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PM CARES Fund received Rs 3,076 crore in 5 days from India, abroad

NEW DELHI: PM CARES Fund was started with an initial corpus of Rs 2.25 lakh and received over Rs 3,076 crore as contributions from India and abroad within the first five days of it being set up.

This has been revealed by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in the first audited ‘receipts and payments account’ of PM CARES for the financial year 2019-20. The same has been audited by the chartered accountant firm SARC & Associates and signed on by four officials from the PMO on behalf of the fund, which was set up on March 27.

It has not been specified who contributed towards the initial corpus. The first trustees of the fund are Prime Minister Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah and finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, all in ex-officio capacity. Three more trustees can be appointed by the PM who is the chairperson.

The audited statement mentions accompanying notes to the financial statement, regarding the domestic and foreign contributions but those have not been made public. Names of the contributors are also not in the public domain. Such accompanying notes and names of contributors are also not made public regarding the PM National Relief Fund (PMNRF) in the audited statements.

The statement of the PM CARES Fund mentions Rs 3075.85 crore was received as voluntary contributions and Rs 39.67 lakh as foreign contributions till March 31. The fund earned an interest of Rs 35.32 lakh on these amounts. The statement mentions that the fund paid Rs 2,049 as service tax on Forex conversion and had a closing balance of Rs 3076.62 crore as on March 31.

On May 13, Rs 3,100 crore was allocated from the PM CARES Fund for the supply of 50,000 ‘Made in India’ ventilators to government hospitals for migrant labourers and for vaccine development. Earlier this month, the PMO had said the money has also been allocated to set up two 500-bed Covid-19 hospitals in Bihar.

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State’s economy will see revival by the third and fourth quarter: Himanta Biswa Sarma

GUWAHATI: Assam finance minister,Himanta Biswa Sarma said that by the third and fourth quarter the economy will be revived, adding that the state government will come out with a compensation package to assist those affected by the Covid-induced lockdown by November this year.

Sarma, while speaking on the appropriation bill in the state assembly on Tuesday, said: “In first two quarters the economy was affected. The GST collection in April this year was just Rs 150 Crore, it was down by 90 percent. But from April to July, against the projected GST collection of Rs 960 crore, we have managed to collect Rs 600 crore.”

A report prepared by State Innovation and Transformation Aayog (SITA) on the economy has claimed fall in the growth rate and rise in unemployment. This department comes under the Transformation and Development department and Sarma is the minister incharge of this department. The report was submitted in assembly on Monday.

Sarma said, “Although SITA comes under my department, we will have to see how realistic the report is. It was academic work and we did not interfere with it and the report was submitted.”

Stating that the economy of Assam is largely driven by the government spending, the finance minister stated, “Like we managed the COVID-19 situation, we will be able to manage the economy. Assam is among the few states where employees did not have to take pay cuts and even the austerity measures announced will be withdrawn in next seven days.”

Sarma announced that the government is preparing a scheme under which compensation will be provided to those who suffered losses during lockdown. “We plan to roll out the scheme by November or December. The scheme is yet to be discussed in the state cabinet.”

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Rahul Gandhi hits out at government for ignoring demand for NEET-JEE postponement

New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday alleged that the Modi government has ignored the “genuine concerns” of JEE and NEET aspirants, who have been demanding postponement of the entrance exam, due to its “arrogance” and is jeopardising India’s future.

Gandhi’s attack came on a day the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE)-Mains for admission to engineering colleges began amid stringent precautions and social distancing measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Congress party and Gandhi have been supporting the demand by a section for postponement of JEE and NEET exams in the wake of the rising number of coronavirus cases.

The JEE exam which has been postponed twice in view of the COVID-19 pandemic will be held between September 1 and 6.

“Modi Government is jeopardising India’s future. Arrogance is making them ignore the genuine concerns of the JEE-NEET aspirants as well as the demands of those who took SSC and other exams. Give jobs, not empty slogans,” Gandhi said on Twitter.

