National issues-June

 

Centre buffing package for leather sector to boost jobs

  • The Centre is planning a special package, incorporating labour reforms, subsidies and duty incentives, for the leather sector to boost investment, jobs and exports.

The sector

  • India accounts for about 10 per cent of the world’s leather production, and is the world’s second largest producer of leather garments and footwear.
  • About 2.5 million people are employed in the $12 billion leather industry. The sector, like textiles, predominantly employs women.
  • To increase productivity, the leather sector package may include labour reforms similar to those introduced in the textiles package.
  • Foreign investors in India include Feng Tay Shoes and Apache Group (both from Taiwan) and Itares (Italy).
  • Despite advantages of low cost of labour and production, India faces major competition in overseas markets from countries such as China.
  • The Indian Leather Development Programme ILDP, introduced in January 2014, was aimed at “augmenting raw material base through modernisation and technology upgradation of leather units, addressing environmental concerns, human resource development, supporting traditional leather artisans, addressing infrastructure constraints and establishing institutional facilities.” The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) is the nodal agency for the Indian Leather Development Programme (ILDP). ILDP is a Union cabinet-approved scheme, any changes to it would need a Cabinet nod. Current ILDP scheme would be in place till March-end 2017 and any changes to ILDP or a new package is likely to be implemented only in the next fiscal.

The package may include

  • Duty Free Import Scheme (DFIS)- Under DFIS, a manufacturer-exporter or a merchant exporter having a tie-up with a supporting manufacturer is currently allowed duty-free import of inputs up to three per cent of the value of exports realised in the previous year. In the new package, this may be raised to five per cent
  • Currently, ILDP provides up to 30 per cent subsidy on the cost of plant and machinery for micro and small enterprises and 20 per cent subsidy to other units. The subsidy has a ceiling of Rs.2 crore for each product line. In the new package, this ceiling could either be done away with or enhanced. The (present) package had made sense at a time when the sector mainly catering to clients from Europe from where orders were in small quantities. Now, there is huge interest from buyers in America and they want to give large orders, for which the sector needs larger factories with more machinery like in China to increase output. So, it will be good if the government removes the Rs.2 crore ceiling.
  • The package may include higher subsidy for setting up of mega leather clusters to create world-class infrastructure, and for upgradation or installation of Common Effluent Treatment Plants.

Private firms can now bid for mine permits

  • The Cabinet approved the National Mineral Exploration Policy setting the stage for auctioning exploration permits to private sector players on a revenue-sharing basis starting with 100 identified mineral blocks over the next six months

Background:

  • The Ministry of Mines has, in the recent past, taken a series of measures for the growth of the mineral sector, including allowing 100% FDI.
  • However, these initiatives have fetched only limited success. Further, over the years the dynamics of the mineral sector have undergone sea change thereby creating new demands and imperatives. There is a compelling need to provide an impetus to exploration activity in the country.
  • This has prompted the Government to carry out a comprehensive review of its exploration policy and strategy. The amendments brought in to the MMDR Act in 2015 is a step in this direction.
  • The most important feature of this amendment is that mining leases (ML) and prospecting license-cum-mining lease (PL-cum-ML) will be granted only through an auction process. This is expected to bring in transparency, expeditiousness and simplification in procedures in grant of mineral concessions.
  • Against this background, the NMEP has been framed so as to provide a new set of objectives, sense of purpose and direction to exploration within the amended legal framework.

NMEP has the following main features for facilitating exploration in the country:-

  1. The Ministry of Mines will carry out auctioning of identified exploration blocks for exploration by private sector on revenue sharing basis in case their exploration leads to auctionable resources. The revenue will be borne by the successful bidder of those auctionable blocks.
  2. If the explorer agencies do not discover any auctionable resources, their exploration expenditure will be reimbursed on normative cost basis.
  3. Creation of baseline geoscientific data as a public good for open dissemination free of charge.
  4. Government will carry out a National Aerogeophysical Program for acquiring state-of-the-art baseline data for targeting concealed mineral deposits.
  5. A National Geoscientific Data Repository is proposed to be set up to collate all baseline and mineral exploration information generated by various central & state government agencies and also mineral concession holders and to maintain these on geospatial database.
  6. Government proposes to establish a not-for-profit autonomous institution that will be known as the National Centre for Mineral Targeting (NCMT) in collaboration with scientific and research bodies, universities and industry for scientific and technological research to address the mineral exploration challenges in the country.
  7. Provisions for inviting private investment in exploration through attractive revenue sharing models.
  8. On the lines of UNCOVER project of Australia, the government intends to launch a special initiative to probe deep-seated/ concealed minerals deposits in the country in collaboration with National Geophysical Research Institute and the proposed NCMT and Geoscience Australia.

The major impact of NMEP are:-

1) The pre-competitive baseline geoscientific data will be created as a public good and will be fully available for open dissemination free of charge. This is expected to benefit public and private exploration agencies.

2) The collaboration with scientific and research bodies, universities and industry for the scientific and technological development necessary for exploration in public- private partnership.

3) Government will launch a special initiative to probe deep-seated/concealed mineral deposits in the country. Characterizing India’s geological cover, investigating India’s lithospheric architecture, resolving 4D geodynamic and metallogenic evolution, and detecting and characterizing the distal footprints of ore deposits, would be the main components of this initiative.

4) A National Aerogeophysical Mapping program will be launched to map the entire country with low altitude and close space flight to delineate the deep-seated and concealed mineral deposits.

5) Government will engage private agencies for carrying out exploration in identified blocks / areas with the right to certain share in the revenue accruing to the State government through auction.

6) Public expenditure on regional and detailed exploration will be prioritized and subject to periodical review based on assessment of criticality and strategic interests.

New planning strategy under niti aayog

  • Niti Aayog’s Governing Council that includes leaders of all states and union territories and chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is likely to meet next month
  • Planning process-
    • The Centre will iscuss with state chief ministers its strategy to shift from the five-year plan approach to a new system
    • The new system  would consist of an overarching 15-year vision document supplemented by a seven-year strategy and three-year action plans
    • The 15-year vision document to be prepared by the Aayog will also cover internal security and defence that have traditionally not been part of the planning process.
    • The Aayog is expected to table an appraisal of the XIIth Five Year Plan at the meeting
    • The practice of five-year plans, being followed for over six decades, will end after the ongoing XIIth Plan that concludes in 2016-17.
  • Besides the new planning process, the Council is also expected to discuss the model law on land leasing developed by the Aayog as an alternative to the more contentious reforms in the land acquisition law that the Centre has now put on the backburner.
  • Agriculture– The target enunciated by the Centre to double agricultural incomes in five years is also likely to come up for discussion. The Prime Minister had in February this year urged all state governments to give priority to boosting the agriculture sector with a target of doubling the income of farmers by 2022. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s Budget also made a commitment to doubling farm incomes over the next five years.
  • The Council is also likely to review the action taken on the three reports submitted by groups of chief ministers – on Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, Skill Development and rationalization of centrally-sponsored schemes.
  • Niti Aayog is expected to make presentations on the new programmes unveiled over the past few months such as the Atal Innovation Mission and Start up India.

Cabinet clears 23.5% hike in pay for Central govt. staff

  • The government announced an overall increase of 23.5 per cent for over one crore government employees and pensioners in line with the Seventh Pay Commission’s recommendations
  • The hikes will come with the August paychecks and be paid with effect from January 1, 2016.
  • In November 2015, within the overall hike of 23.55-per cent, the pay panel had recommended increases of 16% in pay and 24 per cent in pensions. The starting salary for new recruits at the lowest level has been raised to Rs. 18,000 from Rs. 7,000 per month. Freshly recruited Class I officers will receive Rs. 56,100.
  • This reflects a compression ratio of 1:3.12 signifying that the pay of a Class I officer on direct recruitment will be three times the pay of an entrant at the lowest level.
  • The approved maximum pay, drawn by the Cabinet Secretary, is Rs. 2.5 lakh per month (against the current Rs. 90,000), higher than the salaries drawn by MPs.
  • The fifth and sixth pay commissions had narrowed the gap between salaries paid in the private and government sector. The seventh has moved further in the same direction.
  • An IIM Ahmedabad study has found that pay in the government sector is distinctly greater than that in the private sector so there can’t be protests from employees
  • To examine the concerns employees have raised, the Union Cabinet decided to set up four committees:
    • One will look into the implementation issues anticipated and
    • the second one will go into the likely anomalies.
    • Another one will further examine the recommendations on allowances, which have largely been kept on hold. In a rationalisation exercise, the Commission suggested abolishing 51 and subsuming of 37 of the existing 196 allowances.
    • The fourth will suggest measures for streamlining the National Pension System.

Ministries can approve up to Rs. 500 cr. of non-Plan spending

  • Earlier, Plan projects needed the approval of the Planning Commission and the Finance Ministry, which created two bottlenecks. Then, with NITI Aayog, this was removed. The new changes have now extended this independence to non-plan projects as well.
  • The spending autonomy of Ministries has gone up
    • The threshold of non-Plan project expenditure that can be approved by them raised from Rs. 150 crore to Rs. 500 crore
    • The Finance Ministry’s nod will be needed for expenditure between Rs. 500 crore and Rs. 1,000 crore,
    • beyond which Cabinet approval would be required.
  • According to the revised guidelines, the Committee on Non-Plan Expenditure, an appraisal forum for all non-Plan proposals of the Centre, will now appraise proposals involving expenditure of Rs. 300 crore and above, the earlier limit being Rs. 75 crore. The appraisal of non-Plan projects of less than Rs. 300 crore can now be done by the relevant Ministry.
  • The independence given to the ministries in this regard means that projects that have been budgeted or committed to will not need to be delayed by a long formal approval process. This is expected to expedite the appraisal and approval process in the Central government Ministries/ departments.
  • Revised estimates
    • The government has also altered the rules with regard to the approval of revised cost estimated of projects.
    • Increase in cost up to 20 per cent of the firmed up cost estimates can now be appraised by the financial adviser
    • It needs to be approved by the Secretary of the administrative department, if the absolute cost escalation is up to Rs.75 crore, and by the administrative Minister-in-charge if absolute cost escalation is above this

Median marriage age up: Census data

  • New Census data released by the government shows that the median age at the time of marriage has increased across categories of people and genders, a trend that experts say will continue due to the socio-economic changes taking place in the country.
  • The data, released by the Registrar-General and Census Commissioner, show that the median age for men increased to 23.5 at the time of the 2011 Census, from 22.6 as per the 2001 figures. These numbers were 19.2 years and 18.2 years for women in the respective years.
  • The reason for the upswing is the increasingly mobile and migratory nature of work in the country
  • These workers are not in the traditional social set-up as they were. For example, look at Madhubani district in Bihar, which is only about six per cent urban. About 75 per cent of the households had a migrant worker. Even in the most backward areas, families are not fully rural.
  • This migrant population has different priorities which have an effect on the ages the people get married at.
  • The absolute stability of a completely rural lifestyle has given way.
  • However, migration is only part of the explanation since the increase in the age at the time of marriage was seen among marginal workers and non-workers as well. The median age for marginal workers increased from 21.8 to 22.5 for men and from 17.6 to 18.7 for women. For non-workers, the age at the time of marriage increased from 22.8 to 23.5 for men and from 18.5 to 19.4 for women.
  • The other reason for the change could be higher levels of school enrolment. School enrolment is about 90 per cent everywhere, across most castes. It is 80 per cent-plus for Dalits. People are sending their children to school, which also has an effect on the age of marriage

CSIR lab to certify coal used in power plants

  • The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research(CSIR) has signed an annual Rs. 250-crore deal with several state-run coal and thermal power companies to certify the quality of the coal being supplied and used in their facilities.
  • The certification will help power plants use coal appropriate to the machinery and technology available in the plant and contribute to efficient use and, in the long run, reduce emissions
  • The grading is expected to be finer and more reliable than that done by other organisations

CSIR

CSIR

Parched Panchayati Raj Ministry on verge of closure

  • After facing a massive budget cut last year, the future of the Panchayati Raj Ministry continues to look bleak.
  • After the government shuttered two of its key programmes — the Backward Regions Grants Fund (BRGF) and the Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Sashaktikaran Abhiyan (RGPSA) — it would soon be closed down and turned into a department under the Ministry of Rural Development.
  • Last year’s budget cut, from Rs. 7,000 crores to Rs. 96 crores, left such an impact on the Ministry that it lost confidence in empowering panchayats nationwide.
  • After the budget sequestration some elements of RGPSA were retained after being renamed Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Abhiyan (RGSA). This year, Finance Minister allotted Rs. 655 crores to RGSA.

New weapon against cyber threat

  • Maharashtra has taken the first steps towards creating its version of the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) to ward off external cyber threats.
  • Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, heading a high-power committee on cyber security, appointed a consortium of M/s C-DAC (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing) and Railtel Corporation of India to set up a CERT.
  • C-DAC is likely to use the same technical assistance as that of GARUDA, India’s national grid computing initiative, and GIST (Graphics and Intelligence Based Script Technology).
  • Railtel meanwhile, has expertise in working out a complex multimedia network based on broadband. It has already put in place a network using modern transmission systems and high-end routers created for the Railways’s seamless right-of-way along 63,000 km tracks across 7,000 stations.
  • The state CERT will also work in coordination with the RBI to counter phishing websites. While banks will have authentication mechanisms in place, the CERT will work to mitigate further risks.

Start-up, telecom officials spar over cloud telephony service

  • Knowlarity, a cloud telephony start-up backed by Sequoia and Mayfield Fund, is fighting an order by India’s telecommunications department that has directed telecom operators to stop the services of the  firm.
  • The company offers a technology to replace expensive communication hardware system with an affordable cloud-based telephony solution for small and large businesses.
  • The start-up approached the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) for redressal. The telecom department officials had told the company that it cannot run some of the features of their service like ‘call-forwarding.’
  • The current licences available from the Department of Telecommunications do not cover such a service.
  • The issues are regarding the legality of the company’s features such as virtual number, click-to-call and SuperReceptionist kind of solutions that use call-forwarding.

Cloud telephony

  • What, exactly, is it?
    Cloud telephony or VoIP stands for voice over Internet protocol.
  • In laymen’s terms, this means placing and receiving telephone calls that travel over the Internet — instead of through the landlines and satellites that normal service providers have constructed.
  • When you use Skype to make a call to someone’s phone, that’s an example on VoIP.
  • Because these companies are able to store your data — like contacts and/or messages — remotely, they’re a type of cloud play on telephony.

Appointment letters to be made mandatory soon

  • The Centre will soon make it mandatory for companies with more than ten workers to give appointment letters to employees at the time of joining — a move that would benefit millions of workers in the informal sector.
  • A proposal to make appointment letters mandatory is part of the draft labour code on working conditions finalised by the Union Labour and Employment Ministry.
  • Companies in the manufacturing, construction, plantation, mining and a few other sectors will have to issue a letter of appointment within days of hiring, even if this involves contractual or migrant short-term workers.
  • Only a handful of labour laws such as the Sales Promotion Employees (Conditions of Service) Act, 1976 specifically mention about the need to issue an appointment letter.

