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Current Affairs - 04 October 2017

General Affairs 

Supreme Court Seeks Centre, Election Commission's Response On Political Funding Law
  • The Supreme Court today sought the response of the government's and the Election Commission of India or ECI on a PIL challenging the recent changes in laws on funding of political parties and alleging that they legitimise electoral corruption.

    A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud issued notice to the Centre and the poll panel on the plea, which also alleged that the changes would bring opacity into Indian politics and open the doors "to unlimited political donations".

    Through the petition, an NGO has challenged the amendments made to the Reserve Bank of India Act, the Representation of the People (RP) Act, the Income Tax Act, the Companies Act and the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) by the Finance Acts of 2016 and 2017.

    The NGO, Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), has claimed in its plea that the amendments have removed the cap on political donations by companies and legalised anonymous donations by introducing the use of electoral bonds which can be issued by any scheduled bank for the purpose of funding any party.

    It said that by amending the RP Act, the donations made by way of electoral bonds are exempted from disclosure to the ECI and claimed that this would "adversely affect electoral transparency and encourage corrupt practices in politics".

    The PIL contended that the amendment to the Companies Act has not only removed the earlier cap of 7.5 per cent of a company's average three-year net profit for political donations, but a corporate entity now is no longer required to name the parties to which they make contributions.

     "The companies are no longer required to disclose the break-up of contributions made to different political parties.

    Removal of the statutory ceiling of 7.5 per cent of average profits on donation to political parties now enables even loss-making companies to make donations of any amount to political parties out of their capital or reserves.

    "Further, it opens up the possibility of companies being brought into existence by unscrupulous elements primarily for routing funds to political parties through anonymous and opaque instruments like electoral bonds," the petition has claimed.

    ADR, represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan, has also said that by amending the FCRA, foreign companies with Indian subsidiaries have been allowed to fund political parties.

    It has contended that this would expose Indian politics and democracy to international lobbyists who may want to further their agenda.

    Apart from challenging the amendments, the petition has also opposed the method by which the amendments were carried out as money bills through the two Finance Acts.

    The NGO has alleged that the Finance Acts have been enacted as money bills to bypass the Rajya Sabha.

    It has contended that these legislations were not money bills as they provided for matters which were in addition to those enumerated in Article 110(1) of the Constitution and therefore, they were bills which had to be routed through the Rajya Sabha.

    Article 110(1) lays down the constituents of a money bill, the NGO said and alleged that the passage of the two Finance Acts was a "clear case of constitutional fraud violating the fundamental rights and a colourable exercise of power".

    The petition has sought that the amendments made to the various laws be declared as "unconstitutional, illegal and void" and their operation be put on hold till the PIL is finally decided.

Kashmir Lawmaker Engineer Rashid Appears Before Counter-Terror Agency NIA
  • Jammu and Kashmir independent legislator Engineer Rashid today appeared before the National Investigation Agency (NIA) here in connection with its ongoing probe into a terror funding case.

    NIA officials said that Rashid, who represents the North Kashmir's Langate assembly constituency, arrived at the agency headquarters at around 10.30 a.m.

    He was summoned on September 28.

    The agency is investigating the alleged terror funding case involving separatist leaders, local businessmen and others.

    It is for the first time that an MLA from the state had been summoned by the NIA.

    So far, 10 people have been arrested by the NIA.

CBI Gives Fresh Dates To Lalu Prasad Yadav, Tejashwi Yadav
  • The CBI today asked RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav and his son Tejashwi Yadav to appear before it for questioning on October 5 and 6 in an alleged corruption case after both leaders expressed their inability to appear on given dates, the agency sources said.

    The sources said Lalu and Tejashwi were earlier called on October 4 and 5.

    The CBI wants to question the former railways minister Lalu Prasad Yadav for a contract given for the maintenance of two IRCTC hotels in 2006. Tejashwi is also made an accused in the CBI FIR pertaining to alleged corruption in the deal.

    It is alleged that Lalu as Railway Minister handed over maintenance of two Railway hotels BNR Ranchi and Puri to Sujata Hotel (a company owned by Vinay and Vijay Kochhar) after receiving a bribe in the form of prime land of three acres through a benami company.

