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Centre to Provide Rs 2,500 Crore EPF Support for Workers: Finance Minister

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday announced Rs 2,500 crore EPF support for businesses, workers

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Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced Rs 2,500 crore EPF support for workers. Wikimedia Commons

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Wednesday that the Centre will provide Rs 2,500 crore EPF support for businesses, workers for three more months.

The scheme was provided earlier for the salary months of March, April and May. Consequently, this support will be extended by another three months for the salary months of June, July and August.

Under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package (PMGKP), the Finance Minister said that payment of 12 per cent of employer and 12 per cent of employee contributions was made into the EPF accounts of the eligible establishments.

The scheme will provide liquidity relief of Rs 2,500 crore to 3.67 lakh establishments, benefitting 72.22 lakh employees.

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Finance Minister said that payment of 12 per cent of employer and 12 per cent of employee contributions was made into the EPF accounts of the eligible establishments. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando). Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore, the minister announced that statutory PF contribution of both employer and employee has been reduced to 10 per cent from the existing 12 per cent across all establishments covered by the EPFO for the next three months.

Read More: Covid-19: Liquor Prices Hiked Up to 35% in Kerala

CPSEs and state PSUs will, however, continue to contribute 12 per cent as employer contribution.

The scheme for lower EPF contribution will be applicable to workers who are not eligible for 24 per cent EPF support under the PM Garib Kalyan Package and its extension.

This scheme is estimated to provide relief to about 6.5 lakh establishments covered under the EPFO and benefit about 4.3 crore such employees. It will provide liquidity of Rs 6,750 crore to employers and employees over three months. (IANS)

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Indian Workers Miss Office as Work From Home Becomes the New normal

Lockdown initially thrilled the people to work from home, but now they have started to miss the office environment

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Two months after working from home, Shweta Andrews, a digital editor at a publishing house, says she wants to head back to office because personal interactions with colleagues are important. (Photo Courtesy: Shweta Andrews). VOA

As she settled down to work from home when India announced a lockdown in March due to Coronavirus (COVID-19), Shweta Andrews thought exultantly “this is the way to go.” After all she no longer had to do the grinding commute between office and home in the Indian capital that took up two hours daily.

Two months on, the digital editor of a publishing house is nostalgic about that ride. “I miss my colleagues and believe it or not, I miss travelling in the Metro. I miss the rush. I miss the crowd.”

The unprecedented experiment of work from home that began in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic has prompted some Indian companies to explore the possibility of scaling up remote work as they eye long term benefits such as smaller office spaces and lower rentals.

But at a time when a long, stringent lockdown has intensified social isolation, many are finding that an interactive office environment is hard to replace at home.

A New Delhi-based senior professional in a global company, Apoorva Bapna, dismisses the notion that remote work could be the “new normal” and points out that while flexi-hours are welcome, online connections cannot replace the energy generated by professional spaces.

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Apoorva Bapna says office spaces generate energy that cannot completely be replaced by online connections. (Photo Courtesy: Apoorva Bapna). VOA

“There is just that much of bouncing of ideas I can do on a video call or a phone call. Sometimes you just need to sit across the table and have that heated conversation or a debate or just exchange ideas,” says Bapna.

India’s Information Technology sector appears to be blazing the trail for adopting the work-at-home model as the industry gears up to have nearly half the country’s four million I-T workers operate remotely – up from an average of 20 percent before March. The country’s biggest technology company Tata Consultancy Services says that it will have 75 percent of its workforce operating from home by 2025.

Some companies that rely heavily on online work could make the shift much sooner because they found it to be an efficient model in the last two months.

“From a purely productivity standpoint, we have seen a fairly smooth transition in work from home,” says Raghav Gupta, managing director, India and Asia Pacific with Coursera, a U.S. based online learning platform. He gives an example. “If I would go to Bangalore and meet two sets of people in a day, I can do five meetings today by sitting at home.”

As India eases its stringent lockdown and offices begin to reopen with a much leaner staff onsite, the debate has begun heating up.

Some assert that the personal touch provided by an office environment cannot be overlooked, even in the IT sector. “You get ready for the day, it is a mental shift you make,” according to Abhimanyu Mukherji, a service delivery manager in New Delhi with a partner company of software organization, SAP. “Just walking up to someone and talking to my team has a different impact. Now there is a loss of human touch and social interaction which we all are so used to.”

