Singapore Passport World’s ‘Most Powerful’

Singapore has the world’s “most powerful” passport, according to a global ranking topped for the first time by an Asian country with India figuring at 75th position, three notches better than its previous ranking.

According to the ‘Global Passport Power Rank 2017′ by global financial advisory firm Arton Capital, Germany is ranked second, followed by Sweden and South Korea in third place.

Paraguay removed visa requirements for Singaporeans, propelling Singapore’s passport to the top of Passport Index’ most powerful ranking with a visa-free score of 159, the company statement said.

Historically, the top 10 most powerful passports in the world were mostly European, with Germany having the lead for the past two years. Since early 2017, the number one position was shared with Singapore, which was steadily going up, it said.

India, which was listed 78th last year, has improved its ranking, figuring at 75th position with a visa-free score of 51.

Coming in at last place on the list is Afghanistan, ranked 94 with a score of 22, followed by Pakistan and Iraq at 93 with a score of 26, Syria at 92, having a score of 29 and Somalia at 91 with a score 34.

While Singapore quietly climbed the ranks, the US passport has fallen down since President Donald Trump took office. Most recently Turkey and the Central African Republic revoked their visa-free status to US passport holders, the statement said.

Passport Index has become the most popular interactive online tool to display, sort and rank the world’s passports.

The index ranks national passports by the cross-border access they bring, assigning a “visa-free score” according to the number of countries a passport holder can visit visa-free or with visa on arrival.

Oil companies to back 30-plus start-ups

With a view to bringing in innovations and disruptions in the technology-heavy oil and gas industry, India’s state-run companies on Wednesday pledged to support more than 30 start-ups who will be funded for the next three years through a corpus of Rs 320 crore under an initiative named Start-up Sangam.

The corpus has been created by contributions from India Oil Corporation, ONGC, Engineers India, Oil India, Numaligarh Refinery, Bharat Petroleum Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation, Gail (India), Balmer Lawrie and Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals.

The selected start-ups work in various fields related to energy such as converting waste plastics to petroleum fuels, solar stove, multipurpose fuel from agricultural waste biomass and leak detectors for liquefied natural gas (LNG) cylinders, among others.

Speaking at the event here, petroleum and skill development minister Dharmendra Pradhan said these partners of the oil and gas companies are expected to establish new benchmarks in the country.

Start-ups in the technology field will get 30 months to submit proof of concept whereas start-ups with business ideas will be given 18 months. “If we find merit in the projects after the end of the given time frame, we may buy out so that they move on to do more innovations,”

China’s new leadership line-up with no clear successor

China’s President Xi Jinping unveils new leadership line-up with no clear successor. Premier Li Keqiang stays on, while additions to the top echelon are Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji and Han Zheng.

Given the ages of those now on the top committee, there’s no clear successor to Xi in the new leadership lineup

Xi Jinping:

The Chinese president has emerged as the country’s strongest leader for a generation, due to a corruption campaign that has seen him defeat potential rivals in the party.

He has silenced internet and media critics by cracking down on free speech and has waged a war on civil society.

He is seen elevated to the political level of Mao Tse-tung after his ideology was enshrined into the constitution.

Significance:

China’s two centenary goals — a moderately prosperous society by 2021 and an advanced socialist country by 2050 — would guide policy and political conduct in the coming decades.

Chinese investors are hoping that a stronger Xi will now be able to push through bold economic and financial reforms that will prevent the economy from a shock. Ongoing efforts for sweeping changes have been hindered by concerns about social stability and conflicts of interest.

Xi’s policies could benefit from leadership continuity. Goals such as improving the environment and transitioning the economy to a higher-value and serviced based economy will take years to see through.

SC bans dirty pet-coke, furnace oil in Haryana, Rajasthan, UP

In a landmark ruling today the Supreme Court bench comprising Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta banned the use of dirty furnace oil and pet-coke in Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh from November 1, 2017. This ban is already in place in Delhi.

The bench has further directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MOEFCC) to notify the standards for nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulphur oxides (SOx) for the industry sector and the industry has to comply with the standards by December 31, 2017. In addition, the MOEFCC will have to pay a fine of Rs 200,000 to the Supreme Court. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) lauds this directive as a big win for Delhi and NCR as well as the rest of the country fighting a tough battle against toxic pollution.

This order has come in response to the findings and recommendations of the Environment Protection (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) that has exposed widespread use of these fuels in industrial sectors of NCR and found very high sulphur levels in these fuels, ranging from over 20,000 PPM in furnace oil to over 64,000 PPM in pet-coke. Use of these fuels was banned in Delhi way back in 1996. Furnace oil and pet-coke are the dirtiest by-products and residual fraction from the refinery process.

