National issues

cHC wants equal status for women at temples

  • The Bombay High Court came out in favour of women’s right to worship.
  • A Division Bench said- There is no law that prevents entry of women in any place. If you allow men, then you should allow women also. If a male can go and pray before the deity, then why not women. It is the State government’s duty to protect the rights of women.
  • The Bench said that if any temple authorities imposed restrictions on entry in a religious place, they could be liable to face six months imprisonment as per Maharashtra law.
  • The Bench was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by activist Vidya Bal and Advocate Nilima Varta seeking entry of women not just inside the temple but also inside the sanctum sanctorum.
  • The petition claims that prohibition is arbitrary, illegal and violative of the fundamental rights of a citizen.
  • The Aurangabad Bench of the High Court is already hearing two PILs seeking entry of women to the Shani Shingapur temple which also seek action against temple authorities.
  • The court said, “If it is the sanctity of the deity that you are worried about, then let the government make such a statement. Under the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956, if any temple or person prohibits any person from entering a temple, then he or she faces a six-month imprisonment.”
  • The court also said that the government should give publicity to the Act and issue circulars, informing the general public at large about the Act and its provisions.

Budget sets priorities for government spending

  • Budget 2016-17 has introduced a new classification system for the Centre’s spending
  • The new system divides Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) into three categories: Core of the Core, Core, and Optional Schemes.
  • This system is based on the recommendations of a sub-committee of chief ministers formed by Niti Aayog for the rationalisation of the CSS.
  • An exercise to rationalise Plan and Non-Plan schemes of all Ministries and Departments had been undertaken. The existing programmes and schemes have been re-organised into outcome-based Umbrella programmes and schemes to avoid thin spread of resources.
  • This system has been put in place as a run-up to the next financial year, when the Plan/Non-Plan distinction in government expenditure will be done away with
  • As per the new system, the Core of the Core schemes will retain their expenditure allocation framework. For example, MGNREGA had 75 per cent of the material expenditure from the Centre and 25 per cent from the states.
  • The Core schemes will have a 60:40 formula, while the Optional schemes will have a 50:50 formula, with the states having the flexibility to decide whether to invest in these or not.
  • Under the new classification, eight schemes will be classified as Core of the Core. including MGNREGA and all the umbrella schemes for the upliftment of minorities, Scheduled Castes, and Scheduled Tribes.
  • The Core schemes, 33 in number, include schemes as far-ranging as the Krishi Unnati Yojana, the Smart Cities programme, and the modernisation of the police force.

Why

  • For effective outcome based monitoring of implementation of the programmes and schemes
  • to ensure optimum utilisation of resourcesThe classification is trying to segregate the schemes by importance,
  • The state governments were earlier taking their own decisions regarding many of these schemes. Now the Centre has said that some are important schemes and the states can take their own decisions regarding the others
  • Till 2014-15, out of 66 CSS, almost 86 per cent of the Central assistance was accounted for by only 17 schemes (known as ‘Flagship Schemes’ on account of their size and scale). The balance 49 schemes received low budgetary allocations,” the report by the Niti Aayog sub-committee found. However, since even in the low-budget schemes, some Central assistance was available; the States therefore felt compelled to implement them all, so as to avail of matching assistance

Analysis

  • The new system does not address this issue of linking expenditure to outcomes, it simply re-classifies the expenditure.”

Appoint law officers on merit, says SC

SC order

  • Appointment of law officers, from Advocate Generals to those below, by State governments to fight cases involving crucial public and State interests should not be reduced to an exercise of political aggrandisement, appeasement or personal benevolence by those in power,
  • It is “high time” fair, transparent and objective criteria based on merit were adopted for the appointment of law officers.
  • The dangers of such an uncanalised and unregulated system of appointment, it is evident, are multi-dimensional, resulting in erosion of the rule of law, public faith in the fairness of the system and injury to public interest and administration of justice

Telangana RTA comes out with m-Wallet

  • Citizens of the twin cities, or for that matter, those living anywhere in the 10 districts of the State need not carry physical copies of their vehicle’s registration certificate, driving licence and insurance papers.
  • The app would greatly help the enforcement personnel and citizens by avoiding inconvenience.
  • The minimal interface with government would save a lot of ‘unnecessary harassment’ by police in insisting that vehicle users either produce the documents or pay a fine

Single-window clearance for construction plans in Delhi

Situation till now

  • Previously, applicants had to go through a cumbersome process to get sanction of building plans as it involved scrutiny and approvals from various government agencies such as the National Monuments Authority, Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Delhi Fire Services and the Airports Authority of India.
  • The new process would reduce human interface and enable approvals in just 30 days,

Now What

  • Shift in Delhi’s building by-laws
  1. Single-window clearance for construction plans for both residential and commercial properties within a month. The laws have been made user-friendly through unification and simplification of a host of amendments made over the last three decades and integration of approvals by different agencies into a single platform
  2. Exempting owners of residential plots up to 105 square meters from seeking sanction of building plan. Owner can just submit an undertaking intimating about construction along with requisite fees and other documents to start construction
  3. With the modification of the building by-laws, an applicant can now file one single online application to the concerned urban local body.
  4. payments for obtaining approvals from various departments have also been consolidated in the same online form

Who

  • The Union Urban Development Ministry announced

Implications

  • The amendments come in the light of the World Bank’s “ease of doing business” ranking of 2015, in which India is at the 130th position.
  • The final goal is to gain the confidence of foreign investors by creating a “smart” urban infrastructure.
  • After Delhi Mumbai would also unify its building by-laws. After these two major cities (Delhi and Mumbai) other cities wouldbe asked  to follow suit,

Employment growth slows to six-year low

What

  • Labour Bureau data on employment growth based on quarterly survey for July to Sept
  1. New jobs in eight labour-intensive industries fell to a six-year low in the first nine months of 2015 — with just 1.55 lakh new jobs being created compared to over three lakh jobs over the same period in 2013 and 2014
  2. Contractual jobs declined by 21,000 in January-September 2015 against an increase of 1.20 lakh in the corresponding period of 2014.
  3. Direct employment rose by 1.76 lakh in 2015 compared to an increase of 1.84 lakh in 2014.

Reason

  • Our industrial growth has been low and employment takes place only when production is up. There is a lot of rationalisation of staff in the corporate sector and the government itself is not recruiting people. The main idea of growth is to create jobs.

Analysis

  • This was the lowest in the similar quarters since 2009
  • This was not a healthy sign, especially since the July-September quarter usually sees more jobs being added, compared to other quarters in the year as companies conduct recruitment drives.
  • By contrast, 3.04 lakh new jobs were added in January-September 2014 and 3.36 lakh in the same period of 2013, a Labour Bureau survey showed. There was a sharp decline in hiring of contract labour in 2015.
  • However the staffing industry is going at a healthy 18-20 per cent. The data released by the Labour Bureau doesn’t give a comprehensive landscape of the job growth in the country as it doesn’t capture many sectors

Quarterly survey by labour bureau

  • The Labour Bureau, under the Ministry of Labour and Employment, started conducting this quarterly survey after the 2008-09 global crisis to gauge its impact on employment in eight crucial sectors — textiles, leather, metal, automobiles, gems and jewellery, transport, information technology (IT) and handloom.

Parrikar flags off sonar dome for naval warships

  • Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar flagged off the first indigenous bow-mounted sonar dome for naval warships at Defexpo .
  • It was designed by engineers at a DRDO laboratory based in Pune and manufactured by Kineco Ltd., a Goan company.
  • The dome will be delivered later at Mazgaon Docks, Mumbai, to be attached to a warship.
  • Only a couple of companies in the world have the capability to make such a structurally demanding structure in composites
  • The sonar functions as the ship’s underwater eyes and ears.
  • The dome is a structure fitted over the sonar array so that its electronics and sensors are not exposed to surrounding hostile environment. The sonar dome has to be structurally sound as well as acoustically transparent.

Subhas Chandra Bose files

Japan promised to hand over Andaman & Nicobar to India

  • Among the Netaji  released is a speech delivered by Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo during World War II, saying Japan supported Indian independence and would hand over to the “Provisional Government of Free India”, headed by Bose, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, then under Japanese occupation, “soon”.
  • Speaking as an “Imperial Representative” at the Great East Asiatic Conference, Tojo said, “I have been greatly moved by the fact that the Indian people are all rising in order to obtain their freedom… It should be very obvious that Japan is ready to set India free from the bondage of America and England…”
  • “…The Indian fellow people have laid the foundation of the Provisional Government of Free India and under this government are rising for achieving their purposes with one consent, I would like to make it known the decision to return soon the Andaman and Nicobar Islands…,” he added.

Singapore

  • Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose has had a “contested legacy” in Singapore, where many have seen him as a “collaborator” of Japan, which inflicted atrocities on people during its occupation of the island during World War II, says official correspondence of 2012, released by the Centre
  • Writing to the Ministry of External Affairs from Singapore in February 2012, the then Indian High Commissioner T.C.A. Raghavan recalled how India had to tread cautiously on domestic demands from the 1960s to 1980s that the government push for a memorial to the INA and Netaji in Singapore.
  • “There has always been an undercurrent of strong reservation from many in Singapore with reference to the memory and legacy of Subhas Chandra Bose and the INA. A scrutiny of the old files reveals that these sentiments were strong in the 1960s, 1970s and the 1980s,” Mr. Raghavan wrote to the then Secretary (East) in MEA Sanjay Singh. “This was certainly the case when demands in our Parliament and especially in West Bengal for a memorial to Subhas Chandra Bose and the INA received less than a lukewarm response in Singapore.”
  • He backed the cautious policy: “This policy has worked to some extent and with the passage of time, bitter memories of the Japanese occupation and genocide appeared to have eased,” Mr. Raghavan’s letter said.
  • The reply of the Secretary (East) is interesting. Thanking Mr. Raghavan, in a lighter vein, “for inflicting the history tutorial”, it observed: “Our inability as a nation to accept views other than those we regard as the ultimate truth will remain a burden that Indian diplomats will have to bear.”
  • Mr. Raghavan’s letter had noted that the National Heritage Board in 1995 erected a small memorial to Netaji and the INA in Singapore, thus addressing the concerns in India.
  • The letter added that the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies proposed, in 2011, that a booklet be brought out jointly with the High Commission, commemorating Netaji’s memory in Singapore. This was part-funded by the High Commission but the latter did not attach its name as the publisher. The reason: there was a tangential reference to Netaji as a “Japanese collaborator” in the foreword written by the former Foreign Minister of Singapore George Yeo, appointed in 2015 as Chancellor of Nalanda University.
  • While asserting that the memories of Japanese occupation had faded by now, Mr. Raghavan pointed that there was recently an “angry exchange” of letters in the Straits Times .

ASI opens museum on estampages in Chennai

  • A centre has been newly created at Fort St. George that has impressions of inscriptions from all over India on display.
  • These impressions of inscriptions are called as Estampages,
  • The centre is called  Eugen Julius Theodor Hultzsch Memorial Museum-cum-Epigraphical Photo Exhibition. The permanent museum-cum-exhibition has been named after E. Hultzsch, a German Indologist and epigraphist, known for his work in deciphering the inscriptions of Ashoka
  • The museum has been created by the Epigraphy branch of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Southern Zone, as part of its cultural awareness programmes on the occasion of the 159th birth anniversary celebrations of Dr. Hultzsch and also the silver jubilee year (1990-2015) celebrations of ASI, Southern Zone.
  • The staff of the Epigraphy branch visit villages across India, copy the inscriptions and decipher them.
  • The estampages of Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions are displayed from across the nation

Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions

  • The inscriptions are from the period between the third century B.C. and second century A.D.
  • They are in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Sanskrit, and Prakrit.
  • The nature of these inscriptions is donative records and hero worship.
  • The most important deciphered inscriptions are highlighted in Epigraphia Indica, a quarterly journal of the ASI
  • Through Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions, ASI gets a lot of information about Chera, Chola, and Pandya kings
  • The displayed estampages are the Mangulam-Tamil Brahmi inscription, near Madurai, which reveals the title of Pandya King Neduncheziyan as ‘Kadunkon.

New plant species found in Nelliampathy forests

  • Two leading researchers rare plant species from the Pottumala region of the Nelliampathy forests in the Western Ghats.  The new plant species is with botanical name Sonerila nairii , which comes under the family of Melasto mataceae .
  • The plant with pink coloured flowers is a highly endangered species. It was seen growing around 1,200 metres above sea level. Each plant carries just two flowers. The plant grows in soil found in the gaps of rocks.
  • The plant species is enlisted in the critically endangered category of the International Union for Conservation of Nature .

BEL, Thales to co-develop new fire control radar

What

  • PHAROS is an all-weather multi-target tracking and surveillance radar that can be fitted on 30mm to 76mm guns and missiles. It provides defence against small, fast moving and highly manoeuvrable targets, in air, surface and also sea encounters
  • The ‘fire control’ radar is intended to identify enemy fire, its source and alert its users to thwart an attack.
  • It will meet the needs of the Navy and the Army and can also be built for other countries.

Who

  • The radar will be developed by BTSL — the venture between defence technology partners Bharat Electronics Ltd. and Thales — and French major Thales.It will be partly co-developed and manufactured in Bengaluru.
  • Thales holds the original technology and has initiated work on the design of PHAROS (which means light house or beacon). Thales will be responsible for the overall system design of the radar besides the design and production of its antenna. BTSL will develop the mechanical design and radar processing modification in Bengaluru.
  • BEL ‘s subsidiary BTSL (BEL Thales Systems Ltd.) and Thales signed a partnership agreement during the ongoing Defexpo 2016.

Defexpo 2016

  • The ninth two-yearly event for land & naval systems is being held this year at South Goa’s Naqueri Quitol, about 30 km from Panjim.

Significance

  • The state of the art radar would meet an essential security requirement of the country. It was planned to be developed in 18 to 24 months.
  • The co-development partnership is a strategic step in the relation betweeen India and France
  • Actively contribute to the ‘Make in India’ policy

From April 1, bigger warnings on cigarette packs

  • Despite the parliamentary committee batting for reduction in the size of pictorial warning (PW), sources in the Union Health Ministry have confirmed that the government will honour its commitment to display pictorial warnings on 85 per cent space of cigarette packets from April 1, 2016. An affidavit stating this has been filed in the Rajasthan High Court.
  • Today, we have only 40 per cent warning on one side, which means 160 per cent of the space is given to advertisement and promotion. Warning on 85 per cent space would mean that, in effect, 170 per cent of the pack will carry warnings and only 30 per cent will have advertisements.
  • The decision has allayed the fears of medical experts and anti-tobacco activists that the Committee on Subordinate Legislation report — which recommended 50 per cent PWs on both sides of cigarettes packets, and on one side of beedi and smokeless tobacco packets — would dilute their efforts to reduce tobacco consumption among the public.
  • The report was problematic because tobacco industry heads were themselves part of the decision
  • The 40 per cent PW on one side proved ineffective as vendors displayed the packaging on the other side, so that consumers would not see the warnings
  • The Health Ministry issued a notification in October 2014 specifying that health warning should cover at least 85 per cent of principle display area of tobacco packaging, but it is yet to come into force.

Haryana passes Jat quota Bill

What

  • The Haryana Assembly passed the Haryana Backward Classes (Reservation in Services and Admission in Educational Institutions) Bill, 2016

Why

  • To provide reservation for Jats and five other communities in government jobs and education.
  • following the violent agitation that paralysed the State for over 10 days.

Who benefits

  • Jats and five other castes – Jat Sikhs, Rors, Bishnois, Tyagis and Mulla Jat/Muslim Jat

Provisions of the bill

  • To give statutory status to Backward Classes Block ‘A’, Backward Classes Block ‘B’ and Backward Classes Block ‘C’.
  • The Bill proposed to give reservation to Jats and five other castes — Jat Sikhs, Rors, Bishnois, Tyagis and Mulla Jat/Muslim Jat — by constituting a new classification Block ‘C’ in the Backward Classes category.
  • The Bill provides for an increase in the percentage of reservation in the Schedule I, II and III for Class I and II posts for
  1. BC ‘A’,- 10 per cent to 11 per cent
  2. BC ‘B’ – five per cent to six per cent
  3. BC ‘C’ – five per cent to six per cent
  • It was also decided to increase the existing reservation for the economically backward persons in the general caste category in Class I and II posts from five per cent to seven per cent.
  • The Bill states that notwithstanding anything contained in it, the government may provide horizontal reservation for such category or categories of persons within the Backward Classes, as it may deem necessary from time to time.

Other details

  • A request would also be made to the Central government to include this Act in the 9th Schedule of the Constitution. We have not only maintained the reservation provisions of BC-A and B categories, but also extended some more benefits to them through this Bill.
  • The Assembly also passed the Haryana Backward Classes Commission Bill, 2016, for setting up a permanent mechanism and give statutory status to the Haryana Backward Classes Commission, after a gap of 24 years. The Commission shall examine requests for inclusion or exclusion of any class of citizens as a Backward Class and hear complaints of over-inclusion or under-inclusion of any Backward Class and tender such advice to the State government, as it deems appropriate.

Centre gives nod for 100% FDI in e-commerce retail

What

  • 100 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) through the automatic route
  • in the marketplace model of e-commerce retailing (not permitted in inventory-based model).

Who

  • Guidelines issued by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP)

Till now what was there

  • At present, 100 per cent FDI is permitted in B2B (business-to-business) transactions under the automatic route.

Market place model v/s inventory-based model

  • The marketplace model has been defined as providing an “information technology platform by an e-commerce entity on a digital and electronic network to act as a facilitator between buyer and seller.”
  • However, such entities will not exercise ownership over the inventory.
  • If there is ownership over the inventory will render the business into inventory-based model

What are the norms

  • The e-commerce marketplace may provide support services to sellers in warehousing, and logistics., order fulfilment, call centre, payment collection and other services.
  • As per the norms, an e-commerce firm will not be permitted to sell more than 25 per cent of total sales from one vendor or its group companies.
  • E-commerce entities providing marketplace will not directly or indirectly influence the sale price of goods or services and shall maintain level playing field

Impact

  • brings in clarity on FDI policy for the sector
  • clarity on definition of marketplace format.
  • bring in more FDI into the sector that attracted maximum inflow of such investments in 2015
  • This may require some of the existing players to alter their structures. “The cap of 25% on sales by a vendor on marketplace will ensure a broadbasing of vendors for a true marketplace. This may require some of the operators to go back to the drawing board to ensure compliance,
  • The definitions in the notification will prevent marketplaces from behaving like “pseudo retailers.”
  • The biggest take away is that now e-commerce players will operate as technology providers and not as retailers. Marketplaces should behave like marketplaces and provide technology platforms to sellers by charging a fee rather than getting into an inventory-based model. Fees should be their only income; this can put an end to the predatory pricing and provide level playing field for all
  • The new norms would make the market more mature. It will help the whole ecosystem. So far, marketplaces were busy building valuations. Initially, the business was created with good intention but it was lost in the craze to build valuation. Now, everyone knows what is legal and what is illegal and will operate accordingly.
  • Consumer electronics and cell phone makers, which are among the hardest hit by e-commerce discounts, are also hopeful that the new guidelines would put an end to predatory pricing.

