GST Council lowers some rates, extends filing
Bringing some relief to firms struggling to file
Goods and Services Tax (GST) returns due to glitches on the GST Network, the GST
Council on Saturday decided to extend the deadline for filing returns.
The Council also decided to set up a ministerial
group to assess and fix the IT challenges. The Council also decided to bring
some relief to consumers by reducing the GST rate on about 30 items of common
use including idli and dosa batter, oilcakes, raincoats, rubber bands, roasted
peanuts, ‘dhoop agarbattis’ and dried tamarind.
The Council also spared small cars from a cess hike
in the range of 2% to 7% that has been imposed on mid-size, luxury and sports
utility vehicles (SUVs).
The meeting has taken voluminous decisions on
wide-ranging issues brought before by the fitment panel after thoroughly
examining the proposals, objections and concerns put forward by States with the
help of experts.
The GST Council has also decided to constitute a
Group of Ministers to monitor and resolve the technology challenges faced during
The Council also extended the deadlines for filing
returns for the first month of GST (July) up to October 31. The deadline would
now be October 10 for GSTR-1, October 31 for GSTR-2, November 10 for GSTR-3 and
October 18 for GSTR-4, the Finance Ministry said.
A panel of officers under Revenue Secretary Hasmukh
Adhia has also been tasked to examine GST-related issues faced by exporters. The
Federation of Indian Exporters said there are several ‘pressing issues’ that
need attention, including quicker refunds of taxes paid on exports and exempting
export-oriented units from integrated GST levy.
The Hyderabad-based transwoman activist, who
holds two post-graduate degrees, decided to launch the first YouTube channel
in India conceptualised and actualised by transgender individuals.
The channel, according to its makers, will provide
accurate and scientific socio-cultural, religious, economic and political
information relevant to them.
Trans-vision will produce its web series in three
languages — Telugu, Kannada and Dakhni, an Urdu dialect spoken in certain parts
of the Deccan Plateau, including Hyderabad.
The channel’s programming, which includes launch
videos that were released in the first week of September, reveals a rich palette
of ideas executed by transgender people.
Pilot episodes of the channel, which already has
over 1,000 followers on Facebook and 261 on YouTube before its official launch,
will be relayed in Telugu, with English subtitles.
Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Salahuddin
Rabbani will arrive in Delhi to attend the India-Afghanistan Partnership
Council meeting that has been delayed for years. The Minister is also
expected to discuss new avenues for cooperation within the India-U.S.-Afghanistan
However, officials said no new decisions on defence
supplies or security cooperation were likely during the talks which will end
with a joint statement.
All eyes will be on talks to discuss the way
forward weeks after U.S. President Trump unveiled his “new policy” for
Afghanistan, where he proposed a larger role for India in development assistance
Later this month, Afghanistan Chief Executive
Abdullah Abdullah and a senior U.S. trade or commerce official will travel to
India for the first India-U.S.-Afghanistan trade expo, funded by USAID.
Senior Afghan diplomats said the emphasis of the
Partnership Council talks would be on “capacity building” for Afghan security
forces in training and enhancing existing cooperation as well as about 287
“small development projects (SDPs)” that India is committing funding for
including small dams, road and highway construction, agriculture, education and
health in the SDP-Phase III that were signed in 2012.
The two sides will also discuss enhancing trade,
especially the “air corridor” for freight that was inaugurated in June to
circumvent Pakistan, and has faced teething troubles due to non-availability of
However, the Afghan government has recently engaged
private airline Kam Airways to carry freight, and officials said they would like
to connect more Indian and Afghan cities including Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Herat
for trade in cotton, fruit and dry fruit from Afghanistan and medical and
electrical equipment from India.
The air corridor agreement could be signed during
Dr. Abdullah’s visit.
In addition, Mr. Rabbani and External Affairs
Minister Sushma Swaraj will witness the signing of two agreements: the Motor
Vehicles agreement, announced in 2014, and an agreement on Orbit Frequency
Coordination for the South Asia satellite launched in May this year.