Significance of the new directive

Eliminates dirtiest industrial fuels in Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and mandates first ever stringent NOx and SOx standards for the industry sector nationwide: This momentous order eliminates in one stroke the use of dirtiest bottom of the barrel fuels from the industrial units of the neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryan, and Rajasthan and makes all industrial units across the country liable for compliance with the new emissions standards by December 31, 2017.

Enormous pollution reduction potential from the industrial sector: This action has high potential for pollution reduction as large number of industrial units in Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Bhiwani, Noida and Greater Noida, Hapur, Bulandshahar, Alwar, Jhajjar, Gurugram, Rohtak, Mewat, Sonipat, Rewari, Palwal, Karnal, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar are currently using these dirty fuels.

This order will have nationwide impact as the entire industrial sector will have to comply with the new standards for SOx and NOx that are not regulated currently in India.

New order to offset adverse effect of perverse incentives allowed to dirty fuels under GST

The intervention of the Supreme Court is very opportune and timely as the recently enforced GST has created huge incentive for these dirty fuels to thrive. Both these fuels are included in GST and are in the 18 per cent tax bracket. But the industries, which use these fuels for manufacturing, get a credit. The tax of 18 per cent is fully credited to industry. But for the cleaner option, natural gas, which is not included in GST, the VAT is as high as 26 per cent in Uttar Pradesh.

The incentive for dirty fuel is fanning and expanding the use of dirty fuels. Demand for pet-coke has increased to such an extent that last year India imported 14 million tonnes of pet-coke, which is more than the domestic production. If import and domestic production is added, then India has used more pet-coke than China, when its pollution was at its peak.

Today, China has stopped imports of pet-coke. But India has become a dumping ground of pet-coke from the US, which has banned its internal use because of pollution.

The MoEF&CC submitted to the Supreme Court the draft standard for emission standards for SOx and NOx, which was issued on October 23, 2017. The CPCB submitted affidavit saying that they had sent proposed standards to the MoEF&CC on June 27, 2017. For two industrial sectors, Nitric Acid and Fertilizer, proposed standards were sent in 2014. Clearly, the process of setting standards was caught in a time warp. The honourable judges of the Supreme Court were not amused by this inexplicable delay in setting standards for pollution control.

India has continued the use of these extremely polluting fuels without any regulation for too long. Any further delay in standards and implementation of the court order will make air pollution and health risk worse. Implementation of the directive from the Supreme Court today has to be the top agenda for pollution control and we must take act urgently.

Pet-Coke

Petroleum coke, abbreviated coke or petcoke, is a final carbon-rich solid material that derives from oil refining, and is one type of the group of fuels referred to as cokes. Petcoke is the coke that, in particular, derives from a final cracking process–a thermo-based chemical engineering process that splits long chain hydrocarbons of petroleum into shorter chains—that takes place in units termed coker units(Other types of coke are derived from coal.).

Furnace Oil

Fuel oil, (also known as heavy oil, marine fuel or furnace oil) is a fraction obtained from petroleum distillation, either as a distillate or a residue. Broadly speaking, fuel oil is any liquid fuel that is burned in a furnace or boiler for the generation of heat or used in an engine for the generation of power, except oils having a flash point of approximately 42 °C (108 °F) and oils burned in cotton or wool-wick burners.

Image: Hindustan Times

Cabinet approves Rs7 trillion road construction plan, including Bharatmala

India announced an outlay of Rs6.92 trillion for building an 83,677 km road network over the next five years.

The largest ever outlay for road construction comes in the backdrop of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government implementing the goods and services tax (GST) which aims to create a common market by dismantling inter-state tariff barriers. A robust road infrastructure will help in that direction.

The road construction push includes the Bharatmala Pariyojana with a Rs5.35 trillion investment to construct 34,800km of roads. In addition, Rs1.57 trillion will be spent on the construction of 48,877km of roads by the state-run National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and the ministry of road transport and highways.

To expedite the Bharatmala projects, apart from ministry of road transport and highways and state-run firms—NHAI and National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (NHIDCL)—even respective state public works departments (PWDs) will be roped in for timely execution. This in turn will generate 142 million man-days of jobs, the government said.

To give a boost to the ambitious plan, all future road projects such as economic corridors and coastal roads have been brought under its aegis. The other projects under the marquee scheme include roads providing international connectivity, border roads, roads connecting economically important nodes, green field expressways and the remaining National Highways Development Project (NHDP) works under the scheme launched in 1998 by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

India needs massive funding to bankroll its new integrated infrastructure programme, which involves building roads, railways, waterways and airports.