Indian Air Force Enhances Night Flying By Combat Jets To Boost Strike Power
  • In order to be better equipped to deal with security threats, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has decided to increase the time it trains its combat jets for night flying from the current rate of 30 per cent. This is being done in all the air force's frontline bases so that the air force has a major tactical advantage over its adversaries.

    IAF officials said the decision to enhance night flying is part of a move to boost overall strike capability and keep the fighter squadrons fully ready for operating in an entire 24 hour cycle.

    "The move to increase night flying from 30 per cent was based on a variety of factors including the evolving security scenario in our neighbourhood," a senior IAF official told PTI.

    He said the time of night flying is being increased as IAF now has more powerful and better electronic sensors, radars and air-to-air as well as air-to-ground missiles.

    He also said this is being done so that there is no impediment for night operation by the jets.

    "The warfare scenario is changing fast. We now are preparing ourselves to operate in an electronic warfare environment and that is why we are making the changes," said the official.

    He said almost all IAF bases along the western and northern borders have started increasing the ratio of night flying.

    The IAF has drawn up an ambitious plan to enhance its overall combat capability which includes significantly ramping up existing infrastructure and procuring over 100 combat jets in the next few years.

    In September last year, India had signed a Euro 7.87 billion (approximately Rs. 59,000 crore) deal with the French government for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets. Eighteen Rafale jets will be deployed in Ambala while an equal number of the new generation jet will be stationed in Hasimara.

    Sources said the IAF has been pressing the government for placing a follow-up order for 36 additional Rafale jets so that it has at least four squadrons of Rafale aircraft.

    IAF sources said overall operational capability of all frontline bases including Pathankot, Ambala, Halwara and Hasimara are being strengthened to deal with any possible challenge.

Maharashtra Farmers To Get Loan-Waiver Funds Before Diwali: Minister
  • The farmers whose names have been given to the government by the District Central Cooperative Banks (DCCBs) under the loan-waiver scheme will get money in their bank accounts before Diwali, Maharashtra Agriculture Minister Pandurang Phundkar said today. He said the government will release the funds to those districts where the DCC Banks have submitted the complete list of eligible farmers.

    Some DCC Banks which have branches across many districts are yet to send complete lists of the loan-waiver beneficiaries to the government. Responding to a query on the opposition's criticism that farmers are being charged for submitting online forms for the loan-waiver scheme, Mr Phundkar said had that been the case, the administration would not have got 55 lakh applications.

    On whether some eligible farmers are unable to apply due to problems in giving their thumb impressions, the minister said such cases will be considered eligible for the loan waiver in the next phase.

    Bowing to protests by farmers, the state government in June had announced a Rs. 34,000 crore loan waiver with caveats. Under the scheme, loans up to Rs. 1.5 lakh per farmer will be waived.

    On the recent deaths of farm labourers in Yavatmal district due to spraying of pesticides on cotton crops, Mr Phundkar said Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis today approved a probe under additional chief secretary (home).

    Expressing regret at the deaths, he said negligence had taken place at multiple levels. Although the government did not specify the number of deaths, farm activist from Vidarbha, Kishor Tiwari, and the Shiv Sena said the pesticide exposure reported in Yavatmal district has killed 18 people so far.

    Mr Phundkar said neither the district collector nor the police were aware of these cases. Announcing that the government will decide on banning imported Chinese-made pesticide spray pumps, Mr Phundkar said the cotton crops have grown to a height of almost six feet
    this year.

    "The contract farm labourers have to spray the pesticide from a certain height. However, due to extreme heat, the labourers wear only vests and no other protective gear like face masks," he said. He said the pesticides can get ingested into body even through skin contact.

