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Current Affairs - 23 June 2017

General Affairs 

Mistake To Call Ganga, Yamuna Living Entity To Protect Society's Faith, Uttarakhand Tells Top Court
  • Months after cheering the high court verdict declaring Ganga and Yamuna as human entities, Uttarakhand's Trivendra Singh Rawat government on Thursday petitioned the Supreme Court to cancel the landmark verdict, saying the court had exceeded its jurisdiction.

    In its petition, the BJP-ruled state said the high court had passed an order that was clearly unsustainable in law. Ganga and Yamuna are inter-state rivers and it is the duty of the Centre to frame rules, and not the state, it said.

    In March, the Uttarakhand High Court gave the two rivers the status of "legal and living entities, having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person".

    Because the river weren't really human, three officials including Uttarakhand's Chief Secretary and Advocate General were charged to protect, conserve and preserve the rivers
     and their tributaries. The high court called the officials the "legal parents" of the rivers.

    From environmentalists to politicians, the verdict raised hopes that it would lead to focussed efforts to clean up the polluted and much abused river. Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat was among those who had welcomed the verdict. 
    But if the two rivers were living entities, it meant they could be sued too. The first show-cause notice reached the three officials within a month. On behalf of the river, they were told to explain why Ganga's land was given for the construction of a trenching ground in a Rishikesh village. Legal experts warned that the officials should expect more cases. The change in the BJP government's stand happened soon after.

    In its appeal, the state government has told the Supreme Court that the person who had filed the case in the high court had never asked for the rivers to be declared as human entities. He just wanted encroachments to be removed.

    The state government also pointed that the jurisdiction of the high court and the state officials ended at the boundary of Uttarakhand but the rivers flowed beyond the state too.

    There is no dispute that river Ganga and Yamuna and other tributaries in India have a social impact, and they support and assist both the life and natural resources and health and well-being of the entire community. But the high court could not declare the rivers as a legal person only to protect the faith of the society, the state government said in its petition.

Farmers' Associations In Rajasthan Call For Shutdown On July 9
  • Nearly 26 farmers' associations have called for a shutdown in 45,000 villages across Rajasthan on July 9 to press for their demands, even after the RSS-backed Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) called off its proposed stir.

    Farmers in these villages have decided to curtail supply of milk, vegetables and grains, and will wear black bands to express solidarity solidarity and fight for their demands. The farmers' bodies have been demanding agricultural loan waivers, passage of a farmers' security Act and implementation of the recommendations of the MS Swaminathan Commission.

    "Farmers in Rajasthan are no different from farmers of other states," the national president of Kisan Mahapanchayat, Rampal Jat, said in a press conference in Jaipur.

    "Farmers' demands have not been met. Holding talks with BKS representatives and assurances given to them were merely an eyewash and attempt to pacify farmers' protest.

    "We have called for a shutdown in 45,000 villages in Rajasthan on July 9. Twenty-six associations representing farmers will support the protest," Mr Jat said.

    He has alleged that the BJP, which is in power at the Centre and in the state, have failed to fulfill the promises made to the farmers in its election manifestos.

    Farmers in Rajasthan are under huge debt as their produce is not being procured at the government-fixed minimum support price (MSP).

    Several states including Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab have waived farmers' loans.

Pak Border Action Team Attack Foiled In Jammu And Kashmir, 2 Soldiers Die
  • The army today repulsed a major attack by the Pakistan's Border Action Team -- forces that intrude into India to murder and behead Indian soldiers -- at Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir. There were at least three intruders, two of whom has been killed. Another has managed to escape under cover fire from Pakistan, the army said. Two Indian soldiers died during the initial exchange of fire.

    This was the third time the Border Action Team -- formed specially to conduct strikes across the Line of Control --  has struck in Poonch this year. The attackers usually comprise members of the special forces of the Pakistan Army and some terrorists.

    The operation is in progress and heavy exchange of fire is on, the army said, adding the bodies of the intruders are within sight.
      The attack started around 2 pm. The BAT team from Pakistan had crossed the Line of Control and came 600 meters into the Indian side, the army said. They were 200 meters from the army post when the exchange of fire started.

