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Current Affairs - 17 June 2017

General Affairs 

Militants kill 6 policemen in Kashmir's Anantnag, LeT claims responsibility
  • Six policemen, including an officer, were killed after LeT militants ambushed a police party in south Kashmir's Anantnag district today.
    Official sources told India Today that late in the afternoon militants opened indiscriminate firing upon a police jeep near Thajiwara Achabal area resulting in fatal injuries to all occupants.
    All the six injured were shifted to hospital where doctors declared them dead.
    A Station House Officer identified as sub-inspector Firoz Dar, a resident of Pulwama, was also among the killed. The other martyred include a driver and four other policemen who were on a routine round in their jeep. Later on, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) sent a mail to India Today office and took responsibility of the terror attack.
    The attack comes in the wake of an encounter with security forces in Anantnag district in which LeT commander Junaid Mattoo and his accomplice Muzamil were killed. Sources said today's attack was a revenge attack to retaliate against security forces.
    In Delhi, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval briefed Home Minister Rajnath Singh over the developments in Kashmir. Defence Minister Arun Jaitley also reviewed security situation in the Valley.
    Meanwhile, a heavy contingent of army, SOG, CRPF and police have launched a hunt to nab the assailants.
    Of late there has been an escalation of militant attacks on Jammu and Kashmir police personnel.
    Even yesterday, two policemen were martyred in the state. One policeman was killed when terrorists attacked a police party near Hyderpora while another cop was shot dead in Kulgam.
    Earlier in the day, Director General of Police S P Vaid said it is because of the frustration of the ultras.
    "We will take necessary measures. This is the frustration of the militants. Whether a militant is killed or a civilian or a cop, it is the Kashmiri who dies. The bloodshed will not take us anywhere, it is only the murder of humanity," the DGP told reporters here.
    He said the militants were targeting the local police as it was fighting them with eagerness.
    "The local police works on the anti-militancy front with eagerness, that is why they (militants) are targeting them (police). But I am sure that we will control this soon," the DGP said.

Delhi PWD scam: Dubious payments made for construction work of 198 roads and drains, reveals RTI response
  • In what could be termed as the biggest scam in Delhi government's PWD (Public Works Department), around Rs 200 crore was paid to more than three dozen contractors on either fake bills or through dubious payment records.  
    The PWD's response to the RTI reveals how the department's engineers and contractors were working hand-in-glove and using government machinery to drain public money. As per information accessed by India Today, 198 roads, drains and footpaths were awarded to several contractors, for which dubious payments were made.
    As per records, Delhi government's PWD takes care of repair and maintenance work of several roads and drains across the capital. Documents received through RTI prove that contractors were indulged in making money without any actual construction or repair work done at most of the places.
    The job was also designed in such a way that no-one could identify whether the required work was done or not. For example, maintenance and repair work of drains and RMC construction work at IGNOU road, Mehrauli road and Firni road. The work was awarded to Varun Gupta and Company and a payment of Rs 3,26,26,450 was also made without submitting any bills for procurement of material for repair and construction work.  
    Similarly, Rs 3,88,19,934 was paid to New Bharat Construction company for sewer maintenance and footpath repair at Kalkaji, Rampura main road and Pratap Nagar road in South Delhi. Shockingly, these works were never completed and no purchase bills were procured, neither by PWD or nor by the construction company.
    Contract of repair of Road no 44 near Britania Chowk at Guru Harkrishan Marg was awarded to MI construction company and Rs 11.32 crore was made. However, the job allotted to them was not done.
    Moreover, most of the contracts awarded to them were quoted at 30 to 70 percent less than the technical budget of these projects. It is not possible to deliver on such low quotes. This clearly reveals that the construction companies were getting paid for such work which were never meant to be completed.

