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Current Affairs - 25 May 2017

General Affairs 

Arun Jaitley Defends Officer, Says In War-Like Zones, Let Army Decide
  • Defence Minister Arun Jaitley hit out today at those who have criticised an Army Major for tying a man to the bonnet of his jeep last month as he evacuated election officials from a polling booth attacked by hundreds of stone-throwing protesters in Jammu and Kashmir capital Srinagar.

    Major Leetul Gogoi, the minister said, was acting in a "war-like zone" and Army officers must be allowed to take decisions in such situations. "Military solutions are to be provided by military officers, not comments of politicians," Mr Jaitley said today. The officers, he said, "don't need to consult members of parliament as to what they should do in such situations."

    Major Gogoi, who was honoured with a Commendation Card by Army Chief Bipin Rawat this week, has described how he came to tie a protester, Farooq Ahmed Dar, to his jeep on April 9, when by-elections were held in Srinagar amid violence.

    He told reporters that he and his team came up against a 1000-strong crowd of protesters hurling stones and petrol bombs when they responded to an SOS from poll officials and security personnel trapped inside the polling booth. The officer then used Mr Dar as a human shield to evacuate them.

    "It was done only to save the local people. Had we opened fire, there would have been a dozen casualties... I got a fraction of a moment to get out safely. I saved at least 12 lives," said Major Gogoi.

    At a press conference in Srinagar last week, Mr Jaitley had said it should not be forgotten that the officer had the responsibility to save the lives of those involved in the election process as well as the crowd that had gathered.

    A video that showed Mr Dar tied to the jeep went viral on social media, sparking an uproar. A first information report was registered by the Jammu and Kashmir police and the Army constituted a court of inquiry, in which a final report is yet to come.

    The People's Democratic Party or PDP, an ally of the BJP has expressed disapproval. Party general secretary Nizamuddin Bhat said it "seems wrong in public perception" and that there should be an investigation.

Respond To Plea Seeking Yogi Adityanath's Disqualification: High Court To Government
  • The Allahabad High Court today directed the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government to file their response on a petition seeking disqualification of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya for not vacating their parliamentary posts.

    The Lucknow bench of the high court had earlier issued a notice to the Attorney General, the country's top law officer, following which Additional Solicitor General Ashok Mehta and UP Advocate General Raghvendra Singh appeared in the court today.

    The court asked them to file a counter-affidavit so that the matter could be decided.

    A division bench comprising Justices Sudhir Agrawal and Virendra Kumar passed the order on the petition filed by Sanjai Sharma.

    The petitioner cited the Constitution to say that a parliamentarian cannot become a minister in the state government.

    He demanded that the appointment of Mr Adityanath as chief minister and Mr Maurya as deputy chief minister be set aside and their parliamentary seats declared vacant. While Mr Adityanath is a member of the Lok Sabha from Gorakhpur, Mr Maurya represents Phulpur in the Lower House of Parliament.

    The petitioner also challenged the constitutionality of section 3(A) of the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act.

    Since the constitutionality of a central act cannot be tested without hearing the Attorney General, the court issued a notice to him.

India, Japan Joint Venture To Build Gas Import Terminal In Sri Lanka
  • India and Japan will jointly set up a $250 million liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal in Sri Lanka, the first collaboration between the two nations to counter China's growing influence in the Island nation.

    Petronet LNG Limited, India's biggest gas importer, last year proposed to set up a 2-million-tonne (MT) liquefied natural gas import facility on the coast of Sri Lanka to meet its energy needs.

    Sri Lanka, however, wanted Japan to have a role in it. "An agreement has been reached between the governments of India, Sri Lanka and Japan to set up the LNG terminal as a 50-50 joint venture by Petronet and a Japanese company," Petronet Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Prabhat Singh said.

    Japan is yet to identify the company which will form an equal joint venture with Petronet for setting up the terminal. Without giving more details, Mr Singh said the LNG import facility will be set up at Kerawalapitiya on the western coast of Sri Lanka.

    Sri Lanka has plans to build a 300 megawatt (MW) gas-fired power plant in Kerawalapitiya, adjoining an existing power plant. The existing plant which uses oil to generate power would also be converted to LNG once the terminal is set up and gas import start.