    "Own Area Domination Patrol was targeted by armed intruders and an exchange of fire occurred. While the firefight was going on, Pakistani posts engaged our posts by heavy firing," the statement read. "In the firefight, our two jawans have been martyred."

    The deceased jawans are both from Maharashtra -- 34-year-old Jadhav Sandip Sarjerao and 24-year-old Mane Savan Balku.

    In April, two soldiers were murdered and mutilated near the Line of Control. It was suspected to be an attack by the Border Action team. Days later, on May 23, the Army had released a video of a massive fire assault on Pakistani posts. It was as a message that the army would take firm action on locations across the border from where terrorists are infiltrating into India.

Defence Deals Key To PM Modi's US Trip Including $2 Billion Drones
  • India is pushing for US approval of its request to buy a naval variant of the Predator drone, officials said, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets President Donald Trump for the first time.

    Securing agreement on the purchase of 22 unarmed drones is seen in Delhi as a key test of defence ties that flourished under former President Barack Obama but have drifted under Mr Trump, who has courted India's rival China as he seeks Beijing's help to contain North Korea's nuclear programme.

    PM Modi's two-day visit to Washington begins on Sunday. Mr Trump met Chinese President Xi Jinping in April and has also had face-time with the leaders of nations including Japan, Britain and Vietnam since taking office in January, prompting anxiety in Delhi that India is no longer a priority in Washington.

    If the Indian navy gets the unarmed surveillance drones it wants to keep watch over the Indian Ocean, it would be the first such purchase by a country that is not a member of the NATO alliance.

    "We are trying to move it to the top of the agenda as a deliverable, this is something that can happen before all the other items," said one official tracking the progress of the drone discussions in the run-up to the visit.

    India, a big buyer of US arms recently named by Washington as a major defence ally, wants to protect its 7,500 km (4,700 mile) coastline as Beijing expands its maritime trade routes and Chinese submarines increasingly lurk in regional waters.

    But sources tracking the discussions say the US State Department has been concerned about the potential destabilising impact of introducing high-tech drones at a time when tensions are simmering between India and Pakistan.

    "There is a palpable fear in New Delhi that the new US president's lack of focus on India, and limited appointment of South Asia focused advisors, has resulted in India falling off the radar in Washington," Eurasia Group's Shailesh Kumar and Sasha Riser-Kositsky said in a note quoted by news agency Reuters.

    Defence deals, however, are one area where the two countries could make progress. 

    The two sides have stepped up efforts in recent weeks to get inter-agency clearance for the sale of the Guardian drone, made by California-based General Atomics.  
    India has raised the issue of the drones - reportedly worth more than $2 billion - with the Pentagon three times since June 2016, officials said, according to Reuters. The agency also said that an industry official involved in promoting India-US business ties said the drone sale enjoyed support from the White House and Congress, and was now awaiting clearance from the State Department.

    While the Guardian drones that India is pushing for are unarmed, the Indian military had originally asked for missile-firing Predator Avenger aircraft, a request turned down by the Obama administration. 

    US export laws typically prohibit the transfer of such arms to a country unless it is fighting alongside US forces. 

    India and the United States will also discuss the sale of US fighter jets during PM Modi's trip, in what could be the biggest deal since they began deepening defence ties more than a decade ago.

    On Monday, Lockheed Martin announced an agreement with India's Tata Advanced Systems to produce F-16 planes in India, provided it won a contract to equip the Indian Air Force with hundreds of new aircraft.

    Lockheed has offered to shift its ageing F-16 production line from Fort Worth, Texas as part of PM Modi's "Make-in-India" drive while it ramps up production of the high-end F-35 aircraft at home.

    Since Mr Trump's election on an "America First" platform, US and Indian officials have sought to play down any contradiction between his stated desire to protect American jobs and PM Modi's "Make in India" policy, arguing, for example, that deals in which components made in the United States are shipped to India for assembly benefit workers in both countries.

    US officials expect a relatively low-key visit by PM Modi, without the fanfare of some of his previous trips to the United States, and one geared to giving the Indian leader the chance to get to know Mr Trump personally. 

