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India 112th in World Economic Freedom Index

India has been ranked 112th out of 159 countries in the 2016 World Economic Freedom Index (WEFI). 
•    The index was release as part of the 2016 annual report of the Economic Freedom. 
•    The report measures the economic freedom by analyzing the policies and institutions of all 159 countries and territories and was based on data from the year 2014. 
•    The economic freedom index of a country is directly proportional to the freedom and opportunities available to its citizens. 
•    Top 10 Countries in 2016 WEFI: Hong Kong (1st), Singapore (2nd), New Zealand (3rd), Switzerland (4th), Canada (5th), Georgia (6th), Ireland (7th), Mauritius (8th), UAE (9th) and Australia (10th). 
•    10 lowest-ranked countries: Iran (150th), Algeria (151st), Chad (152nd), Guinea (153rd), Angola (154th), Central African Republic (155th), Argentina (156th), Congo (157th), Libya (158th) and Venezuela (159th).

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PMO approves closure of sick Govt. companies

NITI Aayog’s proposal for shutting down 17 sick or loss-making government companies has received the go-ahead from Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). 
•    A second set of proposals from the Aayog for strategic sales aimed at reducing government ownership to below 51 per cent in about 22 public sector companies has also got the green signal from the PMO.
•    This second list includes the Miniratna helicopter services operator Pawan Hans Limited, Scooters India Limited, Cement Corporation of India Limited and three plants of the Maharatna Steel Authority of India (SAIL) located at Salem, Durgapur and Bhadravati. 
•    The Finance Ministry is approaching the Cabinet for its approval separately for each of the strategic sales the PMO has approved. 
•    The list of loss-making companies to be closed includes Indian Oil-CREDA Biofuels Ltd and CREDA HPCL Biofuel Ltd, both Jatropha oil-focussed subsidiaries of state-owned petroleum giants.

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Model Guidelines Released to Curb Ponzi Schemes

The Union Government on 12 September 2016 issued model guidelines for states to regulate direct selling and multi-level marketing businesses while prohibiting pyramid structures as well as money circulation schemes. The guidelines were issued to protect consumers from Ponzi frauds.
The Direct Selling Guidelines 2016 framework was released by the Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan.
•    Direct selling means marketing, distribution and sale of goods or providing of services as a part of network of direct selling other than under a pyramid scheme.
•    To conduct direct selling business, the guidelines have prescribed many conditions that need to be complied within 90 days.
•    The guidelines also mandate direct sellers to constitute a grievance redressal committee to protect consumers’ right.
•    They also prohibit direct selling entities from using misleading and deceptive or unfair recruitment practices.
•    The contract should provide direct sellers a reasonable cooling-off period in which they can cancel it and receive a refund for goods and services purchased.
•    The new guidelines mandate a seller to provide information about the name of the purchaser and seller, delivery date of goods, procedure of its return and its warranty.

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Establishment of Higher Education Financing Agency Approved

The Union Cabinet on 12 September 2016 approved the creation of the Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA).
•    The HEFA will be established to give a major push for creation of high quality infrastructure in premier educational institutions.
•    It will also mobilise CSR funds from PSUs/Corporates, which will in turn be released for promoting research and innovation in these institutions on grant basis.
•    The HEFA will finance the civil and lab infrastructure projects through a 10-year loan.
•    All the Centrally Funded Higher Educational Institutions will be eligible for joining as members of the HEFA.
•    For joining as members, the Institution should agree to escrow a specific amount from their internal accruals to HEFA for a period of 10 years. 
•    This secured future flows will be securitised by the HEFA for mobilising the funds from the market.
•    Each member institution will be eligible for a credit limit as decided by HEFA based on the amount agreed to be escrowed from the internal accruals.


