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Current Affairs - 23 March 2017

General Affairs 

Train sabotage: Govt sanctions hi-tech surveillance equipment for 200 railway stations
  • Following a spate of train accidents in the country due to alleged sabotage by anti-national elements, the Centre has sanctioned improved surveillance mechanisms at over 200 railway stations. This was stated by Minister of State for Home Hansraj Gangaram Ahir in response to a question by Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut in the upper house of Parliament on Wednesday.
    Raut had asked whether ISI and Pakistan-sponsored agencies were involved in the recent attacks on railway tracks.
    Ahir said that three cases including the Kanpur and Kuneru incidents and one attempted case of derailment in Ghorasahan in Bihar were under the investigation of the National Investigation Agency (NIA). He added that the Modi government had approved an integrated security system consisting of surveillance of vulnerable stations through Close Circuit Television Camera (CCTV) network and access control, besides deploying sniffer dog squads at some important railway stations for anti-sabotage checks.
    • FIR registered on 1st Oct 2016 at PS Rail Raxaul, District Muzaffarpur, Bihar regarding planting of pressure cooker IED in Railway track at Ghorasan, Motihari.
    • FIR registered on 21st Nov 2016 at PS GRP Bhimsen, Kanpur Nagar, Uttar Pradesh regarding accident of train no 19321 Indore Patna Express near Pukhraya, Kanpur Dehat.
    • FIR registered on 22nd Jan 2017 at PS Vizianagaram, District GRP Vijaywada, Andhra Pradesh regarding accident of train no 18448 Jagadalapur-Bhubaneshwar Express near Kuneru.
    1. Taking up the matter at the highest level, Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu also conducted a conference with all state DGPs and senior officers to strengthen the safety and security of railway installations.
    2. Suspecting sabotage in cases of alleged train derailment by anti-national elements and extremists, the government issued an advisory to all states on Jan 31, 2017 to beef up the intelligence mechanism and security setup in railway installations and to take all precautionary measures in coordination with the Chief Security Commissioner and senior divisional security commissioners at railway divisions to prevent sabotage and damage to railway property.
    3. Security helpline number 182 made operational for security-related assistance to passengers in distress.
    4. Integrated Security System consisting of CCTV cameras sanctioned for over 202 railway stations.
    5. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had transferred investigation of the Kanpur train derailment in UP and Kuneru, and Andhra Pradesh train accident cases to the NIA.
    6. As many as 150 people were killed in Kanpur on November 20 last year when the Indore-Patna train derailed while 39 people were killed in Hirakhand express derailment.
    7. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his election rally had hinted at a conspiracy against the Indian Railway from across the border.

Maharashtra: 19 Opposition MLAs suspended for creating ruckus in Assembly
  • Following the ruckus on Budget day by opposition members, 19 MLAs belonging to the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) were suspended till December 31.
    Action was proposed in the Assembly against these members for creating ruckus during Finance Minister Sudhir Munguntiwar's Budget speech on Saturday.
    After the house met following a 3-day break, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Girish Bapat presented the proposal seeking the suspension of MLAs who disrupted the Budget speech. Speaker Haribhau Bagde issued suspension orders.
    Out of 19 MLAs, 10 are from the Congress while nine are from the NCP.  The list of suspended MLAs include senior Congress leader Vijay Vadettiwar, former ministers Bhaskar Jadhav, Jitendra Awhad from the NCP among others. The resolution was supported by both the BJP and Shiv Sena MLAs.
    During the Budget day speech, these MLAs had raised slogans demanding loan waiver for farmers. Some members had even raised banners inside the house, while some burnt copies of Budget outside the house in Vidhan Bhawan campus.
    "We are not sad over the suspension, but the way the govt is trying to silence the voice for farmers is worrying," said Jitendra Awhad, suspended NCP MLA.
    The state government however justified its action. "No one has the right to burn copies of the State Budget. This behaviour is certainly not expected from elected representatives. They were objecting without even listening to the Budget speech," said Sudhir Mungantiwar, Finance Minister.

    Meanwhile, Shiv Sena has requested the Chief Minister to revoke the suspension. Senior Shiv Sena Ministers met CM Devendra Fadnavis and requested the revocation.