Issues

  • Nasscom said the cap of 25 per cent on sales by a single vendor in a marketplace may prove to be restrictive, more so if the vendor sells high value items.
  • The industry might face difficulties in case of sale of electronic items, where a vendor may be offering exclusive access to certain items or discounts. Marketplaces have no control on how a product is priced and only organise ‘sales’ where vendors participate
  • May prove to be a dampener for consumers due to the clampdown on pricing freedom for marketplace operators and lack of adequate post-sales safeguards. .
  • It says that discounts will be to a certain point and by sellers only. How can a government dictate terms of business to anybody? If there is anything called as predatory pricing, the Competition Commission should be looking into it
  • Marketplace business models have been operating in India for many years. It is not that the government has opened up the sector now, they just legalised it. Then the question to the government should be why they allowed these companies to operate illegally till now.
  • The new policy will cast a cloud of uncertainty on several Indian start-ups that have raised funding from foreign entities.
  • It’s not yet clear whether this will mean an end to all discounting practices or specific marquee sales organised by marketplace operators on specific occasions.
  • Additionally, the customer might be left in the lurch thanks to two other conditions in the policy. Marketplaces have been allowed to provide services such as warehousing, logistics support, order fulfillment and payment collection to the seller. However, ‘post sales, delivery of goods to the customer and customer satisfaction will be the responsibility of the seller.’ “If a customer is buying from Amazon or Flipkart and they are not satisfied, then the platform has to be accountable for that, because any normal customer won’t (connect with) the sellers,” said Mr Singhal. Experts also said that if the marketplace can provide logistics support, then they should be accountable for the quality of the final product they deliver.
  • The restriction, on a single vendor or its group companies in contributing no more than 25 per cent to an e-commerce platform’s sale value,would affect players like Flipkart and Amazon who get “a healthy portion of their business”

Prostate cancer drug

  • Drug firm Panacea Biotec Cabapan injection, an indigenously developed drug for treating prostate cancer.
  • Used in the treatment of metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer
  • It has been developed by the company at its Mumbai-based R&D Centre in compliance with the global current good manufacturing practices (CGMP)
  • The company is manufacturing the product at its Baddi, Himachal Pradesh-based manufacturing facility

Short-term rates climb as banks rush to meet lending targets

  • The reduction in the small savings rate has failed to provide any relief to short-term money market rates as banks rush to meet their business targets for the financial year end.
  • On Monday, the overnight rate climbed as high as 8.3 per cent, intraday, before easing to 6 per cent at the close.

Reason behind the rise in rates.

  • There was advance tax outflow in the middle of the month.
  • During quarter-end, banks also try to get more business to increase their balance sheet.
  • Mutual funds also face redemption pressure during this period.
  • In addition, the government goes slow on spending
  • According to bankers, the shortfall in liquidity in the system is estimated at more than Rs 2 lakh crore.

Consequence

  • After the government reduced the rates sharply on small savings, it was expected that short-term rates would also come down. However, that has not happened. The rates have actually gone up by 25-35 bps.
  • According to dealers, the rate on three-month certificates of deposit, which were issued at 7.9 per cent at the start of the month, has moved up to the 8.20-8.25 per cent range.
  • Bankers said the liquidity scenario will improve once the new financial year starts.

Reduction in the subsidy bill to be about Rs.10,000 crore – Crisil report

  • The next financial year will see the government’s subsidy bill shrink by about Rs.10,000 crore

Reason

  • Due to the cut in nutrient-based subsidy rates and the lower price of gas, the key feedstock in urea production

Nitrogen and Phosphatic fertilisers

  • The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, on March 23, announced that the subsidy rates for nitrogen and phosphatic nutrients would be cut by Rs.5 a kg and Rs.5.4 a kg, respectively, amounting to a 25-30 per cent reduction. The subsidy rate for potassic nutrients was kept largely unchanged.
  • The cut, which follows declining international prices of di-ammonium phosphate and ammonia, would influence the contracted price for phosphoric acid, the key raw material, for fiscal 2017
  • This could trim the subsidy for phosphatic fertilisers by Rs. 5,000 crore next fiscal.

Urea subsidy

  • A similar amount will be reduced in urea subsidy because of lower gas costs
  • The current price of gas in India is $3.82 per million British thermal units (mBtu). It is set to be reviewed in April. The consensus view is that the April review will see a further decline in gas prices.

Consequences

  • The reduction in the subsidy bill could help the government narrow its fertiliser subsidy arrears of about Rs.35,000 crore, which have been carried forward since 2012
  • The fertiliser subsidy has been estimated at Rs.70,000 crore for 2016-17, lower than the Rs.72,437.58 crore estimated for the ongoing financial year.
  • Crisil finds that the poor monsoon over the last two years has created a vicious cycle in the fertiliser sector. Two consecutive years of deficient monsoon have burdened the fertiliser industry with excess inventory, estimated at around 5 million tonnes, which is equivalent to 90-100 days of consumption. That means manufacturers will have limited ability to increase prices to compensate for the reduction in subsidy, which, in turn, increases their dependence on monsoons.
  • But achieving a balanced nutrient ratio, which was one of the objectives of NBS, remains a far cry, given the continuing price disparity between urea and phosphatic fertilisers

Defence policy to give a push to ‘Make in India’

  • The Defence Ministry unveiled the new Defence Procurement Policy

Defence Procurement Policy

Buy (Indian-IDDM)- stands for Indigenous Designed Developed and Manufactured.

  • Under the new DPP, the government has introduced a newly incorporated procurement class called “Buy (Indian-IDDM)”. This would be the first preference in all acquisitions starting April, when the DPP will go into effect.
  • The category refers to the procurement from an Indian vendor of

               products that have been indigenously designed, developed and manufactured with a minimum of 40 per cent indigenous content

or

products having 60 per cent of it on a cost basis but not designed and developed indigenously.

Offset clause- compulsory for companies to invest, or source, at least 30 per cent of the contract value in India.

  • The policy has also significantly liberalised the offset liability for foreign vendors
  • While offset was compulsory for all contracts more than Rs. 300 crore earlier, the minimum contract value has now been increased to Rs. 2,000 crore.
  • For that expert groups had drawn up a recommendation on nominating ‘strategic partners’ from among private companies for major defence projects.

FDI

  • While the FDI limit remains 49 per cent through the automatic route, a higher percentage can be considered on special cases,
  •  The DPP recognises the role of small and medium enterprises in the sector, and a further boost will be given to it.

Significance

  • Intended primarily to improve indigenous procurement,
  • Would give top priority to speedy procurement,
  • focus on indigenous design and development
  • lay emphasis on Make in India.
  • The policy had taken care of some of the issues raised by foreign companies

Issues

  • It was expected to herald a new era in the way India’s private sector participates in defence procurement. However, the DPP has omitted the seventh chapter titled ‘Strategic Partners and Partnerships’, which would have details of the government strategy to give preferential treatment to major private sector players in significantly large projects

PSLV to carry 22 satellites

  • When the PSLV C34 rocket blasts off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Srikarikota in May this year, it will signal another giant leap for India’s space mission.
  • The trusted launch vehicle will inject 22 satellites into the orbit, a first in the history of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
  • Apart from the Indian remote sensing satellite, Cartosat 2C, which constitutes the primary payload, the rocket will carry on board four micro-satellites weighing 85 to 130 kg each and 17 nano-satellites weighing 4 to 30 kg. As many as 18 satellites are being launched for foreign agencies, including those from the U.S., Canada, Germany, and Indonesia.
  • Two of the nano-satellites have been developed by the Pune Engineering College and Sathyabhama University.
  • “The PSLV rocket, in its XL version, will be used for the mission

A simple blood test can reduce global burden of TB

  • Infection means the invasion of an organism’s( TB bacteria) body tissues by disease-causing agents, their multiplication, and the reaction of host tissues to these organisms and the toxins they produce. Whereas  disease is a particular abnormal condition, a medical condition associated with specific symptoms and signs.
  • Nearly 2 billion or one-third of the global population is infected with TB, and in India alone, about 40 per cent of the population is infected with TB.
  • Though less than 10 per cent of people infected with TB will develop the disease as they grow old, become infected with HIV or have diabetes, there is no way of knowing in advance which infected individuals will develop TB disease. Not any more.
  • Now, a set of 16 genes can be used as biomarkers to tease out this information. The genes become more active in those who will develop TB disease in the next one or two years than in people who will continue to stay healthy.
  • The results were published a few days ago in The Lancet.

Utility

  • Since the infected population acts as a huge reservoir and as all infected people across the world cannot be given preventive TB treatment for at least six months, picking out only those who are very likely to develop the disease and providing them preventive treatment will go a long way in reducing the TB burden in the world.
  • Because people only become infectious after they have fallen ill, the research may provide a way to detect and treat TB before it can be spread from one person to another
  • The accuracy of the biomarkers was maximum when the diagnosis was made close to the time when people became diseased.
  • The ability of the blood-based signatures to predict progression to active tuberculosis disease in healthy individuals can pave the way for the establishment of diagnostic methods that are scalable and inexpensive. The newly described signature holds potential for highly targeted preventive therapy, and therefore for interrupting the worldwide epidemic
  • According to the researchers, the TB risk signature predicted disease progression despite “marked diversity” between the different groups studied, age of the population studied (adolescents and adults), different ways in which they were infected, ethnic and genetic differences, and different TB strains seen in South Africa and Gambia.
  • Also, the genes were “excellent” in differentiating TB disease from latent infection and from other disease states.
  • Its ability to diagnose TB disease was unaffected by the HIV status; it was also able to diagnose childhood TB cases when the samples were culture positive.

Bank cosolidation- Is the time ripe?

  • While India needs big banks, the timing may not be right as banks need to focus on cleaning up their balance sheets first
  • The government has raked up the issue of mergers among public sector banks after a long gap. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in his budget speech that a roadmap for consolidation will be spelt out, and that was followed up by an announcement to set up an expert panel to look into the issue of consolidation.
  • Consolidation among public sector banks was also in the agenda of the previous United Progressive Alliance government
  • However, the stance of the present government has been vastly different.

Gyan Sangam – the bankers’ retreat organised by the finance ministry

  • In the first edition of Gyan Sangam in 2015, government officials tested waters by floating the idea of consolidation. Bankers unanimously said
  1. that the time was not ripe for consolidation.
  2. They said the need of the hour then was  to strengthen the banks by empowering them with operational flexibility be it in the area of recruitment, or in differentiation on core capabilities
  3. Also it was envisaged that consolidation as and when the environment is congenial for the same is not going to happen through individual initiatives of the banks.
  4. The banks have to be driven towards the process though appropriate mandate by the major stakeholder i.e. government of India
  • The finance ministry got the cue that the consolidation process has to be driven by the government.

2nd edition

  • So, during the second edition of Gyan Sangam, which took place earlier this month, discussions were not on whether consolidation was needed. The discussion focused on how to consolidate,
  • The need to have large banks cannot be over-emphasised. No bank in the country features in the top ten banks in any global list, in terms of asset size. State Bank of India – the country’s largest bank – is the only lender in the top 100-bank list.

Why consolidation

  • Given the huge large infrastructure needs of the country, large banks are required to finance it.
  • The capital can be used more efficiently.
  • The merged entity will have more leg-room to raise capital
  • It will also improve the ability of banks to recover bad loans which are rising. At a time when non-performing assets are high, and banks are putting more effort in loan recovery, the ability to recover by a smaller number of banks will be higher though an individual bank’s exposure may go up. Lesser number of voices could find cohesion in the joint lenders’ forum today, there are too many voices and each lender has a differential right with the borrower and often, they do not agree to a common recovery programme. With consolidation, the recovery will be far more focussed

Key for successful merger

  • Cost rationalisation is seen as key to success in consolidation. This would result in cutting down branches, particularly in urban areas where there are too many branches of different banks in the area
  • There is a view that banks from different geographies should be chosen for mergers. For example, a south-based bank could be merged with a bank based in the north of the country. The recent acquisition by Kotak Mahindra Bank of ING Vysya Bank is a case in point, which was primarily driven by the geographical synergies. Before the merger, 15 per cent of the Kotak branches were in south India, which improved to 38 per cent, post-merger. But there’s counter argument too. Lending, particularly to large corporate houses, is not the issue. The main objective is to get retail deposits. If a large bank from north India acquires a small bank from south India, then the merged entity’s south based branches will face difficulty in getting retail deposits.
  • The other criterion to identify banks for mergers is the technology platform. Different banks have different platform developed by IT majors. To merge two banks having different platforms could lead to challenges during integration
  • Also, the government may not find it easy to circumvent employee unions in banks in the consolidation journey. The unions have already started opposing the proposed privatization of IDBI Bank, in which the government said it would consider lowering its stake to below 50 per cent, and have called for a strike on March 28 to demanding reversal of the decision.
  • Cost rationalisation is key to make consolidation a success and this may reduce branches in urban areas

WTO solar dispute

  • Last month, WTO Dispute Settlement Panel ruled that India’s requirement for companies that sell solar power to the government use only locally-made parts and components in its national solar power program discriminated U.S. manufacturers.
  • India argued that solar manufacturing capacity is in short supply relative to the demand for solar panels in India.Hence it claimed exception under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) for measures “essential to the acquisition or distribution of products in general or local short supply.
  • However the panel ruled that this argument is too broad. The WTO panel had ruled that the exception only applies when supply, both domestic and international, exceeds demand.
  • If the mere fact that a country does not produce a product was enough to justify discriminatory measures like local content requirements, the exception could be used to broadly reverse the trade concessions WTO members have made to each other.

What should India do

  • India may succeed in its solar dispute with the U.S. at the World Trade Organisation if it takes steps to develop its manufacturing capacity to serve domestic demand which is not addressed by global companies. By focusing its arguments (or future measures) on the goal of developing a manufacturing capacity that serves a domestic demand not adequately served by international markets, India might have greater success
  • Local content requirements for renewable energy were quite common at states and local-level in the U.S. There were 44 such programs in 23 states in the U.S. The Indian government has already raised the question of whether a few such programs are consistent with trade rules before a WTO committee, but they have not yet initiated a formal dispute with the United States.
  • The prevalence of local content requirements in renewable energy indicates that government officials in both India and the U.S. face political pressure to link economic development with environmental objectives.
  • However, the U.S. has similar programs will not help India in an appeal in this case. This case is only about the consistency of the local content requirements in the Nehru Solar Mission program, rather than the legality of U.S. conduct.
  • The dispute comes at a time when India is betting big on renewable energy. The government has an ambitious plan of achieving 100 gigawatt of solar capacity by 2022.

ICAR to deploy drones, sensors to study crop loss

  • The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is keen on deploying sensors and drones in farms, to start with, for assessing the quality of soil as well as crop losses after floods.

Utility

  • Drones could help speed up the analysis of crop damage. At present, unless large areas get affected farmers do not get compensation.

ICAR

  • The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is an autonomous body responsible for co-ordinating agricultural education and research in India.
  • It reports to the Department of Agricultural Research and Education, Ministry of Agriculture. The Union Minister of Agriculture serves as its president.
  • Presently, regulation of agricultural education is the mandate of ICAR, Veterinary Council of India (Veterinary sub-discipline) and Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (Forestry sub-discipline)
  • The Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education (Yashpal Committee, 2009) has recommended setting up of a constitutional body — the National Commission for Higher Education and Research — which would be a unified supreme body to regulate all branches of higher education including agricultural education

Airlines question fuel price hike, cite drop in crude rates

  • Aviation fuel costs account for over 40 per cent of an airline’s cost of operations, and hence an increase or decrease in ATF prices has an impact on air fares.
  • On March 1, the ATF prices were revised up by 12 per cent to Rs. 38,425 a kilolitre.

Airlines complain

  • The airlines argued that average crude prices declined 69 per cent from April 2014 to February 2016, and during this period, the exchange rate went up by 12.7 per cent
  • It said the ATF prices should have been 25 per cent lower than Rs. 34,284 a kilolitre (in Mumbai) announced in February 2016. The difference of Rs. 8,650 a kilolitre has been pocketed by oil companies as it is a case of profiteering. The annual ATF bill for airlines is around Rs. 10,000 crore and this translated to a higher cost of Rs. 300 a ticket for passengers.
  • The airlines had threatened to move the Competition Commission of India at that time
  • While the airlines said they were ready to pay the increase in excise duty on ATF prices, they demanded a quick rollback in the unreasonable prices” effective from March and a reduction in the base price of the fuel on which duties are calculated, stressing that ATF is a “de-regulated product.”
  • ATF in India is subject to a multiplicity of taxes and fees, the result of which is that domestic carriers pay up to 50 per cent more for fuel than in Dubai or Singapore.
  • It is further imperative that oil companies realise that the benefits of a lower-cost environment will stimulate business and tourism

Government response

  • The government said five per cent of the increase could be accounted for by a rise in ATF input costs and the rest was attributable to an increase in excise duty in the Union Budget
  • The three fuel retailers – Indian Oil Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum – revise jet fuel and non-subsidised LPG prices on the first day of every month, based on the average international price in the preceding month

India’s rotavirus vaccine launched

What 

  • Country’s first, indigenous rotavirus vaccine launched
  • The Rotavirus vaccine was developed indigenously, under a public-private partnership between the Ministry of Science Technology and the Health Ministry.

Why

  • to combat diarrhoeal deaths.

How

  • As given in the figure rota virus infects the small intestine and leads to death of cells on the small intestine. In turn this leads to reduced absorption of the nutrients from the food we eat. This continued malabsorption of carbohydrates causes diarrhoea which can be dangerous in children
  • Rota virus vaccine prevents the infection by virus by increasing body’s defence against rotavirus infection

Why important to prevent rotavirus infection

  • Diarrhoea caused by Rotavirus is one of the leading causes of severe diarrhoea and death among children less than five years of age.
  • In India, between 80,000 to one lakh children die due to Rotavirus diarrhoea annually while nearly 9 lakh children are admitted to hospital with severe diarrhoea. Another 32.7 lakh children visit the hospital as out patients due to the disease.
  • Adding this life-saving vaccine to our immunisation programme will not only improve the health of our children but also reduce hospitalisation and other conditions associated with diarrhoea due to Rotavirus such as malnutrition, delayed physical and mental development among children.
  • Reduced hospitalisation lower the economic burden on the family and the health cost burden on the country

Importance of the current vaccine

  • It is an indegenous vaccine, ie. development involved the complete cycle from basic research to product development of the vaccine in India.
  • The company has been given undertaken to keep the cost of the vaccine at US$ 1 per dose.
  • This is the third such vaccine available globally against Rotavirus and, at the current prices, the cheapest

How will the vaccine be given

  • The vaccine was being introduced in the country’s national immunisation programme called Universal Immunis-ation Programme (UIP)
  • Initially in four States — Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Odisha — and would be expanded to the entire country in a phased manner
  • The Rotavac is in addition to three new vaccines that have been introduced in India’s Universal Immunis-ation Programme (UIP) including Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV), Measles, Rubella (MR) vaccine, and Adult Japanese Encephalitis (JE) vaccine.
  • With these new vaccines, India’s UIP will provide free vaccines against 12 life threatening diseases, to 27 million children annually, the largest birth cohort in the world.
  • The IPV was intro-duced in six States from Nov. 30, 2015 for double protection against polio.