To fund the marquee Bharatmala scheme, Rs2.09 trillion will be raised as debt from the market, while Rs1.06 trillion in private investments is being targeted through public private partnerships. In addition, Rs2.19 trillion will be provided from Central Road Fund (CRF), Toll-Operate-Maintain-Transfer (TOT) projects and toll collections of NHAI.

The government is working on raising capital by monetizing the operational road assets of NHAI that have been built by public funding, a first in the country. The government expects a private investment potential of Rs34,000 crore from the monetization of these 82 operating highways under the TOT model.

For projects not covered under the Bharatmala programme, Rs97,000 crore will be provided by the CRF and Rs59,000 crore will be provided as gross budgetary support.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said projects such as Sagarmala and Bharatmala will prepare a strong base for infrastructure development, enabling a person to travel across the country on a single road.

Ministries of Power & Textiles join hands under new initiative SAATHI

Ministries of Power and Textiles have joined hands under a new initiative SAATHI (Sustainable and Accelerated Adoption of efficient Textile technologies to Help small Industries). Under this initiative, Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), a public sector entity under the administrative control of Ministry of Power, would procure energy efficient Powerlooms, motors and Rapier kits in bulk and provide them to the small and medium Powerloom units at no upfront cost.

The SAATHI initiative of the Government will be jointly implemented by EESL and the office of the Textile Commissioner on a pan-India basis. To kick start the implementation, cluster wise demonstration projects and workshops will be organized in key clusters such as Erode, Surat, Ichalkaranji, etc.

The use of these efficient equipment would result in energy savings and cost savings to the unit owner and he would repay in installments to EESL over a 4 to 5 year period. This is the aggregation, bulk procurement and financing model that EESL has successfully deployed in several sectors like LED bulbs, Smart Meters and Electric Vehicles. The unit owner neither has to allocate any upfront capital cost to procure these equipment nor does it have to allocate additional expenditure for repayment as the repayments to EESL are made from the savings that accrue as a result of higher efficiency equipments and cost savings. The aggregation of demand and bulk procurement will also lead to reduction in capital cost, benefits of which will be passed on to the Powerloom units so that their repayment amount and period would reduce.

The Powerloom sector in India is predominantly an unorganized sector and has a large number of micro and small units which produce 57 percent of the total cloth in the country. There are 24.86 lakhs Powerloom units in this country, most of whom use obsolete technology.

With a view to upgrading the technology, the Government of India has been implementing the INSITU upgradation of plain Powerlooms as part of Power Tex India under which plain Powerlooms are attached with process control equipment leading to higher productivity, better quality and more than 50 percent additional value realisation. So far 1.70 lakhs plain Powerlooms have been upgraded under the scheme, with a total Government of India subsidy of Rs. 186 crores.

₹2.11 lakh crore for public sector banks banks to boost lending

The Union government unveiled an ambitious plan to infuse ₹2.11 lakh crore capital over the next two years into public sector banks (PSBs) that are saddled with high, non-performing assets (NPAs) and facing the prospect of having to take haircuts on loans stuck in insolvency proceedings.

The move is vital for the slowing economy, as private investments remain elusive in the face of the “twin-balance sheet problem” afflicting corporate India and public sector banks reflected in slow bank credit growth.

Several economists opine that the recapitalisation of banks — so that they can lend more freely and help revive private investment — is critical for revitalising the growth momentum at a time when the global economy is recovering.

This would be funded through budgetary provisions of ₹18,139 crore and the sale of recapitalisation bonds worth ₹1.35 lakh crore. The balance would be raised by the banks themselves by diluting the government’s equity share.

“Indiscriminate lending earlier by banks led to a high level of NPAs,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said. “And these NPAs were kept under the carpet. Now they have come to light because of the Asset Quality Review conducted by the Reserve Bank of India.”

The capital infusion would also be accompanied by a series of banking sector reforms, Mr. Jaitley said, without providing any specifics, adding that the measures would be revealed in the coming months.

Courtesy: The Hindu

Ease of Doing Business

The ease of doing business index is an index created by the World Bank Group. Higher rankings (a low numerical value) indicate better, usually simpler, regulations for businesses and stronger protections of property rights. Empirical research funded by the World Bank to justify their work show that the economic growth impact of improving these regulations is strong.

The report is above all, a benchmark study of regulation. The survey consists of a questionnaire designed by the Doing Business team with the assistance of academic advisers. The questionnaire centers on a simple business case that ensures comparability across economies and over time. The survey also bases assumptions on the legal form of the business, size, location, and nature of its operations. The ease of doing business index is meant to measure regulations directly affecting businesses and does not directly measure more general conditions such as a nation’s proximity to large markets, quality of infrastructure, inflation, or crime.

