Agriculture Infrastructure Fund
The Union Cabinet has given its approval to a new pan India Central Sector Scheme-Agriculture Infrastructure Fund.
The scheme shall provide a medium – long term debt financing facility for investment in viable projects for post-harvest management Infrastructure and community farming assets through interest subvention and financial support.
What is the scheme?
- Under the scheme, Rs. One Lakh Crore will be provided by banks and financial institutions as loans to Primary Agricultural Credit Societies (PACS), Marketing Cooperative Societies, Farmer Producers Organisations (FPOs), Self Help Group (SHG), Farmers, Joint Liability Groups (JLG), Multipurpose Cooperative Societies, Agri-entrepreneurs, Startups, Aggregation Infrastructure Providers and Central/State agency or Local Body sponsored Public Private Partnership Project.
- Loans will be disbursed in four years starting with sanction of Rs. 10,000 crore in the current year and Rs. 30,000 crore each in next three financial years.
- All loans under this financing facility will have interest subvention of 3% per annum up to a limit of Rs. 2 crore. This subvention will be available for a maximum period of seven years.
- Further, credit guarantee coverage will be available for eligible borrowers from this financing facility under Credit Guarantee Fund Trust for Micro and Small Enterprises (CGTMSE) scheme for a loan up to Rs. 2 crore. The fee for this coverage will be paid by the Government.
- In case of FPOs the credit guarantee may be availed from the facility created under FPO promotion scheme of Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers Welfare (DACFW).
- Moratorium for repayment under this financing facility may vary subject to minimum of 6 months and maximum of 2 years.
- The National, State and District level Monitoring Committees will be set up to ensure real-time monitoring and effective feed-back.
- The duration of the Scheme shall be from FY2020 to FY2029 (10 years).
- The Project by way of facilitating formal credit to farm and farm processing-based activities is expected to create numerous job opportunities in rural areas.
- Agri Infra fund will be managed and monitored through an online Management Information System (MIS) platform.
- It will enable all the qualified entities to apply for loan under the fund. The online platform will also provide benefits such as transparency of interest rates offered by multiple banks, scheme details including interest subvention and credit guarantee offered, minimum documentation, faster approval process as also integration with other scheme benefits.
Affordable Rental Housing Complexes
The Union Cabinet has given its approval for developing of Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (AHRCs) for urban migrants/poor as a sub-scheme under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Urban (PMAY-U).
What is the scheme?
- Existing vacant government funded housing complexes will be converted in ARHCs through Concession Agreements for 25 years.
- Concessionaire will make the complexes liveable by repair/retrofit and maintenance of rooms and filling up infrastructure gaps like water, sewer/ septage, sanitation, road etc.
- States/UTs will select concessionaire through transparent bidding. Complexes will revert to ULB after 25 years to restart next cycle like earlier or run on their own.
- Special incentives like use permission, 50% additional FAR/FSI, concessional loan at priority sector lending rate, tax reliefs at par with affordable housing etc. will be offered to private/ public entities to develop ARHCs on their own available vacant land for 25 years.
Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs (MoHUA) has initiated an Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (ARHCs) for urban migrants/poor as a sub-scheme under Pradhan MantriAwasYojana (Urban). The scheme was announced by the Hon’ble Finance Minister on 14 May, 2020. This scheme seeks to fulfill the vision of ‘AtmaNirbhar Bharat.
About Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) –
- It envisions Housing for All by 2022 and it subsumed Rajiv Awas Yojana and Rajiv Rinn Yojana.
- It seeks to address the housing requirement of urban poor including slum dwellers through following programmes –
- Central assistance to Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and other implementing agencies for Slum rehabilitation with participation of private developers.
- Promotion of Affordable Housing for weaker section through Credit Linked Subsidy
- Affordable Housing in Partnership with Public & Private sectors
- Subsidy for beneficiary-led individual house construction
- It covers all 4041 statutory towns as per Census 2011 with focus on 500 Class I cities in three phases.
- Centre and state will be funding in the ratio of 75:25 and in case of North Eastern and special category States in the ratio of 90:10.
- Beneficiaries – Urban poor who does not own a pucca house, Economically Weaker Section (EWS) and Lower Income Groups (LIG – eligible only for credit linked subsidy scheme).
- States/UTs have flexibility to redefine the annual income criteria with the approval of Ministry.
- Under the mission, a beneficiary can avail of benefit of one component only.
- HUDCO and NHB have been identified as Central Nodal Agencies (CNAs) to channelize this subsidy to the lending institutions.
- Credit Linked Subsidy – It is an interest subsidy available to a loan amounts upto Rs 6 lakhs at the rate of 6.5% for tenure of 20 years or during tenure of loan whichever is lower.
- The houses will be allocated preferably in the name of Women in the family.
Note – The Credit Linked Subsidy Scheme (CLSS) for Middle Income Group (MIG) to be called CLSS for MIG I and MIG II, which was initially approved for implementation for the year 2017 has been extended up to March 2020. However, the government on May 14, 2020, announced the extension of the deadline for the affordable housing CLSS scheme for one year, that is, till March 2021.
