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Current Affairs - 12 June 2017

General Affairs 

Odisha: Maoists warn social activist Achyuta Samanta against educating tribals
  • Social activist and founder of Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) and Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT), Achyuta Samanta was allegedly threatened by Maoists against educating tribals.
    Members of Red Ultras, a Maoist group put up posters of threats and warning Samanta against providing free education to the tribals.
    Posters were put up in the Kakiriguma area in Koraput and read that the 52-year-old activist is working with the police and trying to weaken the Maoist movement in the name of educating tribal students. Samata was warned with a punishment through a kangaroo court if he does not stop.
    Achyuta Samanta provides free education and vocational training to over 25,000 students across Odisha through his institution called Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) which was formed in 1993.
    Over the last decade, Samanta has received numerous awards for promoting education, art and culture among the tribals in the past 25 years. He has also established nearly 25 spiritual centres and shrines to promote yoga and spiritualism.
    The governments of at least 20 states in India and 10 foreign countries have evinced interest in setting up schools similar to KISS for underprivileged children.
    KISS provides education, food, books, lodging and other amenities to almost 20,000 students hailing from tribal and Maoist infested region across Odisha for free.

Para-athlete sleeps on floor after being given upper berth in train, Suresh Prabhu orders inquiry
  • After para-athlete Suvarna Raj today sought Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu's intervention to address the issue of non-compatibility of services in trains for the disabled, the minister ordered an inquiry.
    Raj was allotted an upper berth in the Kanpur-Delhi train, despite being physically-handicapped. When she brought this discrepancy in to the notice of some railway officials, they simply brushed the issue away.
    As a result, the international level medal winning para-athlete had to sleep on the floor of the train compartment.
    "I want to meet Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu and tell him about the problems we have to face while travelling in trains. Disabled people suffer a lot in trains," Raj told ANI.
    She added that while booking the ticket, she had told the official about her handicap.
    Suvarna participated in the Asian Para Games in South Korea in 2014 where she won two medals at the Thailand Para Table Tennis Open 2013.

    She also runs an organisation for disabled people and is currently working on ' Accessible India Campaign', a campaign by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment for achieving worldwide accessibility for people with disabilities.

VIP culture in Bengaluru: Karnataka government notification allows vehicular movement in Cubbon Park
  • The Karnataka government has passed a notification which allows vehicles to enter Bengaluru's Cubbon Park through all of its gates from June 9, on all days except Sundays.
    "It is inevitable to make use of all the available roads around Vidhan Soudha (the Karnataka Assembly) for free movement of VIPs without causing any hindrance to regular traffic. In recent times, traffic police have been finding it tough to regulate the traffic on roads surrounding the park. Hence, keeping aside all the earlier orders, a new order has been issued facilitating the movement of vehicles inside Cubbon Park," the Police Commissioner's order says.
    The notification gives discretionary powers to Cubbon Park traffic police to allow traffic inside the park to ease vehicular movement.
    It adds that there will be no vehicular movement into the park from 10pm to 8am on all days.
    Police have relaxed curbs on traffic movement inside the park without the consent of the Horticulture department, which maintains it.
    Vehicular movement was earlier prohibited in Cubbon Park on all Sundays, second Saturdays and all state government holidays. That helped reduce pollution levels within the park and made it safe for Bengaluru denizens to walk, jog, exercise and cycle.
    Bengaluru citizens who are fighting to save what remains of the city's green spaces are stumped by the new order, which the police issued without consulting them or the Horticulture department.
    Cubbon Park Walker's Association President S Umesh told India Today that this was a shame for the citizens, and asked why such an order had to be issued. If authorities don't reconsider the decision, they are willing to take legal measures.
    Urban conservationist Vijay Nishant said Cubbon Park and Lal Bagh were sensitive locations, and that it had become a habit for the government to take decisions in such matters without consulting citizens or experts.
    Others, such as Ariman and Anusha, want the government to take back the notification.
    "This is the only green space we have in the city and hence it is our duty to conserve it," Ariman said.
    Anusha echoed his views, and added, "Given a chance, the authorities will start by allowing traffic today and then try their best to destroy the park in the future."
    Ameena Khan, a student, says that the order is wrong since the government didn't take into consideration the views of all the stakeholders involved in protecting and preserving Cubbon Park.
    Environmentalists are now planning to submit a memorandum to the Chief Secretary, and stage a protest soon if the government sticks to this order.

