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Current Affairs - 9 December 2016

General Affairs 

PM's Office Responds to Congress's Kharge, Seeks Meet To Pick CBI Director
  • The Prime Minister's Office has responded to the letter of Congress's Mallikarjun Kharge, which alleged that the appointment of CBI's acting chief Rakesh Asthana was made without a meeting of a selection committee so the charge can be given to a junior officer as RK Dutta, its Special Director, was transferred to the home ministry. The Prime Minister's office has said it is committed to the proper selection process and sought a meeting of the selection committee to appoint the agency's director.

    Mr Asthana, a Gujarat cadre officer, was appointed the acting chief of the CBI on Friday.  The due process of appointment of the agency's chief involves a meeting of the selection committee, which comprises the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the leader of the single largest opposition party.

    The PMO said it was not possible to appoint a Director of the CBI because a meeting of the selection committee could not be held due to unavoidable circumstances.
    "We are fully committed to follow the process of selection and appointment as per law in a fully transparent manner," the letter read. The Prime Minister's office also asked the members of selection committee to meet for the selection of a regular Director of the CBI.

    In his letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent on Monday, Mr Kharge wrote that the "the entire process has been vitiated and is being manipulated to preempt the decision to be arrived at in the meeting of the selection committee."

    As a 1984 batch Indian Police Service or IPS officer, Mr Asthana is too junior to make it to a panel of possible candidates for CBI chief's post. Critics said by appointing him as the interim chief, the government not only circumvented the need to call a meeting of the selection committee, but also built an opportunity to make the officer the CBI chief next year, when he will have the requisite seniority.

Lok Sabha Transacts Some Business Amid Din
  • After days of paralysis, the Lok Sabha today transacted some business as Supplementary Demand for Grants was passed amid ruckus created by some Opposition parties which continued to attack the government over demonetisation issue.

    However, the Rajya Sabha continued to be stalled due to pandemonium, involving even clashes between the ruling and the opposition benches.

    The second batch of Supplementary Demand for Grants was passed by the Lok Sabha by a voice vote after a short debate during which members of Congress, Trinamool and some other Opposition parties continuously shouted slogans. Several members, including Kirit Somaiya (BJP), Jayadev Galla (TDP) and Dushyant Chautala (INLD), participated in the debate.

    Replying to the discussion amid din, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley sought to turn the tables on the Congress by daring it to name one decision its government had taken against black money during 10-year rule.

    "I today challenge them (Congress) to spell out a single step that they had taken during 10-year of their rule against black money," he said, taking on the Opposition party which has been attacking the government over demonetisation.

    Refuting the allegation that the government has given additional route to people to convert black money into white by paying 50 per cent tax, Mr Jaitley said the effective liability on them would be about 65 per cent, much higher than 8 per cent under the Voluntary Disclosure of Income Scheme (VDIS) of 1997.

    "It is not just 50 per cent. Out of remaining 50 per cent, 25 per cent would be kept by government for four years. If you calculate interest on that, the effective tax comes out to be 65 per cent," he said.

    As per the amendment to the Income Tax Act which is pending in the Rajya Sabha, the unaccounted income declared by black money holders during the 50-day window ending December 30 would attract tax and penalty of 50 per cent while the remaining 25 per cent of such income would have to be deposited with government for four years.

    The Supplementary Demand for Grants and related Bills, which were approved by the lower house, authorise government to increase public expenditure by about Rs. 60,000 crore though the additional cash outgo would be only Rs. 36,000 crore.

    The last time any transaction conducted in the Lok Sabha during the ongoing Winter session that began on November 16 was on November 29 when the House passed the Income Tax amendment bill within minutes and without any discussion. That bill too was passed amid din.

AAP's Bhagwant Mann, Benched Over Parliament Video, May Not Return This Session
  • Bhagwant Mann, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) lawmaker who live-streamed his entry into parliament in July and was accused of compromising the most protected complex in India, may have to sit out the rest of the winter session.

    A panel of parliamentarians has recommended that Mr Mann be suspended for the entire session saying he failed to give an unconditional apology.

    Mr Mann, 43, has not attended parliament since July. He was first asked to stay away from the Lok Sabha while the panel examined the allegation against him.

    In its report, the committee found the stand-up comedian and AAP lawmaker's conduct "highly objectionable" and said that he appeared to be "bereft of basic knowledge, etiquettes and responsibilities of the office he holds".

    Today, the group rejected Mr Mann's apology saying his statements were contradictory and he had denied the charge that he had breached parliament's security rules.

    The winter session will end next Friday.

    On July 21, Mr Mann filmed his arrival in parliament, providing a running commentary as his car crosses various layers of security, and uploaded it on social media.

    He later explained to furious MPs in the Lok Sabha that he wanted to show people in his constituency how parliament works and how questions to be raised by parliamentarians are chosen.