Mr. Rabbani will also raise the problems of Afghans
travelling to India for medical care and students face in obtaining a visa as
the process requires repeated visits to the Foreigners Regional Registration
The minister is likely to request longer duration
visas for them.
According to the Strategic Partnership Agreement
signed by President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2011, the
India-Afghanistan Partnership Council was supposed to meet annually.
The Afghan Foreign Minister will be accompanied by
four deputy ministers who head joint working groups on Trade and Economic
Cooperation, Capacity Development and Education, and Social, Cultural, Civil
Society and people-to-people contacts, and will meet with Ms Swaraj for talks.
Mr. Rabbani is also the head of the Jamiat-e-Islami
party that is part of the National Unity Government in Kabul, and officials said
he would call on Mr. Modi and Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi during his
In a bid to reduce the huge bilateral trade
deficit with China, which, in the last fiscal, was a whopping $51 billion,
the Centre has now sought greater investments from Chinese firms including
in India’s export-focused Special Economic Zones (SEZ).
In a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Zhong
Shan on the sidelines of the ongoing ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting (and
related meetings) in Manila, Indian commerce minister Suresh Prabhu called for
Chinese investments in India and “offered
facilitating measures including in SEZs”.
Mr. Prabhu’s immediate predecessor Nirmala
Sitharaman had informed Rajya Sabha in July 2014 that “trade deficit can be
reduced to sustainable levels through more exports from India to China, as well
as by China’s investing in building manufacturing capacities in India.”
The aim, was to then increase shipments from such
manufacturing facilities in India to China by catering to specific demand in
However, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from China
in India between April 2000 and June 2017 was worth only $1.67 billion or a
minuscule 0.49% of the total FDI inflows of $342 billion during that period.
Mr. Prabhu and Mr. Zhong Shan have agreed on
holding a (bilateral) Joint Economic Group (JEG) Meeting soon. Instructions have
been given to the concerned officials of both the countries to do the ground
In this regard, both ministers “agreed to set up
product/sector specific Joint Working Groups to promote exports and bilateral
In September 2014, during the India visit of
Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Joint Statement had stated that the Chinese
side announced the establishment of two industrial parks in India, one in
Gujarat and another in Maharashtra.
The Chinese side would also endeavour to realise an
investment of $20 billion in India in the next five years in various industrial
and infrastructure development projects. India welcomes Chinese enterprises to
participate in its manufacturing and infrastructure projects.
The Centre had informed Rajya Sabha in November
2016 that to invite Chinese investment in India, an MoU was inked between India
and China in June 2014 on ‘Cooperation on Industrial Parks in India’ with a view
to provide a platform for cluster-type development of the enterprises of both
In this regard, subsequently, MoUs were signed by
Indian State Government Agencies and Chinese investors. These include the MoU
between Maharashtra government and BeiqiFoton Motors, China for Auto Industrial
Park in Pune, the MoU between Industrial Extension Bureau (iNDEXTb), Gujarat
government and China Development Bank Corporation for supporting the setting up
of Industrial Parks in Gujarat, as well as the MoU between iNDEXTb and China
Small and Medium Enterprises (Chengdu) Investment Limited to set-up
multi-purpose Chinese Industrial Park in Gujarat.
Besides, there is an MoU between HSIIDC (Haryana
Government) and Dalian Wanda Group to develop an integrated Entertainment
Park-cum-Industrial township in Haryana as well as an MoU between HSIIDC and
China Fortune Land Development to set up an Industrial Park in Haryana.
As per the estimates released by the Central
Statistics Office on August 31, India’s economy, as measured by the gross
domestic product (GDP), grew by 5.7% in the first quarter of 2017-18,
compared with 7.9% in the same quarter a year ago.
