28/02/2015

China to spend 26 billion yuan to register rights ahead of rural reforms | South China Morning Post

China will spend about 26 billion yuan (HK$33 billion) to help identify and register the contractual rights over the nation’s arable land to pave the way for rural reforms.

Uygur farmers prepare potato beds in Xinjiang province. Photo: Reuters

More than 200 million rural households around the nation will be interviewed to help prepare the accurate record of farming rights.

Calling the task a “massive systematic project”, the Ministry of Agriculture said on Friday that clarifying land tenure and issuing certificates to farmers would form the basis of a series of expected reforms which aimed to help free up the rural land market.

Nearly 200,000 villages around the country – or one third of the total – have begun with the task, by aerial photography or site measurement, said MOA officials in a press conference.

Zhao Kun, a deputy inspector of the ministry’s rural economic system department, said local governments had appropriated a total of 8 billion yuan to carry out the job.

The central government has promised to provide 10 yuan for each mu of arable land – the Chinese unit of land area, which measures 666 square metres – a total of 18 billion yuan according to official data that states the mainland had 1.82 billion mu of farmland up to the end of 2011.

The Land Administration Law states that the ownership of rural land belongs to village collectives, with farmers given contractual rights to the land they farm for 30 years.

The central authorities decided to increase the security of land tenure in 2008. A directive issued that year said that contractual land management rights for farmers should “remain unchanged for a very long time”.

However, unlike urban home owners, rural residents do not yet hold any certification to prove their legal rights to their homes and farmland.

This makes it hard for them to transfer the land, which is forbidden by existing regulations but now being reformed in order to encourage larger scale farming and improve utilization efficiency of rural land.

Zhang Hongyu, head of the rural economic system department, said when farmers were given contractual rights of farmland in the first round of rural reform a few of decades ago, there were only rough estimates made about the size of their land plots owing to limitations over measuring methods at the time.

“Any related document the farmers previously had – either a contract or some other sort of certificate – showed different figures from what we are now finding,” he said.

Zhao said the project was not only a technical issue of measurement.

“It also involves interviews with each of the more than 200 million rural households [around the nation], which are really important for farmers as they need to know how big their plots are and where they’re located,” he said.

via China to spend 26 billion yuan to register rights ahead of rural reforms | South China Morning Post.

28/02/2015

What the Budget Means for Regular Indians – India Real Time – WSJ

The Modi government’s budget offered some sops for middle-class tax payers and a series of steps aimed at boosting social security for the country’s poor.

Tax Breaks on Health Insurance, Travel: Individuals will be allowed to deduct up to 25,000 rupees ($400) annually in health-insurance premiums from their taxes. That is an increase from the current 15,000-rupee deduction. For people 60 years or older, the deduction will be 30,000 rupees.

Mr. Jaitley also proposed increasing the amount of transportation expenses individuals can deduct to 1,600 rupees a month, up from 800 rupees a month now.

Pension Deduction: Individuals can now claim an additional tax deduction of up to 50,000 rupees ($800) if they put the money in the government’s New Pension Scheme. “This will enable India to become a pensioned society instead of a pensionless society,” said Mr. Jaitley.

Social Security programs: In a bid to provide a social safety net, Mr. Jaitley said the state will provide accidental death insurance of 200,000 rupees for a premium of just one rupee a month. State insurers will also offer policies covering natural and accidental death for 330 rupees a year.

Though available to all, the relatively small size of the insurance cover implies these will likely be used mostly by the poor.

The government will also encourage individuals to set up pension accounts under a new program. For individuals who open such an account by Dec. 31, the government will match individual contributions up to 1,000 rupees a year, for five years.

Tax-Free bonds:  Mr. Jaitley plans to allow government agencies and others to issue tax-free infrastructure bonds to fund roads, railways and irrigation. Details weren’t disclosed but typically interest on such bonds is tax free.

Service Tax: Now for the bad news: your restaurant and phone bills will soon go up, because the government will raise the service tax to 14% from 12.4%. Individuals indirectly pay this tax on a wide range of services, including on insurance premiums, hotel bills and electricity bills.

Gold Bonds: Since Indians won’t give up their love for gold, Mr. Jaitley tried to come up with ways to at least get it out of people’s homes and into banks. He introduced a plan that he said would make it easier for people keep gold in a bank, earn interest on it and borrow against it.