Presidential election 2017: Sreedharan denies he is an NDA candidate
  • Former Delhi Metro chief E Sreedharan has denied that any discussions has taken place regarding his candidature for the presidential election. He has also said there was no reality in the news that his name is under BJP-led NDA's consideration for the post of president.
    India Today, in a report yesterday (June 15), had said there was a strong probability of the ruling BJP-led NDA nominating the 'Metro Man' as its candidate for the president's post in the July 17 election. The origin of the controversy was his exclusion, initially, from the list of dignitaries who would share the dais with Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the latter would inaugurate the Kochi Metro train on Saturday (June 17).
    However, his name was added to the list after an outrage over his name's omission. The Pinari Vijayan government of Kerala wrote to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) asking it to revise the seating plan.
    Later in the day, the PMO said Sreedharan has been included in the list of dignitaries, putting an end to the controversy over the non-inclusion of DMRC principal adviser Sreedharan.
    Sources had said that PMO had deliberately omitted Sreedharan's name even though he has played a pivotal role in the building of Kochi Metro. The Centre did not want Sreedharan to be seen sitting with PM Modi and Union Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu on the dais just days before the name of the NDA candidate is announced, they had said.
    Speaking to the media today, Sreedharan sought to scotch reports that any discussions have taken place. He also said he does not long for the post.
    However, it is a fact that no discussions have yet taken place between the Modi government and Sreedharan as yet. The issue is at a discussion stage among senior BJP leaders. 'Metro Man' has not yet been either tipped off on the matter.
    This does not mean that there is no reality in the report. While it may be a fact that Sreedharan has not been contacted, it may also be true that he may not long for the coveted post.

1993 Mumbai serial blasts: Abu Salem, five others found guilty by TADA court, Abdul Qayyum acquitted
  • A special TADA court in Mumbai today found Abu Salem, Mustafa Dossa, Firoz Abdul Rashid Khan, Tahir Merchant, Karimullah Khan guilty of all charges in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case
    While accused Riaz Siddiqui has been convicted under TADA and other charges, Abdul Qayyum has been acquitted of all charges. The court observed that the prosecution failed to prove conspiracy charges against Siddiqui. The court will pronounce quantum of sentence on Monday (June19).
    Dossa, along with his absconding accused brother Mohammed Dossa, is accused of holding the meetings before the blasts at his residence in Dubai and then supplying all the arms and ammunition to Mumbai.
    Abu Salem, who was accused of transporting weapons from Gujarat to Mumbai, was arrested in Portugal in 2002.
    1. The Mumbai serial blasts had left 257 people dead, 713 others seriously injured, and destroyed properties worth an estimated Rs 27 crore. On March 12, 1993 the country's commercial capital witnessed an unprecedented terrorist attack when a series 12 bomb explosions took place one after another in about a span of two hours.
    2. This was the first ever terrorist attack in the world where RDX (Research Department Explosive i.e cyclotrimethylene trinitramine) was used on such a large scale after the Second World War. The trial of the seven accused - Abu Salem, Mustafa Dossa, Karimullah Khan, Firoz Abdul Rashid Khan, Riyaz Siddiqui, Tahir Merchant and Abdul Quayyum - was separated from the main case as they were arrested after the conclusion of the main trial. This round of trial resumed in 2012 and concluded this March.
    3. Gangster Abu Salem was accused of transporting weapons from Gujarat to Mumbai. Three accused, including Salem, had confessed to their crime during investigations carried out by the CBI over the years into the blasts case.
    4. Salem also handed over AK 56 rifles, 250 bullets and some hand grenades to Sanjay Dutt- who was an accused in the case for illegally possessing weapons - at the actor's residence on January 16, 1993. Two days later on January 18, 1993, Salem and two others went to Dutt's house and got back two rifles and some rounds. Sanjay Dutt and many others surrendered before the TADA court in May 2013 after the apex court upheld their conviction.
    5. The court had dropped certain charges against Salem in 2013 after the CBI moved a plea, saying those charges were against the extradition treaty between India and Portugal.
    6. According to the prosecution, the serials blasts were carried out to avenge the December 1992 demolition of Babri Masjid three months before the attacks. The CBI said members of fugitive don Dawood Ibrahim's gang along with other absconding accused Tiger Memon, Mohammed Dossa and Mustafa Dossa hatched a conspiracy to commit terrorist acts in India.
    7. The prosecution said that the object of the crime was to commit terrorist acts with an intent to overawe the Government of India, to strike terror on the people, alienate section of the people and to harm the communal harmony. It said that the conspirators smuggled fire-arms, ammunitions, detonators, hand grenades and highly explosive substances like RDX into India and stored it.
    8. According to the prosecution, Mustafa Dossa, Tiger Memon and Chhota Shakeel organised training camps in Pakistan and in India to impart and undergo weapon and arms training and handling of explosives. They also sent men from India to Pakistan via Dubai for arms training.
    9. In the first leg of the trial that concluded in 2007, the TADA court had convicted 100 accused in the case, while 23 people were acquitted. Yakub Memon was executed on July 30, 2015 after his several pleas seeking clemency were rejected, including the post-midnight hearing by Supreme Court on the day he was hanged.