    PM Modi is expected to discuss the H 1-B visa programme that the Trump administration is reviewing to reduce the flow of skilled foreign workers and save jobs for Americans.

    Indian Trade Secretary Rita Teaotia told reporters this week that the H-1B visas, under which Indian IT firms send large numbers of professionals to the United States, would be one of the issues on the table during PM Modi's visit.

Cartosat 2, India's Sixth Eye In The Sky, To Be Launched Tomorrow
  • Hemmed in by neighbours with whom ties remain uneasy, India is increasingly turning vigilant, building fast on its monitoring capacity. Tomorrow, Indian space agency ISRO will launch another satellite - the eye-in-the-sky kind that sent images that came handy when surgical strikes were conducted across the Line of Control last September.

    Cartosat 2 will orbit the earth from 500 km above, and will be capable of counting the number of army tanks parked in hostile territories, scientists say.

    India already has five such satellites. So why does it need a sixth?

    The existing satellites are not enough to meet even nominal requirement of high resolution data for developmental activities, ISRO chairman Dr A S Kiran Kumar.
    "We are forced to buy some of the images and data from alternate sources," he said, But even so, the total time that any region is covered is very limited. If one has to cover the entire country at least once a year, more such satellites are needed. In the coming years, the need for high resolution data will only grow, he said, particularly with the increasing monitoring activity both by states as well as the Center.

    "We have already got an approval for a constellation of three satellites providing such sub-meter resolution images," he added.

    The Cartosat 2 satellite will be carried up by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. It would be the 40th flight of the 44 meter tall and 320-ton rocket.

    The PSLV will also carry 30 other small satellites - 29 of them will be from 15 different countries including US & Chile. The 30th will be a 15 kg satellite called NIUSAT. It has been made by Noorul Islam University in Tamil Nadu, which will help in crop monitoring and disaster management.

Business Affairs 

    7th Pay Commission: Delayed by PM, FM foreign trips, allowances likely to be cleared on June 28
    • The Union Cabinet might take up the issue of allowances for central government employees when it convenes on June 28. The matter has already been missed twice by the federal Cabinet twice this month on account of either Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Finance Minister Arun Jailtey being out of the country on separate foreign visits.
      Around 50 lakh central government employees have been waiting for a word on allowances awarded by the Seventh Central Pay Commission. The rates are to be tabled before the Cabinet by Jaitley for final approval. The Empowered Committee of Secretaries has handed over its proposals in this regard to him on June 1.
      The first Cabinet meeting this month on June 7 was cancelled as Modi was out of India on a four-nation trip. The second meeting on June 14 had no mention of allowances because Jaitley could not submit proposals in this regard. He was away on a trip to South Korea to attend the Asian Infrastructure Investment Meeting.
      It was the third time this week that the Cabinet's agenda missed allowance rates under 7th Pay Commission as Jaitley is visiting Russia at the head of a defence delegation. Earlier this week , both leaders met in presence of Finance Secretary Ashok Lavasa to discuss the matter. Reports suggest that Modi has instructed to finalise allowance rates without delay.
      However, the suspense over the allowance rates is expected to be over as both the leaders will be available for the Cabinet meet. Modi will be back from Washington visit; Jaitley will return from his Russia tour on June 24.
      The matter of central government employees' allowances has been pending for almost one year now and the hiccups seem to stick even towards the end. The Pay Commission had recommended that out of a total 196 allowances, 52 be discontinued entirely whereas 36 other allowances should be subsumed under other allowances.
      Apart from this, the pay panel called for cutting down the House Rent Allowance (HRA) which constituted the bulk of an employee's paycheck. The Pay Commission suggested HRA to be brought down to 24 per cent, 16 per cent and 8 per cent of the basic pay, to be paid according to the city the employee is positioned in.
      The preceding Pay Commission had pegged the same at 30 per cent, 20 per cent and 10 per cent. The Cabinet formed the Committee on Allowances under Finance Secretary Ashok Lavasa in June last year after the central government employees expressed their dissatisfaction against them. The motive of this Committee was to look into the extensive changes suggested by the 7th Pay Commission.
      The Lavasa Committee handed over its review report to Jaitley in April after consulting representations from various government departments and agencies. After approved by the Department of Expenditure, this report was forwarded to E-CoS for their consideration and consolidation.
      The Empowered Committee submitted the report once again to the Finance Minister on June 1. Reports state that the E-CoS has capped HRA rates between 25 per cent and 27 per cent. The Cabinet may, however, approve rates higher than that to compensate for the delay in paying allowances as per new rates according to the 7th Pay Commission.