Significance

  • An absence of legislation on the issue makes it difficult for workers, including those who are employed informally or via contractors in the organised sector, to establish proof of employment and gives companies room to violate labour laws and not ensure any social security benefits for such employees.
  • Appointment letters become a starting point for industrial disputes in many cases
  • Appointment letter is the only authoritative proof that a person is employed and all the statutory benefits including Employees’ State Insurance, provident fund are passed on to her or him,
  • At the time of claiming certain benefits such as gratuity from the employers, workers are not able to prove whether or not they are eligible for the claim. As per the law, workers are entitled to get gratuity benefits at the time of termination of employment or retirement, only after completing five years of service at the firm.
  • In many cases employers and employees get into an informal arrangement for their mutual benefit. Workers often do not want the statutory benefits to be deducted from their salary in order to enhance their take-home pay. To avoid getting into the trap of administrative hassles of filing compliance, employers also avoid handing out a formal letter to workers

Environment Ministry revokes draft forest policy

  • The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has repudiated a ‘Draft National Forest Policy’ that it uploaded on its website earlier this month calling it an “inadvertent” error.
  • The ‘Draft National Forest Policy, 2016’, was uploaded on the Ministry’s website on June 16 along with an office memorandum calling for comments.
  • The Environment Ministry had tasked the Bhopal-based Indian Institute of Forest Management, an affiliated organisation, with reviewing and revising the existing forest policy. This is the first time that the policy was being re-looked since 1988 as it wanted to update the several changes in forest laws and provide a forward-looking policy that talked about increasing India’s forest cover and tackling the effects of climate change.

U.S. howitzer to add to Army’s firepower

  • The Army’s efforts to induct new artillery guns was given approval by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC)  for the procurement of M-777 Ultra-Light Howitzer (ULH) from the U.S. and Dhanush developed by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB).
  • In the M-777 deal for 145 ULH worth around $750 million, the DAC approved the case under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route from the U.S.
  • The DAC directed independent progressing of the offsets. Under this, BAE systems, which manufactures the guns, will set up an Assembly, Integration and Test (AIT) facility in India for which it has already selected Mahindra group. Of the 145 guns, 25 will be imported while the remaining 120 will be assembled in India.
  • However the number is expected to go up further given the Army’s need for guns to quip the mountain strike corps on the Eastern front.
  • In another case, the Council reviewed the ongoing development of the indigenous Dhanush howitzer by the OFB based on the original Bofors guns imported from Sweden. Under this three guns will be delivered for user exploitation trails by June 30 and another three guns by September end.
  • The Army’s ongoing projects for procurement of air defence systems, Short Range Surface to Air Missile (SRSAM) and Very Short Range Air Defence Systems (VSHORAD), were also reviewed.
  • For the Navy, approval was made for issuing the Acceptance of Necessity (AON) for six next generation missile vessels to replace the current Prabal class ships at an estimated cost of Rs.13,600 crore.
  • For the Air Force, while there was decision on the much anticipated S-400 Triumph air defence systems from Russia, two other projects — procurement of indigenously developed simulators for Jaguar Aircraft at a cost of Rs. 500 crore and setting up of an electronic warfare range by the Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) at a cost of Rs. 1,330 crore were approved.

Centre notifies amended RBI Act to usher in MPC

  • The Centre brought the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) one step closer to reality by notifying the changes made to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Act.
  • The rules governing the procedure for selection of members of Monetary Policy Committee and terms and conditions of their appointment and factors constituting failure to meet inflation target under the MPC framework have also been notified

MPC

  • tasked with bringing “value and transparency to monetary policy decisions”
  • Composition-
    • The six-member Committee will comprise three members from RBI, including the Governor, who will be the ex-officio chairperson, a Deputy Governor and one officer of the central bank.
    • The other three members will be appointed by the Centre on the recommendations of a search-cum-selection committee to be headed by the Cabinet Secretary.
    • These three members of MPC will be experts in the field of economics or banking or finance or monetary policy and will be appointed for a period of four years and shall not be eligible for re-appointment
  • The Committee is to meet four times a year and make public its decisions following each meeting.

Tax to be levied at source only if payment in cash is above Rs.2 lakh

  • CBDT has issued a new circular on Tax Collected at Source (TCS) clarifying that the levy will not be applicable when cash part of the payment for certain goods or services is less than Rs.2 lakh, even when the total payment is more than this amount.

NITI Aayog strategy to monitor health

  • The NITI Aayog is working on a strategy to put in place a tracking system for monitoring health parameters of target beneficiaries under the National Nutrition Mission on a real-time basis.
  • The tracking system is likely to be Aadhaar-linked
  • There are multiple programmes under various ministries aimed at addressing the multitude of the related issues of gender discrimination, infections, diseases, food fortification, education opportunities, sanitation etc, all of which affect stunting and under-nutrition in children below the age of five, including the unborn
  • Centre was working out policy measures and a strategy to converge the various schemes that impacted malnutrition.
  • Now the govt wants to monitor the healthcare parameters of target beneficiaries on a real-time basis using Aadhaar at the district, block and, if possible, at the village level.  The outcomes at the grass root levels that should be monitored in the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare would also be finalised.
  • The challenge was and the target should be to identify individual households or individuals for the purpose of monitoring the outcomes. At present, nutrition data was available on a sample basis rather than by censuses.

NSE to file IPO document by 2017

  • As part of its attempts to go public and list its shares, the National Stock Exchange (NSE) is planning to file the public offer document for listing in India by January 2017.
  • At a meeting on June 23, the board of the country’s largest stock exchange in terms of market share, expressed its desire to file the draft red herring prospectus (DRHP) containing all the relevant company information by January 2017.
  • According to the regulatory norms, a DRHP has to be filed with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) to formally initiate the process of listing.
  • This will bring relief to many shareholders of NSE, including the State Bank of India and other public sector banks that have a sizeable stake in the exchange.
  • In the past, shareholders had even written to the board and senior management of the exchange to expedite its listing process so that there is greater transparency in pricing of shares and exits are facilitated on the stock exchange platform.
  • Current regulations do not allow self-listing of exchanges in India

Prices of 42 essential drugs slashed by 15%

  • Prices of 42 essential medicines used in treatment of various ailments including tuberculosis, cancer, cardiac diseases, asthma, epilepsy and depression have been capped by the government, reducing their cost by up to 15 per cent.
  • Drug price regulator, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA)has fixed/revised ceiling prices of 45 scheduled formulations of Schedule-I under Drugs (Price Control) Amendment Order, 2016.
  • Out of the 45, the prices of 42 medicines have been reduced by up to 15 per cent
  • Manufacturers not complying with the ceiling price would be liable to deposit the overcharged amount along with interest thereon under the provisions of the Drugs (Price Control) Order, 2013.
  • The authority has also fixed the retail price of 12 formulations under DPCO, 2013.
  • The NPPA has also fixed/revised ceiling prices of 32 scheduled formulations packs of IV Fluids

Now, faster credit for urban poor

  • The Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MHUPA) has proposed to appoint a Central nodal agency for speeding up disbursal of bank loans to the urban poor
  • In the daylong conference dedicated to Deendayal Antyodaya Yojna-National Urban Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NULM), the Ministers, bankers and urbanisation experts will discuss “ways and means of scaling up skills training and credit flow for self-employment of urban poor.
  • Apart from encouraging banks to offer low-interest loans to the urban poor, micro-credit agencies and non-banking financial institutions will be involved in credit delivery.
  • Bank lending for self-employment is proposed to be dovetailed with MUDRA loans under the Prime Minister’s MUDRA Yojna
  • In the last two years of implementation of DAY-NULM, Tamil Nadu topped in training 1.05 lakh urban poor, followed by Madhya Pradesh, where 72,701 youths were trained.

50,000 yoga professionals to be certified in 3 years

  • Standards in services sectors will soon be made a critical component at the levels of the Union and the State governments with particular focus initially on yoga and healthcare
  • The Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) and the QCI had in June 2015 announced a scheme for voluntary certification of yoga professionals.
    • as part of capacity-building in yoga
    • was aiming to “certify around 50,000 yoga professionals within the next three years for Level 1 and Level 2. So far, a little over 10,000 yoga professionals have registered for it, out of which 300 have been granted the certification.

Modi warns of crackdown on tax evaders

  • Signalling a crackdown on tax evasion, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his monthly radio address Mann ki Baat on Sunday, said a tax amnesty scheme for disclosure of undisclosed income and property would not be extended beyond the September 30 deadline
  • and it was the “last chance” for people to join a “transparent system”.

Rubber sector headed for new crisis

  • The rubber economy is headed for a new crisis, with the Centre slashing the import tariff for a slew of rubber products.
  • In a notification issued on June 21, the Central Board of Excise and Customs had provided deeper tariff concessions for goods imported under the India-Malaysia Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (IMCECA).
  • The move would lead to a spree of imports, flooding the market with cheap goods from Malaysia.
  • According to the notification,
    • The import tariff for new and retreaded tyres for cars, buses, and lorries will be brought down to five per cent from June 30
    • zero tariff items – aircraft tyres and agricultural and construction machinery, sheath contraceptives, surgical gloves, floor coverings, erasers, hard rubber products, synthetic rubber of various types, waste and scrap rubber, camel back strips for retreading rubber, tubes, pipes and hoses, and conveyor belts.
  • Industry observers said the tariff reduction would have serious repercussions for a State like Kerala.

A social media push for weather information

  • The Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) is planning to take to social media in a big way to reach out to a larger audience.
  • Currently the weather forecasts by government agencies reach hardly 20-25 per cent of the population
  • The Ministry has asked institutes under its ambit to use social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to reach out to people.
  • Several institutes like the
    • Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services- issues tsunami alerts,
    • the Meteorological Department and the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology under the MoES work on issues directly related to people.
  • Putting their work on social media will also enable them to take their research to the masses.
  • Farmers can register mobile phone numbers to receive alerts.
  • The state governments have been asked to take this forward and make it a massive movement. Maharashtra government has helped register over 60 lakh farmers
  • Last month, the IMD started three Twitter accounts to disseminate information on weather, air quality and earthquakes.

India among top 3 regions in corruption-linked fraud

  • The Global Fraud Report 2015-16 – by risk mitigation consultancy Kroll, with the aid of the Economist Intelligence Unit
  • Found that the perceived prevalence of fraud in India is the third-highest among all countries and regions surveyed across six continents. Only Colombia (83 per cent) and Sub-Saharan Africa (84 per cent) surpass India.
  • An overwhelming 80 per cent of companies polled in India said they had been victims of fraud in 2015-16, up from 69 per cent in 2013-14, according to the survey report.
  • The incidence of fraud was on the rise globally
  • A combination of a lack of preventive measures at Indian companies and a poor legal system had resulted in 92 per cent of the respondents saying they had witnessed an increase in exposure to fraud.A quarter of the respondents said they registered losses due to this.
  • On average, the worldwide survey found that only 11 per cent of the companies reported corruption and bribery as a source of revenue loss.
  • The India-centric data in the report shows that the highest incidence of fraud as reported by Indian companies is due to what the report terms ‘corruption and bribery’.
  • The second-highest fraud-related source of loss of revenue in India is vendor, supplier or procurement fraud, which affected 23 per cent of the companies, which is also higher than the global average of 17 per cent.
  • Interestingly, the 2013-14 survey found that the highest source of fraud-related revenue loss for Indian companies came from theft of physical assets or stock (33 per cent) and both information theft, loss or attack and corruption and bribery were on a par (24 per cent).
  • The latest report also finds that the biggest factors exposing Indian companies to fraud have changed over the last few years. Where the previous report pegged IT complexity as the biggest contributor to fraud, the 2015-16 report says the new drivers of fraud are high employee turnover and cost restraints over pay.

Nod for Rs.10,000 cr start-up fund

  • The Cabinet approved the setting up of a Rs.10,000 crore fund to support start-ups in becoming full fledged business entities.
  • The fund is expected to generate employment for 18 lakh persons.
  • The approval will pave the way for setting up “Fund of Funds for Startups” at the Small Industries Development Bank of India for contributions to various Alternative Investment Funds registered with the Securities and Exchange Board of India
  • This is in line with the Start-up India Action Plan of the government unveiled this year .
  • The Rs.10,000 crore-corpus will be built up over the 14th and 15th Finance Commission cycles subject to progress of the scheme and availability of funds. Already Rs.500 crore has been provided.

For more details click here All you need to know about start up India

Cabinet approves mega spectrum auction

  • Paving the way for the largest-ever spectrum auction in the country, the Union Cabinet approved the sale of all available spectrum — a move that could potentially fetch the exchequer about Rs.5.5 lakh crore going by the reserve price.
  • The auction in which about 2000 MHz of airwaves will be put up for sale is likely to be conducted in September. The government had earned revenues of Rs 1.1 lakh crore from the auctions held last year.
  • Spectrum usage charges-  an annual fee payable by telecom operators for using airwaves.
    • The Cabinet has decided to refer back the issue of spectrum usage charges (SUC) to the telecom regular TRAI for its recommendations. The Telecom Commission (TC) recently cleared a weighted average formula for the SUC. For the upcoming auctions, SUC was recommended at 3 per cent of operator’s annual revenue.
  • 700 MHz – This is the first time that the 700 MHz band that is preferred for offering high-speed broadband services will be put on offer at a reserve price of Rs11,485 crore per MHz pan-India. However, the operators had asked the sale to be held back till the device ecosystem was put in place. The cost of delivering mobile services in the 700 MHz band is also approximately 70 per cent cheaper than in the 2100 MHz band (used for 3G services).
  • For 2016-17, the Centre has estimated revenues from communication services at Rs 98,995 crore, of which Rs 55,000 crore is expected from the auction of spectrum.
  • For the 1,800 MHz spectrum — widely used for offering voice services — a reserve price of Rs. 2,873 crore has been fixed. For spectrum in the 900 MHz, 800 MHz, 2100 MHz and 2300 MHz bands, reserve prices of Rs.3,341 crore, Rs.5,819 crore, Rs. 3,746 crore and Rs. 817 crore, respectively, have been stipulated. The regulator has recommended that the reserve price for 2500 MHz spectrum, which is also on the offer for the first time, be equal to that of 2300 MHz spectrum.

Textiles get tax sops in output impetus

  • The Centre announced a Rs.6,000-crore special package, with tax and production incentives, for the textile and apparel sector to enable domestic firms to compete globally.

