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Vicious cycle of polls, loan waivers must end to empower farmers: PM Modi

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New Delhi: On the first day of 2019, which will see the country prepare for the Lok Sabha elections in less than three months, Prime Minister Narendra Modi presented a veritable report card of his government’s performance and the contours of his election campaign. He detailed various initiatives to curb corruption and black money, improve the lives of the poor, and address aspirations of the middle class, but ruled out a nationwide farm loan waiver, terming such promises as “chunavi (poll) stunts”.

While Modi said his government had not stopped, and would not stop, state governments from writing off farm debts, he said the sector needed long-term solutions. “What is lacking in our system, that farmer becomes debt-ridden and the governments have to repeat the vicious cycle of elections and loan waivers. So the solution is to empower the farmers. From seed to market, give all facilities to the farmers,” he said in an interview with news agency ANI.

The PM said demonetisation had helped achieve his major poll promise of curbing black money, and termed the goods and services tax (GST) as a work in progress. He dismissed the mahagathbandhan, or grand alliance of opposition parties, as a group of political leaders who had come together to save their skins. The PM said the 2019 Lok Sabha polls would be one between the people of India and the mahagathbandhan. Interestingly, and which was not in the public domain, Modi said Urjit Patel had expressed his desire to quit as governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) nearly six months before he actually did, and had attributed it to personal reasons. “Urjit Patel has done great work as the RBI governor,” the PM said.

 

Modi conceded that demonetisation caused a drop in economic growth, but added the move paved the way for the government giving affordable home loans, as also for start-ups. He said the government was lowering the GST on construction-related equipment. The PM likened the step to economic reforms that Manmohan Singh as finance minister had initiated in 1991, which had led to a drop in gross domestic product in the short term, but helped economic growth in subsequent years.

On demands that his government bring an ordinance for early construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, the PM said his government would wait for the Supreme Court judgment, but “appealed” to the Congress to not use its lawyers to delay the judicial process. The PM’s comments suggest that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could contest the 2019 polls on the plank of the government’s performance on ‘ease of living’ and ‘garib kalyan’, besides curbing corruption.

The PM’s remarks on farm loan waiver are significant in the context of BJP’s losses in the November-December Assembly polls in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

The losses have been attributed to agrarian distress, but the PM pointed out the BJP had maintained a respectable vote share in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Modi said he had termed the Congress’s promise of loan waiver a “lollipop” since that party was indulging in falsehoods on the issue. The reality was, he said, the Congress governments had written off loans of only a handful of farmers.

“There is a small segment of farmers who takes loans from banks. A majority of them take loans from moneylenders. When governments make such announcements, those farmers do not become beneficiaries of waivers.

The farmers who are dying are out of the purview of such schemes,” the PM said.

He said farm loans were first waived by the V P Singh government, and then again in 2009, but failed to improve the lot of the farmers. He asked why does a farmer repeatedly becomes debt-ridden. Modi said there was a direct link between elections and promises of a farm loan waiver, when the agriculture sector was in need of long-term solutions.

“I want to do everything possible to improve the lives of our farmers. It was our government that took the historic decision on better MSP for farmers,” he said. Modi said he envisioned “a situation where a farmer never has to be debt-ridden in the first place.” “We should also be thinking about structural issues — how can we empower the farmers, ensure more water, greater credit, better markets,” he said. The PM said his government had taken steps to improve irrigation, provide soil health cards, and worked to set up food processing units, improve transportation and also encouraged farmers to earn by installing solar panels in their fields.

On the GST, the PM said his government was constantly working to make it more people-friendly. “The GST Council has a wide range of members. There are state governments too, many of them where the BJP is not in power. Whatever is happening is happening through consensus: Earlier, there were so many hidden taxes. The tax rates were also high. The GST has made things simpler,” he said.

Modi said his government had taken several initiatives to address aspirations of the middle class. He said inflation was low, more educational institutions like IITs and IIMs were being set up, there was a scheme for quality and affordable healthcare, flying had become affordable and due to that more people were sitting in planes. “Who is this benefiting? The middle class,” he said.

Modi also lashed out at the Congress leadership. He said the “reality” was that the “the so-called first family of the nation is out on bail”. “Their loyalists may try to hide that fact but they won’t succeed,” he said.

Modi said a former finance minister had to go to courts, but rejected insinuations that there was any political vendetta. “We have nothing against any person,” he said.


