India Regulatory Brief: Maharashtra Government to Provide Online Services, Telcom Regulator upholds Net Neutrality, Hike in Gold and Silver Import Tariffs

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Maharashtra Government to Provide 250 Services Online by August 2016

As per the Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, the state’s government will offer 250 services online by 15 August 2016. This is part of the campaign for Digital India and the state’s ambition to increase the ease of doing business through efficient digital governance. The online portal – ‘Aaple Sarkar’ – currently provides 150 online services. It will function as a platform where citizens can register complaints and send forth suggestions to the government.

Additionally, the Maharashtra government provides a single electronic window clearance system – prospective businesses will now require 26 permissions from a single electronic window instead of pursuing a 1 to 3 year process of gaining 76 permissions. Fadnavis further highlighted the state’s plans to set up start-up warehouses in partnership with the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM). These initiatives seek to establish Maharashtra as a digital state by 2019.

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Telecom Regulator Rules against Differential Pricing for Data Services

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has ruled against the practice of differential pricing of internet data services. The ruling will affect numerous companies and their programs including Facebook’s Free Basics, Airtel Zero, and Wikipedia Zero. The strategies allowed for discriminatory pricing for internet data services based on content, user, site, platform, application, and mode of communication. TRAI’s ruling, however, does allow for the special reduction of tariff rates for access to or providing online emergency services during times of public crises.

Net neutrality activists had lobbied against differential data pricing plans that could create monopolies and provide unequal access to the internet, particularly for first-time users. Telecom operators, on the other hand, had pushed for differential pricing, stating that it would increase internet penetration in India, and the current legal framework could satisfactorily regulate against anti-competitive practices on a case-by-case basis.

In response to the pushback from both telecom operators and net neutrality activists, TRAI had put out a consultation paper on the topic on December 9, 2015, and extended the deadline for comments and counter-comments to January 7 and January 14, 2016 from December 31, 2015 and January 7, 2016, respectively. The new regulation from TRAI means that any telecom service provider found guilty of differential pricing for data services will have to pay a penalty of US $733 (Rs 50,000) per day of contravention, up to a maximum of US $73,297 (Rs 5 million). TRAI has said that it could review the new rules in two years.

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Gold and Silver Import Tariffs Hiked

The NDA government has increased the import rates on gold and silver.  The Central Board of Excise and Customs notified the change.  Earlier, the import tariff on gold was at US $363 per 10 grams and now it has increased to US $388 per 10 grams. Similarly, import tariff on silver was US $443 per kilogram, which has been hiked to US $487 per kilogram.

The new import tariffs account for the latest price trends in the global market. India’s gold imports have doubled to US $3.80 billion in December 2015. Import tariffs are revised fortnightly and it is the base price where the customs duty is determined to prevent under-invoicing.

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