This is the slowest pace of GDP growth recorded
since the NDA came to power in May 2014. India grew by a strong 9.1% in the
quarter from January 2016 to March 2016. The growth recorded in the subsequent
quarters was 7.9%, 7.5%, 7% and 6.1%.
So this is the fifth quarter in a row that the
growth has slipped, with the pace of decline picking up momentum in the last two
The gross value-added (GVA) in the economy grew at
5.6% between April and June, the same pace as the previous quarter, but sharply
lower than the 7.6% growth in the first quarter of the last year.
Most economists didn’t expect a sharp uptick from
the tepid 6.1% mark recorded in the January-March quarter this year, yet few
anticipated a decline to 5.7%. The government has sought to divorce the growth
trend from the impact of its decision to demonetise Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000
currency notes last November, but economists believe the lingering effects
continue to jolt sentiment.
Growth, the government has argued, had begun to
slow even before the move to suck out 86% of the currency notes in circulation.
With the currency levels reverting close to the pre-demonetisation ‘normal,’ the
bigger disruptive force affecting the latest GDP growth numbers was the
introduction of the Goods and Service Tax (GST) from July 1.
Businesses nationwide whittled down production in
the April-June quarter and focussed on off-loading the existing stock, thanks to
the uncertainty about how the new indirect tax regime will treat earlier tax
credits on inputs.
This also impacted GVA numbers, as a lot of the
inventory that was off-loaded had already been accounted for in the value of
production in the earlier periods.
Moreover, while firms saw a healthy growth in
sales, their margins were dented by a spurt in commodity prices spiking input
costs. Lastly, wholesale price inflation turned negative at this time last year,
so growth numbers appeared higher as a result of their statistical impact, which
is no longer the case, the government has argued.
The manufacturing sector, as a sub-set of industry,
led the growth tumble, expanding by just 1.2% in the quarter, compared with 5.3%
in the previous quarter and 10.7% a year ago. This was the worst quarter for
Indian manufacturing in five years. Overall industrial output also collapsed to
1.6% growth from 7.4% a year ago and 3.1% in the previous quarter.
The construction sector that has been the bulwark
of job creation grew by just 2% (in GVA terms) as it grapples with the headwinds
of a new regulatory regime (RERA), the GST and leveraged balance sheets of
developers. Mining GVA shrank by 0.7%, compared with a 0.9% dip last year.
The services sector offered some semblance of
stability, growing at 8.7% compared with 9% in the same quarter last year, but a
deeper look suggests this was driven by a rise in trade-related GVA to 11.1%
This is proof of sorts that the destocking in
manufacturing was reflected in higher volumes (often discount-driven) in the
trade segment. Agriculture GVA dipped from 2.5% in the first quarter of last
year to 2.3%, though crop output increased healthily. Low prices for crops
apart, it appears that other agriculture-related activities, such as animal
husbandry, have dragged down the sector’s overall growth.
The Statistics Office hopes that growth will
rebound in the current quarter, “subject to how efficiently companies adapt
themselves to the GST.”
The new NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar said
growth would return to 7%-7.5% between July and September.
Analysts are reworking their growth hopes for the
full year rating agency Crisil has curbed it from 7.4% to 7%. Finance Minister
Arun Jaitley has admitted that the latest growth print poses a challenge for the
economy and the government needs to work harder in the coming quarters to spruce
up growth. Watch out for policy actions to spur investment and job creation.
The U.S. environmental agency is considering
banning spraying of the agricultural herbicide dicamba after a set deadline
next year, according to state officials advising the agency on its response
to crop damage linked to the weed killer.
Setting a cut-off date, possibly sometime in the
first half of 2018, would aim to protect plants vulnerable to dicamba, after
growers across the U.S. farm belt reported the chemical drifted from where it
was sprayed this summer, damaging millions of acres of soybeans and other crops.
