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Current Affairs - 28 August 2017

General Affairs 

Maharashtra Government To Move Supreme Court Against Order On Quota In Promotions
  • The Maharashtra government will challenge in the Supreme Court a high court ruling on quota in promotions for employees belonging to SC/STs and certain other categories, and has decided to hire a top advocate to argue its case, a minister has said.

    On August 4, the Bombay High Court set aside a 2004 government resolution (GR) which provided for reservation in promotions in government jobs for people from SC/STs, Denotified Tribes (DTs), some Nomadic Tribes (NTs) and Special Backward Classes (SBCs).

    Earlier this week, Minister of State for Social Justice Dilip Kamble said the state government has decided to challenge the verdict given by a division bench of the High Court.

    Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has in-principle approved the Social Justice Department's proposal to rope in a top lawyer to argue the government's case in the apex court, said Mr Kamble.

    The bench of Justices Anoop Mohta and Amjad Sayed had held the resolution ultra vires (beyond the scope) of the Constitution and contrary to the existing laws.

    "The HC verdict has affected the promotions of about 15,000 government employees from SC/ST, Denotified Tribes, Notified Tribes, Special Backward Classes and Other Backward Classes," Mr Kamble said.

    "We hope the government will get justice in the SC," the minister added.

     After the August 4 verdict, the HC had suspended its order for 12 weeks to allow the government to challenge it in the Supreme Court.

    The GR had granted 33 per cent quota at promotion stage for the government employees belonging to the SC, ST, DT, NT and SBC categories.

    Meanwhile, asked about the status of the investigation into the multi-crore scam related to alleged misappropriation of funds of the Lokshahir Annabhau Sathe Arthik Vikas Mahamandal, Kamble said barring recovery of properties from two to three districts, the CID has recovered most of the assets.

    He said the state CID has seized about 60 cars, some of them high-end models, as part of its recovery process.

    "So far, the government has suspended 80 officers in connection to the scam," he said.

    The Rs. 500-crore scam relates to purchase of luxury cars using the funds of the state-run body. NCP MLA Ramesh Kadam is in jail in connection with the scam. He was an office-bearer of the economic development corporation.

Aadhar Authority Refutes Reports Of Aadhaar Data Snoop; Says System Secure
  • The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) today asserted that Aadhaar system has stringent security features to prevent any unauthorised capture or transmission of data, refuting reports that hinted at sensitive biometric data being allegedly accessed by certain foreign agencies.

    The statement by the UIDAI came after WikiLeaks hinted that Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had allegedly accessed the Aadhaar database.

    Dismissing the allegations, UIDAI said Aadhaar biometric capture system has been "developed within our own country and it has adequate and robust security features to prevent any possibility of any such unauthorised capture and transmission of data regardless of any biometric device that may be used."

    The UIDAI said that such misinformation was being spread by certain "vested interests".

    "Some vested interests are trying to spread misinformation that since 'Cross Match' is one of many devices which are being used in biometric devices by various registrars and agencies in Aadhaar ecosystem, the biometrics being captured for Aadhaar are allegedly unauthorisedly accessed by others," the UIDAI statement said rejecting charges of data compromise.

    Outlining the stringent checks and balances in UIDAI system, it said that any biometric device before being used in Aadhaar system is "thoroughly tested" internally and externally extensively by Standardised Testing Quality Certification (STQC) and certified.

    "In addition, there are many other rigorous security features and processes within UIDAI through which it ensures that no biometric data of any individual is unauthorised accessed by anyone in any manner whatsoever," the UIDAI said.

    The Aadhaar issuing body said that the biometric identifier had been issued to over 117 crore people, with around 4 crore authentication taking place every day.

    "Till date, there has not been a single case of leak of biometric data, theft of identity, or financial loss to any one on account of use of Aadhaar. The UIDAI will continue to take every possible measure to ensure that Aadhaar remains safe and secure," it said. 
    It has been claimed that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was leveraging tools of US-based technology provider Cross Match (incidentally, an Aadhaar vendor) for snooping, and that sensitive data could have been compromised.

    "Some news are being circulated on the basis of Wikileaks regarding some purported Express Lane project whereby it is alleged that the Express Lane system uses computer system consisting of a computer or laptop, windows XP operating system along with biometric software of Cross Match, a company manufacturing biometric sensors," UIDAI said terming allegations of Aadhaar biometric data being compromised as "completely false and baseless".

UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath Warns Land Sharks Of Crackdown
  • Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath today directed revenue officials to finalise demarcation of land within three months in pending dispute cases and warned land sharks to return grabbed property voluntarily or be prepared to face stern action.

    Yogi Adityanath said this during his two day visit to the temple town, where he made a surprise visit to the Cant police station and also visited Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay district hospital at Pandeypur.

    He also held a review meeting with district officials here yesterday and asked them to work efficiently warning that laxity would not be tolerated.

    Asserting that he was well aware about the functioning of government officials, the chief minister asked them to act honestly and stop harassment of the poor and the weaker ensuring justice for them.

    Pitching for the setting up of a 'Pawan Path' that aims at developing a circuit of prominent temples of the city with the famous Kashi Vishwanath temple as the pivot, he said that it could include all prominent temples of Lord Shiva and Goddess Durga.

    Issuing a stern warning to land mafia, who have grabbed the land of poor and weaker people using muscle power and influence, Yogi Adityanath said the properties should voluntarily be returned to the rightful owners or else his government would initiate action after two months in which they (land mafias) may lose their property.

    Attacking opposition parties, Yogi Adityanath alleged that land grabbing had thrived in the state in the past 15 years and said that such elements should mend their ways or be ready to face stern action.

    He claimed that law and order was ruined under the previous SP and BSP regimes but would now prevail under BJP rule.

In Boost To Army's Fire Power, Medium Range Missile System In 3 Years
  • After years of wait, the Indian Army will finally get an advanced medium-range surface to air missile (MRSAM) system by 2020 which will be able to shoot down ballistic missiles, fighter jets and attack helicopters from a range of around 70 km.

    The missile system will be produced by premier defence research organisation DRDO in collaboration with the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), a senior army official said.

    The MRSAM system will be capable of shooting down enemy ballistic missiles, aircraft, helicopters, drones, surveillance aircraft and AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control Systems) aircraft, the official said on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

    The current version of MRSAM is operational with the Indian Air Force and the Navy.

    The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has signed a Rs. 17,000 crore deal with the IAI for the ambitious project.

    The MR-SAM, a land-based version of the long-range surface-to-air missile (LRSAM) for the Navy, will have a strike range of up 70 km, the official said. The deal envisages 40 firing units and around 200 missiles.

    "The MRSAM for Army's Air Defence is an advanced all weather, 360 degree mobile land based theatre air defence system capable of providing air defence to critical areas against a wide variety of threats in a combat zone," the official said.

    The first set of missile system will be ready in the next three years, he said.

    The Army has been pressing the government to enhance its aerial attack capability considering the evolving security challenges.

    In May, the Army successfully test fired an advanced version of the Brahmos land-attack cruise missile in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

    The Indian Army, which became the first land force in the world to deploy the Brahmos in 2007, has raised several regiments of this formidable weapon.

    In May 2015, the Army had inducted the indigenously- developed supersonic surface-to-air missile Akash which is capable of targeting enemy helicopters, aircraft and UAVs from a range of 25 km.

    The Army thinks procurement of the MRSAM will mark a paradigm shift in its strike capability.

Mann Ki Baat: ‘Don't Bargain With Small Shopkeepers,’ Suggests PM Narendra Modi
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday urged people not to bargain over petty amounts with small shopkeepers, vegetable vendors and autorickshaw drivers.

    PM Modi said the people who haggle do not hesitate to pay bills at restaurants. 

    "Not just this. When we go to a showroom to buy a sari, we don't bargain. But when it comes to the poor, we just cannot resist bargaining," PM Modi said on his monthly radio programme, 'Mann Ki Baat'.

    He said people have a habit of bargaining for small amounts with vegetable sellers, small shopkeepers, autorickshaw drivers and in fact anyone who earns through sheer hard work. 

    "Two or five rupees do not make any difference, but has anyone thought how such petty habits hurt the poor?”

    "Have you ever wondered what a poor man goes through?" PM Modi asked and added that the poor feel hurt when their honesty is being questioned.

