Financing for railways budget
- The budget announced increasing investments by 21 per cent to Rs.1.21 lakh crore in 2016-17 – more than double the average investments made by the previous government in the 2009-14 period.
- There are obstacles for investment
- Slow growth of our economy’s core sectors due to international slowdown
- The looming impact of the 7th Pay Commission and increased productivity bonus payouts
- The budget factored in Rs.20,500 crore as impact of the recommendations of the 7Th Pay Commission in 2016-17; leading to a decline in the projection of the operating ratio to 92 per cent (the Railways will spend 92 paisa to earn a rupee). Operating ratio is a measure of financial performance of the Indian Railways and a lower ratio means better efficiency.
- In 2015-16, the operating ratio declined to 90 per cent from 91.3 per cent in 2014-15. The decline in operating ratio from 88 per cent to 90 per cent, and to 92 per cent for next year is along expected lines, with freight and passenger traffic remaining nearly flat, and expenses continuing to increase.
3. As both passenger and freight traffic declined, the revenue earned by the Indian Railways was hit. The total revenue declined by 8.9 per cent to Rs.1.72 lakh crore in 2015-16 compared with last year. The gross traffic earnings were 8.6 per cent less than the target of Rs.1.83 lakh crore in 2015-16. The freight earnings were hit due to poor performance by the core sector – which constitutes around 88 per cent of the goods transported by the Indian Railways. The share of railways in the total freight traffic (35 per cent at present) has been consistently declining over the years
4. Most of the state governments coffers are empty
5. Private players are currently not in a mood to pick up PPP projects.
6. While international agencies are open for investing in Indian projects, they demand more reforms and at faster pace
In this context, how the increased investment target of Rs.1.2 lakh crore will be met, becomes more pertinent
Positives – budget expectations
- However despite the burden of Seventh Pay Commission, the operating ratio is projected to move up by two per cent.
- The government plans to raise Rs.20,985 crore in 2016-17 from institutional financing, a 119 per cent increase from the revised estimates of 2015-16.
- This year, Railways plan to control the working expenses. The savings from diesel and electrical energy account would be Rs.5,000 crore. We plan to increase freight by 50 million tonne. With the passenger initiatives, the passenger earnings will go up. The non-fare box revenue will be doubled. So, increased revenue combined with reduction in working expenses will finance the Seventh Pay Commission burden.
- SPV has been formed and registered. National High Speed Rail Corporation is the name of the company.Initially, Rs.200 crore will be provided as equity to the SPV. The total authorised capital is Rs.20,000 crore for this company. The funding model is 81 per cent of the funds will come from Japan and the balance has to be a joint company between the government of India and the (governments of) two states.
- An incremental traffic of 50 million tonne in freight is expected in 2016-17 as the government is looking to bring down freight tariffs and look to increase the basket of freight goods.
- The total revenue is expected to grow by 10 per cent to Rs.1.89 crore in 2016-17 as the government is looking to tap other sources of revenue besides passenger and freight.
- Budget listed station redevelopment, monetising land along tracks, monetising soft assets, advertising as some of the means to shore up non-fare revenues.
More powers to zonal railways for faster decision-making
- The Railway budget announced a radical overhaul of its organisational structure, more transparency and a hard look at the status quo on its operational parameters such as the average train speed.
- Significantly, more powers have been delegated to the zonal railways for faster decision-making.
- It also introduced accountability for officials –
- This includes defining key result areas (KRAs) for general managers and divisional railway managers to evaluate their performance.
- A single official would be made accountable for each train’s on-board experience to address passenger concerns
- third party audit will be conducted to ensure the quality of services on trains and stations.
- The Railways will work on ensuring reserved accommodation to travellers on demand
- Time tabled freight trains (for which a pilot will be started in 2016-17)
- Semi-high speed trains along the Golden Quadrilateral.
- It committed to expediting critical projects to connect the North-East and Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of the country.
- Also announced three new dedicated freight corridors to connect North-South (Delhi to Chennai), East-West (Kharagpur-Mumbai) and East Coast Corridor connecting Kharagpur to Vijayawada. The projects will be taken up on a priority basis.
- Among the new announcements, East Coast connectivity through Dedicated Freight Corridor is perhaps the most impactful, as it would contribute to India participating in global production networks in South East Asia, and to Make in India
- That new project announcements are limited indicates adherence to implementation focus, highlighted in the previous Budget
Rail travel insurance on the cards
- The Railways has proposed an option to buy travel insurance for the passengers and said the government was working with the insurance companies on the issue.
- To minimise the financial loss to passengers from such events, govt is working with insurance companies to offer optional travel insurance for rail journeys at the time of booking
- While insurance companies welcomed the move, as it will increase insurance penetration, they also pointed out that delivery of services would be the key for the success of the plan.
Four new categories of trains announced
- Budget announced four new categories of trains — one for unreserved passengers and three for reserved passengers.
- The Antyodaya Express, a long-distance, fully unreserved, superfast train service, for the common man, to be operated on dense routes.
- Two to four Deen Dayalu coaches will also be added to some long-distance trains for unreserved travel to enhance our carrying capacity for the masses
- A fully third AC train, called Humsafar – The Tejas category of trains will run at 130 km an hour, with entertainment, local cuisine, Wi-Fi and other amenities on board.
- Third AC is always a profit-making initiative. An added benefit will be that they will allow the Railways to target the subsidised prices towards these trains, so that they are not availed by higher income passengers
- The final category is UDAY (Utkrisht DoubleDecker Air-conditioned Yatri), which will be overnight trains plying on the busiest routes to increase capacity by 40 per cent..
Apps, wi-fi services in pipeline
- From connectivity to safety, the Budget places its bets on technology to make train travel more comfortable for travellers.
- The Railways intends to bring out two mobile apps — one dealing with all ticketing issues and the other for receipt and redress of complaints and suggestions.
- A new service “Clean my Coach” service will also be introduced Pan-India through which a passenger will be able to request cleaning of his/her coach/toilets on demand through SMS.
- The budget also proposes to install information boards in trains enumerating onboard services along with GPS-based digital displays inside coaches to provide real time information regarding upcoming halts.
- The Railway Ministry, in partnership with Google, will start Wi-Fi services at 100 stations this year, increasing it to 400 more stations in the next two years, the Minister said.
- To keep boredom at bay onboard, Budget proposes a partnership with FM Radio stations and introduce Indian Railways bi-lingual magazine Rail Bandhu to all reserved classes of travellers in Mail/Express trains. The magazine will be made available in all regional languages.
- By 2020, the Railways would work towards meeting long-felt desires of the common man, including use of high-end technology to significantly improve the safety record, elimination of all unmanned level crossings and increasing punctuality to almost 95 per cent.
Policies to promote freight transport through railways
The 2020 vision clearly defines the special package to improve the freight ecosystem in India thus getting fresh revenue streams for IR
- Indian Railways’ (IR) share of the freight market has been declining and the Railway Budget includes several measures to address this trend, including running time-tabled freight trains “with credible service commitments” by 2020. Network capacity constraints have prevented the railways from running time-tabled services so far but IR will start running container, parcel and commodity trains on a pilot basis in 2016.
- The country will get three new dedicated freight corridors, according to the Railway Budget 2016, in addition to the Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Kolkata freight corridors that are due to be commissioned in 2019. The new projects are a North-South corridor, from Delhi to Chennai, an East-West corridor from Karaghpur to Mumbai and an East Coast corridor, from Kharagpur to Vijayawada. The projects will be financed through a PPP (public private partnership) mechanism and rolled out on a high priority basis
- Expanding the freight basket, which is highly concentrated (10 commodities account for 88% of the mix)
- Building terminal capacity to improve last mile connectivity
- Rationalising tariffs structures so freight is competitive
Tech friendly Budget
- IR intends to use the latest drone and geo-spatial-based satellite technology for remotely reviewing the physical progress across major projects. Monitoring of dedicated freight corridor will be operationalised through this mode in 2016-17
- The railways had already started using social media for resolving issues faced by the travellers, bringing transparency in its working. There will be extensive usage of this medium.
- The railway ministry has also set apart Rs.50 crore for providing innovation grants to employees, start-ups and growth-oriented small businesses to support internal and external innovation.
- The minister also proposed to set up a R&D organisation for developing strategic technology and bringing in holistic advancement.
- Will set up a R&D organization, a Special Railway Establishment for Strategic Technology & Holistic Advancement, SRESTHA,
- The new R&D organisation—Research Design and Standards Organisation— will now focus only on day-to-day issues while SRESTHA would drive long-term research.
- The Indian Railways will also install 20,000 screens across 2,000 stations to provide real-time information to passengers. He also said the ministry will boost security at various stations through CCTVs and helplines.
Public-private partnerships to fuel future growth of Indian Railways
- The Railway Budget has laid emphasis on Public Private Partnerships (PPP) to implement initiatives such as rail connectivity for ports, station-redevelopment, rail-side logistics parks and warehousing as well as satellite terminals.
- A committee appointed for the purpose of revamping the ministry’s PPP cell has submitted its report and the initiative is “under implementation. The cell will be strengthened as part of organisational restructuring process to improve ease of doing business with the Indian Railways
- The capital expenditure for the next financial year, pegged at Rs.1.21 lakh crore, calls for abandoning the “business-as-usual approach” and continually innovating to develop new frameworks for PPP
- Foreign investors from Spain and France were keen on dedicated freight corridors (DFC) projects provided they were structured properly in terms of financial returns and risk-allocation and mitigation, he said. Land acquisition for dedicated freight corridors could take a long time.
- The ministry would take up dedicated freight corridors and implement it in a time-bound manner through innovative financing mechanisms, including PPP. The corridors will to cater to rapid expansion of freight business
- Port connectivity was important for seamless logistics to boost imports and exports and as a part of the ongoing coastal connectivity program, the government plans to undertake implementation of rail connectivity for the ports of Nargol and Hazira under the PPP model during the next financial year.
There are several factors that could contribute to roiling the RBI’s inflation targeting plans.
- The first is the 7th pay commission proposals that have recommended a 23.5 per cent increase in salary, allowances and pension for serving government staff and pensioners. The impact of this hike was not factored in by the RBI while setting the 5 per cent retail inflation target for March 2017.
- The second is food inflation. Different food item prices in the inflation basket are showing varying trends. January inflation data shows retail food prices rose 6.85 per cent on the year in January, accelerating from a 6.40 percent pace in December.
- A deficient monsoon may exert further pressure on food prices.
- The headline inflation numbers are also being impacted by services inflation, which has been sticky since September 2015 across housing, transport and communications, medical and other services.
- And crude oil prices may not remain benign throughout the next financial year.
The 5 per cent inflation target is set under the assumption of a normal monsoon this year and the current level of international crude oil prices, RBI had said at the sixth bi-monthly monetary policy review on February 2.