How Centre and state governments' piling court cases cripple Indian judiciary
  • At a time when the country's courts and justice ministry are battling a backlog of more than 3.2 crore cases, it turns out that the government - both Centre and states - is the biggest single litigant, being a party in a whopping 46 per cent of them.
    According to statistics provided by the law and justice ministry, the central government alone is involved in 1,35,060 lawsuits across the country. Experts say India has far too few courts, judges and prosecutors for its 1.3 billion people. Bulk of the cases is pending in subordinate courts thronged by poor litigants who bear the brunt of the creeping system.
    The ministry of railways is the biggest contributor, being a party in 66,685 pending lawsuits of which 10,464 are more than a decade old. Five other ministries with the most number of cases are finance (15,651), communications (12,642), home affairs (11,668), defence (3,433) and health & family welfare (3,275).
    Listing the Narendra Modi government's achievements in the arena of justice delivery in the last three years, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said a key goal is to reduce government litigation as a result of which the overall case pileup is set to witness a sharp dip. "A draft national litigation policy is under formulation to make the government a responsible and efficient litigant. I wrote to all governmental departments and ministries to take pro-active measures to settle cases were government is a party," said Prasad.
    Ministry sources said to give an impetus to the goal, a nodal officer has been appointed in each department to keep a track of disputes in which the department is involved, avoid filing appeals except in cases that involve a substantial policy matter, and withdrawal of vexatious litigation.
    The ministry is also making efforts to ensure cases involving two government wings or PSUs are settled out of the court using alternate dispute redress mechanisms. Pendency in the Supreme Court is now at 60,750 cases. About 40 lakh cases are stuck in high courts.
    The pendency in district and subordinate courts is at 2.74 crore. The department of justice's "Action Plan To Reduce Government Litigation" says, "Government is regarded to be the biggest contributor to litigation in India. Approximately 46 per cent of the total pending cases in courts pertains to the government. This includes cases relating to Public Sector Undertakings and other autonomous bodies. Government litigation includes service matters, disputes with private entities as well as inter-se disputes between two government departments and disputes between two PSUs."
    The Legal Information Management and Briefing System (LIMBS) - an endeavour to bring court cases against the government on a single comprehensive online platform - was launched last year. It was an effort to ensure that various ministries do not adopt conflicting stands on the same issue before a court, a growing trend these days, and to make maximum efforts to settle disputes between governments and among public sector units out of the court, which will reduce the backlog to a large extent.
    Prasad said LIMBS has captured details of more than 1,30,231 cases in which the government is involved. "It helps to introduce transparency as well as a sense of ownership among various stakeholders/ministries/departments during the entire cycle of a court case," he said. The progress of each case - what happened on a particular date, stand adopted by the government, etc - will be available at the click of a button for the official who has registered himself with the LIMBS. Several recent chief justices had been asking the Centre to take immediate steps to ensure that only minimal litigation between government departments and PSUs reach the court. They have also been calling for out-of-court-settlement of disputes to reduce the pileup.

Business Affairs 

    Aadhaar must be linked to bank accounts by December 31; mandatory for opening new accounts
    • Even though the Constitution bench of Supreme Court is yet to decides on the privacy issue regarding Aadhaar, the government on Friday made Aadhaar card mandatory for opening bank accounts and for financial transactions of Rs 50,000 and above. 
      All existing account holders are asked to submit Aadhaar to banks by Dec 31, 2017, failing which accounts will become invalid, PTI reported.
      In recent months, most banks had been encouraging account holders through SMS and phone calls to link Aadhar with their bank accounts. This was probably done to pre-empt the possibility of it becoming compulsory in future.
      One of the reasons the government could have made this mandatory is to promote digital transactions by promoting Aadhaar-enabled transactions without the use of debit and credit card.
      In fact, experts had been anticipating the government would make it mandatory to link bank accounts with Aadhaar number after the decision to link of PAN with Aadhaar.
      This was because bank accounts of the person would already have PAN (as KYC requirement). Once Aadhaar is linked with PAN, it will certainly lead to automatic link with the bank accounts as well. Hence, the interconnection of PAN card, Aadhaar and bank accounts, implies that the government will be able to keep a track of your financial transactions.
      Aadhaar is a 12-digit number code, issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). It is used to establish a person's identity on the basis of demographic and biometric information. 
      Earlier this month, Supreme Court had put a partial stay Section 139AA of IT Act, which allows mandatory linkage of Aadhaar for filing income tax returns (ITR) and allotment of PAN (permanent account number).
      The apex court said the government could not force people to get Aadhaar until the main issue over privacy is decided. However, the it added that those who already possess the unique ID will have to link it with PAN.
      Government's move comes days after Minister of State for Civil Aviation, Jayant Sinha had spoken about ministry's plan to introduce 'digital unique identification' requirement at the time of booking air tickets.
      Air travellers are already required to carry a copy of their identity while entering an airport. 

