Current Affair 21-22 March 2017

Rajya Sabha passes bill to ensure rights of HIV and AIDS patients

NEW DELHI: The HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014, aimed at ensuring equal rights while seeking treatment, education and job by people living with HIV, was passed by the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.

Image Rajya Sabha passes bill to ensure rights of HIV and AIDS
The Bill also assumes significance as it protects such people from specific acts of discrimination by the state, or any other person. It also lays down penal provisions for any discrimination practised against a person with HIV/AIDS and breach of confidentiality.
Under the Bill, central and state governments are obliged to provide for anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and management of opportunistic infections (infections that take advantage of weakness in the immune system and occur frequently).
The protection mandated in the Bill extends to the fields of employment, healthcare services, educational services, public facilities, property rights, holding public office, and insurance.
Though the Bill was initially introduced in the Parliament by the UPA government, the amendments to the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014 were revived by the Modi government in July last year.
Since then the health ministry has made various changes to the original Bill to address several concerns raised by the HIV community as well as state governments. For instance, the Bill now makes anti-retro-viral treatment a legal right for all HIV/AIDS patients. It has also adopted "test and treat" policy which means any person testing positive will be entitled for free treatment by the state and central government. Earlier, this was restricted by a CD4 count rate.
It also provides for confidentiality of HIV-related information and makes it necessary to get informed consent for undertaking HIV tests, medical treatment and research. The Bill, moved by health minister J P Nadda, was passed in the Upper House by a voice vote.
During the debate on the measure, many members suggested amending the Section 14(1) of the bill, to remove the phrase "as far as possible" for providing medical treatment by the Centre and the states to those infected with HIV and AIDS.
In his reply to the debate, Nadda said "I would like to inform the House that while making the rules, we will ensure that nobody is denied treatment and we are committed to provide medical treatment to all those living with HIV or AIDS. We are going with an aggressive policy."
However, civil society organisations raised concerns against the "as far as possible" clause and said this will "dilute" the provision and allow state governments to deny treatment to many patients.
Stressing the government's commitment to the issue, the Nadda said "India will treat anyone with HIV and AIDS."
He added the rules will have provision to provide justification for denying treatment to the patients.
A large number of members were of the view that the phrase 'as far possible' would defeat the purpose of the bill as it provides a leeway to the Center and the states.
The section says: "The measures to be taken by the Central or State Governments under Section 13 shall include measures for providing as far as possible, anti-retro-viral therapy and opportunistic management to people living with HIV or AIDS."
On the members concern over insufficient allocation for National AIDS Control Programme, Nadda said Rs 2,000 crore has been allocated for this year and there is no question of reducing funds for this central scheme.
Congress member Jairam Ramesh had said during the debate that the government has provided Rs 2,000 crore for the scheme for 2017-18 which should be raised to higher levels.
On the issue of infection from blood sourced from various blood banks, Nadda said the government is giving special attention to this issue and the number of such cases have come down drastically.
The Bill also provides for fast tracking of cases relating to HIV positive persons by courts on a priority basis. In any legal proceeding, if an HIV infected or affected person is a party, the court may pass orders that the proceedings be conducted (a) by suppressing the identity of the person, (b) in camera, and (c) to restrain any person from publishing information that discloses the identity of the applicant. When passing any order with regard to a maintenance application filed by an HIV infected or affected person, the court shall take into account the medical expenses incurred by the applicant.

Now, single entrance test NEET must for all Ayush courses

The National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test (NEET) will now apply to Ayush courses as well. From the coming academic year, students will have to write the single entrance test for admissions in the undergraduate Ayush (Indian System of Medicine and Homeopathy) courses across the nation.
Also, there will be no NRI or management quota in Ayush courses anymore and all the seats will be filled up by the state government considering only NEET rankings. Courses under Ayush include Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Unani, Yoga and Naturopathy In Karnataka, there are at least 76 colleges offering Ayush courses, of which five are government, five private aided and the rest are private unaided colleges. The total number of seats available under these courses is 3,890, of which 700 are government quota seats.
The Central Council of Indian Medicine (CCIM), which took the decisions, has asked the state governments to comply with the Ayush ministry’s decision. Karnataka Examinations Authority (KEA) held a preliminary meeting with state Ayush department officials on Friday. As per the decision, application process for Ayush courses, which is currently on, will have to be stopped. The letter sent by the CCIM reads: “In order to bring meritorious students to the Ayush system of medicine in the country through National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), a decision has been taken that the entrance exams being conducted by the private associations be stopped from the academic session 2017-18 and all UG seats be filled by considering the merit list of NEET.” The Union AYUSH ministry took the decision to bring AYUSH courses under the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test (NEET) too, after considering the request/proposals submitted by various states, including Karnataka.
In December 2016, Union ministry had sent a communication to all the state AYUSH departments seeking an opinion about bringing AYUSH under NEET. The Karnataka AYUSH department said the state has no objection to it. The removal of quotas has been welcomed too. According to KEA officials, colleges offering AYUSH courses used to fill up seats on their own despite government quota. “There are several instances where AYUSH colleges filled 80% of seats and just gave 20% to the government.
This decision will put an end to all such irregularities,” a senior official said. Predictably, the colleges are unhappy. A management representative of a college which offers AYUSH courses told Express, “When NRI and management quotas for medical and dental courses are being allowed, why are we being barred? Let them conduct entrance test and give rankings. But, they should allow us to retain NRI and management quota.” However, students and KEA are happy with the Centre’s decision as it will put an end to delay in admissions to Ayush courses. According to KEA officials,”Every year, we beg the AYUSH department officials for a seat matrix to conduct counselling for the courses. This has become a habit and the counselling and admissions are delayed by at least two months.
The process which is supposed to conclude in June drags on till October.” Though the counselling was delayed during CET 2014 as well as 2015, the demand for AYUSH courses did not go down. In 2014, of the 820 Ayurveda seats, 809 were allotted. In homoeopathy, the availability was 248 and only two seats remained vacant. Under the Unani course, the number of seats available was 73 of which 70 were allotted. In naturopathy, 79 were available and 73 were filled. In 2015, the total seats available under AYUSH courses were 1,261 and all the seats were allotted through the matrix. Counselling was conducted in September-end.As the process for submitting applications for NEET and CET both are on, both the authorities have to now issue a separate notification. NEET has to include AYUSH and generates an application where there will be an option for AYUSH along with Medical and Dental courses.