Fiscal management far better this year than earlier: CGA
- The government’s fiscal management this financial year has been better than the previous years with expenditure being spread out as opposed to the usual bunching up toward the end of the year, according to Controller General of Accounts
- The normal trend in government expenditure over the years has been that expenditures increase in the last two quarters of the financial year, mainly Q4. The criticism is that this is wasteful expenditure and that government departments just spend money so as to exhaust the budget. But this year if you look at the trend of the spending, you’ll find that even up to the six-month period, expenditure was more or less 48-50 per cent of the budgeted amount
- This means the government has taken the right decisions to ensure that funds are released right upfront, in the beginning.
- Another factor that is helping the government better manage its finances is the increasing push towards e-payments, with the Direct Benefit Transfer scheme taking centre-stage.
- The PFMS (Plan Fund Management System) portal in in CGA’s office has become the agency through which all DBT transfers take place in the country. This fiscal some seven crore beneficiaries have been added on the PFMS portal since April. Once this has happened, there was a lot of pressure from other ministries, state governments and union territories to onboard other schemes onto the portal
- The CGA has already completed the development of its non-tax portal, which will provide systematic, electronic data on the government’s non-tax revenue, which is around Rs. 2.1 lakh crore in this Budget.
- However, before the DBT scheme can be expanded further through electronic payments, the software systems in place will need to be upgraded
- The CGA also expressed concerns about ramping up electronic payments as connectivity was poor across the country. We are dependent on the available backbone of connectivity in the country. the connectivity systemhas to be strengthened up to the district level in all 630 districts in India
- One of the key elements lacking in accounting in India is a timely report of the consolidated picture of government accounts.At present, there is a time lag of 2-3 years before the consolidated report can be presented. That lag is not good, it needs to be bridged. For the second time since independence, the financial statements of the Centre, namely the appropriation accounts and the finance accounts of the previous financial year were presented to the legislature on December 22 last year, which is in the same calendar year
Collegium recommends transfer of High Court judges
- The Supreme Court Collegium led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur has recommended the transfer of High Court judges across the country.
- The Ministry of Law and Justice will now process the current collegium recommendations.
- Following the logjam created by the litigation on the National Judicial Appointments Commission laws, the judiciary is, at this point of time, battling rising vacancies in High Courts which have touched over 400.
- It is learnt that the Chief Justice of India has written to High Court Chief Justices to suggest names of persons suitable for appointing to the High Court Benches. CJI Thakur had said that filling up the 400 judicial vacancies in High Courts would be a “big challenge” in 2016.
- The collegium’s steps show urgency as the Union Law Ministry is still in the process of collecting feedback from the State governments and High Court Chief Justices for the preparation of a new Memorandum of Procedure for transfer and appointment of judges.
Plastic cards may soon go out of fashion
- Very soon, carrying multiple plastic cards may be unnecessary when you go shopping as your mobile phone would be all you need to transact.
- The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) and software product think-tank ISpirt are ready for the technical roll out of a new Unified Payment Interface, that would allow people to people or P2P transactions from any bank account to another, using a mobile phone app.
- Eventually the system would allow mobile to mobile payments (without any bank accounts involved) and payments to an Aadhaar number or a virtual address if people are not comfortable sharing their bank account details.
- The Unified Payment Interface (UPI) project was initiated last February by Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan, and over the past year, the application program interface (API) has been developed that allows payments from any bank account to another.
- The technical introduction launch of the interface, built on an open source framework, is in Bengaluru. Over 500 representatives from start-ups, banks, and venture capital funds keen on exploring possibilities it throws up for new applications, are likely to attend.
- The UPI is a new layer on top of the IMPS (Immediate Payment Service) that has been used by banks for electronic fund transfers for about five years. This will allow seamless, inter-bank connection using a mobile app that can be used to pay merchants as well as make other ‘proximity payments’ on an offline basis
- There is a very simple API that would provide for both push and pull payments. So one can send money to another or can send request another to pay, as merchants may do if buying. One has to approve the request on his phone
- This is a big leap from the old system for credentials, where one had to give his card to the merchant and there is a security risk. In this model, everything happens through one’s own phone, credentials are established and payment is approved. Many new phones come with biometric iris or fingerprint scanners so Aadhaar authentication is possible on these devices.
- A billion people can use this, it’s completely open so it is critical for India’s digital independence.
- The UPI has a level playing field with no gatekeepers. We can use it to fundamentally change the way we do business or improve any government service or process
IIT-M, Nokia to harness unlicensed spectrum
- IIT-Madras and Nokia announced a three-year partnership to explore the possibility of using unlicensed radio spectrum to deliver broadband connectivity.
- Nokia would fund the project through its Corporate Social Responsibility research programme for rural development. Nokia will also provide technological expertise to IIT-M’s Centre of Excellence for Wireless Technology (CEWiT).
- The objective is to deliver broadband connectivity and complement govt.’s National Optical Fibre Network initiative
- The IIT-M project envisages a base station, connected to the National Optical Fibre Network, wirelessly providing broadband connectivity to villages maybe as far as 20 km away. Fourth generation LTE signals will be used to “haul” the connection over such large distances while WiFi technology will be used to provide broadband at the village.
- Apart from outdoor-use, Indian scientists will have to devise a way to “haul” the connection. It will also look at the possibility of targeting the signal, where particular villages will receive it instead of having to send blasts indiscriminately.
Private companies must buy compost from municipal waste
- In an attempt to boost the NDA government’s flagship Swachh Bharat Mission, the Ministry of Urban Development has made it “mandatory” for private companies to buy compost that is extracted from municipal solid waste.
- Since solid waste management is a key feature of Swachh Bharat Mission, the Ministry is finding creative ways to turn mounting waste into a national asset.
- About 45 compost producing plants across the country were almost “defunct” because the private firms were not interested in marketing their products.
- In early January, the Ministry arrived at an agreement with the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers that private companies must promote the municipal compost and slowly reduce the market size of urea. Otherwise, serious fines would be imposed on them.
- The 45 plants had a capacity of generating 10 lakh tonnes of organic fertilizers, but they were producing only 1.5 tonnes due to the market monopoly of urea producing companies.
- The government is also weighing whether to offer a deal where subsidy would be granted if one bag of municipal compost is bought with every two bags of chemically rich urea.
- It will help farmers to nourish their soil with organic fertilizers and reduce their dependence on chemical urea which destroys the fertility of their lands and causes serious damage to groundwater
Himalayan griffon spotted in Goa
- Birdwatchers in south Goa have reported spotting the rare Himalayan griffon, also known as Himalayan vulture.
- The Himalayan griffon was previously believed to belong to the upper Himalayas and was presumed to stray till the Gangetic plains at the most. In 2013, however, “an exhausted juvenile” was rescued in Thrissur district of Kerala. In the same year, multiple sightings of the species were also reported from Bangalore in Karnataka and Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh. Earlier this year, the same species was reportedly spotted in Kaiga in Karnataka
- Himalayan griffons do not breed in the first three years, and hence juvenile birds of the species do not remain in breeding grounds to avoid competition
In 5 years, detection of black money goes up by 15.5 times
- A comprehensive report of the Director General of Income Tax (Intelligence and Criminal Investigation) shows more and more prominent business houses, including diamond traders, steel magnates and the country’s leading pharma companies, coming under the taxmen’s scanner.
- National undisclosed income jumped from just Rs. 5,894 crore in 2011 to Rs. 90,391 crore in 2014. The undisclosed income detected in 2012 was Rs. 6,573 crore and Rs. 19,337 crore in 2013. The data for 2015 has not been fully collated, but the number stood at Rs. 1,900 crore in the first couple of months of the financial year, tax officials said. More and more companies are involved in making bogus entries in their accounts.
- Under this jamakharchi , paper entries are made in account books to facilitate cash movement.
- There’s a concept called “Jama Kharchi”, which is about converting black money to white. Jama-kharchi , of “accomodating entry” companies which basically make two kind of entities meet:
- One that wants to reduce its profits (and thus, taxes) by showing purchase entries
- Two, that that wants to shore up sales because they will get higher credit
The Jama-kharchi companies will “accomodate” accounting entries that help both these companies and charge a 2% to 4% commission to be the go-betweeen.
Interest rate on small savings may come down
- Interest rates for small savings schemes, such as Post Office Savings Account, Public Provident Fund and Post office Fixed Deposit Scheme, may be reduced by the government to align them more closely with the market rates
- The new rates would be applicable from April 1, 2016. The rates for the long-term schemes and those for the girl child and senior citizens will remain unaffected by the decision
- The Reserve Bank, over the last one year, has reduced interest rates by over a percentage point. At present, the small savings rates are linked to government securities and are readjusted every year. The decision is to start adjusting the rates on quarterly basis
- Broadly the underlying philosophy of the planned changes is to align the small savings rates more frequently and more closely to the market-aligned.
- The smalls saving schemes include Post Office Monthly Income Scheme (MIS), PPF, Post Office Fixed Deposit Scheme, Senior Citizens Savings Scheme, Post Office Savings Account and Sukanya Samriddhi Accounts.
- While the rates for the girl child and senior citizen schemes will also be adjusted every quarter, the spreads they have over the G-Sec rates will be left unaltered
Asset quality review (AQR) of banks by RBI causing slump in shares
- The RBI had conducted an asset quality review (AQR) of banks and identified specific accounts, which banks have to identify as non-performing in two quarters, October-December and January-March. As a result, bad loans have hit banks’ profitability in the third quarter with most of them posting heavy losses in Q3.
- While the profitability of some banks may be impaired in the short-run, the system, once cleaned, will be able to support economic growth in a sustainable and profitable way
- Private banks, which are in a much better shape on the asset quality front, saw their business growing much more than their public sector counterpart
- Non-food credit growth from public sector banks, the more stressed part of the system, grew at only 6.6 per cent over the calendar year 2015. In contrast, non-food credit growth in private sector banks was 20.2 %, per cent.
- This has been one of the reasons for the current decline in share prices of banks
- There are two polar approaches to loan stress. One is to apply band aids to keep the loan current and hope that time and growth will set the project back on track. An alternative approach is to try to put the stressed project back on track rather than simply applying band aids. This may require deep surgery.
- loan classification is merely good accounting — it reflects what the true value of the loan might be. It is accompanied by provisioning, which ensures the bank sets aside a buffer to absorb likely losses. If the losses do not materialize, the bank can write back provisioning to profits.
- The Indian banking sector is seeing rise in stressed assets over the last three years. According to RBI data, stressed asset, that is gross NPA plus standard restructured advances, as a percentage of advances moved up to 11.3 per cent as on September 2015 as compared to 9.2 per cent in March 2013.
New arbitration law to strengthen NBFCs
- The year 2016 appears to have begun on a positive note for non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) with the Centre notifying the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015 on the first day of the New Year.
- The Act is deemed to have come into effect from October 23, 2015. It has brought in certain changes to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.
- NBFCs give secured loans. In case of defaults, borrowers use the court process to prevent these firms from taking possession of mortgaged assets. This will change now with the modifications to the Act.
- Empowering the arbitral tribunal to pass interim orders, fixing time-limit for passing an award and fast-tracking arbitral procedure, among others, are the salient features of the amended Act.