A ban could hurt sales by Monsanto Co. and DuPont
which sell dicamba weed killers and soybean seeds with Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerant
Xtend trait. BASF also sells a dicamba herbicide.
It is not yet known how damage attributed to the
herbicides, used on Xtend soybeans and cotton, will affect yields of soybeans
unable to withstand dicamba because the crops have not been harvested.
The Environmental Protection Agency discussed a
deadline for next year’s sprayings on a call with state officials that addressed
steps the agency could take to prevent a repeat of the damage, four participants
on the call told Reuters.
A cut-off date for usage in spring or early summer
could protect vulnerable plants by only allowing farmers to spray fields before
soybeans emerge from the ground, according to weed and pesticide specialists.
Tighter usage limits could discourage cash-strapped
growers from buying Monsanto’s more expensive dicamba-resistant Xtend soybean
Dicamba-tolerant soybeans cost about $64 a bag,
compared with about $28 a bag for Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans and about
$50 a bag for soybeans resistant to Bayer’s Liberty herbicide. Already, a task
force in Arkansas has advised the state to bar dicamba sprayings after April 15
‘Catastrophic for Xtend’
“If the EPA imposed an April 15 cut-off date for
dicamba spraying, that would be catastrophic for Xtend — it invalidates the
entire point of planting it,” said Jonas Oxgaard, analyst for investment
management firm Bernstein.
Monsanto has projected its Xtend crop system would
return a $5 to $10 premium per acre over soybeans with glyphosate resistance
alone, creating a $400-$800 million opportunity for the company once the seeds
are planted on an expected 80 million acres in the U.S., according to Mr.
By 2019, Monsanto predicts U.S. farmers will plant
Xtend soybeans on 55 million acres, or more than 60% of the total planted this
year. About 3.1 million acres of soybeans vulnerable to dicamba were hurt by
sprayings this summer, accounting for 3.5% of U.S. plantings, according to the
University of Missouri.
Chemical companies have blamed the crop damage on
farmers misusing the herbicides. Specialists, though, say the weed killers are
also risky because they have a tendency to vaporise and drift across fields,
referred to as volatility.
A research collaboration between India and
Switzerland on a new cement material that can reduce carbon dioxide
emissions in the manufacturing process is set to take off into
The construction sector is a major contributor to
global carbon dioxide emissions. Though this is known, it appears difficult to
reduce the scale of construction, especially as it is a route to establishing
more equitable conditions in developing countries like India. One way of
mitigating the emissions factor is the use of Limestone Calcined Clay Cement or
the LC3 technology.
Traditional processes that manufacture cement from
clinker-limestone or clinker-calcined clay combinations are well known. LC3
effects a synergy between these processes.
The combination of the new method and the material
properties effectively reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 30% as compared to
the traditional way of manufacturing cement.
Research on this evolved over ten years in Karen
Scrivener’s lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) at Lausanne,
in Switzerland. Partners in this research are IIT Delhi, IIT Madras and TARA
(Technology and Action for Rural Development).
In manufacturing portland cement, limestone and
materials like clay are heated together in huge kilns to high temperatures
(approximately 1,450 degrees C), so that they fuse without melting to give
This is the most CO2-intensive part of the whole
process. The carbon dioxide comes both from the burning of the fuel needed to
create that temperature and due to the breakdown of limestone into calcium oxide
and carbon dioxide. The latter part accounts for 60% of the CO2 emissions in
manufacture of cement.
The best thing to do would be to substitute
CO2-intensive clinker with a different material.
In India, fly ash a waste produced in the burning
of coal for producing energy is used in the manufacture of blended cement.
However this is used in a lower proportions and only where available; therefore,
for effectively reducing emissions, more clinker is to be substituted with
calcined clay and limestone. This reduces emissions by 30% with respect to
Bacteria found on the skin are known to harbour
a large repertoire of antimicrobial agents. A new bacterial strain of
Staphylococcus capitis identified by scientists at Delhi’s CSIR-Institute of
Genomics and Integrative
Biology (CSIR-IGIB) has a strong antibacterial
activity against Gram-positive bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus.