Statutes don’t say eating beef is an offence: HC

Who said so

  • Madras High Court bench

What is the ruling

  • beef eating is not an offence under the Indian Penal Code,
  • there is no restriction on the eating habits of people belonging to different religious denominations under any other law as well.

Context or background

  • Made the observation while dismissing a public interest litigation petition that sought eviction of shopkeepers who eat beef on the Girivalam (circumambulation) pathway around the Dhandayuthapaniswamy Temple at Palani in Dindigul district.
  • The petitioner wanted a direction to the respondents (Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department officials) to remove shops run by persons belonging to Islam, and other religions, where they are eating beef insulting the religious faith of the devotees and creating disharmony

Relevance

  • With the current controversy about beef eating being derided by the majority and regarded illegal, the ruling provides new light into the issue

Rural electrification: Centre’s claim exaggerated

  • The Centre’s claim to have electrified more than 7,000 of the estimated 18,452 unelectrified villages in the last financial year seems vastly exaggerated.
  • Ironically, the figures available on the GARV website (garv.gov.in) show that unelectrified villages have been counted as electrified. (A village is classified as electrified if public places and 10 per cent of its households have access to electricity.)
  • The data available on the website, supplemented by conversations with Gram Vidyut Abhiyantas (GVAs) — who are deployed by the government on field to monitor the electrification process — show that many villages across the country with no electrical infrastructure or electricity connections have been classified as electrified.
  • As many as 342 villages were labelled “e0” — or classified as unelectrified — but were calculated as part of the total tally of electrified villages.
  • Further, as of March 10, 2016, around 300 villages were declared as electrified based solely on the discom’s (power distribution company) word, without any verification from GVAs, raising questions about the effectiveness of the monitoring system.
  • Of the 7,000 villages said to be electrified, 3,604 have been marked — “Village found electrified during the survey” — which means they were already electrified when the GVAs made their first visit. This suggests that the Centre’s list of 18,452 unelectrified villages — prepared in consultation with State governments — was an overestimate.

Measures to promote biotechnology industry in the country

  • Last December, the DBT laid out a strategy called National Biotechnology Development Strategy,whereby biotechnology would be at the foundation of a $100-billion industry by 2025, rising from the current $7-$10 billion.

National Biotechnology Development Strategy

  • The National Biotechnology Development Strategy -2015-2020 was unveiled in Dec 2015. The Strategy aims to establish India as a world-class bio-manufacturing hub.  

The envisaged mission is:

  • Provide impetus to utilising the knowledge and tools to the advantage of Humanity
  • Launch a major well directed mission backed with significant investment for generation of new Biotech Products
  • Empower scientifically and technologically India’s incomparable Human Resource
  • Create a strong Infrastructure for R&D and Commercialisation
  • Establish India as a world class Bio-manufacturing Hub

The Key elements of the Strategy are:

  • Building a Skilled Workforce and  Leadership
  • Revitalizing the knowledge environment at par with the growing bio-economy
  • Enhance Research opportunities in basic, disciplinary and inter-disciplinary sciences
  • Encourage use-inspired discovery research
  • Focus on biotechnology tools for inclusive development
  • Nurturing innovation, translational capacity and entrepreneurship
  • Ensuring a transparent,  efficient and globally best Regulatory system and communication strategy
  • Biotechnology cooperation- Fostering global and national alliances
  • Strengthen Institutional Capacity with redesigned governance models
  • Create a matrix of measurement of processes as well as outcome

The key elements would be implemented in collaboration and partnership with Other Ministries, Departments, State Governments and international agencies towards achieving:

  • Making India ready to meet the challenge of  achieving US$100bn by 2025
  • Launching Four Major Missions – Healthcare, Food and Nutrition, Clean Energy and Education
  • Creating a Technology Development and Translation  network across the country with global partnership-5 new clusters, 40 Biotech incubators, 150 TTOs, 20 Bio-connect centres
  • Strategic and focussed investment in building the Human Capital by creating a Life Sciences and Biotechnology Education Council

India-focussed seed fund

  • The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) — through the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) — has invested an initial $1,00,000 to start an India-focussed seed fund to help groups in India compete for the Longitude Prize.
  • Longitude Prize is a £ 10 million prize offered by Nesta, a U.K. charity, to any individual group anywhere in the world that develops an affordable, effective diagnostic test to detect resistance to microbes.

The purpose of the fund

  • This move intends at encouraging biotechnology start-ups as well as tackle the threat faced by India from resistance to antimicrobial drugs
  • India faces increasing instances of tuberculosis patients being resistant to front line drugs. Experts say this is due to lax monitoring and profligate prescription by medical authorities that allow these drugs to be easily available. Indiscriminate usage means that bugs are, overtime, able to resist these medicines. The World Health Organisation statistics for 2014 give an estimated incidence figure of 2.2 million cases of TB for India out of a global incidence of 9 million, with instances of drug-resistant TB rapidly rising.

Innovation for horticulture

  • Alongside Nesta, BIRAC also inked collaboration with Tekes, the Finnish funding agency, to improve competitiveness of Indian and Finnish industries through promoting collaboration in different phases of the knowledge innovation chain and it is teaming up with Horticulture Innovation Australia (HIA) for a joint funding programme to support innovative technologies for sustainable horticulture at a global level.

Palakkad Gap eco-restoration drive a non-starter

  • The much-hyped Palakkad Gap eco-system restoration efforts initiated by the Kerala State Biodiversity Board last year with the active involvement of 17 local bodies and the Social Forestry wing of the Forest Department continues to remain a non-starter

Palakkad gapPseudophilautus Philautus 2009_Map

  • Palakkad Gap or Palghat Gap is a low mountain pass in the Western Ghats between Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu and Palakkad inKerala. It has an average elevation of 140 metres (460 ft) with a width of 30 kilometres (19 mi). The pass is located between the Nilgiri Hills to the north and Anaimalai Hills to the south
  • The 45-km Palakkad gap in the Western Ghats is facing serious environmental destruction largely owing to indiscriminate sand and granite mining.
  • Massive deforestation is killing the Bharathapuzha and its tributaries, which flow through the area, and its highly fragile eco-systems.

Palakkad Gap eco-restoration

  • The Biodiversity Board initiative was aimed at rejuvenating the river eco-system by restoring the green cover.
  • It was also perceived as a step to counter the challenges posed by global warming, destruction of wildlife habitats and adverse changes in land use pattern.
  • There were even assurances of ensuring participation of various bio-diversity youth clubs in the district to make the project a participatory one.
  • Efforts were also on to link the NREGA programme with the initiative. The pilot project was planned in Vadakarapathi, Pattanchery, Kozhinjampara, Puthussery and Peruvembu panchayats. The gala inaugural event was held in Peruvembu in February last.
  • It was claimed that it would help address escalating heat in the region in the coming years.
  • Though a number of tree saplings were planted with much fanfare in five grama panchayats marking the commencement of the initiative, all of them failed to withstand the challenges of hostile climate in the absence of follow-up initiatives. No steps were taken for safe protection and watering of the saplings even during the hot summer month
  • The board has the responsibility to coordinate with panchayats and find resources for implementing it.
  • It needs not much additional funds. Better coordination with local bodies and channelising resources like NREGA would help implement it easily. Schools and colleges in the region can also contribute

Other facts about palakkad gap

Origin and importance

  • There are various theories about the origin of Palakkad gap. One among them is that it is caused by the landslide due to rivers flowing in opposite directions. The Bharatha Puzha river originates in the Palakkad Gap from rivulets and tributaries feeding from steep escarpment slopes along the flanks of the Ghats.
  • Palakkad gap has played a major role in enabling human migration into Kerala from parts of Tamil Nadu.
  • From 300 B.C. to 13th century, it also helped the Cheras rule the entire Kerala and the Kongu Nadu as one geographical unit from Karur in Western Tamil Nadu. Tamil Brahmins migrated to Palakkad from Central Tamil Nadu via the Palakkad gap from the 15th century to 18th century.

Effect on weather

  • The gap affects the weather patterns in Southern India as it allows the moisture-laden Southwest monsoon winds into western Tamil Nadu, moderating summer temperatures and generating greater rainfall in the region relative to the rest of lowland Tamil Nadu.
  • It also allows the hot winds coming from Tamil Nadu which warm the eastern part of Kerala compared to the rest of the state and the tropical cyclone winds from Bay of Bengal bearing rain during the summer

Taxation on E-Commerce

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in the Budget proposed a fee of 6 per cent to be levied only on online advertising and restricted to B2B transactions. The step was based on a committee recommendations. The report titled The Proposal for Equalisation Levy on Specified Transaction provides clarity on the issue and “puts to rest” the long drawn debate on it.

A high-level government committee was set up by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) called Committee onTaxation of E-Commerce. It had recommended the following

  • a 6-8 per cent tax or Equalisation levy on several online services such as online advertising, cloud computing, website-hosting, digital platforms for sale of goods and services or download of software and applications, provided by a company not resident in India.
  • payments of over Rs.1 lakh made by a resident individual or company to a non-resident enterprise will be covered by this levy.
  • Such a threshold will keep almost all B2C (business to consumer) transactions as well as a very large number of B2B (business to business) transactions outside the scope of the equalization levy, thereby limiting its impact.
  • In its report, the committee says that it had considered two other options – a new nexus-based on significant economic presence and the withholding tax on digital transactions – but found the equalisation levy as most suited for India. The third option of equalisation levy provides a simpler option that can be adopted under domestic laws without needing amendment of a large number of treaties
  • The committee also noted that the report had the approval of G-20 countries, including India and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Why Equalisation levy

  • The equalisation levy follows the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) report, endorsed by the G20 and OECD, which sought to put forth a global standard for taxing e-commerce.
  • The issue with e-commerce is that the services are often provided by companies that have no office space in the country where the service is rendered and so are not subject to tax, providing them an advantage over domestic players

Utility of Equalisation levy

  • The levy would help in reducing the tendency of “multinational enterprise” to avoid taxes completely in the source jurisdiction
  • The unfair advantage enjoyed by them over their Indian competitors can make Indian enterprises, both digital as well as brick and mortar ones, relatively less competitive in the long run, resulting in detrimental impact on growth of Indian enterprises. Therefore it provides a level playing field for domestic players in the ecommerce space
  • The levy would also do away with the adverse impact on revenue collection of the government due MNCs escaping from tax payments in India. This was resulting in rising “tax burden” on domestic enterprise and citizens.

Discussion

  • The Committee’s recommendation is to impose this levy on sale of digital goods and services, including website hosting, cloud computing etc. Though the Budget proposal is to apply this levy currently only on online advertisements, more categories of digital goods and services may be added later.
  • It is imperative that the government not only lays down clear guidelines around the transaction covered under the levy but equally, the manner of determination as to whether the equalisation levy (EQL) or Income Tax will apply on a transaction. Else, the transaction could lead to double taxation—EQL as well as Income Tax.”
  • The other issue, that needs to be addressed, is based on whom the onus of payment of the levy will fall. The committee says that putting the onus of payment of the levy on the payment gateways and authorised foreign exchange dealers can reduce the obligation on the service purchaser. The onus of the levy proposed by Mr. Jaitley fell on the service purchaser, which the industry felt was unfair. The industry has reacted strongly to the equalisation levy as it could significantly drive up the cost of advertising online
  • However, it’s not enough to prevent platforms like Google and Facebook from hiking their ad rates to offset the 6 per cent levy or refusing to recognise it altogether
  • Experts feel that the government has to bring in greater clarity on how the levy will be implemented, to whom it will apply and whether it will be distinct from Income Tax. In the Committee’s view, since equalisation levy is on gross consideration paid, it is not in the nature of Income Tax and hence should not be covered by tax treaties
  • The report states that the other countries are free to grant credit for this levy as per their domestic law. In future, if the other countries impose equalisation levy, India may consider granting credit on a reciprocal basis.

E commerce magnitude

  • A report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) had estimated in 2012 that there would be three billion internet users across the world by 2016 and the digital economy, which contributed $2.3 trillion in G20 countries in 2010, would expand to $4.2 trillion.
  • The consultancy firm also said the digital economy was growing at 10% a year, significantly faster than the global economy, and with increasing penetration, the emerging economies were becoming the drivers of innovations.
  • According to Google India, there were 35 million online shoppers in India in first quarter 2014, which is expected to cross the 100-million mark by end of the 2016.
  • As per the government data, India’s e-commerce market was worth about $3.8 billion in 2009 and grew more than three times to $12.6 billion in 201.

This levy is India’s attempt to tax the digital economy in a non-adversarial manner and at the same time demonstrate its commitment to the global BEPS project and of course to raise more revenues for the country

New catering policy for Railways

  • The Government had appointed a committee to revamp the existing catering policy. The Panel was led by R. D. Sharma, chief commercial manager of the Central Railways. It has given the following recommendations
  • The Railways should not “micro-manage” catering policies to the extent of fixing the food menu on different trains. Passengers could opt for a variety of food alternatives, ranging from ready-to-eat meals to local cuisines.
  • Passengers on all trains must receive tea or coffee kits as presently provided on premium trains, the panel said meals may be provided as an option on the Rajdhani, Duronto and Shatabdi trains.
  • The committee has suggested that the Railways take a slew of steps to check exorbitant pricing of meals. For instance, meals may be priced in the multiples of Rs. 10.
  • The Railways has decided to do away with one of two pantry cars on eight Rajdhani trains
  • To ensure quality checks, a third party auditor will be appointed to look into the maintenance of catering standards on trains.

After PM’s rap, officials get target to clear grievances

  • At January’s PRAGATI meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recommended strict action against officials responsible for complaints and grievances.
  • Top priority has been given to this directive, with the Prime Minister expected to review it from this month’s Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation (PRAGATI) meeting,
  • At the PRAGATI review meetings, usually held on last Wednesday each month, the Prime Minister monitors the pendency of CPGRAMS grievances.
  • A new module has been added to include the details of grievances addressed by top officials in each department.
  • As per the new norms, Joint Secretaries would have to report the status of 120 public grievances a month, while the number would be 80 for Additional Secretaries and 40 for Secretaries.
  • An analysis of grievances received on CPGRAMs highlights that a key reason for complaints is the archaic rules, regulations and instructions aimed at shifting the work towards citizens.
  • The Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances has noted the following as key factors for the persistent red tape-related woes in government offices.
  • Many times, the departments avoid taking decisions by resorting to rejection without application of mind, and lay stress on disposal, and not on the quality disposal.
  • There is inertia to review decisions taken by down-the-line functionaries
  • Slackness in administration,low morale of the services, inherent inertia,absence of incentives, lack of proper authority and accountability are the delay-breeders, and the delay is the major factor for grievances.

Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation (PRAGATI)

  • The Prime Minister interacts with Central government Secretaries and the Chief Secretaries of the States and assesses the progress based on inputs from e-Samiksha and other sources, including the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.
  • Citizens’ complaints about government agencies are handled by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances in the Ministry of Personnel and the Directorate of Public Grievances at the Cabinet Secretariat.
  • A web-based Centralized Public Grievance Redress and Monitoring System (CPGRAMS) forwards complaints to the departments concerned for remedial action, tracking them till their resolution.

Niti Aayog task force backs ‘Tendulkar poverty line’

  • A panel tasked with devising ways to reduce poverty has backed the `Tendulkar poverty line’,
  • The report of the Niti Aayog’s Task Force on Eliminating Poverty argues that the poverty line is not the basis of identification of the poor in India. Instead, it is the BPL Census on the basis of which state governments identify the poor. The latest of these is the Socio-Economic Caste Census 2011.
  • Since what represents a basic necessity would vary from person-to-person, the report contends, the final decision will have to give adequate attention to the fact that the objective behind a poverty line is to track progress in combating extreme poverty and not identification of the poor for the purposes of distributing government benefits.
  • If we set the poverty line at too high a level, we would be tracking how many people, who had already achieved a certain level of comfort, have been made yet further comfortable. It will tell us little about what is happening to households in abject poverty,” according to the report.
  • It makes sense to set the poverty line at a level that allows households to get two square meals a day and other basic necessities of life. “It is the households below this bare subsistence level whose welfare should concern us the most and whose progress we must monitor.”
  • The report has also recommended sweeping changes to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) for allowing use of the programme’s funds to pay for labour on private farms.
  • Another of its suggestion for eliminating poverty within 5-7 years is modest cash transfers to the poorest five families in every village to be identified by Gram Panchayats: “During peak season, farmers may be permitted to hire MGNREGA workers by paying 75% of the wages with the balance paid by MGNREGA funds”.
  • It has also said that the Aadhaar accounts will give government an “excellent” database to assess the total volume of benefits accruing to each household, “which can pave the way for replacing myriad schemes with consolidated cash transfers, except where there are compelling reasons to continue with in-kind transfers.”

Tendulkar committee report

  • A Committee chaired by former Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council and the National Statistical Commission, the late Suresh Tendulkar, computed poverty lines for 2004-05 at a level that was equivalent, in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, to one U.S. dollar per person per day, which was the internationally accepted poverty line at that time.
  • The PPP model refers to a method used to work out the money that would be needed to purchase the same goods and services in two places. Across countries, this is used to calculate an implicit foreign exchange rate, the PPP rate, at which a given amount of money has the same purchasing power in different countries.
  • The poverty line given by Tendulkar committee categorised people earning less than Rs. 33 a day as poor,
  • The report also said that the line is primarily meant to be an indicator for tracking progress in combating extreme poverty. The line is not meant to help identify those to whom government benefits need to be distributed
  • Based on the Tendulkar panel norms, the Planning Commission had announced that in absolute terms the number of poor stood reduced from 40.7 crore to 35.5 crore during the period 2004-05 to 2009-10 and and 26.9 crore in 2011-12.
  • The main criticism of the Tendulkar poverty line has been that it is too low.

Rangarajan committee

  • Following criticism of these estimates, the UPA Government had in May 2012 set up the five-member expert group, headed by the then Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council C. Rangarajan, to revisit the way poverty is estimated.
  • In the report Dr. Rangarajan submitted to the Union Planning Minister Rao Inderjit Singh in July 2014, it was suggested that persons spending below Rs 47 a day in cities and and Rs 32 in villages be considered poor.

India mulls private financing agencies for industrial corridors

  • The Indian government, which is executing the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor project at a total investment of $ 90 billion, is looking at private financing agencies for its implementation. Among the ingredients of the Delhi—Mumbai project were a dedicated freight corridor (1,504 km) and 24 investment regions/industrial areas apart from developing “sustainable industrial cities with world-class infrastructure.”
  • The Indian government had set apart $ 4.5 billion for developing “base infrastructure” such as roads, water and power supply. Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) would provide $10 billion for Delhi—Mumbai and Chennai—Bengaluru Corridors.
  • In the case of the Delhi—Mumbai Project, there had been challenges of planning and land acquisition, which, we have been able to overcome.
  • But a “robust instrument” of public-private partnership was in place with a legal framework for investment protection.
  • There would be four more corridor projects—Bengaluru—Mumbai ($100 billion), Amritsar—Kolkata ($ 46 billion), Chennai—Bengaluru ($35 billion) and Chennai—Visakhapatnam.
  • In respect of the Chennai—Visakhapatnam Corridor, the Indian government approved a project loan of $ 500 million from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) apart from clearing another ADB loan of $ 125 million to the Andhra Pradesh Government.
  • As part of the Delhi—Mumbai project, Dholera, about 70 km south of Ahmedabad, would have a greenfield airport and Alwar in Rajasthan — an aerotropolis (which refers to a city to be developed around an airport).
  • The two facilities had been proposed as it was expected that the existing Ahmedabad and Delhi Airports would reach saturation by 2021-2022.
  • As for the Chennai—Bengaluru Project, Tumkur (Karnataka), Ponneri (Tamil Nadu) and Krishnapatnam (Andhra Pradesh) had been identified for developing nodes.