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Union Cabinet approves formation of GST Council

The Union Cabinet on 12 September 2016 approved the process, formation and functioning of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council.
The GST Council and its Secretariat will be set up as per the following details:
•    Creation of the GST Council as per Article 279A of the amended Constitution
•    Creation of the GST Council Secretariat, with its office at New Delhi
•    Appointment of the Secretary (Revenue) as the Ex-officio Secretary to the GST Council
•    On 8 September 2016, President Pranab Mukherjee had given his assent to the 122nd Constitutional Amendment Bill. The Bill will pave the way for rollout of GST.
•    The new tax regime will do away with the indirect taxes. It will usher in one tax for the entire country.
•    Over 18 States have ratified the bill.
•    The GST is a single indirect tax, which will subsume most of the central and state taxes such as VAT, excise duty, service tax and central sales tax.

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India's August Retail Inflation slowing after good rainfall

India's consumer inflation is expected to have eased to a four-month low in August, helped by smaller rises in food price.
•    Consumer prices, which the Reserve Bank of India tracks as it sets interest rate policy, likely rose 5.5 percent in August, according to a Reuter’s poll of economists, compared with an increase of 6.07 percent in July.
•    Data on the consumer price index and industrial output will be released at 1200 GMT Monday.
•    Economists predict annual growth in industrial output decelerated to 1.7 percent in July from June's eight-month high of 2.1 percent.
•    Even if retail inflation eases as much as anticipated, it will still be above the RBI's March 2017 target of 5 percent, despite low global crude prices.
•    In Asia, China's annual consumer inflation slowed to 1.3 percent in August, while Indonesia's pace slowed to a near seven-year low of 2.8 percent


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ICICI Bank: First bank to introduce Software Robotics for power banking operations

India’s largest private sector bank ICICI Bank has successfully deployed ‘Software Robotics’ for power banking operations. 
•    With this, it becomes first bank in the country and among few globally to deploy ‘Software Robotics’. 
•    ICICI Bank has deployed Software Robotics to over 200 business processes across various functions. 
•    The 200 business processes include retail banking operations, agri-business, trade & foreign exchange, treasury and human resources management, among others.
•    It leverages recent advancements in artificial intelligence such as facial and voice recognition, machine learning, natural language processing, and bots among others. 
•    The software robots can perform over 10 lakh (1 million) banking transactions every working day. 
•    The software robots at ICICI Bank are configured to capture and interpret information from systems, recognize patterns and run business processes across multiple applications.

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Unified Payments Interface Becomes Operational

Unified Payments Interface (UPI) was introduced on 25 August 2016 by four banks, namely Axis Bank, Union Bank of India, Federal Bank and Bank of Maharashtra. 
•    The app will allow customers to make payments via digital means.
•    The app went live for these banks after National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) issued letters to them asking them to make the apps available on Google Play Store. 
•    Apart from this, the UPI-enabled apps will be available for other 19-banks in next 2-3 working days.
•    Initially, the facility, which is available on Google Play Store, will be available for bank customers with Android smart phones. 
•    Versions for Apple’s iOS operating system will be launched in next six months.
•    UPI, a product of NPCI, will help move India towards a cashless economy. 
•    It will allow customer to have multiple virtual address for accounts in various banks.
•    UPI is a set of standard Application Programming Interface (APIs).
•    National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) is the umbrella organisation for all retail payments system in India.

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Union Government Constitutes Committee to Suggest Steps to Promote Card Payments

The Union Finance Ministry has constituted an 11 members high-level committee to suggest steps to promote card payments with an aim to discourage cash transactions. 
•    The 11-member committee will be headed by former Finance Secretary Ratan P Watal. 
•    They will recommend various measures to incentivise transactions through cards and digital means, e.g., through tax incentives/rebates, introduction of cash back/lottery. 
•    Review the payments system in the country and recommend measures for encouraging digital payments. 
•    Study feasibility of creating a payments history of all card and digital payments and ensure that merchants and consumers can leverage the data to access. 
•    Study and recommend ways for leveraging Unique Identification Number (UID) or any other proof of identity for authentication of card and digital transactions. 
•    Study introduction of single window system of payment gateway to accept all types of cards and digital payments of government receipts.
•    Look into the scope of integration of all government systems like Public Finance Management System, Bharatkosh, PayGov and eKuber. 

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