He also used the hashtag “SpeakUpForSSCRailwayStudents” while raising the cause of students who have taken the Staff Selection Commission exams but their results are yet to be out.

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also raised the issue.

“The SSC and Railways have withheld the results of many examinations for years. Someone’s result is stuck, while someone else’s exams are delayed,” she said.

“Till when will the government test the patience of youth, for how long? The government should listen to the youth. The youth need jobs, not speeches,” she said in a tweet in Hindi.

She called for the declaration of Combined Graduate Level Examination (CGLE) results held by the Staff Selection Commission.

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India’s factory activity grows for first time in five months in August

Manufacturing activity in India grew in August for the first time in five months led by a rebound in domestic demand

as lockdown restrictions eased though firms continued to cut jobs, a private survey showed on Tuesday.

The IHS Markit India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI)

rose to 52 in August from 46 in July, above the 50-level reading that separates growth from contraction.

Official data released Monday showed that India’s gross domestic product (GDP) contracted 23.9% in the June quarter from a year ago because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown that followed. Manufacturing shrank 39.3% in the quarter.

“August data highlighted positive developments in the health of the Indian manufacturing sector, signalling moves towards a recovery from the second quarter downturn. The pick-up in demand from domestic markets gave rise to upturns in production and input buying,” said Shreeya Patel, Economist at IHS Markit.

As per the survey report, for the first time since March, output expanded in the Indian manufacturing sector in August. Production growth was largely driven by greater client demand for Indian goods following the resumption of business operations.

“However, not all was positive in August, delivery times lengthened to another marked rate amid ongoing Covid-19 disruption,” Patel said.

The decline in foreign exports weighed slightly on overall new orders as firms cited subdued demand conditions from abroad. That said, new business received by Indian manufacturers expanded at the fastest pace since February.

Jobs, sentiment

Meanwhile, employment continued to fall despite signs of capacity pressures, as firms struggled to find suitable workers.

“Despite an expansion in new orders, job shedding continued in the Indian manufacturing sector,” IHS said, adding that the relocation of employees following Covid-19 was often linked to the reduction in staffing numbers. The pace of contraction in workforce numbers softened from that seen in July but remained strong overall.

Looking ahead, Indian manufacturers remained optimistic for the next 12 months. Positive sentiment was often attributed to hope of the passing of Covid-19 pandemic, improving client demand, and new business wins. Nevertheless market uncertainty and the onset of a global recession weighed slightly on the degree of confidence which was below the series average in August.

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Five held for fraudulently withdrawing money from Assam Chief Minister’s Relief Fund

GUWAHATI: Five persons were arrested from Uttar Pradesh for fraudulently withdrawing money from Assam Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.

Accordingly, on receipt of instruction, on August 12, Rosie Kalita, Superintendent of Police, Chief Minister’s Special Vigilance Cell, Assam filed an FIR in the Vigilance Police Station. During investigation, it was found that some amounts was fraudulently withdrawn by cheques in the states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh by forging the cheques and signatures of Chief Minister of Assam.

Police in a statement stated, “On 27th of August, a team of 7 officers of Chief Minister’s Special Vigilance Cell went and raided some remote areas of Gorakhpur and Basti districts of Uttar Pradesh and apprehended 5 accused persons. During interrogation they admitted to have committed the offence and also said that they had committed the same from other states”

Police added that they are forwarded to the Special Court and brought on remand for 10 days. It was completely a covert operation so that the culprits do not get alerted. Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal himself monitored the case on a daily basis and gave the SP, Special Vigilance Cell deadline of 15 days to crack the case, and the team could apprehend the culprits within the time frame. It was a huge operation carried out with the support of Chief Minister’s Office Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister’s Office, Assam, UP police.

Police said that the government money fraudulently withdrawn was refunded by the State Bank of India as there were faults on their part. “This is a wakeup call for all the State Governments of India to secure the Government funds as there are huge credit balances in the accounts and very less monitoring and auditing of the funds, and this is taken as an advantage by the criminals who had been involved in fraudulent withdrawal of money from government funds across the country”.