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Income Tax return processing time to reduce from 63 days to just 1 day

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Mumbai:The Union Cabinet approved an integrated income-tax e-filing and centralised processing centre (CPC) portal, which will reduce the return processing time from 63 days to just one day. The new portal is also expected to process the refunds within one day of filing of tax returns, in huge relief for taxpayers. However, one will have to wait for 18 months to see its launch.

“Earlier, taxpayers would face troubles because of delay in refund processing and the CBDT used to spend a lot of money every year as interest on pending refunds, which will be history now,” Union minister Piyush Goyal told reporters after the Cabinet meeting here.

Last month, Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) Chairman Sushil Chandra had said a simplified return form and process would be put in place soon in which the department would process the self-declaration made by the taxpayer. The new Rs 4,241-crore project will incorporate these changes.

 

“This is a laudable initiative and will go a long way to ease tax compliance, and enhanced experience for taxpayers. However, the real success of this will be measured when it brings ease to a common man and is accompanied by changes in the culture of the tax authorities at the operational level,” said Neeru Ahuja, partner, Deloitte India.

Currently, the e-filing portal and the CPC work separately. While e-filing is being managed by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the CPC is run by Infosys.

In the bids invited by the government, Infosys emerged as the lowest bidder and it would develop the ITR-CPC 2.0 project in 18 months from now, Goyal said.

Under the new system, Infosys will handle end-to-end solution — from e-filing to return assessment to refund processing. The CBDT and Infosys would work in a revenue-sharing model, sources in the know said.

Goyal said ramping up scrutiny was not the mandate of the new portal. Currently, about 0.3 per cent of the I-T returns are scrutinised, he said. The system intends to resolve taxpayer grievances as well as tax demands from the CBDT faster and equitably, he said.

“The decision will ensure horizontal equity by processing returns filed by all categories of taxpayers across the country in a consistent, uniform, rule driven, identity blind manner. This will assure fairness in tax treatment to every taxpayer irrespective of their status,” a government release said.

But even under the new ecosystem, only those applications which are clean would have the chance of getting processed in a day, sources said.

About 23 crore I-T returns have been processed, along with Rs 2.62 trillion worth of refunds, till September 2018 cumulatively. Of this, refunds worth Rs 1.83 trillion have been processed in 2018-19, said Goyal.

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Lenders considering resolution plan for Jet Airways: SBI

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Mumbai: State Bank of India (SBI) on Thursday said lenders are considering a resolution plan for Jet Airways to ensure long-term viability of the debt-laden company.

The SBI statement comes a day after the crisis-hit airline said discussions were “progressing well” with stakeholders on a comprehensive resolution plan that also contemplates equity infusion and consequent changes in its board of directors.

There are rising concerns over financial health of Jet Airways, whose shares have also taken a beating at stock exchanges.

 

“We would like to state that lenders are considering a restructuring plan under the RBI framework for resolution of stressed assets that would ensure a long-term viability of the company,” SBI said in a statement.

It said the restructuring plan for the cash-strapped airline would need approval from boards of lenders.

“Any such plan would be subject to approval of boards of the lenders and subject to adherence and clearance, if required, from the RBI and/or Sebi (takeover code, ICDR regulations.) and Ministry of Civil Aviation and in compliance with all regulatory prescriptions,” the statement said.

Shares of the airline are trading 4.24 per cent lower at Rs 259.50 apiece on BSE.

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NGT slams Volkswagen for not depositing Rs 100 crore as per its 2018 order

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New Delhi: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) slammed German auto major Volkswagen for not depositing Rs 100 crore in accordance with its November 16, 2018 order and directed it to submit the amount within 24 hours.

A bench headed by NGT chairperson Adarsh Kumar Goel took strong exception to the non-compliance of its order by the automobile giant and asked it to give an undertaking that it will submit the amount by 5 PM Friday.

“Why have you not complied with our order when there is no stay. We will not give you any further time,” the bench, also comprising Justice S P Wangdi, said while asking Volkswagen to submit an affidavit of compliance after deposit.

 

The tribunal deferred the matter for hearing after it was informed that the Supreme Court is also seized of the issue.

On November 16 last year, the tribunal had said that the use of ”cheat device” by Volkswagen in diesel cars in India leads to inference of environmental damage and had asked the German auto major to deposit an interim amount of Rs 100 crore with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

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