SEBI tightens norms for MFs

  • Mutual fund investors will soon be able to know the quantum of commission paid by the fund houses to the distributors as well as salaries drawn by the top brass of the asset management companies (AMCs).

What is an ‘Asset Management Company – AMC’

  • An asset management company (AMC) is a company that invests its clients’ pooled fund into securities that match its declared financial objectives. Asset management companies provide investors with more diversification and investing options than they would have by themselves.
  • Mutual funds, hedge funds and pension plans are all run by asset management companies. These companies earn income by charging service fees to their clients.
  • AMCs offer their clients more diversification because they have a larger pool of resources than the individual investor.
  • Pooling assets together and paying out proportional returns allows investors to avoid minimum investment requirements often required when purchasing securities on their own, as well as the ability to invest in a larger set of securities with a smaller investment.

Norms

  • Mutual fund investors know the quantum of commission paid by the fund houses to the distributors as well as salaries drawn by the top brass of the asset management companies (AMCs).
  • The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) directed the entities to make the disclosures a part of the consolidated account statement (CAS) sent to all mutual fund investors. According to SEBI, the half-yearly CAS issued in September and March should include the “amount of the actual commission” paid by fund houses.
  • “The term ‘commission’ here refers to all direct monetary payments and other payments made in the form of gifts / rewards, trips, event sponsorships etc. by AMCs/MFs to distributors
  • Mutual fund houses have also been directed to disclose the salaries of the chief executive officer (CEO), chief investment officer (CIO) and chief operating officer (COO) along with any other employee whose annual remuneration is over Rs.60 lakh.

Railways ties with ISRO for route surveys

  • The Railway Ministry has signed an agreement with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to leverage space technology for better railway management
  • The Memorandum of Understanding aims at developing applications in the field of remote sensing and graphic information syst
  • ISRO will help in
  1. providing passenger information in all trains,
  2. map railway assets and
  3. help survey new route alignments.in hilly and difficult terrain.
  4. to conduct a study to find ways to ensure smooth rail traffic during the foggy season.
  • At present, Indian Railways uses space technology to provide connectivity to passenger reservation counters, unreserved ticketing system in remote areas, and emergency communication using satellite phones during disaster.

Government eases cabotage norms.

  • The Union government announced that it has eased cabotage rules in a bid to encourage transhipment of goods at Indian ports which tranship at least 50 per cent of the container handled by them.
  • Cabotage refers to transportation of goods or passengers between two places, usually along the coast.
  • Transhipment is the movement of goods when a container arrivess at an intermediate point and re-loaded into another ship to be taken to some destination domestically or abroad.

Utility

  • The cabotage relaxation will enable shipping lines to consolidate Indian EXIM and empty containers at transhipment ports in India for onward transportation to destination ports by main shipping lines
  • The rule change will also allow foreign vessels to bring goods at any of the Indian ports meant to be shipped to other destinations. At present, foreign vessels are restricted from transporting containers between domestic gateway ports.
  • The spare capacity of the foreign flag ships which could not be utilized earlier due to cabotage restrictions will now be gainfully utilized.
  • This will enable them to offer competitive container slot rates to exporters and importers leading to competition led efficiency in container transportation
  • lower logistic costs for the shippers

Ban on political activity mooted at IIMC

  • The panel was set up following unrest on campus in January. The unrest followed derogatory remarks on a Facebook post on January 18 by an upper-caste student against Dalits at the institute. .
  • A committee under the Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry tasked to enquire into the unrest at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) has made several recommendations,
  • Key recommendations include
  1. code of conduct that specifically bans political activity by students and teachers on the campus
  2. use of biometrics for keeping a tab on the attendance of professors.
  3. a weekly report on lectures given to students be submitted to the secretary of the I&B Ministry.
  • The panel recommendations have set off concerns on whether the IIMC will be a test-case for institutes of higher learning.

Repeat animal testing of new drugs banned

  • The Health Ministry has banned repeat animal testing of new drugs tested abroad to prevent cruelty to animals.
  • It has amended Schedule Y of the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945.
  • Under it, animals will be spared tests for new drug registrations wherein complete data from similar toxicity experiments exist for drugs approved abroad.

Govt slashes small saving rates

  • The government slashed interest rates on small-saving schemes, including the Public Provident Fund and Kisan Vikas Patra.
  • The decision that will hit small savers is aimed at aligning these administered interest rates closer to the market rates. The new rates will come into effect on April 1 and will be valid till June 30.
  • Small-saving schemes are Public Provident Fund scheme,  Kisan Vikas Patra, National Savings Certificates, Sukanya Samriddhi Account, senior citizen savings scheme, post office term deposits

SC allows display of photos of CMs, Ministers in public ads

  • The Supreme Court modified its earlier order and allowed photographs of Chief Ministers, Governors and Ministers to be carried in public advertisements.
  • The court, in its verdict last year, had held that only the President, the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India could feature in government advertisements.The decision was later challenged by the Centre and seven States.
  • This will be a major relief to various States including poll-bound West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Assam,

Kakrapar leak a ‘Level-1’ nuclear mishap, says AERB

  • India’s atomic energy regulatory body has classified the recent nuclear reactor leak at the  (KAPS) as Level-1, or the lowest the International Nuclear and Radiological Event (INES) scale.
  • In the Kakrapar atomic power station one of the pipes carrying heavy water ruptured and led to leakage on the floor of the reactor building. Though plant operators have identified the location of the leak, it will take a while for it to be plugged.
  • Moreover, the leak occurred in a subsystem that had been refurbished with better quality material in 2011, as part of a planned upgrade.
  • The present situation at KAPS Unit 1 is stable and the reactor is in cold shutdown state. The reactor is being continuously cooled and at present there are no major safety concerns.
  • There has been no radioactivity release exceeding the specified daily limits for normal operation, between March 11, 2016, till date. There has also not been any case of workers receiving abnormal radiation exposures
  • Though heavy water, a key component used to facilitate a nuclear reaction, was still leaking at the plant he didn’t expect anything untoward, as there was no surge in radiation.
  • By comparison, the nuclear accidents in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011 and Chernobyl, Russia, in 1986 were Level 7 incidents, according to the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) update

Nuclear mishap ranking

  • The International Nuclear and Radiological Event (INES) scale is a seven-rung classification scheme internationally used to rate the severity of nuclear mishaps.
  • Developed by the International Atomic Energy Authority,
  1. Level 1 – as only akin to ‘an anomaly in the plant.’
  2. Levels 1-3 are termed ‘incidents’ and
  3. 4-7 as ‘accident.’

Expert speak

  • However, independent experts said it was “surprising” that the incident was classified as only a Level-1 incident. Right now there are contradictory reports on the quantum of the leak. A Level-1 classification may be underestimating the seriousness of the incident,” said A. Gopalakrishan, the former Chairman, AERB, and a critic of India’s nuclear establishment

Atomic Energy Regulatory Board

  • The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) was constituted on November 15, 1983 by the President of India by exercising the powers conferred by Section 27 of the Atomic Energy Act, 1962
  • The regulatory authority of AERB is derived from the rules and notifications promulgated under the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 and the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • The headquarters is in Mumbai
  • The mission of the Board is to ensure that the use of ionising radiation and nuclear energy in India does not cause undue risk to health and the environment.
  • Currently, the Board consists of a full-time Chairman, an ex officio Member, three part-time Members and a Secretary.
  • AERB is supported by the folowing committees
  1. Safety Review Committee for Operating Plants (SARCOP)– carries out safety surveillance and enforces safety stipulations in the operating units of the DAE.
  2. Safety Review Committee for Applications of Radiation (SARCAR) – recommends measures to enforce radiation safety in medical, industrial and research institutions which use radiation and radioactive sources
  3. Advisory Committees for Project Safety Review (ACPSRs) (e.g. nuclear power, light water reactor, andwaste management projects) –  recommend to AERB issuance of authorisations at different stages of a plant of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), after reviewing the submissions made by the plant authorities based on the recommendations of the associated Design Safety Committees

Lok Sabha nod for inclusion of more castes in SC list

  • A Bill to include certain castes, including Sais, Aheria and Peruvannan, in the list of Scheduled Castes (SC) in Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Kerala, Odisha and West Bengal was approved by the Lok Sabha
  • The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, Amendment Bill was moved by the Social Justice minister
  • The Bill proposes to include certain communities in the list and remove area restriction in respect of certain communities and exclude certain communities in the case of Odisha.
  • Several members suggested that the government should come up with a Reservation Act to ensure members of the Scheduled Castes get the benefit at the time of promotion.

Centre firm on excise, ends ‘Inspector Raj’

  • The jewellers will now file quarterly returns and pay excise duty electronically every month through a voluntary disclosure of stocks.
  • The government has asked the Central Excise Department to keep its inspectors away from the premises of jewellers. Any grievance or dispute will be resolved by a commissioner-level officer.
  • Meanwhile jewellers are on a nation-wide strike in protest against the Union Budget announcement of a 1 per cent excise levy.
  • To counter the jewellers’ claim that the imposition of excise duty on jewellery will render lakhs of workers and artisans jobless as they are ill-equipped to deal with the paperwork, the government has clarified that they need not register with Central Excise, pay duty or file returns.
  • Only jewellers who have an annual turnover of more than Rs 12 crore will be liable to pay a nominal 1 per cent excise duty if they do not claim inputs tax credit. However, the government has categorically said the excise duty will not be withdrawn under any circumstance.

National Court of Appeal (NCA) to be decided by constitutional bench

  • Noting that equal access to justice for all is a fundamental right under the Constitution, the Supreme Court decided to set up a Constitution Bench to debate the establishment of a National Court of Appeal (NCA) with regional benches to act as final courts of justice in criminal and civil cases.
  • By deciding to form a Constitution Bench in this case, the Supreme Court stepped into uncharted territory , especially because its facing thinning judicial strength made worse by growing pendency,
  • Now the apex court would judicially pronounce on whether there is a need to bifurcate the higher judiciary, with the Supreme Court exclusively hearing constitutional and public law cases.
  • Secondly, the apex court seems to introspect on its own role as the single, final court situated in the national capital dealing with an increasing load of cases — from criminal and civil appeal to constitutional questions of law.

EC tags Twitter for #TN100percent drive

  • In a first-of-its-kind initiative in the country, the Election Commission has roped in Twitter to boost its #TN100percent campaign, which aims to achieve maximum voting during the May 16 Assembly polls in the State.
  • On the cards are a reminder to vote on May 16 to all twitterati who have used the #TN100percent tag in their tweets, a celebrity-signed digital poster and a specially designed emoji.

Panel wants smaller pictorial warnings

  • Two weeks before pictorial warnings covering 85 per cent of the principal display area of the front and back sides of all tobacco products can become effective, a Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation report said that the requirement will be “too harsh” on the tobacco industry
  • Further it said it will result “flooding of illicit cigarettes” and affect the livelihood of thousands of tobacco farmers and workers.
  • The committee has recommended that pictorial warnings be restricted to only 50 per cent on both the sides of the cigarette packets
  • In the case of beedis, chewing tobacco and other tobacco products, the committee recommended that the warning be restricted 50 per cent of the display area and on only one side of the packet.
  • In the case of beedis, it said that there would be “virtually no space left for printing the brand name and logo” if 85 per cent of area is earmarked for printing the warning on both sides. The committee has not stated the logic for restricting the warning to only one side in the case of chewing tobacco products.

Opposition

  • Director of Public Health Law and Advocacy at the Delhi-based Hriday – Being a Committee on Subordinate Legislation, its mandate is only to look at whether the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendment Rules, 2014 are in confirmation with legislation under which they are made They are supposed to look if legislation violates the constitutional principle and are not supposed to frame the regulation or legislation.

Centre enforces income norm for LPG subsidy

  • The government has begun debarring LPG users who earn more than Rs. 10 lakh a year from the subsidy, starting from their next refill.
  • Over the past week, thousands of taxpayers have received such SMSs from their distributors, pointing out their income status and the ineligibility for further subsidies.
  • Earlier the govt had campaigned for voluntary give up of subsidy under the give it up campaign for those with income of more than Rs. 10 lakh a year
  • In the meantime,govt was able to identify around 3 lakh people with an income of more than Rs. 10 lakh with the help of Income Tax Department

Ind-Ra revises outlook for telecom sector

  • India Ratings and Research revised its outlook for telecommunications services to stable-to-negative from stable for 2016-17
  • This is because it expects the introduction of Reliance Jio to intensify competition, squeezing market share and operating profitability or EDBITA margins of existing players. Data market will be first to face the impact of increased competition resulting in a decline in data average revenue per users
  • India Ratings expects voice revenue to moderate in the coming financial year on stagnant minutes of usage due to market maturity and further competition in call realisations.
  • Data tariffs will also see a major correction due to the launch of Reliance Jio. The benefits from higher data volumes as well as subscriber growth will be “back-ended.” Additionally, the operators’ debt profile will deteriorate as they are likely to incur high capex on network expansion and acquisition of additional spectrum through trading, largely to compete with Reliance Jio.
  • Further, spectrum is expected to drive consolidation in the sector, helped by recent guidelines allowing spectrum sharing and trading transactions within industry participants.
  • This will help smaller players to monetise their spectrum assets while bigger players enhance their spectrum holdings, it said.

SEBI busts over Rs.15,000 cr worth tax evasion

  • In a major clampdown, regulator SEBI has debarred over 1,000 entities from the capital markets after they were found to be misusing stock exchange platforms for tax evasion to the tune of more than Rs 15,000 crore.
  • SEBI has also suspended trading in shares of as many as 167 companies, while the regulator has written to the Income Tax Department in nearly 100 cases where more than 1,800 entities are suspected to have traded in shares valued beyond their disclosed income. Such activities were mostly happening through shares of shell companies or thinly-traded penny stocks. There has not been any instance of a blue-chip stock being used for generating bogus profits or losses to evade taxes.
  • SEBI has managed to create some kind of fear psychosis through its surveillance measures and enforcement actions among the manipulators and fraudsters and therefore this modus operandi of tax evasion through stock exchange platforms may soon be out of favour.

Twists and turns in Fiscal Responsibility Act

  • Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s statement during his Budget speech that “a time has come to review the working of the FRBM (Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management) Act” is not the first time that governments have tried to create more wriggle room out of the strict fiscal parameters set in the Act.

Fiscal Responsibility Act – E.A.S Sarma committee

  • The idea of a Fiscal Responsibility Act was first introduced by then Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha in his Budget speech of 2000-01.
  • For medium-term management of the fiscal deficit there was a need support of a strong institutional mechanism embodied in a Fiscal Responsibility Act. He had set up a committee to examine the issue and recommend how to best move forward.
  • This committee, under the chairpersonship of the then Secretary of Economic Affairs E.A.S Sarma, referred to fiscal rules of around 20 countries including those of the US, Canada, Japan, Brazil, South Africa and the European Union.
  • After its deliberations, it came up with a draft Bill which mandated reducing the revenue deficit to nil within five financial year starting April 1, 2001 and also bringing down the fiscal deficit to two per cent of the GDP in the same period.
  • However, a major concern surrounding the draft Bill at the time was not the strictness of these fiscal parameters, but the Bill’s provision for a Fiscal Management Review Committee. This committee was to be chaired by the Prime Minister and had the Finance Minister, Speaker, Chairman of the Lok Sabha, the Leaders of the Opposition in both houses of Parliament, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India and the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India as its members.
  • The CAG immediately disagreed with the creation of such a committee and placed its dissent on record in the E.A.S Sarma Committee Report. “The proposed committee will be an encroachment on the prerogative of the finance minister, who has to present reports/policy statements of the government to the Parliament for its consideration and debate. In fact, such a body shall create unanticipated legal and procedural problems,” the CAG’s dissenting note said.
  • “[The] setting up of a Fiscal Management Committee through statute is not consistent with the existing Constitutional arrangements and it goes against the basic structure of the Constitution,” the note added.
  • In other words, such oversight would hamstring the finance minister and would lay unnecessary pressure on his ability to meet the FRBM targets.

Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Bill, 2000

  • The Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Bill, 2000 was examined by a Standing Committee on Finance, chaired by Shivraj Patil, which placed its recommendations in front of Parliament in December 2000.
  • The overall view of the Committee was pretty straightforward. Planned deficit financing is a good idea as long as it creates productive assets, according to the report.
  • However, the numerical ceilings and the time frame set for attaining the said levels induce excessive rigidity into the decision making depriving the Governments of the flexibility needed to respond to the exigencies in an appropriate manner, to serve the national interest best.”
  • More interesting than this view was the number of dissenting notes—no less than four—and the vehemence of dissent the issue brought forth. One note, in particular, exemplified all that was considered wrong with the FRBM Act.

13th Finance Commission

  • Reviewed the Act in 2009 and recommended the following
  1. The numerical ceilings needed greater flexibility
  2. need to keep in the mind the effect global economic events could have on these targets.
  3. the MTFP (Medium Term Financial Plan) should make explicit the values of the parameters underlying expenditure and revenue projections and the band within which these parameters can vary while remaining consistent with FRBMA targets. This will enable the government to make an evidence-based case for relaxation of these targets, should such circumstances arise
  4. the FRBMA specify the nature of shocks that would require a relaxation of FRBM targets. These would include agro-climatic events of a national (rather than regional or state-specific) dimension, global recessions impacting the country’s exports and shocks caused by domestic or external events like asset price bubbles or systemic crises in important sectors like the financial markets

Amendments to FRBMA

  • Via the Finance Act 2012.
  • Along with the Medium-Term Fiscal Policy Statement, Fiscal Policy Strategy Statement and the Macroeconomic Framework Statement, the Central Government would also have to lay a Medium Term Expenditure Framework Statement before Parliament.
  • Instead of targeting the revenue deficit, the FRBM Act would target a new concept, the ‘effective revenue deficit’—the difference between revenue deficit and grants for creation of capital assets. In essence, this placed capital expenditure out of the purview of the revenue deficit.
  • Finally, the dates by which the effective revenue deficit and fiscal deficit targets were to be met were extended. The effective revenue deficit was to be eliminated the fiscal deficit was to be below three per cent by March 2015.

Finance Act 2015

  • These targets were once again revised in the Finance Act 2015, pushing the dates of achievement to March 2018.
  • Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s plan to review the FRBM Act, and Minister of State for Finance Jayant Sinha’s statement on Tuesday about the need for a “dynamic, more flexible approach to fiscal management” should be seen as yet another step in this long chain of events.
  • It is telling that Mr Jaitley wants a review of the Act to take place. History shows that almost every time such a review or amendment to the FRBM Act has taken place, the Finance Ministry has received greater breathing room to achieve its fiscal targets.