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Tax: Delhi High Court restricts tax authorities from issuing show cause notices to banks

The Delhi High Court has restricted the tax authorities from issuing show cause notices to 13 banks for not levying service tax on the commitment to maintain ‘minimum average balance’ (MAB) in bank accounts.

While the government has sought that show cause notices to the banks should prevail, the banks contended that if show cause notices were allowed, they will have to provision nearly Rs 50,000 crore as tax and penalty in their books as per accounting practices. This will ‘wreak havoc on the banking industry,’ the banks had argued in court.

“Though we have heard the counsels for the respondents, but we have not been able to find any reply to the first of the aforesaid contentions,” Justices Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and Asha Menon said after hearing both parties on August 28.

“In the circumstances, it is not deemed apposite to alter the interim order,” they said, effectively extending the stay issued by the Court in July 2019. The matter will be heard next on September 11.

Experts said that authorities have created a fictitious tax demand on services that have been provided free of cost by overstretching the reach of legal provisions. “Taxing any part of services without consideration, would set a wrong jurisprudence, which would have a rollover effect in goods and service tax (GST) also,” said Rajat Mohan, senior partner at AMRG Associates.

In July last year, the tax authorities had issued notices to 13 banks to pay service tax on minimum balance, amounting to Rs 38,000 crore, for “treating the commitment of customers to maintain MAB in bank accounts as a consideration for banking facilities provided free”.

The banks, including State Bank of India, Punjab National Bank, Yes Bank, HDFC, Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank among others approached the Delhi High Court for relief. HDFC Bank Limited was reported to have been facing a penalty of up to Rs 18,000 crore.

They had claimed that the government had arbitrarily decided on the service tax to be charged from them by multiplying the penalty imposed by the banks with the total number of accounts held with the bank. The show-cause notices issued by the government had been stayed till further hearing.

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July core sector shrinks 9.6% versus 12.9% contraction in June

Amid a graded easing of lockdowns, core sector shrank at a slower speed in July than in June, according to data released on Friday.

The core sector contracted 9.6 per cent in the month of July, an improvement over the the – 12.9 per cent contraction seen a month ago.

This is the fifth month of contraction on run for the eight core industries.

A similar trend was observed a month earlier too, with June infra growth slowing at a less rapid pace compared to May.

In June, the index of eight core sector industries had fallen by 15 per cent compared to a 22 per cent slip in May. For April, the decline was 37 per cent.

The eight industries are coal, crude oil, natural gas, refinery products, fertiliser, steel, cement and electricity. These together have a 40 per cent weight in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP).

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GDP numbers out today: India’s economy faces worst quarterly slump ever after lockdown

India’s economy likely suffered its largest quarterly slump on record, data is expected to show on Monday, as coronavirus-related lockdowns add to already-declining consumer demand and investment.

Economists in a Reuters poll predicted that gross domestic product in world’s fifth-largest economy will contract by 18.3% in the June quarter, compared to 3.1% growth in the previous quarter, the worst performance in at least eight years.

The same economists predict a contraction of 8.1% and 1.0% in the September and December quarters respectively, which would dash any hopes of an economic recovery this year.

India has reported over three and a half million cases of the novel coronavirus – third behind only the United States and Brazil.

Continuing restrictions on transport, educational institutions and restaurants – and weekly lockdowns in some states – have hit manufacturing, services and retail sales, while keeping millions of workers out of jobs.

Shilan Shah, India economist at Capital Economics, Singapore, said in a note on Friday the economic damage caused by pandemic-related lockdowns was much worse in India than any other country in Asia.

“Timely indicators show that the post-lockdown recovery is now stalling, underscoring the long and difficult road ahead for India’s economy,” said Shah, who is predicting a 15% contraction in June quarter.