Maharashtra doctors' strike: Resume work or lose six months' salary, state minister warns physicians
  • Agitating doctors in Maharashtra have been asked to resume work by 8 pm today or risk losing six months' worth of salary, state minister for medical education Girish Mahajan said today.
    Over 4,000 resident doctors across Maharashtra have gone on mass leave, agitating against dangerous working conditions. The protest was sparked by an incident last week when the relatives of a deceased patient beat up a resident doctor at Mumbai's Sion Hospital.
    Addressing the issue behind the agitation, Mahajan said, "The government will provide 500 guards too civic-run hospitals within five days, 600 guards within 20 days and 1,100 guards within a month."  
    Earlier today, the Birhanmumbai Municipal Corporation issued a notice on the matter, asking 500 resident doctors in Mumbai to resume work or face disciplinary action.
    The notice warned the doctors that if they fail to resume work, then they could be expelled and their medical registrations could be canceled, as per a January 31, 1996 Government Resolution.
    Meanwhile, the Indian Medical Association's Maharashtra chapter has lent its support to the physicians, expressing 'deep pain' at the "recent spate of events of unabated violence against doctors."
    A letter signed by IMA Maharashtra State's president Dr Ashok Tambe and honorary state secretary Dr Parthiv Sanghvi says, "We are unable to understand the apathy on the part of the government in not providing an atmosphere free from fear."
    "We oppose any action taken against resident doctors and will work to all extents to ensure that they are not victimised."
    Dr Sagar, an advisor to the IMA, said they don't want assurances but actual on-the-ground action. "We need more security at OPDs, in emergency wards and operation theaters," he added.

Ajmer blast case: Two including a former RSS worker get life imprisonment
  • The National Investigation Agency (NIA) special court in Jaipur today sentenced Devendra Gupta and Bhavesh Patel to life in jail in the Ajmer blast case. 
    The two were convicted along with Sunil Joshi on March 6. Joshi died under mysterious circumstances soon after the bombing, in which three people were killed and 17 others were injured. The October 11, 2007 blast took place during the month of Ramazan and targeted the Khwaja Chishti shrine.
    Both Devendra Patel and Sunil Joshi are former RSS pracharaks. 

    1. On March 6, the court found three of the accused guilty in the 2007 blast case. Those convicted include Devendra Gupta, Bhavesh Patel and Sunil Joshi. Both Devendra Gupta and Sunil Joshi are former Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sagh(RSS) pracharaks.
    2. The NIA court found the three men guilty of conspiracy, planting bombs and inciting religious sentiments. While Devendra Gupta and Bhavesh Patel have been in judicial custody, Sunil Joshi had died mysteriously in 2007, soon after the Ajmer bombing.
    3. The remaining accused, including Aseemanand, Chandrashekhar Leve, Mukesh Vasani, Bharat Mohan Rateshwar, Lokesh Sharma, Mehul Kumar and Harshad Solanki were acquitted in the case. Three accused - Suresh Nair, Sandeep Dange and Ramchandra - were declared absconders.
    4. The National Investigation Agency had accused Aseemanand of masterminding the blast. The Jaipur court, however, acquitted Asseemand and others for the lack of evidence. The court also did not find any involvement of senior RSS functionary Indresh Kumar in the blast.
    5. The case had witnessed a major twist when Bhavesh Patel, one of the three men convicted, accused several Congress leaders, including Digvijaya Singh and former Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde of pressurising him to name senior RSS leaders, including current RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat and senior RSS functionary Indresh Kumar as being complicit in the blast case. He demanded a judicial enquiry into his accusations and into the alleged role of Congress leaders and NIA officers.

No decision yet on awarding 'battle casualty certificate' to paramilitary, MHA tells Parliament
  • Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijuju today informed Rajya Sabha that no decision has yet been taken on awarding battle casualty certificates to the family of paramilitary personnel who are killed while in the line of duty. The certification, which allows for a number of benefits for the family of slain soldiers, is awarded to the next of kin of Indian Army personnel.
    The paramilitary has for long been demanding that Central Armed Police Forces be accorded the same benefits as the military. The MHA, however, has noted the next of kin of deceased paramilitary personnel are entitled to Rs 35 lakh for death on active duty and Rs 25 lakh for death on duty.  
    Other facilities provided include liberalised family pension (last drawn pay) and 5 per cent reservation in Group C and D jobs for the next of kin of deceased soldiers. Furthermore, the government noted, wards of serving and retired CABF personnel recieve Rs 2,250 per month (girls) and Rs 2,000 per month (boys) under the Prime Minster's Scholarship Scheme.
    Another demand raised by the paramilitary is to award the title of martyr of those killed in the line of duty. The government, however, previously clarified in court that there is no official title of martyr or 'shaheed', and so, the same cannot be awarded to the paramilitary either.
    The period between 2015-16 has seen 61 casualties among paramilitary jawans. Speaking to India Today, a CAPF soldier said, "We risk our lives on the line of duty just like the military. We are hit by the same bullet, but why are we not entitled to battle casualty certificate?"