Mr. Jaitley also proposed a “Sovereign Gold Bond” that would act as an alternate to owning physical gold. These bonds would have a fixed rate of interest and “be redeemable in cash in terms of the face value of the gold,” he said.

Unaccounted-for Money: Mr. Jaitley said the government would introduce more stringent requirements for people to declare assets held overseas and make it harder for people to buy real-estate with cash in an effort to tax evasion.

via What the Budget Means for Regular Indians – India Real Time – WSJ.

27/02/2015

Mufti-Modi meeting clears decks for BJP-PDP government in J&K – The Hindu

Decks were cleared for the first ever formation of a BJP-PDP coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir following a “historic” meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and PDP chief Mufti Mohammed Sayeed where the two leaders gave their approval for a common minimum programme (CMP) for governance. The swearing-in will be on March 1.

PDP patron Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their meeting in New Delhi on Friday. Photo: PIB

Clearly the PDP expects the NDA government to resume dialogue process with Pakistan and Hurriyat leaders as Mr. Sayeed emphasised, after the meeting, the need to engage with Islamabad. The government, he said, must take off from where former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee left when he had extended a hand of friendship to the then Pakistan leadership. “History has given us another chance. We want to repeat history.’’

“It was a war of nerves,” he admitted to a questioner when asked about the BJP and the PDP reconciling two extreme ideologies but added that “common ground has been found” and both sides were “flexible”.

Repeating the BJP slogan of sab ka saath sab ka vikas, he said, the Prime Minister has won the mandate of the people of the country and has full legitimacy to decide on this alliance and adding that “this had to be done’”.

“We will now give a healing touch to the State,” he said.

via Mufti-Modi meeting clears decks for BJP-PDP government in J&K – The Hindu.

27/02/2015

India in sweet spot of lower deficits, more growth – Economic Survey | Reuters

India can increase investment to drive economic growth without borrowing more, a key government report said on Friday, in an indication that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will stick to debt targets in his maiden full-year budget on Saturday.

Labourers work at the site of a monorail project in Mumbai February 27, 2015. REUTERS-Shailesh Andrade

The Economic Survey, the basis for Jaitley’s budget for the fiscal year starting April 1, forecast growth of 8.1 percent to 8.5 percent under new calculations that make India the world’s most dynamic big economy. The forecast marks an acceleration from growth of 7.4 percent in the current fiscal year.

“India has reached a sweet spot and … there is a scope for Big Bang reforms now,” the report said, adding the country was on course to hit double-digit growth rates.

Indian stocks rallied, with the benchmark Sensex gaining 1.7 percent, on hopes that Jaitley would deliver a business-friendly budget.

At first glance the growth outlook appears impressive. But it follows a big overhaul of India’s economic data, which previously showed the economy struggling to recover from its longest growth slowdown in a generation.

Other indicators of India’s economy are not as rosy as GDP data suggests. Earnings of the country’s top 100 companies shrank by 6 percent in the last quarter, private investment and consumer demand are weak and merchandise exports are falling.

The author of the report, economic adviser Arvind Subramanian, even said he was “puzzled” by the new GDP figures and played down suggestions that India’s $2 trillion economy was on a roll.

“India’s economy is still recovering, and not surging,” Subramanian told a news conference.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi won a landslide general election victory last May, capitalising on dissatisfaction among Indians over their economic lot and promising ‘better days’ of more jobs, investment and growth.

The report by Subramanian, a renowned development economist lured away from a Washington think tank by Modi, suggested the economy was now building momentum.

That, above all, reflects a near halving in international prices of oil, India’s biggest import.

As a result, the report predicts the current account deficit will be below 1 percent of GDP in 2015/16, a far cry from a figure of 4.7 percent in 2012/13 that preceded a currency crisis in India.

via India in sweet spot of lower deficits, more growth – Economic Survey | Reuters.

27/02/2015

China bans ivory imports ahead of royal visit: Xinhua | Reuters

China has announced a one-year ban on the import of African ivory carvings ahead of next week’s visit by Britain’s Prince William, a strong critic of the ivory trade.

China will halt approval for imports until late February next year, newsagency Xinhua reported on Thursday, citing the State Forestry Administration, which regulates the trade. The ban will affect carvings acquired after 1975, it added.

