Government Working to Expand Digital Transactions at Great Pace, Says Jaitley

Asserting that the government is working to expand digital transaction at a great pace despite criticism, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday asked Opposition not to eulogise the virtues of cash as it leads to temptation for shadow economy.

Government Working to Expand Digital Transactions at Great Pace, Says Jaitley

“If an economy runs on cash, it is not credit to the country. …Cash gives temptation for shadow and parallel economy. …Don’t find fault with the system, don’t start singing the virtues of cash,” Jaitley said while intervening in the discussion on Motion of thanks to President’s Address in Rajya Sabha.

On Opposition’s criticism that the country does not have adequate infrastructure to support digital economy, Jaitley said that there are 1.5 lakh bank branches, 2.10 lakh ATMs and 1.25 lakh banking correspondents.

Besides, telecom companies have been licenced to act as payment banks in addition to Department of Posts which will further enhance financial inclusion, he added.

On concerns on additional cost associated with digital payments, Jaitley said there are several modes of payments including UPI and e-wallets.

“This expansion is taking place at a great pace,” he said. Jaitley said the technology has advanced so much that people can withdraw money without going to brick and mortar bank and asked the Opposition not to find faults with digital system.

“Don’t underestimate power of technology. Let us not underestimate this country,” he said and added that predominantly cash-based economy is not good for the country.

The Finance Minister said that cash leads to temptation for dealing in black money. “I can’t think of any country which propounds only cash transactions. Why are you sprouting virtues of cash?”

Stressing that demonetisation was not a sudden decision, he said the government had been working since assuming office in May 2014 to address the problem of black money.

In this context, he cited steps like review of double taxation agreements and amendments to Benami Act among others.

“This government has been working since day one to end black money which had become a part of life,” he said. He said that 2016 was a “historic” as the government amended its double taxation agreements with Singapore, Cyprus and Mauritius.

Jaitley also pointed out to Congress that the White Paper on black money by UPA government in 2012 itself had talked about vices of cash which leads to parallel economy, lesser revenue to the government and corruption.

The Finance Minister said it is true that terrorists don’t deal only in cash but it is a great enabler.

Fears rise over school places as secondaries battle the bulge

Families waiting to hear if their child has got into their first choice of secondary school this week are bracing themselves for disappointment amid warnings about a crisis in school places and growing anger at “inadequate” planning by government.

Tuesday is national offer day in England when half a million children in their final year of primary find out which secondary school they will go to in September, but parents are being warned many will not get their preferred choice as demand for places goes up.

Councils, which no longer have the powers to open new schools where required, say they will struggle to provide sufficient places as the population bulge which has been affecting primary schools in recent years begins to move up into secondary.

Last year, 84,000 families failed to get their first choice of secondary school – 7,000 up on the previous year – and Labour says the figure could rise again this year.

Fresh analysis by the party reveals the strain on the system, with one in six secondary schools already at or over capacity and forecasts of more than 300,000 additional secondary school pupils by 2020. Last year, 84,000 families failed to get their first choice of secondary school – 7,000 up on the previous year – and Labour says the figure could rise again this year.

Labour warns that the number of so-called “titan” secondaries – with pupil numbers in excess of 1,600 – could increase by more than a third by 2020, and many could get even bigger. There are already 27 secondary schools in England with more than 2,000 pupils and that trend looks set to continue.

The government is hoping its free schools programme will fill the gaps where there are shortages, but critics say they do not always open in the areas of greatest need and there may be a struggle to find sufficient sponsors to open new schools quickly enough.

Parts of London and other major cities, particularly Birmingham, will be the most severely affected again this year. In Birmingham, more than 30% of children failed to get into their top choice last year. Nationally, 84.2% got their first choice.

Councillor Brigid Jones, cabinet member for Birmingham children’s services, said the current system was a mess. “As a local authority we need to ensure there are school places where they are needed across the city, but we lack the powers to do so,” she said.

“We spend a lot of time working out what we need, but convincing some academies and free schools to open in the right places at the right times can be a nightmare. If you don’t have enough places, children suffer; if you have too many, then the funding is spread too thinly and their education still suffers.

“It’s such a delicate balance. When public money is so scarce, seeing it getting wasted on places where they aren’t needed, when children are forced to sit in crowded crumbling buildings elsewhere, makes me really angry.”

The shadow education secretary, Lucy Powell, called on the government to reinstate local planning for school places and remove the bureaucracy councils currently face when trying to open or expand schools. “The Tories’ free-market approach to providing new school places just isn’t working and is creating a crisis in school places,” she said.

“With such big rises in demand and one in six secondary schools already at or over capacity, the provision of new places needs proper planning and co-ordination. Yet this government’s fixation with free schools, which can be opened where there is no shortage of school places, has made it harder and harder to ensure there are enough good school places in every local area.”