- Sec. 17 of the original Act has been strengthened. The amended Act now allows, rather empowers, an arbitral tribunal to pass interim orders.
- And, it has made it clear that the arbitral tribunal will have “the same power for making orders, as the court has for the purpose of, and in relations to, any proceedings before it.’’ Such orders should, however, reflect the orders of the court. This new provision will avoid costs, namely court fee and other expenses. Besides, it will also save undue delay
- Courts are still empowered to grant interim relief either before the commencement of an arbitration or even after the commencement if it is shown that an order from the arbitral tribunal was efficacious.
- The amended Act also provides for a time-frame to pass an award. A new section has been added to ensure that an award is passed within a year. This means that the arbitrators will not be able to grant much time to the parties, and are under an obligation to pass awards within a year. Nevertheless, the Act allows for a six-month extension.
- This will act as a deterrent against borrowers/guarantors who drag on the proceedings. The arbitral tribunal is empowered to fast-track the procedure in certain cases and decide the dispute based on documents and submission sans oral hearings within six months.
- Before the amendments, filing of an application for setting aside of the award itself operated as an automatic stay, preventing NBFCs from filing execution proceedings for recovery of the awarded amount . In the amended Act, there is no such automatic stay of the enforcement of the award upon filing of application by the borrower for setting aside an award. Stay can happen only if courts grant it, and on terms, including that of depositing part-sum of the award, set by them. This will provide scope for recovery as the courts may pass an order for stay subject to certain conditions, which may include a substantial payment, and may even discourage parties from challenging the awards
SC for uniform compensation scheme for differently abled rape victims
- Highlighting the plight of differently abled victims of rape and sexual exploitation, the Supreme Court ordered all States and Union Territories to formulate a uniform scheme for providing them compensation.
- It stressed that no amount of money can wipe away the tears of these women who have to battle both the social disadvantage of their disability and stigma of the crime committed against them.
- Compensation and rehabilitation expenses range from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 1 lakh at the most, except in the State of Goa where victims were paid Rs. 10 lakh.
- In Jammu and Kashmir, a minor rape victim or a victim of custodial rape is paid a compensation of Rs. 1 lakh by the State. In Karnataka, a minor rape victim is paid Rs. 3 lakh while victims other than minors are eligible to a maximum of Rs. 1.5 lakh. In Kerala, minor rape victims are paid “50 per cent extra” of Rs. 3 lakh maximum compensation awarded to rape victims and Rs. 1 lakh for rehabilitation costs. In the Union Territory of Puducherry, a rape victim is eligible for a maximum compensation of Rs. 3 lakh and Rs. 20,000 for rehabilitation.
- The court noted that in Maharashtra, no amount is given as victim compensation for the offence of rape.
‘Can Governor intervene in Speaker’s disqualification powers?’
- The Supreme Court questioned Governor J.P. Rajkhowa’s authority to concern himself with the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly Speaker’s powers to disqualify legislators under the anti-defection law.
- “How can the Governor take away the constitutional powers of the Speaker to disqualify lawmakers on the grounds of defection? The Governor has no role to play in issues prescribed in the Tenth Schedule (anti-defection provision) of the Constitution,” a five-judge Constitution Bench led by Justice J.S. Khehar observed.
- It questionaed the Governor’s interventions in the wake of Speaker Nabam Rebia disqualifying 16 of the 21 rebel Congress MLAs
- The court questioned the Governor’s use of his “constitutional discretion” to advance the sixth session of the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly by over a month, asking whether it was backed by sound constitutional principles.
- The advancing of the session from its scheduled date of January 14, 2016 to December 16, 2015 in order to remove Speaker Nabam Rebia triggered the entire political crisis, leading to imposition of President’s rule on January 26
Hike in reward for killing J&K militants raises concern
- With the Jammu and Kashmir hiking the reward money for police personnel killing a militant by 25 per cent, human rights groups in the State have expressed the fear that there would be an increase in encounters rather than arrests.
- According to a J&KCCS survey, there was a sudden increase in the killing of militants from 1998 and decline in arrests, just months after the reward money for counter-insurgency policemen was increased by almost 50 per cent by the government.
- The revised policy on rewards, approved in November last year, enhanced the reward money from Rs.10 lakh to Rs.12.5 lakh for “A plus plus”, the highest category of a wanted militant. Similarly, there is a hike in the categories of militants of “A plus”, “A”, “B” and “C”.
- However, the complex categorisation, where a militant’s longevity and his armed actions are factored in before the Inspector General of Police assigns him a category, has further complicated this unaccounted kill money.
States can use curfew powers to block mobile Internet access: Supreme Court
- The Supreme Court agreed with a lower court decision that the State can use its curfew powers to block Internet access on personal mobile phones if there is apprehension that a public agitation can turn aggressive and disturb public tranquillity.
- A Bench led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur on Thursday dismissed an appeal filed by law student Gaurav Sureshbhai Vyas against a September 2015 Gujarat High Court order upholding a clampdown on mobile Internet access under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) during the Patidar agitation as only “minimal restriction” and not a violation of free speech which extends to Internet access.
- The dismissal of this appeal gives full credence to the Gujarat High Court’s view that blocking of Internet mobile facility is an “appropriate action” in situations “prone to aggression.” The High Court had opined that the State should be left to figure out an “effective approach” like blocking Internet on mobiles in order to maintain law and order.
Odd even rule again
- The second instalment of the odd-even vehicle rationing scheme will be back in April
- Scheduled to be rolled out between April 15 and April 30, woman drivers, two-wheeler riders and VIPs will continue to be exempted from its provisions even as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government was “seriously considering” the “permanent enforcement” of the scheme for 15 days every month in the future
Plan to eliminate malaria by 2030
- The Union Health Ministry announced the much-awaited plan to eliminate malaria from the country by 2030. This will be the first time that the government’s policy intervention will have deliverables and time-bound targets.
- Under the new framework, India will be divided into three categories as per malaria prevalence — low, moderate and endemic States.
- By 2016 end, all States are expected to include malaria elimination in their broader health policies; by the end of 2017, all States are expected to bring down Annual Parasite Incidence [API] to less than 1 per thousand population; and by the end of 2020, 15 States/UTs under category 1 [elimination phase] are expected to interrupt transmission of malaria and achieve zero indigenous cases and deaths due to malaria.
- It is also envisaged that in States with relatively good capacity and health infrastructure, namely, Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra, accelerated efforts may usher malaria elimination sooner — within two to three years
- According to the Health Ministry statistics, 1.13 million cases and 287 deaths were reported in the provisional data. However, British medical journal The Lancet estimates that India reports at least 50,000 malaria-related deaths annually, making discrepancy in data the biggest challenge in elimination strategy. The gross underestimation of data is something officials of the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme have acknowledged. There is underestimation — especially since the cases that are treated in the private sector do not always get counted.
- Under the new framework, the Ministry will depend on civil society organisations to improve surveillance.
Centre makes it mandatory for power firms to buy from solid waste plants
- The Central government has issued a circular to all power distribution companies stating it was mandatory for them to buy electricity from power plants fuelled by solid waste.
- In case the companies brush aside the instructions, the government would impose severe penalties on them, an entitlement that comes from the recent amendment of the Electricity Regulatory Act (2013), the notice said.
- About four solid waste-run power projects across the country had to be shut down because power distribution companies would not buy electricity from them.
- The Centre now aims at generating 700 megawatts of electricity from solid waste-run plants in the next five years.
- Every day, about 1.68 lakh tonnes of solid waste is collected across the country
- As State governments will have to build plants that can produce energy from solid waste, the ministry offered to cover “20 per cent” of the cost of each plant. This money would come from the Swachh Bharat Mission.
- Of its budget allocation of Rs. 62,000 crore, Rs. 38,000 crore would be spent on building solid waste management infrastructure across the country.
- The road to arriving at energy generation is still long but the ministry has made a significant progress in setting up an effective door-to-door collection and transportation of solid waste
Facebooks pulls out Free Basics from India
- Social networking giant Facebook pulled the plug on its controversy-ridden ‘Free Basics’ programme in India, days after telecom regulator TRAI barred operators from charging discriminatory rates for Internet access based on content.
- The service was offered in India in partnership with Reliance Communications and was earlier known as Internet.org.
- Launched in 2014, Facebook is running the programme across 17 countries
Govt plans to set up 2,000 waterports; 30 on Ganga between Varanasi-Haldia
- Government plans to set up 2,000 waterports as well as “Ro-Ro” services at 5 select places to transport goods and vehicles
- Besides, there is a plan to develop 1,300 islands and 280 light houses as major attractions for tourists
- Government is also constructing waterways on a 1,620 kilometer stretch on the Ganga between Varanasi and Haldia and 30 water ports would be constructed there.
- Varanasi, Haldia and Sahibganj will be developed as multi-modal hubs with roadways, waterways and railways.
- Government will soon start Ro-Ro (Roll-on Roll-off) service at five places including Haldia, Patna, Varanasi and Sahibganj with the World Bank assistance. Once they are operational, trucks could be transported till the points leading to huge savings which in turn would boost economy
- Cargo transportation through river could bring the charges down to as low as 10 paise a km in comparison to Rs 1.5 per km for transportation through road and Rupee one through waterways.
- Government had initiated river traffic control system from Haldia to Farakka and the system will be introduced in next six months from Farakka to Patna and thereafter from Patna to Varanasi.
- For the first time in its history, the India Meteorological Department — best known for its monsoon forecasts — will issue a summer forecast for April, May and June
- Those involved say that though such a forecast may not be of much help to farmers — who rely on IMD’s rain forecasts to make sowing decisions and don’t plant their crops in these months — the information would be useful to power companies, several service-sector industries and state planners who’d like a heads-up on possible water shortages.
- In mid-March, the IMD will send out a colour-coded map of India, showing how temperatures in different regions of the country are likely to deviate from what’s normal, during summer months.
- These numbers would be updated every five days
- Businesses that have requested summer forecasts include manufacturers of refrigerators, air conditioners, ice cream and cold drinks
- The IMD’s initiative comes even as India bears the brunt of one of the longest and severest El Ninos ever experienced.
- Said to be responsible for two consecutive droughts as well awry winter patterns in North India, the El Nino — a meteorological phenomenon marked by an unusual warming of the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean and associated with droughts — is likely to continue for a couple of months more.
- The IMD does give warnings about imminent heatwaves and dry weather but these are no more than five days ahead.
- The key factor to forecasting weather a few months ahead is in ensuring that the computerised weather models are consistently able to simulate the weather as it actually plays out.
- Last month, the IMD officially expunged the word “drought” from its vocabulary, months after it correctly forecast one of India’s severest monsoon deficits last year.
Gates Foundation on Centre’s radar
- The Indian government will closely scrutinise the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s (BMGF) methods of donations in India after an international report accused the world’s biggest philanthropist of influencing government policies in favour of multinational pharmaceutical companies.