    In one of his statements before the MPs' panel, he also demanded Prime Minister Narendra Modi's suspension from the Lok Sabha for "compromising national security" by allowing Pakistan's spy agency ISI inside the Pathankot airbase after the terror attack in January.

Notes Ban: Foreign Diplomats Can Now Get Money From Bank On Priority
  • Facing complaints from several embassies on the cash crunch after the notes ban announced last month, the government has instructed banks to allow foreign diplomats to withdraw money on a priority basis. 

    "The finance ministry is being asked to issue directives to banks to allow embassy officials with ID cards to withdraw money on a priority basis," External Affairs Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said today

    Foreign secretary S Jaishankar today met the Dean of the Diplomatic corps, Frank Hans Dannenberg Castellanos. Mr Castellanos, the ambassador of the Dominican Republic, represents more than 150 envoys in Delhi. He had spoken out strongly on the difficulties faced by diplomats and written to Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj requesting that the rules be eased.

    Earlier this week, Russia had threatened to take "counter steps" and lodge a diplomatic protest with India, saying its diplomats are struggling for cash in Delhi.

    Russian Government sources told NDTV that Ambassador Alexander Kadakin wrote to the Ministry of External Affairs on December 2 and threatened to summon the Indian envoy to protest against the Rs. 50,000 a week limit on withdrawals.

    In his letter, Mr Kadakin said the limit set by the government is "not even enough to pay for a decent dinner" and totally inadequate for operational expenses. 

    "How can such a big embassy in Delhi function without cash?" the envoy questioned.

    On November 8, the government banned the two biggest currency notes of Rs. 500 and Rs.1,000, which suddenly took away 86 per cent of the cash in circulation and left millions standing in line at banks and ATMs. To regulate the cash, the government imposed limits on the withdrawal and exchange of banned notes.

    The MEA today said that "the vast majority of foreign missions understand that the demonetisation exercise is being conducted to combat black money". 

PM Had Broad Shoulders, Chose Harder Option: Arun Jaitley on Notes Ban
  • Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said that the "transitory pain" of demonetisation is regrettable but the move will lead to a cleaner economy and better GDP growth in the long run as banks will have more funds to lend.

    The pain, he said, had been factored in when the decision was taken to ban 500 and 1000 rupee notes to eliminate corruption and black money.

    Prime Monister Narendra Modi, the minister said, could have taken the easy way out like many others but he chose the hard option. "Prime Minister had the broad shoulder to face the consequence of this and a decision of this kind carries the pain in transition which is regrettable but which was also factored in... The PM had an option of doing which many other had done -- look the other way. That was an easy option, a very comfortable option. He chose the harder option. And I'm sure this harder option will certainly leave footprints behind as far as future is concerned," Mr Jaitley said while addressing domestic and global investors in the petrochemical industry at a conference on Wednesday.

    India, he said, was in the "cusp of history," and would see major changes by becoming a "society in the long term with a certainly better GDP, a cleaner ethics, a cleaner economy."

    Admitting that there is a shortage of cash in the system after PM Modi announced the note ban exactly a month ago on November 8, Mr Jaitley said the Reserve Bank of India releases certain amounts of currency and the shortage was also being made up by people doing more digital transactions. "In these 2-3 months, India will move digital. We will achieve far more than what we have achieved in the past few decades. What we will end up achieving is to lay down this new normal," he said.

    Mr Jaitley said the demonetisation move would fetch more money into the banking system and the capacity of banks to support the economy would go up. Low-cost funds would be available with banks.

    "More transactions coming into the banking system means more transactions coming into the taxation system," the minister added.

    Since November 10, Rs. 11.85 lakh crore in form of old 500 and 1,000 rupee notes have returned into the banking system, the RBI has said.

    It was estimated that the old 500 and 1000 rupee notes constituted 86 per cent or Rs. 15.44 lakh crore in circulation.

Business Affairs 

These are the discounts govt has offered on digital payments
  • In bid to promote less-cash economy, the government on Thursday announced discount on an array of services from buying petrol to insurance and railway tickets through the digital mode and waived service tax on card transactions of up to Rs 2,000.
    A discount of 0.75 per cent will be offered on purchase of petrol and diesel through either credit/debit cards, e-wallets and mobile wallets.
    Similarly, 10 per cent and 8 per cent discount will be offered in case of general and life insurance for buying new policy or paying premium online via PSUs websites.
    Announcing 11 decisions to promote digital transactions, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that monthly and seasonal suburban railway tickets purchased through digital mode will get 0.5 per cent discount from January 1.
    Online booking of railway tickets will get Rs 10 lakh accident insurance. Those using digital mode to pay for railway catering, accommodation, retiring room will be entitled to discount of 5 per cent.
    Jaitley said that public dealings with government departments and PSUs through digital mode will be free of transaction fee and MDR charges.
    Also credit/debit card transactions up to Rs 2,000 will be exempt from service tax.
    The minister further said 10 per cent discount will be available on use of digital mode for paying for RFID or fast-tags for highway toll.
    "We were using excessive amount of cash and very very limited amount of digital transactions till November 8," he said, adding there is cost of transacting in cash which has to be borne by economy.