The need

  • China was gradually relinquishing its leadership position in the garment sector due to its rising wages and production shifting to high technology sectors.
  • This was leading to garment sector firms shifting to countries including Bangladesh and Vietnam.The package would strengthen the Indian textile and apparel sector by improving its cost competitiveness in the global market.
  • Compared with Bangladesh and Vietnam India was the leader in apparel exports between 1995 and 2000. Bangladesh’s apparel exports exceeded that of India in 2003, while Vietnam surpassed India in 2011. With policy support, India can again regain its position in the next three years

The package

  • -includes several tax and production incentives
  • – aims to help in creating one crore jobs, mostly for women, in the next three years
  • These initiatives are expected to lead to an increase in exports by $30 billion and help attract investments worth Rs.74,000 crore in three years.
  • Of the Rs.6,000 crore package, Rs.5,500 crore is for an additional five per cent duty drawback for garments. In a first-of-its-kind move, a new scheme will be introduced to refund the state levies which were not refunded so far. Drawback at ‘all industries rate’ would be given for domestic duty paid inputs even when fabrics are imported under ‘Advance Authorization Scheme’
  • The remaining Rs.500 crore will be for additional incentives under Amended Technology Upgradation Funds Scheme (ATUFS), where the subsidy provided to garmenting units under the scheme is being increased from 15 per cent to 25 per cent, providing a boost to employment generation.
  • The package breaks new ground in moving from input-based to outcome-based incentives; a unique feature of the scheme will be to disburse subsidy only after expected jobs have been created
  • The government has also suggested bringing in flexibility in labour laws to increase productivity.
    • To ensure increased earnings for workers, the package specifies that overtime hours for workers shall not to exceed eight hours per week — in line with International Labour Organisation norms.
    • Taking note of the seasonal nature of the garment industry, fixed term employment will be introduced for the sector and
    • a fixed term workman will be considered at par with permanent workman in terms of working hours, wages, allowances and other statutory dues.
    • Considering the industry’s seasonal nature, the provision of 240 days under Section 80JJAA of Income Tax Act (allowing deduction of 30 per cent of additional wages paid to new regular employees for three years where the worker has worked at least for 240 days in a previous year) would be relaxed to 150 days for the garment industry
    • Also, the government ]will bear the entire employer’s contribution of 12 per cent under the Employees’ Provident Fund Scheme, for new employees of garment industry earning less than Rs. 15,000 per month, for the first three years.

Army comes out against road work on China border

  • An ambitious road project planned along the McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh has hit the Indian Army hurdle.
  • The Army is opposed to constructing any road close to the disputed border with China. The proposed 1,500-km India-China frontier highway will run parallel along the China border.The proposed highway will pass through Tawang, East Kameng, Upper Subansiri, West Siang, Upper Siang, Dibang Valley, Desali, Chaglagam, Kibito, Dong, Hawai and Vijaynagar on the Arunachal Pradesh border. The government has already relaxed environmental clearances for border area projects.
  • The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, which was initially approached for the project, had declined to work on it citing that it was financially not viable. The project is said to cost anywhere between Rs. 30,000 and Rs. 40,000 crore. The Home Ministry is now looking to rope in an international contractor to complete the project.
  • The DGMO also opposed the demand of opening advance landing grounds for civilian use. The State government has been demanding that all the eight advance landing grounds should be thrown open for civilian aircraft to boost connectivity in the region.

DGCA to get more punitive powers

  • For better enforcement of air safety standards, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) will soon be empowered to penalise airlines and airports for various offences and non-compliance of air regulations.
  • Under the present rules, the DGCA is authorised to either suspend the operations of airlines or airports or take away their licence, but has no powers to impose fines or penalties.
  • The Civil Aviation Ministry will soon send a proposal to amend the Aircraft Act, 1937, to the Law Ministry, to empower the DGCA to impose fines for violations under the Act.
  • The violations include operating aircraft without the specified minimum crew, flying without a valid pilot licence or medical fitness, not maintaining records, fraudulent entry in logbooks and not maintaining airports.
  • The DGCA may be empowered to fill vacancies on deputation or promote its employees without getting the consent of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
  • The DGCA will be given full financial autonomy, enabling it to spend money without taking the consent of the Civil Aviation Ministry, through a notification

PSLV C34 launched

  • Expanding its horizons, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on launched 20 satellites through a single rocket, surpassing its 2008 record of launching 10 satellites in a single mission.
  • The launch of the 20 satellites, weighing about 1,288 kg in total, a “major milestone” for the national space agency.
    • Besides the primary Cartosat-2 Series satellite, the PSLV C-34 rocket launched two satellites from Indian universities and 17 foreign satellites, including one for a Google company.
    • Sathyabamasat, the satellite of Sathyabama University in Chennai,
    • the Swayam satellite of the College of Engineering in Pune,
    • LAPAN-A3 (Indonesia),
    • BIROS (Germany),
    • M3MSat (Canada),
    • SkySat Gen2-1 (USA) of Terra Bela (Google company),
    • GHGSat-D (Canada) and
    • 12 Dove Satellites (USA) were the other satellites that were launched.
  • ISRO also ignited the fourth stage of the PSLV rocket twice after the separation of satellites in an experiment
  • After the 48-hour countdown, the PSLV rocket lifted off from the second launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at 9.25 a.m. and, some 16 minutes later, placed the Cartosat-2 Series satellite about 505 km above the Earth’s orbit.
  • In the next 10 minutes, the remaining 19 satellites were placed in the orbits.
  • The 725.5-kg Cartosat-2 series satellite would be for Earth observation and its imagery would be useful for cartographic applications, urban and rural applications, coastal land use and regulation, and utility management like road networking
  • In 2008, ISRO launched 10 satellites in a single rocket. On April 28, 2008, its PSLV-C9 rocket launched a Remote Sensing satellite CARTOSAT-2A along with Indian Mini Satellite (IMS-1) and eight nano satellites.
  • In 2014, Russian Dnepr rocket launched a record 37 satellites in a single mission.

Centre’s draft forest policy moots green cess

  • The Environment Ministry has proposed a new policy for the management of forests – the National Forest Policy, 2016, prepared by the Ministry of Environment and Forests’s Indian Institute of Forest Management,
  • Says governments must switch focus from
    • forests to landscapes,
    • from canopy cover to healthy ecosystems,
    • from substituting wood to promoting sustainable wood use,
    • from participatory approaches to empowerment,
    • from joint forest management to community forest management and
    • from qualitative policy statements to a results-based policy framework.
  • Called on the government to promote the sustainable use of wood. According to the policy
    • Wood has a significantly lower carbon footprint than many of the substitutes that consume fossil fuels in their production.
    • Use of wood also has the potential to create new green jobs by giving a boost to indigenous manufacturing using locally grown raw material.
    • Thus promotion of wood use, obtained from sustainably-managed forests and trees, would play a positive role in mitigating climate change and ensuring sustainable living.
    • Governments and stakeholders must shift from regulating to promoting cultivation, harvesting, transportation and marketing of wood
  • This even as the forest policy also emphasises that the government “must double tree cover, outside forests, within a decade.
  • It proposes a national implementation framework to be in place within six months of the notification, and exhorts States to draft their state forest policies and prepare an implementation framework.
  • Environmental cess, green tax, carbon tax etc. may be levied on certain products and services for facilitating ecologically responsible behaviour, garnering citizen’s contribution and supplementing financial resources
  • India has set an ambitious target of bringing a third of its geographical area under forest-and-tree cover within a decade, up from the current one-fourth. The policy acknowledges it but recommends that this be done by replenishing these lands with native species rather than “introducing exotic species.”
  • In a nod to the Union government’s controversial decision to declare certain animals as “vermin” and implicitly sanctioning the slaughter of nilgai, wildpigs and monkeys in certain States, the forest policy recommends mitigating human-wildlife conflicts
    • by taking up habitat enrichment,
    • providing adequate and timely compensation in case of injury or loss of human life, property, crop damage or livestock casualties and
    • developing teams of well-equipped and trained forest personnel.

Coastal zone report relaxes curbs on constructions

  • Former Secretary of the Earth Sciences Ministry Shailesh Nayak chaired a six-member committee in 2014 that prepared the ‘Report of the Committee to Review the Issues relating to the Coastal Regulation Zone, 2011’ and submitted it to the Environment Ministry in January 2015. Researcher and environmentalist Kanchi Kohli from the Centre for Policy Research filed a Right to Information (RTI) application in February 2015 after being denied access to the report. The Ministry refused to share it on the grounds that the government had not approved the report’s recommendations.Last month, the Central Information Commission ordered that the Environment Ministry share the report with Mr. Kohli. The report can be viewed on the CPR website.

Recommendations

  1. has recommended changes to laws governing infrastructure development along India’s coast
  2. According to a statement by the CPR analysing the report, the new Act proposes the devolution of powers to State and Union Territory governments along with local authorities for CRZ II (built up cities and towns), CRZ III (rural areas) and CRZ IV (12 nautical miles into the sea) areas. These are for activities not covered under the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006.
  3. giving greater powers and responsibilities to coastal States to regulate development, maintain and conserve ecologically fragile zones and ensure that environment be protected without neglecting “basic requirements of growing population.”
  4. Also the committee has in several places recommended that local town planning regulations be preferred over the existing Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) restrictions.
  5. NDZ- has suggested relaxation in No Development Zones (NDZ) in CRZ-3 areas of States like Kerala based on population density.
    • The coastal areas with a population density of more than 2,161 people/sq km (Class-3 towns as defined in 2001 census) would be categorised as thickly-populated areas and the NDZ has been reduced to 50 metre against the original 200 metres in seaside areas.
    • The NDZ will be 200 metre along the other rural areas, which have a population density of less than 2,161 people/ sq km. For backwater islands, the NDZ has been brought down to 10 metres from the existing 50 metre, it recommended.
    • In densely-populated CRZ 3 areas, development can be taken up in accordance with the local prevailing norms, including the height regulations.
  6. The local authorities shall ensure that no activities shall be undertaken that would cause shoreline change, including disturbing the sediment balance in the coastal waters.
  7. For less populated rural areas, development of new houses of local communities can be taken up beyond NDZ, which is 200 metre from the High Tide Line. The expansion of existing houses in accordance with the prevailing local Town and Country Planning Regulations can be taken up subject to overall height of the construction not exceeding 9 metre with ground plus one floor.
  8. The CRZ 3 areas are those which are “relatively undisturbed and those do not belong to either CRZ-I or II.
  9. The dwelling units of the coastal communities in CRZ 3 areas, constructed in violation of the CRZ Notification, shall be regularised by the States concerned by following the local town and country construction norms. If any of these violations are pending before the court, the State government may take up the matter, and with the approval of the court such violations could be regularised

Panel report may sound death knell for mangroves

  • Mangrove swathes dotting the coastal areas would be wiped out upsetting the coastal ecology and livelihood options of millions of fishermen if the Shailesh Nayak Committee report on Coastal Regulation Zone 2011 notification is accepted
  • The panel, which recommended that
    • developmental activities in private mangrove land can be taken up
    • also directed that no buffer zones would be required in private holdings.
    • Construction of walkways, interpretation centres, promenades, public facilities for developing parks, research facilities related to mangrove biodiversity, facilities for conservation and the like can be set up in the 50-metre buffer suggested for vegetation extending more than 1,000 sq metres.
    • Walkways have been suggested on stilts.
    • The buffer could also be developed as a greenbelt to prevent “encroachment, illegal dumping, construction activity and slum redevelopment” and such “unauthorised and illegal activities which are harmful to mangroves

Court dismisses PIL on use of ‘Satyamev Jayate’

  • The Bombay High Court  dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) petition that took objection to the use of the words ‘Satyamev Jayate’ in Aamir Khan’s show on Star Plus.
  • A PIL petition alleging that the use of ‘Satyamev Jayate’ was violative of the State Emblem of India (Prohibition and Improper Use) Act and State Emblem of India (Regulation of Use) Rules.
  • Dismissing the PIL, the court said prohibition was only for the use of the emblem as a whole and not the motto ‘Satyameva Jayate.’
  • The Act and Rules prohibit improper use of the State Emblem of India as a whole. There is no provision which prohibits the use of its part like ‘Satyameva Jayate’, the lion, the bull, the horse and so on

Majority foreign stake puts curbs on overseas flights

  • Airlines with a majority foreign ownership will not be allowed to fly on international routes.
  • The government liberalised norms in the sector, allowing foreign investors to own up to 100 per cent stake in domestic carriers.
  • The bilateral air traffic agreements that India has signed with most of the countries have ‘substantial ownership and effective control’ (SOEC) clause which may not permit the airlines with majority foreign ownership to fly abroad from India

Aadhaar to be linked with caste certificate

  • All State governments have been asked to link Aadhaar with caste and domicile certificates to be issued to school students, as part of a first-of-its-kind initiative by the Centre.
  • The States have been told to ensure that such certificates are issued within 60 days to the students when they are studying in Class V or VIII.
  • The development assumes significance as there have been complaints of delay in grant of scholarship to students belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Besides, people have often complained of harassment allegedly by government officials in getting caste and domicile certificates issued.

‘Made in India’ F-16s on radar, thanks to FDI

  • American military manufacturer Lockheed Martin could soon be producing F-16 fighters in an assembly line based in India, taking advantage of the new liberalised FDI conditions announced by the government.
  • The proposal for setting up an assembly line for F-16 fighters in India was discussed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the U.S. earlier this month.
  • The negotiations with the French government for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters haven’t succeeded yet in securing a competitive price. Lockheed Martin, on the other hand, is keen to close down its F16 production facility in the U.S. Talks are on to invite the company to shift its F16 production line, lock, stock and barrel, to India
  • This will serve the twin purposes: it will be a success story of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make In India initiative plus it will address the Indian defence establishment’s requirement of a new fighter fleet

PM holds meet on rupee management

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi held meetings with his key officials to assess the possible impact on the rupee and macro-economic stability following the announcement by RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan that he would not continue in the post after his tenure ends in September.
  • In the immediate term, the most effective strategy will be for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to signal that it intends to defend the rupee
  • The government wants to make sure that the bond and currency markets remain calm especially when a foreign currency non-resident deposit scheme’s redemptions begin, starting September.
  • There could be outflows of about $20 billion due to the imminent maturity of the scheme, which the RBI unveiled in October 2013 to tide over the worst rupee crisis in decades.
  • India had mobilised $26 billion through foreign currency non-resident bank account (FCNR-B) deposits by offering a special swap window for banks after the U.S. Federal Reserve ‘taper tantrums’ in the summer of 2013 sent the rupee to a lifetime low of Rs. 67.85.
  • Several alternatives are on the table for mitigating the impact of the redemptions
  • One option is to mobilise funds from non-resident Indians through a fresh dollar-denominated instrument along the lines of the ‘India Millennium Deposit’, the State Bank of India’s foreign currency denominated deposits (IMD) issued in 2010.
  • The second option is to issue swap instruments using the facilities that the RBI has in place with central banks of other countries.
  • The handling of the situation has become more important because India is up for a ratings upgrade this year. Last October, global ratings agency Standard & Poor’s affirmed its ‘BBB-’ long-term and ‘A-3’ short-term sovereign credit ratings for India, with a stable outlook.