Software-as-a-service 

  • Software-as-a-service (SaaS) is a software distribution model in which applications are hosted by a service provider or vendor. These applications are made available to customers over a network, typically the Internet.
  • While India is still a long way from showcasing a Microsoft or a Google, SaaS companies like Freshdesk have sprung up across the country to create products that meet the demands of small and medium businesses world wide.
  • Indian start-ups have an edge, as mobility is also becoming a key requirement by small and medium businesses for software as a service. Indian start-ups are already building world class solutions for the mobile-first users. This strength combined with easy access to global customer base online will help India to become a very strong player in the global SaaS industry.
  • Experts say that purpose built global SaaS products will see hyper growth and adoption by small and medium businesses. It will contribute to more than 75 per cent of the public cloud revenues driving the global SaaS industry to $132 billion (Rs.8.8 lakh crore) revenues by 2020, of which small and medium business SaaS is expected to reach $76 billion (Rs.5 lakh crore), according to a joint report released this month by Google and venture capital firm Accel Partners.
  • The report says the demand from small and medium businesses in U.S. is projected to double. There is also an expected explosion of demand from Europe.
  • It says that Indian start-ups have the opportunity to grab eight per cent of this revenue by creating purpose built innovative solutions targeted at small and medium businesses globally.
  • This means that Indian SaaS companies are expected to reach the $10 billion (Rs.67,085 crore) revenue mark in 2025.
  • In a market with demand fulfilment largely led by U.S., India’s competitive advantages will help Indian SaaS companies create $50 billion (Rs.3.3 lakh crore) in value over the next 10 years, according to the Google and Accel report.
  • The report mentioned that there are over 500 SaaS start-ups in the country.
  • Availability of local talent, favourable unit economics and a vibrant venture capital community in SaaS space is also driving this growth.
  • These Indian SaaS companies are not just tapping rich countries. They are now also observing an increasing demand for their products from businesses based in domestic market and developing nations.
  • Unlike in the past when young ventures had to establish overseas offices, SaaS companies are now doing almost everything from India.

Growth rate of pulses production encouraging

  • In an encouraging sign of rise in pulses production, the country has seen a gradual rise in the growth rate of pulses output at 2.61 per cent during the last four decades, which has surpassed the growth rate of rice, wheat and all cereals together.
  • Agriculture Ministry data shows that during the last four decades (1970-2010) the production of pulses in the country has witnessed a gradual upward trend and notably, it has more or less remained nearly 18 million tonnes since 2010. Earlier the production hovered around 14-15 million tonnes.
  • In 2013-14, the production touched an all time high of 19.78 million tonnes. However, due to inclement weather in the current season, the pulses production in 2015-16 is likely to stay at 17.30 million tonnes.
  • Figures suggest the growth rate in pulses production during this decade has been at 2.61 per cent, which has been higher than that of rice that stands at 1.59 per cent, wheat at 1.89 per cent and all cereals together at 1.88 per cent.
  • Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh in a statement said the development of transgenic pigeonpea and chickpea for resistance against gram pod borer is at an advanced stage at the Indian Institute of Pulses Research (IIPR). Once achieved, this will help boost pulses output further and will go a long way to help the country achieve self sufficiency.
  • “IIPR is striving to intensify the breeding programme through both conventional and genomics-enabled crop improvement. It has exclusive focus on development of hybrids in pigeonpea, transgenics against pod borer in chickpea and pigeonpea, high yielding varieties with tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses,” he said.
  • He said the institute is also working towards bio-intensification of pulse-based cropping systems and resource conservation, mechanisation and minimising post harvest yield loss.
  • “Climate risk management and efficient extension models for dissemination of pulse-based technologies for farmers to make the pulse cultivation in the country productive and remunerative are also being worked upon,” he added.

Centre plans 50,000 km of waterways nationwide

  • The government is looking to harness the country’s 50,000 kilometres of sea and river fronts as waterways and mulling over innovative ways to raise around Rs. 70,000 crore to develop these stretches in the first phase.
  • Parliament has passed the crucial bill to declare 111 rivers across the country into National Waterways and paved the way for development of these stretches as transport carriers. So far, only five of the river stretches had been declared as National Waterways.
  • India has its unique advantage. Its 14 States are bestowed with 7,500 kilometres of coastline with 14,500 km of potentially navigable waterways. In addition, 116 rivers across the country provide 35,000 kilometres of navigable stretches.
  • Besides budgetary support, multilateral funds, public-private-partnership and market borrowing would be explored. Access to funds like National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) and Central Road Fund (CRF) would also be required because of environment benefit of IWT
  • By promoting water transport, logistics cost, which was 18 per cent in India as compared to barely 8-10 per cent in China and 10-12 per cent in European countries, would come down significantly.
  • The reforms in the sector would be visible in a few years. Water transport was not only environment-friendly but also much cheaper.. It would cost Rs. 1.5 a km to carry cargo by road and Re. 1 by rail. Through waterways, the cost would be a mere 25 paise a km.

HAL eyes civil foray through 2 light Dorniers

  • Defence aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. has said it plans to make and operate two Dornier-228 aircraft for civil operations.
  • The board sanctioned the plan to operate the light, 14- /19-seater aircraft for civil and possibly VIP transport at its meeting held in late February. HAL’s airport at Nasik would be the hub.
  • The amount sanctioned for the proposal and the schedule were not immediately available.
  • “HAL’s board has sanctioned the manufacture of two civil Dornier aircraft. It intends to operate [them] from its airport at Nasik,” the company said.
  • Since 1983, HAL has manufactured over 120 of the Do-228 aircraft under licence from Swiss OEM (original equipment manufacturer) RUAG at its Transport Aircraft Division in Kanpur. The planes are operated by the Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard. A few aircraft have been exported to Mauritius and the Seychelles.
  • The aircraft would be upgraded, the company said, adding “HAL is also exploring cost reduction to make the aircraft viable for more export opportunities and internal civil operations.”
  • In preparation to this, the Kanpur division has also received the approval of the civil aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, for manufacturing the civil versions as per Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) 21G.
  • Meanwhile, the first of four export shipsets of structures for the Do-228-212 New Generation has been handed over to RUAG’s Germany unit. “We have manufactured and supplied the shipset in record time, ahead of schedule,” against the order received four months back, HAL CMD T. Suvarna Raju was quoted as saying.
  • RUAG’s MD Volker Wallrodt and his team of senior officials were present at the event, HAL said.

Inoperative PF accounts may get interest again

  • The Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation will look into a proposal to continue crediting interest into inoperative EPF accounts of workers who lose their jobs or exit the account before retirement age.
  • An EPF account is termed as inoperative if there has been no fresh accretion into it for three years or more.
  • According to the Economic Survey 2015-16, 9.23 crore out of the total 15 crore EPF accounts are inactive with around Rs.44,000 crore deposits in them. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said in his last Budget that the government would tap unclaimed balances in inoperative accounts to finance a new Senior Citizens’ Welfare Fund.
  • This specific change to allow interest on inoperative accounts is necessitated by new rules introduced under the EPF scheme last month that don’t allow such employees to take out their entire PF balance till they turn 58 years of age.
  • While employees could earlier withdraw their entire EPF balance after two months of leaving a job, under the new rules notified on February 10, they can now withdraw only their own share of EPF deposits, along with the interest earned on that amount.

EPF account

  • EPF accounts are statutory for firms hiring 20 employees or more, and are funded by employees paying 12 per cent of their salary to the EPFO and employers putting in a similar amount. These EPF contributions are mandated only for those earning up to Rs.15,000 a month.
  • “To ensure some retirement savings for workers, we had decided to keep the employer’s share of the PF deposits with us. But with the new rules, we feel that we must also credit interest on such accounts,” said a senior EPFO official, explaining that the idea was to deter workers from withdrawing their entire savings while switching jobs.
  • Under the new rules, employees may claim the rest of their entire EPF savings (including the employer’s share) only after attaining 58 years of age. Withdrawals prior to that would only be paid out from employee contributions.
  • Industry had sought a clarification on whether the employers’ share of PF deposits will continue to earn interest or not as technically the account will become void, under the new rules.
  • “Since individuals can now avail a full refund of their PF accumulations only on retirement after attaining the age of 58 years, it appears that the members will continue to earn interest on their PF accumulations till 36 months after they become eligible for a full refund.
  • Clarification on this aspect from the PF department would be helpful for the industry,” consultancy firm KPMG had pointed out in an advisory note.
  • Trade unions said more clarifications would be needed.

Plan ready to tackle wilful defaulters

  • With mounting public pressure to act against wilful defaulters, the Government and authorities have readied a three-part comprehensive plan of action to deal with the rising stressed assets of public sector banks.
  • All investigative agencies are being asked to ensure that these cases are brought to justice
  • Secondly, in cases of classic business failures that have no wrongdoing, the directive is to ensure orderly resolution.
  • It had to be recognised that corporate groups hit by the slowdown in the global economy or policy failures need appropriate process and policy measures to ensure orderly resolution whether it is equity replacement or addressing the NPA problems.
  • The resolution process needs to be strengthened, through debt restructuring

Definition of wilful default

A “wilful default” would be deemed to have occurred if any of the following events is noted:-

The unit has defaulted in meeting its payment obligations to the lender

  1. even when it has the capacity to honour the said obligations OR
  2. and has not utilised the finance for the specific purposes for which finance was availed of but has diverted the funds for other purposes OR
  3. and has siphoned off the funds and the funds available with the unit in the form of other assets OR
  4. and has also disposed off or removed the movable fixed assets or immovable property given by him or it for the purpose of securing a term loan without the knowledge of the bank/lender.

Criminalise marital rape: UNDP chief

  • Recently Minister for Women and Child Welfare Maneka Gandhi submitted in Parliament that the government wouldn’t criminalise “marital rape,”. She said that the “concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be applied in the Indian context due to level of education/illiteracy, poverty, customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of society to treat the marriage as a sacrament, etc..”
  • UNDP chief Helen Clark that the issue is one of consent, not culture. She suggested that India would be violating the Sustainable Development Goals it has adopted if it did not amend the law accordingly.She was in Delhi to attend the IMF ‘Advancing Asia’ conference
  • Ms. Clark made a significant pitch for all countries that had not made domestic abuse and marital rape criminal offences to do so at the earliest.
  • Her words are particularly significant not just because the United Nations Development Programme is monitoring the implementation of the SDGs by 2030, but because Ms. Clark is widely considered to be preparing to run for U.N. Secretary-General later this year.
  • However, the government has agreed, along with about 150 world leaders, to adopt the 17 Goals for 2030 set out by the UNDP. At the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on September 25, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the UNGA committing India to the goals which include a target of eliminating “all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres.” The reference to private spheres is what the U.N. believes must include the criminalisation of marital rape, if India is to keep that promise

Marital rape

  • Marital Rape refers to unwanted intercourse by a man with his wife obtained by force, threat of force, or physical violence, or when she is unable to give consent.

Legal provisions

  • Section 375 of the IPC criminalises forced sexual intercourse or rape. But exception 2 of Section 375 of the IPC says any form of intercourse by a man with his wife, who is not under 15 years of age, is not rape
  • Section 376 of IPC provides punishment for rape. This section in dealing with sexual assault, in a very narrow purview lays down that, an offence of rape within marital bonds stands only if the wife be less than 12 years of age, if she be between 12 to 16 years, an offence is committed, however, less serious, attracting milder punishment.

Arguments against

  • The UN Population Fund states that more than 2/3rds of married women in India, aged between 15 to 49 have been beaten, raped or forced to provide sex.
  • In the present day, studies indicate that between 10 and 14% of married women are raped by their husbands
  • Section 375 of IPC which criminalises rape provides no protection for marriesd women. Once, the age crosses 16, there is no legal protection accorded to the wife, in direct contravention of human rights regulations.
  • Further the same law provides for the legal age of consent for marriage to be 18 while protecting form sexual abuse, only those up to the age of 16
  • The 172nd Law Commission report  and Justice Verma committee also recommended for criminalising marital rape
  • A recent report submitted by amicus curiae Indira Jaising to the Supreme Court had called for criminalising the offence. The report had recommended that , must be done away with.

For further reading on marital rape read the following articles

Marital Rape and the Indian legal scenario

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and SDGs

  • The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the United Nations’ global development network.
  • Headquartered in New York City, UNDP advocates for change and connects countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life.
  • It provides expert advice, training, and grant support to developing countries, with increasing emphasis on assistance to the least developed countries.
  • The status of UNDP is that of an executive board within the United Nations General Assembly. The UNDP Administrator is the third highest-ranking official of the United Nations after the United Nations Secretary-Generaland Deputy Secretary-General.
  • To accomplish the MDGs and encourage global development, UNDP focuses on poverty reduction, HIV/AIDS, democratic governance, energy and environment, social development, and crisis prevention and recovery.
  • UNDP also encourages the protection of human rights and the empowerment of women in all of its programmes.
  • The UNDP Human Development Report Office also publishes an annual Human Development Report (since 1990) to measure and analyse developmental progress. In addition to a global Report, UNDP publishes regional, national, and local Human Development Reports.
  • UNDP is funded entirely by voluntary contributions from member nations. The organization operates in 177 countries, where it works with local governments to meet development challenges and develop local capacity.
  • Additionally, the UNDP works internationally to help countries achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Currently, the UNDP is one of the main UN agencies involved in the development of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
  • UNDP works with nations on their own solutions to global and national development challenges. As they develop local capacity, they draw on the people of UNDP and its wide range of partners.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

  • The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are officially known as Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
  • They are an intergovernmental set of aspiration Goals with 169 targets.
  • The Goals are contained in United Nations Resolution which acts as the Post 2015 Development Agenda (successor to the Millennium Development Goals)
  • On 25 September 2015, the 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda titled Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Description and agenda

The Official Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted outlines the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and its associated 169 targets.This included the following goals:

  1. Poverty – End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  2. Food – End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  3. Health – Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  4. Education – Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  5. Women – Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  6. Water – Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  7. Energy – Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  8. Economy – Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  9. Infrastructure – Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  10. Inequality – Reduce inequality within and among countries
  11. Habitation – Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  12. Consumption – Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  13. Climate – Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  14. Marine-ecosystems – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  15. Ecosystems – Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  16. Institutions – Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  17. Sustainability – Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

As of August 2015, there were 169 proposed targets for these goals and 304 proposed indicators to show compliance.

Chart of UN Sustainable Development Goals.png

With IRNSS almost up in orbit, ground centres get into place

  • ISRO is quickly putting across cities the last pieces of ground-based support infrastructure of the system.
  • Its nerve centre, the ISRO Navigation Centre, is at Byalalu on the outskirts of Bengaluru and is part of the 21 ground locations. ISRO is learnt to be adding a back-up for it at Lucknow. Four more centres providing different vital services are also coming up.
  • Among them are
  1. data receiving and processing centres;
  2. units that have instruments such as atomic clocks for keeping accurate time, which is essential in navigation;
  3. and those that generate and transmit navigation parameters and maintain the spacecraft in position all the time.
  • Currently, the IRNSS ground segment is operational on a 24/7 basis [through] 13 IRIMS (Indian Range and Integrity Monitoring Stations); 1 IRNSS Network Timing Centre; one ISRO Navigation Centre and one Spacecraft Control Facility with its data communication network.
  • Along with the deployment of the constellation, the entire ground segment with two more IRIMS and one each of [Network timing Centre,] INC and SCF is planned to be established
  • The range monitoring IRIMS, which could eventually total 15 to 17, will be spread across Gaggal, Dehradun, Lucknow, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Bhopal, Shillong, Kolkata, Goa, Pune, Kavaratti, Mahendragiri and Port Blair, besides Bengaluru and Hassan.
  • A Space Control Facility each will be in Hassan — where the Master Control Facility for communication satellites functions since many decades — and its alternative centre in Bhopal.

IRNSS

  • The IRNSS (Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System) has come to be known as the country’s own ‘GPS’. IRNSS scheme was approved in May 2006.
  • The sixth spacecraft, IRNSS-1F, is slated to be launched on 10th of March from Sriharikota. IRNSS-1G, the seventh and last scheduled one apart from a few spares, is slated for March 31 or later in April.
  • Navigation satellites provide three main data, namely PNT: information on position, navigation and time.
  • The data is important for a host of users, from the military to managers of air land and sea transport up to the man on the street looking to reach somewhere.

Coast Guard reaches out to turtles in distress

  • Coast Guard has initiated efforts towards conservation of Olive Ridley turtles, by rescuing those caught in fishing nets.
  • The nesting season of Olive Ridley turtles in the eastern coast is in its peak
  • During their patrol along the coast, personnel on board Coast Guard ships are looking for turtles which are in distress. “
  • Various agencies take efforts to protect turtles and their nests, sometimes save them from dense fishing activity in the sea. Coast Guard has been coordinating with other agencies like the Forest Department in Odisha coast to protect turtles.
  • Coast Guard is also educating fishermen to use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) in their nets to avoid catching them while fishing.

Civilian protests in Kashmir help militants escape: police

  • Security agencies in Kashmir are re-strategising counter-insurgency operations in the wake of the growing trend of civilians hampering operations against militants by resorting to stone-pelting in Kashmir.
  • In the past, the security forces would face a law and order problem once the encounters were over. A law and order component of the police would be sent only after the operations were over. However, it is seen now that civilians intervene during ongoing operations.
  • Despite repeated police advisory to the civilian population “to stay 2 km away from the operation site and not rush towards the area,” it has failed to yield results on the ground.
  • Its been decided to have a permanent law and order component as part of the counter-insurgency operation now. It will take over as and when the operation starts in an area

Women fighter pilots to join IAF in June

  • Bhawna Kanth, Avani Chaturvedi and Mohana Singh are likely to create history as India’s first women fighter pilots if they put on the wings and are inducted into the IAF fighter stream.
  • The three women trainees have volunteered to join the fighter stream. They are under the second phase of their training. Once they complete their training they will be on par with their male colleagues and the passing out parade is scheduled on June 18
  • In October the Defence Ministry, in a much welcomed decision, had announced that women would for the first time be allowed in combat roles beginning with the Air Force.
  • Soon the Navy followed suit saying that women pilots would be inducted except where staying overnight on board was involved.

Dhruv helicopters involved in 16 accidents since 2002

  • There have been 16 accidents involving the indigenously built Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) ever since the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited began producing them in 2002
  • Out of 16 accidents, 12 occurred due to human error and environmental factors and the remaining four occurred due to technical reasons
  • The Dhruv has been indigenously designed and developed by the HAL and is powered by a Shakti engine jointly developed by the HAL and Turbomeca of France.
  • Ecuador had procured seven ALH Dhruvs from India, five in 2009 and two in 2011 in a deal worth $ 45.2 million, of which four had crashed following which the remaining have been grounded. Late last year, the Government of Ecuador had unilaterally terminated the contract with HAL.
  • In addition to Ecuador, two ALHs had been exported to the Maldives and one each to Nepal and Mauritius.

Appointments in judiciary out of RTI

  • The Union government said it had no plans to bring the process of judicial appointments to the High Courts and the Supreme Court under the ambit of the Right to Information(RTI) Act.

Constitution Bench to decide if MPs, MLAs can be disqualified upon framing of charges

  • A three-judge Bench referred the question to a Constitution Bench — whether a legislator facing criminal trial should be disqualified at the very stage of framing of charges against him by the trial court. Should his disqualification be kept in abeyance till he is convicted?
  • The Supreme Court referred the matter to Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur under Article 145 (3) to set up a Constitution Bench of five judges
  • This indicates its positive resolve to settle this “substantial question of law” by interpreting the Constitution.