    SEBI proposes stricter separation on investment products
    • The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) on Thursday proposed to more clearly segregate entities advising on investment products from those selling them in an effort to prevent conflicts of interest.
      Under current rules, companies are allowed both to advise and sell mutual funds or other investment products only through "separately identifiable departments or divisions", which must maintain an "arms-length relationship" between the two functions.
      Fees charged for each service must also be clearly separated.
      But the SEBI on Thursday sought to make that separation more clear, proposing that companies would no longer be able to offer both advisory and distribution services unless they were split into separate subsidiaries, proposing that the division be completed within six months.
      The SEBI also said those providing investment advice must have proper permission from regulators of the products about which they give advice.
      The SEBI oversees equities, corporate bonds, and mutual funds, while the central bank oversees trading of currencies and government bonds.
      "To prevent the conflict of interest that exists between advising of investment products and selling of investment products by the same entity/person, there should be clear segregation between these two activities," the SEBI said in a draft proposal.
      The regulator also said mutual fund distributors - third-party companies hired by asset managers to sell investment products to retail investors - would not be able to offer investment advice beyond explaining the characteristics and "suitability" of schemes.
      Over the past several years, the SEBI has sought to tighten supervision of the mutual fund industry after the sector suffered from frequent accusations that distributors and asset managers were colluding to sell specific schemes, regardless of whether they actually suited retail investors' needs.
      The SEBI said market participants needed to submit their responses to the proposals by July 14.

    Farm loan waivers may cost Rs 1.5-2.3 trillion: Report
    • With more states announcing farm loan waiver schemes, a research report today said if the trend continues the total write-down could add up to Rs 1.5- 2.3 trillion, and banks will bear the brunt.
      So far, Maharashtra and UP have waived nearly 30-40 per cent of outstanding agri-bank credit, while for Punjab it was 15 per cent, according to the report. In the meanwhile, Karnataka has also announced farm loan waiver scheme.
      There is high probability that more states like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, may join the bandwagon, Edelweiss Research said in a note, adding "if this plays out and assuming 20-30 per cent of outstanding agri-bank loans are waived, the total loan waiver could add up to a sizeable around Rs 1.5-2.3 trillion (1.0-1.5 per cent of 2017-18 GDP)".
      These farm loan waivers could be funded by debt issuance rather than expenditure cuts and these debt issuance spread over 3-4 years may keep states borrowing costs under check. However, banks, which will be compensated only over a period of time, will have to bear the brunt.
      Moreover, deterioration in credit culture is an added potential risk for banks. The report further said if the government staggers the fiscal burden over 3-4 years, it will still imply annual fiscal cost of 0.3-0.5 per cent of GSDP.
      RBI's monetary stance will be critical, Edelweiss said, adding it should remain accommodative given the state of the economy. Earlier this month, the RBI left key interest rate unchanged as it wanted to be more sure that inflation will stay subdued. However, the finance ministry's stand is that inflation has been consistently low, warranting a rate cut.