AYUSH set to get international treatment

  • The Ministry of External Affairs will send out groups of AYUSH experts to help set up departments of AYUSH in the leading universities of the member countries of the U.N.
  • In line with the new scheme, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and Indian missions abroad had reached out to foreign governments to host the AYUSH experts. The initiative found quick response from Iraq, Colombia and Reunion Island, which will soon be hosting AYUSH experts. 
  • Apart from Iraq, Colombia and the Reunion Island, the first phase of the project will include twelve other countries. Each group of experts will have teachers, practitioners and demonstrators, who will train a first generation of teachers and students of AYUSH in these countries

ICCR

  • handles cultural diplomacy under the MEA and has been instrumental in roping in 192 countries across the world for the International Day of Yoga, which will be celebrated on 21st of June

Use of potassium bromate as food additive banned

  • The government  banned the use of potassium bromate as a food additive following a Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) study that found its presence in bread caused cancer.
  • FSSAI [Food Safety Standards Authority of India] has banned potassium bromate. A notification has been issued in this regard. As far as potassium iodate is concerned, it has been referred to a scientific panel.
  • Potassium iodate is also used as a food additive and it too is said to be carcinogenic.
  • A CSE study had found that 84 per cent of 38 commonly available brands of pre-packaged breads, including pav and buns, tested positive for potassium bromate and potassium iodate. The two food additives are banned in many countries and are listed as “hazardous” to public health.
  • According to CSE, potassium bromate typically increases dough strength, leads to higher rising and gives uniform finish to baked products. Potassium iodate is a flour treatment agent.

Golden Crescent

  • Investigations into  the main accused in the ephedrine racket busted by the Thane police earlier this year, have revealed that he is one of the main facilitators for drug lords in the Golden Crescent..
  • Golden Crescent includes Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is one of two principal areas of illicit drug production at the intersection of Central, South and West Asia, the other being the Golden Triangle comprising Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.

Over 65,000 children given IPV vaccine in Hyderabad

  • The Telangana government vaccinated more than 65,000 children as part of a special polio vaccination drive in State capital, aimed at preventing human infections with the virus. Around 2.5 lakh children are expected to receive a dose of Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) during the week-long campaign.
  • The campaign became warranted after type 2 vaccine-derived polio virus was found in a sewage sample collected here last month.
  • Finding of polio virus in the environment mandates a response through rapid vaccination in areas around the spot where the virus is found. Since the virus was found in a drain that flows from north to southeast in Hyderabad, vaccination is being organised across the city. The campaign is being implemented through 2,231 vaccination booths.
  • India is currently using bivalent oral polio vaccine, which protects only against type 1 and type 3 polio virus types. The inactivated polio vaccine, however, protects against all three types. Consequently, unvaccinated children are now required to receive both the injectable and oral vaccines.
  • It was also learnt from the scientist that vaccine-derived P2 strain found in Hyderabad must have been around more than a year, since the virus had gathered 10 mutations. Polio virus that gathers six mutations during the course of replication in a vaccine recipient’s intestine is said to be around for a year and considered virulent.
  • Sewage samples are now being collected every week and sent for testing at Enterovirus Research Center in Mumbai.

Modi fast-tracks reforms with radical change in FDI norms

  • The government announced what it termed a “radical liberalisation” of the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) regime by easing norms for a host of important sectors, including defence, civil aviation and pharmaceuticals, opening them up for complete foreign ownership.
  • In November last, the government announced FDI reforms across several sectors

FDI e- commerce

  • In the Union Budget, the government said 100 per cent FDI would be allowed in the marketing of food products made in India.
  • Current FDI announcements extends it to e-commerce, with the likely beneficiaries being firms such as Bigbasket and Gofers
  • Post-budget, FDI has been expected to benefit foreign retail giants such as Walmart and Tesco.

FDI defence

  • The government decision to liberalise conditions allowing 100 per cent FDI in the defence sector may result in at least some foreign entities setting up subsidiaries in India
  • The government removed the condition of “state-of-the-art” technology for permitting 100 per cent FDI in the defence sector. The new condition is that the companies wanting to invest 100 per cent FDI and open a subsidiary needs to bring in only “modern” technology.
  • The new rule is 49 per cent FDI in defence under the automatic route.
  • Foreign investment beyond that would be permitted through government approval route in cases resulting in “modern” technology.
  • The FDI limit for the defence sector has been made applicable to manufacturing of small arms and ammunition covered under the Arms Act, 1959.
  • The proposals in the defence sector were troubled by the clause ‘state-of-art’. This was affecting the ease of doing business; therefore we have changed the terminology.
  • New policy will be a significant step forward in ensuring that OEM [original equipment manufacturer] subsidiary-driven manufacturing plans take off. It will result in greater comfort for OEMs to establish high-technology manufacturing-driven subsidiaries

FDI pharma

  • With 100 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in pharma, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) by multinational companies are likely to intensify in the sector, attracting a sizeable amount of funds
  • The Union government decided to
  • allow 100 per cent FDI under the automatic route in greenfield pharmaceutical projects and
  • under government approval in existing companies, or brownfield pharma
  • FDI under the automatic route in brownfield pharmaceutical firms would be 74 per cent.
  • For private companies, this will allow promoters to monetise part of their shareholding easily should they choose to do so. The Foreign Investment Promotion Board process used to add to timelines; deals will now close much quicker.

The Centre’s big reform push- Editorial

  • With India now acknowledged as the fastest growing large economy in the world and also edging up in the World Bank’s ease of doing business rankings, the time is ripe for the country to open its doors wider to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
  • This is exactly what the Centre has done by
    • raising FDI caps in some sectors –airlines from 49 to 100 per cent,
    • sweeping others entirely into the automatic route –cable TV, brownfield airports
    • diluting preconditions for sectors with restrictions – relaxation of sourcing norms in single-brand retail and technology norms for defence.
  • FDI is stickier and more resilient to business cycles than mercurial Foreign Portfolio Investor (FPI) flows. At a time when the private sector has a limited appetite to invest and when the government is tied down by fiscal constraints, India needs to seek out foreign capital to keep its growth engines purring. That foreign investors are interested in India is evident: there has been a 23 per cent surge in inbound FDI, which touched a record $55.5 billion in 2015-16.

Constraints to FDI

  • Even so, it is simplistic to assume that merely opening up more sectors or setting more liberal equity caps will have foreign investors queuing up to invest. India’s experience suggests that actual investment interest in the newly liberalised sectors will be tied to three factors.
  • One, foreign investors, like domestic ones, are ROI (Return on Investment) focussed. Therefore, sectors that are already witnessing booming consumer demand — such as DTH television, airlines and pharmaceuticals — are more likely to attract quick investment flows than those that are in need of bailouts (asset reconstruction firms) or entail long gestation periods (airports or defence).
  • Two, even if the Centre is willing to reduce initial entry barriers, frequent market or pricing interventions can deter investors. The Centre seems to have recognised this in watering down the sourcing norms for FDI in single-brand retail. But its attempts to woo FDI into pharma may be stymied by increasing price controls and the lack of clarity in the policy on essential drugs.
  • Three, the experience with sectors such as insurance suggests that foreign investors committing long-term capital expect to exercise control over the entities they fund.
  • Overall, there is no disputing that the FDI relaxations, irrespective of whether they were timed to signal the Centre’s commitment to reforms in the face of RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan’s exit in September, are a step in the right direction. But as we have learnt from the past, the devil is usually in the detail.

Extend quota for poor students in minority schools, says panel

  • The draft report on the new national policy on education submitted by a panel headed by T.S.R. Subramanian

Recommendations on RTE and minority institutions

  • While the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, mandates that even private, unaided schools shall provide admission to children from disadvantaged groups and weaker sections in admission to Class-1 to the extent of at least 25 per cent of the admissions done, private, unaided minority institutions are exempt from this requirement.
  • The Supreme Court, in April, 2012, held that the provision did not extend to institutions set by minorities, which are defined as religious and linguistic minorities in India.
  • Whereas the panel report says that “it is now important to reconcile the rights of the economically weaker sections with the rights of the minorities under Article 30 (1), particularly when minority institutions appear to clutch at any prop to ensure that their obligations, met by other aided or unaided schools, are circumvented.”
  • The Right to Education Act includes the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes in its definition of “disadvantaged group” and defines a child belonging to “weaker sections” as one whose parent or guardian earns below a minimum level of income specified by the appropriate government.

Recommendation on University Grants Commission (UGC)

  • has recommended that the law that set up the higher education regulator University Grants Commission (UGC) be allowed to lapse.
  • The committee’s report, submitted recently to the Ministry of Human Resource Development, says the UGC has been unable over the years to effectively implement its regulations aimed at ensuring the quality of higher education in the country.
  • The panel has instead suggested an alternative arrangement for a pruned UGC.
  • “The UGC could be revamped, made considerably leaner and thinner, and could be the nodal point for administration of the proposed National Higher Education Fellowship Programme, without any other promotional or regulatory function,” it said.

Diphtheria claims a life in Malappuram

  • Diphtheria has reared its head in Malappuram again, this time claiming the life of a 15-year-old boy, Mohammed Ameen, who was totally un-immunised.
  • Two other partially immunised childre who were found to have clinical symptoms of diphtheria, are under treatment and doing fine.
  • His condition worsened progressively even though he was administered the anti-diphtheria serum and other drugs. The boy died at the MCH on Saturday following multi-organ failure.
  • The siblings and over 100 houses of all possible contacts of the children had been visited and people administered the Td booster vaccine against tetanus and diphtheria as well as a course of antibiotics as prophylaxis.
  • In 2015 September also four cases of diphtheria were reported in Malappuram, in un-immunised and partially immunised children, two of whom had died.
  • Though the department has been engaged in an intensive awareness and immunisation campaign since then, the anti-vaccination propagandists too have been hard at work, undoing all the field-level work done by the health officials.
  • Following the diphtheria deaths in September, a major immunisation campaign had been carried out in Malappuram by the Health Department wherein all schoolchildren up to 16 years of age were administered the Td vaccine. However, in many schools, the PTA and even the teachers opposed the campaign.
  • The department has been doing all that it can to persuade the people to immunise the children but religion and anti-vaccination propaganda together was a lethal combination, against which health workers were powerless

Defence Minister aims at gender parity in Armed Forces

  • History was created at the Air Force Academy (AFA) at Dundigal when Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar presented ‘wings and brevets’ to three women — Avani Chaturvedi, Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Singh — and commissioned them as fighter pilots.
  • It was the endeavour of the Centre to bring gender parity in the Armed Forces.

Life-saver chopper ambulances may get green light to land even on roads

  • More lives may be saved in the golden hour after an accident as the government is working on an ambitious plan to allow helicopter ambulances to land anywhere near an accident spot — be it a national highway or a sports ground.
  • The Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has proposed allowing air ambulances, to be known as Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS), to land at accident and emergency sites without operational clearance. Such services are provided in countries such as Germany, Canada and Australia
  • An inter-ministerial panel with officials from the Ministries of Home, Defence, Road Transport and Highways and Telecom, among others, will soon be formed to work out the modalities.
  • For the first phase, the DGCA has laid down standards for operating the services under which ambulance helicopters can land at designated points surveyed by the operator in a city.
  • The second phase envisages landing freedom in any open area for which approvals will be required with the ministries concerned

Modi wants 10 crore households in tax net

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked senior tax officials to aim for widening the tax net from the present 5.4 crore households to 10 crore households — all non-agricultural income households — mainly, by changing their attitudes towards taxpayers.
  • He gave a five-point charter to tax administrators embodied in the word ‘RAPID.’ These are:
    • revenue,
    • accountability,
    • probity,
    • information and
    • digitisation.
  • While nearly 92 per cent of India’s tax revenue comes from self-assessments, advance tax payments and tax deducted at source, the 42,000 taxmen raise barely 8 per cent through assessments and scrutiny of returns.
  • Prime Minister asked the officers to ensure their behaviour is “soft” and “sober” and change their attitude so that the “fear of harassment” is erased from the minds of taxpayers.

The culling fields – Editorial

Context

  • The difference of views on the killing of wild animals between a former and a sitting Environment Minister of the ruling party — one in favour, the other against — has hit the front pages.
  • This decision raises questions about which Minister is right and whether it is right to kill wildlife that damage crops. More pertinent is whether the problem has been framed and assessed correctly, and culling the appropriate solution in the first place.
  • In parts of India, wildlife species such as wild pig, elephants, macaques, and nilgai occasionally damage crops or property.

Effective conflict management

  • Field research by wildlife scientists in diverse landscape contexts, on different wildlife species and kinds of human-wildlife interactions, including “conflicts”, suggests multiple solutions.
  • Traditional reactive measures such as killing, removal, or compensation carried out after conflicts occur .Culling (killing) or removal of “conflict” wildlife, often labelled “problem animals”, is one among a suite of possible interventions recommended by conservation scientists and managers. Unfortunately, removal through capture or killing may not prevent recurrence of conflicts and may even exacerbate them.
    • Himachal Pradesh, for instance, killed hundreds of rhesus macaques in 2007 (with conflicts recurring within two years), sterilised over 96,000 macaques since 2007 (while conflicts continued to increase), yet now proposes more of the same.
    • This is despite the State’s own data and recent estimates by scientists from Mysore University and the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History reporting that macaque populations are in overall decline and only eight forest divisions (out of 44) record sharp increase.
  • A better approach to conflict management requires
    • integration of scientific evidence,
    • ecology and behaviour of particular species, and
    • landscape and socio-economic context.
  • Without this, the response of State authorities, often based on political compulsions and public perception, even if legitimate, may end up being inappropriate and confused in relation to the problem.
  • Human injuries and deaths due to wildlife is a serious issue, but recent studies show that a large proportion are a result of accidental encounters with species such as elephants and bears. Government figures report that around 400 human deaths a year are due to elephants. Conflating such human deaths with crop damage by very different wild animals implies connecting an extreme response such as killing nilgai in Bihar through an unjustified comparison with human deaths due to other wild animals nationwide.

Applying proactive measures

  • If human safety was the chief concern — as it perhaps should be — it is more appropriate to first adopt measures to reduce human injuries and fatalities due to wildlife. Effective measures for this include
  1. deploying animal early warning systems,
  2. providing timely public information on presence and movements of species such as elephants to local people to facilitate precautionary measures,
  3. and attending to health and safety needs that reduce the risk of wildlife encounters.
  4. Housing improvements and provision of amenities such as lighting, indoor toilets, and rural public bus services help reduce accidental human deaths.
  5. Improving livestock corrals can reduce livestock losses and carnivore incursion into villages,
  6. while better garbage disposal and avoiding deliberate or accidental feeding of animals reduces risks associated with wild animals like monkeys.
  7. Crop damage by wildlife may occur when animals enter crop fields because of habitat alteration and fragmentation (by mining or infrastructure projects, for example), because crops are edible, or because the fields lie along movement routes to forest patches or water sources.
  8. Research reveals that a small proportion of villages in the landscape may be conflict “hotspots” and, additionally, peripheral fields may be more vulnerable than central ones. Such site-specific scientific information helps design targeted mitigation with participation of affected people. This includes supporting local communities to install — and, more important, maintain on a sustained basis — bio-fencing and power fencing around vulnerable areas.
  9. Crop insurance for wildlife damage, which the Environment Ministry recently recommended be included in the National Crop/Agricultural Insurance Programme, also deserves trial. An insurance approach recognises wildlife as a part of the shared countryside and as a risk to be offset rather than viewing wildlife as antagonists belonging to the State that one wishes away.
  10. Conservationists today also use modern technology such as mobile phones for SMS alerts, customised apps, automated wildlife detection and warning systems, and participatory measures for wildlife tracking and rapid response to monitor and reduce conflicts, save crops, property, and human lives.
  • Identification of appropriate proactive measures, including where and when and how they should be deployed, requires prior scientific research on conflict patterns in specific landscapes and locations. Without this, culling becomes a mere public relations exercise meant to assuage farmers who have lost faith in the authorities’ ability to forestall or recompense losses.
  • Merely removing “problem animals” will not make “problem locations” disappear. Servicing human needs, enhancing local amenities, and adopting science-based and sustained interventions will provide more lasting solutions. A moratorium on culling will thus help redirect attention to where it is really needed and be in the best long-term interests of people and wildlife.