    • 0.75 % discount for buying fuel through digital transactions
    • People who book online will get free Rs 10,000 accident insurance claim 
    • People using FASTAG and RFID TAGS on Toll Plazas at national highways will get 10 per cent discount for digital payments
    • 5% discount on digital payment mode for railway facilities like catering, retiring rooms
    • People buying monthly seasonal tickets in the Suburban railway networks through digital payment mode, to get 0.5% discount. This is effective from Jan 1st 2017, starting from the Mumbai suburban railways

Note Ban: RBI yet to replace over 70% of invalidated currency
  • In a press conference, held post the bi-monthly Monetary Policy Review, Deputy Governor, R Gandhi stated that customers have deposited Rs.11.5 lakh crores in banks, since the note ban. Government of India (GOI) in consultation with RBI had invalidated currency worth Rs 14.9 lakh crore on November 8, 2016.
    Gandhi also said that during the period between, 10 November and 5 December 2016, the RBI has supplied banknotes of various denominations worth Rs 3.81 lakh crore to the public. The pieces of lower denomination notes supplied by the RBI stood at 1,910 crore.
    However, it may be noted that the amount replaced so far is just 33 per cent of what customers have deposited with the banks. The notes which were made illegal tender last month were nearly 84 cent of total currency in circulation. According to estimates, the currency brought back only represents 26 per cent of the total invalidated currency.
    The country is undergoing a huge cash crunch due to the government's decision to withdraw currency notes of largest denomination from the economy and RBI has faced criticism for its unpreparedness.  Economists are divided about the move and some have said that it would take 3-6 months for the situation to return to normal.
    Deputy Governor, though, clarified  that demonetization decision was not taken in haste and that it is expected to deal with the problem of high quality counterfeit notes and also to unearth black money that may be held in cash.
    According to data available on National Crime Records Bureau, counterfeit fake currency notes amounted to Rs 28 crore were recovered and seized for the period between Jan 1, 2016 to Sept 30, 2016 from all states taken together. Total amount of fake notes recovered and seized during the period between 2011 and 2016(till 30 September) stood at Rs 155 crores.

Govt to waive service tax on card transactions up to Rs 2,000
  • Government will waive service tax on debit and credit card transactions of up to Rs 2,000 in a bid to promote digital transactions amid cash crunch following withdrawal of old Rs 500 and 1,000 banknotes.
    The government has decided to "exempt services by an acquiring bank to any person in relation to settlement of an amount up to Rs 2,000 in a single transaction through credit, debit card or other payment card service", sources said.
    A notification to this effect will be tabled by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in Parliament.
    Following demonetisation of old high value notes, there has been a cash crunch in the country as people have been making a beeline for banks and ATMs to withdraw new currency.
    The government has been taking steps to promote cashless or digital transactions to take India towards a less-cash economy.
    Recently, the government asked banks to install additional 10 lakh PoS terminals by March 31 in different parts of the country.
    The service tax notification of June 2012 will be amended to include exemption on credit and debit cards, the sources added.
    As of now, services provided by organisations such as United Nations and other international bodies are exempt from tax.
    A range of other services provided by arbitral tribunals, testing of newly developed drugs, educational institutions, trade unions, general insurance business and sports bodies, among others, too are exempt from the levy.

Employees in India may get lower salary hike next year: Report
  • Employees are expected to see an average 10 per cent increase in salary in 2017, lower than 10.3 per cent rise this year, and after taking inflation into account, the hike would be a paltry 4.8 per cent, says a report.
    According to Korn Ferry Hay Group 2017 Salary Forecast, India salary growth is pegged at 10 per cent, while real wages are expected to rise by 4.8 per cent.
    "Salary hikes in India, although still higher than many other countries across the globe, have stabilised and we expect them to be in the 9.5-10.5 per cent range in the next couple of years," Amer Haleem, Country Manager, Productized Services, Korn Ferry Hay Group said.
    Haleem further noted, "We expect them to at the higher end of the range for entry level positions, given that our salaries are much lower at that level compared to most countries, even those within Asia".
    In Asia, salaries are forecast to increase by 6.1 per cent down 0.3 per cent from last year, while real wages are expected to rise by 4.3 per cent the highest globally.
    The largest real wage increases are forecast in Vietnam (7.2 per cent), Thailand (5.6 per cent) and Indonesia (4.9 per cent).
    The report noted that adjusted for inflation, workers around the world are expected to see real wage increases of 2.3 per cent, down slightly from last year's prediction of 2.7 per cent.
    "Although not as high as last year when we saw a three- year high, there are still positive real wage gains across the globe," said Benjamin Frost, Korn Ferry Hay Group Global Manager Pay.
    Despite the turmoil following the Brexit decision, the United Kingdom is expected to see raises of 2.5 per cent (the same as the last three years). Adjusted for inflation, real wages are to increase by 1.9 per cent in 2017, which is slightly higher than the Western European average.
    Workers in France and Germany are forecast to see real wage rises of 1.5 per cent and 2.2 per cent respectively.
    "The global labor market is in flux as slower economic growth in mature economies keeps a check on pay rises. In emerging economies, upskilling workers is crucial for companies to maintain a competitive advantage - and those skilled employees can expect to see wages rise as talent shortages in certain regions drive salaries up," Frost said.
    The data was drawn from Hay Group PayNet which contains data for more than 20 million job holders in 25,000 organizations across more than 110 countries.

