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Mobile internet services restored in Kargil after 145 days

Mobile Internet services were restored in Kargil district of Ladakh on Friday after remaining suspended for 145 days in the wake of the Centre abrogating provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution, officials said.

The services were restored in view of complete normalcy returning to Kargil, with no untoward incident taking place over the past four months, the officials said.

They said local religious leaders have appealed to people not to misuse the facility.

Broadband services were already functional in Kargil.

Internet services were suspended on August 5, the Centre announced abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of the state into the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

How ITR Filing Process Has Evolved In Last 10 Years

The Income Tax Department has taken a series of steps over the past few years. From the launch of a separate portal for the online filing of income tax returns to the simplification of forms, the gamut of changes in the income tax system has enabled the assessee to complete the filing process within minutes, say tax experts. Today, it has become mandatory for individual assessees, with the exception of senior citizens, to file their income tax returns online.  

Meanwhile, the number of returns filed online has increased multi-fold over a period. The count of income tax returns filed online (through the ITR forms 1 to 7) has surged more than seven times to 6.68 crore in financial year 2018-19, from 90.5 lakh in financial year 2011.

Here's a summary of key changes in the simplification of ITR filing process in 2010s: 

Since the launch of the e-filing project by the I-T department in 2006, online filing of ITR was introduced first to organised firms and then to individual taxpayers in phases.

In May 2013, the taxman made it compulsory for individuals and Hindu Undivided Families (HUFs) earning more than Rs 5 lakh a year to file returns through the e-filing process. In other words, manual filing of ITR was no longer available for these assessees.

The most important change in the development of e-filing in the country is the refunds, say tax experts.

"The Income Tax Department used to make the refunds through cheque which sometimes caused problems such as late delivery of returns which required legwork for the average assessee. Now, you get the refund directly credited in your account within a month of filing return," says Naveen Wadhwa, DGM, Taxmann.com.

"The digital transfer and timely payment of refunds emerged as the biggest positive step to encourage the assessees to file income tax returns," he adds.

Till about three years ago, assessees had to go through the entire process of filling details such as salary and TDS breakups every time to file a return, explains Mr Wadhwa. "The I-T department is expanding the scope of pre-filled XMLs year by year. Today, other than basic information, even details such as interest and salary breakup are pre-filled," he adds.

In 2010, the taxman launched the two-page SARAL-II form for salaried taxpayers and took a number of measures towards efficient tax administration in the next year. These included an online facility for taxpayers to track the status of refunds and credit for prepaid taxes.

Also in 2011, the I-T introduced a simplified form, called 'Sugam', to reduce the compliance burden for small taxpayers (those falling within presumptive taxation).

Today, the Income Tax Department offers seven forms to the assessees for filing their income tax returns. For example, Form ITR 1 (Sahaj) is meant for resident individuals with income up to Rs 50 lakh from salary, one house property or other sources.

"Until about 4-5 years ago, the taxpayer had to print the acknowledgement form ITRV, sign it physically and send it over to the Centralized Processing Centre (CPC), Bengaluru by mail. This entire process was lengthy and costly. Today, once the ITR is filed, its verification can be done through Aadhaar OTP-based or electronic verification code (EVC)-based processes (in case of bank and demat accounts)," said Mr Wadhwa.

"The ITR forms have not been simplified much, but they have come a long way in terms of structure, classification as well as numbering... Form applicability has definitely improved to a great extent," Mr Wadhwa explains.

"The small taxpayer can complete, submit and verify the income tax return within 5-10 minutes in an easy process today," adds Mr Wadhwa.

In 2014, the Income Tax Department launched national website incometaxindia.gov.in with enhanced features and content.

The taxman expanded the "e-Sahyog" pilot initiative in 2016 to reduce the compliance cost for assessees, especially small taxpayers. The project was aimed at providing an online mechanism to resolve mismatches in ITRs without requiring taxpayers to visit the income tax office.

The top decision making body of the I-T department today reacts to assessee's concerns more rapidly, says Mr Wadhwa. "The CPC's infrastructure has improved significantly and the response time has shortened," he adds.

According to CBDT data, nearly 50 lakh people filed their tax returns online on August 31, 2019 - the last date for assessment year 2019-20. In the past few years, the income tax portal has often got jammed temporarily on the last day of submission due to heavy traffic.

In August 2019, the Income Tax Department launched a "lite" e-filing facility on its e-filing portal, aimed at easing the filing of returns. It is a lighter version of the e-filing portal.

Ola to expand AI-enabled safety feature to 17 cities in India, Australia

Ride hailing platform Ola on Monday said it will expand its AI-enabled safety feature 'Guardian' to 17 cities across India and Australia.

The 'Guardian' feature uses real-time data from rides to automatically detect irregular trip activity, including prolonged stops and unexpected route deviations.