Prince William has previously been critical of China over its consumption of ivory, while animal rights groups say the country’s growing appetite for the contraband material has fueled a surge in poaching in Africa.

“The move is to protect African elephants, and the one-year timeframe is designed to assess the effects,” Xinhua said.

China crushed 6.2 metric tonnes (6.83 tons) of confiscated ivory early last year in its first such public destruction of any part of its stockpile. However, the country still ranks as the world’s biggest end-market for poached ivory according to conservation body the World Wildlife Fund.

China signed a pact banning global trade in ivory in 1981, but it got an exemption in 2008 to buy 62 tonnes of ivory from several African nations. It releases a portion of that stockpile each year to government-licensed ivory carving factories.

via China bans ivory imports ahead of royal visit: Xinhua | Reuters.

26/02/2015

To Combat Crowds, India’s McDonald’s Now Lets Diners Order at the Table – India Real Time – WSJ

Tired of having to elbow your way through pushy crowds to get your fast-food fix? McDonald’s MCD +3.87% in India has a solution for you: Skip the long lines and order a Maharaja Mac from your table.

The more than 350 McDonald’s outlets in India each get about 4,000 customers a day on average. That’s twice the number of customers that come to the average Mickey D branches in the rest of the world. As part of an experiment in crowd control, one franchisee has started allowing burger fans to order and pay through roaming cashiers who take orders and payments on Wi-Fi enabled tablets and credit-card machines.

The queue-quelling technology is already being tested at the McDonald’s at Mumbai’s Phoenix Mills mall. It will be rolled out in 200 more branches this year, said Amit Jatia, who runs most of the McDonald’s in India.

“India is changing,” he said. “You have to keep evolving with the changing needs of the consumer.”

Mr. Jatia’s Hardcastle Restaurants runs 202 McDonald’s outlets in western and southern India, while another group controls 166 restaurants in northern and eastern India.

via To Combat Crowds, India’s McDonald’s Now Lets Diners Order at the Table – India Real Time – WSJ.

26/02/2015

A Shot at Solving China’s Angry Worker Problem – China Real Time Report – WSJ

Labor unrest is on the rise in China and likely to increase as the leadership grapples with a dangerous combination of an economic slowdown and the lack of effective institutions to cope with worker unrest.

A new set of regulations put forward by one province offers a potential solution while at the same time illustrating the difficulty the Communist Party faces in effectively addressing workers’ grievances.

Regulations for “collective contracts” adopted by the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress in southern China’s Guangdong Province took effect on January 1, 2015, giving employees more leeway to initiate collective bargaining with their employers.  Observers in the government, chambers of commerce, the state-backed All-China Federation of Trade Unions and workers’ rights organizations will be watching to see whether the new rules represent a meaningful step forward in advancing labor rights.

The need for rules that would allow China’s workers to negotiate better conditions is great.  Labor disputes are the most prevalent form of social conflict in the country, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Science’s annual report on social trends. Labor incidents during the fourth quarter of 2014 rose to 569, more than three times the number in the previous year, according to the China Labor Bulletin (CLB), which finds that 87% of  workers’ demands are for “wage arrears, pay increases and compensation.”

In 2014, workers went on strike around the country in a range of industries, from manufacturing to teaching to transportation.

The causes of the unrest varied accordingly: In April, for example, the majority of workers at a Taiwanese-owned factory in Guangdong that makes products for Adidas struck to protest the company’s failure to pay its 40,000 workers their full social security and housing allowances. The strike, which cost an estimated $27 million in loses to the factory, drew large numbers of police into the streets. Workers later accused local officials and company executive of using force to get them to return to work, though the government denied any force was used.

In December, thousands of teachers went on strike in six cities or counties in Heilongjiang to protest low salaries and the required contributions to pension plans; in Guangdong, teachers’ strikes protested low monthly salaries that were below what the government had promised.

And earlier this year, taxi drivers walked out in the cities of Nanjing, Chengdu, Shenyang, and Qingdao to protest local government limitations on taxi fares and smartphone apps that allow passengers to negotiate fares.

As the CLB notes, the majority of enterprise trade unions are controlled by and represent the interests of management. ACFTU officials, meanwhile, are “essentially government bureaucrats with little understanding of the needs of workers or how to represent them in negotiations with management.” The state-sanctioned trade union, CLB adds, “still sees itself as bridge or mediator between workers and management rather than as a voice of the workers.”