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 270 councils across England, said if councils could not open new schools, then academies – which are outside local authority control – should be compelled to expand to make sure every child has a place.

Roy Perry, who chairs the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “Councils have a statutory duty to ensure every child has a school place available to them but find themselves in the difficult position of not being able to ensure schools, including academies, expand. Finding suitable sponsors with the capacity to take on the running of a successful new school is also proving a challenge.”

The government claims an average of more than 3,000 secondary school places a month have been created since last September. The schools minister, Nick Gibb, said: “We want every parent to be able to send their children to a good local school. Despite rising pupil numbers the vast majority of parents are able to do so.

“The government is investing billions of pounds creating new schools and new school places and through our free schools programme we want to open 500 more new schools during the five years of this parliament.

“Free schools are helping to drive up academic standards throughout the country as they are the type of school more likely to be rated outstanding by Ofsted than other state schools.”

The Department for Education (DfE) accused the LGA of scaremongering and said 95% of parents received an offer at one of their top three preferred schools last year despite rising pupil numbers.

“Councils are responsible for ensuring there are sufficient school places in their area, and we expect them to plan effectively and make good investment decisions,” a DfE spokesperson said. “This requires certainty, which is why funding is allocated three and a half years in advance of places being needed – giving councils time to plan while still allowing the flexibility needed to make adjustments should local circumstances change.”

Families, meanwhile, are nervous after months of waiting. Parents on Mumsnetsought reassurance from one another as national offer day approaches.

One wrote: “I am pretty sure that we will get our first choice as it is less than a mile away (we moved here a few years ago to be sure). But it was a big birth year (not sure if that was nationally or just in our area but bulge classes were added on to all the primary schools when DD [darling daughter] started in 2009). So catchments will be smaller this year.”

Another responded: “That is my worry too. We are the second year that there were increases at primary across the board. So I am fairly sure we will get one of our top four but not absolutely sure. It doesn’t help that our two closest schools are both highly sought after and also admit via lottery so being close to them doesn’t help us AT ALL. Argh.”

Last year, London had the lowest number of applicants receiving an offer at their first choice of school. With a 3.3% increase in applications, which were up from 80,746 in 2014 to 83,380 in 2015, just 68.9% got their top selection. In Hammersmith and Fulham, 12% of applicants did not get into any of their six preferences.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, condemned the government’s approach as laissez-faire and inadequate. “This is not rocket science,” he said. “It is easy to predict the need for secondary places, and it just needs coordination across all the different school types to meet the demand.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “It is quite clear that local authorities need to be given the ability and adequate funding to open new schools.” She said failure to do this would result in “yet more chaos”, children being taught in portable buildings, larger class sizes and many having to take places in schools away from their neighbourhood.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “The free school experiment has failed in its most important purpose: ensuring every child has a local school place. The government must restore local authorities powers. They know their local area and should be able to respond to local need.”

Leora Cruddas, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, warned however that the school places issue was not just about quantity, but also quality. “This means having sufficient resources. Unfortunately, schools are facing a double-whammy of real-terms funding cuts and a teacher recruitment crisis,” she said.

My remarks not intended at Tamil Nadu government: Kamal Haasan

Chennai, Dec 7 :  With his reported criticism of Tamil Nadu government’s flood relief activities drawing a strong retort by ruling AIADMK, actor Kamal Haasan today clarified that his remarks were not intended at government, insisting that he had remained apolitical for long. What was widely touted in the regional media as an “exclusive interview” to a north Indian media house was only a “tentative translation” of a letter written by him to a journalist friend upcountry, Haasan said in a statement here.

“My letter carried only my concern over the disaster and the sufferings of the people and there was neither any mention about the Tamil Nadu government nor had I asked how my tax money was being spent,” he said. The actor maintained that if he had any such doubts, he would not have paid his taxes promptly all these years, while adding that he was mindful of his duties at all points of time.

Under severe attack from the state government over his reported comments that the “system has collapsed” in the rain-ravaged Tamil Nadu, especially Chennai where he lives, Haasan said he was in constant touch with his welfare movement, asking them to do their bit for people in this hour. He said although he believed that interacting with his volunteers and directing them on flood-relief was more important at this point, especially with him having little access to newspapers and other forms of media, it however turned out to be a “mistake”. That mistake has adopted a gigantic proportion now, he said using the ‘Vishwaroopam’ analogy.

Government eases norms for bilateral aid to promote ‘Make in India’

Government on Wednesday eased the norms for bilateral Official Development Assistance (ODA) to enable the country access assistance from other countries, a move which will promote ‘Make in India’ campaign by obtaining new technologyand boost infrastructure.

