TIME India

India’s Modi Aims to Put Economy into Higher Gear With First Full Budget

India's PM Modi, President Mukherjee, Lok Sabha speaker Mahajanand Vice President Ansari walk inside the parliament premises as they arrive to attend the first day of the budget session in New Delhi
Reuters India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center left, and members of his government walk inside the parliament premises as they arrive to attend the first day of the budget session in New Delhi, Feb. 23, 2015.

Attempts to both satisfy the business community and help the poor

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government unveiled its first full-year budget on Saturday, ramping up infrastructure spending, cutting corporate taxes and unveiling plans for a new universal social security system.

Modi’s finance minister, Arun Jaitley, said the proposals laid out “a roadmap for accelerating growth,” as he delayed deficit-reduction plans to make room for new spending. But Jaitley steered clear of any measures to dramatically alter to the country’s economic architecture, sticking with, for example, food and fuel subsidies worth billions of dollars annually.

Instead, Modi’s government sought to balance the demands of business executives who were showing signs of impatience with the pace of economic reforms with measures to provide pensions and life insurance for the country’s poorest citizens. Here are five highlights from Saturday’s budget.

New infrastructure funding

Jaitley announced plans to pump an additional $11.4 billion in road, rail and other such projects across the country next year. He also said the government would set up a new fund to spur investment in infrastructure, long seen as a drag on growth as businesses both big and small struggle to move goods around the vast South Asian nation. The World Economic Forum’s annual global competitiveness report, for example, places India 87 out of 144 economies in terms of infrastructure. “Our infrastructure does not match our growth ambitions,” said Jaitley, as he also announced plans to set up five major power plants with a capacity of 4,000 megawatts each.

Taxes cut for business

Indian stock markets, which stayed open as Jaitley rose to speak in Parliament on Saturday, moved higher as the government unveiled a cut in corporate taxes from 30% to 25% over the next four years. “This will lead to higher levels of investment, higher growth and more jobs,” said Jaitley. A planned goods and services tax, meant to replace a series of federal and state-level taxes with a single levy, will be implemented from April next year. There was also a new tax on the country’s super-rich, or those earning more than Rs. 1 crore (around $162,000), who will now face a 2% surcharge on their incomes.

Social security reforms

While lower corporate taxes cheered business executives, Jaitley also unveiled plans for a new, wide-ranging social security scheme, including a measure that he said would provide government-subsidized accidental death insurance to the poor for an annual premium of Rs. 12 — or around 20 U.S. cents. There were also plans to provide pensions for the poor, and subsidize physical aids for senior citizens living below the poverty line.

Steps to bring tourists to India

The government said it would increase the number of countries covered by India’s visa-on-arrival initiative to 150 (albeit “in stages”) from the 43 announced last November, in order to boost tourism to the country. There were also measures to spruce up the country’s historic monuments, many of which are in need of restoration work.

A tax break for yoga

Prime Minister Modi approvingly thumped his desk in Parliament as Jaitley announced a move to class yoga as a charitable activity, making its promotion eligible for tax exemptions, according to the Press Trust of India news agency. A longstanding advocate of the discipline, Modi last year appointed a separate minister in his government responsible for the promotion of alternative therapies such as yoga and traditional medicine.

TIME India

Five Things to Know About India’s Much-Anticipated Budget

INDIA-ECONOMY-BUDGET-JAITLEY
PRAKASH SINGH—AFP/Getty Images Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, center, leaves his office to table the budget in Parliament in New Delhi on July 10, 2014

Voters look to Modi's government for far-reaching reforms

With just three months to go before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes his first year in office, expectations are running high as his government prepares to unveil its annual budget on Saturday, Feb. 28.

Investors and economists are hoping that the government will use the occasion to announce reforms that make India more business-friendly, hacking away at red tape and obstructive laws, and opening up the economy to help it grow faster.

Here are five things to know as Modi’s Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, prepares to unveil the budget in the lower house of the Indian Parliament:

1. Modi’s first budget was underwhelming. Presented less than two months after he came to power on a platform of boosting economic growth, the Modi government’s first budget was widely judged a disappointment, lacking the kinds of initiatives that economists said were necessary to overhaul the Indian economy. This time round, the Modi administration has had months to prepare and the country will be looking for wide-ranging reforms to back up his promises to revitalize the Indian economy.