- Unlike other international donors, the BMGF is not registered under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), leaving its funding out of the ambit of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which is the regulatory authority for NGOs and associations who receive foreign funds.
- The foundation instead operates as a “Liaison Office” under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) as approved by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
- Since it is not registered under the FCRA, the funding of NGOs doesn’t come under the government’s watch list. It is not clear where and what they are funding. It is a loophole and it can open gates for other NGOs as well to use this route to escape scrutiny
- RBI allows “liaison offices” to operate in India and the central bank does not want to give up this power. This is being exploited by many foreign associations and organisations to route undetected foreign funds.
- Though the RBI gives LO permits, it does not regulate them as there are no such rules. No inspections can take place and thus no taxes are paid. The BMGF works as a marketing office for U.S. pharmaceutical vaccines pushing only WHO pre-approved manufacturers, all of whom are either USA or EU based
- In Ford Foundation’s case, MHA first put it under a “watch-list” category as it funded Gujarat-based activist Teesta Setalvad’s NGOs. Ford was neither registered as a society nor under FCRA. After the government’s crackdown, Ford registered itself under FEMA last month. Officials say the international NGO will soon be taken off the watch-list.
- In the health sector, the BMGF is accused of altering aid priorities by ‘legitimizing the role of multinational pharmaceutical companies’ by pushing for public-private-partnerships (PPPs). According to Global Justice Now, both the BMGF-funded Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) and the GAVI Alliance, are PPPs and have questionable associations with the pharmaceutical industry.
Government to ease norms for real estate business
- The government is easing rules for granting construction permits around airports and monuments by developing colour-coded maps in a bid to give fillip to urban growth
- Developers have to get permits from Airport Authority of India (AII) in New Delhi to build projects around the country’s airports. “It took a hell lot of time,”
- At AII, the process of clearing such applications is manual.
- AII has now come out with colour-coded zonal map. The airspaces used by jetliners for landings and take offs are highlighted in the map. No construction will be allowed in such spaces.
- Construction would be allowed in those areas that fall out of “colour coded” zones
- Developers don’t have to come all the way to Delhi to get building height clearances among others. The government will soon empower urban local bodies to follow the colour-coded zonal maps and authorise real estate development accordingly
- In July 2015, Mr. Naidu had reached out to all the ministries, asking them to amend the laws that hamper the real estate growth across the country. The ministries had responded positively, agreeing to fix the gaps by the end of 2015.
- Jaipur International Airport is the first one to develop a colour-coded map. All the other civilian airports across India, including 28 defence airports that are being used for civilian purposes, will have their maps ready by December 2016.
- Ministry of Civil Aviation has also commissioned “improved version” of online NOCAS (No Objection Certificate Application System) to help applicants calculate permissible heights in airport zones.
- Similarly, the Ministry of Culture in collaboration with ISRO is developing colour-coded maps for 281 monuments that fall in construction zones.
- Ministry of Culture has launched a mobile app that enables online approvals for construction around monuments in just 72 hours.
Govt. renews air safety contract with Wicks Group
- The government has renewed a contract with the U.S.-based Wicks Group to help the country retain its air safety ranking.
- The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had hired the firm on a one-year contract in 2014 after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had downgraded India’s safety ranking to Category-II based on a 2013 audit.
- The DGCA signed the agreement with the United States Technical Development Agency, which will be partially funding the project and share the cost of assistance with the Wicks Group, according to a Civil Aviation Ministry statement.
- The current contract is aimed at “sustaining efforts undertaken during 2014” for restoration of air safety rankings and “bringing in more systemic improvements in the area of operation, airworthiness and licensing.”
- The Wicks Group had assisted the DGCA and the FAA had in April last year restored India’s safety ranking to Category-I, implying the country is meeting the international standards in terms of civil aviation safety oversight.
- The move comes close on the heels of a pending audit report from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) which had conducted a comprehensive air safety audit in December last year.
- Although an ICAO downgrade will not have a direct impact on airline operations it may raise alarm bells among other aviation authorities. For instance, the ICAO audit in 2012 had prompted FAA to conduct its own audit which led to a downgrade in India’s air safety ranking.
TRAI rules in favour of Net neutrality
- The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) barred telecom service providers from charging differential rates for data services, effectively prohibiting Facebook’s Free Basics and Airtel Zero platform by Airtel in their current form.
- No service provider can offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content.
- No service provider shall enter into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever name called, with any person, natural or legal, that the effect of discriminatory tariffs for data services being offered or charged by the service provider for the purpose of evading the prohibition in this regulation.
- Reduced tariff for accessing or providing emergency services, or at times of public emergency has been permitted.
- Financial disincentives for contravention of the regulation have also been specified
- TRAI may review these regulations after a period of two years.
- TRAI said a fine of Rs. 50,000 would be levied per day, subject to a maximum of Rs. 50 lakh, for any violation of these regulations by the service providers. An exemption, however, has been made for offering emergency services.
- Ruling out case-by-case approval for plans that might be priced differently, the regulator said a clear policy should be formulated.
- The TRAI said tariff for data services could not vary on the basis of the website/application/ platform/ or type of content being accessed. For example, a consumer could not be charged differently based on whether she was browsing social media site A or B, or on whether she was watching streaming videos or shopping on the Internet, it added.
- It, however, said that to bring more users on the Internet, this prohibition would not apply to other forms of tariff differentiation that were entirely independent of content.
- For instance, providing limited free data that enables user to access the entire Internet is not prohibited
What’s net neutrality?
It is the principle that all traffic on the Internet must be treated equally by Internet service providers. Those advocating Net neutrality believe all bits of data are equal, and, therefore, should not be discriminated on the basis of content, site or user. This has largely been the default mode since Internet started.
Who benefits from net neutrality? How?
Every Internet user. Think through how you would like to browse the Internet. Wouldn’t you like to access the Web without worrying about how differently videos will be charged compared to other forms of content? Wouldn’t you like to access the Web without the telecom service provider getting to serve some sites faster than others? If yes for both, you are pro-Net neutrality.
New ventures benefit too. In fact, one of the key reasons for start-ups to have come up in a big way in recent decades is the openness of the Internet. The Internet has reduced transaction costs and levelled the playing field.
Panel proposes mandatory vision and hearing tests for class 1 admissions
- If a proposal made by a vision committee is accepted, parents will have to submit a doctor’s report on the child’s hearing and vision.
- The technical committee set up by the State government to frame the State Vision Policy has proposed, among other things, a mandatory testing of vision and hearing ability of children at the time of admissions to class 1.
- Aditya-L1, the Indian Sun mission due after three years, may turn out to be a unique formation of not one but two spacecraft looking at the Sun from two stable orbital points.
- That is if the Advisory Committee on Space Sciences, which is the brain behind the country’s extra-planetary missions, has its way. Internal discussions have appare
- That is if the Advisory Committee on Space Sciences, which is the brain behind the country’s extra-planetary missions, has its way. Internal discussions have apparently been launched.
- Aditya is the nation’s third big extra-terrestrial outing after Moon and Mars, all conceived and designed by ADCOS, the multi-faculty body of the Indian Space Research Organisation.
- ISRO has started activities to send a 400-kg spacecraft to look at the Sun from a special stable orbital slot called L1 around 2019-20. L1 or ‘Lagrangian’ point # 1 is about 1.5 million km from Earth towards the Sun.
- There are four more Lagrangian points L2 to L5 for Sun and Earth where space objects can resist the pulls of both the celestial bodies and stay relatively stable in that orbit.
- ADCOS has designed the 2008 Chandrayaan-1; its future sequel; the 2013 Mars Orbiter Mission and is weighing the pros of either a second Mars mission or a Venus trip — the last of which is attracting other Space agencies as potential partners.
- The first task is to build a few ultra-sensitive instruments to accurately measure minute details about the Sun.
- The bigger challenge is to create an all-aluminium 20-metre-high magnetic test facility near Bengaluru to specially assemble and test the spacecraft and instruments in a magnetically clean manner with “not one electric material, not even a car, being nearby”.
- A satellite and a launcher each cost around Rs. 200 crore.
With Zika, Indian firm scales up trials for ‘GM mosquitoes’
- A Maharashtra company is getting ready to scale up trials to find out whether genetically engineered mosquitoes can be a useful tool to check the growth of the insect.
- Gangabishan Bhikulal Investment and Trading Ltd. (GBIT), a sister company of the Maharashtra Hybrid Company (Mahyco) that first brought Bt cotton to India, has been breeding male mosquitoes.
- These mosquitoes contain genes which when passed on to its progeny render them unable to mature unless they have access to tetracycline, a compound that is not naturally available in the environment. The idea is that once enough of these laboratory-bred mosquitoes mate with the disease-carrying females in an open environment, they would reduce the region’s mosquito population.
- The technology — licensed from Oxitec, a University of Oxford company — is being tested in Malaysia and Brazil, which has seen the highest number of Zika cases. The strain of mosquito, called OX513A, is sourced from Oxitec and introduced into local sites.
- According to GBIT scientists, international evidence so far shows the strain can reduce the number of mosquitoes in a place by 90 per cent in three or six months.
NDRF trains 160 dogs for disaster response
- In a maiden initiative, a squad of 162 dogs is being raised by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) to aid its personnel in rescuing people trapped under debris in the aftermath of natural calamities like earthquake.
- The NDRF, which was involved in disaster rescue operations like the deluge in Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir and Chennai and the earthquake that struck Nepal last year, has undertaken the exercise on a ‘mission mode’
- The force is training a batch of 162 dogs for their specialised Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) tasks under which the NDRF teams have to sift through mounds of rubble to look for life trapped beneath.
- A number of them have finished their regime and are being subjected to drills and field exercises where they are made to sniff out life in a collapsed concrete structure.
India flags API issue to U.S. govt.
- India has sought clarity from the U.S. government on the ramifications of a recent adjudication, which gave rise to apprehensions that the medicines procured by the American government should be only from companies making even the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) either locally or in certain designated nations such as European Union (EU) members.
- India and China account for about 80 per cent of the U.S.’s requirement of API (drug raw materials).
- The ‘determination’ of the U.S. Homeland Security Department — which seemed to imply that the drugs that contained APIs imported from India and China are ineligible to be sold to the U.S. government — is likely to directly and indirectly hurt India’s API exports to the U.S., according to a preliminary assessment by India’s commerce ministry.
- The U.S. decision has major implications on generic drugs, affordability of medicines and on efficient sourcing
- The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (or CBP, which comes under the Homeland Security Department) that made the ‘determination’ in November 2015, said any party-at-interest may seek judicial review of this ‘final determination’ before the Court of International Trade.
- The matter relates to the U.S. CBP ‘determination’ that the API in Carlsbad Technology Inc’s drug Acyclovir was manufactured in India and China. The drug was meant for U.S. government procurement. It is used against herpes viruses. The matter came to the Indian government’s attention after Pharmexcil (a lobby group of the pharmaceutical industry) approached the commerce ministry earlier this month, asking them to intervene and help resolve the issue.