    LNG has become significantly cheaper since last year and many countries have begun switching their power plants to LNG. Mr Singh said the LNG terminal, which will import super-cooled natural gas, will take two-and-a-half to three years to build.

    The LNG terminal in Sri Lanka is part of Petronet's vision to own 30 MT per annum of LNG import and re-gasification capacity by 2020, Mr Singh said. Petronet already operates a 15 million tonnes per annum import facility at Dahej in Gujarat and has another 5 MT terminal at Kochi in Kerala.

    Petronet also signed a preliminary agreement to build a 7.5 MT LNG terminal in Bangladesh and is looking at setting up a smaller facility in Mauritius. Mr Singh said Dahej is being expanded to 17.5 MT over the next two years.

    The India-Japan collaboration comes after a string of Chinese successes in Sri Lanka. China has managed to revive its flagship $1.4 billion Colombo Port City project and is also engaged in expansion of major infrastructure projects it built in the past.  These projects include expansion of Hambantota port and Mattala airport.

No Information On Missing Indian Fighter Jet, Says China
  • China said today it has no information on the missing Indian Air Force Sukhoi fighter jet with two pilots on board and asked India to stick to the arrangements reached between the two sides to maintain peace.

    "For the situation you mentioned, I have no relevant information to offer at the moment," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters when asked about the missing Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jet and whether China would assist India in finding the plane that took off from the Tezpur base in Assam for a routine training sortie nearly 24 hours ago. The fighter plane has since been untraceable.

    "We hope India can stick to the arrangements reached between the two sides," Mr Lu said.

    A Sukhoi Su-30 jet with two Air Force pilots on board took off around 9:30 am yesterday, and went missing near the Doulasang area of Arunachal Pradesh, which is a border state with China. The last contact was with the pilots was around 11:30 am yesterday when the aircraft was nearly 60 km north of Tezpur. The Tezpur Air Force station is located 172 km from the China border.

    A search has been on for the aircraft, said Sonitpur district Deputy Commissioner Manoj Kumar Deka.

    The Sukhoi Su-30 is a Russian-made, twin-engine fighter meant for all-weather, air-to-air and air-to-surface missions. The first of the Su-30 planes were inducted by the IAF in the late 1990s.

    Since their induction, six crashes have taken place. An inquiry into the plane accidents has primarily indicated technical failure as their cause.

    In March this year, a Sukhoi-30 aircraft had crashed near an air base in Rajasthan's Barmer. Both pilots had ejected to safety.

Marathas To Hold 'Biggest' Silent March In Mumbai On August 9
  • The Maratha community in has decided to hold its "biggest" silent march in Mumbai on August 9 to press for their various demands, including reservation.

    This planned rally would mark the completion of the one year of the Maratha Kranti Muk Morcha, the silent marches taken out by the community, as the first such rally was taken out on August 9 last year in Aurangabad, followed by other cities across the state.

    One of the organisers of the Maratha Kranti Muk Morcha, Sanjeev Bhor Patil, said, "We will hold the biggest rally on August 9 this year in Mumbai. It will start from Jijamata Udyan in Byculla and end at Azad Maidan."

    The Sakal Maratha Samaj, an umbrella organisation of several Maratha groups, will organise the event.

    "As the first Maratha Kranti Muk Morcha was held on August 9 last year, the community members decided to hold the biggest rally in Mumbai on the same day this year," he added.

    The Marathas have been holding silent marches in different parts of the state to press for their demands, including punishment for culprits in Kopardi rape and murder case, quota in education and government jobs, Amendment in SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act) to stop its misuse, loan waiver to farmers to curb suicides, and guaranteed rate for agricultural produce.

    According to Bhor Patil, before the march, a meeting will be held in Kopardi village in Ahmednagar district on July 13 in memory of the Kopardi gang-rape and murder victim.

    "A meeting will take place in Kopardi village of Karjat tehsil in Ahmednagar on July 13. A girl from Maratha community was raped and murdered on that day last year, which triggered an outrage among the Marathas and led to the silent marches. The meeting will be held in her memory," Bhor Patil said.

    A member of the organising committee, Nanasaheb Patil said, "The code of conduct for the rally will be the same as it was in the past. There will be no slogan-shouting and everyone will march silently and peacefully."

    Another member, Rajendra Kondhare, said the community has submitted a list of 20 different demands to the state government.

