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Doubts raised on transparency of 2 PM funds; LS passes Taxation Bill

The Congress raised questions on creation of PM CARES when PMNRF was already present and it was used to help states during various disasters from 2015 to till now.

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New Delhi, Sep 19 : The Lok Sabha on Saturday passed Taxation and Other Laws (Relaxation and Amendment of Certain Provisions) Bill, 2020 amid counter allegations levelled by both the BJP and the Congress members on their top party leadership.

Linking the present government’s PM CARES Fund and Prime Minister National Relief Fund (PMNRF) set up by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1948, both the parties raised suspicion over transparency of both the funds.

The cross allegations created uproar for the second consecutive day in the lower House when Union Minister of State Anurag Thakur on Saturday again raised question on the transparency of PMNRF alleging Congress of utilising the money received in the fund for the benefit of Nehru-Gandhi family while participating in the debate over the Bill which was moved by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharamn on Saturday for consideration and passage.

The Minister made allegation against Congress’ interim President Sonia Gandhi and her family of utilising the fund of PMNRF being members of the trust.

He also alleged that funds received in PMNRF were transferred in Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and from their it was transferred into various other trusts.

Thakur also alleged that fugitive controversial televangelist Zakir Naik donated Rs 50 lakh into Sonia Gandhi-led Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in 2011.

Though the amount was returned in 2014 it clarified links of the party with Naik, Thakur alleged.

However, the Congress raised questions on creation of PM CARES when PMNRF was already present and it was used to help states during various disasters from 2015 to till now.

Congress leaders Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and Gaurav Gogoi alleged that there are many “loopholes” in Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM-CARES) fund.

The party also sought details of Vivekanand Foundation and some other trusts related to the BJP.

The Bill was later passed with voice vote during over four hour long counter allegations by both the parties on each other.

The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Friday to replace the Taxation and other Laws (Relaxation of Certain Provisions) Ordinance, 2020 which was promulgated on March 31 this year.

Speaking on the Bill, Sitharaman said we are raising questions on Rajiv Gandhi Foundation because Congress gave money to the trust from PMNRF.

Countering Congress allegations, the Minister said what names the party has taken are not given money from PM-CARES fund on which the opposition has raised question on several occasions earlier after it was set up to undertake and support relief or assistance of any kind relating to a public health emergency during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“You are a responsible political party. Don’t spread rumours. It’s not good for your credibility.”

Citing Rafale fight jet deal, the Minister said Congress indulged in “rumour mongering” and it got back replies. “You will again get answers.”

The government came with the Bill which seeks to amend the Income-tax Act, 1961, the Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017; the Finance Act, 2019; the Direct Tax Vivad se Vishwas Act, 2020 and the Finance Act, 2020 which are administered by the Department of Revenue through two boards, namely, the Central Board of Direct Taxes and the Central Board of Indirect Taxes. Thus, no additional expenditure is contemplated on the enactment of the Bill.

The Bill provides for extension of various time limits for completion or compliance of actions under the specified Acts and reduction in interest, waiver of penalty and prosecution for delay in payment of certain taxes or levies during the specified period.

The Finance Act, 2020 is also proposed to be amended to clarify regarding capping of surcharge at 15 per cent on dividend income of the Foreign Portfolio Investor.

The Bill also proposes to empower the Central government to remove any difficulty up to a period of two years and provide for repeal and savings of the Taxation and Other Laws (Relaxation of Certain Provisions) Ordinance, 2020.

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India extends $1 billion credit line to Central Asian countries for priority projects

Besides the $1-billion line of credit, India offered grant assistance for high impact community development projects to boost socio-economic development in Central Asia.

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India on Wednesday extended a $1-billion line of credit to Central Asian countries for priority projects in connectivity, energy, IT and health care, with the move being perceived as part of New Delhi’s efforts to boost its role as a transparent development partner.

The line of credit was welcomed by ministers of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyz Republic, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan during the second meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue held via video conference under the chairmanship of external affairs minister S Jaishankar. Acting Afghan foreign minister Haneef Atmar joined the meeting as a special invitee.

The meeting discussed cooperation in political and security matters, and all the countries called for settling the Afghan conflict on the principle of an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process”, according to a joint statement. The countries also condemned terrorism and reaffirmed their determination to destroy terrorist safe havens, networks, and funding channels.

In a tacit reference to Pakistan, the joint statement said: “They also underlined the need for every country to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks against other countries.”

Jaishankar told the meeting: “India and Central Asia share ancient historical and cultural linkages. We consider Central Asia as India’s ‘extended neighbourhood’.” He added, “We face common challenges of terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking… All these commonalities make us a natural partner in our developmental journey.”

