose over Rs 10000 crore due to the new tax structure.

Veerappa Moily (Cong), while initiating a debate on the Bill after Mr. Jaitley “beseeched” the opposition to help in its passage, said GST was revolutionary but he opposed some of its measures.

Mr. Jaitley rose to congratulate Moily over his support to GST. However, the Congress leader later made a strong plea to the government that it send the legislation to the Standing Committee for wider consultation.

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Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan today said the central bank is looking at allowing full capital account convertibility in a few years.

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10 April 11, 2015

The Hindu:

Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan today said the central bank is looking at allowing full capital account convertibility in a few years.

“My hope is that we will get to full capital account convertibility in a short number of years,” he said.

Full capital convertibility means a foreign investor can repatriate his money into his own local currency at will, which is not allowed in the country now.

Stating that the RBI is fairly open to capital inflows, the Governor said: “The only place today that we have some restrictions is inflows into debt, especially very short-term debt.

“I think most people would agree that opening up to short-term debt flows is usually not very clever for reasons of financial stability,” Rajan said while delivering Kale Memorial Lecture at the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics here.

Rajan’s comment on full capital convertibility assumes importance as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today launched the country’s first international finance centre in Gujarat. Full rupee convertibility can go a long way in the effective functioning this global financial services hub.

It may be noted that many analysts had credited the RBI for its policy of partial capital control, which helped it tide over the impacts of the currency meltdown that many South Asian economies which had full capital convertibility in 1997-98.

In May-August 2013, capital control helped the country from going to the dumps following the taper talks by the US Fed. Even then the country saw as many as over USD 20 billion being pulled out of the country by foreign investors.

Following the June 1991 liberalisation, the government and the RBI have been progressively lifting curbs on capital flows, which saw the FII investment into domestic debt rise to USD 31 billion now.

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India’s first IFSC becomes operational

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10 April 11, 2015

The Hindu:

India’s first IFSC becomes operational

India’s first International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) at GIFT City near here became operational on Friday. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley unveiled rules and regulations for this global financial hub.

Jaitley also attacked the previous UPA government for being “lethargic” in giving permission to the IFSC.

“Luckily, as soon as the government changed, things started moving fast and the new government has given all the due permissions. As a result, IFSC has now formally become operational from Friday. I am confident it will provide a huge lift to the economy of Gujarat as well as of the country,” he said.

The regulations are aimed at creating a vibrant IFSC on the lines of those in Dubai and Singapore and check the flight of trading in rupee and Indian securities to such offshore financial hubs.

IFSC rules allow companies incorporated outside India to raise money in foreign currencies by issuance and listing of their equity shares on stock exchanges within the IFSC, where individual and institutional investors from India and abroad, including NRIs, would be allowed to trade.

The IFSC regulatory regime allows Indian and foreign stock exchanges to set up separate bourses within IFSC as subsidiaries, while market entities from India and abroad would be allowed to operate there by providing issuance and trading in depository receipts and debt securities of domestic as well as overseas companies.

The capital and other requirements have been relaxed for some time for exchanges, clearing corporations and depositories to set shop in the IFSC.

Mutual funds and Alternative Investment Funds set up in the IFSC can also invest in the securities listed there.

Speaking at a conference on ‘Regulatory Framework for IFSC in India’, Jaitley said proposal for IFSC had been sent to UPA government by the state in 2011, but “due to the lethargic attitude of that government, we have to wait for three years to realise that idea” and it “contributed in bringing down India’s growth rate”.

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