Background

  • The court has been tightening its grip on corruption in politics from 2013 when it first held that legislators, on conviction, would be immediately disqualified from holding membership of the House without being given three months’ time for appeal, as was the case before. Before this verdict, convicted lawmakers would file an appeal in the higher court and continue in the House.
  • In March 2014, the Supreme Court passed an interim order that criminal trials, especially those dealing with corruption and heinous offences, involving elected representatives should be completed in a year. This order prevented lawmakers from sitting in the House as their cases dragged on.
  • Meenakshi Arora, who appeared for the Election Commission in the case, told that this reference to the Constitution Bench was the third chapter of a “clean-up act” started in 2013.

Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act

  • deals with disqualification on conviction for certain offences: A person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for varying terms under Sections 8 (1) (2) and (3) shall be disqualified from the date of conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years since his release.
  • In 2013, the Bench found it unconstitutional that convicted persons could be disqualified from contesting elections but could continue to be Members of Parliament and State Legislatures once elected.

Centre pulled up over packaging of tobacco

  • The Supreme Court sought the government’s response on why rules that say tobacco products should be packed in a plain fashion had not been implemented yet.
  • Responding to a plea that attractive packaging of tobacco products entice youth to consume them, a bench led by Chief Justice T.S. Thakur issued a notice to the Ministry of Health.
  • The petition said the delay in the implementation of plain packaging as per provisions of Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 was a violation of the right to life under the Constitution.

A.P. Assembly urges Centre to provide 33 per cent quota for women

  • The Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly passed a unanimous resolution urging the Centre to provide 33 per cent reservation to women, particularly in legislative bodies.

Women across faiths come together

  • Male religious heads have for long used religion as a tool to subjugate women. Women’s groups questioned the notions of “purity, hygiene and segregation” in accessing places of religious worship.
  • Women and men from the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), Bhumata Brigade, Sahiyo, Vaghini Mahila Sanghatana (VMS), Muslims for Secular Democracy, and Bharat Bachao Andolan staged a protest march at the Azad Maidan here demanding religious freedom and equal access to places of worship.
  • The Muslim women challenged the supremacy of male clerics, branding women as ‘dirty’ and ‘impure’, imposed restrictions on going out of the house, practice of female circumcision in the community etc
  • Meanwhile, Hindu women’s struggle to enter the sanctum of Shani Shingnapur temple also found an echo at the protest.
  • Another protestor Michelle Vas said while women were allowed in churches, they were not part of decision-making.

SC asks Centre to facilitate voting rights for soldiers

  • The Supreme Court stood up for the constitutional right of soldiers to vote, noting that they risked their lives to protect the borders and Centre should pull all stops to ensure that the soldiers’ voices are heard loud and clear during election results
  • It directed the Centre to finalise a fool-proof mechanism to ensure that their postal ballots reached authorities in time so that these soldier do not feel left out in the country’s democratic process.

Countdown to PSLV-C32 launch begins

  • The countdown for the launch of Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle PSLV-C32 began at the Sathish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota in Nellore district on Tuesday at 9.30 a.m.
  • The 54-hour countdown will conclude on March 10 at 4 p.m. when the PSLV will be launched to put the 1,425-kg IRNSS-1F navigation satellite into orbit.

Telangana’s Ojha artisans return to their roots

  • The tiny community of Ojha artisans in the Adilabad district of Telangana no longer has a reason to complain, as it has made a surprising turnaround in its fortune, It also rediscovered its bonding with the Gond tribe. The comeback has been made possible as the artisan families reverted to their centuries-old traditional local market comprising mainly of the Gond population.
  • The Ojhas, also known as Wojaris, experienced a rather longish tryst with misfortune, astonishingly, in the wake of governmental intervention in the mid-1980s. Seeking greener pastures at the national level, the brass metal casters had shunned their traditional market, which had the Gonds ignoring them and even opposing their recognition as a Scheduled Tribe in turn.
  • The 80 families-strong artisan community, now based by and large at Jamgaon and Ushegaon in Jainoor and Keslaguda in Kerameri mandal, makes brass objects exclusively for the Gond tribe to be used in agriculture and religious events. Until the crucial time when the Ojhas got alienated from the Gonds, every Adivasi village in the district had boasted at least one artisan family catering to its need all through the year.
  • In addition to the traditional seed sowers, lamps, bells of different sizes, ornamental daggers, etc., used by Gonds, the Ojhas make masks and statuettes.

Govt. enhances M&A threshold for regulatory clearance

  • Mergers involving combined Indian assets of more than Rs.2,000 crore or combined Indian turnover of more than Rs.6,000 crore willneed CCI’s prior approval, the government said.—National Bureau

Govt. okays housing subsidy for workers

  • Labour Minister has approved a scheme to offer higher housing subsidies to about 75 lakh beedi workers and miners working in non-coal mines using Aadhaar

Revised Integrated Housing Scheme of 2016

  • Rs.1.5 lakh as subsidy through direct benefit transfer, from the current Rs.40,000,
  • to beedi and non-mine workers
  • to build a house on their own land.
  • The house will have an earthquake-resistance structure, two rooms, a kitchen, bathroom and closet area for drying clothes.
  • The new Housing Scheme of the Labour Ministry will give assistance to workers having their own land with a carpet area of at least 30 square metres.
  • The subsidy amount will be released in three instalments: the first amount of Rs. 37,500 will be given as advance, second Rs.90,000 after the construction of house reaches the lintel level and the third instalment of Rs.22,500 after completion of the construction work. The worker can make an additional contribution at his or her own will.
  • Also, for the first time, the government may give Rs.1.5 lakh as an upfront amount to those workers who want to secure a bank loan to build houses.
  • Also, the new housing scheme will become a part of the Prime Minister’s ‘Housing for All’ project. The ‘Housing for All’ project, which provides Rs. 1 lakh as Central grant for a house under the slum rehabilitation programme and Rs. 1.5 lakh to economically weaker section households, aims to build 2 crore houses in five phases till 2021-22.
  • In 2014-15, the government constructed 16,552 houses for beedi and non-coal mine workers.

Issue

  • However, the UID Authority of India (UIDAI) will find it difficult to capture their fingerprints owing to the nature of their work, according to its own biometric authentication standards.
  • UIDAI’s itself  had suggested that construction and mining workers be put in the list of exceptions to which the Aadhaar system may not apply.
  • In a detailed document titled ‘Aadhaar Authentication Framework’, the UIDAI had said that people engaged in hard manual labour like construction workers or mining workers may be treated as “exceptions” in the Aadhaar system as they had “all of their fingers in extremely poor condition with respect to fingerprint quality.”
  • There will always be a set of population who will be temporarily or permanently excluded from a specific biometric system. We can term this set of people as ‘outliers. In such cases, alternative biometrics such as iris scan could be used.

Govt. expected to identify state-run banks to become anchor banks

  • The government will identify six to ten public sector banks which will drive the consolidation process among the state-owned banks, called the anchor banks, by October 31, 2016.
  • Large lenders like State Bank of India (SBI), Bank of Baroda (BoB), Punjab National Bank (PNB) and Canara Bank could become the anchor banks.
  • The government will set up an expert panel for the consolidation process. The Bank Board Bureau headed by former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Vinod Rai, which was recently formed to select chief executives and board members of public sector banks, will also help in the consolidation process.
  • Merger between the banks will be based on geographical and technological synergies, human resources and business profile, among others.
  • Consolidation among public sector banks has been under discussion for about a decade now. There are 22 public sector banks in the country apart from five associate banks of State Bank of India.
  • The financial performance of public sector banks reflected a sharp deterioration after the RBI conducted an Asset Quality Review (AQR). During the review, the central bank’s inspectors found that many accounts, which ideally should have been treated as non-performing, were not classified so by the banks. The RBI then directed the banks to classify those accounts as non-performing and provide accordingly during the October-December and January-March quarters. As a result, as many as 11 public sector banks including Bank of Baroda, IDBI Bank, Bank of India and Indian Overseas Bank reported losses last quarter. The current quarter will be equally challenging for many banks.
  • Things have changed since the AQR. There are many banks which will find it difficult to survive without capital infusion from government. If a bank remains weak, then it will lose business. In such a situation, merging with a relatively stronger bank seems to be the only option.

Indians could face a higher risk of diabetes-induced lung ailment

  • Diabetes may be impeding the normal functioning of lungs and common medicines that are used to treat insulin resistance may actually be exacerbating conditions such as asthma, report a team of Indian, European and American scientists in a forthcoming edition of theAmerican Physiological Society Select journal.
  • Recently, there have been a number of studies showing that when adjusted for body size, Indians have among the smallest lungs in the world or nearly a third smaller than a white European of similar size. This means a reduced efficiency to filter oxygen from ingested air, an accelerated decline in lung function with age as well as an increased propensity to contract respiratory diseases.
  • Diabetes has emerged as a serious disease burden for India over the past two decades. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington reports that while diabetes rate has increased by around 45 per cent globally, it jumped 123 per cent in India between 1990 and 2013. The International Diabetes Federation showed that nearly 6.9 crore people in India were suffering from diabetes in 2015 and their ranks are expected to swell to 12.5 crore by 2040.
  • Most medicines to treat diabetes attempt to control the excess blood sugar by pumping in ever-increasing quantities of insulin into the body. That only makes matters worse. There’s no solution to this other than exercise and a diet that strikes a balance between protein and carbohydrates.

Passengers can rate trains, stations online

  • Passengers can now rate thousands of trains and railway stations on safety, cleanliness, timeliness, services and other amenities online.
  • Online community network LocalCircles will share the feedback on over 2,900 trains and 4,500 railway stations with the Ministry of Railways on a consolidated basis.
  • Passengers can visit the LocalCircles website and search for a train or station to submit their feedback.

Fresh evidence of Stone Age cultures in Kerala

  • Belying 19th century British geo-archaeologist Robert Bruce Foote’s argument on prehistoric habitation in the State, north Kerala is fast emerging as the site of fresh discoveries of remnants of Stone Age cultures.
  • Several reasons have been cited to make this possible, particularly the enthusiasm shown by a young archaeological-anthropologist, N.K. Ramesh, who is a senior assistant, Museum Project, Cultural Heritage Department of Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam University at Tirur.

Details

  • Archaeologist Killingworth Richard Utten Todd had discovered Mesolithic tools from Chevayur (Kozhikode), perhaps the first Stone Age evidence in Kerala during 1930-35. But detailed studies then failed to take off
  • Many Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Megalithic, and Neolithic tools and several Megalithic sites in north Kerala have been discovered
  • Find include the typical Palaeolithic hand-axe from Vanimel river basin (Kozhikode) and pointed choppers and side scrapers from Anakkayam and Cheerkkayam river basin of Chandragiri (Kasaragod) are some of the first-time evidence of Palaeolithic implements in these districts.
  • This revealed that hand-axe fabrication technique in quartz was also familiar among the prehistoric settlements in the area.
  • Ramesh has discovered Mesolithic tools from the Panom forest region, which lies 1,500 feet, above sea level, bordering Kozhikode-Wayanad districts. It is a Mesolithic factory site as waste material and hammer stones were discovered near a stream inside the forest
  • He has been certified for the discoveries of Megalithic sites at Valayam, Varikkoli, Chekkad, Kuitheri, Ummathur, Perumundacheri, Mullankunnu, Pannimukku, and Muippra. The evidence includes black and red ware pottery, eagle head-like figures made of clay, iron chopper and dagger, black ware, smoke pipe, iron knife, iron sickle and several iron ingots.
  • The well-polished symmetrical shaped Stone Adzes made of quartz showed the high expertise in quartz fabrication of Neolithic people in Kozhikode

Significance

  • 19th century British geo-archaeologist Robert Bruce Foote had argued that Kerala was unsuitable for prehistoric habitation citing the absence of quartzite, thick forests and heavy rainfall in the State.

Priceless palm leaf manuscripts go missing at Odisha State Museum

  • Thousands of priceless and ageless palm leaf manuscripts have apparently gone missing from the galleries of the Odisha State Museum (OSM) if the government’s own admission is anything to go by.
  • The State government, in response to an RTI query, has revealed that the premier museum is now in possession of only 19,774 palm leaf manuscripts.
  • The reply has come as surprise to many as the Odisha government had been maintaining that the museum was in rich possession of over 40,000 such manuscripts — the largest collection of manuscripts in the world.
  • The collections of manuscripts in the museum were categorised into 27 sections comprising the Vedas, tantra, religious, scriptures, philosophy, astrology, Ayurveda, grammar, lexicon, music, puranas, kavyas and Mathematics.
  • The palm leaf manuscripts of Odisha not only had received national heritage status, but also the UNESCO was thinking of according world heritage tag to it.

Drought declaration indices

  • Any assessment of drought is made according to the manual for drought management issued by the Union Ministry of Agriculture.
  • According to the manual, drought declaration has to be based on at least three of four key indices and some other factors.
  • The key indices include
  1. rainfall deficiency,
  2. area under sowing,
  3. Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (decline in green cover), and
  4. moisture adequacy
  • These are recommended as the standard monitoring tools applied in combination for drought declaration.

More Muslim women join cause with SC’s PIL for gender parity

  • An initiative by the Supreme Court to probe gender discrimination in Islamic personal law has opened the door for Muslim women hailing from various parts of the country to come forward against their own religious practices of marriage, divorce and property inheritance.
  • Latest in the trickle of petitions being filed in the Supreme Court is one by the Kerala-based organisation, NISA – Progressive Muslim Women Forum, through its representative V.P. Zuhara. This organisation in Kozhikode district works for the civil and matrimonial rights of women
  • In its plea, the organisation, said the community was stuck in time since the passage of Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act by the British in 1937. Progressive laws like the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939, and the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, have not been able to wean the community away from discrimination shown to Muslim women.
  • The organisation rebuts the claim that a court cannot adjudicate on Muslim personal laws. The plea contends that courts can adjudicate under Article 13 if the Shariat law is found to be “inconsistent with or in derogation of the fundamental rights” of Muslim women.
  • This plea immediately follows the Supreme Court’s admission of an earlier petition filed by Shayara Bano to declare the practice of triple talaq, nikah halala (bar against remarriage with divorced husband without an intervening marriage with another man) and polygamy under Muslim personal laws as illegal, unconstitutional, and violative of the rights to equality, dignity, life and freedom of religion under the Constitution.
  • Ms. Bano had said she only wished to “secure a life of dignity, unmarred by discrimination on the basis of gender or religion.
  • On October 16, last year, the Supreme Court decided to register a PIL suo motu titled “Muslim women’s quest for equality” on gender discrimination women face under Muslim personal law.
  • The suo motu PIL and Ms. Bano’s petition are scheduled for hearing on March 28.

CAG points out financial losses for AAI in the implementation of JVs

  • The Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) has flagged several instances of possible revenue loss to the government in the joint ventures running the airports in Mumbai and Delhi
  • Based on a limited audit of the books of the Airports Authority of India (AAI), which holds a 26 per cent stake in both the JVs, the CAG has pointed out significant financial losses suffered by the authority because of various anomalies in the implementation of JVs.

Details

  • The federal auditor was entrusted by the AAI on July 29, 2015, with the task of examining if it was receiving a fair share of revenue from DIAL (Delhi International Airport Ltd.) and MIAL (Mumbai International Airport Ltd.).
  • The CAG was to be allowed access to records of DIAL/MIAL under provisions in Clause 11.3 of the Operation, Management and Development Agreement (OMDA).
  • Both DIAL & MIAL have expressed their reservations about nomination of CAG as AAI’s representative in terms of section 11.3 of OMDA, on the ground that clause 11.3 cannot be read in isolation and that this clause was part and parcel of overall scheme of audit which has already been completed as per OMDA.
  • Since AAI did not accept their contention, they have requested that the matter be treated as “dispute” and provisions relating to dispute resolution in OMDA be followed.
  • Accordingly, they have requested for invoking arbitration under clause 15.2 of OMDA for resolution of above ‘disputes’.

SC’s earlier order

  • The Supreme Court in April 2014 had given an order upholding the right of CAG to carry out the audit of private entities which share revenue with the government, and provisions of the OMDA (Operation, Management and Development Agreement) for the airports.
  • It was seen that though significant revenues are earned by MIAL and DIAL through their concessionaires including Joint Ventures (JVs), the independent auditor [from whose report AAI derives assurance regarding accuracy of the reported revenues of MIAL and DIAL] does not have access to books of accounts of such concessionaries and JVs of MIAL and DIAL
  • Earlier the CAG had said intransigence by the two airport JVs were “not only a violation of the provisions of the OMDA but against accepted norms of transparency.

Now, priority for wait-listed Tatkal tickets in EQ release

  • The Railways have gone one step ahead in making the emergency quota (EQ) system more responsive and commuter-friendly by giving priority to wait-listed Tatkal tickets.
  • From now, wait-listed tickets purchased from travel agents will not be considered for allotment of seats and berths under EQ.
  • This is aimed at preventing misuse of EQ and to ensure that its benefits reach needy commuters.
  • The directive follows a decision of the Railways to make the EQ facility more commuter-friendly and to provide senior citizens and the needy priority during allocation of lower berths and to open a helpline.

New snake species discovered in Gujarat – Wallaceophis gujaratensi

  • The find is one of the rarest of moments in the recent reptile history of India.
  • The new snake genus, Wallaceophis is named after Alfred Russel Wallace for his pioneering work on biogeography, and for co-discovering the theory of natural selection. The species has been named gujaratensis . The findings were published in the journal Plos One .
  • Based on scalation, tooth number, bone morphology and DNA, the snake was identified as belonging to a group of colubrid snakes that include racers, royal snakes and whip snakes.
  • Colubrid snakes (Family Colubridae) are represented across the world with more than 1,800 species, and it is likely this number will grow with advanced techniques in species delimitation.
  • Wallaceophis gujaratensis has until now been found in seven locations in Gujarat

Income declaration scheme

What is the scheme – Income declaration scheme

  • A limited-period Compliance Window to declare undisclosed income or income represented in the form of any asset and clear up their past tax transgressions
  • The scheme provides immunity from wealth tax, scrutiny and prosecution and from the Benami Transaction Act
  • The scheme will be kept open for four months from June 1.

How –

  • by paying tax at 30 per cent,
  • Krishi Kalyan surcharge at 7.5 per cent and
  • penalty at 7.5 per cent
  • ie. a total of 45 per cent of the undisclosed income.

Who is eligible –

  • for domestic taxpayers
  • Undisclosed income of any financial year up to 2015-16 can be brought overground through this window.

Who is not eligible

  • People who have received notices under Sections 142 (1), 143 (2), 148, 153A or 153C of the Income Tax Act are not eligible to disclose previously concealed income.
  • Cases where a search or survey has been conducted and the time for issuance of notice under the relevant provisions of the Act has not expired
  • Cases where information is received under an agreement with foreign countries regarding such income
  • Cases covered under the Black Money Act, 2015
  • Persons notified under Special Court Act, 1992,
  • Cases covered under Indian Penal Code, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

Issue

  • Experts believe this may prove a dampener for the scheme.This could be a dampener for the scheme as it would exclude potential disclosures from people who received notices seeking a regular explanation on the returns they had filed
  • Usually, many cases, especially of high net worth individuals, are picked up mechanically for scrutiny and notices are issued. Some notices are issued on the basis of returns filed by the taxpayer, and are not necessarily linked to undisclosed income.