Make in India

Under the modified guidelines approved by the Union Cabinet, Finance Ministryand External Affairs Ministry, with the approval of the Prime Minister, can accept bilateral assistance from countries in addition to existing bilateral partners, including the US, the UK, Japan and Germany.

 “It is expected that by accepting offers of special loan for projects in infrastructure sector and in sectors of strategic importance on mutually agreed basis, the extensive capital requirement in these sectors will be fulfilled,” an official statement said.

The decision is also expected to augment the funding of projects in infrastructure and sectors of strategic importance, it said.

“The scheme will promote ‘Make in India’ and wherever possible, transfer of technology making further innovations possible,” it said, adding the scheme would promote economic activity, boost employment generation and infrastructure development.

Under the existing norms, bilateral assistance can be accepted from bilateral partners like the US, the UK, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Russia, European Commission and European Union members.

As per the modified guidelines, bilateral assistance for a minimum of $1 billion, of which 50% should be untied loans, can be accepted for capital intensive projects and other projects of special nature.

Briefing reporters about the cabinet decision, Power Minister Piyush Goyal said the move will help India in developing infrastructure in expeditious manner.

As per the conditions, there shall be a provision for removing sourcing condition and to go for International Competitive Bidding in case of lack of adequate response in the bidding process.

“Not more than 30% of the total value of goods and services should be insisted to be sourced from the funding country,” it said.

The annual rate of interest on special loans shall not exceed 0.3% (including all other applicable, charges) and the tenor shall not be less than 40 years (with 10 years of moratorium on repayment), it added.

“Individual projects with a minimum project cost of $250 million will only qualify for such special loans,” it said adding “any project(s) implemented by state government (either solely or jointly) will be done with the concurrence of the concerned state government”.

54,483 Cyber-Security Incidents Reported This Fiscal: Government

As many as 54,483 cyber-security incidents such as phishing, spam and malicious code have been reported in the current financial year, Parliament was informed on Wednesday.

These incidents were reported to the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) by various Indian organisations, individuals and agencies from other countries,

Communications and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in a written reply to the Lok Sabha.

The area of information technology (IT) is characterised by rapid developments and fast changing obsolescence, Prasad said, adding that “with every IT product introduced into the market, newer vulnerabilities are discovered, leaving scope for malicious actions”.

He said however that CERT-In does not maintain any separate data with regard to the losses incurred by the Indian companies due to cyber-attacks. The minister said the government has taken various steps to curb cyber-attacks.

Also on Wednesday, Prasad in a written reply to the Lok Sabha added that the government has initiated steps to devise a mechanism to access Interpol’s ‘worst-of-list’ through CBI and disable such content on the Internet.

The government is also in touch with Internet service providers (ISPs) on upgradation of their infrastructure and technology so as to address the shortcomings with regard to identifying and blocking encrypted websites.

“In order to effectively deal with online child pornographic contents, Government has already initiated steps towards devising a mechanism to securely access Interpol’sworst-of-list through Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is the national nodal point for Interpol related activities in the country,” Communications and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in a written reply to Lok Sabha.

Government to Launch Portal to Support Innovators: Telecom Minister

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To provide support to innovators in various fields, a separate portal under Department of Electronics and IT (Deity) will be established, where people can put up their innovative products to get government help.

“Under my Department of IT, a separate portal shall be created which is dedicated to the innovators of India. Anyone who innovates can put his innovation on that portal and my department will follow it. We will reach them in the event they are worthy of that. They will be given all the support,”

Communications and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said during an Intel event on innovation in New Delhi.

The Minister said he will personally oversee the initiative to ensure that the innovators are getting all help.

Prasad said Indians by nature are frugal innovators and they should be supported.

The Minister said his government is promoting domestic electronics manufacturing in a big way and have received investment proposals worth Rs. 1.17 lakh crore till now, of which Rs. 90,000 crore have already been approved.

The Minister also facilitated 10 finalists of the ‘Intel and DST Innovate for Digital India Challenge’ who have developed innovative solutions for various fields like healthcare, agriculture among others.

The programme was launched in April this year by Intel in partnership with government, to attract innovators to develop easy-to-use solutions to drive technology adoption or create applications that accelerate delivery of e-governance services through MyGov app on mobile platforms.

“We believe that grassroots level innovation built through robust public private partnership like this will lead the way towards achieving a truly Digital India,” Prasad said.

Speaking during the occasion, Intel Corporation Senior Vice-President and General Manager (Sales and Marketing group) R Pearson said Intel is one of the original investors in India and the company has so far invested $3 billion (Roughly Rs. 19,836 crores) and employs about 8,000 people.

The company also launched a programme titled ‘Ek Kadam Unnati Ki Aur’ wherein it will work with national and state governments to create a blueprint to drive technology enabled transformation at the grassroots level in 10 states.