- The decision was taken as per the provisions under the U.S. Trade Agreements Act (TAA). The U.S. TAA applies America’s international trade agreements with other countries and the World Trade Organisation’s Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) to the U.S. government procurements.
- As per the interpretation of the U.S. TAA, in cases of U.S. government procurement, medicines need to be made in the U.S., or in certain ‘designated countries’ (such as some EU-member countries and Japan, which are also signatories to the GPA) if they are to be given the benefit of waivers from “Buy American” restrictions.
- India and China are not in this list of ‘designated countries’. India is not a signatory to the GPA and does not have a free trade pact with the U.S.
Chettinad cotton saree wins Indian Handloom tag
- The Chettinad cotton saree has won the ‘India Handloom’ tag for its unique designs and identity
- In this regard, the Textiles Committee, Union Ministry of Handlooms and Textiles, Mumbai, has registered the Chettinad cotton saree under the India Handloom Brand Scheme after checking various quality parameters stipulated by the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and offered a logo.
- The Chettinad saree inherits the intricacies of now out-of-vogue and over a century-old‘ Kandangi’ pure silk sarees. The sarees are already popular in few North Indian states in the country and are also popular in other countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.
- Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Jagat Prakash Nadda recently launched Project Sunrise in Manipur.
- Project Sunrise is a five year programme aimed at complementing the ongoing National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) which is to primarily improve coverage, quality and scale of HIV interventions among People Who Inject Drugs (PWID) in eight North East States.
- Activities of the project are to be implemented through the existing system in close co-ordination with State AIDS Control Societies (SACS) in the North-Eastern states.
- National Human Resource reduction strategy will be a part of the project and will be implemented in five years. Approximate cost of the project is Rs 70 crore.
- In the entire North East States, the project will be implemented in 20 districts. The Central Government is funding the NACO projects and the amount would be transferred directly to the State AIDS Control Society through NACO.
- Project Sunrise will implement more customized flexible approach so as to increase the availability and accessibility to clean needles and syringes through secondary distributors such as Government health care facilities, preferred healthcare providers, non-traditional outlets and peer volunteers.
- The programme also includes lower threshold strategies to improve Opoid Substitution Therapy (OST), coverage and sensitization workshops for law enforcing officials. It also includes HIV intervention in prison settings.
- The programme also aims to strengthen linkage with Ministries and Government Departments, community mobilization, intervention among Female Injecting Drug Users (FIDU), Intervention Among Spouses of PWID, establishment of Real Time Monitoring (RTM) system, Implementation of innovative approaches such as community based HIV-testing, safe disposal of used needles and syringes etc.
U.S., India in talks to settle solar power trade dispute
- The U.S. and India are in talks that could settle a long-running solar power trade dispute, delaying the announcement of a ruling by the World Trade Organization (WTO)
- Washington filed the WTO challenge three years ago, claiming that India’s national solar power programme illegally discriminated against imported solar panels and related products through its domestic content requirements.
- The WTO, in recent weeks, has twice delayed the public announcement of a ruling in the case, rescheduling it for next Wednesday. Indian media reported last August that a WTO dispute settlement panel had confidentially notified Washington and New Delhi that it would rule against India in the case.
- S. Trade Representative Spokesman Andrew Bates declined to confirm any details of the WTO’s intentions but said the talks were aimed at reaching an out-of-court resolution before any public announcement by the Geneva-based trade body.
- The U.S. initiated this dispute for the purpose of advancing the rapid deployment of clean, affordable energy in India and around the world
- India has now asked to speak with the U.S. regarding the issue and in light of ongoing discussions, release of the WTO panel’s report ruling has been temporarily delayed
- The U.S. complaint in 2013 alleged that the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission subsidies were available only if developers used equipment produced in India, violating a key global trade rule. The programme is aimed at easing chronic energy shortages in India.
- The Obama administration argued that the rules are a barrier to solar products made in America and elsewhere but also effectively raised the cost of generating solar power in India and extended the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.
As customs duty exemption goes, 76 life-saving drugs to get costlier
- In a move that could inflate the cost of essential life-saving imported drugs, the Finance Ministry has withdrawn exemption of 76 medicines from customs duties.
- The list includes 10 HIV drugs and at least four cancer drugs, but haemophilia patients are likely to be the most affected by the decision.
- Putting old HIV or cancer medicines out of the list makes no difference as the generic versions are available in India at cheaper rates. This is a move to boost domestic competition among Indian drug-makers. The pressure will be on patients who do not have an alternative source. They already pay out of pocket and piling duty on them seems a move that has not been well-thought out
- The Department of Revenue has issued a notification on January 28, withdrawing exemption from import duty on a number of drugs, including cancer and other lifesaving drugs. This will result in excise/import duties to the extent of over 22 per cent, which will make these drugs more expensive
- There are over 75 drugs on this list. This will also impact the indigenous drugs being manufactured in SEZs, thus adversely impacting the government’s aim of making healthcare affordable and accessible to patients in India
Haemophilia is a genetic disorder in which the patient tends to bleed excessively. Anti-haemophilic factor concentrates (VIII & IX) that are given to patients to control the bleeding are off the list. These concentrates are proteins that help the blood clot
Juvenile board to decide if suspect in two murders can be tried as adult
- A decision will soon be taken by the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) on whether a 17-year-old boy, who is accused of committing two murders in Delhi in five months to raise money for a reality show, will be tried as a juvenile or as an adult.
- As per the Juvenile Justice Act 2015, which came into effect in mid-January, the boy could be tried as an adult if the board assesses him mentally and physically capable of committing the heinous offences and as having the ability to understand their consequences.
- The boy, who will turn 18 next month, was first apprehended last September on charge of kidnapping a 13-year-old boy for ransom and killing him later.
- He was allegedly assisted in the crime by his juvenile girlfriend, who too aspired to make it big in a reality show. They needed the money to fund their aspirations.
- If he ends up being tried as an adult, his will be among the first such major case in Delhi after the much-debated law was passed in December and approved by the President on the last day of 2015.
- The JJB “shall conduct a preliminary assessment with regard to his mental and physical capacity to commit such offence, ability to understand the consequences of the offence and the circumstances in which he allegedly committed the offence”.
- For the assessment, the board may take the assistance of “experienced psychologists or psycho-social workers or other experts”.
About JJ Act:
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 repealed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2015 was passed by Lok Sabha on 7th May, 2015; was passed by Rajya Sabha on 22nd December, 2015 and received Presidential assent on 31st December, 2015.
The JJ Act, 2015 provides for strengthened provisions for both children in need of care and protection and children in conflict with law.
Some of the key provisions include:
- Change in nomenclature from ‘juvenile’ to ‘child’ or ‘child in conflict with law’, across the Act to remove the negative connotation associated with the word “juvenile”;
- Inclusion of several new definitions such as orphaned, abandoned and surrendered children; and petty, serious and heinous offences committed by children;
- Clarity in powers, function and responsibilities of Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) and Child Welfare Committee (CWC);
- Clear timelines for inquiry by Juvenile Justice Board (JJB);
- Special provisions for heinous offences committed by children above the age of sixteen year;
- Separate new chapter on Adoption to streamline adoption of orphan, abandoned and surrendered children;
- Inclusion of new offences committed against children;
- Mandatory registration of Child Care Institutions.
- Under Section 15, special provisions have been made to tackle child offenders committing heinous offences in the age group of 16-18 years.
- The Juvenile Justice Board is given the option to transfer cases of heinous offences by such children to a Children’s Court (Court of Session) after conducting preliminary assessment.
- The provisions provide for placing children in a ‘place of safety’ both during and after the trial till they attain the age of 21 years after which an evaluation of the child shall be conducted by the Children’s Court.
- After the evaluation, the child is either released on probation and if the child is not reformed then the child will be sent to a jail for remaining term.
- The law will act as a deterrent for child offenders committing heinous offences such as rape and murder and will protect the rights of victim.
- To streamline adoption procedures for orphan, abandoned and surrendered children, the existing Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) is given the status of a statutory body to enable it to perform its function more effectively.
- Separate chapter (VIII) on Adoption provides for detailed provisions relating to adoption and punishments for not complying with the laid down procedure.
- Processes have been streamlined with timelines for both in-country and inter-country adoption including declaring a child legally free for adoption.
- Several rehabilitation and social reintegration measures have been provided for children in conflict with law and those in need of care and protection.
- Under the institutional care, children are provided with various services including education, health, nutrition, de-addiction, treatment of diseases, vocational training, skill development, life skill education, counselling, etc to help them assume a constructive role in the society.
- The variety of non-institutional options include: sponsorship and foster care including group foster care for placing children in a family environment which is other than child’s biological family, which is to be selected, qualified, approved and supervised for providing care to children.
- Several new offences committed against children, which are so far not adequately covered under any other law, are included in the Act.
- These include: sale and procurement of children for any purpose including illegal adoption, corporal punishment in child care institutions, use of child by militant groups, offences against disabled children and, kidnapping and abduction of children.
- All child care institutions, whether run by State Government or by voluntary or non-governmental organisations, which are meant, either wholly or partially for housing children, regardless of whether they receive grants from the Government, are to be mandatorily registered under the Act within 6 months from the date of commencement of the Act. S
- tringent penalty is provided in the law in case of non-compliance.
Panel to finalise national afforestation fund plan by month-end
- The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Forests will finalise its suggestions on how to use the national afforestation fund of Rs. 38,000 crore that has been idling for 10 years
- The panel has been seeking views of public and private stakeholders across the country and met agencies concerned in the State
- The Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Bill, 2015 seeks ways to unlock the fund that has accumulated with the Compensatory Afforestation Management Planning Authority (CAMPA).
- Incentives to persons displaced from eco-sensitive zones and using CAMPA funds to acquire land in sensitive areas have been made to the panel
Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015
- The proposed legislation seeks to provide an appropriate institutional mechanism, both at the Centre and in each State and Union Territory, to ensure expeditious utilization in efficient and transparent manner of amounts realised in lieu of forest land diverted for non-forest purpose.
- This would mitigate impact of diversion of such forest land.
- The proposed legislation also seeks to provide safety, security and, transparency in utilization of these amounts, which currently are being kept in Nationalised Banks and are being managed by an ad-hoc body. These amounts would be brought within broader focus of both Parliament and State Legislatures and in greater public view, by transferring them to non-lapsable interest bearing funds, to be created under public accounts of the Union of India and each State.
- The proposed legislation will also ensure expeditious utilization of accumulated unspent amounts available with the ad hoc Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA), which presently is of the order of Rs. 38,000 crore, and fresh accrual of compensatory levies and interest on accumulated unspent balance, which will be of the order of approximately Rs. 6,000 crore per annum, in an efficient and transparent manner.
- Utilization of these amounts, will facilitate timely execution of appropriate measures to mitigate impact of diversion of forest land, for which these amounts have been realised. Apart from mitigating the impact of diversion of forest land, utilisation of these amounts will also result in creation of productive assets and generation of huge employment opportunities in rural areas, especially in backward tribal areas.