Business Affairs

Public sector banks take recovery action against 5,954 wilful defaulters
  • Public sector banks have taken loan recovery action under Sarfaesi law against 5,954 wilful defaulters owing about Rs70,000 crore to the lenders.
    At the end of 31 March 2017, 21 banks together have taken action against 5,954 wilful defaulter under Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest (Sarfaesi) Act, as per data collated by the finance ministry.
    The country's largest lender State Bank of India (SBI) has taken action against 1,444 such defaulters with outstanding loan of Rs20,943 crore. Remaining 20 banks have taken action against 4,510 wilful defaulters with outstanding loan of Rs48,496 crore.
    Total outstanding loans due to public sector banks by wilful defaulters amounted to Rs92,376 crore, according to the finance ministry data. The total outstanding loans by wilful defaulters rose to Rs92,376 crore at the end of financial year 2016-17, from Rs76,685 crore at the end of fiscal 2015-16-up 20.4%.
    At the same time, there has been close to 10% increase in the number of wilful defaulters on annual basis. It increased to 8,915 at the end of March as against 8,167 in the previous fiscal. Out of 8,915 cases of wilful defaults, banks have filed FIR (first information report) in 1,914 cases with outstanding loans of Rs32,484 crore.
    During 2016-17, 27 public sector banks, including SBI and its five associates, had written off Rs81,683 crore, the highest in the last five fiscals. The amount was 41% higher than that in the previous fiscal. Gross non performing assets (NPAs) of the public sector banks rose to Rs6.41 trillion at the end of March 2017 as against Rs5.02 trillion a year ago.
    In order to check incidences of wilful default, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has tightened the norms and made it clear that promoter of the defaulting company cannot escape from his responsibility even if he is not a whole-time director.
    As per earlier guidelines, a bank couldn't label a non- whole-time director of a company as a wilful defaulter unless there was conclusive evidence that the individual was aware of the wilful default by the company and had not objected to it. A wilful default occurs when a borrower does not honour an obligation despite having the capacity to pay or siphons off funds by disposing of assets without the knowledge of the bank, according to RBI. RBI has allowed banks to name and shame wilful defaulters by publishing their photographs.

Petrol price up by Rs 6/litre since July; diesel Rs 3.67
  • Petrol price has been hiked by Rs 6 per litre since the beginning of July and is now priced at its highest rate in three years with rates being revised in small dosages daily.
    Diesel price has increased by Rs 3.67 a litre and now costs Rs 57.03 a litre in Delhi, the highest in four months, according to data from state-owned oil companies.
    A litre of petrol costs Rs 69.04 a litre in Delhi, the highest since second-half of August 2014 when it was priced at Rs 70.33.
    State-owned oil companies in June dumped the 15-year old practice of revising rates on 1st and 16th of every month and instead adopted a dynamic daily price revision to instantaneously reflect changes in cost.
    Prices of petrol and diesel have been revised at 0600 hrs everyday since June 16.
    Rates during the first fortnight dropped but have since July 3 been on the rise.
    Petrol price was at Rs 65.48 a litre on June 16 in Delhi and it dropped to Rs 63.06 by July 2. However, rates have since gone up every day except on four occasions when prices were cut by 2-9 paise per litre.
    Similarly, a litre of diesel was priced at Rs 54.49 on June 16 and it dropped to Rs 53.36 on July 2, thanks to the softening international oil prices. Since then, it has been on an upswing though the reduction in diesel rates have been on a larger number of occasions than petrol.
    "Previously, everybody felt the pinch when rates would go up by Rs 2 or 3 per litre in one go. Now they are being increased by 1 paisa to 15 paise a litre everyday, hikes that have largely gone unnoticed," a senior oil company executive said.
    The daily price revision means an instantaneous transfer of a rise or decline in international oil price to the consumer instead of the previous practice of passing it on only after a fortnight.
    The previous practice of revision in the rate on 1st and 16th of every month, which began with deregulation of auto fuel on April 1, 2002, was based on average international oil price and foreign exchange rate in the preceding fortnight.
    "Many a time, international rates would fall for one week and then rise in the following. So, the net effect of this in the previous price revision policy was status quo or a marginal change in rate," he said.
    Petrol and diesel prices were deregulated or freed from government control from April 1, 2002, and the fortnightly revision in rates kicked in.
    The deregulation derailed a bit when international oil prices started to climb after 2004. Fortnightly revision continued but the revision was not completely in sync with the required price increase.
    Petrol price was finally freed in June 2010 and diesel in October 2014 after small fortnightly increases over the past several months brought rates at par with the cost.
    The daily price revision was implemented after a successful pilot in five cities.
    The official said daily price change will remove the big leaps in rates that need to be effected at the end of the fortnight, making the consumer more aligned to market dynamics.
    The three state-owned fuel retailers had implemented a daily revision of retail selling price (RSP) of petrol and diesel on a pilot basis in Udaipur in Rajasthan, Jamshedpur in Jharkhand, Puducherry, Chandigarh, and Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh from May 1.