In recent years, the government emphasized mediation as a way to solve labor disputes and protect social stability, followed by what University of Michigan expert Mary Gallagher has called a “more interventionist stance” that involved government officials helping to settle disputes typically in favor of workers.  All the while, Gallagher writes, collective organizations outside the ACFTU have been restricted to prevent any workers’ collective action from growing into “anything long-term, programmatic, or institutional.”

via A Shot at Solving China’s Angry Worker Problem – China Real Time Report – WSJ.

26/02/2015

China’s top court unveils deadlines for legal reform | Reuters

China’s top court set a five-year deadline on Thursday for legal reforms to protect the rights of individuals, prevent miscarriages of justice and make its judiciary more professional as the ruling Communist Party seeks to quell public discontent.

Zhou Qiang, President of China's Supreme People's Court, attends National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, March 7, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

A statement on the Supreme Court’s website promised specific deadlines for each goal, including support for a “social atmosphere of justice” by 2018.

It gave more details of a decision reached at a four-day meeting last year, when the party pledged to speed up legislation to fight corruption and make it tougher for officials to exert control over the judiciary.

Despite the legal reforms, Chinese President Xi Jinping‘s administration has shown no interest in political change and has detained dozens of dissidents, including lawyers.

China’s top court stressed that one of the five basic principles of legal reform was adhering to the party’s leadership and “ensuring the correct political orientation”.

He Xiaorong, the director of the Supreme People’s Court‘s reform division, said the court “would make officials bear responsibility for dereliction of duty” for cases that have a wide impact.

“Only through the establishment of such a system can we ensure that we can guarantee social fairness and justice in every case,” He told a news conference, according to a transcript on the court’s website.

The measures reflect worries about rising social unrest. Anger over land grabs, corruption and pollution – issues often left unresolved by courts – have resulted in violence between police and residents in recent years, threatening social order.

via China’s top court unveils deadlines for legal reform | Reuters.

25/02/2015

Big national birthrate rise signals new peak|chinadaily.com.cn

Change to family planning policy likely to result in 1m extra babies each year

Big national birthrate rise signals new peak

A new peak in births is likely to occur as a result of the relaxing of the family planning policy and could continue for several years, according to experts.

They estimate that the number of babies born annually will rise by more than 1 million from current levels, bringing the total number of births each year close to that recorded during the last peak.

Last year, 16.87 million babies were born in China, 470,000 more than in 2013, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

“This is a dramatic increase compared with previous years,” Yuan Xin, a professor of population studies at Nankai University in Tianjin, said.

The number of births declined steadily between 1999, when more than 18 million babies were born, and 2006.

Since then, the number of births has remained stable at less than 16.4 million, according to the bureau.

The big increase in the number of births last year was caused by a series of moves to relax the family planning restrictions, Yuan said.

Since late 2013, 29 of the 31 provincial regions on the mainland have enacted policies that allow couples to have a second baby if either partner is a single child, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

About 1.07 million such couples had registered with the authorities to have a second child by the end of last year, the commission said.

via Big national birthrate rise signals new peak[1]|chinadaily.com.cn.

25/02/2015

Delhi’s AAP Provides More Free Water and Power to the People – India Real Time – WSJ

Once again, Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party, has opened up a big bag full of freebies.

Eleven days after being sworn into power again, Delhi’s new government has taken a big step forward in delivering on its promise to make power and water more affordable.

The beneficiaries of the electricity rate cut: households consuming less than 400 units of electricity. Starting next month, electricity tariffs will be cut in half for this section of consumers, Manish Sisodia, Delhi’s deputy chief minister, said Wednesday.

More than 90% of consumers in the capital- more than 3.5 million families- fall in this bracket, he said. The state government will set aside 700 million rupees, or about $113 million, to pay for the power handout.  For the full, new fiscal year starting in April, the Delhi government estimates the cost of the subsidy will be around $230 million.

In Delhi, one of the world’s biggest megacities, power generation and distribution lies in the hands of both the state government and private companies. It taps neighboring states for most of its power as it only produces about 20% of the electricity it consumes.

via Delhi’s AAP Provides More Free Water and Power to the People – India Real Time – WSJ.

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