Some private economists said the fiscal year that began in April could see a contraction of nearly 10%, the worst performance since India won independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a $266 billion stimulus package in May, including credit guarantees on bank loans and free food grains to poor people, but consumer demand and manufacturing are yet to recover.

The Reserve Bank of India, which has reduced the benchmark repo rate by a total of 115 basis points since February, kept rates on hold earlier this month amid rising inflation.

Policymakers said federal and state governments are unable to increase spending, following a more than 40% fall in tax receipts in the June quarter.

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Trump administration halts election security briefings

WASHINGTON: The United States’ top intelligence office told lawmakers it will end in-person briefings on election security because there had been leaks from congressional committees, officials said on Saturday.

The move drew heated rejoinders from Democrats who have focused on foreign efforts to sway the presidential election in 2016 and again this year.

President Donald Trump‘s new director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, notified the House and Senate intelligence panels on Friday that the office would send written reports instead, giving lawmakers less opportunity to press for details as the Nov. 3 election approaches. An official in Ratcliffe’s office, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it was “concerned about unauthorised disclosures of sensitive information following recent briefings.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decried the move. “This is a shocking abdication of its lawful responsibility to keep the Congress currently informed, and a betrayal of the public’s right to know how foreign powers are trying to subvert our democracy,” she said in a statement.

Ratcliffe’s office had offered to hold in-person briefings for the House and Senate oversight panels next month, even after concerns surfaced about leaks from previous meetings, a House committee official said. It later rescinded the offer.

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UK’s Sunak considers sweeping tax hikes to plug COVID-19 hole, newspapers say

LONDON: British finance minister Rishi Sunak is considering a sweeping set of tax increases to help fix the huge hole in the public finances left by the coronavirus pandemic, two newspapers said.

Tax hikes suggested by Treasury officials could raise an extra 20-30 billion pounds a year, the Telegraph and the Sunday Times reported, and some of them could be announced in an autumn budget statement by Sunak.

However, officials working for Prime Minister Boris Johnson are fiercely opposed to a major tax raid on wealthier voters and want to consider spending cuts instead, the Telegraph said.

Britain’s public debt has passed 2 trillion pounds ($2.7 trillion), pushed up by emergency spending on Sunak’s coronavirus job retention scheme, tax cuts for businesses and consumers and even a dining-out subsidy to coax people back into restaurants.

Sunak has previously said some taxes will need to rise over the medium term.

But he is under pressure to provide more support for employers when the job retention scheme – under which the state has paid 80% of salaries for most workers kept on in their jobs – expires at the end of October.

The reported tax increases under consideration ranged from a sharp jump in corporation tax – which is currently far below the international average – cutting incentives for private pension contributions and increasing capital gains tax rates.

The Sunday Times said a reduction in foreign aid was under consideration. The Telegraph said officials were considering an end to a freeze on fuel duty and a tax for online retailers.

The Sunday Times said Sunak was considering a proposal to boost the corporation tax rate to 24% from 19% to raise 12 billion pounds next year, rising to 17 billion in 2023-24.

A Treasury spokesman said: “We do not comment on speculation about tax changes ahead of fiscal events.”

Limit ‘scarring’

Stephen Barclay, chief secretary to the Treasury, declined to comment specifically on any of the measures floated.

He told Times Radio: “The real objective is to reduce the economic scarring from COVID … The more we can limit that economic scarring then obviously the more flexibility that will give us as we go into the budget.”

Britain’s economy shrank by a record 20% in the second quarter, the largest decline of any big country. There have been signs of a bounce-back but unemployment is expected to rise sharply as the job retention scheme is wound down.

Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank, said it was too soon to raise taxes because of the uncertainty over the economy. The economy also faces a possible shock if London and Brussels fail to strike a trade deal soon on the relationship with the European Union once a Brexit transition period expires at the end of the year.

“The trick they need to play in this budget is to get the right level of stimulus as opposed to the reverse, whilst persuading people that they are taking seriously the need to deal with the deficit in the medium run,” he told The Telegraph.

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