Besides the $1-billion line of credit, India offered grant assistance for high impact community development projects to boost socio-economic development in Central Asia.

The ministers emphasised the importance of connectivity in increasing trade and commerce between India and Central Asia, and appreciated New Delhi’s efforts to modernise Chabahar port in Iran as an important link in trade and transport between markets in Central and South Asia, the joint statement said. The ministers agreed to promote joint initiatives to create regional and international transport corridors.

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Failing to pay property tax by Oct 31 may land Gurugram property owners in trouble

Charitable educational institutions, charitable hospitals and special schools for children, which charge the same fees as government schools and hospitals, are given a 100 per cent exemption.

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Gurugram: Property owners in Gurugram can lose their water and sewage connections if they fail to clear their property tax dues by October 31, officials of the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram (MCG) said on Wednesday.

According to the MCG officials, as per the notification issued by the Haryana government, only three days are left to avail the benefit of exemption in the payment of property tax issued by the MCG.

According to the notification, the government is giving an interest waiver and 25 per cent rebate to those paying their entire property tax dues by October 31.

“We have given a last opportunity to the property owners to pay their dues within the next three days. If they still do not pay their property tax, the process of cutting their sewer and drinking water connections will be initiated by the civic authority from November 1,” MCG Commissioner Vinay Pratap Singh said.

“A special drive to seal commercial buildings will be carried out and the process of auction can also be adopted by sealing the building,” he added.

As per the government notification, property owners who deposit their entire outstanding property tax by October 31 will be given a 25 per cent exemption on property tax from 2010-11 to 2016-17.

“Property owners who have deposited their property tax in the last three years till October 31, will be given an additional 10 per cent rebate along with the regular 10 per cent rebate. Those paying by auto debit mode will get the benefit of an additional 5 per cent discount,” an MCG official said.

Charitable educational institutions, charitable hospitals and special schools for children, which charge the same fees as government schools and hospitals, are given a 100 per cent exemption.

The officials further informed that the civic body has also started an incentive scheme for all the resident welfare associations (RWAs) of the city. Municipal corporations will give an incentive amount of Rs 5 lakh to the RWAs which submit property tax of more than 80 per cent.

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‘Who the hell are you?’, US lawmakers scold Twitter, Facebook, Google CEOs

In opening statements, Dorsey, Zuckerberg and Pichai spoke to the proposals for changes to Section 230. Zuckerberg said Congress “should update the law to make sure it’s working as intended.”

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New York, Oct 29 : “Baloney!”, “sham!” and “who the hell are you” scoldings dominated a Senate hearing on Wednesday where the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google took heat in a talking match with US lawmakers over the idea of free speech and alleged anti-conservative bias on the companies’ mighty platforms.

The Congressional grilling quickly shifted into the realm of political circus around the social media content moderation dumpster fire.

With less than a week to go for the US election, Republican lawmakers got an earful from critics for the timing of the “sham” hearing.

At the heart of the heated arguments were 26 words tucked away in a 1996 US law – Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

Section 230 states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider”.

Under American law, Internet firms are typically exempt from liability for content that users post on platforms. President Donald Trump has challenged this via executive order which threatens to strip those protections if online platforms wade into “editorial decisions”.

For 3 hours and 42 minutes, the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google were at the receiving end of a firehose version of bipartisan alarm over their phenomenal power to influence behaviour at scale.

The Republicans’ drumbeat centered on Facebook’s and Twitter’s decision earlier this month to slam the brakes on an unverified political story from the conservative-leaning New York Post about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The story cited unverified emails from Biden’s son Hunter.

Trump acolytes jumped on the chance to prove their loyalty. One of them called Twitter’s action on the newspaper “a pattern of censorship and silencing Americans with whom Twitter disagrees”.

For their part, Twitter, Facebook and Google have struggled to frame exactly how they would intervene and in how many scenarios. And what about content that doesn’t fall into their precast rubric or categories of bad stuff? The answers have been less than clear.

Of the three companies, Facebook’s sway over behavioural targeting has raised a string of red flags in the context of the US 2020 election.

Multiple lawmakers pushed back against the idea of “unelected San Francisco elites” deciding if content makes the grade or not.

In opening statements, Dorsey, Zuckerberg and Pichai spoke to the proposals for changes to Section 230. Zuckerberg said Congress “should update the law to make sure it’s working as intended.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that if Google was “acting as a publisher”, he would be okay with the company being liable for content published on its platform.

Wednesday’s hearing comes barely a week after the US Justice Department’s landmark antitrust lawsuit against Google which argues that both advertisers and regular people are harmed by the tech giant’s position as “the unchallenged gateway to the Internet for billions of users worldwide.”

Warnings abound of the coming restrictions and for the “free pass” to end, maybe on the other side of the election results.

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