West Bengal: World's longest python lays 28 eggs in Kolkata
  • Three pythons in Kolkata's Alipore Zoo gave birth to 56 snakelings, thanks to the efforts of a team of skilled snake breeders hired by the zoo.
    Interestingly, all three pythons were of three separate species - Rock, Burmese and Reticulated.
    The Rock python laid two eggs, both of which hatched. The Burmese python laid 41 eggs in March of which 34 hatched in April. The Reticulated python laid 28 eggs, of which 20 hatched.
    Reticulated python is the longest snake species in the world and heaviest among the three.
    These eggs were collected and sealed using various materials and carefully preserved at 30-33 degrees Celsius.
    Usually the number of eggs laid in one go is between 10-15 but this marks a bumper breeding for Alipore Zoo officials to boast about it.
    Ashish Kumar Samanta, Director Alipore Zoo explained, "We are very proud. We have made history. This is due to the sincere efforts of the team. The Burmese python laid around 35 eggs, the Reticulated python laid 20 eggs, and the Rock python laid two eggs. We carefully sealed the eggs and monitored the temperature conditions."
    In this case the heat could have played a spoilsport but it was the use of technology and precision that has created history with the longest snake laying the highest number of eggs in Kolkata.

Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh farmers are demanding what Narendra Modi had promised in 2014
  • Farmers of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are agitating with their demands for better price for their crops and a satisfactory loan waiver among several other things.
    Interestingly, their demands are similar to what the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi had promised as prime ministerial candidate in the run up to the last Lok Sabha elections.
    On April 15, 2014 as BJP's prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi had promised at a rally in Jharkhand's Hazaribagh that an NDA government would rework the minimum support price for crops with a margin for profit ensuring protection of input cost.
    Narendra Modi had then said, "we will change the minimum support price. There will be a new formula - the entire cost of production and 50 per cent profit. It will not only help farmers but this step will also not allow anyone to loot farmers." 
    Modi repeated the promise a week later at Surendranagar, Gujarat - with a large number of cotton farmers in audience.
    Narendra Modi said, "If BJP government is elected to power, I assure you that we will device a procedure for deciding MSPs of agriculture commodities. We will take into consideration expenditure made by farmers for seeds, irrigation water, electricity, farm equipment, medicines, fertilisers and other input cost. Then over the input cost we will add 50 per cent profit of farmers. So, if Rs 100 is the input cost, MSP will be Rs 150." Narendra Modi believed that the new formula "will not lead to situation where a farmer is forced to commit suicide." Now,farmers of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh are demanding the same. Besides, they have added a few more to the list. 
    A PTI report said that farmers were protesting in 162 districts of the country across nine states since June 1 over two principal demands of an MSP ensuring 50 per cent profit and farm loan waiver. 
    The genesis of protest can be traced to Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. On April 3 this year, a few farmers of Puntambe village gathered to discuss the agricultural problems that they face year after year. 
    They reached at a conclusion that the farm crisis is the combined result of low minimum support price and government's neglect of agriculture. The farmers proposed to strike. The Puntambe gram sabha passed a resolution for strike demanding remedies from the government. 
    Their demands included implementation of Swaminathan Commission's recommendations for long term solution and loan waiver for immediate relief. Swaminathan Commission recommended among other things an MSP ensuring 50 per cent profit on crops - what Narendra Modi promised as prime ministerial candidate.  The farmers of Puntambe might have been influenced by their brethren from Kuntamba village from same Ahmednagar district.