    A meeting will also be held in June on Raigad fort, where the members would take a pledge to continue the struggle for the welfare of the community.

    "We will meet on Raigad fort on June 6, the anniversary of the coronation ceremony of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj," Shantaram Kunjir, member of the Sakal Maratha Samaj, said.

Business Affairs 

Govt abolishes FDI clearance body FIPB after 25 years
  • The Ministry of Finance on Wednesday abolished the Foreign Investment Promotion Board or FIPB after almost 25 years. The FIPB was initially constituted under the Prime Minister's Office in the wake of the economic liberalization drive of the early 1990s.
    Earlier in February, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced that the FIPB would be abolished in financial year 2017-18. The Finance Minister was speaking in the Lok Sabha during annual budget presentation.
    He explained why it was necessary to do away with the two-dacade old institution and said: "FIPB has successfully implemented e-filing and online processing of FDI applications. We have now reached a stage where FIPB can be phased out. We have, therefore, decided to abolish the FIPB in the year 2017-18. Our roadmap for the same will be announced in the next few months. In the meanwhile, further liberalisation of the FDI policy is under consideration and necessary announcements will be made in due course."
    The FIPB was an inter-ministerial body which was responsible for processing of FDI proposals and making recommendations for the government approvals. It acted as a single window clearance for proposals on foreign direct investment in the country.
    All you need to know about FIPB
    What is FIPB?
    The Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) is an inter-ministerial body, which processes FDI proposals of under Rs 3000 crores and makes recommendations for the government to approve. The FIPB based its decisions on notified guidelines formulated by Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The FIPB provided significant inputs for FDI policy-making to the government.
    Who are the members of the FIPB?
    FIPB comprised of the following Secretaries to the Government of India:

    • Secretary to Government, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance - Chairperson
    • Secretary to Government, Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion, Ministry of Commerce & Industry
    • Secretary to Government, Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce & Industry
    • Secretary to Government, Economic Relations, Ministry of External Affairs
    • Secretary to Government, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs.

    FIPB also included other Secretaries to the Central Government and top officials of financial institutions, banks and professional experts of Industry and Commerce, as and when necessary. The Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises and the Secretary to the Government of India, Department of Revenue have been co-opted on the Board.
    Who is the head of the FIPB?
    The Minister of Finance is in-charge of FIPB. While FIPB made recommendations on proposals below Rs 3000 crore, any foreign equity inflow of more than Rs. 3000 crore would be placed for consideration of Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA). 

Income Tax Dept unearths 400 benami deals, attaches Rs 600-crore properties
  • The Income Tax Department on Wednesday said it has identified over 400 benami transactions and attached properties worth Rs 600 crore in about 240 cases.
    Keen to implement the new Benami Act to ensure "visible outcomes on the ground", the tax department last week set up 24 dedicated Benami Prohibition Units (BPUs) all over India.
    The department started initiating actions under the new Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act, 2016 from November 1 last year. The law provides for a maximum punishment of seven years in jail and a fine.
    Benami property includes movable or immovable, tangible or intangible, corporeal or incorporeal property which is in name of someone other than the beneficial owner.
    "The Income-tax Directorates of Investigation have identified more than 400 benami transactions up to May 23, 2017. These include deposits in bank accounts, plots of land, flat and jewellery," said an official release.
    Provisional attachment of properties under the law has been done in more than 240 cases. The market value of properties under attachment is more than Rs 600 crore, it said.
    "Immovable properties have been attached in 40 cases with total value of more than Rs 530 crore in Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh," the tax department said.
    It has also undertaken searches on 10 "senior government officials" during the past one month, in line with its policy to "unearth black money earned through corrupt practices and introduce accountability and probity in public life".
    Giving details, the department said in one case in Jabalpur, the "benamidar", a driver, was found to be owner of land worth Rs 7.7 crore. The beneficial owner was a Madhya Pradesh based listed company, his employer.
    In Mumbai, a professional was found to be holding several immovable properties in the name of shell companies which exist only on paper.
    In another case in Sanganer, Rajasthan, a jeweller was found to be the beneficial owner of nine immovable properties in the name of his former employee, a man of no means.
    Certain properties purchased through shell companies have also been attached by the department in Kolkata.
    The crackdown on all forms of illicit wealth is being spearheaded by the department to ensure that any economic misdeed is immediately identified and actions as per law follow, the release added.
    The 24 dedicated units are under the overall supervision of the Principal Directors of Investigation in the Income-tax Department to enable swift action and follow up, especially in cases where criminality has been detected. 

