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Industry needs to focus on sustainable packaging materials: Commerce Secretary

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Industry needs to focus on sustainable packaging materials as one can not allow them to be a source of waste to spoil the environment, a top government official said on Thursday.

Commerce Secretary Anup Wadhawan said that packaging material should be biodegradable, re-usable and recyclable.

"We need to focus on this aspect. We cannot allow packaging to be a source of waste... littering the environment, spoiling the ecosystem and cause potential damage to animals," he said.

He was addressing a national conference on packaging, organised by Indian Institute of Packaging (IIP) here.

"We need to address this by making right choice of material," he said.

Further, Wadhawan said that there was a need encourage entrepreneurship and skilling to promote growth of the sector.

Speaking about the sector, IIP Joint Director Madhab Chakraborty said that the current Indian market size of the sector is about USD 32 billion.

He said three new centres of the institute are coming up at Guwahati, Bangalore, and Andhra Pradesh.

"We have got land for all these three centres," he said adding that there was huge demand in the sector for industry to work on innovative environment-friendly materials.

The IIP is a national apex body which was set up in 1966 by the packaging and allied industries and the Ministry of Commerce with the specific objective of improving the packaging standards in the country.

The institute is an autonomous body working under the administrative control of the ministry.

Central govt releases Rs 19,950 crore GST compensation to states

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The central government has released Rs 19,950 crore as GST compensation to states, taking the total amount released to them to over Rs 1.2 lakh crore. In a statement, the finance ministry said Rs 19,950 crore was released to states and union territories last Monday.

When the Goods and Services Tax (GST) came into force in July 2017, states, which lost powers to levy taxes such as VAT, were guaranteed to be compensated for any loss of revenue in the first five years of GST implementation.

This compensation was to come out of a pool that is to be created by levy of cess on certain sin and luxury goods over and above the GST tax rate. The shortfall is calculated assuming a 14 percent annual growth in GST collections by states over the base year of 2015-16.

"With this release of GST compensation, the central government has released a total of Rs 1,20,498 crore towards GST compensation to the states/UTs during current fiscal," the statement said.

The money released compares to only Rs 78,874 crore having been collected as compensation cess in the current FY (till January 31, 2020).

Finance Ministry officials said total GST compensation cess of Rs 62,611 crore was collected in the FY 2017-18, out of which Rs 41,146 crore was released to the states/UTs that fiscal as GST compensation.

In FY 2018-19, Rs 95,081 crore was collected as GST compensation cess of which Rs 69,275 crore was released to the states/UTs as GST compensation.

Officials said that as on March 31, 2019, an amount of Rs 47,271 crore compensation cess collected had remained unutilised after the release of GST compensation to the states/UTs in the 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Mining Minister Pralhad Joshi announces India to stop thermal coal import by FY24

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Union Coal and Mines Minister Pralhad Joshi has announced that the government looks to stop the substitutable import of thermal coal from 2023-24. The government wants to bridge the substitutable shortfall by 2023-24, he told PTI on the sidelines of a two-day brainstorming session organised at Kevadia in neighbouring Bharuch district, about 90 km from Vadodara.

The government recently introduced an ordinance to amend regulations to open up coal mining to other firms outside the steel and power sectors, Joshi stated.

"Whatever the substitutable shortfall is there, we want to achieve it by 2023-2024. We want to stop the substitutable import of the coal."

The government may conduct an auction of 100 fully explored blocks, Joshi said. The latest move in the coal sector is expected to create an efficient energy market, thereby bringing more competition, while reducing coal imports.

Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel invites investors from America to invest in state

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As Chhattisgarh government focuses on diversifying from core industries such as mineral and steel to strategically important areas like agro and food processing, IT and defence Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has invited American companies to invest across key sectors in the state.

Baghel, currently on a multi-city visit to the US, highlighted his state's investor-friendly and ease of doing business policies as he met representatives of various sectors and members of diaspora from the state inviting them to visit and invest in Chhattisgarh.

"We are a mineral rich state and have several mineral based-industries. We invite companies and investors from America to come and explore core sectors” as well those sectors and regions where there is untapped potential, Baghel told PTI in an interview.