The new category MIG, introduced recently, will further comprise of two slabs. The Middle Income Group (MIG) – I will comprise of households having an annual income between Rs 6,00,001 up to Rs 12,00,000.
And, the Middle Income Group (MIG) – II will comprise of households having an annual income between Rs.12,00,001 up to Rs.18,00,000. So, effectively anyone earning between Rs 6 lakh and Rs 18 lakh per annum can avail the benefits of subsidised loans provided other conditions are met.
Privately operated trains
Ministry of Railways has recently invited Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for private participation for operation of passenger train services over 109 Origin Destination (OD) pairs of routes through introduction of 151 modern Trains (Rakes).
- 151 Trains to be run by Private operators once the selection process is over, would be over and above the already existing trains .
- These trains are going to run on the routes where there the demand for trains are already higher than the existing capacity.
- The driver and guard of the trains will Railway officials. The safety clearance of trains will be done by Railways only.
- The 109 OD Pairs have been formed into 12 Clusters across the Indian Railway network. Each Train shall have a minimum of 16 coaches.
- The project would entail private sector investment of about Rs 30,000 crore. This is the first initiative of private investment for running Passenger Trains over Indian Railways network.
- Majority of Trains to be manufactured in India (Make in India). The private entity shall be responsible for financing, procuring, operation and maintenance of the trains.
- Trains shall be designed for a maximum speed of 160 kmph. There would be a substantial reduction in journey time. The running time taken by a train shall be comparable to or faster than the fastest train of Indian Railways operating in the respective route.
The objective of this initiative is to introduce modern technology rolling stock with reduced maintenance, reduced transit time, boost job creation, provide enhanced safety, provide world class travel experience to passengers, and also reduce demand supply deficit in the passenger transportation sector.
Terms of agreement –
- The Private Entity shall pay to Indian Railways fixed haulage charges, energy charges as per actual consumption and a share in Gross Revenue determined through a transparent bidding process.
- The operation of the trains by the private entity shall conform to the key performance indicators like punctuality, reliability, upkeep of trains etc.
Need for private trains –
- Indian Railways network is about 68,000 route kilometres. In the year 2018-19, the reserved passenger volume was 16% (0.59 billion) of the total originating non- suburban passengers (3.65 billion). Almost 8.85 crore of waitlisted passengers could not be accommodated.
- Ministry of Railways felt the requirement to introduce private participation in passenger train operation which will allow introduction of next generation technology and provision of higher service quality, ensuring use of improved coach technology and reduced journey time. In this direction, RFQ has been already invited to permit private entities to undertake passenger trains operations.
- The major trunk routes are saturated and operate at near full capacity. However, with planned commissioning of Dedicated Freight Corridors in 2021 and other infrastructural works, there would be availability of additional paths for operation of additional passenger services and it would therefore be possible to run additional services utilising modern trains proposed in the current initiative.
Selection of private entities –
- The private entities for undertaking the project would be selected through a two-stage competitive bidding process comprising of Request for Qualification (RFQ) and Request for Proposal (RFP).
- RFQ process will be for pre-qualification and shortlisting of the bidders will be based on their financial capacity, who will be required to offer share in the Gross Revenue at RFP stage (bid parameter) for undertaking the project.
Several real estate giants in Haryana have not deposited hundreds of crores of rupees worth mandatory External Development Charges (EDC) and Infrastructural Development Charges (IDC) for the residential and commercial colonies they have built across Haryana. In a bid to recover this massive sum — which the government further uses for infrastructure development — Haryana had been issuing notices to such defaulters. Samadhan-se-Vikas is a one-time settlement scheme for recovery of EDC.
What are EDC and IDC?
- The developer is supposed to pay External Development Charges (EDC) to civic authorities for maintenance of civic amenities within the periphery of the developed project including construction of roads, water and electricity supply, landscaping, maintenance of drainage and sewage systems, waste management etc. The EDC is decided by the civic authorities. In many cases, the developer collects it from home buyers, but does not pay it to civic authorities.
- Infrastructure Development Charges (IDC) is collected by the state government for development of major infrastructure projects across the state. These funds are utilised for socio-economic growth including construction of highways, bridges, and transportation network etc.
What does the new rules say?
- The new scheme is called ‘Samadhan se Vikas’. It is modelled on the central scheme of ‘Vivad se Vishwas-2020’.
- The scheme will be applicable to the full outstanding EDC including interest as well as penal interest.
- In case a coloniser deposits 100 per cent of the outstanding principal amount against EDC as well as 25 per cent of the accumulated interest and penal interest within six months from the date of notification of this scheme, the balance 75 per cent of the accumulated interest and penal interest shall be waived off.