    The farmers of Kuntamba village had launched a similar protest last year demanding implementation of Swaminathan Commission report. The other demands of the farmers included reforms in agriculture, construction of cold storages and agriculture malls - on the lines of shopping malls, pension for farmers over 60 years of age and withdrawal of cases against farmers registered for taking part in farm-related agitation. 
    As the Puntambe gram sabha passed the resolution, word spread through social media and word of mouth far and wide. Soon, over 2,500 panchayats extended support to Puntambe farmers.
    The movement was gaining momentum. By the end of May, a smaller ally of the BJP - the Swabhimani Shetkari Sangathana led by Raju Shetti - came out in support of the farmers and announced an Atmaklesh Yatra.
    Raju Shetti called this yatra his repentance for having sided with a government that has remained insensitive to the pains of farming class. The Atmaklesh Yatra did not find way to headlines but farmers were mobilised with this. At the end of the yatra, the farmers launched their protest in Maharashtra from June 1.
    Smaller groups of farmers from Madhya Pradesh were also in touch with the agitating farmers of Maharashtra through social media. A couple of days later, the Maharashtra government held talks with the representative of the protesting farmers - Jayaji Suryawanshi of Puntambe, who announced calling off the strike without consulting the other farmers on the conditions to end their agitation. The other farmers rebelled and declared that their agitation was leaderless and would continue till their demands are met. Among the smaller groups of farmers communicating with the agitating farmers of Maharashtra was a bunch from Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh. They picked up the thread and intensified their protest. The protest turned violent and security forces - CRPF and police - resorted to firing causing six deaths. The farmers have given a call for state wide bandh in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh on June 12 and a rail roko campaign from June 13.
    The National Commission for Farmers (NCF) or Swaminathan Commission as it is better known was set up 2004 in the backdrop of farmers' protest in some parts of the country. Noted agriculture scientist MS Swaminathan headed the commission. The Swaminathan Commission submitted five reports making recommendations for 'faster and more inclusive' growth of farm and farmers. The final report was filed in 2006. It has been biting dust ever since. 
    The report prescribed a holistic and multi-pronged approach to address farm distress and solve the problems of farmers. According to analysis by PRS legislative research, the key recommendations included improvement in MSP, which should be at least 50 per cent more than the weighted average cost of production. 
     It also suggested providing affordable health insurance, revitalising primary healthcare centres and extending the National Rural Health Mission to suicide hotspot locations on priority basis. 
    It recommended setting up State level Farmers' Commission with representation of farmers for ensuring dynamic government response to farmers' problems and making provision of a social security net which includes old age support and health insurance. The farmers are demanding the same now. They expect that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will fulfill the promises that he made as BJP's prime ministerial candidate.

Business Affairs 

    GST Council reduces tax rates of 66 items: Insulins, cashew nuts, school bags to get cheaper
    • Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today said that the rates of 66 items have been reduced after the 16th GST Council meeting in New Delhi.
      Jaitley said that rates on goods decided today would make the goods cheaper for common man.
      "After considering the recommendations, the GST has reduced tax level in 66 out of 133 items," Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said addressing the press.
      Jaitley also said that the next GST Council meeting would take place next Sunday.
      These are the changes made in the tax levels of several articles by the GST council:
      • GST on cashew nuts reduced from 12 per cent to 5 per cent
      • GST on pickles, chutney, sauces, instant food mixes were charged at 18 per cent and are now reduced to 12 per cent
      • GST on kajal slashed from 28 per cent to 18 per cent
      • GST on insulin reduced from 12 per cent to 5 per cent
      • GST on school bags reduced from 28 per cent to 18 per cent                       
      • GST on children's colouring and drawing books revised from 12 per cent to nil
      • GST on cutlery reduced from 18 per cent to 12 per cent
      • GST on some tractor components will now attract 18 per cent compared to 28 per cent under previous arrangement
      • GST on computer printers reduced from 28 per cent to 18 per cent
      • GST rate of 28 per cent will be maintained for all cinema tickets above Rs 100 while for tickets below Rs 100, it will be reduced to 18 per cent.