Foreign exchange earnings through tourism grew by 27.8 per cent in April 2017
  • India's foreign exchange earnings (FEEs) through tourism grew by 27.8 per cent year-on-year (y-o-y) in April 2017 to Rs 14,692 crore, as per data released by the ministry of tourism. This was the sharpest y-o-y growth in a particular month, over five year's period.  
    In April 2016, FEEs recorded a growth of 13.9 per cent to Rs 11,495 crore. During January-April 2017, FEEs grew by 17.5 per cent to Rs 61,002 crore, compared to the corresponding period previous year. On the other hand, foreign tourist arrivals have been continuously falling since December 2016. The total number of foreign tourist arrivals stood at 1.03 million in December 2016 which declined to 0.74 million in April 2017.
    However, April 2017 saw a growth of 23.5 per cent in foreign tourist arrivals compared to April 2016. During January-April 2017, the total number of foreign tourist arrivals stood at 3.58 million, registering a growth of 15.4 per cent in the corresponding period previous year.

    GST Council may reconsider steep levy on hybrid cars next week
    • The GST Council may reconsider the proposed 43 per cent tax on hybrid cars at its meeting next week after the auto industry voiced disappointment over the steep rate hike.
      As per the tax slabs decided by the Council last week, the incidence of GST on mid and large-sized hybrid cars has been kept at the same level as passenger cars.
      Under the GST, the tax incidence on hybrid vehicles will go up to 43 per cent from the current level of effective tax rate of 30.3 per cent.
      "The tax incidence on hybrid vehicle has gone up and we are reading about the concerns being shared by industry. The Council may take a re-look at it in its next meeting on June 3," a revenue department official said.
      Auto industry sources said that they will write to the Finance Ministry this week explaining their position and how it would put a spanner in the wheels of government plans to promote alternate energy.
      Auto industry has already said that the increased tax incidence is against the government's long-term goal of promoting green vehicles in the country. 
      Some of the popular hybrid vehicles sold in India are Camry Hybrid and Prius from Toyota and Honda Accord. These cars are priced between Rs 31.98 lakh and Rs 38.96 lakh.
      A host of other companies were also planning to foray into the segment.
      The GST Council, in its meeting last week, finalised 28 per cent tax rate for hybrid cars. However, mid-size and large-size hybrid cars have been subject to 15 per cent cess -- same as similar sized passenger cars.
      The official further said, the rates have been put up in public domain well before time so that the industry gets time to prepare for the Goods and Services Tax (GST) which will be rolled out from July 1.
      "Concerns expressed by industry would be taken on board and any decision to change the tax rate would go back to the Council," the official said.
      At present, hybrid vehicles attract excise duty of 12.5 per cent, similar to the ones for entry level small cars such as Tata Nano or Maruti Alto. Even though they are exempt from infrastructure cess, there is a 1 per cent National Calamity Contingent Duty, 2 per cent Central Sales Tax and 12.5 per cent VAT, which takes the total incident of tax to 30.3 per cent.
      Commenting on the tax rates, Toyota Kirloskar Motor Vice Chairman and Whole Time Director Shekar Viswanathan had said "This is a very environment unfriendly, regressive tax rate as far as hybrid vehicles are concerned. It goes against the government's drive to promote eco-friendly vehicles".

