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Modi pitches for simultaneous parliamentary, state assembly and local body polls across India

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bY S VENKAT NARAYAN,

Our Special Correspondent

 NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, once again pitched his One Nation, One Election idea —- simultaneous parliamentary, state assembly, and local body polls. He said this is not just a matter of debate, but a requirement for India.

Addressing presiding officers of legislatures from across India by video link, Modi also suggested a common voters list for all elections to prevent a waste of resources. He maintained that simultaneous elections at every level should be held using a common voter list.

“Every few months, we see an election in some part of the country. You all know what is the impact of these polls on development. There is a need for a deeper study and discussion on the issue, and I suggest that presiding officers may lead such discussions,” Modi said.

Holding elections in the world’s largest democracy is also possibly the most expensive on the planet. For example, New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies (CMS) has estimated that the 2019 Lok Sabha elections alone had cost INR 550 billion or $8 billion —- six times more than what the 1998 general election had cost.

Last year’s Lok Sabha polls had involved 900 million voters, went on for 75 days, extravagant rallies, widespread advertising in newspapers, on TV, radio and social media. In quite a few of the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies, candidates would have spent as much as INR 400 million! Several thousand security personnel and government employees get involved in conducting the polls. And administration across the country comes to a grinding halt.

Every time there is an election in a state, or local body polls, the same process gets repeated on a smaller scale, and no administrative work gets done because government officials get busy organizing the polls.

The One Nation, One Election idea was first pitched by Modi in 2015. It is also on the agenda of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The idea entails one election every five years for the Lok Sabha, states, even corporations. But it has met stiff resistance from rival parties.

Last year, the main Congress Party had skipped a meeting called by the PM on the issue, and the Left parties dubbed it as a “back-door way of replacing our parliamentary democracy”.

The issue has starkly divided India’s political parties. Its advocates have argued the move will help focus on governance, reduce expenditure, and help channel security forces more efficiently.

Its critics, including the Congress, have alleged that the move will undermine democratic accountability, the federal structure and also pointed to its lack of feasibility within the constitutional scheme.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said the Prime Minister has been pushing for simultaneous elections but any such measure requires structural changes in Constitution. “It is also against the very essence of democracy. So, we think it is just a rhetoric,” he added.

Describing the presiding officers as a bridge between the public and the Constitution, Modi hit out indirectly at the Congress for imposing Emergency rule in the 1975. He said it was an attempt to dilute the separation of power of the three wings of the state, but that the Constitution eventually provided a solution.

“After the Emergency, the system of checks and balances kept getting stronger as the legislature, executive and judiciary moved ahead, learning from the episode,” he said.

On Constitution Day, which commemorates the adoption of the Constitution of India, Modi said the national charter had also helped India tackle the challenges posed by Covid-19 by enabling the passage of several laws to help the people. He praised parliamentarians for accepting pay cuts and working more to increase Parliament’s productivity.

The Prime Minister cautioned against a tendency of keeping projects pending, citing the example of the Sardar Sarovar dam in Gujarat, which was stuck for years, delaying the benefits that accrued to the people of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan when it was finally constructed.



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COPA questions lion’s share of fines going to Customs

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Irregularities, lapses, corruption erode public finance

By Shamindra Ferdinando

 The Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) has summoned the Inland Revenue Department tomorrow (23) for an inquiry regarding the inordinate delay in collecting taxes amounting to billions of rupees and extraordinary payments made to the officers of the Customs Department out of fines imposed on both public and private sector enterprises.

Besides, a COPA sub-committee is inquiring into revenue losses suffered over the years as a result of releasing vehicles imported for special purposes as dual-purpose vehicles. 

SLPP MP Prof. Tissa Vitharana heads the all-party watchdog committee. 

Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake in a statement issued on April 19 through the Communication Department of the Parliament said that Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and COPA summoned four enterprises. COPE called the Sri Lanka Football Federation and the National Film Corporation on April 22 and 23, respectively. The COPA summoned the Wildlife Conservation Department and the Inland Revenue on April 21 and April 23, respectively, Dasanayake said.

COPA has fixed the meeting in the wake of disclosure of major shortcomings in the overall revenue collection process. Following COPA meeting Inland Revenue Chief H.M.C. Bandara on March 10, the watchdog committee called for accelerated measures to recover dues. The COPA pointed out that out of Rs 107 bn due to the government, only Rs 224 mn had been recovered so far, immediate measures were required to collect taxes and fines.

At the same meeting, the COPA, having questioned the correctness of a list containing tax defaulters furnished by the Inland Revenue Department, emphasized the pivotal importance of rectifying the shortcomings. The COPA also raised the practicability in recovering taxes in terms of the data provided by ‘Legacy’ and ‘RAMIS’ computer systems. 

The Inland Revenue Commissioner General lamented before COPA how inordinate delay in legal proceedings thwarted their efforts to recover taxes. The COPA assured that the Justice Ministry and the Finance Ministry would be summoned for a meeting along with the Inland Revenue Department to explore ways and means of overcoming the issue at hand.