Business Affairs 

People have multiple PAN cards; making Aadhaar mandatory will stop tax fraud, says Arun Jaitley
  • Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday said that some people have multiple PAN cards and making Aadhaar mandatory for filing tax returns will stop tax fraud
    Aadhaar may become the only card in future, replacing all types of other identity cards like voter ID card, PAN card etc, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in Lok Sabha. 
    Post-demonetisation, I-T dept sent SMS/Emails to 18 lakh people, out of which 8.71 lakh have responded; action will be taken against the rest, the finance minister informed Lok Sabha
    While speaking at the 23rd Conference of the Commonwealth Auditor General, Jaitley said India has 'hugely' a non-tax compliant society and the government banned higher denomination notes to curb the tendency of people to deal in cash that lead to tax evasion as well as terror financing.
    "The biggest taxation reform what we are trying to implement from July 1 is Goods and Services Tax ... It will increase the volume of taxation, there is no tax on tax and therefore makes goods, commodities and services little cheaper and far more convenient," Jaitley said.
    "We are moving towards a time when there will be no shadow economy but some are still seeing virtues of cash transactions", he said.
    He said the reform measures undertaken by the government will help India clock 7-8 per cent growth and retain the tag of fastest growing major economy in the world, but challenges remain in volatile global oil prices, reviving private sector investment and health of state-owned banks.
    With regard to GST, he said the new indirect tax regime will ensure seamless transfer of goods and services, while stronger information technology backbone will make evasion difficult.
    Despite being one political entity, India currently is not a single economic entity as there are multiple layers of taxation that make goods costlier. GST - first proposed in 2006 - will replace at last 17 state and central levies.
    The Union Cabinet this week cleared four supplementary GST legislations which will be introduced in Parliament in the ongoing budget session.
    "The laws which enable this (GST) are now before Parliament which hopefully should get cleared and once they do get cleared then by the middle of this year we hope to see the implementation as far as this law is concerned," Jaitley said.
    In terms of tax compliances, he said India ranks fairly high as a non-compliant state.
    "Therefore, one of the efforts of the state has been how to bring non-compliance to an end. Once the GST is introduced it will be a great check as far as evasion is concerned," he said, adding that the government has amended direct taxation law by bringing in curbs on cash currency.
    Jaitley, on Tuesday, in Parliament introduced an amendment to Finance Bill 2017 proposing to ban cash dealings above Rs 2 lakh.
    "Cash component of Indian economy was exorbitantly high about 12.2 per cent of GDP and of this, 86 per cent was high denominational currency and therefore the tendency to deal excessively in cash did exist and this created its own challenges for economy," he said.
    Cash facilitated crime, corruption, incentivised tax non-compliance and was facilitator for funding terrorism and insurgency, he said, as he defended November 8 decision of the government to demonetise 500 and 1,000 rupee notes.
    "(With demonetisation) Anonymity which was attached to this high level of cash operating in market that anonymity disappeared as it had to be deposited in bank.
    "This has also increased the trend towards digitisation of economy, (will) act as disincentive to continuing to deal in a shadow or parallel economy and lead to a further integration of informal with formal economy," Jaitley said.
    He said the size of India's GDP in the near future will be bigger, size of formal economy will increase and will be cleaner.
    As regards growth, Jaitley said India would continue to remain amongst the fastest growing economies of the world.
    "For the last three years we have been the fastest growing major economy, we will continue to be in that phase. I think for India to achieve the growth rate of 7-8 per cent is reasonably logically plausible. If big growth returns to the world we probably can push upwards," he said.
    Outlining the challenges for Indian economy, Jaitley said the government is now trying to address the problems plaguing the public sector banks and also increasing private investment.
    "We are hopeful that in the next few quarters, will probably see a better result as far as those areas are concerned," he said, adding oil prices remain an uncertainty for India.
    The gross NPAs of public sector banks have risen from Rs 5.02 lakh crore at the end of March 2016 to Rs 6.06 lakh crore in December 2016.
    Meanwhile, listing out the urgency to link Aadhaar card to file for various documents, today in Lok Sabha Arun Jaitley said that use of Aadhaar Card would help in curbing tax evasion. 
    "We are moving towards a time when there will be no shadow economy but some are still seeing virtues of cash transactions", he said.

