India Current Affairs 2017

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India becomes World No.2 LPG importer

India has become world’s second largest LPG importer, a position that was previously occupied by Japan. China remains as the world’s top importer. According to Petroleum Planning & Analysis Cell, LPG imports in the country has increased 23% during the financial year 2016-2017 to about 11 million tonnes.

The main reason behind the increase in the consumption of LPG in India is due to the two government schemes coupled with free gas connections. From May 2016, the government is providing free cooking gas connections to women from extremely poor households, to reduce the use of polluting fuels such as wood and dried cow dung. This has increased India’s active LPG users to about 200 million, which is 60% more than Japan’s entire population. According to the World Health Organization, polluting fuels used for cooking purposes results in 1.3 million premature deaths in India every year.

India has set an ambitious target of increasing LPG usage to cover 80% of the households by March 2019. As per the present estimates of the oil ministry, demand for fuel will touch 35 million tonnes by 2031-32 in India.

Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY)

PMUY was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2016 with the tagline of Swachh Indhan, Behtar Jeevan. The scheme’s motive is to provide free of cost LPG (cooking gas) connections to women from BPL Households.

The scheme seeks to empower women and protect their health by shifting them from traditional cooking based on unclean cooking fuels or on fossil fuels to clean cooking gas. It is being implemented by Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. The scheme will be implemented over three years’ time period until the financial year 2018-19.

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World Bank approves $375 million loan for National Waterway-1

The World Bank has approved a loan of $375 million (around Rs 2,421 crore) for capacity augmentation of National Waterway-1 (NW-1) between Haldia in West Bengal and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh on the river Ganga under the Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP). The project would enable commercial navigation of vessels of 1,500-2,000 deadweight tonnes capacity along a 1,390-km stretch.

Jal Marg Vikas Project is a project on the river Ganga that envisages the development of waterway between Allahabad and Haldia that will cover a distance of 1620 km. It aims to develop a fairway with three metres depth to enable commercial navigation of at least 1500 tonne vessels on the river.  The project includes the development of fairway, multi-modal terminals, strengthening of open river navigation technique, conservancy works, modern River Information System (RIS) etc.

As a part of the project, Inland Waterways Authority of India will set up a River Information Service System on NW-1, the first of its kind in India. Besides, three multi-modal terminals, one each at Varanasi, Sahibganj (Jharkhand), Haldia; and inter-modal terminals at Kalughat and Ghazipur; a navigation lock at Farakka; and five Roll on-Roll off (Ro-Ro) terminals would be constructed.

Need

The rail and road corridors of this region have been crippled with heavy traffic and have become saturated. Hence, the development of NW-1 would pave way for an alternative, viable, economical, efficient and eco-friendly mode of transport.

NW-1

National Waterway-1 (NW-1) is a waterway passing through Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, potentially serving the major cities of Haldia, Howrah, Kolkata, Bhagalpur, Patna, Ghazipur, Varanasi, Allahabad and their industrial hinterlands including several industries located along the Ganga basin.

Inland Waterways Authority of India

Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) is the statutory body in charge of the waterways in India. Its headquarters is located in Noida, UP. Its main function is to build the necessary infrastructure in the inland waterways, surveying the economic feasibility of new projects and also carrying out administration and regulation.

River Information system (RIS)

RIS is a combination of modern tracking equipment comprising of hardware and software designed to optimise transport and traffic processes in inland water navigation. The system has the capability to enhance swift electronic data transfer between mobile vessels and Base stations through advance and real-time exchange of information. It enables safe and efficient inland water transport by avoiding risks such as (i) Ship-to-Ship collisions. (ii) Ship-Bridge collisions. (iii) Groundings.

Inland Waterway Authority of India (IWAI) is implementing the RIS in India.

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Government approves Guidelines on service charge

Ministry of Food and Consumer Affairs has approved the ‘Guidelines on Fair Trade Practices Related to Charging of Service Charge from Consumers by Hotels and Restaurants’. As a part of the guidelines which has been issued in public interest to protect the rights of consumers, the government has said that Service charge on hotel and restaurant bills is “totally voluntary”, adding that mandatory levy of service charge amounts to unfair trade practice.

As per the guidelines, Hotels and restaurants cannot decide on service charge and the column of service charge will be left blank in the bill for the customers to fill up before making payment.

The guidelines have also stated that in a case of mandatory levy of service charge, customers can file a complaint in the Consumer Court. However, at present, stringent action cannot be taken against the erring hotels as the current Consumer Protection Act, 1986 does not empower the ministry to do so. But, under the new Consumer Protection Bill, an authority is expected to be set up with powers to take such actions.

Rationale

Department of Consumer Affairs has justified the guidelines in view of complaints received by it from consumers that some hotels are insisting payment of service charge in the range of 5-20 per cent and many people are paying it believing that it is part of taxes.

As per the guidelines, a component of service is already inherent in the provision of food and beverages ordered by a customer. Hence, the price of food and beverages is expected to cover both goods and service components.

HRAWI’s Response

The Hotel and Restaurant Association of Western India (HRAWI) has not welcomed the guidelines by saying that levying of service charge is a global practice and a legitimate tax, adding that it has been in India for more than half a century. It has accused the government of singling out the sector as hospitality sector and several businesses are levying such charges.

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