At a subsequent COPA meeting held late March, it was revealed that in addition to their failure to recover taxes amounting to Rs 2,670 mn due from casinos, the Inland Revenue received 6,878 dishonored cheques to the tune of Rs 2,451,465,383. COPA members present on this occasion included Dayasiri Jayasekera, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle, Tissa Attanayake, Mohamed Muzammil, Niroshan Perera, Dr. Upul Galapatti, Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Cader Mastan, S. Sritharan and Weerasumana Weerasinha.

That particular meeting was also told that the amount of collectable taxes in terms of the ‘Default Taxes (Special Provisions) Act No 16 of 2010 (certified on Dec 07, 2010) amounted to a staggering Rs 144.5 bn. 

COPA and the Consultative Committee on Ports and Shipping had also taken up on March 9 and 24 the highly contentious issue of the Customs officers taking a big share of fines imposed on tax defaulters, both public and private sector. COPA pointed out that the Customs took advantage of the provision that 50 per cent of the fines imposed on defaulters were shared among those involved in a particular detection. COPA has discussed two specific issues in this regard. COPA pointed out that the allocation of 50 per cent of a fine received from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) for defaulting in respect of gantry cranes to Customs officers was a major problem. COPA focused on taking necessary measures in this regard after having discussed the matter with relevant authorities, including the Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle.

COPA pointed out how out of Rs 205 mn fine imposed on Lanka Coal Company (Pvt) Limited for defrauding taxes, Rs 102.5 mn (50 per cent of the total amount) had been distributed among Customs officers as rewards and Rs 41 mn for their welfare (20 per cent) thereby leaving the government with only Rs 61.5 mn. COPA has directed Treasury Secretary Attygalle to conduct a fresh inquiry into this and take tangible measures to prevent similar malpractices in the future.

COPA investigations have also revealed massive racket in the registration of ‘dual purpose’ vehicles. It revealed that as a result of corrupt elements since 2013 registering vehicles imported for special purposes as ‘dual purpose’ vehicles the Treasury lost taxes amounting to Rs 220 mn.

In addition to that the Treasury had been also deprived of taxes amounting to Rs 1.300 mn by not imposing Rs 3 mn each on 443 special vans brought to the country during 2010-2019 period.

COPA also stated that the Customs perpetrated another massive fraud by allowing the import of 10 vans and 414 lorries as special purpose vehicles during 2010-2014.

COPA reported the Customs imposing Rs 1.5 mn tax on a super luxury car instead of legitimate Rs 56 mn.

It revealed the loss of revenue to the tune of Rs 6.1 bn during 2013-2016 period due to the Customs adopting wrong procedure in respect of large quantities of palm oil imports by two enterprises. The watchdog committee has instructed the Customs to expedite measures to recover the dues from those companies.

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India reiterates commitment to Sri Lanka’s security

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India has reiterated her support for Sri Lanka’s fight against terrorism. The assurance was made on the second anniversary of 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. The following is the text of statement issued by the Indian High Commission yesterday: “High Commissioner Gopal Baglay attended the solemn ceremony at St. Anthony’s Church on 21 April 2021 to mark the second anniversary of the dastardly Easter Sunday attacks. He lit a candle in memory of the victims of the attack and prayed for the recovery of those who are still suffering from its aftermath.

“It may be recalled that the High Commissioner had paid homage to the victims at the Church also on 23 May 2020, the first day after the completion of the mandatory 14-day quarantine period, subsequent to his arrival to Sri Lanka on 8 May 2020 on a special flight carrying a gift consignment of essential medical supplies from India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also paid his respects at the Church during the solidarity visit to Sri Lanka in June 2019.

“St. Anthony’s Church was one of the multiple targets of the Easter Sunday attacks, which also took away the lives of 10 Indians. These Indian victims fell prey to the perpetrators at Shangri-la, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand Hotels.  

India and Sri Lanka cooperate closely in all aspects across the security spectrum. India stands firmly with the people and Government of Sri Lanka in the fight against terrorism and also collaborate on curbing various other illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, narcotics, etc. “

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Explosive cargo: Ship carrying compound used for enrichment of uranium asked to leave H’tota port

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A ship that made an emergency call at the Hambantota International Port on Tuesday night (20) carrying Uranium hexafluoridea–a compound used in the process of enriching uranium, which produces fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons–has been asked to leave.

Chandula Rambukwella, Senior Manager, Commercial & Marketing, Hambantota International Port, issued the following statement yesterday: “M.V. BBC Naples sailing under the flag of “Antigua & Barbados” entered the port of Hambantota on 20th April at 2100 hrs, while en route from Rotterdam to China. The ship made an emergency call at the port for some urgent repairs. Agents for the vessel in Sri Lanka, Ms. Barwil Meridian Navigation, had not declared to the port authorities that there was dangerous cargo on board, prior to the vessel entering the port.

It was later found that they were carrying a cargo of Uranium Hexafluoride via investigations made by the Sri Lanka Navy and the Port Authority. The vessel was required to leave the port no sooner the facts were verified.

The SLPA, Navy, and Customs officials had approved all the necessary documentation prior to berthing of the vessel, based on the declaration made by the agent. The Navy and Customs were present at all times to ensure that there wasn’t any cargo unloaded onto the Hambantota International Port premises.”

 

 

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