$23 bn. telecom firm will be led by Kumar Mangalam Birla; will have a consumer market share of 35%

Idea Cellular, the Kumar Mangalam Birla-led telecommunications major, agreed on Monday to merge with the Indian unit of the U.K.-headquartered Vodafone Plc, making it a $23 billion giant.

The merged entity becomes India’s largest mobile telephony and data service provider with 39.25 crore customers, ahead of current market leader Airtel, which has a 26.44 crore user base. Both figures are provided by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

Brand strategy

A joint statement issued by Vodafone and Idea said the combined company would have a 35% customer market share and 41% revenue market share. It said that the brand strategy for the new firm “will be developed in due course” and “will leverage customers’ affinity for both existing brands, built up over the past decade.”

Kumar Mangalam Birla will be the chairperson of the merged entity. The move, though not surprising, has stoked rumours that the current tariff war, initiated by the Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio’s entry into the high-speed data market in 2016, will possibly come to an end in the near future.

Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, said, “There is currently a tariff war in the market which may not be sustainable for long. This has also severely impacted the revenue stream of operators, not just in terms of an increase in cost but also in terms of a marked decline in the revenue stream. All these have put the financial condition of this industry at risk and increased the debt to Rs. 4.3 lakh crore, also leading to a severe decline in government revenues from the industry.”

He said that in contrast to 13 operators a few years ago, the Indian mobile telecom market is down to “four or five operators.” “Due to the poor financial health of the sector, we are witnessing mergers, acquisitions and combinations of companies like Idea and Vodafone, Aircel and R Comm and MTS. Other companies such as Videocon and Etisalat have already left the industry because of this hyper-competitive pressure,” he added.

Investment experts said the largest consolidation in the highly competitive Indian telecommunications space will test the ability of both Vodafone and Idea to jointly operate the combined entity as equal partners.

S.P. Tulsian, a leading investment adviser told the The Hindu , on Monday that even as the companies claim it is a “merger of equals”, Idea will have to buy 4.9% stake in Vodafone for Rs. 3,900 crore ($579 million) in cash when the merger completes, to increase the Aditya Birla Group stake to 26%.

“Besides, the company will have to spend another Rs. 9,000 crore to bring its stake at par with Vodafone in the combined entity. So, it’s not a merger of equals.”

In a statement on Monday, Aditya Birla Group chairperson Kumar Mangalam Birla said, “For Idea shareholders and lenders who have supported us thus far, this transaction is highly accretive, and Idea and Vodafone will together create a very valuable company given our complementary strengths.”

Aadhaar must to file I-T returns and apply for PAN card; cap on cash transaction lowered to Rs 2 lakh


The government decided on Tuesday to lower the limit on cash transaction from Rs 3 lakh to Rs 2 lakh, and make Aadhaar number mandatory for filing income tax returns and applying for a PAN card.

The decisions were part of amendments moved to the finance bill, which puts into effect the Budget proposals.

The Budget 2017 had proposed cash transactions of more than Rs 3 lakh value be banned but the finance bill tabled on Tuesday lowers the ceiling, said revenue secretary, Hasmukh Adhia.

“The difference between demonetisation and this is that the former is used to destroy the stock of black money while the ban will prevent the future flow of black money. This limit will also reduce the quantum of cash transactions in the economy” Adhia had told HT.

To ensure a deterrent, the penalty for violation is equivalent to the amount transacted.

The amendments also make Aadhaar must for tax returns and PAN applications beginning July 1. Aadhaar enrolment number while filing ITR could also be accepted. Failing to declare Aadhaar may lead to PAN being deemed invalid.