New norms in schools for child safety – Delhi

  • From increasing the height of boundary walls to taking attendance of students twice a day, the Delhi government has asked all city schools to ensure their students do not bunk classes.
  • In a circular to heads of schools, it has also instructed them to take action against teachers whose students are found roaming outside schools after marking their attendance.
  • The move comes in the wake of the mysterious death of a six-year-old boy, Divyansh Kakrora, of Ryan International School, who was found dead in school’s water tank.
  • Making the teachers and school staff accountable for the absence of students, the government has asked principals and vice-principals to make frequent rounds of classrooms and school premises. “The heads must ensure that all teachers reach classes within two-three minutes of the ringing of bells. If a student is found absent from the class (after having been present in the assembly), his/her parents must be called to school promptly through written notice or phone calls.”
  • Taking it positively, some principals said the safety of students is schools’ responsibility.

Salt water for electricity

  • In a country where electricity is yet to reach millions and where dim kerosene lamps overlook the life of many in villages, researchers from Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) have developed an eco-friendly lamp that runs entirely on salt water.
  • The salt water-run battery is as powerful as four AA batteries, and can power an LED lamp for 1,500 hours (or a little more than two months) at a stretch.
  • The concept is one that most are familiar with in high school chemistry. Electricity can be produced when two electrodes (one that can readily give away its electrons, and another to accept them as easily) are dipped in an electrolyte.
  • Vasant Natarajan from the Physics Department of IISc. refined on this concept. A box (barely 6 cm in height, and around 11 cm in length) is made with four cells. A solution of 600 ml water and two tablespoons of salt is poured into the container and the lid, which contains a magnesium and graphite electrode, is closed. Tried and tested, the battery is now being manufactured by Suryagen Renewable Energy Ltd.
  • Salt water or seawater, which is nearly free, has to be replaced every 100 hours or so; while, after nearly 1,500 hours of use, the magnesium electrode has to be changed.
  • Currently, each electrode costs Rs. 50. It is this kind of conversion of simple technology, using renewable resources, that the fledgling company and the IISc. lab aim for.

New baggage limits may not be enough

  • The Baggage Rules 2016 raising the monetary value of items brought into the country by children from Rs.6,000 to Rs.17,500 (about $260) may not be enough even to buy toys from either the U.S. or Europe, as they risk crossing that limit.
  • In the Budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley proposed replacing the current Baggage Rules, 1998 with an updated Baggage Rules, 2016.
  • The Customs Baggage Rules for international passengers have been simplified so as to increase the free baggage allowance. The filing of baggage declaration will be required only for those passengers who carry dutiable goods
  • The new rules increased the limit of the value of the items ‘all passengers up to 10 years of age after a stay abroad of more than three days’ can bring back into the country to Rs.17,500 from the earlier limit of Rs. 6,000. Similarly, the limit for adults was raised to Rs. 45,000 from Rs. 25,000.

Why baggage rules?

  • The Baggage Rules are a legacy of India’s colonial past having been put in place by the British in 1939.
  • These rules were brought about to mainly to control foreign exchange. The first foreign exchange control act was enacted by the British in 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War. The British custom is that they make an act and it authorises the government to make detailed rules to enforce it. The Baggage Rules were a consequence of this.
  • They were aimed at stopping people from spending money abroad and selling foreign goods in India without paying the related duty
  • The rules should have been removed in the early 1990s when India removed its controls on foreign exchange
  • The baggage rules are not really implemented any more. But the rules themselves can only be removed if Customs Duty is removed as well. Removing the baggage rules while the Customs Duty was in place would encourage people to carry foreign goods into India duty-free and sell them.
  • The limits may be different but every country has them. There can be a debate on what that limit should be but the rules themselves are important. Possibly there is a need to enhance the limits in India

Special cell set up to gather data on subsidies of other nations 

  • The government has set up a special cell to compile information on subsidies given by other countries to their industry
  • The constitution of the special cell — as well as proposed measures including changes in laws such as Customs Act —is also aimed at indirectly helping India Inc file applications before the government seeking imposition of anti-subsidy duties on subsidised imports of items, such as steel, harming local industries.
  • The development comes in the backdrop of slowdown in global trade and measures taken (including against merchandise exports from India) by several countries such as the U.S. to protect their domestic industries from unfairly low-priced imports.
  • The move to create a special cell — with representatives from several ministries including commerce and finance — also comes at a time when the government is keen to boost local manufacturing through initiatives such as Make In India, Start-up India and Digital India.

Subsidies under WTO

  • Under the WTO norms, subsidies refer to financial contribution (loan, loan guarantee, grant, import duty exemption, equity infusion, fiscal incentives and purchase of goods) by the government or state agencies resulting in advantages to those players availing it. Action against subsidies is meant to level the playing field.

Tax concessions to help start-ups mobilise capital around the corner 

  • To help start-ups mobilise capital at affordable rates during the initial stages, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) will soon take up with the Finance Ministry a proposal to grant Capital Gains Tax (CGT) exemption for those investing their capital gains in regulated/notified Venture Capital (VC) and angel funds.
  • The budget had proposed CGT exemption for persons investing their capital gains only in regulated / notified Fund-of-Funds (FOF).

Fund-of-Funds (FOF)

  • FOFs, as per the DIPP’s Start-up Action Plan, are professionally managed funds that will not invest directly in start-ups, but contribute to the capital of VCs registered with capital markets regulator SEBI.
  • These VCs, in turn, provide the needed early stage funding for start-ups.

Capital Gains Tax

  • CGT is the tax-on-profit made by a person through sale of a capital asset (such as an investment or real-estate).

The issue

  • According to the Finance Ministry, the FOFs that would be notified for the purpose of CGT exemption would only be those either recognised or owned by the government, including the Small Industries Development Bank of India’s FOF and the CANBANK VC funds-managed ‘Electronic Development Fund’, that is supervised by the Electronics & IT Department to push the ‘Digital India’ initiative.
  • The Finance Ministry did not want VCs and angel funds to also be notified (as funds in which persons can reinvest their capital gains to avail CGT exemption), saying this could lead to misuse through ‘Related Party Transactions’ (RPT). RPTs are transactions such as sale / lease of property between the company and its related parties, including directors, key managerial personnel or their relatives.
  • DIPP would hold a meeting with the Finance Ministry to take up the issue of allowing SEBI-registered VCs and angel funds to also be ‘notified’ for the purpose of CGT exemption.

3rd round of  Sovereign Gold Bond scheme

  • The government announced that the application window for the third tranche of the Sovereign Gold Bond (SGB) scheme will be March 8-14 and the bonds issued on March 29.
  • The first tranche of the scheme, unveiled in November 2015, attracted 62,169 applications for 915.9 kg of gold worth Rs. 246.2 crore. This subdued performance prompted the government to tweak the scheme’s rules to make it easier to buy the bonds.
  • The second tranche, which opened in January 2016, met with greater success, attracting 3.16 lakh applications for 2,790 kg of gold worth Rs.726 crore.

SGB scheme

  • The government’s plan behind the SGB scheme is to encourage those who use gold as a store of value to instead invest in the gold bonds as opposed to the physical yellow metal itself.
  • The idea, among others, is to reduce India’s substantial gold imports, which were at $2.9 billion in January 2016, up 85 per cent over the same month of the previous year.
  • The Bonds will be sold through banks, Stock Holding Corporation of India Ltd. (SHCIL) and designated Post Offices
  • The bonds, issued by the Reserve Bank of India on behalf of the government, have a tenor of eight years with an exit option from the fifth year onwards.
  • The maximum quantity which can be subscribed is 500 grams per person per financial year and the interest rate on the bonds are set at 2.75 per cent per annum, payable on a half-yearly basis.

Excise duty on jewellery

  • In addition, jewellers across the country are on strike against Budget proposal to impose 1 per cent excise duty on jewellery.
  • The government on Friday clarified that the excise duty would be applicable only on jewellers having a turnover exceeding Rs.12 crore a year.
  • Even for this nominal 1 per cent excise duty, manufacturers are allowed to take credit of input services, which can be utilised for payment of duty on jewellery

SC makes protection of good Samaritans mandatory

  • The Supreme Court agreed to pass orders confirming a Central notification issuing a standard operating procedure (SOP), for the protection and examination of ‘good Samaritans’ — those who help road accident victims — and make it binding on all State governments and authorities.
  • The SOP was framed by the government on the orders passed by the Supreme Court on the basis of a PIL petition filed by the NGO, SaveLIFE, in 2012, highlighting that lives of more accident victims could be saved if a law could be made to protect good Samaritans from legal and procedural hassles at the hands of police and hospitals.
  • The Centre issued a series of guidelines on May 12, 2015 to protect good Samaritans. They included
  1. assurance of anonymity,in case the good Samaritan does not want to reveal his name or details
  2. protection from any civil or criminal liability for taking the victim to the nearest hospital, and
  3. even a suitable reward for the life-saving initiative.
  4. The government highlighted that bystanders or passers-by, who chose to help a person in distress on the road, should be “treated respectfully and without discrimination on the grounds of gender, religion, nationality, caste or any other.”
  5. use of video-conferencing in case of any further interaction with him by the authorities,
  6. provision for the police to examine him at his residence or office or any place of his convenience.
  • The government had also indicated that an SOP should be evolved in this regard.

Significance

  • Although notified by the Centre, most States were treating the guidelines as merely an advisory. But, now, non-compliance would be treated as contempt of court, making them and the standard operating procedures as good as law.
  • The SaveLIFE Foundation has welcomed the Supreme Court’s judgment making it binding on all States and Union Territories to implement the guidelines notified by the Centre protecting good Samaritans.
  • The guidelines will ensure that good Samaritans will not be scared to help people in distress.
  • It will undoubtedly help the Zero Fatality Corridor initiative taken up by Maharashtra- a pilot project to make the Mumbai-Pune Expressway a zero fatality corridor.The court’s endorsement of the notification, issued on January 21, 2016, by the Transport Ministry, is a boost to concerted efforts at changing the public’s tendency to turn away from a road accident victim.

Tobacco farmers protest against govt policies

  • Tobacco farmers on Friday protested against government policies and accused it of discrimination against tobacco growers by imposing punitive taxation and stringent regulations on tobacco products.
  • They demanded immediate government intervention against the directive on graphic health warnings issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on tobacco packaging. The directive mandates a revision in the size of the existing warning from covering 40 per cent of the front of the pack to 85 per cent of both sides of the pack from April 1, 2016.
  • They said the Indian tobacco industry, which is predominantly ‘make in India’, is being attacked with rules like 85 per cent graphic health warnings, which have no basis nor supported by data.
  • According to FAIFA tobacco farming provides livelihood to 45.7 million people comprising farmers, farm labour, workers and retailers in India. India is the second largest exporter of tobacco, earning Rs. 6000 crore.
  • Farmers fear that the larger graphic health warnings if implemented will further lead to increased growth of illegal and smuggled cigarettes in India.

Call drops – Telecos argue at SC

What do Telecom service providers say?

  • “100 per cent call-drop-free network” was impossible under the law of physics and they would have to pay hundreds of crores to subscribers every month.
  • The petition also said the telecom licences issued to the companies did not prescribe 100 per cent coverage.

What does TRAI say ?

  • Law making it mandatory to pay compensation for dropped calls,
  • The Telecom Consumers Protection (9th Amendment) Regulations, 2015, which was upheld by the Delhi High Court in February, was framed purely in the interest of the common man.

Issues involved in such a law

  • How strict liability could be imposed on service providers without a mechanism to certify whether a call was dropped or never got connected.
  • The plethora of reasons behind call drops, which range from entering no coverage zones such as a basement or lift when a conversation is on, to complex terrains, moving vehicles, the presence of huge waterbodies and even “landlords shutting off power supply”

Assembly elections- National impact

  • The announcement of the Assembly poll schedule has set the stage for some of the more dramatic confrontations in Indian politics.
  • For the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu and the Trinamool Congress in Bengal, it will be a battle to protect hard-won turf against other regional forces (the DMK) or the likely coming-together of national parties like the Congress and the Left Front.
  • Opinions by psephologist at the Centre for Policy Research –
  • The most obvious way of looking at the polls is through the prism of the ruling party at the Centre. The only State that the BJP has hopes of winning is Assam. If they do not win, they would have gone two years without a victory and it would create huge pressure to deliver in Uttar Pradesh in 2017.
  • The other way of looking at them is through the anti-incumbency pattern. In Tamil Nadu, will the alliance between the DMK, the Congress and possibly the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam be enough to maintain the pattern of alternation in government, or will the AIADMK break the pattern? In West Bengal, the point of interest will definitely be whether the likely understanding between the Congress and the Left will eat into Trinamool’s votes
  • Some hold anti-incumbency to be the most important factor.
  • These elections may not significantly alter the political position of the national parties but alliances will be important experiments for the future

Endangered Manipuri pony

  • The small but efficient Manipuri pony may soon be declared an endangered species like the brow-antlered deer. Both these animals are found only in Manipur.
  • In the livestock census conducted in 2012, the population of this pony was found to be 1,100 onlydownload

Vulnerability

  • Dwindling spaces of grazing grounds resulting from rapid urbanisation,
  • The semi-wild pony is not kept at home but let loose. Many of them are seen in the town streets, mostly eating hotel and house garbage stuffed in plastic bags. Polo players herd the ponies only at the time of tournaments.
  • As such, they are susceptible to deadly diseases and road accidents

Measures taken by state govt

  • The state government has drafted a comprehensive Manipur state pony policy
  • Seventy acres of land has been set aside at Heingang in Imphal east district for setting up a pony sanctuary. A proposal for the sanctuary that will cost Rs.78 crore has been sent to the central government.
  • But the local people have been objecting to the plan to convert paddy fields to a pony sanctuary and the government is yet to address the issue.
  • The Manipur government had sanctioned Rs. 2 crore some years ago for a pony farm at Tingkhai Khunnou in Senapati district.
  • Five veterinarians and other workers were posted there. However, officials said the farm was as good as closed down now.
  • Once the ponies become extinct the polo game, “which is Manipur’s gift to the world, will suffer.”

Dadasaheb phalke award for Manoj Kumar

  • Veteran Bollywood star Manoj Kumar, best known for his patriotic films Purab Aur Paschim, Upkar and Kranti , was chosen for the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke award, the highest official recognition in Indian cinema.
  • The 78-year-old actor became the 47th recipient of the award

Dadasaheb Phalke Award

  • The Dadasaheb Phalke Award is India’s highest award in cinema.
  • It is presented annually at the National Film Awards ceremony by the Directorate of Film Festivals, an organisation set up by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
  • The recipient is honoured for their “outstanding contribution to the growth and development of Indian cinema”and is selected by a committee consisting of eminent personalities from the Indian film industry.
  • As of 2014, the award comprises a Swarna Kamal (Golden Lotus) medallion, a shawl, and a cash prize of 1,000,000

SC decided to clean up the legal profession

  • The Supreme Court decided to set up a Constitution Bench to evolve a filtering mechanism to “once and for all” clean up the legal profession and prevent anti-social elements from becoming lawyers, who resort to “fighting, agitating, stone-throwing and abuse” instead of arguing in court.
  • A Bench, led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur, said it was time to raise the benchmark for the profession.
  • The move follows two consecutive incidents of mob violence in the Patiala House Courts complex and violence on February 17 happened in defiance of the Supreme Court’s order to maintain calm.

Constitution bench

  • Constitution bench is the name given to the benches of the Supreme Court of India which consist of at least five judges of the court which sit to decide any case “involving a substantial question of law as to the interpretation” of the Constitution of India.
  • This provision has been mandated by Article 145 (3) of the Constitution of India.
  • The Chief Justice of India has the power to constitute a Constitution Bench and refer cases to it

NDRF to be trained in livestock rescue

  • Animals were often the forgotten victims of natural disasters and it was commendable that National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) was now getting trained to rescue livestock as well.
  • However, prevention of loss of human lives has to be the top priority.
  • India is vulnerable to a large number of disasters. On an average, direct natural disaster losses amount up to 2 per cent of India’s GDP.
  • Around 94,830 cattle are lost per year on an average due to floods alone in India as per the National Disaster Management Authority’s [NDMA] Flood Guidelines
  • India is having not only the largest bovine population but also the second largest cattle population and the third largest sheep population in the world.
  • The government has announced Rs. 1600 crore for Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries in the budget for the year 2016-17 as against allocation of Rs. 1491 crore in the year 2015-16.

BSF detects tunnel on Indo-Pak. border

  • A 30-metre-long tunnel from Pakistan to the Indian side was detected by the Border Security Force (BSF) on the international border in the RS Pura sector of Jammu district.
  • This is the fourth tunnel unearthed by the BSF in the region since 2012.
  • It was found out during the regular clearing operations, done monthly.  Some activities across the border are being suspected. There were late night movements. People used to come late in night to the post across
  • The tunnel is approximately 10 feet below the ground.

Aim is to link Asia through Indian Railways

  • The government’s vision was to connect Asia through the Indian Railway network.
  • There is a vision and, we are working on it on how we can connect the whole continent [Asia] through railway. China has connected the Old Silk Road to other parts of Asia
  • There was a possibility of running tourist trains to connect other parts of Asia. Possibly, some tourist trains can be run to bring together the entire region as a hub. Freight movement can also happen in a seamless manner

Indian artist’s work opens The Met’s new venue

  • More than 150 works of Indian modernist Nasreen Mohamedi will be displayed at an exhibition at the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art this month with the help of Reliance Foundation, marking the first museum retrospective of the artist’s work in the U.S.
  • The exhibition is a celebration of Ms. Mohamedi’s work and examines the career of the artist, whose singular and sustained engagement with abstraction adds a rich layer to the history of South Asian art and to modernism on an international level, the museum said.
  • It is by far the most comprehensive exhibition of any Indian artist in the United States. With more than 150 works by Ms. Mohamedi on display, the exhibition brings to an international audience more than three decades of her work, comprising her oil paintings, collages, drawings in ink and graphite, watercolours and photographs. The exhibition will be held at The Met Breuer, the new location for The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s contemporary art programme, opening to the public on March 18.
  • Mohamedi rarely theorised or spoke about her work but documented her internal dialogue in a form of soliloquy, in tiny personal diaries and notebooks, some of which will be on display in the exhibition. The exhibition explores the conceptual complexity and visual subtlety that made her practice unique in its time
  • The museum’s mandate is also focused on artists whose practice is yet to receive desiring attention and critical acclaim. We believe that their stories need to be told.
  • Ms. Mohamedi was born in 1937 in Karachi and her family moved to Bombay in 1944.

Aadhaar Bill

  • Finance Minister Arun Jaitley introduced the Aadhaar Bill, 2016, in the Lok Sabha.

 Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016 

  • The Bill provides statutory backing to Aadhaar, the unique identity number through which the government plans to target delivery of subsidy benefits and services.
  • The expenditure for the nationwide Aadhaar exercise is incurred from the Consolidated Fund of India.
  • It seeks to make the use of Aadhaar mandatory for availing of government subsidies but at the same time tries to address concerns regarding privacy and protection of personal information.
  • The bill has sought to address many provisions related to privacy and security of the biometric information provided by citizens. The bill provides that the information will be an electronic record and will be classified as “sensitive personal data or information” as per the provisions of the Information Technology Act.
  • The Bill provides for the establishing of the Unified Identification Authority of India (UIDAI)
  • The Bill also provides for the establishment, operation and maintenance of the Central Identity Data Repository.
  • The Authority shall ensure the security, confidentiality and protection of identity information and authentication records of individuals in its possession or control, including the information stored in the repository, according to the Bill. These include biometric information collected, created and stored in electronic form.
  • Under the provisions of the Bill, the Aadhaar number cannot confer right of or proof of citizenship of domicile.
  • The bill prohibits the sharing of the core biometric information in any form. However, information about the identity of an individual, other than core biometric information, can be shared subject to certain conditions.
  • The bill also mandates the enrolling agency to inform the individual undergoing enrolment on how the data will be used and with whom it will be shared and the fact that the individual can also access such information.
  • The first reactions to the bill from legal experts were largely welcoming.
  • The bill also provides provisions wherein institutions, after paying a fee, can authenticate the identity of a person. But for this, the institution should have the consent of the Aadhaar number holder.
  • It directs UIDAI to have sufficient security of identity information and authentication record of individuals. It also directs UIDAI to ensure that agencies, consultants and its employees are bound by confidentiality and do not leak any information.
  • To ensure that the number of people excluded from Aadhaar’s fold is minimum, the bill also talks about special measures that will be undertaken by the Authority to issue numbers to women, nomadic tribes, street dwellers, senior citizens, persons with disability and unskilled and unorganized workers. It also says the Aadhaar number by itself will not be considered proof of citizenship or domicile.
  • It also provides for penalties for impersonation, unauthorized access and tampering of data in the Central Identities data repository that stores all such information.
  • To be sure, the government has retained the right to use and access such information sought “in the interest of national security.”
  • An estimated expenditure of Rs. 13,663.22 crore has been approved for implementing the Aadhaar scheme up to the financial year 2016-17
  • It was introduced as a money Bill, which can only be introduced in the Lok Sabha and to which the Rajya Sabha — where the NDA government does not enjoy a majority — cannot make amendments. The Upper House can only make recommendations to money Bills and must return such legislation to the Lok Sabha within 14 days from the date of their receipt, thus ensuring a time-bound process.

Significance

  • The government expects to address, through the proposed legislation, concerns that have been raised on the mandatory use of Aadhaar in government schemes.
  • Most of the government’s social security schemes and digital initiatives are critically dependent on the use of Aadhaar. This unique identity number will also form the cornerstone of India’s move towards a cashless economy along with the opening of bank accounts as part of the Jan Dhan scheme.
  • The Supreme Court has restricted the use of the Aadhaar number until a Constitution Bench delivers its verdict on a number of cases concerning privacy and other issues.The proposed legislation will also address the uncertainty surrounding the project after the Supreme Court restricted the use of the Aadhaar number until a constitution bench delivers its verdict on a number of cases challenging the mandatory use of Aadhaar in government schemes and rules on the issue of privacy violation.
  • Violation of privacy and protection of biometric data has been one of the main criticisms of Aadhaar, which has enrolled almost a billion citizens in the unique identity scheme. This bill tries to address the concern
  • From an overall perspective, this statute has the strongest privacy protection. It has extensive provisions regarding purpose limitation, which is the cornerstone of modern privacy jurisprudence.
  • The other takeaway is the extremely powerful provisions regarding collection of biometric information. No one can reveal core biometric information to anybody from the central database, even the Aadhaar number holder. There is an absolute obligation to protect confidentiality.

Issues

  • For the Bill being introduced as a money Bill
  • If the Bill can be referred to the standing committee on finance? (Money Bills cannot be referred to a joint committee of Parliament.)
  • There should have been some special provision making the officials of the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) more responsible so that no data is leaked by them

Carriage by Air (Amendment) Bill, 2015

  • The ‘Carriage by Air (Amendment) Bill, 2015‘, has been passed by the Upper House with changes. It was cleared by the Lok Sabha in December 2015.
  • The Bill amends the Carriage by Air Act, 1972. The Act regulates carriage by air and gives effect to the Warsaw Convention, 1929, the Warsaw Convention as amended by the Hague Protocol, 1955, and the Montreal Convention, 1999.
  • The Act also provides for application of the international rules to domestic travel, subject to exceptions and adaptations.

Implications:

  • This bill would enhance compensation for air travellers in case of death, injury, lost baggage or even inordinate delay in flights.
  • Once the legislation is implemented, Indian airlines would be required to pay compensation amount that is equivalent to the rates paid by their global counterparts.
  • The legislation would allow the government to revise the liability limits of airlines in line with the Montreal Convention, which was acceded to by India in May 2009.

Montreal Convention:

  • The Montreal Convention establishes airline liability in the case of death, injury or delay to passengers or in cases of delay, damage or loss of baggage and cargo.
  • The Convention also provides for reviewing the limits of liability of the air carriers every five years.
  • India acceded to the Montreal Convention in May 2009.

Govt. nod for UDAY bonds

  • The Finance Ministry has approved the issuance of Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) bonds by four states
  • They are Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh,” Mr Goyal told reporters on Wednesday.
  • State governments can take over 75 per cent of discom debt and pay back lenders by issuing bonds. The scheme provides for the remaining 25 per cent of the debt to be paid back through discom-issued bonds.
  • Total discom debt in the country amounts to Rs.4.3 lakh crore.
  • Further Manipur and Tripura have agreed to join UDAY, he said. This takes the total number of states that have agreed to join UDAY to 16. So far, six states have signed the UDAY contract.
  • For more details on UDAY scheme click here Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) 

Centre not for special status to Goa: Cong. MP

  • The Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju has said that the matter of granting of special provisions to the State of Goa under Article 371 of the Constitution was “examined and was not considered feasible.”
  • In May 2013, the then Chief Minister of Goa had requested granting of special status to the State, on the lines of special status granted to Mizoram, Himachal Pradesh and Uttranchal under Article 371 of the Constitution, for regulating ownership and transfer of land in order to ensure that the States preserve their unique identity.

Huge budget cut for ICDS

  • For the second year in a row, the Modi government has reduced fund available to child health interventions, with a massive cut — from Rs. 15,483.77 crore last year to Rs. 14,000 crore in the latest budget.
  • The National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4 data for 15 States shows that 37 per cent of children under the age of five are stunted; 22 per cent are wasted while 34 per cent under the age of 5 are under weight.
  • The Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) has seen a 7 per cent reduction in fund. The Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) implemented by the Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry, is the country’s flagship intervention to improve child nutrition in the country.
  • Its the largest programme in the world for children and the ICDS is fundamental to marginalised children in India
  • The percentage share of the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) scheme in the total Union Budget allocation has gone down from 0.74 per cent in 2014-15 (BE) to 0.49 per cent in 2016-17 (BE). The allocation for the MDM scheme for 2016-17 stands at Rs. 9,700 crore (2016-17 BE).
  • The budget comes a week after the Economic Survey states that India needed to increase investments on child nutrition programmes if it were to capitalise on the demographic advantage offered by its young population.
  • The total amount spend on child health by the government would be Rs. 65,758 crore. Over the last two years, allocations for ICDS has seen a sharp decrease, maintain experts.
  • For further info on ICDS click here ICDS scheme

High Court takes exception to slogans

  • “India is a living example of unity in diversity. Freedom of expression enjoyed by every citizen can be subjected to reasonable restrictions under Article 19 (2) of the Constitution. The feelings or protest reflected in the slogans need introspection by the student community,” stated the 23-page order of the Delhi High Court Bench pronounced
  • While the Delhi Police, which vehemently opposed JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar’s bail plea, had tried to connect him with the raising of “anti-India slogans” during the February 9 event, his counsel and senior advocate Kapil Sibal claimed that the slogans on the university campus were raised by some other people who had their faces covered.
  • The court took strong exception to the raising of slogans by the students holding posters of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat, saying they enjoyed freedom “in the comfort of university campus” without realising that soldiers were defending the nation’s boundaries at the highest altitude of the world in the harshest weather.
  • The kind of slogans raised may have a demoralising effect on the families of those martyrs, said the court.

Modi to launch road project

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi will launch the Rs. 10,200-crore Setu Bharatam project that aims to make all national highways free of railway crossings by 2019
  • The Union Road, Transport and Highways Ministry plans to develop road overbridges and underpasses at unmanned railway crossings.
  • Under the project, 208 road overbridges and underpasses would be built in the first phase and the tender for 65 bridges was already out

 Maharashtra ranks among top 5 in domestic tourism

  • With a good mix of scenic places, architectural monuments, wildlife sanctuaries and religious places, Maharashtra ranks among the top five States in domestic tourism.
  • The State saw 94.1 million domestic travellers in 2014, as
  • per the Economic Survey of India 2015-2016. However, in terms of figures, it is way behind Tamil Nadu (327.6 million), Uttar Pradesh (182.8 million) and Karnataka (118.3 million).
  • A number of places from Mumbai made it to the top ten destinations for domestic as well as foreign travellers, namely Gateway of India, Elephanta Caves, Mahalakshmi temple, Juhu Chowpatty, Marine Drive and Haji Ali. Destinations such as Shirdi, Ellora, Tadoba Tiger project, Mahalakshmi Temple in Kolhapur, the hill stations of Lonavala and Khandala were also popular among Indian travellers.
  • The Gateway of India attracted a total of 16 lakh domestic tourists in the peak seasons of October and November 2014 and May 2015.

Alappuzha backwaters to get India’s first solar ferry

  • A 75-seater solar-powered passenger ferry, the first of its kind in the country, is quietly taking shape at Aroor in Alappuzha district. The boat is expected to be commissioned within the next three months.
  • The 20 metre long, 7 metre wide boat, with a maximum cruising speed of 7.5 knots, is to be deployed in the backwaters of Alappuzha by the Kerala State Water Transport Department (KSWTD).
  • The Rs.1.7-crore boat will make no noise or cause any pollution, unlike the diesel powered ones. It may work out to be a cheaper option too.
  • An ordinary boat, made of steel and with a carrying capacity of 75 passengers, may cost around Rs.1.9 crore.
  • The cost of diesel fuel for operating it will be around Rs. 25 lakh. But the solar powered boat, obviously, will cost nothing to operate for most part

CCTVs only at entrance of dance bars, says Supreme Court

  • Trimming the Maharashtra government’s newfound enthusiasm to keep a close watch on bar dance performances, the Supreme Court modified its endeavour to have CCTV cameras trained on dance floors beaming live feed to the local police control room.
  • A Bench led by Justice Dipak Misra, which said “dance is an art,” gave the Maharashtra government no room to manoeuvre in its order which plainly said “the authorities shall act in accordance with the command of this Court and not venture to deviate.”
  • The Bench ordered that CCTV cameras shall be fixed at the entrance of the premises and not in the restaurant or the permit area or the performance area.
  • Instead of a non-transparent partition as wanted by the State, the Supreme Court agreed with the suggestion of the bar owners for a three-foot high railing between dancers and the audience.
  • The government had restricted the number of dancers to four, but the court modified this to say that while four dancers can perform on the stage at one time, there can be other artists in the premises.
  • The court however said it is “imperative” that the antecedents of employees be verified.
  • It said the premises of the establishment cannot be altered without the permission of the competent authority. In case of any grievance in this regard, the Bench allowed bar owners to directly approach the Supreme Court.
  • It agreed with the suggestion of the bar owners to have a green room, provided the space is used in the manner in which it is understood in the “classical sense”.
  • The Bench ordered the modified conditions to be complied within three days. Licences should be issued within ten days after compliance.

T.N. makes another bid to free convicts

In yet another bid to release the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the Tamil Nadu government wrote to the Centre, seeking its views on its decision to free them.

  • The State government decided to remit the life sentences of all the seven and release them as they had already served over 24 years in prison. Under Section 435 of the Cr.PC, the State has to consult the Centre before releasing prisoners prosecuted by the CBI or under a Central law.
  • In December last year, the Supreme Court had ruled that the State government had no power to release the Rajiv Gandhi case convicts without the Centre’s concurrence.
  • In his letter, the Chief Secretary said the communication to the Centre was being sent without prejudice to the State’s right to seek a review of the December 2, 2015, judgment, wherein the Constitution Bench had said the word ‘consultation’ used in Section 435 meant ‘concurrence.’
  • The seven convicts are A.G. Perarivalan, V. Sriharan alias Murugan, T. Suthendraraja alias Santhan (all three whose death sentences were commuted by the Supreme Court in 2014 owing to the delay in the disposal of their mercy petitions), Nalini (whose death sentence was commuted to life by the State government in 2000), Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran, who are serving life terms.

Casual workers too covered by ESI

  • In a decision giving a wide interpretation to the term ‘employee’, the Supreme Court held that welfare schemes for social security and health insurance assured under the Employees State Insurance Act were available even to casual workers.
  • The apex court observed that the 1948 Act was a welfare legislation with a “very wide” and inclusive definition for the term “employee.”
  • “A person who is employed for wages in the factory or establishment on any work of, or incidental or preliminary to or connected with the work is covered. The definition brings various types of employees within its ken. The Act is a welfare legislation and is required to be interpreted so as to ensure extension of benefits to the employees and not to deprive them of the same which are available under the Act,” the Supreme Court held.
  • This judgment is a sequel to an earlier verdict on the Royal Western India Turf Club Ltd on July 31, 2014 by the Supreme Court. In that, the apex court had held that the turf club would fall within the meaning of the word ‘shop’ as mentioned in the notification issued under the ESI Act.
  • The court held the club liable to pay the ESI contribution in the next three months as per notification dated September 18, 1978 along with interest at such rate as provided in the Act and the rules.

RBI unlocks additional Rs. 40,000 cr. to banks

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) revised norms on capital recognition, making available an additional Rs.40,000 crore to Indian banks.

Details

  • The RBI has made some amendments to the treatment of certain balance sheet items for the purposes of determining banks’ regulatory capital
  • The review was carried out with a view to further aligning the definition of regulatory capital with the internationally adopted Basel III capital standards.
  • The revisions introduced include recognition of revaluation reserves arising from change in the carrying amount of a bank’s property consequent upon its revaluation as common equity tier—I capital instead of the earlier tier 2 capital
  • These would continue to be reckoned at a discount of 55 per cent.
  • The move will unlock Rs 35,000 crore capital for public sector banks and Rs 5,000 crore for private sector banks
  • Banks can recognise foreign currency reserves arising due to translation of financial statements of foreign operations to the reporting currency as common equity tier-I (CET1) capital.
  • Deferred tax assets arising due to timing differences may be recognised as CET1 capital up to 10 per cent of a bank’s CET1 capital

Significance

  • The move comes at a time when public sector banks are facing pressure on their profitability due to a sharp rise in non-performing assets, which is eroding their capital base. Many public sector banks reported huge losses for the quarter ended December 2015 after the RBI asked lenders to identify several accounts as non-performing. Banks are expected to post weak earnings in the current quarter too.
  • The announcement is a big relief for, mainly, public sector banks, after finance minister Arun Jaitley announced in his budget speech a capital infusion of Rs. 25,000 crore for the fiscal year starting in April. The minister did not make any increases to the capital infusion amount that was decided in August 2015.

Water crisis in Delhi 

  • The Munak Canal in Haryana’s Mundela village, which brings 80 million gallons per day of water to Delhi, became a target of Jats protesting for reservation in Haryana last week. First, a mob blocked the gates of the canal at Mundela, then they closed gates 35km upstream at Khubdu, and finally they damaged the canal at Mundela on February 21.
  • The 102-km canal is actually two parallel canals – a carrier-lined channel (CLC) and the Delhi Sub-Branch or Western Yamuna Canal.
  • There is a 200-feet-long breach in the CLC that will take at least 15 days to repair. Haryana has diverted water to the Delhi Sub-Branch canal, but its capacity is 350 cusecs as opposed to the CLC’s 720 cusecs. Till the CLC is repaired, large parts of Delhi, especially Dwarka, will face a shortage.
  • If that wasn’t bad enough, the water being released by Haryana through the Yamuna river, which accounts for about half of Delhi’s supply, has become so polluted that it can’t be used. Water treatment plants have been forced to close three times in a week because of high ammonia levels
  • With taps in lakhs of households going dry, the crisis has once again reminded Delhiites that the Capital is at the mercy of others – Haryana – for its basic drinking water needs.

– A case for promoting co-operative federalism

  • The recent water crisis in the Capital has revealed that Delhi remains unprepared if trouble brews in the neighbouring States, like the Jat agitation in Haryana
  • Right now, the agitation was only in Haryana. The consequences could be dire if it spread to UP. Delhi gets 240 MGD of water from the Murad Nagar drain in U.P,” said Mr. Mishra.
  • Delhi had come up with ambitious plans of setting up three dams in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, but the projects have been held up due to environmental concerns and disputes between governments.
  • The Renuka Dam in Himachal Pradesh was proposed about 17 years ago, and was supposed to add 275 MGD to Delhi’s water supply. But, the future of the project is up in the air as the Centre and the Himachal Pradesh Government have disagreements over mandatory clearances and compensation.
  • The other two projects — at Lakhwar-Vyasi in Uttarakhand and at Kishau on the Uttarakhand-Himachal Pradesh border — have also been pending for years.

– A case for environmental conservation and urban planning

  • It may be too late to do anything about the current water crisis now, but Delhi can prevent a repeat by reviving its neglected lakes, strictly implementing rainwater harvesting and recycling water.
  • Environmentalists say that the water shortage currently being faced by the Capital could have been prevented, or at least reduced in intensity, had the government acted earlier. In 1998 that 200 million gallons per day (MGD) of water could be saved in the floodplains around Delhi. But the government did not act then. They allowed construction in the floodplains. .
  • If reservoirs are made along the floodplains, they can be used to store the heavy flows in the Yamuna in the monsoon season. About 35 MGD can be added to Delhi’s supply, which on an average is 890 MGD.
  • Delhi must ensure that it takes its share of Yamuna water through the river, not the canal. The river cannot be damaged, like the Munak Canal has been
  • Apart from that, off-rover reservoirs to store water. These should be used to store Delhi’s own share of water during the monsoon. The areas can be developed as recreational hubs, and the water can be used in emergencies
  • Delhi also had about 800 natural water bodies that have been forgotten over the years. The water bodies should be revived naturally, without any concretisation, so that the water holding area as well as the catchment is secured.
  • In addition, there are 201 natural drains that can be revived in order to recharge groundwater.
  • One of the biggest flaws in Delhi’s water management has been the lax implementation of the rainwater harvesting guidelines in place since 2000.There is no agency seriously implementing the rules. The municipal corporations are supposed to check as rainwater harvesting is mandatory in the building bye-laws don’t bother and the State government doesn’t have the machinery to enforce the rules

Justice Dattu takes over as Human Rights Commission chairman

  • Former Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu took over as the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission here on Monday, becoming the seventh head of the highest government institution protecting human rights of the citizens. Justice Dattu served as the Chief Justice of India from September 28, 2014 to December 2, 2015