2. The budget comes as Modi faces growing opposition to his reformist agenda. Although the Modi government has a majority in Parliament’s lower house, it lacks the numbers to push through laws in the upper chamber. As a result, Modi has resorted to a series to executive orders to introduce reforms — including a controversial move to speed up the acquisition of land for industrial projects. That executive order, known as the land ordinance, has sparked opposition from rival political parties as well groups representing Indian farmers, who say it privileges the wishes of corporations over the welfare of poor landowners. Earlier this week, the Indian anticorruption crusader Anna Hazare was joined by Delhi’s new chief minister Arvind Kejriwal as he led protests against the land ordinance, which, like Modi’s other executive orders, must eventually be ratified by the Indian Parliament.

3. In an unusual move, India’s share markets will remain open on Saturday, according to an announcement from the National Stock Exchange and the Bombay Stock Exchange, underscoring the high expectations ahead of the budget announcement by Jaitley.

4. The budget for India’s sprawling railway network has already been announced. And it pointed to an emphasis on improving the country’s aging transport infrastructure, with the Modi government unveiling plans to invest some $137 billion over the coming five years to modernize India’s vast rail system.

5. Tax reform could be among the key talking points this weekend. Jaitley may announce fresh exemptions to personal income taxes, as he attempts to drive up both savings and disposable income for the country’s middle classes. All eyes, however, will be on a proposal to do away with a series of indirect state and central government taxes on goods and services, which critics say have balkanized the Indian economy, and replace them with a single Goods and Services Tax (GST). The idea is to reduce the paperwork and hurdles faced by companies — and turn India into a common market. There are hopes that Jaitley will use his budget speech on Saturday to announce a timeline for the implementation of the GST.

TIME India

India Sets About Modernizing Its Vital Train Network in Annual Rail Budget

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Grant Faint—Getty Images

The government will invest about $137 billion over the next five years

The Indian government presented its annual railway budget on Thursday, announcing key upgrades including an increase in track length and separate freight corridors. But the moves that were not implemented — a further hike in passenger fares and the introduction of new trains — have been deemed just as significant.

Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu outlined a five-year plan that will see the government monetize its existing assets rather than selling them off, Reuters reports. The New Delhi government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will invest over $137 billion in the railways during that period.

India’s rail network, the fourth largest in the world, is one of the key components of the country’s economy and the only sector with an independently presented budget. “We must restore the strength of Indian Railways as the backbone of the country’s transportation infrastructure,” Prabhu said.

There was also a focus on infrastructural developments and the safety of female passengers, with WiFi access touted for 400 stations and security cameras to be installed in some trains.

Thursday’s budget was widely praised for its balance between populism and development, raising public optimism ahead of the Modi government’s first annual budget, which will be announced Saturday.

[Reuters]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 25

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The U.S. wants to hack your phone because it doesn’t have the real spies it needs.

By Patrick G. Eddington at Reuters

2. Eight universities account for half of all history professors in the U.S. How did that happen?

By Joel Warner and Aaron Clauset in Slate

3. Bill Gates is investing in low-tech impact entrepreneurs in India.

By David Bank in Entrepreneur

4. “Liquid biopsy” can detect cancer from a few drops of blood.

By Michael Standaert in MIT Technology Review

5. Let’s build the infrastructure to make microfinance institutions into true innovation hubs.

By Jessica Collier in Medium

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Immigration

Dependent Spouses of Highly Skilled Immigrant Workers to Get Work Permits

The immigration reform will take effect at the end of May

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a major immigration reform on Tuesday, allowing spouses of individuals on the H-1B visa (known as H-4 dependent spouses) to apply for work permits.

The new rules were announced by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Leon Rodriguez and will take effect on May 26 this year, according to a government release.

“Allowing the spouses of these visa holders to legally work in the United States makes perfect sense,” Rodriguez said, adding that the move would incentivize highly skilled workers and their families to stay in the country long enough to acquire green cards.

The reforms, announced as part of President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, were met with relief in countries like India, which sends a large number of workers into the U.S. tech industry while their spouses are unable to legally work.

“I miss my job, I miss my financial independence,” said software engineer Swapnil Gupta, who moved to the U.S. in 2011 with her husband, according to Reuters.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to what I love doing,” she added, calling the new regulations a “great relief.”

Read next: Why Congress Is Feuding With Obama Over the Homeland Security Budget

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Environment

UN Climate Panel’s Chief Steps Down Over Sexual Harassment Claims

R.K. Pachauri in 2010.
Manan Vatsyayana—AFP/Getty Images R.K. Pachauri in 2010.

R.K. Pachauri, 75, had chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since 2002

The leader of the U.N.’s expert panel on climate change stepped down on Tuesday amid an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment in his native India.

R.K. Pachauri, 75, had chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since 2002 and accepted the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on its behalf.

The IPCC “needs strong leadership and dedication of time and full attention by the chair in the immediate future, which under the current circumstances I may be unable to provide,” Pachauri wrote in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

He did not elaborate but pointed to his withdrawal from a meeting in Nairobi this week to attend to what the IPCC called “issues demanding his attention in India.”