    New high for gold contract transactions at Rs 154 crores
    • Trading in gold contracts on BSE's India International Exchange (India INX) has hit the USD 24.15 million mark for the first time.
      Trading in commodities derivatives including gold was launched at India INX in Gujarat's Gift City on April 13.
      "With increase in volatility on Thursday the trading volume of India INX gold crossed the USD 24.15 million mark for the first time," India INX said in a statement today.
      "The Federal Reserve raised US interest rates by 0.25 per cent, in June FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) meeting. The FOMC statement also said US inflationary pressures have eased a bit recently. After digesting the FOMC statement, the marketplace deemed this Fed meeting as more hawkish on US monetary policy," India INX said.
      "The gold market started to erode right after the FOMC statement and due to increase in volatility the volumes of gold contracts at major exchanges shoots up including that of new entrant in the global market India INX gold contract," it added.
      The India INX was launched with index and equity futures in January this year.
      "Along with Index contracts, gold contract at India INX has gained momentum and attracted larger and wider participation as the impact cost of gold contracts at India INX is low as compared to other major global exchanges," the exchange said.
      India INX is the first international exchange to become operational at the International Financial Service Centre at the Gift City in Ahmedabad.
      As many as 84 trading members have taken approval from the SEZ authority to start trading on India INX.
      The exchange has been one of the most advanced technology platforms with a turnaround time of 4 micro seconds. It operates 22 hours, five days a week, to allow global investors and NRIs to trade.

    Switzerland agrees to share black money details with India; first set of data to be exchanged in 2019
    • Switzerland today ratified automatic exchange of financial account information with India and 40 other jurisdictions to facilitate immediate sharing of details about suspected black money, even as it sought strict adherence to confidentiality and data security.
      Adopting the dispatch on introduction of the AEOI, a global convention for automatic information exchange on tax matters, the Swiss Federal Council said the implementation is planned for 2018 and the first set of data should be exchanged in 2019.
      The council, which is the top governing body of the European nation, will soon notify the Indian government about the exact date from which the automatic exchange would begin.
      As per the draft notification approved by the council in its meeting today, the decision is not subject to any referendum -- which means there should be no further procedural delay in its implementation.
      The issue of black money has been a matter of great debate in India and Switzerland has been long perceived as one of the safest havens for the illicit wealth allegedly stashed abroad by Indians.
      Todays decision follows hectic parleys between India and Switzerland for introduction of the AEOI (Automatic Exchange of Information) on tax matters under the guidance of G20, OECD and other global organisations.
      The council said the proposal to introduce AEOI with India and others "met with widespread approval from the interested parties who voiced their opinions in the consultations".
      "In concrete terms, the AEOI will be activated with each individual state or territory by means of a specific federal decree within the framework of this dispatch," it added.
      The exchange of information itself will be carried out based on the Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement (MCAA) on the Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information, which is in turn based on the international standard for the exchange of information developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
      The council said it will prepare a situation report before the first exchange of data, which is planned for autumn 2019.
      "In the process, it will be checked whether the states and territories concerned effectively meet the requirements under the standard, especially those concerning confidentiality and data security.
      "It is important for the Federal Council that a level playing field be created among states and that all major financial centres, in particular, be included. This year, Switzerland has introduced the AEOI with 38 states and territories, including all EU member states, and data will start to be exchanged with them in 2018," it added. 