The work reconfirms the growing understanding that
bacteria found on the skin may be a “rich source” of novel antimicrobial
molecules. The results of the study were published in the journal Scientific
The bacteria were isolated from the skin surface of
a healthy human foot; the bacteria are specifically found near the toes.
Different bacteria are found in different niches of the skin. For instance,
bacteria found in the arm pit are different from those found on the feet.
The antimicrobial activity helps the bacteria to
secure their niche environment by preventing other bacteria, including
pathogenic bacteria, from colonising.
The new bacterial strain identified are closely
related and can thrive in the same niche on the skin. And this drives the
competition between the two bacteria.
Staphylococci are common colonisers of human skin
and the third largest genera identiﬁed in human skin microbiome.
In all, the new strain of bacteria has nine
antimicrobial peptides, of which two (epidermicin and gallidermin) have already
been characterised from other bacteria. The other seven new peptides have been
found to have antimicrobial activity.
To be absolutely certain about the antimicrobial
activity that we see is from the peptides and not from any other biological
material as a result of contamination, we tested the seven purified synthetic
peptides against a set of select microbes. It was a qualitative test.
Synthetic peptides with sequences identical to the
natural ones isolated from the bacteria were synthesised by the team. The
synthetic peptides were found to possess antibacterial activity, opening the
window to developing new antimicrobial compounds.
Since the purified synthetic peptides are
inhibitory, it not only confirms the antimicrobial activity but also shows that
the synthetic peptides can be used directly without actually culturing the
The researchers would next study the minimum
inhibitory concentration (the lowest concentration of an antimicrobial that will
inhibit the visible growth of a microorganism) required by the peptides and test
it against more species of Gram-positive bacteria and specifically against
drug-resistant S. aureus.
Besides isolating the peptides responsible for
antimicrobial activity, the researchers have identified the genes responsible
for other functions such as adhesion, acid stress tolerance, colonisation and
survival on human skin.
The team has been isolating bacteria from the skin
and studying their roles. The researchers had earlier reported another bacteria
from human skin with antimicrobial activity. And in a paper published in May
this year, they reported the discovery of a new Gram-positive bacterial genus —
Auricoccus indicus. The bacteria were isolated from the external ear lobe of a
Will living in complete darkness or being in
light for 24 hours for the rest of our lives affect our circadian rhythm
(sleep–wake cycles)? Probably not, at least in the case of fruit flies.
Experiments carried out on 330 generations of
drosophila (fruit flies) confirmed that circadian rhythm was persistent in flies
that were kept in complete darkness or complete light 24 hours a day for over 19
years. This may be due to the intrinsic value of the body’s time-keeping system
in coordinating our internal physiological functions.
This was the finding of a study by a group of
scientists led by Prof. Vijay Kumar Sharma at the Chronobiology Lab (where study
of the biological clock is carried out) at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced
Research (JNCASR), Bengaluru; Prof. Sharma passed
away last year after the completion of the work.
Using drosophila activity monitors, locomotor
activity patterns of flies kept in the three different conditions (total
darkness, total light, and normal day–night conditions) were monitored.
Interestingly, the flies maintained in complete
darkness exhibited a relatively better sleep–wake cycle than the ones in
complete light. The control group had cues of day and night in the form of 12
hours of light and 12 hours of darkness, while the flies in the other two groups
which were not exposed to such cues also maintained circadian rhythms over
several hundred generations.
The results of the study help dispel the notion
that continuous darkness may regress the body’s biological clock and show that
absence of light may have caused the evolution of a more robust clock in flies.
The results were recently published in Chronobiology International.
The time at which flies emerge as adults from pupae
and the time when adult females laid eggs were examined, since appropriate
timing of adult emergence and oviposition (egg-laying) behaviours are thought to
be important for survival and reproduction.