Baghel, accompanied by a high-level official delegation, had over the weekend addressed students at the India Conference at Harvard. He addressed a business lunch Tuesday organized by the Consulate General of India in New York and the US India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF).

Baghel said over the next few years his government will focus on strengthening the purchasing power of people in his state.

The state government is also committed to poverty eradication and diversifying from core sectors such as minerals, steel, power to sectors of strategic importance such as agro and food processing, IT, bio ethanol, electronics, textile and apparel, engineering and defense, higher education, pharma and automobile and electric vehicles.

“My target is to see how to increase the purchasing power of the people. No matter how many industries we set up, if people do not have money to buy the products, then what is the benefit of the industries,” he said.

Baghel said that in order to maintain this balance, it is very important to increase the purchasing power, which will in turn benefit businesses and industries.

He underlined that the state government will work towards strengthening the purchasing power of the people, which will ensure demand and then the wheels of the industry will start turning and production will take off.

The state government is looking at making the citizens economically self-sufficient, create demand and let the industry move in to fulfill that demand.

He noted that Chattisgarh is rich in natural resources such as dense forest cover, water and mineral resources yet poverty is still prevalent in some areas. “Poverty eradication is most important. Sectors such as health, education and agro-based industries will help generate new job opportunities as well as increase people's income,” he said.

The state, which has a strong presence of several core sectors industries, is focussed on diversifying from the core areas to non-core areas.

India overtakes UK & France to become 5th largest world economy, says report

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India has emerged as the fifth-largest world economy in 2019, overtaking the UK and France, as per a report by US-based think tank World Population Review.

"India's economy is the fifth-largest in the world with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $2.94 trillion, overtaking the UK and France in 2019 to take the fifth spot," it said.

The size of the UK economy is $2.83 trillion and that of France is $2.71 trillion.

In purchasing power parity (PPP), India's GDP is $10.51 trillion, exceeding that of Japan and Germany. Due to India's high population, India's GDP per capita is $2,170 (for comparison, the US is $62,794), it said.

India's real GDP growth, however, it said is expected to weaken for the third straight year from 7.5 per cent to 5 per cent.

The think-tank in its review that India is developing into an open-market economy from its previous closed and inward "autarkic" policies.

The report observed that India's economic liberalisation began in the early 1990s and included industrial deregulation, reduced control on foreign trade and investment, and privatisation of state-owned enterprises.

"These measures have helped India accelerate economic growth," it said.

India's service sector is the fast-growing sector in the world accounting for 60 per cent of the economy and 28 per of employment, the report said, adding that manufacturing and agriculture are two other significant sectors of the economy.

The US-based World Population Review is an independent organisation without any political affiliations.

Vietnam looks to Indian market to ease virus hit to farm exports

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Vietnam is seeking to boost its farm produce exports to India to alleviate the impact of the coronavirus on the Southeast Asian country's trade with China, its largest trading partner.

Vietnam has asked India to reduce trade barriers on its exports, such as black pepper and cashew nuts, the Ministry of Industry and Trade said on Friday.

"Vietnam and India have room to significantly increase bilateral trade," the ministry said in a statement, adding that the two countries target to raise trade to $15 billion from $11.3 billion last year.

The statement comes amid a visit by Vietnam deputy trade minister Cao Quoc Hung to India "to boost bilateral trade and discuss measures to tackle difficulties faced by Vietnam's farm produce exports due to the disease outbreak in China."

The ministry said Vietnam also wants to boost sales of other products, including fresh fruits and farmed fish, to India. China has been its largest market for these products.

Trade between Vietnam and China, where more than 1,400 people have died from the virus, is expected to be severely hit by travel curbs and closure of borders over virus concerns.

Vietnam moved to quarantine a community of 10,000 people near the capital on Thursday as the number of coronavirus cases rose to 16.

Want an unlimited medical insurance cover? Here is how you can buy it

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There is good news for individuals who are looking to buy a medical cover with no limits on the sum-insured.