- Expenditure of the National CAMPA is proposed to be met from the funds to be retained in the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) from the accumulated funds transferred to it by the ad-hoc CAMPA, and the funds to be transferred, on yearly basis, to the National CAF from a part of the funds credited by user agencies directly into State CAFs. The proposal, therefore, does not involve any additional expenditure on the Centre.
The Bill provides for among other things:-
- Establishment of the National CAF and the State CAFs to credit amounts collected by State Governments and Union Territory Administrations to compensate loss of forest land diverted for non-forest purpose.
- Constitution of a National Authority to manage and utilise amounts credited to the National CAF.
- Constitution of a State Authority in each State and Union Territory to manage and utilise the amounts credited to the State CAFs.
- Establishment of a Monitoring Group to assist the National Authority in monitoring and evaluation of activities undertaken from amounts released from the National CAF and State CAFs.
Panel to seek increasing ISRO outlay by 50 p.c.
- The Chairman of the visiting Parliamentary Committee on Science & Technology said the panel would recommend a 50 per cent higher budgetary outlay for the Department of Space (DoS) for the upcoming financial year.
- If it materialises, it could be the highest ever increase for the department and the total budget may surpass Rs. 10,000 crore. It got a 43 per cent hike two years ago, i.e. in 2013-14.
- In the budget presented in February 2015, the DoS received Rs. 7,388 crore, including about Rs. 1,400 crore for non-plan expenditure. The amount was a little more than what it was allocated the previous year (Rs. 7,238 crore for 2014-15), but this was later revised and became about 20 per cent lesser.
- Congress leader Ashwani Kumar chairs a 31-member MPs’ team on S&T and Environment & Forests and was also in charge of the DoS in the erstwhile UPA government.
- At the end of two days of meetings related to space, forest and environment in Bengaluru, he told a news conference that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has contributed a lot to the social and defence needs of the country. It undoubtedly needs a bigger budget for new projects and a matching technical pool to complete them.
Prepare manual on juvenile offenders: SC
- The Supreme Court directed the Ministry of Women and Child Development to prepare a manual exclusively for juvenile offenders in custody under the new juvenile law.
- In a detailed written order dealing with dignity to those behind bars, a Bench, headed by Justice Madan B. Lokur, said the new manual should be fashioned after the Model Prison Manual being prepared by the Union Home Ministry for adult prisoners.
- Issuing notice to the Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, the apex court said it wants a response by March 14, 2016, the next date of hearing.
- The purpose of issuance of notice to the Ministry is to require a manual to be prepared by this Ministry taking into consideration the living conditions and other issues pertaining to juveniles who are in Observation Homes or Special Homes or Places of Safety in terms of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015
- A “composite document” on custodial management, medical care, education of prisoners, vocational training and skill development programmes, legal aid, welfare of prisoners, aftercare and rehabilitation, Board of Visitors, prison computerisation, etc.
- The apex court has stepped in after a new juvenile justice law has been passed to rein in rising number of heinous crimes involving juveniles.
Government may ask central bank to consider roads as a priority sector
- The government will soon approach the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan with a proposal to include road projects under the priority sector list for lending purposes and review the non-performing assets norms to revive Rs. 40,000-crore worth of highway projects that have not taken off due to bureaucratic delays and cost overruns.
- The Road Transport and Highways Ministry has decided to take up the priority sector route with the central bank,following a consultation with the Indian Banks’ Association earlier this month.
- The banks provide a certain portion of ‘priority sector’ lending in the form of small value loans to farmers for agriculture, micro and small enterprises, poor people for housing, students for education and low income groups and weaker sections.
- At present, 40 per cent of loans given by banks should go to priority sectors defined by the RBI. Out of this, 18 per cent should go toward agriculture lending.
- In a separate move, the Union government may ask the RBI to ease non-performing asset norms for bank loans to revive projects. It may ask the RBI to not classify bank loans as NPAs if the project has failed to take off beyond two years from its original date of commencement.
- At present, bank loans, extended for infrastructure projects, become NPAs if the project has been delayed for two years from its original schedule even for reasons beyond the control of promoters such as land acquisition approvals. This will, however, be done for road projects which are found viable after assessment.
- The government may also ask the RBI to allow banks to infuse more funds into projects facing cost overruns due to delays. At present, the RBI guidelines allow banks to fund additional interest during construction of projects and other cost overruns up to 10 per cent of the original project cost. The IBA has requested the government to increase the limit of 10 per cent to support stalled projects.
- The government is finding it hard to revive the 19 highway projects worth Rs. 40,000 crore and it recently met road developers and bankers to address the issues.
- One of the main reasons behind the delay in highway projects is shortage of funds. While the road contractors said banks were reluctant to fund projects due to mounting non-performing assets, the government officials said the ‘managerial inefficiencies’ of developers have stalled these projects.
- Last year, the government had taken several decisions to revive the stalled road projects. The Cabinet had approved a policy to allow National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to infuse one-time funds for completing public-private partnership (PPP) projects where 50 per cent work is done.
- However, the scheme has not found many takers as banks have not agreed to NHAI getting the first charge on the toll revenues from these projects.
Co-optex’s handloom tag gets noticed abroad
- After a gap of two years, surviving a recession that had hit even the handloom sector, Co-optex has bagged a sizeable business from overseas customers for its furnishing material.
- The Tamil Nadu Handloom Weavers Cooperative Society, known better as Co-optex, has a niche clientele in Europe and in the United States. The organisation participates in the annual fair held by the European Free Trade Association. For the past two years Co-optex had felt the heat of the recession that had hit the western market.
- Co-optex has hired a designer who qualified from the Ahmedabad-based National Institute of Design to develop these products.
- Among the new products that have sold well abroad and in North India are the double jacquard honeycomb design bedspreads, throws and quilts. Co-optex has so far bagged around Rs. 1 crore worth of business in its export segment
- The organisation has been chosen by the European Free Trade Association countries as its products comply with their norms of environmental standards in terms of dyeing, chemicals, effluents used, discharge of effluents into the ecosystem, non-use of child labour and fair wages to the weavers
States to get greater role in wetland management
- The Union government has begun revising the existing regulatory framework on wetlands across the country in a bid to enable a greater role and ownership by State governments in their management.
- the National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems (NPCA) provides the policy framework and support to the States.
- The State Wetland Authorities will be tasked with managing wetlands within their jurisdiction
- in a strategic step towards increasing the capacity of wetland managers in integrated and holistic management, upgrading the existing Wetland Research and Training Centre of Chilika Development Authority at Barkul in Odisha into the National Capacity Development Centre for wetlands is also being envisaged by the Ministry.
- The theme of World Wetlands Day this year is ‘Wetlands for our Future – Sustainable Livelihoods’.
- Bajaj Auto on Monday unveiled a 150-cc bike named ‘V’ that contains metal sourced from India’s first aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant.
- INS Vikrant was commissioned as the first aircraft carrier of Indian Navy in 1961. After years of distinguished service, it was decommissioned in January 1997 and served as a museum till 2012. In November 2014, the aircraft carrier was dismantled and sold as scrap metal.
N-plant parts to be made in India
- In a move that could become a model for countries keen for a share of India’s civil nuclear energy pie, India and Russia have set up a working group to locally build components for nuclear power plants of Russian design.
- This is based on the Action Program signed between Rosatom and the Department of Atomic Energy of India during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Moscow in December last year.
- Based on the decision signed in December 2015, a fourth working group on the localization of production in India has already been established and is operating successfully
- Rosatom as part of its plans for expanding its global footprint is in the process of opening its regional office for South Asia office in Mumbai.
- The Action Program includes areas of cooperation in the field of joint machinery production, especially for nuclear power plants, as well as cooperation in the field of joint development, mastering and technological support of the implementation of end-to-end production technologies of products for heavy and power engineering industries.
- The three joint working groups set up under the Indo-Russian Coordinating Committee on cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy established in December 2014 are on the nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear energy and scientific-technical cooperation.
- The localization plans are part of the government’s efforts to build manufacturing in the country under its ambitions Make in India initiative
- Russia is currently building six reactors in Kudankulam of which the first unit was commissioned in autumn 2013. It was shut for the first scheduled preventive maintenance (SPM) and has now successfully restarted power generation.
- The assembly of the second unit assembly has been finished and the hot run stage was completed.
- The physical launch is scheduled by the Indian party for mid-2016
- The permit for excavation works and foundation pit preparation for power units 3 and 4 has been obtained from the Indian regulatory body. The comprehensive delivery contract for reactor equipment for these units was signed in September last year.
- Russia is also scheduled to be allotted a second site most likely in the coastal state of Andhra Pradesh for setting up another six units as agreed in 2014.
- India is looking to majorly ramp up nuclear power generation to overcome power shortages as well as reduce carbon emissions under its global commitments.
HAL’s import, assemble, supply ‘model’
- The Ravindra Gupta Task Force Report on Defence Modernisation and Self Reliance submitted its report in September 2012, officially recording that the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, India’s aerospace giant, has been importing most of its raw material from abroad, assembling them and supplying finished products to the Indian military. And that it has failed to create a robust supply network of domestic companies and R&D capabilities.
- Of the total raw material consumption of HAL, the import component has been going up over the years. Between 2000-01 and 2010-11, it was always above 77.3 per cent. And in 2009-10 and 2010-11 it went up further to 92.6 and 95.4 per cent respectively.
- Over the last decade, as HAL grew exponentially, its total raw material consumption was worth Rs. 12,280 crore in 2010-11.
- The indigenous component was just Rs. 565 crore, which was just 4.6 per cent of the total consumption as opposed to 15.8 per cent in 2000-01, the Task Force Report pointed out.
- Air Marshal Matheswaran’s report points out that the annual reports of HAL for 2011-12 and 2012-13 omit the details of imports after the Task Force report. The report pointed out that the figures available from the Task Force and other sources show that “These figures reiterate the window-dressing that ‘indigenisation’ actually has become in many DPSUs/PSUs.”
- “HAL has been an assembler, in essence, of SKD and CKD [semi knock down and completely knock down] kits for engines and aircraft for six decades. Much of this is dependent on component, sub component, engine and airframe assemblies manufactured under licence. Hence it could actually be thought of as a ‘licence raj’,” the Matheswaran report says.
- It points out that the import content of HAL for materials and spares amounts to a major portion of its turnover itself.
- HAL’s model has resulted in very little indigenisation, less than expected ancillary job and revenue generation within India, besides inadequate vendor development.
- Along with scanty vendor development in terms of true value and criticality of product to the aircraft itself, there is negligible impact on skill development within the DPSU/PSU
- Examining the 2010-11 performance of HAL, the report points out that the company’s turnover was Rs. 13,115.5 crore and the total consumption was Rs. 12,280.2 crore. Of the total consumption “Rs. 11,715.1 crore [i.e. 95.4 per cent] went abroad towards imports and can be said to be towards profits that foreign OEMs, vendors and MRO services would make there from,” the report says.
- “Although 10 Research and Development centres have been in existence for a long period of time at various divisions of HAL, their contribution towards self reliance is negligible,” the report says.