India, the third-largest Asian economy, ranked 131 on HDI: UN
  • India has ranked a lowly 131 among the 188 countries surveyed for human development, a new UN report has said, bracketing the third-largest Asian economy alongside its South Asian neighbours like Pakistan, Bhutan and Nepal.
    India has made no improvement in its ranking over the previous year, despite the Human Development Report for 2015 noting that foreign direct investment favours countries such as China and India.
    India's Human Development Index rank in 2014 was also 131.
    However, 63 per cent Indians were "satisfied" with their standard of living in 2014-15, the latest report found.
    The report, released annually by the UN Development Programme, said India's rank of 131 puts it in the "medium human development" bracket, which also includes nations like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Pakistan, Kenya, Myanmar and Nepal.
    India's HDI rank value in 2015 stood at 0.624, which had increased from 0.580 in 2010.
    Its life expectancy at birth stood at 68.3 years in 2015 and the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita USD 5,663, the report said.
    On the perception of feeling safe 69 per cent answered "yes", while on freedom of choice, 72 per cent female responders answered they were "satisfied" as compared to 78 per cent for male.
    India's score for overall life satisfaction was 4.3 on a scale of 1-10, according to the report.
    On perceptions about government, 69 per cent said they had trust in the national government for the 2014-15 period while 74 per cent said they had confidence in the judicial system.
    It lauded measures like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme taken in India to generate employment.
    "Creating jobs through a public works programme targeted at poor people can reduce poverty through income generation, build physical infra- structure and protect poor people against shocks. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme in India and the Rural Employment Opportunities for Public Assets Programme in Bangladesh are prime examples."
    The report noted that increasing clean energy investments in India by 1.5 per cent of GDP a year for 20 years will generate a net increase of about 10 million jobs annually in the country, after factoring in job losses from retrenchments in the fossil fuel industries. 

17 states have agreed to form joint ventures with Railways: Suresh Prabhu
  • Seventeen states have agreed to form joint ventures with the Railways to fast track infrastructure projects, the Lok Sabha was informed today.
    Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu said by entering into a joint venture, the states will have ownership over projects and ensure that the infrastructure develops at a faster pace.
    Responding to supplementaries during Question Hour, he said a new scheme will be launched soon, under which people with waitlisted tickets will be able to get berths in other trains going to the same destination, in case it is not confirmed on the train they had originally opted for.
    Passengers with ordinary tickets will be able to travel on trains such as Rajdhani if their waitlisted ticket is not confirmed on other trains.
    He said once approved by the Parliament Secretariat, MPs can book and cancel their tickets online using a unique identity.
    Chintamani Malviya and Ravindra Ray (both BJP) told the Speaker that their questions on Railways were "twisted" and what has appeared in the question list is different from what they had originally asked.
    Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said she would look into the matter.

    Godaddy launches new website builder for small businesses in India
    • Domain registrar and web hosting company GoDaddy on Wednesday announced the launch of a new website builder on its platform, using which small business can build websites in under an hour from their mobile phones.
      "Easy to use and affordable, the new website builder enables a small business, to design a fully functional and professional website in just under an hour with no technical expertise, even using their smartphone," the company said at a press event in New Delhi.
      The website builder by GoDaddy features an integrated suite of online tools to help small businesses and entrepreneurs create an audience for their business and drive traffic to their website. It enables users to design a professional looking website by simply typing in their name and industry or an idea, and get a near-complete website, populated with relevant sections and professional images. Powered by smart algorithms and machine learning, the website builder helps customers with continuous activity updates and ways to improve results and evolve their businesses throughout their life cycles, it informed.
      "In India, over 34 million small businesses are still offline as a result of the belief that they need technical expertise and not yet recognizing benefits of being visible online. GoDaddy's new Website Builder is designed to help small businesses in India create a professional online identity with ease, helping to grow their business online," said Andrew Low Ah Kee, Executive Vice President, GoDaddy International announcing the launch of new service.
      The company is offering the service in four different pricing options following a one month free trial: Personal - Rs. 99/month, business - Rs 479/month, business plus - Rs 679/month and online store - Rs 999/month.