Bajaj Allianz General Insurance has launched a novel individual health insurance policy that provides unlimited sum-insured (SI). This policy provides a room-rent range fixed limit option where indemnity is 100 times the daily room rent. Beyond that, there will be a co-pay element.

Under Health Infinity, a person can choose coverage limit according to the per day room rent options which range between Rs 3,000 to Rs 50,000. Based on the chosen option, s/he will be indemnified 100 times of the per day room rent limit.

If the claim amount exceeds this, a co-payment of 15 percent, 20 percent, or 25 percent is applicable as opted by the customer at the time of purchasing policy. This co-payment is applicable only if the claim amount exceeds 100 times room rent and not on the total claim amount.

There is good news for individuals who are looking to buy a medical cover with no limits on the sum-insured.

Bajaj Allianz General Insurance has launched a novel individual health insurance policy that provides unlimited sum-insured (SI). This policy provides a room-rent range fixed limit option where indemnity is 100 times the daily room rent. Beyond that, there will be a co-pay element.

Under Health Infinity, a person can choose coverage limit according to the per day room rent options which range between Rs 3,000 to Rs 50,000. Based on the chosen option, s/he will be indemnified 100 times of the per day room rent limit.

If the claim amount exceeds this, a co-payment of 15 percent, 20 percent, or 25 percent is applicable as opted by the customer at the time of purchasing policy. This co-payment is applicable only if the claim amount exceeds 100 times room rent and not on the total claim amount.

Moderation in India's growth coincides with global situation: MoS Finance Anurag Thakur

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The moderation in India's growth coincides with a deceleration in growth of global output and the IMF has projected the country's GDP growth to pick up to 5.8 per cent in 2020, Union Minister Anurag Thakur said in Lok Sabha.

Thakur said India's growth trajectory over the period 2014-15 to 2018-19 is characterised by macroeconomic stability with real GDP growth averaging 7.4 per cent.

"The moderation in India's growth coincides with a deceleration in growth of global output, as estimated by the IMF, in recent years," he said replying a question of Congress MP Abdul Khaleque and TMC's Saugata Roy during Question Hour.

Thakur, union minister of state for finance, said the IMF has projected India's GDP growth to pick up to 5.8 per cent in 2020.

The economic survey 2019-20 has also projected a pick-up in India's growth in the range of 6.0 per cent to 6.5 per cent in 2020-21.

The RBI's sixth bi-monthly monetary policy statement, 2019-20 has also projected GDP growth of 6.0 per cent for 2020-21.

Thakur said as per the National Statistical Office's first advance estimates of national income, 2019-20, India's real GDP is estimated to grow at 5.0 per cent in 2019-20.

He said the World Economic Outlook Update (January 2020) published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has revised India's GDP growth rate to 4.8 per cent in 2019.

This revision in growth may not cause any stress in the Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs) sector as NBFCs are well capitalised, he said.

The minister said the government has implemented several major structural reforms in recent years to bolster investment and growth.

These include Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) to strengthen the financial system, Goods and Services Tax (GST) to simplify the indirect taxation regime, Make-in-India programme to boost domestic manufacturing capacity, liberalisation of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile (JAM) Trinity towards greater transparency, efficiency and financial inclusion, he said.

Thakur also said recently, the corporate tax rate has been cut to 15 per cent for new domestic manufacturing companies, which is amongst the lowest in the world.

In December 2019, he said, the government has announced the Rs 103 lakh crore National Infrastructure Pipeline which would significantly boost infrastructure and spur growth impulses in the economy.

IRDAI nudging insurers to keep close eye on investee firms welcome, here's why

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Insurance companies largely remained passive investors. But, in a welcome move, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has finally nudged a behavioural change.

The regulator has demanded that insurers keep a close eye on their investee firms and disclose this publicly. After all, it is policyholder’s money that is being invested in these companies.

It said that while insurers can determine their own engagement strategy, the stewardship policy should clearly set out the criteria/circumstances in which they will actively intervene. The regulator also said that the policy should provide for regular assessment of the outcomes of intervention by the insurer.

Stewardship refers to a set of best practices which insurance companies need to follow. IRDAI has now offered a fresh set of these examples to point out what insurers are required to do.