- Most of these centres spend most of their time resolving basic transfer of technology implementation issues. Resultantly, HAL has come to be fully dependent on imported items.
- Ten soldiers have been buried under snow after their camp in the northern part of the Siachen glacier was hit by a major avalanche
- According to preliminary information, the avalanche struck the camp located in the northern Siachen Glacier, at a height of 19,600 feet
- The post was manned by a Junior Commissioned Officer and nine soldiers
- Rescue operations by specialised teams of the Army and the Air Force are under way, and are being coordinated from Leh and Udhampur.
- The incident highlights the extreme risks that soldiers face in manning the inhospitable ter rain at heights of 21,000 feet under extreme weather conditions on the world’s highest battlefield.
- Over the years, India has invested heavily in procuring high-quality equipment. The Army has streamlined procedures for better acclimatisation, and this has helped to cut casualties. However, all that is no guarantee against the avalanche of the sort that hit the camp on Wednesday.
- On an average, India spends Rs. 5 crore a day for maintaining troops on the glacier.
- More soldiers have been killed in the Siachen glacier owing to weather than by enemy fire over the years.
- Over 870 soldiers have lost their lives due to climatic conditions and environmental factors since the Army launched Operation Meghdoot in 1984, pre-empting Pakistan’s attempt to occupy the strategic heights.
- The guns fell silent after India and Pakistan declared a ceasefire along the Line of Control Actual Ground Position Line in November 2003.
- The guns fell silent after India and Pakistan declared a ceasefire along the Line of Control Actual Ground Position Line in November 2003.
- The 10 soldiers trapped in ice after an avalanche on the Siachen glacier were declared dead
- However rescue efforts are still on to locate and retrieve the bodies
Pakistan offers help: The Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) of Pakistan tweeted an offer to help in the search mission. However the Indian Army, while appreciating the gesture, declined it as “adequate resources and personnel have already been pressed into service.”
The Indian Army has been controlling the dominant heights of the glacier, the world’s highest battlefield, since occupying it in April 1984 under Operation Meghdoot pre-empting Pakistan’s move which controls heights at the lower altitudes.
IT services exports to cross $100 billion
- IT services exports would cross the $100 billion mark in 2015-16 and the sector would clock double digit growth in 2016-17
- The optimism comes despite concerns about the impact of the election campaign in the United States, which accounts for half of India’s IT exports and the rise of protectionism in Europe and the U.K.
- The IT sector, which India’s largest private sector employer, is likely to add two lakh new jobs this year, taking its employeestrength to 3.7 million.
- It expects another two lakh new jobs in 2016-17 with an expected 10 per cent to 12 per cent growth in exports at the present currency valuations.The domestic growth is expected to be between 11 per cent and 13 per cent.
- While global economic growth slowing to 2.4 per cent in 2015, spending on IT-business process management (IT-BPM) grew by a mere 0.4 per cent though this was largely due to the impact of currency fluctuations. Yet, the industry expects total revenues to grow to $143 billion in 2015-2016 from $132 billion a year agowith exports rising at 12.3 per cent.
- The IT industry body, which has now began to include e-commerce businesses in its domestic IT-BPM industry assessment, said online retail is growing at 20 per cent and would hit $17 billion in 2015-16 compared to $14 billion in the previous year.
Government and Qualcomm announce contest for start-ups
- In support of the forthcoming Make in India Week event to be held in Mumbai, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) and Qualcomm Ventures announced India’s largest start-up contest — “QPrize Make in India”— awarding $3.5 lakh in equity investment as prize money for the winning company.
- The contest is to catalyse Indian entrepreneurs and start-up community to drive the entire value chain from innovation to manufacturing in India.
- Short-listed companies will be invited for the final pitch presentation during the grand finale on February 18.
- With over $5 billion worth investment in 2015 and three to four start-ups emerging every day, India has the third largest number of start-ups in the world.
WHO certifies vaccine maker GreenSignal Bio
- Geneva-based World Health Organisation (WHO) has accorded PQP (Pre-qualification of Medicines Programme) certification to the city-based GreenSignal Bio Pharma Pvt. Ltd., a BCG vaccine-making firm.
- GreenSignal is the second Indian company to get PQP certification from WHO.
- PQP certification helps GreenSignal to participate in the global immunisation pro
- gramme, which is facilitated through international procurement agencies such as UNICEF and others.
- These global institutions go by the WHO’s list of pre-qualified products while making a decision on procurement for medicines for distribution in resource-limited nations.
- The WHO certification will provide GreenSignal access to 5-7 countries with UNICEF setting it year-wise allotment target for supply of BCG vaccine.
IS threat: Maharashtra rolls out deradicalisation plan
- Faced with the challenges of both home-grown extremism and the global Islamic State (IS) threat, Maharashtra has rolled out a deradicalisation programme for the minority community.
- The programme includes opening vyayam shalas in minority areas, making National Cadet Corps (NCC), Bharat Scouts and Guides (BS&G) compulsory in minority schools, and setting up an independent media outlet to deliver ‘mainstream thoughts and values’ to the minority youth in the State.
- The Union Home Ministry had asked three States to draw up a comprehensive counter-strategy in the wake of attempts by international terrorist outfits to propagate jihadi ideologies.
- Concurrently, the State Home Department has rolled out a 50-point socio-economic strategy with the aim of ‘bringing youth of the minority community into the mainstream’ and making coordinated efforts and policies in 13 sectors, including education, sports, urban planning, law and order, skill development, women and child, social justice, and health.
- The proposed responses drawn up against the threat of home-grown extremism include: plans to teach religious texts from all sects in minority schools and teaching merits of democratic States and demerits of dictatorships as a separate chapter in the Urdu textbooks.
- The State police, which has faced flak in the past for poor handling of communal rights, has been directed to deal with religious extremism ‘in the strictest possible manner.’ Individuals and organisations disturbing communal harmony, spreading propaganda on social websites and services, ‘must be dealt with strongly.’ The cops have been told to identify and reduce any feeling of communalism within the force and ‘reach out to the minority community and win their hearts at all costs.’
- The plan aims to create an environment of solidarity and trust among the minority, and envisages different departments undertaking various schemes to reach out to the minority, implement a scheme a year, while setting aside 15% of their funds for the same
- As per the government resolution on ‘deradicalisation of youth and preserving communal amity’, the State Education Department will launch a mid-day meal scheme in Urdu schools, provide textbooks at subsidised rates, and teach Urdu as optional subject in 300 Marathi shalas (schools). Muslim scholars have already criticised the efforts to label the community as radicalised.
Indian firm files patent for Zika vaccine candidates
- Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech has filed for global patent of two vaccine candidates – a recombinant vaccine and an inactivated vaccine – for Zika virus.
- The company announced that it could make available the inactivated vaccine in two years if the Indian Government fast-tracked the regulatory approvals once the pre-clinical trials proved to be successful.
- While the recombinant vaccine might take time, the pre-clinical testing of the inactivated vaccine in animals would be completed in five months.
- Zika is now present in 23 countries. Brazil, the hardest-hit country, has reported around 3,500 cases of the devastating birth defect called microcephaly.
- The Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes of the Aedes genus, which can breed in a pool of water as small as a bottle cap and usually bite during the day.
Steady rise in incidence of lung cancer
- There has been a steady rise in incidence of lung cancer in India in the past decade, and it continues to top the list. While smoking and exposure to tobacco remains the leading causes of lung cancer, another emerging risk factor is the dangerous mix of air pollutants breathed in daily, especially among the urban population
- Lung cancer accounts for about 13 per cent of all new cancers in India and 10.8 per cent in Bengaluru. This cancer is gradually also on the rise among women, among whom breast cancer still tops the list.
- According to the Population Based Cancer Registry (PBCR) – 2013, an estimated 63,000 new lung cancer cases are reported annually with a slim five-year survival rate of 10 per cent.
- “There is little doubt that smoking is the leading instigator of lung cancer. However,
- urban air contains many known carcinogens (cancer causing agents) such as suspended particulate, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, among others.
- These components are believed to trigger cancerous mutation in the body’s cells
IAF bases on western border put on high alert
- In the aftermath of the terror attack on the Pathankot airbase, all Indian Air Force (IAF) bases on the western border are on high alert and shoot-at-sight orders are in effect to prevent wrongful entry.
- When a base is on alert, shoot-at-sight orders are issued against anyone trying to gain wrongful entry or scaling walls
- Precautionary boards had been put out warning public about the instructions
- Six terrorists breached the walls of the Pathankot airbase on January 2 and held their ground for four days before being killed.
- On the findings of the security audit, which was ordered after the attack, the officer said there were no major “weaknesses” but had identified vulnerabilities which would be addressed.
- As part of the process, perimeter security is being beefed up on a priority basis and procurement of equipment will be fast-tracked. These include smart fences, perimeter installation detection systems, video motion detection systems, thermal cameras and quad copters. The estimated cost per base is Rs. 100-150 crore and 54 major bases will be taken up in the first phase.
- In addition, officials said the stipulation for no constructions up to 100 metres outside bases and 900 metres outside weapon depots would be implemented.
GM mustard study to be out soon
- The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which examines the scientific merits of releasing genetically modified seeds into the environment, will consider making public, immediately, the results of tests and studies so far conducted to test the safety of transgenic (or GM) mustard.
- This comes even as several farmers’ groups and environmental activist organisations have alleged that the GEAC plans to allow GM mustard on farmer fields.
Defence PSUs profiting on advances
- Official studies have been conducted in recent years into India’s ambition to emerge as a major aerospace manufacturer that can design and build its own aircraft and related systems
- All those reports remain confidential, and the government has taken almost negligible action on them to improve the situation
- The studies show that the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Bharat Electronics Ltd, Bharat Dynamics Ltd and Mishra Dhatu Nigam Limited (MIDHANI) —all of them enjoying virtual monopoly in defence aerospace sector — have been booking profits over the years not from their businesses
- Instead, they take huge advances from the military against future deliveries, earn interest on them, and show them as profits. Then they award a significant part of the so-called profit to their majority shareholder, the government.
- With annual defence budget growing at a healthy rate, and defence forces under pressure to spend them within the financial year, it is now a well-established practice for them to give away significant advances to the defence PSUs, even if there is significant delay in production, and products are not delivered for years. That cycle is adding to what is plaguing the DPSUs, the reports point out.
- Although, the profits have been increasing, a major portion of the profit has been from ‘other income’ not related to aircraft repair, maintenance, manufacture/overhaul. Significant portion of the other income comprises the ‘negative’ financing cost due to the interest accrual on advances from Defence Customer for the huge order book
- How it makes profit is an eye-opener. The HAL receives advance from the military, almost three times its annual turnover. In 2010-11, the financial turnover was a bit over Rs. 13,000 crore, but the order book was Rs. 68,265 crore, against which HAL took advance of Rs. 35,146 crore from its customers. On that advance, it earned an interest income of over Rs. 2,200 crore, and booked a profit after tax of Rs. 2,114 crore. That year, HAL paid the government, its majority shareholder, a dividend of Rs. 423.12 crore.