Indian pharma industry facing growth headwinds: ICRA
  • Indian pharmaceutical industry will grow at a slower pace due to sluggish growth in the US market, increased competition leading to price erosion in high single digits and generic adoption reaching saturation levels, rating agency ICRA said today.
    Growth from the US has come down to less than 9 per cent in first half of 2016-17 despite consolidation and currency benefits and going forward, the growth momentum is likely to face further pressure, it said.
    Besides, increased regulatory scrutiny and consolidation of supply chain in the US market resulting in pricing pressure along with increased R&D expenses will have an impact on profitability of Indian pharmaceutical companies, it added.
    "In spite of these ongoing challenges, several Indian pharma companies are increasing their R&D spend, targeting pipeline of specialty drugs, niche molecules and complex therapies," ICRA said.
    The domestic pharmaceutical industry has gained adequate scale and drug development capability over the last decade of growth, which will keep it in good stead to capture new opportunities in the US market, it said.
    On overseas markets, the rating agency said the operating environment in emerging markets (EMs) like Latin America, CIS countries and South Africa has been affected by confluence of factors, including devaluation of currency, a frequently evolving regulatory landscape and a weakening macro environment.
    "Select pharmaceutical companies have taken sizeable write-offs in Venezuela due to currency devaluation and have stopped despatches there on the back of repatriation issues," it said.
    On the domestic front, ICRA said continued regulatory interventions are expected to put some pressure in the near term though long term growth prospects remain healthy, given increasing penetration, accessibility and continued new launches.

    General Awareness

    Donald Trump Named as TIME’s Person of the Year 2016

      • US President elect Donald Trump was chosen as the TIME’s Person of the Year 2016 on December 7, 2016, for his outstanding victory in the US election.
        • According to the Time magazine’s editors, the Republican president-elect had more global impact, “for better or worse,” than any other individual across the past 12 months.
        • Trump defeated five other contenders, including his election rival Hillary Clinton, musician Beyonce, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to be named “the person who had the greatest influence, for better or worse, on the events of the year
        • Donald Trupms photograph is featured on the Time cover and reads, “Donald Trump: President of the Divided States of America”.
        • The other contenders were for the title were Hillary Clinton, US gymnast Simone Biles, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, the Flint, Michigan Whistleblowers, singer Beyonce, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg among others.
        • The magazine’s second most person of the year was Mrs. Hiliary Clinton, who is on track to win the popular vote but lost the Electoral College in the presidential election to Trump.
        • Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 4, 2016, won the online reader’s poll for TIME Person of the Year 2016, defeating other world leaders like Donald Trump, incumbent US leader Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
        • Last year the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, was listed as the Person of the Year while US President Barack Obama, was named in 2008 when he was president-elect and then again in 2012.
        About TIME Person of the Year
        • TIME, in every December, names the person who had greatly impacted, for better or worse, throughout the entire year.
        • The Person of the Year is picked by Time editors from among world leaders, artists, corporate czars and organizations.
        About Donald Trump
        Donald John Trump was born on June 14, 1946 in the Queens borough of New York City.He is an American businessman, politician, and the President-elect of the United States and is scheduled to take office on January 20, 2017.
        • Trump received his bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1968.
        • In 1971, he started running his family’s real estate and construction firm, Elizabeth Trump & Son, which was later renamed The Trump Organization.
        • During his career, Trump has built, renovated or managed numerous office towers, hotels, casinos, and golf courses. He also lent the use of his name to brand various other products.
        • On November 8, 2016, Trump won the presidential election by gaining a majority of the electoral college, although he received fewer popular votes nationwide than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
        • At age 70, he will become the oldest President to assume office in U.S. history, and the wealthiest.
        • Trump has won many awards during his entire life among which the recent award of 2016 includes:2016 Time 100, annual list of the most influential people by Time magazine Time Person of the Year 2016.

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