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While it is possible to be productive even doing work from home, Abhimanyu Mukherji says walking up and talking directly to his team has a different impact. (Photo Courtesy: Abhimanyu Mukherji). VOA

While he and his team delivered to their clients’ satisfaction during the lockdown, he points out that working at home from living rooms and dining tables can pose challenges of the kind that some of his team members with young children faced.

“When the kids are at home, they expect a lot of attention from the parents and therefore they are having a lot of difficulty in actually concentrating on the job,” says Mukherji. “The children assume that you must be on leave so you should be giving them all the attention.”

There are also the constraints that living in small apartments or extended families throw up, especially in cities with expensive rentals.  “It is not easy for people who live in Bombay, in smaller homes with six to eight family members crammed up in two bedroom homes,” points out Bapna.

And work from home settings can be even more burdensome for women. “We do everything on the house front and we also manage our office work, which is fairly hectic,” says Bapna who was caught in the lockdown in Jaipur city where she was visiting her parents.

Amid the lockdown there have been no comprehensive surveys to indicate which way Indians would prefer going. But a recent survey by a Bengaluru based research firm, Feedback Insights, found that two-thirds of employees were concerned about personal wellbeing, a lack of connectedness with the team and overall anxiety about the job environment. They also cited frequent distractions at home as a key challenge.

Read More: These Books Can Drive Boredom Away in Lockdown 4.0

However benefits such as savings for companies, less traffic on roads, less pollution and less spending on fuel and daycare will inevitably lead to a greater push for the work-at-home model in the post Covid world.

“By choice and also by planning we will say – you go to office two days a week, you may or may not have a dedicated desk, and the other three or four days you consistently work at home,” says Gupta at Coursera.

But shrinking office spaces, thanks to technology and the new emphasis on social distancing, is something many view with trepidation. Andrews draws an analogy with reading a book on Kindle – it does not replicate the original. “The feeling of holding a book in your hand, that touch, that smell, that personal feeling you get – it’s the same as personal contact in an office,” says Andrews. “So yes technology and computers and zoom and Kindle don’t work as well as interacting with a real human being does.” (VOA)

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Private Companies Now Allowed to Take Part in Planetary Exploration: Finance Minister

Government will aldo take steps to encourage private participation in the space sector

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Private sector will be allowed to take part in planetary exploration from now on. (Representational Image). Pixabay

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday said that private companies will be allowed to take part in planetary exploration, outer space travel among other space activities, and the government will take steps to encourage private participation in the Indian space sector as per Finance News.

Speaking to the media, Sitharaman said that the government will provide level playing field for private companies in satellite launches and space-based services.

Centre will come up with a predictable policy and regulatory environment to private players.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on atomic energy research reactor
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that the government will provide level playing field for private companies in satellite launches and space-based services. Wikimedia Commons

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The private sector will be allowed to use ISRO facilities and other relevant assets to improve their capacities. She further announced that liberal geospatial data policy will be framed for private sector to access remote sensing data to tech-entrepreneurs.

The announcement is part of the Rs 20 lakh crore economic package announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday. (IANS)

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Government to Establish Atomic Energy Research Reactor; Set Up Facilities in PPP Mode

Facilities will be set up in the PPP mode to use irradiation technology for food preservation

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Government to establish atomic energy research reactor. Wikimedia Commons

Announcing reforms in the atomic energy sector, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday said the government will establish a research reactor and also set up facilities in public private partnership (PPP) mode, according to Finance News.

Under the reforms, the government will establish a research reactor in PPP mode for production of medical isotopes and promote welfare of humanity through affordable treatment for cancer and other diseases.

Facilities will be set up in the PPP mode to use irradiation technology for food preservation to compliment agriculture reforms and assist the farmers.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on atomic energy research reactor
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said India’s robust start-up ecosystem will be linked to the nuclear sector. Wikimedia Commons

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Announcing the fourth tranche of the Rs 20 lakh-crore economic package, Sitharaman said India’s robust start-up ecosystem will be linked to the nuclear sector and Technology Development cum Incubation Centres will be set up for fostering synergy between research facilities andtech-entrepreneurs.

Among other reform measures, Centre also announced the opening up of the space sector for private players and said the government will take up measures to promote private participation in the sector. (IANS)