- With a captive customer base, and no government demand on performance improvement, HAL has become an predominant assembler of systems for the Indian military. Its exports have remained negligible: In 2012-13 it exported just Rs. 382 crore worth of systems, the report points out.
Bharat Electronics Ltd
- With over 10,000 employees, BDL is a Navratna DPSU since June 2007 and has nine production units and 31 manufacturing divisions. It produces electronic warfare systems, avionics components etc. for aircraft.
- Like HAL, Bharat Electronics Ltd also enjoys assured orders and large advances from MoD. Its sales/turnover have been rising consistently along with profits
- More than 70 per cent of its income has been coming mainly from non-core activities. The report points out that BEL’s income from other sources, especially against advance taken from the military, almost doubled between 2010 and 2013. In 2012-13, other income of BEL stood at Rs. 723.35 crore.
Bharat Dynamics Ltd
- A manufacturing base for guided weapons systems, BDL has been the prime production agency for the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme.
- Like other DPSUs, the profitability of the company is mainly due to heavy advances received from MoD. In fact, other income of BDL has been more than the profit of the company
- The report points out that the company has been making losses in its core activities and “has been showing profit only due to large order book & advances received from the Government.”
- In 2013, the company had a turnover of Rs. 1,074.71 crore, had taken an advance of Rs. 4,899 crore from the government and earned almost Rs. 522 crore on it, and booked it as other income.
- It also says that BDL is overbooked far beyond its capacity with the requirement of ATGM (anti-tank guided missile) and SAMs (surface to air missiles). It almost enjoys a monopoly in missiles production within India due to government restrictions. Against an annual turnover of just Rs. 1,100 crore the total value of AON (acceptance of necessity) with the company was over Rs. 35,000 crore.
Mishra Dhatu Nigam Limited
- MIDHANI is equipped for metallurgical facilities to make super-alloys, titanium, special purpose steels etc. for aerospace, defence, atomic energy etc.
- The financial analysis of the company for the last two financial years indicates increase in sales revenue and net profit. The profitability of MIDHANI like other DPSUs has a significant contribution of other income generated by the interest accrued on advances received from its customers
No mammography needed for women under 50: WHO
- Mammography has gained popularity globally, as well as in India, over the years with the rising incidence of breast cancer.
- The IARC, the specialised cancer agency of the World Health Organisation, recommends mammography for women aged over 50 as now there is scientific evidence that it is effective in reducing breast cancer mortality for women in the 50–69 age-group, but has limited efficacy in the younger age band of 40 to 49. It states that the benefit of reduced mortality extends to women screened at age 70–74.
Fuel tax rates result in two-wheeler owners paying more per litre than airlines
- Higher state taxes coupled with greater incidence of central excise duties has resulted in petrol becoming more expensive per litre than aviation turbine fuel (ATF), the cost of which is borne only by those who can afford to fly.
- All fuels are subject to several taxes, both at the central and state levels, resulting in their final market price being significantly higher than the price dealers pay for the fuel.
- One major reason for the mismatch between the prices of ATF, a highly refined fuel and petrol is the higher burden of central excise duties on the latter
- While oil prices in India fell from $50.2 per barrel at the start of February 2015 to $30.3 currently, the government absorbed most of this benefit by hiking excise duties on petrol five times in that period from Rs. 6.95 per litre to Rs. 9.48 per litre currently.
- State-level tax rates differ but the trend is one of higher rates for petrol compared to ATF.
- The central excise duty on ATF is at an ad valorem rate of eight per cent as opposed to a fixed amount for petrol. This greatly benefits airlines when oil prices fall, as is currently happening, since the quantum of tax payable by them will also fall proportionately. The excise duty on petrol remains fixed regardless of the price of oil.
- Another reason for ATF enjoying lower excise duties than petrol or diesel, apart from lobbying by airlines, is that aviation fuel can be freely imported. Hence, if the Indian government hikes the excise duty on ATF, airlines can simply import it from cheaper sources. Consumers of diesel or petrol don’t have any such option.
India gears up to face Zika virus
- With Zika virus cases being reported from South America and the US, the Centre decided to constitute a technical group to monitor the situation even as it prepared to come out with an advisory soon.
- A day after WHO warned that Zika virus was spreading “explosively”, the government also decided to strengthen its surveillance system and asserted that it is taking all measures to ensure that it is “well prepared” in case of any eventuality.
- This mosquito also carries the viruses that cause Dengue and Chikungunya which are of great public health concern in tropical countries like India. The outbreak began in Brazil last year and has now spread to 24 countries in the Americas.
HAL rolls out first prototype of basic trainer
- The first prototype of basic military trainer aircraft HTT-40, planned as the first of three-rung trainers for novice Air Force pilots, has just rolled out of the hangar, its maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd
- The made-in-India aircraft will next undergo ground runs and taxi trials followed by a maiden flight
- The twin-seater Hindustan Turboprop Trainer can be modified into a light attack aircraft, used for aerobatics, instrument flying, navigation, night flying and close formation.
- The HTT-40 project, touted as a symbol of capability to design and manufacture a trainer aircraft within the country, was almost aborted until the Defence Acquisition Council announced in March last year that 68 of them would be bought for the Air Force.
- The IAF has a total requirement of 181 basic trainers, the rest being filled by importing the Swiss-make Pilatus PC-7 Mark-II.
- The HTT-40 prototype was recently rolled out of the Aircraft Research & Development Centre’s hangar using a remotely operated mini car.
- HAL said the team working on HTT-40 is the youngest on any of its prototype programmes. It will be powered by the Honeywell TPE 331-12B engine and produced at the Aircraft Division, Bengaluru.
- Seventy of the 90 LRUs or systems on the trainer are sourced from the Lucknow, Hyderabad and Korwa divisions.
RBI relaxes FDI norms to boost start-ups
- The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) relaxed several rules including foreign direct investment norms to boost start-up activity in the country.
- To begin with, start-ups are allowed to receive foreign venture capital investment irrespective of the sector in which they operate. The new norms will enable transfer of shares from foreign venture capital investors to other residents or non-residents.
- The central bank also permitted, in case of transfer of ownership of a start-up enterprises, receipt of the consideration amount on a deferred basis as also enabling escrow arrangement or indemnity arrangement up to a period of 18 months.
- The regulatory changes for easing the cross-border transactions, particularly relating to the operations of the start-up enterprises, are proposed to be made in consultation with the Government of India
- The central bank simplified the process of dealing with delayed reporting of foreign direct investment (FDI)-related transaction by building a penalty structure into the regulations itself.
- RBI also said certain proposals are been considered and consulted with the government.
- These proposals include, permitting start-up enterprises to access rupee loans under External Commercial Borrowing (ECB) framework with relaxations in respect of eligible lenders, issuance of innovative FDI instruments like convertible notes by start-up enterprises and streamlining of overseas investment operations for start-up enterprises.
- RBI also said certain issues that are permissible under the existing regime shall be clarified like issue of shares without cash payment through sweat equity or against any legitimate payment owed by the company remittance of which does not require any permission under FEMA and collection of payments by start-up enterprises on behalf of their subsidiaries abroad.
Inter-ministerial meet to discuss measures to increase exports
- Inter-ministerial talks will begin soon to consider measures to boost exports and improve the ease of doing business.
- The move comes in the backdrop of merchandise exports shrinking for the 13th consecutive month in December.
- As part of the discussions, the government will also look into the likely impact of the proposed Goods and Services Tax (GST) on exports besides reviewing free trade agreements, including the one with Asean member-countries.
- Besides, the commerce ministry will soon approach the ministries of external affairs and finance on customs-related issues.
Govt. sets up Tax Policy Council headed by Finance Minister
- The Government has created a Tax Policy Research Unit (TPRU) and Tax Policy Council to be chaired by the Union Finance Minister with nine other members including Minister of State for Finance, Niti Aayog Vice Chairman, Commerce and Industry Minister Revenue Secretary and the Chief Economic Advisor. Finance secretary, Commerce Secretary and Industry Secretary will also be its members.
- The Council will be advisory in nature, which will help the Government in identifying key policy decisions for taxation.
- The TPRU will comprise of officers from both the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) and Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) as well as economists, statisticians, operational researchers, legal experts
- The decision is based on the recommendation of the Tax Administration Reform Commission (TARC) that have in its First Report, identified handling of tax policy and related legislation as one of the areas in need of structural modifications.
- Right now this is handled in the CBDT and the CBEC.
- Independently of the two boards, the Tax Research Unit (TRU) and Tax Policy and Legislation (TPL) wings also send proposals to the union Finance Minister.
- To bring consistency, multidisciplinary inputs, and coherence in policy making, the TARC recommended that a Tax Council supported by a common Tax Policy and Analysis (TPA) unit should be established to cater to needs of both direct and indirect taxes. It also recommended that Comprising tax administrators, economists, and other specialists such as statisticians, tax law experts, operation research specialists and social researchers should be set up for both the the boards.
- The TPRU will be a multi disciplinary body with the objectives of carrying out out studies on various topics of fiscal and tax policies referred to it by CBDT and CBEC.
- It will provide independent analysis, prepare and disseminate policy papers and background papers on various tax policy issues. It will assist Tax Policy Council and liaise with State Commercial Tax Departments.
Companies Law Committee submits report to Government
- The Companies Law Committee — constituted in June 2015 to make recommendations on the issues related to implementation of the Companies Act, 2013 — submitted its report to the Government
- After extensive consultations with stakeholders and exhaustive deliberations, the Committee has proposed changes in 78 sections of the Companies Act, 2013 which, along with consequential changes, would result in about 100 amendments to the Act
- Approximately 50 amendments to the Rules have also been proposed.
- The recommendations cover significant areas of the Act, including definitions, raising of capital, accounts and audit, corporate governance, managerial remuneration, companies incorporated outside India and offences/ penalties.
- The Committee has endeavoured to reconcile the competing interests of the various stakeholders keeping in mind the difficulties and challenges expressed by them and also being mindful of the government’s objective of furthering ease of doing business, encouraging start-ups and the need for harmonising various laws, according to the statement. Some of the key changes proposed are regarding managerial remuneration to be approved by shareholders and modification of definition of associate company and subsidiary company.Private placement process should be substantially simplified and incorporation process made easier.
- The suggestions also include omitting provisions relating to forward dealing and insider trading from Companies Act.
- Companies may give loans to entities in which directors are interested after passing special resolution and adhering to disclosure requirement. Restriction on layers of subsidiaries and investment companies could be removed.
- Auditor will report on internal financial controls with regard to financial statements. Frauds less than Rs. 10 lakh could be compoundable offences
- Other frauds can be continued to be non-compoundable.
- Requirement for a managerial person to be resident in India for 12 months prior to appointment may be done away with
- ESOPs may be allowed to promoters working as employees/directors.
- The Committee was chaired by Secretary, Ministry of Corporate Affairs.