The move is likely to roil activists who say the Aadhaar programme – the enrolment to a national database with biometric information such as fingerprints and iris scans – is meant to be voluntary, as declared by the SC in September last year.

“Aadhaar has been optional for ITR for a few years. The challenge will be for foreign nationals who pay taxes in India. We will have to see the amendment to understand its implications,” said Kuldip Kumar, leader, personal tax at PwC India. The amendment, however, says the government will specify exemptions for mandatory Aadhaar rule.

The finance bill carries an unprecedented 40 amendments, according to PTI, and will also impact other laws such as RBI act and representation of people act. Political parties hit out at the tweaks, saying they were being done as ‘backdoor entry’.

The finance bill is classified as a money bill, which does not require bicameral approval and can be approved by the Lok Sabha alone where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP has a majority.

The limit on cash transactions is in keeping with recommendations of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) on black money.

In addition to this limit, the Income Tax Act prohibits making or accepting payment of an advance of Rs 20,000 or more in cash for purchase of immovable property. PAN is also mandatory for any purchase of above Rs 1 lakh.

New crab species found climbing in Hong Kong trees

March 21 (UPI) -- Crabs do more than swim and scuttle across the beach. They climb trees.

Scientists found a new species of mangrove crab climbing in trees along the eastern coast of Hong Kong. Specimens were collected from branches between five and six feet high.

The species, Haberma tingkok, boasts a dark brown upper shell, or carapace. Its long, thin legs are light brown, and its claws, or chelipeds, are a brownish orange.

Mangrove crabs are quite small. The collected specimens measured between 8 and 9 millimeters in length, less than a third of an inch.

Scientists from the University of Hong Kong and the National University of Singapore described the new species in the journal ZooKeys.

The genus Haberma now contains three species. Peter Ng, a marine biologist at NUS and co-author of the latest study, established the genus 15 years ago and has aided to discovery of all three species.

The new species closest relatives are H. nanum and H. kamora.

The crabs were found "in the mid intertidal area of the Ting Kok mangrove stand, in Tolo Harbour," researchers wrote. "The area is the largest mangrove stand on the eastern coast of Hong Kong."

According to the scientists, Hong Kong's mangroves and the species they shelter are under threat from pollution and land reclamation projects.

Cabinet clears GST Bills to ensure rollout from July 2017


The Cabinet on Monday approved four draft laws on Goods and Services Tax (GST) needed to implement the country’s biggest tax regime from July 2017.

“The Bills will now be introduced in the Parliament any time this week,” a finance ministry official told Hindustan Times.

The Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, discussed threadbare the four draft legislation--Central GST (CGST), Integrated GST (IGST), Compensation Rule and Union territories GST (UT-GST) Bills--and approved them at a meeting.

The CGST Bill makes provisions for levy and collection of tax on intra-state supply of goods or services for both by the Central Government. On the other hand, IGST Bill makes provisions for levy and collection of tax on inter-state supply of goods or services or both by the Central Government. The UTGST Bill makes provisions for levy on collection of tax on intra-UT supply of goods and services in the Union Territories without legislature.

The Compensation Bill provides for compensation to the states for loss of revenue arising on account of implementation of the goods and services tax for a period of five years as per the Constitution (One Hundred and First Amendment) Act, 2016.

“The government is committed to early introduction of GST, one of the biggest reforms, in the country as early as possible,” an official statement said.

The GST Council has decided 1st July as the date of commencement of GST.

The GST legislation will be taken up as money bills in Parliament this budget session, which restarted on March 9 after a month-long recess. The Rajya Sabha can’t reject money bills as it only has powers to make recommendations on such legislation, which the Lok Sabha can choose to accept or reject.

The Narendra Modi government is racing against time to roll out GST from July, after successive governments have missed several deadlines.

The GST Council headed by finance minister Arun Jaitley has cleared all the five draft laws--CGST, IGST), Compensation Rule, SGST and Union Territory UT-GST bills in successive meetings in the past one month.

In the last meeting, the GST Council capped cess on demerit goods and luxury products at 15%.

The Modi government has been able to bring all states on board, overcoming almost a decade of political differences on how to replace a multi-layered set of central and state taxes and levies with a unified nationwide GST.

The ruling BJP’s victories in the latest assembly elections, especially in Uttar Pradesh, are expected to embolden the government to accelerate reforms and growth before the country heads for parliamentary polls in 2019.

The GST council has already approved two draft bills, for central and integrated GST. These will be tabled in Parliament and go to the states for ratification.

The unified tax will have four slabs of 5%, 12%, 18% and 28%. Farmers and small traders are exempt.

GST roll out is perceived to create a common market and help lower the tax burden, shore up government revenues, temper inflation and boost economic growth by at least two percentage points.

The passage of the bills will remove tax barriers, and subsume a host of indirect taxes levied by the Centre and the states, including excise, service, entertainment, entry, luxury and value-added taxes.