Today’s News Updates – 2 February 2018

Ayushman Bharat for a new India -2022

The Government has announced two major initiatives in health sector, as part of Ayushman Bharat programme. These two health sector initiatives under Ayushman Bharat Programme will build a New India 2022 and ensure enhanced productivity, well being and avert wage loss and impoverishment. These Schemes will also generate lakhs of jobs, particularly for women.

The initiatives are as follows:

Health and Wellness Centre: The National Health Policy, 2017 has envisioned Health and Wellness Centres as the foundation of India’s health system. Under this 1.5 lakh centres will bring health care system closer to the homes of people. These centres will provide comprehensive health care, including for non-communicable diseases and maternal and child health services. These centres will also provide free essential drugs and diagnostic services. The Budget has allocated Rs.1200 crore for this flagship programme. Contribution of private sector through CSR and philanthropic institutions in adopting these centres is also envisaged.

National Health Protection Scheme: The second flagship programme under Ayushman Bharat is National Health Protection Scheme, which will cover over 10 crore poor and vulnerable families (approximately 50 crore beneficiaries) providing coverage upto 5 lakh rupees per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization. This will be the world’s largest government funded health care programme. Adequate funds will be provided for smooth implementation of this programme.


Ashgabat agreement

India has been admitted to Agreement on the Establishment of an International Transport and Transit Corridor” between Iran, Oman, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan signed on April 25, 2011, known as the Ashgabat Agreement. All the four founding members have consented to the accession of India and India’s accession to the Agreement will enter into force on February 3, 2018.

Significance of this accession:

Accession to the Agreement would diversify India’s connectivity options with Central Asia and have a positive influence on India’s trade and commercial ties with the region. It also assumes significance given Beijing’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative of which the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), that leads to Gwadar port in Pakistan passing through Pakistan-administered Kashmir, is a major part. India’s stand has been that while it is all for connectivity, such initiatives should respect the territorial integrity of other countries.

About Ashgabat agreement:

The Ashgabat Agreement aims to develop a shortest trade route between Central Asian countries and Iranian and Omani ports. The Ashgabat Agreement has Oman, Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as founding members. Kazakhstan has also joined this arrangement subsequently. In October 2016, Pakistan also formally joined the Ashgabat Agreement.

The Iran-Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan (ITK) railway line will be the major route according to the Ashgabat Agreement, which became operational in December 2014 and was also included as part of India-funded North-South international transport corridor (NSITC).

Facts for Prelims:

Ashgabat, known as Poltoratsk between 1919 and 1927, is the capital and the largest city of Turkmenistan in Central Asia, situated between the Karakum Desert and the Kopet Dag mountain range.


Gift City gets unified regulator

The International Financial Service Centre (IFSC) at Gift City, Gujarat has received a major boost with the Finance Minister proposing a unified regulator for the special finance zone along with tax benefits for non-residents and non-corporate entities operating there.

This assumes significance as various government agencies and regulators, including the Reserve Bank of India and Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), have oversight on entities that operate in the zone.

Way ahead:

The announcement of setting up of unified regulator for IFSC in India would help India achieve its full potential in the global financial markets. Globally, most of the financial centres host unified regulator in the same centre. This decision would help in establishing GIFT IFSC as a global financial hub.

What is an IFSC?

An IFSC caters to customers outside the jurisdiction of the domestic economy. Such centres deal with flows of finance, financial products and services across borders. London, New York and Singapore can be counted as global financial centres. Many emerging IFSCs around the world, such as Shanghai and Dubai, are aspiring to play a global role in the years to come.

What are the services an IFSC can provide?

Fund-raising services for individuals, corporations and governments.
Asset management and global portfolio diversification undertaken by pension funds, insurance companies and mutual funds.
Wealth management.
Global tax management and cross-border tax liability optimization, which provides a business opportunity for financial intermediaries, accountants and law firms.
Global and regional corporate treasury management operations that involve fund-raising, liquidity investment and management and asset-liability matching.
Risk management operations such as insurance and reinsurance.
Merger and acquisition activities among trans-national corporations.


BharatNet Project

To further promote the Centre’s BharatNet project for providing broadband services in 2.5 lakh gram panchayats of the country, the finance ministry has proposed an allocation of Rs 8,175 crore, which will be used towards completing the second phase of the programme under which 1.5 lakh gram panchayats will be covered.

About BharatNet project:

Bharat Net sought to connect all of India’s households, particularly in rural areas, through broadband, forming the backbone of the government’s ambitious Digital India programme. It proposes broadband connectivity to households under village panchayats and even to government institutions at district level. The project is being funded through the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).

In its first phase, the BharatNet project saw over one lakh gram panchayats being connected across the country with high speed optical fibre network as of December 31, 2017. Under the first phase, the project saw 2,54,895 km of optical fibre cable being laid covering 1,09,926 gram panchayats out of which 1,01,370 gram panchayats have been provided active connectivity.

Universal Service Obligation Fund:

USOF, established in 2002, provides effective subsidies to ensure telegraph services are provided to everyone across India, especially in the rural and remote areas. It is headed by the USOF Administrator who reports to the Secretary, Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

Funds come from the Universal Service Levy (USL) of 5% charged from all the telecom operators on their Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) which are then deposited into the Consolidated Fund of India, and require prior parliamentary approval to be dispatched.

The USOF works through a bidding process, where funds are given to the enterprise quoting the lowest bid. However, the funds for NOFN were made an exception to this process since BBNL was the sole party involved in the implementation having being specifically created for it.


Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE)

The government has announced a new initiative called Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE).

Key facts:

The initiative aims to step up investments in research and related infrastructure in premier educational institutions, including health institutions. It will have a total investment of ₹1,00,000-crore in the next four years.
Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) would be suitably structured for funding this initiative. The manner in which investment in institutions is provided is likely to be the same as is practised in HEFA, but there may be different windows for different institutions.

About HEFA:

What is it? The Union Cabinet had approved HEFA in September 2016 as a Special Purpose Vehicle with a public sector bank (Canara Bank). It would be jointly funded by the promoter/bank and the MHRD with an authorised capital of ₹2,000 crore. The government equity would be ₹1,000 crore.

Functions: HEFA will leverage the equity to raise up to ₹20,000 crore for the funding of world-class infrastructure at the IITs, IIMs, the National Institutes of Technology (NITs) and such other institutions. The agency is also expected to mobilise Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds from public sector units (PSUs) and corporates. These would be released as grants to eligible institutions for promoting research and innovation.

Significance of HEFA: Funding from HEFA is expected to boost infrastructure, especially state-of-the-art laboratories, in key institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), and the Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs).


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