Pachauri is being investigated in India after a 29-year-old woman accused him of sexually harassing her while they worked together at the New Delhi lobbying and research organization he heads, The Energy Resources Institute.

Pachauri denies the allegations and has said he is “committed to provide all assistance and cooperation to the authorities.”

The IPCC said vice chairman Ismail El Gizouli will serve as the panel’s acting chairman, and a vote on a new chairperson was already scheduled for October. Pachauri’s second term as chairman was due to end then, and he had said that he wouldn’t run for a third term.

Pachauri said in his resignation letter that he “would be available for help, support and advice to the entire IPCC in its future work in whatever manner I may be called on to provide.”

TIME India

Swine Flu Claims 38 More Lives in India, Total Death Toll Passes 800

Travellers with masks walk on a railway platform in Pune
Arko Datta—Reuters Travellers with masks walk on a railway platform in Pune August 18, 2009.

More than 13,000 people have contracted the H1N1 virus

Swine flu has claimed 38 more lives in India, taking the total nationwide death toll to 812, according to the latest figures released by the country’s health ministry on Sunday.

The total number of people affected by the H1N1 virus has now crossed 13,000, Indian newspaper The Hindu reported.

The new numbers represent a significant jump from the 774 deaths and 12,963 affected individuals cited by the ministry just a day earlier, but a senior health official said there has been an overall dip in the number of fresh cases.

Earlier, private doctors in the north Indian state of Haryana had accused the government of downplaying the number of swine flu cases there and discouraging laboratory testing for the virus.

However, the president of the Haryana Civil Medical Services Association said that private hospitals are forcing patients to pay large sums of money for swine flu testing.

“The private sector has been creating panic in society just to exploit the situation to make more money,” he said. “The public advisory issued has been in the wider interests of people.”

TIME global health

Swine Flu Outbreak Kills 700 in India

Students wearing masks to prevent getting infected by Swine
Pacific Press—LightRocket/Getty Images Students wearing masks to prevent getting infected by Swine flu in Allahabad, India on Feb. 18 2015.

A total of 11,000 people have been infected

A serious outbreak of H1N1 has struck in India, causing more than 700 deaths in the last eight weeks.

More than 11,000 have been infected with the disease commonly known as swine flu, Boomberg reports. The outbreak is thought to be the worst the country has seen since 2009. Infections have seemed to gain momentum over the last week, with the total number of cases doubling since Feb. 11.

While the government said Thursday that there was plenty of medicine available to treat H1N1, hospitals have reported shortages—potentially due to individuals stockpiling the drug as the outbreak worsens.

[Bloomberg]

TIME Australia

Former Gitmo Inmate ‘Relieved’ After Terrorism Conviction Quashed

Former Australian Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks, right, in Sydney on February 19, 2015
Saeed Khan—AFP/Getty Images Former Australian Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks in Sydney on February 19, 2015

U.S. court says Australian David Hicks did not commit a war crime

Australian David Hicks announced relief after a U.S. court overturned his terrorism conviction Wednesday.

The court declared that the former Guantanamo Bay inmate did not commit a war crime, therefore his conviction was not eligible to be heard in a military court, reports the BBC.

“It’s a relief because it’s over,” Hicks said in a Sydney news conference.

Hicks, 39, pleaded guilty in 2007 to charges of providing material support to terrorism. In 2000, Hicks trained with Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan and participated in an attack against Indian forces. In 2001, the Northern Alliance captured Hicks in Afghanistan, where he met Osama bin Laden and enrolled in Al-Qaeda training camps, the BBC reported.

In a rare move, the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review overturned his conviction in a unanimous ruling. Under new rules, providing material support for terrorism no longer qualifies as a war crime for events prior to 2006.

Hicks was sentenced to seven years in Guantanamo Bay, but after pleading guilty, he was allowed to return to Australia after nine months. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said, “Let’s not forget whatever the legalities… he was up to no good on his own admission.”

[BBC]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 18

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. More than a decade ago, the international community tackled AIDS in Africa. Now we should do the same with cancer in the developing world.

By Lawrence N. Shulman in Policy Innovations

2. Finally, an app for kids to anonymously report cyber-bullying.

By Issie Lapowsky in Wired

3. Indians in the U.S. sent $13 billion home last year. A new plan aims to push some of that money into social good investments in India.

By Simone Schenkel in CSIS Prosper

4. Websites are just marketing. The next Internet is TV.

By John Herrman in The Awl

5. The U.K. may set up a digital court to settle small claims online.

By Chris Baraniuk in New Scientist

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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