MCX plans to trade more commodities

  • Multi Commodity Exchange of India (MCX), which is the country’s largest commodity bourse in terms of market share, plans to introduce trading in more agricultural commodities and has written to the SEBI for approvals.
  • MCX is predominantly a metals and energy exchange with only a handful of agri-commodities — cardamom, cotton, mentha oil, crude palm oil — currently available for trading.

Centre slaps 20 % duty on sugar exports

  • In a bid to keep the domestic prices of sugar under check in the country, the Centre imposed 20 per cent duty on raw sugar exports.
  • As per a government notification, 20 per cent export duty has been imposed on the export of raw sugar – white or refined.
  • Notably, a delayed harvest of the crop in Brazil has caused the surge in international prices making exports of Indian sugar attractive. India has so far exported 1.7 million tonnes in the marketing year beginning October 1.

 

NITI Aayog submits proposals for divestment

  • The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs had in February directed the Aayog to identify PSUs that the Department could take up for strategic disinvestment and also suggest norms for doing so. Any disinvestment of government’s shareholdings, closure or mergers of PSU will need the Union Cabinet’s approval
  • The NITI Aayog has submitted two sets of recommendations to the Centre for strategic disinvestment of State-owned companies
  • The first of these is a list of recommendations on each of the sick and loss-making government-owned companiesThere are about 74 such companies in all.
  • Of these,
    • for about 25 companies in which revival plans were attempted but had failed, it has suggested closure, after which their assets, especially land holdings, could be disposed off and employees be offered voluntary retirement.
    • In the remaining cases, either mergers with other public sector units or strategic disinvestment is recommended.
    • In some companies, the Aayog preferred to let revival plans run their course, before taking a call on their future.
  • The second set of suggestions from the Aayog is a separate list of 15 PSUs in which it has recommended strategic disinvestment on priority. This list has been submitted to the Department of Investment and Public Asset management in the Finance Ministry.

Draft wind-solar hybrid policy proves restrictive

The government has released the draft National Wind-Solar Hybrid Policy which aims at providing a framework to promote large grid connected wind-solar PV system for optimal and efficient utilisation of transmission infrastructure among others.

  • The goal of the policy is to reach wind-solar hybrid capacity of 10 GW by 2022.
  • The main objective of the policy is to provide a framework for promotion of large grid connected wind-solar PV system
    • for optimal and efficient utilisation of transmission infrastructure and land,
    • reducing the variability in renewable power generation,
    • thus, achieving better grid stability.

Highlights:

  • Broadly, the draft policy proposes hybridisation of existing solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind power plants as well as providing a guideline towards setting up of new hybrid wind-solar PV power plants.
  • The draft policy proposes to provide fiscal and financial incentives for hybridisation of existing plants as well as setting up of new hybrid wind-solar PV plants. Low cost financing for hybrid projects may be made available through IREDA and other financial institutions like multilateral banks.
  • If existing plants want to hybridize, they will have to ensure that the power injected into the grid is not more than the existing capacity sanctioned for the plant.
  • Further, the additional power generated from the hybrid project may be used for captive purpose or sold either to the distribution utility at a price determined by the state regulator or lowest bid price discovered by any government agency, whichever is lower.
  • For new hybrid wind-solar projects, the draft policy proposes to provide the developer with the option of using the hybrid power for captive use, third party sale or sale to state electricity distribution utilities at prices determined by the state electricity regulatory commissions for the project. The hybrid power so purchased by the distribution company may be used to offset both solar and non-solar renewable purchase obligations.

Limitations

  • However, it is restrictive in suggesting that hybrid capacity addition, for existing plants, must be limited to the sanctioned transmission capacity. This could pose a problem for areas where transmission capacity is not enough to cater to the energy potential. In wind farms with low turbine density, a significant solar potential could be tapped (even of the order of 500 kW to 1 MW, depending upon plant area), which would require additional transmission capacity.
  • While there are inherent advantages in hybrid projects in optimal utilisation of resources, the project economics for such projects (whether for new or hybridisation of existing wind & solar plants) would be critically dependent upon the tariff level which may be either feed-in tariff based or competitively bid based, as is proposed in the policy. The draft policy is not clear about the financial incentives for hybrid systems and merely refers to the existing incentives for solar and wind projects

Regional connectivity subsidy subject to passenger loads

  • The subsidy provided by the Centre to airlines under the regional connectivity scheme (RCS) may be tapered if the passenger load factor increases to a decent level, according to the new civil aviation policy..
  • The Centre will subsidise the losses incurred by airlines by flying on the regional routes in a bid to allow them to charge Rs.2,500 to passenger for an hour’s flight. The Centre will create a regional connectivity fund through a small levy on departure of each flight, as per the policy. While Centre will contribute 80 per cent for the viability gap funding, the rest 20 per cent will come from the states.
  • The subsidy will be reviewed after every three years, according to the policy. The RCS will give airlines an easy exit option in case they find the unconnected routes unviable.

DNA study on Koragas to find out cause of drop in population

  • The population of Koragas, a primitive tribal community of coastal Karnataka, stood at 11,656 in 1991 and dwindled to 4,858 as per the 2011 Census.
  • To study the reasons behind this alarming decline in numbers, the Directorate of Tribal Welfare has asked Karnatak University’s DNA Centre to do DNA analysis of the community. There have been increasing instances of heart aliments, tuberculosis and cancer in the community.
  • Two scientists of the centre will visit Koraga colonies in Dakshina Kannada and collect blood samples on Friday and Saturday. This pilot study will be the basis for the detailed study to be carried out by Mysuru-based Tribal Research Centre in collaboration with the DNA Centre, said T.T. Basavana Gowda, director of the Tribal Research Centre.
  • For over a decade, the Koraga community, who originally lived in the forests, have been demanding a study to learn why many members of the tribe are not living beyond 50 years. “Many of us toil as civic workers. We not only work under inhospitable conditions but also are ostracised from society,” said Sanjeev Moodbidri, secretary of the Koraga Samajagala Okkoota.
  • Contradicting this claim, Hemalatha B.S., Dakshina Kannada Integrated Tribal Development Project Officer, said there were enough members in the tribe who were aged above 50 as they found during a recent survey covering 85 families.

SEBI proposes new disclosure norms for InvITs

  • Markets regulator SEBI has proposed additional guidelines for Infrastructure Investment Trusts (InvITs).
  • The proposed measures are aimed at helping the entities interested in setting up InvITs better understand the regulatory regime for these newly-introduced products.

Infrastructure Investment Trusts (InvITs)

  • Infrastructure Investment Trusts (InvITs) are mutual fund like institutions that enable investments into the infrastructure sector by pooling small sums of money from multitude of individual investors for directly investing in infrastructure so as to return a portion of the income (after deducting expenditures) to unit holders of InvITs, who pooled in the money.
  • InvITs can invest in infrastructure projects, either directly or through a special purpose vehicle (SPV). In case of Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects, such investments can only be through SPV.
  • InvITs are regulated by the securities market regulator in India- Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI).
  • SEBI notified SEBI (Infrastructure Investment Trusts) Regulations, 2014, providing for registration and regulation of InvITs in India. The objective of InvIT is to facilitate investment into the infrastructure sector in India.
  • InvITs are very much similar to the Real Estate investment Trusts (REITs) in structure and operations. InvITs are modified REITs designed to suit the specific circumstances in India.
  • Types of InviTs- Two types of InvITs have been allowed, one which is allowed to invest mainly in completed and revenue generating infrastructure projects and other which has the flexibility to invest in completed/under-construction projects. While the former has to undertake a public offer of its units, the latter has to opt for a private placement of its units. Both the structures are required to be listed.

Scheme for Sustainable Structuring of Stressed Assets (S4A)

  • Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan has asked bankers to judiciously apply the latest loan restructuring
  • RBI announced a revised scheme for debt recast, namely, Scheme for Sustainable Structuring of Stressed Assets (S4A).
  • The new norms are only applicable for
    • projects that have commenced operations
    • and where bank loans amount to more than Rs.500 crore.
  • According to the norms,
    • at least 50 per cent of the debt should be serviced over the same period as that of the existing loans
    • and the remaining debt could be converted into equity or quasi-equity instruments.
  • The meeting was convened by the Banks Board Bureau following lenders’ complaints of over activism by investigative agencies probing bad debts. Banks are wary to offer one-time settlement of loans to borrowers, which would need them to take substantial haircut in many cases, as they fear being hounded by investigative agencies in case of such deals.

Stressed loan

  • Stressed loan in the Indian banking system has increased sharply since 2012.
  • According to RBI data, the stressed assets ratio (which is the total of that gross NPA, restructured standard assets and Written Off Accounts) for the banking system as a whole, which stood at 9.8 per cent at the end of March 2012, rose to 14.5 per cent at the end of December 2015.
  • Public sector banks have a disproportionate share of the stress, as during the same period, the stressed assets for government-owned banks increased from 11.0 per cent to 17.7 per cent.
  • The rise in bad loans prompted the RBI to conduct an asset quality review which identified many accounts that banks need to classify as non-performing. As a result, many public sector banks have suffered heavy losses during the Oct-Dec and Jan-march quarter of 2015-16.

Cabinet approves merger of associates with State Bank

  • The Union Cabinet has approved the merger of State Bank of India (SBI), the country’s largest lender, and its associate banks
  • This is expected to bring the state-owned entity on a par with global lenders.
  • The merger of SBI with its associates began eight years ago when SBI merged State Bank of Saurashtra with itself in 2008. In 2010, State Bank of Indore was also merged with the larger bank. SBI has since made repeated attempts to merge its units but none came to fruition due to a shortage of capital.
  • The merged entity will have an asset base of about Rs.37 lakh crore, with nearly 24,000 branches and about 58,700 ATMs across the country as of March 2016-end . SBI and its associates employed 2.85 lakh people in 2014-15.
  • The merger of SBI and its associate banks is a win-win for both. While the network of SBI would stand to increase, its reach would multiply. The bank expected efficiencies to be created from rationalisation of branches, common treasury pooling and proper deployment of a large skilled resource base. Currently, no Indian bank features in the top 50 banks of the world. With this merger, some visibility at global level is likely to increase
  • Customers of associates and subsidiaries would also be beneficiaries. Any introduction of new technology by SBI would simultaneously be available uniformly. The scale of operations and common cost would get rationalised. Overall, the synergies being pooled at one place are going to be a big positive
  • The shares of SBI associate banks rose sharply after the cabinet approval. Those of the three listed associate banks that, State Bank of Mysore, State Bank of Travancore and State Bank of Bikaner and Jaipur were up 20 per cent each. SBI shares were up 3.9 per cent to close the day at Rs. 214.65 while the benchmark Sensex rose 1.25 per cent or 330 points to reach 26,726.

India sets sights on gold in ocean

  • The Union Cabinet approved a proposal
    • by the Earth Sciences Ministry
    • to sign the agreement to mine for so-called polymetallic sulphides over 10,000 sq km around parts of central and southwest Indian ridges in the Indian ocean.
    • India will sign a contract with the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a United Nations organisation, later this year that will give the country exclusive rights to mine for precious metals 
  • Exploration
    • In 2002, the government was granted permission only to explore ocean regions and prospect for precious metals.
    • A slew of Indian organisations such as the National Institute of Ocean Technology and the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research are involved with these surveys and developing specialised shipping vehicles.
    • Initial estimated resource of polymetallic nodules on the site retained by India on the central Indian Ocean basin is 380 million tonnes with 0.55 tonnes of cobalt, 4.7 tonnes of nickel, 4.29 tonnes of copper and 92.59 tonnes of manganese.
    • However, the actual estimates will vary depending on the results of a detailed survey and exploration, coupled with results of test mining of nodules upon developing the mining technology.
    • They will be of immense strategic and commercial value.
    • Officials say that while the long-term mining projects will fructify only over decades
    • A key technical challenge is being able to develop the specialised drills and extraction-technology required to fish out the metals.
  • Deep seabed polymetallic sulphides (PMS)
    • contain iron, copper, zinc, silver, gold and platinum in variable constitutions and
    • are precipitates of hot fluids from upwelling hot magma from the deep interior of the oceanic crust.
    • These compounds in the ocean ridges have attracted worldwide attention for their long-term commercial and strategic values,
  • The ISA, under the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), governs non-living resources of the seabed of international waters.

Govt. clears civil aviation policy, makes flying cheaper

Its salient features are as follows :

1. Regional Connectivity Scheme

  • An airline signing up for the scheme will connect small towns in flights of about 1hour with ticket charges capped at Rs 2,500.

2.Route Dispersal Guidelines (RDG)

  • Category I to be rationalized based on a transparent criteria, i.e., flying distance of more than 700km, average seat factor of 70% and above and annual traffic of 5 lakh passengers
  • The percentage of Cat.I traffic to be deployed on Cat.II, and IIA will remain the same while for CATIII it will be 35%.
  • Routes to Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh included in Category II
  • Revised categorization to apply from winter schedule of 2017
  • There view of routes will be done by MoCA once every 5 years
  • Withdrawal or revision of domestic operations to and within North East Region etc, subject to full compliance of RDG, can be done under prior intimation to MoCA at least three months before withdrawal or revision of the service

3. 5/20 Requirement

  • Replaced with a scheme which provides a level playing field
  • All airlines can now commence international operations provided that they deploy 20 aircraft or 20% of total capacity (in term of average number of seats on all departures put together), whichever is higher for domestic operations

4. Bilateral Traffic Rights

  • SAARC countries and countries located beyond 5000 km from Delhi – GoI will enter into ‘Open Sky’ Air Service Agreements on a reciprocal basis.

5. Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul

  • The MRO business of Indian carriers is around Rs 5000 crore, 90% of which is currently spent  outside India. In the budget for 2016-17, customs duty has been rationalised and the procedure for clearance of goods simplified.
  • Further incentives proposed in the policy to give a push to this sector:
    • MoCA will persuade State Governments to make VAT zero- rated on MRO activities
    • Provision for adequate land for MRO service providers will be made in all future airport/heliport projects where potential for such MRO services exists
    • Airport royalty and additional charges will not be levied on MRO service providers for a period of five years from the date of approval of the policy

For more details click here All about National Civil Aviation Policy, 2016

Anti-dumping duty on chemical from 5 nations

  • India may impose anti-dumping duty of up to $168.76 per tonne on imports of a chemical, mainly used in textile and packaging industry, from five countries including China and Iran to protect domestic players.
  • In its final findings, the Directorate General of Anti-Dumping and Allied Duties (DGAD), under the ministry, has found that ‘Purified Terephthalic Acid’ has been exported to India from China, Iran, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan below its normal value which has resulted in dumping. The DGAD said that it considers it necessary to impose the duty on the imports. It has recommended an anti-dumping duty in the range of $83.08 per tonne to $168.76 per tonne on the imports.
  • While DGAD recommends the duty, the Finance Ministry imposes it.
  • Countries initiate anti-dumping probes to determine if the domestic industry has been hurt by a surge in below-cost imports. To counter it they impose duties under the multi-lateral WTO regime. Anti-dumping steps are taken to ensure fair trade and provide a level-playing field to the domestic industry.