EPFO mulls crediting ETF units to PF accounts
  • Retirement fund body EPFO is considering crediting subscribers' share of its investments in ETFs to their provident fund accounts which may be redeemed at the time of taking advances.
    The Employees' Provident Fund Organisation's (EPFO) has sought views from the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in this regard.
    As per estimates, EPFO's investment in ETFs is expected to touch Rs 45,000 crore by the end of the current fiscal.
    The CAG is likely to give its comments shortly, Central Provident Fund Commissioner V P Joy told PTI.
    After CAG's views, the proposal will be placed for final approval before the EPFO's apex decision making body Central Board of Trustees (CBT) headed by Labour Minister.
    The CBT is likely to meet next month.
    "We have not taken any return from the ETF and given it to members till now. We have made some system. We are in consultation with the CAG. After that consultation we will take it to CBT for approval and then implement it," Joy said.
    He further said that the proposal was also discussed at the last meeting of EPFO trustees but the decision was deferred.
    The EPFO had started investing in the Exchange Traded Funds (ETF) in August 2015, putting 5 per cent of its investible deposits in stock linked products. It was raised to 15 per cent for the current fiscal.
    Once approved, the share of subscribers in the form of ETF units will be credited to their accounts.
    Subscribers will have the option to redeem the ETF units while taking loans from the PF account, Joy said.
    All rules of Employee Provident Fund withdrawals and advances will be applicable on ETF units redemption also.
    An ETF is a security that tracks an index, a commodity or a basket of assets like an index fund, but trades like a stock on an exchange.
    EPFO, which has about 5 crore subscribers, manages a corpus of over Rs 10 lakh crore.

Cabinet may this week consider hike in GST cess on cars
  • The Cabinet may this week consider issuing an ordinance to increase the cess on mid- size, large cars and SUVs to 25 per cent from 15 per cent under the GST regime at present.
    The GST Council, the apex tax rate setting body under the Goods and Services Tax regime, had on August 5 approved raising cess on SUVs, mid-sized, large and luxury cars that had become cheaper post GST rollout on July 1.
    But, for raising the cess requires an amendment to the Schedule of section 8 of the GST (Compensation to a State) Act, 2017.
    "The Cabinet will in next few days consider amending that through the issue of an ordinance," an official said.
    Views of ministries like road, transport and highways and heavy industries will be taken before hiking of the cess, the official added.
    An ordinance is issued when Parliament is not in session to approve a legislation or change in a legislation.
    The ordinance has to be replaced with a proper legislation with the approval of Parliament within six months of its issuance.
    Under GST, a cess was levied on demerit goods like cars, tobacco, and coal, to create a corpus for compensating states for any loss of revenue from their taxes like VAT being unified with central levies like excise duty and service tax in the GST.
    Cars attract the top tax rate of 28 per cent.
    On top of this, a cess of 1 to 15 per cent is levied for the creation of the state compensation corpus.
    The official said after the introduction of GST, the total tax incidence on motor vehicles (GST plus compensation cess) has come down when compared with the total tax incidence in the pre-GST regime.
    To rectify the anomaly, the GST Council, headed by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and comprising of representatives of all states, had on August 5 recommended that the Central government move legislative amendments required for increasing the maximum ceiling of cess leviable on motor vehicles to 25 per cent from present 15 per cent.
    Once the law is amended, the GST Council will decide on the date when the increased cess will be applicable, the official said, adding the next meeting of the panel is scheduled to be held in Hyderabad on September 9.
    The highest pre-GST tax incidence on motor vehicles worked out to about 52-54.72 per cent, to which 2.5 per cent was added on account of Central Sales Tax, octroi etc.
    Against this, post-GST the total tax incidence came to 43 per cent.
    So, to take the tax incidence to pre-GST level, the highest compensation cess rate required is 25 per cent.
    Prices of most SUVs were cut between Rs 1.1 lakh and Rs 3 lakh following implementation of GST, which subsumed over a dozen central and state levies like excise duty, service tax, and VAT from July 1.
    Presently, large motor vehicles, SUVs, mid-segment cars, large cars, hybrid cars and hybrid motor vehicles attract a cess of 15 per cent on top of 28 per cent GST.
    Small petrol cars of less than 4 meters and 1,200 cc attract a cess of 1 per cent, while small diesel cars of less than 4 meters and 1,500 cc engine attract a cess of 3 per cent.