The company said it aims to work closely with entities like common service centres (CSCs) and MyGov that provide last mile citizen services across the country.

Government to Work With Microsoft, Others on Digitisation

The government is ready to work with Microsoft and other information and communication technology (ICT) firms to take India to the next level in digital revolution, Telecommunications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Thursday.

“India is standing at the cusp of digital revolution and we are open to work with companies likeMicrosoft to take India over the cusp,” Prasad said at the first of its kind Microsoft technology conference held in Mumbai.

While positioning India’s technology adoption situation, the minister said: “Indians are patient observers of technology. Once we feel that a particular kind of technology is helpful, we adopt it very fast.”

Prasad, in addition, also spoke about different digital initiatives taken by the government including the electronic development fund.

“When I became the minister, investments were around Rs. 10,000 crores but now it has reached Rs. 1,10,000 crores,” Prasad said.

The minister also highlighted achievements of initiatives taken by his ministry and emphasised how the use of technology could simplify lives.

“The four digital initiatives of Digital India, Make In India, Skill India and startup India has to work together for the socio-economic improvement of the country,” he said.

Assam government launches disaster management app

Apart from being located in the high seismic Zone V, the state is also in a frequent flood and landslides prone area. The app can also be used in the event of other disasters like fire.<br />
GUWAHATI: And now, an app for smartphone users of Assam, which is highly prone to very high disasters, to seek not just support in the event of any emergency but enable them to send distress messages.

Apart from being located in the high seismic Zone V, the state is also in a frequent flood and landslides prone area. The app can also be used in the event of other disasters like fire.

Billed as the first of its kind mobile android application, the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) as launched this “Disaster Ready Assam” (DRA.) The app will be available for downloading in the ASDMA website and Google Play Store, officials said.

“The app has various inbuilt features which will disseminate safety information on various hazards and users will be able to seek support in case of any emergency. The app is not only a modern day IEC tool but it would also enable the users to send in-built distress messages. Using a real-time location tracking system, the users’ location can be identified and ASDMA can alert the concerned agencies for necessary action,” the official said.

Like most other popular apps, the users have to first create a profile to register their mobiles. Hologram, a Guwahati-based private IT firm engaged by ASDMA has prepared the mobile application.

Green activists worry about government plans to raise cost of legal challenges

Campaigners fear government plans will deter people from bringing actions over upcoming infrastructure projects.Green organisations could face steep rises in the cost of legal challenges to Heathrow’s expansion, or air quality policies, under reforms the government is contemplating.

Proposals to expose claimants in environmental cases to higher financial liabilities if they lose their cases could deter people from bringing actions, according to the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

The consultation has been launched to update the UK’s responsibilities under the Aarhus convention, which guarantees public participation in decision-making as well as access to information and justice in environmental matters.

But green activists fear the plans, which introduce higher cost caps, coincide with the next stage of major infrastructure projects such as expanding Heathrow to a third runway and the HS2 rail lines linking the north of England and London.

In the past, the prime minister has blamed judicial review cases for delaying economic development. In 2012, David Cameron told the CBI: “We urgently need to get a grip on this. So here’s what we’re going to do: reduce the time limit when people can bring cases, charge more for [judicial] reviews so people think twice about time-wasting, and instead of giving hopeless cases up to four bites of the cherry to appeal, we will halve that to two.”

Ralph Smyth, a barrister and the transport campaign manager at the CPRE, said: “In the run-up to its decision on Heathrow expansion, the government is cynically seeking to make it harder to challenge environmental decisions in the courts.

“What it is spinning as merely ‘measured adjustments’ would in fact impact hugely on the affordability of British justice for individuals, community groups and charities seeking to protect air quality, green belt, tranquillity and the climate.

“With legal costs in England among the highest in Europe, the current system of costs protection brings much needed certainty for those bringing environmental cases.

“Because of the complexity of judicial review, few cases are brought. While the proposals would save negligible costs, they would introduce significant uncertainty about how much a losing party would have to pay, putting the public off seeking justice in the first place.”

Campaigners are worried about consultation proposals to double the caps from £5,000 to £10,000 for individuals and from £10,000 to £20,000 for organisations such as environmental groups – exposing them to higher costs if they lost their cases.

They also allege the MoJ plans contemplate making the higher liabilities apply to each claimant rather than each case, potentially multiplying costs in challenges brought by multiple parties. The department says this is a misunderstanding of the proposals and the cap will still apply to each overall case if bought collectively rather than being applied to every claimant.

It also denies the timing of the consultation has anything to do with Heathrow or other imminent infrastructure projects. A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The proposed changes to the rules around legal costs in environmental cases are designed to make sure challenges can be still be brought without encouraging meritless claims, which cause unreasonable costs and delays.”