"Intervention should be considered regardless of whether an active or passive investment policy is followed," IRDAI said. This is a crucial development and puts the onus on the insurer to ensure that investee firms’ maintain proper financial health and sound corporate governance.

It has been predominantly noticed that insurers abstain from voting on crucial matters in investee firms. In a few cases, smaller insurers blindly followed the voting decisions of their larger counterparts. Considering that policyholder funds are being used to invest, it is pertinent that independent calls regarding board matters are taken by each insurer.

For voting, IRDAI has made the policy more concrete to ensure that insurers do not sit back and let companies make wrong business decisions.

For insurers with assets up to Rs 2.5 lakh crore, if the insurer’s stake is 3 percent or above in a company they have to compulsorily vote. For those with assets above Rs 2.5 lakh crore, the mandatory voting threshold is 5 percent or above.

When investee companies fail, policyholder funds are impacted. A wrong business decision or a corporate governance lapse in these firms would create a negative impact on the stock price. This, in turn, hurts the investment income of insurers.

Early signals of possible defaults or distress are available to insurers in such investee companies. Thus, rather than waiting for an entity to go to bankrupt, insurers could play an active role in questioning the action of such companies.

IRDAI has made it clear that the policyholder is the ‘ultimate investor’. Hence, all decisions taken in investee firms by insurers will now have to be periodically disclosed publicly. The regulator also said that this should be in a simple format that can be understood by the general public.

There have also been cases where large insurers cross-invest in sister entities. IRDAI has said that potential conflict of interest scenarios also need to be disclosed by insurers. It said that a blanket ban on certain investments could also be considered.

For large corporates with legacy brand-names, it has often been noticed that the insurer sides with the investee firm management on strategic business decisions. This is despite minority shareholders and proxy advisory firms opposing such a move.

In such cases, insurers need to apply rational thought to their voting decision and not blindly support the top leadership.

Insurers have been forced to take these steps in order to bring more transparency in the sector and protect policyholder interests. As a policyholder, individuals also need to seek and verify the investment decisions of their insurance company on a periodic basis.

In fact, policyholders do and should exercise tremendous control over these decisions.

Want LIC stake to gradually pare down stake in firms to 15% or below: IRDAI chairman

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The insurance regulator is keen that Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) pare down its stake in other companies to 15 percent or below. But this reduction has to be gradual, Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) Chairman Subhash Chandra Khuntia said.

"We would like LIC to bring down their stake in firms to below 15 percent. But this cannot happen before the (proposed) IPO. The reduction cannot be instant because it will lead to disruption and prices may get impacted. We will be fixing a timeline," he said on the sidelines of a National Insurance Academy event.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced on February 1 in her Budget 2020 speech that the government will divest its stake in LIC through an IPO. It is likely that LIC will be listed on the stock exchanges in the second half of FY21.

LIC holds more than 15 percent stake in entities like IDBI Bank, ITC and UTI. As per insurance rules, an insurance company cannot hold more than 15 percent stake in any company. However, LIC has been given special exemption for investing in IDBI Bank.

Once the Parliament gives nod for an IPO, the stake sale by the government will be undertaken. It is likely that the government could sell 10 percent stake in LIC, an insurer whose valuation could be as high as Rs 10 lakh crore.

New tax slabs

Khuntia also spoke about the Budget 2020 proposal on the new optional tax slabs that offer lower tax rates but without any tax exemptions or deductions.

"Even if there is a new tax regime I am sure people understand the need for protection. Those who need it will opt for insurance products. But it is a fact that people don't just buy insurance for tax exemption. There is a still an option," added Khuntia.

Capital infusion in PSU insurers

When it comes to the public sector general insurance companies, Budget 2020 has provided for additional capital of Rs 6,950 crore for Oriental Insurance, United India Insurance and National Insurance.

The budget documents showed that the provision was for the higher requirement of maintaining the requisite minimum solvency ratio by each of the three public sector general insurance companies.

"A total of about Rs 9,500 crore has been provided. This year (FY20) there was a provision of Rs 2,500 crore capital. The same for FY21 will be Rs 6,950 crore," Khuntia added.

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