Is the appointment of Parliamentary Secretary unconstitutional?

  • Delhi is not the only State where the post of Parliamentary Secretary has been challenged. Various High Court judgments in the past have deemed the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries unconstitutional and have ruled against such appointments.
  • Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal reacted strongly to the President’s rejection of proposed legislation by the Delhi government to exempt the post of Parliamentary Secretary from the purview of ‘office-of-profit’, questioning why Delhi is being singled out as other States too have instituted the post of ‘Parliamentary Secretary.’ The posts do exist in various States at present, including Gujarat, Punjab and Rajasthan — where the BJP is in power.
  • Various petitions
    • in the High Court have challenged the appointment of Parliament Secretary, arguing that the post is in contradiction to Article 164 (1A) of the Constitution which provides for limiting the number of Ministers in the State Cabinets to 15 per cent of the total number of members of the State Legislative Assembly.
    • Because a Parliament Secretary often holds the rank of Minister of State, the Calcutta High Court, in June 2015, quashed the appointment of 24 Parliamentary Secretaries in West Bengal dubbing it unconstitutional.
    • Similar action was taken by the Bombay High Court in 2009 for the appointment of two Parliamentary Secretaries in Goa
    • and by the Himachal Pradesh High Court in 2005 for the appointment of eight Chief Parliamentary Secretaries and four Parliamentary Secretaries in the State.
    • In May 2015, the Hyderabad High Court stayed the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries in Telangana.
    • The matter is sub judice in Punjab and Haryana.

Legal issues

  • The ongoing debate around Delhi is whether the post of ‘Parliamentary Secretary’ is an ‘office of profit.’
  • ‘Office of profit’ is not defined in the Constitution. However, in past judgments, the Election Commission has noted “what constitutes an office of profit under the Government is now well established by a catena of judgments of the Supreme Court.”
  • Five tests have been laid down:
    • whether the government makes the appointment;
    • whether the government has the right to remove or dismiss the holder;
    • whether the government pays remuneration;
    • what the functions of the holder are; and
    • does the government exercise any control over the performance of these functions.
  • Further, some High Courts have ruled that parliamentary secretaries are essentially ministers and their appointment would be struck down if it resulted in the ministry’s strength breaching the constitutional limit.
    • Under Article 164 (1A) of the Constitution, introduced in 2003, the Council of Ministers should not comprise more than 15 per cent of the strength of a Legislative Assembly.
    • The number of Cabinet Ministers in Delhi cannot exceed 10 per cent of the total 70 seats — that is seven — as per Article 239(A) of Constitution. As of now, only one Parliamentary Secretary to the Chief Minister is authorised.

Current situation-

  • The Delhi government argues that as Parliamentary Secretaries are not eligible for any remuneration or perks from the government the post should be exempt from the office of profit.
  • The matter is essentially a mix of two legal questions:
    • whether the post of parliamentary secretary, paid or unpaid, is an office of profit;
    • and whether MLAs are given the positions only to get around the constitutional limit on the number of ministers a State can have.
  • These questions can be settled through the Election Commission and the courts of law, and attempts to politicise them are unnecessary.
    • The parliamentary secretaries are under notice from the EC to show cause why they should not be disqualified for holding an ‘office of profit’.
    • Mr. Kejriwal contends that his parliamentary secretaries do not draw any salaries or perquisites. He ought to canvass this point before the Election Commission.
    • The EC will have to go by the set of tests evolved by the Supreme Court on whether a particular post is an ‘office of profit’.
  • Such questions arise because the term ‘office of profit’ and the post of parliamentary secretary do not yet have a clear legal definition. A legislative solution applicable across the country is needed. That should ensure that there are no double standards in applying the law on office of profit.

Govt. to sell pulses through mobile vans

  • Amid the spiralling prices of pulses, the Centre decided to address the demand supply gap of the the pulses
  • As on June 13, 2016, the procurement of Rabi pulses had reached 64,000 tonnes. Together with the earlier procurement of 51,000 tonnes of the Kharif season, the total domestic procurement by government agencies had reached 1,15,000 tonnes. Following measures willbe taken
  • Import of pulses :
    • The Centre has also ordered further import of 12,500 tonnes of pulses for buffer stocks, which include 10,000 tonnes of masur and 2,500 tonnes of urad. So far, 14,321 tonnes of pulses have been imported by the government agencies against the total contracted quantity of 38,500 tonnes
    • Govt is in talks with Myanmar and other countries for government-to-government import of pulses to meet shortage
  • It has decided to sell pigeon pea (tur) and black gram (urad) at Rs. 120 per kg through the National Cooperative Consumers Federation of India (NCCF) via mobile vans in Delhi.
  • Only Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Delhi had lifted the allocated pulses from the buffer stock. Requests for allocation are still awaited from other States

Navy’s woman power reaches Mauritius shores

  • The Navy sail boat INSV Mhadei — steered by an all-woman, six-member crew that will attempt to circumnavigate the world next year — entered Port Louis, Mauritius.
  • This historic open ocean voyage by the all-women crew, the first such in Indian maritime history, is designed to help them get used to the conditions they will face during their mission.
  • The 2100 Nm [nautical mile] voyage was covered by the crew in 20 days passing through rough seas whipped up by the southwest monsoon. The timing of the voyage was chosen to expose the crew to rough weather that they are likely to encounter during their attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 2017

Vijay Mallya is a proclaimed offender: Court

  • A Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court  declared businessman Vijay Mallya a “proclaimed offender” on a request by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with its money laundering probe against him in an alleged Rs. 900 crore loan default case.
  • The ED’s application was filed under Section 82 of the Cr.PC after Mr. Mallya failed to respond to summons, and a non-bailable warrant was issued against him by the court.
  • A person is termed a proclaimed offender in a criminal investigation if the court believes that the accused has absconded or is concealing himself so that a warrant cannot be executed. As per the provisions of the Cr.PC, Mr. Mallya would be required to appear before the PMLA court and the investigating agency within 30 days.
  • An FIR has been registered against him under
    • Section 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant, or by banker, merchant or agent) and
    • Section 120 B (punishment for criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code
    • for investigation into the suspected offences of criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust etc relating to Rs. 900 crore of loan sanctioned by IDBI Bank, Mumbai to M/s Kingfisher Airlines Ltd in which Mr. Mallya is one of the accused among other co-accused.

Jolt to AAP govt. as Pranab refuses assent to Delhi Bill

  • The President refused his assent to the amendments sought by the Delhi government to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997
  • The proposed legislation sought to protect, with retrospective effect, 21 Aam Aadmi Party MLAs from disqualification for occupying additional posts deemed unconstitutional, given their status as elected representatives.
  • Different petitions had been filed with the President seeking the disqualification of these MLAs, appointed Parliamentary Secretaries by the  Delhi government on May 20 last year, on the ground that they occupied offices of profit and were being extended benefits over and above those allowed by the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
  • According to the order, yet to be communicated to the Delhi government, the 21 MLAs must now demit the office of Parliamentary Secretary.
  • This even as the Delhi government maintained that the refusal of the President’s assent did not have any effect on their membership of the Delhi Assembly.
  • The Ministry had referred the Bill for legal opinion to the Attorney-General who, a fortnight ago- said an elected representative cannot hold an office of profit – as it was in violation of the Representation of People Act

MiG-27 crashes in residential area in Jodhpur

  • A MiG-27 fighter jet on a training sortie crashed into a building in a residential area in Jodhpur. There were no casualties.
  • Of the three air squadrons, two are based in Jodhpur and one in Hasimara of West Bengal.
  • The first MiG-27M strike aircraft assembled by the HAL was handed over to the Air Force in 1985. Nearly 165 aircraft were eventually manufactured.
  • However, the jet has a poor safety record. The jet that crashed was an upgraded model. The MiG-27 fleet was to have been retired in 2013. But with the depleting force levels, some of them were upgraded with new avionics.

All set for trawling ban

  • 47-day trawling ban comes into effect
  • Signs of the beginning of the annual cycle were visible at the Kalamukku fish landing centre on Monday as the harbour saw depleted activities with workers on trawlers engaged in unloading nets from their boats for mending.
  • Only traditional fishing boats, numbering around 22,000, will be allowed to engage in fishing operations in the 12 nautical mile region during the ban period even as a section of the fishing community has called for a ban on fishing activities extending up to 90 days.
  • The ban has been imposed to allow fish species like oil sardines respite during their spawning season though there is no consensus yet among fishermen on the duration and timing of the ban on mechanised trawlers. However, there is no conflict between traditional and mechanised boat owners, who have reached an unwritten agreement on resource conservation. A meeting of officials with fishermen community ahead of the trawling ban had sensitised the stakeholders.
  • Special ration allocation will be made to meet the requirements of the fishermen community during the ban period.
  • Arrangements have been made to ensure safety at sea as the waters turn rough and fishing operations more dangerous during the rainy months.
  • Meanwhile, the fishing community has expressed concern over the failure of the Union government to make public the second draft of the national marine fisheries policy, which was shared with State government officials on June 1

Real Estate Investment Trusts

What are REITs?

  • REITs are similar to mutual funds. While mutual funds provide for an opportunity to invest in equity stocks, REITs allow one to invest in income-generating real estate assets.

How does an REIT work?

  • REITs raise funds from a large number of investors and directly invest that sum in income-generating real estate properties (which could be offices, residential apartments, shopping centres, hotels and warehouses).
  • The trusts are listed in stock exchanges so that investors can buy units in the trust. REITs are structured as trusts. Thus, the assets of an REIT are held by an independent trustee on behalf of unit holders.
  • The investment objective of REITs is to provide unit holders with dividends, usually generated from rental income and capital gains from the profitable sale of real estate assets.
  • Typically, the trust distributes 90 per cent of its income among its investors by issuing dividends.

REIT origins

  • REITs originated in the U.S. to give investors an opportunity to invest in income-generating real estate assets. After its introduction in the U.S., several countries such as Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong have implemented REITs.

Why now, in India?

  • REITs, as a concept, have been on the horizon for a while now.
  • India’sregulations in 2014 for the sector have not been able to attract investor interest. REITs obtained exemption from dividend distribution tax in the Budget, a step towards making them attractive for the investors.
  • A report by real estate consultancy firm Cushman and Wakefield estimates that Indian commercial real estate (like office, retail assets) offers investment opportunities for REITs worth $43 billion – $54 billion (Rs, 2.88 lakh crore – Rs. 3.60 lakh crore) across top cities.
  • The underlying strategy for REIT is to invest in rent-yielding assets and generate rental income for investors in the form of dividends. That explains why commercial real estate is seen as potential for REITs. The predominant strategy to invest in residential assets is via rental housing schemes. However, rental housing schemes in India are still not prevalent and hence investing in residential assets would be challenging
  • The current SEBI guidelines for REITs permit investments only in rent-yielding assets.

Why invest in REITs?

  • For investors who are averse to investing in physical purchase of property due to the risks involved, REIT is an alternative. Investors purchase units of REITs which are traded on the stock exchange, as against physical purchase of property. Therefore, investors can buy and sell units of REIT on the stock exchange as and when required, making investment easier to liquidate compared to physical property transaction.
  • REITs units are listed on, and are subject to the vagaries of the stock exchanges, resulting in negative or lower returns than expected.

State-owned banks widen reach quicker than private lenders

  • Bank ATMs have increased due to the rural financial inclusion programme. There are 27 public sector banks and 19 private sector banks in operation currently.
  • Public sector banks have increased their presence across the country—in terms of ATMs and points of sale devices—far faster than private sector banks have, recent data released by the Reserve Bank of India shows.
  • The data—comparing private sector and public sector banks on various parameters such as the number of ATMs, points of sale (POS) devices, credit and debit cards outstanding, and the value of the transactions done via these cards—shows that public sector banks have steadily increased their share in most of these parameters over the last four years.
  • The data shows that there were 142,500 public sector banks (PSB) ATMs as of March 2016, which amounts to 72 per cent of the total number of ATMs in the country. This is a vast improvement over the 58,000 PSB ATMs at the end of March 2012.
  • Private banks, on the other hand, only increased their number of ATMs from 30,300 in March 2012 to 55,600 at the end of March 2016, effectively seeing their share in the total fall 10 percentage points over the period.
  • One common view is that this increase in the number of ATMs by PSBs is due to the government-mandated rural financial inclusion programme.
  • The data supports this, with PSB ATMs making up 86 per cent of all rural ATMs at the end of March 2016, up from 77 per cent in March 2012. But, as the data also shows, PSBs have a higher share of ATMs than private banks in metro, urban, and semi-urban areas as well. Urban non-metro ATMs for PSBs grew from 62 per cent share in March 2012 to 72 per cent by end of 2015, while the share of private ATMs fell from 37 per cent to 27 per cent. Semi-urban India saw almost the same trend.
  • Private banks were the first-movers in POS devices (that allow card transactions), having issued 85 per cent of these as of March 2012. The share of public sector POS machines grew from 8 per cent in March 2012 to 34 per cent in March 2016. Private banks’ share fell to 62 per cent.
  • The issuance of credit cards and the share in credit card transactions are two areas where the private sector outshines the public sector.
  • The data on debit cards tells the story of public sector dominance. Debit cards issued by PSBs made up 77 per cent of all outstanding debit cards as of March 2012. The state-run banks added 30.3 crore debit cards over the next four years, taking the total number of PSB debit cards to 54 crore.

Udta Punjab set to soar with one cut, ‘A’ certificate

  • The Bombay High Court on Monday directed the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to issue an ‘A’ certificate to the movie Udta Punjab (Punjab on a High) with the deletion of one scene and a modified disclaimer.

Central Board of Film Certification

  • The Central Board of Film Certification (often referred to as the Censor Board)
  • is a statutory censorship and classification body
  • under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.
  • It is tasked with “regulating the public exhibition of films under the provisions of the Cinematograph Act 1952“.
  • It assigns certifications to films, television shows, television ads, and publications for exhibition, sale or hire in India.
  • Films can be publicly exhibited in India only after they are certified by the Board, including films shown on television.
  • The CBFC India is considered to be one of the most powerful film Censor Boards in the world due to its strict ways of functioning.
  • The Board consist of 25 other non-official members and a Chairperson (all of whom are appointed by Central Government). The Board functions with its headquarters at Mumbai. It has nine Regional offices.
  • The Regional Offices are assisted in the examination of films by Advisory Panels. The members of the panels are nominated by Central Government by drawing people from different walks of life for a period of two years.
  • Films are certified under 4 categories.
    • “U” (unrestricted public exhibition)
    • “A” (restricted to adult audiences).
    • “UA” (unrestricted public exhibition subject to parental guidance for children below the age of twelve)
    • “S” (restricted to specialized audiences such as doctors or scientists).