For the experiment, a few flies taken from the
group kept in complete darkness and complete light were exposed to normal cycle
of 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. They found that flies which were
taken from the group exposed to complete light tend to lay eggs at the time of
dusk when exposed to normal light and darkness cycle. On the other hand, flies
taken from the group exposed to complete darkness tend to lay eggs at about
In nature, a high temperature during the day may
increase the risk of drying of eggs, which may be the reason why egg-laying
mostly takes place in the evenings. Since the flies in complete darkness have
not been exposed to light for several generations they may have slowly lost this
ability of restricting egg-laying to the evenings.
The most interesting find of the study was that the
circadian rhythm did not degenerate over 19 years. Complete regression of the
circadian clock is very unlikely because of the several other functions of the
core circadian genes.
Over a decade, at least 11 tigers moved from
India into Nepal’ protected areas through the Terai, a landscape comprising
agricultural areas and protected forest-grasslands in the Himalayan
foothills. This reaffirms that tiger conservation requires not just
protected areas but corridors too especially across large landscapes to
ensure habitat connectivity and in turn, population growth.
With protected areas becoming isolated due to
habitat loss and conversion, large mammals including tigers have to now traverse
human-dominated areas to disperse to new territories.
North India’ Terai Arc Landscape, which shares a
700-km border with Nepal, spreads across more than 50,000 sq. km and has one of
the world's highest human population densities.
Apart from agricultural fields and rural
settlements, it also comprises 16 protected areas (five in Nepal and 11 in
India) and six major trans-boundary corridors which connect Indian wild habitats
To test how effectively these corridors aid tiger
movement, scientists from WWF-India and WWF-Nepal camera-trapped tigers for
38,319 days in the protected areas, covering an area of more than 9,000 sq. km
in multiple surveys between 2005 and 2016.
Identifying individual tigers, they found that at
least 11 tigers used these corridors to re-colonise Nepal, thus aiding the
recovery of tiger populations which had declined drastically in the mid 2000s
due to severe poaching pressures.
Growth rates of the tiger population in Nepal’s
Suklaphanta and Bardia national parks show that tiger numbers were far higher
than would have been possible from just reproduction by the existing population.
Connecting the locations that individual tigers were photographed from, the team
found that one tiger had moved across an area of 248 sq. km, as opposed to the
usual 20-sq. km-area in the Terai.
Planned development near the protected areas
including two roads could endanger the already-fragmented habitat. They suggest
that the tiger populations need to be conserved as a ‘metapopulation’, that is,
populations that are physically separate, but interact with one another as
animals migrate between them, helping populations persist over the years.
Folklore has it that jackals are opportunistic
survivors. Now scientists have discovered that, true to stereotype, jackals
living on a remote island with no freshwater have managed an extreme
adaptation to survive in the marine ecosystem: they meet their body’s
metabolic requirement for water by licking dew off leaves first thing every
Pirotan is the eastern most island in the Marine
National Park in Gujarat’s Jamnagar district. Located 12 km from the coast in
the Gulf of Kutch, Pirotan covers an area of around 3 sq km and is partly
submerged during high tide. According to a paper published recently in the
Journal of Threatened Taxa , the island is home to about 45 jackals.
A team of scientists had landed on the island to
study coral transplantation. While researching corals, they got a chance to
observe the behaviour of jackals. They were surprised to see jackals licking dew
in the morning. In the night, too, they could hear some sounds which later
established as jackals munching crabs. The jackals are the only large mammals on
this isolated island amidst marine fish, crabs and corals.
A scat analysis of the animals revealed that crabs
made up 89.5% of the jackals’ diet. This was another crucial adaptation, as it
served as a supplementary water source.
Although the island has no natural water source,
the jackals have adapted to manage their water needs from the crab meat. It was
also observed that jackals lick dew on the leaves in the morning just after sun