Questions everyone is looking for answers to, post Kerala floods, are: What is the current policy on accepting aid from foreign governments for natural disaster management? And, can a foreign government directly donate money to a State in India?

The answer to the first question is, there is no blanket ban on accepting aid from foreign governments and any assistance offered as goodwill gesture “may” be accepted by the Centre as allowed under the National Disaster Management Plan. But there is a catch, which answers the second question. Any such aid will first have to flow into the Consolidated Fund of India account and subsequently channelised/transferred to the State government account (Kerala in this case).

Why, you may ask? Well, that’s what the Constitution of India stipulates, says a former Finance Ministry official who has had a long stint at North Block. So the bottomline is no State government can directly get aid/donation into its account from foreign governments without the Centre playing ball and taking a lenient view under the National Disaster Management Plan!

GST on petro products?

It seems the finance ministry and the petroleum ministry are not on the same page as far as GST on petroleum products — petrol and diesel — are concerned. While the petroleum ministry is pitching for it, the finance ministry seems more cautious, as the oil revenue is helping manage various populist schemes. In fact, a senior minister did not think that it would be a right move, stating that after all States also need to have some additional income.

Almost half the retail price of petro products goes to the government as taxes. Though both the Centre and States can lower the levies on their own, any such move will affect their revenue.

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There seems to be an unwritten understanding among senior ministers of the government that on the US sanction on Iran, India’s stance will be aired only by the Ministry of External Affairs. This was more evident at a recent interaction with a senior minister, who, when he asked about Iran, said: “Should not speak on something I am not supposed to and which is not being handled by my ministry. Let the competent authority respond as they are dealing with it.” When told that Indian refiners will find it difficult to make payments to Iran come November when American sanctions kick in, and the payment issue is part of his ministry, all you get is: there will be suitable arrangement!

Food fortification

Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) has raised concerns regarding the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India’s (FSSAI’s) push towards food fortification. SJM, which is the economic wing of RSS, recently held a stakeholder consultation with industry representatives and health experts to discuss the impact of the fortification standards that have been notified.

It has alleged that the country’s food safety and standards policy is being manipulated by a few NGOs which are funded by promoters and shareholders of vitamin companies. It has also raised concerns about the cost of food going up for consumers as fortification will mean higher cost of operations for food companies.

Now, order a goat online

Now that almost all the products can be delivered at one’s doorsteps because of the boom in the e-commerce space, an online company which specialises in selling agriculture equipment, has come up with a new offering: one can order for a goat online and it will be delivered at one’s doorstep.

The next in line would be cows and other domestic animals. What remains to be seen is whether this company will come out with cash-on-delivery model and a 10-day return policy as well. Venture funds might just find this model interesting enough.

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