The censor is snipped- Editorial

  • The Bombay High Court
    • has served a reminder that certification, and not censorship, is the real job of the CBFC.
    • And that the power to order changes and cuts must be exercised only in line with provisions of the Constitution and Supreme Court orders.
    • Its mandate is not to interfere with the film-maker’s creative process and freedom of expression.
    • More importantly, the CBFC has been advised not to look at cinema like a ‘grandmother’ and instead move with the times and understand the impulses of present-day creators who may have a candid and direct manner of storytelling.
    • It has reminded the Board that a film should be seen as one whole and its scenes and dialogues be not taken out of context.
  • The CBFC had no business in the first place to appoint itself the guardian of the honour of Punjab and take umbrage at the portrayal of the prevailing reality of widespread drug addiction in the State. Suggesting that references to Punjab and other places be deleted amounted to ordering that a film about a besetting vice in a particular geographical area be converted into a vague tale in a make-believe world.
  • The reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2)
    • have been routinely invoked to choke free speech and expression.
    • These restrictions were never meant to include such things as whether people, in power or otherwise, found something in poor taste, offensive or against the grain of social or political opinion.
    • We live in a country where hurt sentiment is used to seek curbs on all manner of creative expression — in books, music, art and film.
    • In doing what he did, Mr. Nihalani  is guilty of succumbing to the view that hurt sentiments (whether real or manufactured) are a basis for ordering extensive and story-altering cuts in a film.
  • The Shyam Benegal Committee, which recently submitted its report on norms relating to film certification, recommended that the CBFC should be nothing more than a certification body. It has suggested that films be classified on the basis of their suitability to different age groups.
  • After Udta Punjab , reforming the CBFC’s functioning has acquired a new urgency

‘Yoga medals’ proposed for paramilitary troops

  • With the country set to celebrate the second International Yoga Day (IYD) on June 21, the government has proposed instituting ‘Yoga medals’ for Central paramilitary troops for displaying exceptional skills in the ancient discipline for physical, mental and spiritual well being.
  • Besides, it has planned to re-employ retiring personnel of the Central Armed Police Forces as Master Yoga Trainers in order to create a constant resource pool of teachers for about 9 lakh personnel of the CRPF, the CISF, the ITBP, the SSB and the BSF.

Army to involve industry in its long-term plans

  • On the lines of the Navy’s design bureau which has been successful in indigenising warship design, the Army is attempting a major reworking of weapons design and procurement by incorporating academia and industry in its long-term perspective plans. This will be done under the soon to be set up Army Design Bureau (ADB) the formal approval for which is in the final stages.
  • In order to identify joint development projects in critical areas, Lt. Gen. is currently holding a series of interactions with the academic institutions and industry across the country and sharing the Army’s long-term requirements.
  • Some 4-5 teams have been set up which are working on few prototypes and the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), Mumbai and Kharagpur are set to join the effort.
  • Some of the priority areas the Army is looking at include small arms, smart munitions, communication and electronic warfare systems and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), both surveillance and combat.
  • The Army, which has been traditionally reluctant to engage with the industry, is now opening up with the government’s emphasis on ‘Make in India’.
  • While the idea is welcome, there is need for policy clarity on how these projects will work within the larger Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) which guides all defence procurements. In fact, DPP 2016 has created a new category, indigenous Design Development and Manufacturing, which will be the preferred procurement route for procurement.

Food Ministry proposes 25 % duty on sugar export

  • Sugar production in India, the world’s second largest producer is estimated to be about 25 million tonnes in 2015-16, as against 28.3 million tonnes last year.
  • Retail sugar prices last month had crossed Rs.40 per kg due to 11 per cent fall in domestic sugar output in the ongoing 2015-16 season.
  • The country had exported 1.4 million tonnes of sugar so far in the 2015-16 marketing year (October—September).
  • Sugar exports have become viable now as global prices have increased by 50 per cent in last three months due to disruption in supply from Brazil. The international prices of sugar are rising and therefore traders may increase the export of sugar to make profit
  • The Food Ministry has proposed to impose 25 per cent duty on export of sugar to ensure sufficient supply of the sweetener in the domestic market. This move will keep sufficient availability of sugar in domestic market and the price will be under control.
  • As demand and supply of sugar in India are at par, the government does not want any export from the country.

Sexual harassment law likely to be amended

  • The Centre is contemplating an amendment to the rules on dealing with sexual harassment cases to make the committee on sexual harassment share its findings with the complainant in cases where no action is recommended or contemplated against the accused.
  • The panel will not only have to provide a copy of its report to the complainant but would also have to consider any representation against its findings as an appeal before completing its report. In a circular, the Department of Personnel directed all Ministries and departments to notify the change to stakeholders and get their views by June 21.

Govt. denies nod for Google’s Street View

  • In April 2015, Google representatives made a presentation on Street View for the MHA. They had told the officials then that the platform would be useful for tourism and disaster management.
  • A formal proposal was submitted in July same year to shoot images through high-end cameras and upload them on ‘Street View’.
  • In 2011, Google launched Street View as a pilot project in some of the tourist sites like Qutub Minar, the Thanjavur temple, the Varanasi riverbank, the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort, Nalanda University, Mysore Palace and Chinnaswamy Stadium in partnership with the Tourism Ministry.
  • A technical committee of the Defence Ministry, which comprises officials from Indian Air Force, Military Intelligence, Navy, Army and Intelligence Bureau, had unanimously opposed the service
  • The main concern was security of sensitive defence installations. The Defence Ministry said it was not possible to monitor the service once it was launched and it would be detrimental to national security
  • The proposal was rejected in February itself, primarily amid security concerns after the terror attack at the Pathankot airbase on January 1-2. Investigating agencies suspect that terrorists used Google maps as they were aware of the airbase’s topography.
  • The decision comes close on the heels of a proposed law to regulate Internet content in the country. The Home Ministry recently uploaded the draft Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016 for comments from the public. The Bill proposes jail term of seven years and a fine upto Rs. 100 crore for wrongly depicting the map of India, a move that is likely to hit Google and Microsoft.
  • The service was launched in 2007 in the U.S. and has since expanded to other parts of the world.
  • The Street View imagery has run into trouble in Germany, Greece, Switzerland, Poland and the United Kingdom amid privacy concerns and data protection issues.

Ken-Betwa project, a threat to wildlife?

  • An ambitious project to link Ken and Betwa rivers has become a stage for a unique man-animal conflict.

Ken Betwa link-

  • Key structures of the project
    • proposed Daudhan dam and
    • the 2.5 km canal
  • Aim- transfer surplus water from the Uttar Pradesh section of the Ken to the Betwa in Madhya Pradesh
  • Significance- critical to irrigate nearly 7,00,000 hectares in drought-ravaged Bundelkhandken-betwa
  • Opposition-
    • Environmentalists say that such a dam will submerge at least 4,000 hectares of Madhya Pradesh’s Panna tiger reserve, whose tigers were almost lost to poaching in 2009 and have only recently been partially replenished.
    • They allege that most districts in Madhya Pradesh will not actually get the promised water.
    • There are vultures in the region, whose nests will be threatened by the height of the dam.

Clearance for the project

  • Since the project involves clearing forest land, affects endangered animals and involves relocating some farmers, it requires multi-pronged environmental clearance by the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change.
  • The National Board for Wildlife has constituted a committee of experts, which includes ecologists, hydrologists, representatives from the Water Ministry, and tiger conservationists to study the impact on wildlife.
  • Their go-ahead is essential for the environmental impact assessment and forest clearance by the Madhya Pradesh government.
  • These authorities have given an ‘in-principle’ clearance but funds for the project — Rs. 9,000 crore — won’t be cleared by the Union Cabinet unless all the clearances are in order.

1.46 lakh lives lost on Indian roads last year

  • An official report, released recently, said 1.46 lakh people were killed in road accidents in India in 2015 — an increase of five per cent from 2014.
  • Road accidents as a whole rose 2.5 per cent during 2015 to 5.01 lakh or 1,374 accidents every day, claiming 400 lives
  • The report said a majority (54.1 per cent) of those killed in road accidents during 2015 were in the age group of 15-34. Thirteen States, including Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh, accounted for the highest number of accidents. Among cities, while Mumbai had the highest number of accidents (23,468), Delhi saw the most number of deaths (1,622) in road accidents.
  • Also, drivers’ fault was responsible for 77.1 per cent of the accidents, deaths and injuries, mainly because of over-speeding, the report noted.

National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board

  • Alarmed by rising road accidents, the Union Road Transport and Highways Ministry has sent a Cabinet note for setting up a National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board to advise the government on road safety standards and guidelines. The Centre has decided to form the National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board through an executive order after it failed to push the Road Safety Bill owing to the logjam in Parliament
  • The Ministry never had an advisory body of experts to lay down standards and oversee activities related to road safety
  • The proposed body
    • advisory body, under the Ministry,
    • will have a permanent office
    • five or six members
    • with expertise in road engineering, road safety, automobile manufacturing, traffic and trauma care.
    • it would be funded by the Ministry.
    • mandated to advise on rules and regulations, road safety and road engineering
    • It will also have a joint secretary from the Ministry as its member
    • will be set up through an executive order after Cabinet’s approval.
  • The States would be encouraged to send reports on road accidents and their causes to the Centre every three months.
  • S. Sundar Committee on road safety and traffic management, set up in 2007 had recommended settibg up a Road Safety Board.  But according to one of its members setting up a road safety body through an executive order makes it toothless. The idea to float a Bill was to give powers to the board to set standards, independent of the government, and not give recommendations

‘Revered’ nilgai turns farmers’ enemy

  • A spate of clearances from the Environment Ministry, effectively allowing
    • Himachal Pradesh to kill a species of monkey (Rhesus macaque), and
    • Bihar to eliminate nilgai or blue bull, a species of antelope, and wild pigs where they were in conflict with humans.
    • slaughter of peacocks in Goa and
    • elephants in West Bengal.
  • Till date, five states have submitted proposals. The Ministry examines the proposal in detail and allows scientific management in a specific area for a limited time. There were complaints about wild boar, blue bull and other animals…permission for scientific management [have been given] to Uttarakhand, Bihar and Himachal Pradesh

Nilgai

  • About 200 nilgai have been shot by hired shooters in Bihar’s Mokama area over the past three days.
  • The crop-raiding species is found on acres of agricultural fields in riverine areas of the Ganga and Gandak basins. Bihar’s farmers, especially in Bhojpur, Buxar, Saran, Champaran, Gopalgunj, Siwan, Sasaram, Munger, Bhagalpur, Begusarai and Patna districts, have been demanding a licence from the State government to cull the blue bulls.
  • Farmers in a dozen districts of the State have demanded measures to control the crop-raiding animals, and even performed prayers to keep them off fields. At some places, farmers also put up electric wire fencing and barricades
  • The nightmare to the farmers grew steadily as “blue bulls breed twice a year”.
  • The State Board of Wild Life in May 2015 decided that Bihar would declare blue bulls vermin.

Opposition to culling

  • The trend of killing animals involved in conflict with people through an official licence is relatively new, and a cause for worry
  • Wildlife had previously been classified as vermin but giving States greater leeway to cull animals was worrisome.
  • The entire gamut of issues linked to declaration of wild animals as vermin including better safeguards against misuse and other practical solutions to reduce crop loss ought to have been discussed by the National Board for Wildlife. However, the full NBWL has not met in two years
  • The Centre should have tried to explore other options instead of advising the states to shoot animals

Protection

  • Wild animals are protected by the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 under which animals and birds are classified, on the basis of threats they face, into four schedules.
  • The highly endangered tiger is in the highest Schedule 1 and hares in Schedule 4.
  • Each class gets different grades of protection and the law allows all, except Schedule 1 animals, to be temporarily slotted as Schedule 5 or ‘vermin.’
  • Nilgai, wild pig and rhesus macaque come under schedule 2 and 3.

Centre to evolve norms to enhance product quality

  • The Commerce Ministry will soon bring out a five-year ‘National Standards Strategy Paper’ to weed out substandard products from the domestic market and boost India’s exports of high quality goods. An inter-ministerial panel is already working on identifying goods that do not conform to safety, security, environment and health standards
  • The government is mulling improving regulations to ensure that India moves gradually towards adoption of more mandatory standards (also called technical regulations) that are harmonised with international standards.
  • The move comes in the backdrop of the ministry preparing to organise a ‘Standards Conclave’ on June 23 and 24 in collaboration with industry body CII, Bureau of Indian Standards and National Accreditation Board for Certification Bodies in the national capital. Soon, Regional Standard Conclaves will also be held in cities across India.
  • It is essential that India develops a coordinated national response to meet the challenges of the World Trade Organisation regime in standards and conformity assessment

Standards under WTO

  • Article 20 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) allows governments to act on trade in order to protect human, animal or plant life or health, provided they do not discriminate or use this as disguised protectionism
  • A separate agreement on food safety and animal and plant health standards (the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Agreement or SPS) sets out the basic rules.
  • Technical regulations and standards – It recognises WTO members’ right to implement measures to achieve legitimate policy objectives, such as the protection of human health and safety, or protection of the environment. The agreement also sets out a code of good practice for both governments and non-governmental or industry bodies to prepare, adopt and apply voluntary standards. Over 200 standards-setting bodies apply the code.

Need for adequate standards framework

  • A strong standards and regulatory framework would help domestic industry in becoming competitive in the world as well as domestic market. This would help in increasing the exports by measuring up to standards and conformity assessment procedures both in quantitative terms and also getting higher value exports
  • A good standards regime shall fulfil the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for ‘zero defect, zero effect (meaning, environment-friendly)’ and ‘Make In India’ campaigns.
  • It would also help prevent flooding of domestic market with unsafe/sub-standard imports which adversely affect consumers and domestic industry
  • Mega-regional free trade agreements, including Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are promoting high standards for global trade. It is therefore important to anticipate the future scenario on standards and technical regulations in the context of TPP and TTIP.
  • The strategy of having different standards for domestic market and export market has not worked anywhere. We cannot compartmentalise quality consciousness. It has to be right from the bottom. To grow India’s export, Indian manufacturers should comply with international best practices and standards and create an ecosystem of conformity.

NIA court convicts 18 UNLF insurgents

  • A special court of the National Investigation Agency [NIA] has convicted 18 persons, including former chairperson of Manipur based separatist outfit, United National Liberation Front [UNLF], Rajkumar Meghen alias Sanayama for various offences, in Guwahati
  • The UNLF leaders and cadres were convicted for offences, “including criminal conspiracy [related to] terrorist acts and waging war” against the country
  • The UNLF is one of the oldest armed, underground outfits of Manipur that has been active in the North East for over 50 years and Mr. Meghen was perhaps the most networked and respected leaders, who demanded plebiscite in Manipur to establish peace.