    UIDAI denies info on fake Aadhaar cards, says it might affect
    • The UIDAI has refused to share information on cases of fake and duplicate Aadhaar cards, saying the disclosure might affect national security, or can lead to incitement of an offence.
      Replying to an RTI query by a PTI correspondent, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which issues the card, also denied to give details of action it has taken in such cases.
      It said, the UIDAIs Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) facilities, information assets, logistics and infrastructure and dependencies, have been classified as Protected System, under the Section 70(1) of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
      "Any disclosure of the UIDAI grievance database, which essentially forms a part of the UIDAI CIDR operations, therefore, would have an impact on national security, strategic, scientific and economic interest of the State etc.," the UIDAI said in response to the RTI application.
      It was asked to provide details related to the cases of duplicate and fake Aadhaar cards received by the UIDAI, and action taken on them.
      The information sought would fall under Section 8(a) of the RTI Act, and therefore, it is denied, the UIDAI said.
      The section bars information "disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence".
      Further, the format in which information is held by the UIDAI, contains identity details which, if divulged, maybe prone to identity-theft etc, the authority said.
      The Aadhaar card carries 12-digit unique identification number. The card acts as a proof of identity and address.
      There have been a few complaints against certain unauthorised websites for promising Aadhaar-related services.
      At least eight FIRs have been filed by police against as many unauthorised websites for promising such services. 

    Five states in race for Niti Aayog's health programme
    • Five states have made it to the Niti Aayog's shortlist under a programme that aims to build three future 'role model' states for better health systems.
      The government think tank had invited all states and UTs to participate in the programme named as Sustainable Action for Transforming Human Capital (SATH).
      Sixteen states expressed their interest, of which 14 made their presentations to a committee headed by Niti Aayog member Bibek Debroy.
      "Of these fourteen states, five have been shortlisted," Niti Aayog said in a statement on Saturday.
      The think tank however did not disclose the names of the states that have been shortlisted.
      Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chandigarh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh had presented their project proposal to the Niti panel.
      The panel is headed by NITI Aayog member Bibek Debroy and comprise CEO Amitabh Kant as well as a representative from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
      "Three will be selected on the basis of further evaluations and objective assessment of criteria affecting the potential for impact and likelihood of success," Niti Aayog said.
      "Metrics such as MMR, IMR, incidence of malaria and others have been considered for determining potential impact while density of doctors and nurses, compliance to IPHS norms are some of the metrics used to determine likelihood of success," it said further.
      The programme will be launched in the three selected states after the signing of MoUs.
      Niti Aayog said that the programme will be implemented by it along with McKinsey & Company and IPE Global consortium, who were selected through a competitive bidding process.
      Under SATH, Niti will work in close collaboration with the state machinery to design a robust roadmap of intervention, develop a programme governance structure, set up monitoring and tracking mechanisms, hand-hold state institutions through the execution stage and provide support on a range of institutional measures to achieve the end objectives.

    Note ban has and may continue to result in a slowdown of economy: SBI
    • Country's largest lender SBI has expressed apprehensions that demonetisation may continue to result in slowing down of the economy, and adversely affect its business.
      The government had discontinued Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknotes from November 9, 2016 and issued new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 currency notes in exchange for the discontinued ones.
      The long-term impact of this move on the Indian economy and the banking sector is uncertain, SBI told institutional investors prior to its Rs 15,000 crore share sale through private placement.
      The effects of Indias recent demonetisation decision are uncertain, which may adversely affect the bank?s business, results of operations and financial condition, the bank said in the Preliminary Placement Document to investors while flagging the risk factors.
      "The demonetisation has and may continue to result in a slowing down of the Indian economy, which may adversely affect the Banks business," it said.
      The document, SBI had said contains forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties. Further, the financial performance may differ from "such forward-looking" statements as a result of certain factors.
      Post-demonetisation, there has been a surge in the CASA deposits of banks.
      As per a RBI report, the sharp increase in the share of CASA deposits in aggregate deposits by 4.10 per cent to 39.30 per cent (as of February 17, 2017) resulted in a reduction in the cost of aggregate deposits, and banks have correspondingly lowered their term deposit rates.
      As a result, the bank may face increased competition from commercial banks and other lending institutions, it said while highlighting the risks associated with demonetisation.
      SBI said increased competition may have an adverse effect on the net interest margin and other income and if the bank is unable to compete successfully, its profitability may decline.
      "The move could also result in an increase in compliance costs and higher incidents of fraud. Any one or more of these events, if and when they occur, could have a material effect on the banks business, results of operations, financial conditions as well as reputation," the document said.
      Post merger of five associate banks and Bharatiya Mahila Bank effective April 1, SBI catapulted into one of the top 50 global banks (up from 55th position in 2016).
      Its balance sheet size is Rs 33 lakh crore and has 24,017 branches and 59,263 ATMs servicing over 42 crore customers.