India facing problem of severe under-employment, says Niti Aayog
  • Making a case for promoting highly productive and well paid jobs, Niti Aayog has said that not unemployment but a "severe under-employment" is the main problem facing the country.
    The government think-tank in its three-year action plan, released last week, has said that a focus on the domestic market through an import-substitution strategy would give rise to a group of relatively small firms behind a high wall of protection.
    "Contrary to some assertions that India's growth has been 'jobless', the Employment Unemployment Surveys (EUS) of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) have consistently reported low and stable rates of unemployment over more than three decades.
    "Indeed, unemployment is the lesser of India's problems. The more serious problem, instead, is severe underemployment," the Aayog said in the Three-Year Action Agenda for 2017-18 to 2019-20.
    "What is needed is the creation of high-productivity, high-wage jobs," it said further.
    Citing examples of top manufacturing countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and China, it said, "The 'Make in India' campaign needs to succeed by manufacturing for global markets."
    Noting that with Chinese wages rising due to an ageing workforce and many large-scale firms in labour-intensive sectors currently manufacturing in that country are looking for lower-wage locations, the Aayog said, "with its large workforce and competitive wages, India would be a natural home for these firms."
    "Therefore, the time for adopting a manufactures- and exports-based strategy could not be more opportune," it added.
    The Aayog in its 'Three Year Action Agenda' also recommended for the creation of a handful of Coastal Employment Zones (CEZ), which may attract multinational firms in labour-intensive sectors from China to India.
    "The presence of these firms will give rise to an ecosystem in which local small and medium firms will also be induced to become highly productive thereby multiplying the number of well-paid jobs," it observed.
    Making a case for reforming labour laws, the Aayog also noted that recently fixed-term employment has been introduced in the textiles and apparel industry.
    "This option may be extended to all sectors. The change will encourage employers to rely on regular fixed-term employment instead of contract workers, especially when hiring workers for specific projects or for meeting seasonal demand," it said.
    Besides, the Aayog pointed out that unifying the existing large number of labour laws into four codes without reform of the laws themselves will serve little purpose.
    "Unless we bring about substantive change either by amending the existing laws or rewriting them afresh, we cannot expect to change the current situation where low-productivity and low-wage jobs dominate the landscape" it observed.

General Awareness

M.J. Akbar inaugurated ‘Namaskar Africa’ trade show in Ghana and signed bilateral agreements in Equatorial Guinea

  • M.J. Akbar inaugurated ‘Namaskar Africa’ trade show in Ghana and signed bilateral agreements in Equatorial Guinea
    Minister of State Shri MJ Akbar made official visits to Ghana and Equatorial Guinea from August 14 to August 18, 2017 to launch the Freedom@70 celebrations and to inaugurate FICCI’s ‘Namaskar Africa’ trade show.
    Highlights of the visit
    i.During the visit, MOS called on President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo,and held talks with Minister for Foreign Affairs & Regional Integration, Mrs. Shirley Botchway.
    ii.MOS handed over a symbolic cheque of US$1 million as grant assistance towards rehabilitation of the Presidential residence of Flagstaff House built earlier with a GOI concessional Line of Credit.
    iii. MOS and Ghanaian Foreign Minister also jointly re-laid the foundation stone for the construction of the Foreign Service Institute under the Ghanaian MFA financed through a GOI concessional Line of Credit.
    iv.On 16 August, MOS along with the Ghanaian Minister for Trade & Industry inaugurated the ‘Namaskar Africa’ Business Forum-cum-Exhibition.
    v.” Namaskar Africa” started with an India-Central Africa Regional Business Forum in Republic of Congo. Over 60 Indian companies were participated in the exhibition.
    vi. The event has organized jointly by the Indian Commerce Ministry and the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) aims to brand India a leading economic player and partner to the West African region.
    Bilateral agreements
    It was the first bilateral visit from India at Ministerial level. The following bilateral agreements were signed:
    (a) Agreement on Establishment of a Joint Commission.
    (b) Protocol for Consultations between Ministry of External Affairs of the Republic of India and Ministry of External Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea.
    (c) Agreement on Exemption from Visa requirement for holders of Diplomatic and Official/Service Passports.

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