    Inflation dipping; time for RBI to lower rates and boost investment
    • With inflation dipping at a rapid pace, it could be the right time for the Indian central bank to soften its hawkish stand and reduce interest rates .
      Retail price inflation, measured by the consumer price index (CPI), fell to a record low of 2.2 per cent in May 2017 from 3 per cent in April this year. Retail inflation dipped for the second consecutive month and fell in both rural and urban India. The food group recorded a deflation of 1.1 per cent in May compared to an inflation of 0.6 per cent in April. Moreover, food inflation entered the negative zone for the first time since January 2012. The fuel and light group recorded a fall in inflation to 5.5 per cent in May from 6.1 per cent in the previous month.
      Wholesale inflation, measured by the Wholesale Price Index, fell to 2.2 per cent in May from 3.9 per cent in April. Interestingly, wholesale inflation has been falling since March this year. Inflation in the fuel group fell to 11.7 per cent in May from 18.5 per cent in April. The primary articles group recorded a deflation of 1.8 per cent compared to an inflation of 1.8 per cent in April this year. Inflation in wholesale prices of manufactured products fell marginally to 2.6 per cent from 2.7 per cent. Industry experts are hopeful that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will take a relook at its monetary policy stand going by these declining numbers. In June, the central bank maintained the status quo on its repo or short-term lending rate, since it was reduced by 25 basis points to 6.25 per cent in October 2016. To induce demand and boost investments, the RBI must reduce interest rates. The gross fixed capital formation (at 2011/12 prices), a proxy for investment, has declined from 31.3 per cent in 2014/15 to 29.2, 5 per cent of GDP, in 2016/17 (provisional estimates).

    Sensex, Nifty trade flat ahead of US Federal Reserve policy outcome
    • Indian benchmark indices opened on a positive note today as the benchmark Sensex rose 80 points, coming on the back of an overnight record close on the Wall Street.
      Investors kept track of the two-day monetary policy meeting of the US Federal Reserve, which is due to announce its decision today.
      At 10.22 am, the BSE Sensex was trading 31,116.41, up 12.92 points (0.04%) while the Nifty50 was trading 5.85 per cent lower at 9,601.05-level.
      Realty, healthcare, oil and gas and auto indices rose.
      Support came from Dr Reddy's, Lupin, Reliance Industries, TCS, PowerGrid and ICICI Bank, which climbed by up to 1.53 per cent.
      Asian markets remained mixed. Japan's Nikkei was up 0.10 per cent while Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.05 per cent in early trade today. Shanghai Composite, however, shed 0.22 per cent.
      The US Dow Jones Industrial Average ended at a record close by rising 0.44 per cent yesterday.

    General Awareness

    Neeru Chadha elected as first Indian woman member of ITLOS

    • On June 14, 2017, eminent international law expert, Neeru Chadha became the first Indian woman to be elected as a judge at International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
      • Neeru Chadha got 120 votes, the highest in the Asia Pacific group and was elected in the first round of voting itself.
      • She has been elected for a nine-year term from 2017 to 2026.
      About Neeru Chadha:
      Chadha holds law degrees including PhD in law from the University of Delhi and the University of Michigan.
      • She has extensive international arbitration and litigation experience.
      • Chadha was the first woman chief legal adviser to the Indian government and has advised the government on diverse issues relating to the law of the sea involving interpretation of various provisions of the UNCLOS including determining the extent of coastal state’s jurisdiction in different maritime zones, maritime delimitation with neighbouring states and legal issues relating to submissions on extended continental shelf.
      • She has represented the Indian government in various multilateral meetings and conferences viz. Hague Conference, United Nations, SAARC and Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi— Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).
      Cases Handled by Neeru Chadha: 
      Maritime delimitation case with Bangladesh.
      • Case filed by Italy in ITLOS involving two Italian marines accused of shooting two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala in 2012.
      • Case concerning the Obligations concerning Negotiations relating to cessation of nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament with Marshall Islands.
      Quick Facts about International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS):
      ITLOS is one of dispute settlement mechanisms under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that entered into force in 1994.
      • ITLOS was founded in year 1996.
      • The Tribunal is composed of 21 independent members who are elected from among persons enjoying the highest reputation for fairness and integrity and of recognised competence in the field of the law of the sea.
      • Administrative Center of ITLOS is located in Hamburg, Germany.
      • Vladimir V. Golitsyn is the current President of ITLOS.

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