    Not pessimistic on IT jobs, startups should help: Urjit Patel
    • Reserve Bank Governor Urjit Patel today said he is not overly pessimistic about employment scenario in the IT sector, pointing out that mushrooming startups can compensate for job losses.
      The comments came almost simultaneously with industry lobby Nasscom guiding towards a slowdown in export revenue growth at 7-8 per cent in 2017-18 as against the 8.6 per cent achieved last fiscal.
      There have been reports pointing to big IT firms laying off people and going slow on hiring.
      "I think we don't have to be overly pessimistic at this stage," Patel said at an IMC event here amid growing concern over jobs in the $ 160 billion IT sector.
      "While there could be pressure on employment in some of the IT sectors, it is not necessarily in terms of literally a job destruction but may be the growth rate is affected by what is happening. The number of startups in that same space is almost compensating for most of this," he said.
      Patel said there is a 'contradiction' between what the reports say and what he hears from the industry.
      "When I talk to businesses themselves, I rarely hear about jobs destruction," he said.
      In the past few months a number of IT majors such as Infosys, Wipro, Cognizant, IBM and Tech Mahindra have either announced or are believed to be mulling job cuts. Some analysts say job losses could run into lakhs. At present, the IT industry employs over four million people directly.
      Increasing automation and protectionist policies in the developed world, especially the US which is the biggest market for the sector, are being blamed for the reverses.
      Patel strongly defended India's open trade policies on external trade relations and advocated continuing with them, saying the country has benefited from those.
      "Unequivocally, India's position should be for an open trading system," he said, adding that we should stick to it despite the changes adopted in a few countries.
      "As a $ 2.3 trillion economy at market exchange rates, our voice does count and for the most part we have benefited from an open trading system," he said.

    Sensex makes a 136-pt rebound as bad loan fight paces up
    • The BSE Sensex made a strong recovery of 136 points at the start today on the back of a slew of steps by regulator Sebi to make markets more attractive for investments.
      Asian cues remained mixed.
      The 30-share index rebounded by 136.27 points, or 0.44 per cent, to 31,419.91. Realty, metal, power and auto were in the positive zone, rising by up to 1.09 per cent.
      The gauge had lost 27.93 points in the previous two sessions.
      The NSE Nifty also moved up by 33.85 points, or 0.35 per cent, to 9,667.45.
      Among a host of key decisions yesterday, Sebi relaxed its takeover norms for restructuring listed companies with stressed assets, which is expected to bolster efforts in fight against bad loans.
      Some short covering helped stocks too bounce back.
      Major contributors to the recovery were HDFC Ltd, PowerGrid, Asian Paints, Tata Motors, Tata Motors DVR, Sun Pharma and Axis Bank, gaining up to 1.37 per cent.
      Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.18 per cent while Shanghai Composite rose 0.72 per cent in early trade today. Japan's Nikkei fell 0.10 per cent.
      The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended 0.27 per cent down yesterday.

    General Awareness

    UN report World Population Prospects – The 2017 Revision

    • According to ‘World Population Prospects – The 2017 Revision’ released by United Nations on Jun 21, 2017, world’s population will surpass the 8 billion mark in year 2023.
      India’s population to surpass that of China’s around 2024: UN
      According to ‘World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision’ released by United Nations on Jun 21, 2017, the population of India is expected to surpass that of China by year 2024.
      Highlights of World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision
      The report said, the current world population of 7.6 billion is expected to reach 6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100.
      • Currently China with 1.41 billion inhabitants and India with 1.34 billion remain the two most populous countries, comprising 19% and 18% of the total global population.
      • In 2024, India and China are expected to have roughly a population of 1.44 billion each. After that, India’s population is projected to continue growing for several decades to around 1.5 billion in 2030 and approaching 1.66 billion in 2050, while the population of China is projected to remain stable until the 2030s, after which it may begin a slow decline.
      • The report outlined that more than half of the global population growth by 2050 will come from sub-Saharan Africa, where fertility rates will persist at higher levels as compared to rest of the world
      • India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Tanzania, The US, Uganda and Indonesia will contribute about nearly 50% to the population growth.
      • By 2050, 7 of the world’s 20 most populous nations will be African.
      • The report has highlighted that fertility rates in all European countries have dropped below replacement level, thus the population across Europe will decline significantly if there is no large-scale migration.
      • Population in Eastern European countries including Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine is expected to fall by more than 15%.
      • As per the report, there are more men than women globally. There are 102 men for every 100 women.
      • For the first time, the number of people over 60 years of age will cross 1 billion in year 2018 and 2 billion by year 2050.
      • 25% of world population comprise children below 15 years of age.
      • The median age of the world’s population is 30.
      About World Population Prospects:
      World Population Prospects is published by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
      • The 2017 Revision of World Population Prospects is the 25th round of official UN population estimates and projections.
      • In its 24th round of estimates released in 2015, it was projected that the population of India will surpass that of China’s by 2022.

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