Regulations
GST bill goes to Rajya Sabha select committee
The bill on the goods and services tax (GST) was on Tuesday sent to a select committee of the Rajya Sabha.
 
The committee will table its report in the upper house on the last day of the first week of next parliament session.
 
The 21-member committee is headed by Bhupender Yadav of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
 
Other members of the committee are: Chandan Mitra and Ajay Sancheti (BJP), Madhusudan Mistry, Bhalchandra Mungekar and Mani Shankar Aiyar (Congress), K.C. Tyagi (JD-U), Derek O'Brien (Trinamool Congress), A. Navaneethakrishnan (AIADMK), Satish Chandra Misra (BSP), K.N. Balagopal (CPI-M), Dilip Kumar Tirkey (BJD), C.M. Ramesh (TDP), Praful Patel (NCP), Kanimozhi (DMK), Anil Desai (Shiv Sena), Naresh Gujral (Shiromani Akali Dal), Mir Mohammad Fayaz (PDP), D. Raja (CPI) and Independent MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar.
 
The GST bill is seen as the key to facilitating industrial growth and improving the country's business climate.
 
By subsuming most indirect taxes levied by the central and state governments such as excise duty, service tax, VAT and sales tax, the goods and services tax regime proposes to facilitate a common market across the country, leading to economies of scale and reducing inflation through an efficient supply chain.
 
The government wants to implement the new regime before April 2016.
 
The passage of the bill to become a law is, however, a lengthy process. 
 
Being a constitution amendment bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha, it needs to be passed by the Rajya Sabha with a two-thirds majority and then ratified by at least 15 state legislatures before being sent for the President's assent.

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Earthquakes and their impact: Building codes must be strictly followed
In earthquakes, building collapses claim human lives. Some of the major cities in the Indo-Gangetic plain are connected underground upto Himalayan region
 
A big earthquake in Assam and in the Himalayan region was expected ever since I was a geophysics student at Banaras Hindu University during 1974-1976. At that time, funding agencies spent money for routine observations of various parameters in the wake of a major earthquake. In the past, a few major earthquakes have occurred in the Himalayan region: the Bihar-Nepal earthquake of In 1988, Uttarkashi in 1991 and Chamoli in 1999. They claimed many lives and many houses collapsed, especially during the Uttarkashi quake. The major damage to buildings occurred because of the poor quality of construction.
 
In the last three decades the population has increased and the density of buildings has also increased in the Indo-Gangetic plain; many high rise buildings have mushroomed in many cities in this area.
 
In earthquakes, building collapses claim human lives. Some of the major cities in the Indo-Gangetic plain are connected underground upto Himalayan region. If any major earthquake occurs in the Himalayan region, the energy will be transmitted to major cities - especially Delhi and the surrounding. Can all the houses and highrises sustain the ground acceleration generated by any earthquake? Taking the lead in this, IIT-Kanpur emphasized, at a series of conferences and workshops during 1988-2007, that building codes must be strictly followed in. But in India, it is difficult to follow these building codes and most of the buildings are built these only on the paper.
 
In India, we have the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), whose chairman is the prime minister. During the earlier Congress regime, scientists were involved and now Narendra Modi has been criticized for remove many scientific members and administrators. I must appreciate Mr. Modi’s action and his vision as some of the members were enjoying their positions without doing anything and never ever participated or visited any areas prone to natural hazards. 
 
I would urge Mr. Modi to launch an outreach programme on TV to warn people living in the Himalayan and Indo-Gangetic plain areas to make their buildings safe by following proper building codes and even educate poor people how to make a cheap and safe buildings so that human lives can be saved if an earthquake occurs. We must also educate school students about the different kind of natural hazards and their impact and how to save themselves. 
 
Earthquake prediction is a big challenge before scientists and it is difficult to expect any early warning. Scientists must be involved in understanding earthquake processes and develop building codes for different regions. The Ministry of Earth Sciences may consider enhancing the GPS network in the Himalayan region at intervals of 50-100 km. Overall, NDMA must study how to implement building codes to design earthquake proof buildings since a big earthquake may occur tomorrow or in a week or in s month or in a year. 
 
We should not forget 1923 Tokyo earthquake of 7.9 magnitude, which killed more than 148,000 people, with 50,000 going missing and thousands of buildings collapsing. These days, buildings are generally intact with the same magnitude earthquake in Japan since building codes are strictly followed. 