    IT sector to create 25-30 lakh jobs by 2025: Ravi Shankar Prasad
    • Denying any downturn in Indian information technology sector, Law and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today said the industry will create 25-30 lakhs by 2025.
      "As (the) IT minister of the nation, I completely deny and refute that there is any downturn in the employment in this sector. It is robust, slated for great growth and once digital economy ushers then you can fathom its development," Prasad said while sharing three years achievement of the Ministry of Electronics and IT.
      He said that the Indian IT companies have added 6 lakh jobs in last three years.
      "IT companies employ 40 lakh people directly and 1.3 crore indirectly. We are bringing BPO in small towns. It is very exciting situation. Industry is growing and Nasscom has made assessment that in coming 4-5 years 20-25 lakh more jobs will be created," Prasad said.
      Analysing a report submitted by McKinsey & Co at the Nasscom India Leadership Forum, Head Hunters India founder- chairman and MD K Lakshmikanth had said that job cuts in Information technology (IT) sector will be between Rs 1.75 lakh and 2 lakh annually for the next three years due to under-preparedness in adapting to newer technologies.
      On curbs over H1B visa, Prasad said that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley during his recent visit to the US has conveyed concerns on the issue and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will also convey concerns in this regard to the US government during his visit.
      He said that TeamLease analysis for 2017-18 report that IT sector hiring sentiments is positive and is up by 4% in October 2016 to March 2017, compared to the previous six-month period. TeamLease also indicated that the e-commerce and technology startup sector hiring sentiments has increased by 2 per cent, with projected 14.94 per cent job growth.
      The IT minister said that investment proposal in electronics manufacturing has increased to Rs 1.43 lakh crore.
      "From Rs 11,000 crore investment in 2014, total investment proposals have now increased to Rs 1.43 lakh crore in electronics manufacturing. At present, 72 mobile manufacturing companies have come. In this 1 lakh people have been direct employment and 3 lakh people indirect employment," Prasad said.
      He said that investment in mobile manufacturing has increased from 18,992 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 89,756 crore in 2016-17.
      The minister said that the 2.5 lakh common services centres, which provide government and other Internet based services in rural area, have generated revenue of Rs 1,800 crore, which include Rs 600 crore from Aadhaar related services.
      "Apple has started production in Bangalore in a modest level. They are in touch with IT secretary for further expansion," Prasad said.
      The Ministry of Electronics and IT announced a model IT tender format to be used by various government departments in procurement of IT products and services.
      "There was no consistency in IT procurement. There was request from IT sector to issue a model request for proposal format," Prasad said.
      Meity also announced restructuring and re-branding of Media Lab Asia as Digital India Corporation, which will function like a professional body for rolling out digital India projects mainly e-governance.
      "It will implement Digital India in a professional way. We are going to hire from private sector. It will be very good platform professionally managed with corporate architecture. NeGD (National e-governance division)," he said.
      Government plans to hire professionals in the field of cyber security and launch National Cyber Coordination Centre (NCCC) in June, he added.
      The minister said that government started early preparation to check cyber attacks and India was least effected by ransomware.
      "Hardly 200 locations were effected and they were standalone computers. We are taking focused measures to improve cyber security ecosystem," Prasad said. 

    General Awareness

    3rd RCEP Inter-sessional Ministerial Meeting

    • 3rd Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Inter-sessional Ministerial Meeting was held on 21-22 May 2017 in Hanoi, Vietnam.
      • Trade Ministers of all 16 RCEP countries participated in this meeting.
      • Indian delegation to this meeting was led by Union Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
      • As Philippines is currently holding the Presidency of ASEAN, the RCEP Inter-sessional Ministerial Meeting was chaired by Ramon Lopez – Trade Minister and Industry Minister of Philippines.
      Highlights of 3rd RCEP Inter-sessional Ministerial Meeting:
      • Ministers discussed various global economic developments with a specific focus on trade.
      • It was emphasised that RCEP member countries should remain guarded against protectionist trends in global trade and should vouch for inclusive trade policies which will bring greater benefits to people of the region.
      • Pak Iman Pambagyo – Chairperson of the Trade Negotiating Committee presented the state of play of RCEP negotiations and sought guidance from participating ministers on pending issues for proceeding with the negotiations.
      • India and some other countries outlined the need to arrive at a comprehensive and balanced agreement across the three key pillars of goods, services and investment.
      • Participating countries attempted to move towards negotiating the next round of offers and requests in goods for arriving at mutually beneficial terms through suitable mechanisms.
      • In services also, countries will be submitting next round of offers to negotiate a mutually beneficial outcome.
      • In Investments,the reservation lists submitted by all countries will be analysed in context of commercial meaningfulness.
      About Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP):
      • The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is a proposed mega regional free trade agreement between 16 countries, comprising 10 ASEAN countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) plus six ASEAN Free Trade Agreement partners (Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand).
      • RCEP negotiations were formally launched in November 2012 at the ASEAN Summit in Cambodia.
      • So far 4 Ministerial Meetings, 3 Inter-sessional Ministerial Meetings and 18 Rounds of the Trade Negotiating Committee meets at the technical level have been held.

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