      Users to have management control in 99 upcoming irrigation projects: Agriculture Secretary
      • The government will entrust water user groups with the management of 99 irrigation projects that are in various stages of development across the country. These priority projects, to be completed over the next three to five years, will bring eight million hectares of land under irrigation, Shobhana K Pattanayak, Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, said.
        Speaking at a conference on integrated water resource management, organised by the trade body Assocham in New Delhi, Pattanayak said participatory irrigation management by water user groups would be mandated in all those projects.
        According to him, the government is targeting construction of five lakh farm ponds every year for the next five years in a bid to enhance the irrigation reach. "The government has already supported the construction of five lakh farm ponds under the employment guarantee scheme MNREGA. Almost every state is concentrating on water management," he added.
        The location of the farm ponds will be close to the natural aquifers that need replenishment.
        "We will use the 3D pictures generated under the National Aquifer Management Programme, being undertaken by the Ministry of Water Resources. Farm ponds in such locations will not only help capture water, but will also recharge the aquifers," he said.
        The government is also putting special emphasis on the watershed approach towards agriculture and will promote dry-land agriculture. "Climate-smart crops" is the need of the hour, and millet and pulses should be grown.
        "The time has come to go beyond growing paddy or sugar cane because most of the land is dry land and it is more suitable for growing climate-smart crops like millet and pulses," said Pattanayak.
        Terming the rise in pulse production a "revolution", he said that between last year and this year, pulse production increased by five million tonnes.

        "Last year pulse production was to the tune of 16.4 million tonnes, but in one single year, we have caught up by five million tonnes, which has been made possible by farmers and a host of beneficial factors--high prices, the minimum support price (MSP) declared by the government, availability of seed and so on," he said.

      General Awareness

      India Ranks 131 in Human Development Index 2016

      • According to the UN Development Programme’s Human Development for Everyone’ Report 2016, released on March 21, 2017 in Stockholm, India has been ranked at 131 out of 188 countries in the 2016 Human Development Index (HDI).
        • The HDI of India was 0.624 putting it in the medium HDI category. It was placed at third spot among the SAARC nation with Sri Lanka (73) and Maldives (105) taking the first and second spots respectively and coming under high HDI category with HDI of 0.766 and 0.701 respectively.
        Top 3 Countries
        About the HDI Report
        The index was based on three dimensions:
        1. Life expectancy at birth,
        2. Mean years of schooling and expected years of schooling,
        3. Gross national income per capita
        India’s Performance
        The report stated that the HDI value of India has increased by 46 percent (from 0.428 to 0.624) between 1990 and 2015 while its gross national income per capita increased by about 223.4 percent.
        • Though India’s rank lowered by one spot from last year at 130, the increase in HDI was credited to the success of national development programmes like Skill India, Digital India, Make in India and Beti Bachao Beti Padhao.
        • The report said that on the perception of feeling safe in India, 69% answered “yes”, while on freedom of choice, 72% female responders answered they were “satisfied” as compared to 78% for male.
        • India’s score for overall life satisfaction was 4.3 on a scale of 1-10, according to the report.
        • On perceptions about government, 69% said they had trust in the national government for the 2014-15 period while 74% said they had confidence in the judicial system.
        • India was placed behind countries like Gabon (109), Egypt (111), Indonesia (113), South Africa (119) and Iraq (121), China (90).
        • The report lists a total of 188 countries among which Bhutan was placed at 132, Bangladesh 139, Nepal 144 and Pakistan is at 147.
        • The improvement in India’s HDI value was second among BRICS countries with China recording the highest improvement of 48 percent.
        • The GDI takes into account the disparity between the HDI of men and women-the higher the disparity, the lower the GDI.
        • India’s GDI is 0.819, compared to the developing country average of 0.913.
        Global Performance
        When considering the overall performance, the report said that the average human development improved significantly since 1990 but still the progress is uneven, with systemic discrimination against women, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities.
        • It said that even today one in three people worldwide continue to live at a low level of human development.
        • The HDI report also showed that almost 1.5 billion people in developing countries live in multi-dimensional poverty. Of this, 54%, or 800 million people, are in South Asia while 34% are in Sub-Saharan Africa.
        Gender Disparity
        When considering the South Asian countries, the report said that the South Asia’s Gender Development Index (GDI) is the lowest.
        • Women and girls are systematically excluded by economic, political, social and cultural barriers.
        • The report also points to “dangerous practices,” such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage, which continue to hamper the development of women and their inclusion in society.
        • The report calls for far greater attention to empowering the most marginalised in society, and recognises the importance of giving them greater voice in decision-making processes.
        About the Human Development Index
        The Human Development Index devised and launched in 1990 is a ranking of countries based on the developments made with a peace-centric model of progress.
        • The index ranks countries into four tiers of human development on the basis of indicators like life expectancy, education and per capita income.
        • A higher lifespan, higher level of education and higher GDP per capita results in a country scoring higher HDI.

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