Three U.S. donors on watch list

  • The Home Ministry has put three American donors under the “prior permission category” for allegedly funding non Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA)-registered NGOs in India, which were allegedly using the money for proselytisation and working in the field of climate change.
  • The Open Society Foundations (OSF), World Movement for Democracy (WMD) and National Endowment for Democracy (NED) were put under the watch list on the basis of “adverse” intelligence inputs.

Udta Punjab controversy

  • The letter from the revising committee of the censor board made 13 suggestions for changes in the movie “Udta Punjab”. It says, “The theme, presentation, language and visuals of the film are not suitable for non-adults.” The letter then elaborates suggestions to delete words and visuals from the film, one of them being ‘Delete signboard of Punjab in the beginning.’
  • Phantom Films, producers of Udta Punjab, moved court to get a copy of this letter issued by the Central Board of Film Certification’s revising committee detailing the cuts (without which they can’t go to the appellate tribunal or the court)
  • In a rare show of unity, Bollywood came together to fight for Udta Punjab and take a stand for freedom of expression and creativity., a number of A listers from the Hindi film industry came together to voice their protest against the functioning of the CBFC and its chief Pahlaj Nihalani.
  • A Division Bench of Justice S.C. Dharmadhikari and Justice Shalini Phansalkar Joshi heard Phantom Films and Vikas Bahl, one of the producers of the film which is scheduled for release on June 17.
  • It was only after this that the revising committee shared its letter with the producers.

SC’s stand on censorship till date

  • Here is a look at a string of Supreme Court judgments that champions filmmakers’ freedom of expression by holding that censors cannot prevent open discussion on a social evil even if it is found embarrassing or hateful to the state’s interests.
  1. 2006 Anant Patwardhan’s documentary Father, Son and Holy War – No film that extols or encourages a social evil is permissible. But a film that carries the message that a social evil is evil cannot be made impermissible on the ground that it depicts the social evil– while directing Doordarshan to air the documentary
  2. The court has laid down the law that the censor’s scissors cannot hold to ransom an artist’s creative freedom at the “fall of a hat”.
  3. 1989 in the S. Rangarajan versus P. Jagjivan Ram case – Censors should not have an orthodox or conservative outlook, but must be responsive to change and must go with the current climate-. Holding that the state has an “obligatory duty to protect freedom of expression,” the judgment held that censors cannot justify their suggested cuts as reasonable restrictions on the filmmaker’s right to expression. The case concerned the censor board’s refusal to give a certificate for the exhibition of the Tamil film Ore Oru Gramathile, which criticised the reservation policy
  4. A 1970, Constitution Bench in K.A. Abbas vs Union of India – our censors must make a substantial allowance in favour of freedom. The judgment said that a line is to be drawn only if an average, moral man “begins to feel embarrassed or disgusted at a naked portrayal of life. ”The judgment concerned the censor board’s refusal to certify a documentary, A Tale of Four Cities , which portrayed the contrast between the life of the rich and the poor in the four principal cities of the country.
  5. In 1992, the apex court hit out at Doordarshan for refusing to air an award-winning film on the Bhopal gas tragedy.
  6. On the demand to snip rape scenes depicting Phoolan Devi’s nudity in the movie Bandit Queen , the court in Bobby Art International & Ors vs. Om Pal Singh Hoon & Ors (1996) , held that censors should recognise the message of a film and apply it to individual scenes to see whether they advance the message or not.

The monsoon has officially arrived: IMD

  • The India Meteorological Department (IMD) declared that the monsoon had arrived over Kerala on, a day later than its forecast date of June 7.
  • Though it has been raining heavily in Kerala for well over a week — prompting private weather forecasters such as Skymet, to declare that the monsoon set in on May 30 — these rains have only qualified as ‘pre monsoon’ showers.
  • According to a statement from the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), the monsoon has further advanced into remaining parts of south Arabian Sea, Maldives, Comorin area, most parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, some parts of south interior Karnataka, remaining parts of south Bay of Bengal and some more parts of central Bay of Bengal. It is expected to cover the whole country by July 15.
  • The IMD has predicted monsoon rains to be 6 per cent more than the historical average of 89 cm and spread out quite evenly over the country. This would be the first time in at least five years that the IMD has predicted above-average monsoon rains since April and on the back of two years of consecutive droughts.

Criteria for onset of monsoon

  • The meteorological department has an elaborate set of criteria to be fulfilled before it declares the onset of the monsoon over Kerala. All of these must be consecutively met for two days for the IMD to officially declare the monsoon.
  • After May 10, at least eight of 14 stations across Kerala and Karnataka have to register at least 2.5 mm of rain, and monsoon-bearing winds have to be at least of 30-40 kmph velocity and below 600 hPa (approximately upto 4.5km) over the south Arabian Sea.
  • A key parameter is the Outgoing Longwave Radiation — an indicator of convection — has to be below 200 W/m2.
  • The Outgoing Longwave Radiation was the only value that was not being met for so far and used to vary. That has now been met, based on latest data available on June 7

Kerala worried as Saudis cancel tours

  • Kerala’s tourism industry was expecting 1.5 lakh visitors from Saudi alone during the lean monsoon season. In 2014, as many as 48,346 Saudi tourists visited Kerala. In 2015, the figure was nearly 80,000.
  • Many tourists from Saudi Arabia have cancelled their tours to Kerala, following the new biometric verification norms introduced by the Indian embassy in Riyadh for obtaining visa. As per the new norms that came into effect from June 1, a Saudi national visiting India needs to go to the embassy in Riyadh and submit himself to biometric and fingerprint scanning to get the visa. As a result, the number of visas issued by the embassy every day has dropped from 200 to 20.
  • The lack of facilities in the embassy for biometric and fingerprint scanning, and the hurdles in coming to Riyadh from far-flung areas like Gizan, Najran, and Qassim are the reasons for the cancellation.
  • Kerala tourism’s efforts to penetrate the Saudi market through road shows and aggressive marketing are being rendered futile by the cumbersome procedures

Govt. to establish 250 agro-processing clusters

  • Government plans to set up 250 small agro-processing clusters at an estimated cost of over Rs.5,000 crore near producing area of one specific fruit or vegetable

Reserve Bank tells lenders to expedite cyber security policy

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has told commercial banks to ‘immediately’ put in place a cyber security policy, duly approved by the board, in the wake of increasing cyber attacks in the financial system.
  • The policy would also include setting up an adaptive incident response, management and recovery framework to deal with adverse incidents/disruptions, if and when they occur, according to the central bank.
  • Banks have been asked to formulate a Cyber Crisis Management Plan (CCMP) which should be a part of the overall board-approved strategy. CCMP should address the following four aspects—Detection, Response, Recovery and Containment.
  • The regulator has emphasised that the cyber security policy should be distinct and separate from the broader IT policy/IS Security policy so that it can highlight the risks from cyber threats and the measures to address or mitigate these risks.

RBI begins work on IT arm

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has set in motion the process of establishing an IT (information technology) subsidiary.
  • It has commenced the exercise to recruit key heads for assorted verticals of the proposed subsidiary.
  • The subsidiary will have advisory committees to provide guidance on cyber security, current and future requirements of entities regulated by the RBI, particularly from the regulatory and supervisory points of view, and to the central bank on its IT systems and projects.
  • The IT subsidiary would focus
    • on IT and cyber security (including related research) of the financial sector and
    • assist in IT systems audit and assessment of the RBI regulated entities;
    • advise, implement and manage internal or system-wide IT projects (both the existing and the new) of the Reserve Bank as mutually decided between the Reserve Bank and the subsidiary
    • periodically report to apex-level committees of RBI, including the Board for Financial Supervision, the Board for Regulation and Supervision of Payment and Settlement Systems (BPSS) and the RBI’s central board.
  • Given the need for inter-operability and cross-institutional co-operation, the entity would be expected to play an effective role in setting standards to strengthen RBI’s role as regulator.

Target low value items in electronics policy

  • The domestic demand for electronic goods – approximately $64 billion in 2014-15. In comparison, the world market in 2014 was $2 trillion.
  • Niti Aayog recommended an import substitution strategy to expand the production of electronic goods in the short-run. It is, however, imperative to move ahead with the measures aimed at reorientation towards export simultaneously. This will ensure that the present opportunity to capture the large world market in electronics arising out of China’s rising real wages is not missed. This is also required to ensure that a future entrenched domestic industry does not rule out a switch to export oriented strategy.
  • Niti Aayog recommendations for electronics industry
  1. The government should not shy away from pushing production of low value products in the country that add value due to huge volumes .
  2. The Department of Electronics and IT (DeitY) and the Department of Revenue should work towards ending tax uncertainty and simplify the tax regime.
    • The two departments should bring all input tariffs down to the tariff applicable to the final product and that the exports to be subjected to zero taxes
  3. Also pitched for a 10-year tax holiday for a firm that invests a substantial sum and generates a large employment within coastal economic zones. For this purpose an investment threshold of $1 billion with the employment of 20,000 may be considered.
  4. A similar sop to substitute imports by offering a ten-year tax holiday to anyone investing about $1 billion and creating around 15,000 jobs in the electronics industry.
  5. Modify preferential market access policy of DeitY to allow preference in government procurement, especially in the area of defence. The preferential market access policy mandates all state departments, organisations and agencies to procure at least 30 per cent of their equipment from the domestic market.

Railways speed to top rating in poll

  • 15,000 respond as PM seeks feedback on government portal MyGov.in 
  • Ratings have been solicited by the PM on 15 of his pet projects
  • At the end of these responses,  the scores on just what and whose work makes the cut in the government is telling.
  • Ranking right there at the top, with an average of 4.6 stars are the initiatives taken by the government on rail connectivity and modernisation
  • Following closely in the list of above average work are the initiatives on roads and highways; they score an average of 4.55 stars.
  • Number three for External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Her Ministry’s work gets an average of 4.5 star rating.
  • Make in India, and initiatives in the power sector are the next two popular areas of government work. Each scored an average of 4.2 stars.

MyGov.in

  • MyGov platform is a unique path breaking initiative which was launched on July 26, 2014
  •  It is a unique first of its kind participatory governance initiative involving the common citizen at large.
  • By the use of online platform creating an interface for healthy exchange of ideas and views involving the common citizen and experts with the ultimate goal to contribute to the social and economic transformation of India.
  • In its short span of existence till date, MyGov platform has been more than successful in keeping the citizens engaged on important policy issues and governance, be it Clean Ganga, Girl Child Education, Skill Development and Healthy India to name a few.
  • The major attributes of MyGov includes Discussion, Tasks, Talks, Polls and Blogs on various groups based on the diverse governance and public policy issues.
  • Today MyGov has more than 1.78 Million users who contribute their ideas through discussions and also participate through the various earmarked tasks.
  •  As mentioned by the Hon’ble Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, MyGov is an initiative which should culminate into a mass movement towards self-governance or ‘surajya’.

Army wants soldiers to have a clean shave

  • After a great deal of legal wrangling, a jawan who insisted on growing a beard on religious grounds has been terminated by the Army and termed ‘an undesirable soldier’.
  • His dismissal was upheld by the Kochi Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) recently.
  • Maktumhusen, a 34-year-old Muslim from Dharwad in Karnataka, was a sepoy in the Army Medical Corps for nearly 10 years from 2001, when he first sought permission from his Commanding Officer (CO) to have a beard on religious grounds.
  • The CO allowed him on the condition that he get a new identity card and retain the look for the rest of his service under the Army headquarters letters of 1951 and 1978

Amended rules

  • But later these rules had been superseded by amendments to Regulation No. 665 of the Defence Services Regulations and the Ministry of Defence (Army) letter, 1991.
  • Under the amended rules, those other than Sikhs cannot sport a permanent beard.
  • Citing this, the CO revoked his order and asked Mr. Maktumhusen to comply.
  • The jawan refused and moved the Karnataka High Court, terming the order ‘discriminatory.’
  • Meanwhile since he paid no heed to further instructions, and the Army discharged him from service as an ‘undesirable soldier’ after an enquiry.

Tribunal ruling

  • Soldiers’s argument
    • terming the order ‘discriminatory.
    • that he had the right to grow a beard (under Article 25 of the Constitution on religious freedom) and that he should have rights on par with Sikhs.
  • Tribunal order
    • said that having a beard was not among the ‘fundamental tenets’ of Islam.
    • The Army is a disciplined force and denominational differences among its members based on religion, caste etc. cannot be permitted. Practice of wearing a beard claimed on the basis of religion by the applicant, which goes against Regulation 665 of the Defence Service Regulations, is not conducive to the discipline of the Force
  • Rules across services
    • Sikhs are permitted to keep a well-maintained beard and untrimmed hair across the Services. But the Army, Navy and the Air force have differing rules. The Army allows non-Sikhs, especially in certain regiments, to sport a temporary beard.
    • The Air Force does not allow display of religious symbols on duty or at parades. But Muslims who had a beard at the time of enrolment before January 1, 2002, can keep it.
    • The Navy allows its personnel to change their appearance. But the CO’s permission is mandatory. Medical grounds grant exemption from the rules.

Muhamma says it is free from open defecation

  • Muhamma grama panchayat in the Alappuzha district of Kerala has declared itself an open defecation-free (ODF) panchayat.
  • It is the first panchayat in the State to make such a self-declaration, as part of a procedure to be ratified by the State under the Swachh Bharat Mission of the Union government.
  • All houses and institutions in the panchayat have toilets now
  • A survey conducted earlier revealed that 281 houses in the local body area were deprived of toilet facility. The panchayat took up a project to construct toilets there, utilising assistance available from the Central mission, apart from funds of the panchayat as well as some government departments.
  • The panchayat has handed over documents claiming ODF status to mission representatives and district panchayat president. The status would be examined by State-level officials over a six-month period, after which the State mission could confirm the status.
  • It would be a challenge for the panchayat to ensure that people do not go back to open defecation.

Fresh row at FTII as students object to ‘radical’ syllabus

  • After an uneasy calm following the culmination of the 139-day strike in October last year, trouble seems to be brewing yet again at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) with students opposing the new syllabus. This has led to speculation of a fresh confrontation with the management.
  • Significant changes were approved by the AC, which include
    • transforming the institute into a ‘non-residential university’,
    • a new syllabus on the choice-based credit system format
    • a semester pattern to replace the annual assessment system.
    • FTII be converted into a digital media university.
    • the institute will be restructured to have different schools such as School of Media Management and Communication, School of Performing Arts and School of Advertising Design.
    • There will be nine schools offering 22 courses, including long-term courses like MBA in disciplines ranging from broadcast journalism to costume design.
    • Each course will have 15-20 seats of which 30 per cent will be reserved for students from Southeast Asia and Africa.
  • Opposition- Students allege that these measures are contrary to the FTII’s “creative spirit” and that the proposals will turn the centre into a “market-driven factory.”
  • Meanwhile Noted actor Tom Alter has resigned from his post as head of the acting department in the Film and Television Institute of India over alleged ‘disagreement’ with students.

Rajasthan government takes action against striking doctors

  • As the ongoing strike of the resident doctors of government hospitals crippled healthcare services in Rajasthan, the State government terminated the services of 146 medicos and suspended 1,387 of them