- In case a coloniser deposits at least 50 per cent of the outstanding principal amount against EDC as well as 50 per cent of the accumulated interest and penal interest, within six months from the date of notification of this scheme, the balance 50 per cent of the accumulated interest and penal interest shall be waived off.
- The remaining 50 per cent of outstanding principal amount shall be recoverable in four six-monthly installments along with interest at the rate of 8 percent per annum on the delayed period and an additional 2 percent interest per annum on the default period. The first six months period for deposit of first installment shall start from the date of deposit of 50 per cent principal plus 50 per cent interest and penal interest component.
The Election Commission has announced that it will allow those above the age of 65 as well as those under home or institutional quarantine to vote using postal ballots during the Bihar elections. Opposition parties are unhappy with the move and termed it unconstitutional.
What is ‘postal voting’?
A restricted set of voters can exercise postal voting. Through this facility, a voter can cast her vote remotely by recording her preference on the ballot paper and sending it back to the election officer before counting.
Who can vote through postal ballots?
- Members of the armed forces like the Army, Navy and Air Force, members of the armed police force of a state (serving outside the state), government employees posted outside India and their spouses are entitled to vote only by post. In other words, they can’t vote in person.
- Voters under preventive detention can also vote only by post.
- Special voters such as the President of India, Vice President, Governors, Union Cabinet ministers, Speaker of the House and government officers on poll duty have the option to vote by post. But they have to apply through a prescribed form to avail this facility.
- Absentee voters – Recently, the Law Ministry, at the Election Commission’s behest, introduced a new category of ‘absentee voters’, who can now also opt for postal voting. These are voters employed in essential services and unable to cast their vote due to their service conditions. Currently, officials of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, Northern Railway (Passenger and Freight) Services and media persons are notified as absentee voters.
How postal ballot voting is done?
After receiving the postal ballot from the Election Commission, the voter can mark her preference with a tick mark or cross mark against the candidate’s name. They also have to fill up a duly attested declaration to the effect that they have marked the ballot paper. The ballot paper and the declaration are then placed in a sealed cover and sent back to the Returning Officer before the time fixed for the commencement of counting of votes.
Criticism of recent move –
The opposition has argued that allowing those aged 65 and above to vote by postal ballot violates secrecy in voting as a large segment of the population is uneducated and they might seek assistance from others at numerous stages, ending up disclosing their preferred candidate. This also exposes them to “administrative influence or influence by the Government or the ruling party”.
A Himalayan butterfly named golden birding is now India’s largest, a record the southern birding held for 88 years.
- With a wingspan of 194 mm, the female of the species is marginally larger than the southern birdwing (190 mm) that Brigadier William Harry Evans, a British military officer and lepidopterist, recorded in 1932. But the male golden birdwing (Troides aeacus) is much smaller at 106 mm.
- The hitherto largest Indian butterfly that Brigadier Evans recorded in 1932 was an individual of the southern birdwing (Troides minos), which was then treated as a subspecies of the common birdwing.
- The updated wingspan of three species — all from Uttarakhand — after the golden birdwing are the common windmill (Byasa polyeuctes) at 98 mm, the great windmill (Byasa dasarada) at 96 mm, and the common peacock (Papilio bianor) at 78 mm.
- The smallest is the quaker (Neopithecops zalmora) with a wingspan of 18 mm and forewing length of a mere 8 mm. The largest female golden birdwing’s forewing length is 90 mm.
USA has confirmed that it continues to encourage its allies and partners to forgo transactions with Russia that risk triggering sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
Why in news?
Recently, the Defence Acquisition Council approved the procurement of 21 MiG-29 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force (IAF), an upgrade for 59 of these Russian aircraft and the acquisition of 12 Su-30 MKI aircraft. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had discussed defence cooperation with Russia while on a visit to Moscow.
What is CAATSA?
- The Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), aims at taking punitive measures against Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
- The Act primarily deals with sanctions on the Russian oil and gas industry, defence and security sector, and financial institutions, in the backdrop of its military intervention in Ukraine and its alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections.
- The Act empowers the US President to impose at least five of 12 listed sanctions enumerated in Section 235 on persons engaged in a “significant transaction” with the Russian defence and intelligence sectors.
How CAATSA can impact India?
- Almaz-Antey Air and Space Defence Corporation JSC, the manufacturers of the S-400 system, are in the list of CAATSA sanctioned firms.
- If implemented stringently, CAATSA would impact Indian defence procurement from Russia.
- Apart from S-400s,India has procurements like 1135.6 frigates and Ka-226T helicopters as well as joint ventures like Indo Russian Aviation Ltd, Multi-Role Transport Aircraft Ltd and Brahmos Aerospace.
- It would also affect purchase of spares, components, raw materials and other assistance.
- The bulk of India’s military equipment is of Soviet/Russian origin including the nuclear submarine INS Chakra, the Kilo-class conventional submarine, the supersonic Brahmos cruise missile, the MiG and Sukhoi fighters, Mi helicopters, and the Vikramaditya aircraft carrier.