Union Cabinet approves policy guidelines to allow state entities to directly borrow bilateral loans
The Union Cabinet has approved the policy guidelines to permit financially sound State Government entities to borrow directly from bilateral ODA (Official development Assistance) partners for the purpose of implementing vital infrastructure projects. The approval is subject to fulfilment of certain conditions and all repayments of loans and interests to the funding agencies.
Salient highlights of new guidelines
1. The State government which gets the loan will furnish guarantee for the loan and the Government of India will provide counter guarantee for the loan.
2. The state entities can directly approach bilateral agencies and the funding would not fall under state FRBM target.
3. The eligibility criteria for state entities would be a revenue of over Rs 1,000 crore.
4. In case of infrastructure projects, the cost criteria will be Rs 5,000 crore.
Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh and Tripura chosen for Krishi Karman Awards, 2015-16
The Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has selected Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh and Tripura for the Krishi Karman awards for their record performance in the production of food grains during 2015-16. Apart from these states, Meghalaya would get commendation prize for total food grain production and would be given a cash award of Rs 1 crore.
Tamil Nadu has been chosen in large category (production more than 10 million tonnes), Himachal Pradesh in medium category (1 to 10 million tonnes) and Tripura in small category (less than 1 million tonnes).
Union Cabinet decides to ban use of red beacon by VIPs from May 1
The Union Cabinet has put a ban on the use of red beacons atop cars of VIPs. Only three categories were exempted from the ban. They are the President, Vice-President and Chief Justice of India. The exemption also applies to the emergency service vehicles. Accordingly, fire brigade, ambulance services, police vehicles and other emergency services will be allowed to use the blue beacon. The decision will come into force from May 1, 2017. In effect, the ban is applicable to the prime minister, union ministers, chief ministers, state cabinet ministers, bureaucrats and judges of the High Court and Supreme Court. The decision was taken to end VIP culture.
Union Cabinet clears Election Commission’s proposal to buy VVPAT machines
The Union Cabinet has cleared the Election Commission’s proposal to buy new Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines. The machines are expected to be used in the 2019 General Elections. The Union Cabinet has permitted the Election Commission (EC) to procure 16,15,000 units, at an estimated base price of Rs. 3,173.47 crore. So far, EC has sent at least 11 reminders to the Centre seeking funds for procuring VVPAT machines.
– Significance The usage of VVPAT machines of the Election Commission is expected to ensure free and fair elections. In the VVPAT system, when a voter presses the button for a candidate of his choice in the electronic voting machines (EVM), a paper ballot containing the serial number, the name of the candidate and poll symbol will be printed for the voter. The voters will be able to view the voter-verifiable paper audit trail slip for seven seconds after which it will get deposited in a sealed box. VVPAT machines can be regarded as an independent verification system as it (i) allows voters to verify that their votes are cast correctly, (ii) detects possible election fraud or malfunction and (iii) Provides a means to audit the stored electronic results.
Chinese President announces military restructure of PLA
Chinese President Xi Jinping has announced a restructure of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with an aim to make it as a leaner fighting force with enhanced joint operations capability. President Xi Jinping is the chair of the Central Military Commission, and also commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
The new structure of PLA will have 84 units. All the 84 units will be at the combined-corps level so that the commanders will hold the rank of major-general or rear-admiral. The members of the units would likely be regrouped from existing forces. All the 84 units will be placed under 15 agencies. The military restructure will be carried out by placing greater emphasis on new capabilities including cyberspace, electronic and information warfare.
South-West Monsoon to be normal: IMD
The India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) has predicted a normal monsoon this year with a rainfall of 96% of the long-period average (LPA). Rainfall between 96% and 104% of LPA is considered as normal. The country had to suffer back-to-back droughts in 2014 and 2015. In 2016, rainfall received was 3% less than the 89 cm average despite IMD’s prediction of ‘above normal’ rains. IMD will come up with the regional forecasts in early June.
Global economy to grow 3.5% in 2017: IMF
The IMF has predicted that the global economy would grow at 3.5% in 2017, up from 3.1 % last year, and 3.6% in 2018. This year’s projection of IMF is marginally higher than what was stated in their last update. The improvement in this year’s projection springs up from good economic news in Europe and Asia, notably from China and Japan. As per IMF, momentum in the global economy has been building up since the middle of the last year making it reaffirm its previous forecasts of higher growth for this year and next year.
Donald Trump signs executive order tightening H1-B visa programme
Donald Trump has signed an executive order to enforce and review the H-1B visa programme. He has ordered the country’s federal agencies to tighten the H-1B visa programme, widely used to bring high-skilled foreign workers to the US. This order is aimed at fulfilling his campaign pledges to put “America First”. In the document titled “Buy American and Hire American” order, Trump seeks to make modifications in government procurement that would give a push for purchases of American products in federal contracts. Earlier, Trump’s administration had rolled out policy shifts to clamp down on H-1B visa programme. It included a warning to employers not to discriminate against US workers.
H-1B visa programme is accused of taking away jobs from Americans. Also, Trump wants a more merit-based way of giving visas to highly skilled workers instead of the present lottery system. In his new order, trump has asked agencies to propose ideas to direct visas to the most skilled and highly paid applicants without resorting to the lottery system. In fact, several bills have been proposed in Congress to end the lottery system.
The move is a deterrent to Indian IT companies which sends a huge number of software engineers to the US on H1-B visas. As per a report published by Bloomberg, companies like Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp and Mphasis Corp. would likely have fewer visas approved once the changes proposed by Trump are adopted.
The ‘H’ visas are for temporary workers. The H1B Visas are for foreign skilled workers in occupations that generally require higher education, including science, engineering or computer programming. The H1B visas are given through a lottery system. Every year, the US government awards 65,000 H1B visas and randomly distributes another 20,000 to graduate student workers.