There were landmark achievements by India this month. The most prominent being the phenomenal jump in its World Bank Ease of Doing Business Rankings. India’s credit rating improved. Internally, the GST rates of a large number of items were rationalized. Further, there was progress on the proposed data protection law. The crowning glory came as an Indian was re-elected as a judge of the International Court of Justice.

Jump in World Bank Doing Business Rankings – India made its highest ever jump in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Bank Rankings. India jumped 30 spots to secure a place among the top-100 countries this year, as per forecasts captured by Asia Law Portal in October 2017. The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index ranks the nation based on 10 indicators. These indicators are: Starting a business, Dealing with construction permits, Getting electricity, Registering property, Getting credit, Protecting minority investors, Paying taxes, Trading across borders, Enforcing contracts and Resolving insolvency. Each one of these indicators carry equal weight. There was improvement in scores for every indicator, whose combined effect pushed up the country’s overall ranking from last year’s 130.

Moody’s Upgrades India’s sovereign rating – In a very significant development Moody’s Investors Service has upgraded India’s sovereign rating to Baa2 from Baa3 and revised the rating outlook to stable from positive because of its expectation that the country’s continued progress on economic and institutional reforms will, over time, enhance India’s high growth potential and its large and stable financing base for government debt. “The recent reforms offer greater confidence that the high level of public indebtedness, one of India’s principal credit weaknesses, will remain stable, even in the event of shocks, and will ultimately decline,” says William Foster, a Moody’s Vice President and Senior Credit Officer.

Moody’s conclusions are contained in its just-released report: “Cross-Sector — India: FAQ on credit impact of sovereign upgrade”. Moody’s report provides a detailed explanation of the drivers behind the sovereign upgrade, and addresses a number of questions pertinent to the sovereign rating, as well as the implications of the sovereign rating upgrade for Indian banks, and non-financial corporates.

This is perhaps an endorsement of the Narendra Modi government’s reforms policy.

GST Rates Reduced – In a recent meeting, the GST Council has recommended major relief in GST rates on certain goods and services. These recommendations spread across many sectors and across commodities. As per these recommendations, the list of 28% GST rated goods is recommended to be pruned substantially, from 224 tariff headings [about 18.5% of total tariff headings at 4-digit] to only 50 tariff headings including 4 headings which have been partially reduced to 18% [about 4% of total tariff headings at 4-digit].  Further, the Council has recommended changes in GST rates on a number of goods, so as to rationalise the rate structure with a view to minimise classification disputes. The Council has also recommended issuance of certain clarifications to address the grievance of trade on issues relating to GST rates and taxability of certain goods and services. On the services side also, the Council recommended changes in GST rates to provide relief to aviation & handicraft sectors and restaurants.

White Paper on Data Protection framework for India – The Government of India has constituted a Committee of Experts under the Chairmanship of former Supreme Court Justice Shri B N Srikrishna to study various issues relating to data protection in India, making specific suggestions on data protection principles to be considered and suggesting a draft Data Protection Bill. A White Paper has been drafted to solicit public comments by December 31, 2017 on what shape a data protection law must take. The White Paper outlines the issues that a majority of the members of the Committee feel require incorporation in a law, relevant experiences from other countries and concerns regarding their incorporation, certain provisional views based on an evaluation of the issues vis-à-vis the objectives of the exercise, and specific questions for the public. On the basis of the responses received, the Committee will soon conduct public consultations with citizens and stakeholders to hear all voices that wish and need to be heard on this subject.

Indian on seat of International Court of JusticeIndia’s nominee to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Dalveer Bhandari was on Monday re-elected to the fifth and the last seat of the world court after Britain withdrew its candidate from the election. Mr. Bhandari received 183-193 votes in the General Assembly and secured all the 15 votes in the Security Council after separate and simultaneous elections were held at the UN headquarters in New York. The elections were held after the United Kingdom, in a dramatic turn of events, withdrew from the race for the Hague-based ICJ, thus paving the way for Mr. Bhandari’s re-election to the prestigious world court. Mr. Bhandari and Britain’s Christopher Greenwood were locked in a neck-and-neck fight for re-election to the ICJ. This was the third Indian to secure a prominent position in a United Nations (UN) body in recent months. International law expert Neeru Chadha was elected to the UN body, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), in Hamburg in June. And last month, Soumya Swaminathan, director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), was appointed deputy director general for programmes at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva.

Posted by Sourish Mohan Mitra

Sourish Mohan Mitra is an India-qualified lawyer from Symbiosis Law School, Pune and currently working as an in-house counsel with a global research firm in Delhi, India; views expressed are personal; he can be reached at sourish24x7@gmail.com; Twitter: @sourish247

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