These alerts are flagged off in real-time to Ola's 24x7 Safety Response Team that immediately reach out to customers and drivers to confirm if they're safe and offer on-the-call assistance until ride completion.

"After running a successful pilot across multiple cities in India and international markets, the 'Guardian' feature is going live in 16 Indian cities as well as Perth in Australia. Ola aims to take Guardian to more cities in the coming quarter," Ola said in a statement.

It added that Ola Guardian is built on artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities on the Ola platform which enables it to continuously learn and evolve from millions of data points to improve risk signalling and instant resolution.

Apart from the four metros, the feature will be available in Bengaluru, Pune, Hyderabad, Bhubaneshwar, Chandigarh, Nagpur, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Coimbatore, Indore and Trichy.

"Our safety initiatives such as emergency button, facial recognition system for driver authentication, and one-time-password (OTP) system, are innovations that have all been built in India and now lead the global benchmarks for the mobility industry," Ola Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Arun Srinivas said.

Ola said it also conducts mandatory verification through stringent criminal records checks as well as mandatory online training for drivers that includes modules like customer service and etiquette, platform usage, partner support, defensive driving amongst others.

"To prevent driver impersonation, Ola has put in place a facial recognition system in place, which prompts on-duty drivers to upload a selfie and authenticate themselves multiple times in between rides. This feature is live across India and is also being piloted in various international markets," it added.

India leads the world with 67% of total internet shutdowns

In an unprecedented move, the Indian government suspended mobile internet services in parts of the capital New Delhi on Thursday, as protests over a citizenship bill seen as discriminating against Muslims escalated.

As of 2018, India led the world in internet shutdowns, according to a report by internet advocacy group Access Now, accounting for 67% of the total recorded worldwide.

An internet shutdown is a suspension of internet access ordered by the authorities. Telecoms companies then turn off the cellular networks at transmitting towers providing mobile phone internet services in the area.

Countries with far more restrictive control over the internet, such as China and North Korea, did not feature prominently in the numbers compiled by Access Now because of the lack of publicly accessible data, the group noted.

Since January 2012, there have been 373 halts in India's internet service, according to the Software Freedom and Law Center (SLFC), which has been tracking the suspensions since then.

India's Home Ministry referred Reuters' inquiries about internet shutdowns to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, which in turn referred questions to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. The latter ministry said such shutdowns were a matter for local police departments.

Delhi is not the only state to have its internet cut off due to protests over the bill, which makes it easier for non-Muslim minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who settled in India before 2015 to obtain Indian citizenship.

Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and parts of West Bengal, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh have also experienced shutdowns in response to protests.

Shutdowns aren't always statewide. Some, such as the one in Delhi, are instituted across a few districts for a short period.

State governments take this step when they believe it is necessary to maintain law and order. Most of Jammu and Kashmir has had no internet service for more than four months, after the Indian government clamped down on communications following the revocation of the state's autonomy on Aug. 5.

In total, the Jammu and Kashmir region has had 180 shutdowns since 2012, accounting for nearly half of the country's suspensions.

The SLFC lists a variety of reasons for the suspension of internet services gathered from government orders and media reports. The reason given most often is that it is a preventative measure, imposed in anticipation of a breakdown in law and order.

The maintenance of law and order was not the only reason stated for shutdowns. In some states, including Rajasthan, the internet has been halted to prevent cheating during exams.

Anti-CAA protest: Kejriwal launches free WiFi scheme amid internet shutdown in parts of Delhi

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal launched a free WiFi scheme on Thursday and said it was paradoxical that internet services were shut by authorities on this day due to protests against the amended Citizenship Act in the city.

Kejriwal said the people in the country were "scared" as 70 per cent of them have no documents to prove their citizenship.

There was no need of the amended citizenship law and the government needs to focus on providing jobs to the youth, he said.

Telecom operators on Thursday suspended internet, voice and messaging services in parts of Delhi-NCR following instructions from the police in the wake of protests against anti-Citizenship Amendment Act.

The chief minister expressed concern that the law and order situation, not only in Delhi, but the entire country was "deteriorating" day by day.

"There is a fear among all the citizen, not just Muslims, that they will have to prove their citizenship and show documents. Seventy per cent people, specially poor, have no document to show and they fear that they will be evicted from the country, he said.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) is not going to achieve anything, he said.

Kejriwal said the Aam Aadmi Party government has fulfilled all promises that it made with the people of Delhi in the 2015 Assembly elections.

"Delhi will become the first city in the world to have free WiFi services," he said.

Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia also launched the scheme at Kashmiri Gate Metro station. The free Wifii service will be provided through over 11,000 hotspots at bus stands and other places, including markets and residential colonies.

Over 100 hotspots will be inaugurated on Thursday and all the hotspots will be operational in the next six months, Kejriwal said.

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