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COMMENTS

B. Yerram Raju

2 years ago

NGRI should guide the state governments on the zones that should be avoided for constructing multiplexes or residential complexes that should not cross certain number of floors and space. Second, all marshy soils and river and lake beds and seismic zones should not be allowed for any building beyond five floors. Japan has technologies that has enabled its citizens to safeguard against the earthquakes and also the roof and interior structures that can withstand the onslaught of high tremors. Let us learn from them and implement them. This should be in sync with the smart city and city Challenge projects on the anvil.Government departments should learn to work together and not in silos.

Do Large Advertisers Desire Government Regulation of Advertising?
Several large advertisers are undermining the self-regulatory body, ASCI. Do they want a government regulator?
 
Often, industry fails to realise that it has a good thing going with self-regulation. By its own actions, it can create a draconian alternative that neither helps the industry, its intermediaries or consumers. After all, retiring bureaucrats are ever eager to propose the setting up of ‘independent regulatory bodies’ which offer them an extension of service at better pay and perks than the best government jobs. 
 
It has happened with the capital market where faction-ridden brokers ran stock exchanges like private clubs. We have five financial regulators, but almost no redress for retail consumers’ grievances. A regulator for the real-estate industry is a crying need due to rampant flouting of rules, harassment of consumers and refusal to self-regulate.
 
However, the advertising industry has to be the strangest of them all. It is almost as though the industry, which is the big beneficiary of a strong, self-regulatory body, wants to work at damaging the Advertising Standards Council of India’s (ASCI’s) credibility. 
 
For at least 15 years now, I have been part of ‘civil society’ or NGO groups discussing the need for government regulation of false and misleading advertising. The allegation was that ASCI was an ineffective self-regulator. In 2011, the then minister for consumer affairs, KV Thomas also made similar remarks, even as the government was notoriously lax in enforcing a clutch of statues specifically to protect consumers. 
 
Since then, ASCI has sharpened its act considerably. It has expanded its reach by a more systematic process of monitoring advertisements, permitting the filing of online complaints and using social media to increase outreach and awareness. It has also launched an e-learning portal with an online training programme for advertisers and communication professionals. The next step would probably be for ASCI to make it mandatory for marketing executives of member companies and creative and client-service executives of advertising agencies to take this course and understand what is unacceptable advertising and why it is so. 
 
This would probably put a stop to ASCI members, mainly multinational companies (MNCs), behaving like petulant children and dragging ASCI to court when complaints against their advertisements are upheld. Sistema Shyam Teleservices filed cases against two ASCI orders. The first was one where a large number of consumers had found its portrayal of a woman’s birthing process ‘gross and indecent’ and ‘offensive to women’. Yet, it obtained a stay order from the Delhi High Court. The second time, however, its legal action over the speed claims of its Internet service did not work to its advantage.  
 
Amazon, Hero MotoCorp and a water purifier company were others who challenged ASCI’s orders in court. But Reckitt & Coleman (R&C), which makes Harpic and Dettol, has outstripped all—with four cases. Interestingly, R&C, which thinks ASCI’s processes are biased, has no problem using its fast-track mechanism to complain about its competitors. Another set of entities, which has challenged ASCI in court, are teleshopping channels who mint money by allowing a slew of unknown companies to market magic potions and miraculous remedies through actors and television stars. 
 
Strangely, this flurry of cases by MNCs with mega advertising budgets comes at a time when ASCI’s credibility is actually at an all-time high. The information & broadcasting ministry has made the ASCI Code a part of the Cable Television Networks Act, thereby making it mandatory for television channels to comply with the Code. 
 
In 2014, the ethics committee of Medical Council of India also strongly backed ASCI’s effort against fake advertisements. On 18 March 2015, the department of consumer affairs launched a web portal called ‘Grievances against Misleading Advertisements’ with a focus on agriculture and food, health, education, housing, financial services and e-commerce. 
 
Someone has to tell these bulge-budget advertisers that if they prefer a government regulator to sit in judgement on their advertisements, it would ratchet up their costs, compliances and disclosures, not to mention delays and endless red-tape which will impact creative freedom. Given the utter lack of accountability of almost every statutory regulator set up by the government, we know for sure that it would not help either consumers or advertisers. Maybe it is time for the industry to get together for some blunt-speak. 

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