    I-Ts just a click away; Tax scrutiny reply set to get easier
    • Replying to income tax scrutiny notices with supporting documents will soon be just a click away.
      Instead of having to make the rounds of the tax department with sheaf of papers in response to notices received, tax payers can soon upload them on the departments e-filing portal sitting in comfort of ones own premises.
      The Income Tax Department will very soon launch on its e- filing website a facility for uploading of information sought through scrutiny notices, a senior government official told PTI.
      "This is part of our focus to reduce human interface and make the department more taxpayer friendly," he said. "The facility to e-file the documents to scrutiny notices is being done to reduce interface between the assessing officer and the taxpayer."
      Also, the tax department plans to start soon an SMS facility to communicate with taxpayers about any scrutiny notice sent to them.
      "We will send SMS on the registered mobile number informing them to go to their account in the efiling portal to see the new notice," the official said.
      Once the facility is started, tax payers will get an SMS alert of a new notice or information being raised by the tax department. The assessee can then log on to the efiling portal and upload the documents that have been sought.
      Currently, the department sends SMSes for informing tax payers, especially the salaried class, about the tax deducted at source (TDS). Also, such alerts are sent on filing of tax returns and their acceptance.
      As many as 3.65 crore individuals filed tax returns in assessment year 2014-15, while only 1 per cent of these are picked up for scrutiny. There are over 29 crore persons holding permanent account number (PAN).
      Also to avoid discretion to assessing officer, a computer-based programme picks up cases for scrutiny based on the risk parameters identified by the I-T department.
      The Income Tax Department had earlier said that all tax related proceedings between the assessee and the taxman from the new fiscal will be conducted online. A new link called e-proceeding has already been launched on the e-filing portal through which assessees reply to notice, questionnaire, or letter issued under various sections of the I-T Act. 

    General Awareness

    India drags US to World Trade Organisation for not complying verdict on steel duty

    • India has approached World Trade Organisation (WTO) against US for its non-compliance of a verdict on high import duty on certain Indian steel imports.
      Background Information:
      In December 2014, WTO’s appellate body had ruled that the high duty imposed by the US on the carbon steel products imported from India does not comply with provisions of the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures.
      Future Course of Action:
      • As of now, India has requested WTO dispute consultations with the US to address US compliance with WTO ruling. If this issue remains unresolved post consultations, India will approach WTO’s compliance panel.
      • For this ruling, India has signed a sequencing agreement with the US. Under the sequencing agreement, India has to first approach the compliance panel and only then can it go for arbitration.
      • In order to resolve this issue, US needs to amend its domestic regulations pertaining to carbon steel products.
      Earlier, the US had dragged India to the arbitration panel of the WTO alleging that India had failed to remove trade restrictions on US poultry and US poultry products. Including the issue of US duty on Indian steel products and Indian trade restrictions on US poultry, India and US have raised several disputes against each other at WTO.
      About World Trade Organisation (WTO):
      WTO is an international organisation which acts as a regulator of international trade. The basis for regulation is the trade agreement signed between trading nations. It provides a platform for governments to negotiate trade agreements and settle trade disputes.
      • Founded in: 1995
      • Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland
      • Current Number of Member States: 164
      • Director General: Robert Azevedo

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