A nation’s ranking on the index is based on the average of 10 subindices:

  1. Starting a business – Procedures, time, cost and minimum capital to open a new business
  2. Dealing with construction permits – Procedures, time and cost to build a warehouse
  3. Getting electricity – procedures, time and cost required for a business to obtain a permanent electricity connection for a newly constructed warehouse
  4. Registering property – Procedures, time and cost to register commercial real estate
  5. Getting credit – Strength of legal rights index, depth of credit information index
  6. Protecting investors – Indices on the extent of disclosure, extent of director liability and ease of shareholder suits
  7. Paying taxes – Number of taxes paid, hours per year spent preparing tax returns and total tax payable as share of gross profit
  8. Trading across borders – Number of documents, cost and time necessary to export and import
  9. Enforcing contracts – Procedures, time and cost to enforce a debt contract
  10. Resolving insolvency – The time, cost and recovery rate (%) under bankruptcy proceeding

The Doing Business project also offers information on following datasets:

  1. Distance to frontier – Shows the distance of each economy to the “frontier,” which represents the highest performance observed on each of the indicators across all economies included since each indicator was included in Doing Business
  2. Entrepreneurship – Measures entrepreneurial activity. The data is collected directly from 130 company registrars on the number of newly registered firms over the past seven years
  3. Good practices – Provide insights into how governments have improved the regulatory environment in the past in the areas measured by Doing Business
  4. Transparency in business regulation – Data on the accessibility of regulatory information measures how easy it is to access fee schedules for 4 regulatory processes in the largest business city of an economy

CVC to develop Integrity Index of 25 Organizations

In line with the broader strategy and emphasis on preventive vigilance, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) believes that the next level of systemic change can be through the tool of Integrity Index. The CVC has therefore decided to go in for development of the Integrity Index-based on bench-marking of internal processes and controls within an organisation as well as management of relationships and expectations of outside stakeholders.

The Integrity Index will bring out annual scores/rankings of Public Sector Undertakings/Public Sector Banks and Financial Institutions/Departments/Ministries of Government of India by linking the essential drivers of vigilance with long term efficiency, profitability and sustainability of public organizations and create an internal and external ecosystem that promotes working with Integrity in public organizations.

CVC has adopted a research-based approach for creating an integrity index that various organizations can use to measure themselves and which will evolve with changing needs and with this view IIM-Ahmedabad has been engaged to develop the Integrity Index. Being a new initiative, initially 25 organizations have been selected for development of the Integrity Index (as per list attached). Subsequently, it is proposed to extend the Integrity Index concept to all other CPSUs and organizations of Government of India. The management of all 25 organizations have been involved in the development of Integrity Index.

The main objectives for which the Integrity Index is to be established are:

  • Define what constitutes Integrity of Public Organizations
  • Identify the different factors of Integrity and their inter-linkages
  • Create an objective and reliable tool that can measure the performance of organizations along these above factors
  • Validate the findings over a period of time to improve upon the robustness of the tool that measures Integrity
  • Create an internal and external ecosystem that promotes working with Integrity where public organizations lead the way.

RBI sets up task force for India public credit registry

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Monday formed a high-level task force on public credit registry (PCR) for India. The task force, chaired by Y M Deosthalee, former CMD of L&T Finance Holdings Ltd will have nine other members.

The terms of reference of the task force include, reviewing the current availability of information on credit in the country, assessing gaps in India that could be filled by a comprehensive public credit registry and suggesting a “roadmap including the priority areas, for developing a transparent, comprehensive and near-real-time” public credit registry for India.

The task force will submit its report by April 4, 2018.

The RBI said the task force will also study the best international practices on public credit registry, decide the structure of the new information system.

According to the RBI statement,the task force will “determine the scope/target of the comprehensive PCR” such as the type of information that should be covered along with the cut-off size of credit.

Currently, there are four credit bureaus in India — Credit Information Bureau (India) Limited (CIBIL), Equifax, Experian, and CRIF Highmark. These bureaus provide credit scores and allied reports and services. As of now, their analysis reports are used for issuing credit cards and for taking decisions mainly on retail loans. The bureaus are regulated by the RBI under the Credit Information Companies (Regulation) Act, 2005.

Typically, a PCR is set up by the central bank and reporting of loan details to the Registry by lenders and/or borrowers is mandated by law. A survey conducted by the World Bank reported that as of 2012, out of 195 countries that were surveyed, 87 were having PCRs, as per the RBI. A public credit registry would help “good borrowers” in securing credit at lowers costs and also improve access of credit to small and medium enterprises.