Business Affairs

Ahead of Diwali, government cuts excise duty on petrol, diesel by Rs 2 per litre
  • The central government on Tuesday cut basic excise duty on petrol and diesel by Rs 2 per litre from October 4. Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had earlier said that fuel prices may come down by Diwali. The move comes a day before Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will unveil its fourth bi-monthly monetary policy statement.
    Petrol and diesel prices have gone through the roof ever since the central government announced daily revision of fuel prices. Petrol price in Delhi on Tuesday was at Rs 70.83 per litre, whereas in Mumbai a litre of petrol costs Rs 79.99.
    After the excise duty cut, petrol petrol price in Delhi will come down to Rs 68.83, and diesel price to Rs 57.07. The government will incur losses to the tune of Rs 13,000 crore for the remainder of ongoing financial year and Rs 26,000 crore in a full year, said a government statement.
    "The government has decided to reduce the basic excise duty rate on petrol and diesel (both branded and unbranded) by Rs 2 per litre with effect from October 4, 2017. This decision has been taken by the Government in order to cushion the impact of rising international prices of crude petroleum oil and petrol and diesel on Retail Sale Prices of Petrol and Diesel as well as to protect the interest of common man," Ministry of Finance said. 
    This rise in the prices of Petrol and Diesel is also reflected in WPI inflation, which has increased to 3.24% for the month of August 2017, as compared to 1.88% for the month of July 2017. This also prompted the Government to act swiftly in this regard, it added. 
    The government had steadily increased excise duty on petrol and diesel when the global crude prices had plummeted below $30 a barrel.
    The government had in November 2015 and January 2016 raised excise duty on petrol and diesel five times to take away gains arising from plummeting international oil prices. Excise duty on petrol was hiked by Rs 4.02 a litre and that on diesel by Rs 6.97.
    Prior to that, the government had in four installments raised the excise duty on petrol and diesel between November 2014 and January 2015 to take away gains arising from fall in international oil prices.
    The four excise duty hikes during this period totalled Rs 7.75 per litre on petrol and Rs 6.50 a litre on diesel. It led to about Rs 20,000 crore in additional revenue to the government, helping it meet the fiscal deficit target.
    On July 1, the prices of petrol and diesel in the national capital were Rs 63.09 and Rs 53.33 per litre respectively. Excise duty on petrol was hiked by Rs 11.77 per litre and that on diesel by 13.47 a litre ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP government came to power in 2014.
    The government has excluded petrol and diesel from the ambit of GST (Goods and Service Tax). Petroleum products still attract state and central levies such as excise duty and VAT (Value added tax).

Massive data breach hits 6,000 Indian organisations including govt offices, banks: Quick Heal
  • Information from servers of more than 6,000 Indian enterprises was reportedly put up for sale on dark net in one of the biggest data breach reported in the country. Seqrite, the enterprise arm of IT security firm Quick Heal, came across an advertisement on dark net which claims to have access to data from over 6,000 Indian businesses including government organisations, internet service providers, banks and enterprises, said an IANS report.
    "We have alerted the government authorities well within time. If someone gets control over this massive data that is currently up for sale on DarkNet, the above mentioned organisations and enterprises can get affected," Rohit Srivastwa, Senior Director, Cyber Education and Services at Quick Heal, was quoted in the report.
    The unidentified hacker behind the data leak has asked for 15 Bitcoins (around Rs 41.89 lakh) for the information and is even offering network takedown of these 6,000 organisations for an unspecified amount, mentioned Seqrite Cyber Intelligence Labs, and its partner seQtree InfoServices, in a statement.
    "Along with the access, the hacker is also selling credentials and various contractual business documents and claims to have access to a large database of Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC)," the statement further said.
    On detailed inspection, investigators found that the hackers have attacked Indian Registry for Internet Names and Numbers (IRINN), which comes under National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI). IRINN is the national internet registry agency which is tasked with coordinating IP address allocation, along with managing internet resources across the country.
    According to researchers, the hackers claimed to have the ability to manipulate IP address allocation pool, which could trigger a serious outage or Denial of Service attack-like condition, said the IANS report.
    "This could impact various content delivery network (CDN) and hosting providers as well. If the hacker gets an interested buyer, then an attack on the system could disrupt Internet IP allocation and affect Internet services in India," Seqrite said.
    With IRINN under attack, key government enterprises including Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO), State Bank of India (SBI), Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), and several others now face the risk of data leaks, said the IANS report.
    Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), Idea Telecom, Flipkart, Aircel, TCS, and ICICI Prudential Mutual Fund are some of the major Indian organisations which have been threatened by this massive data breach, along with many others. Official websites of several Indian state government websites have also been put at risk.
    To prevent any damage, Seqrite has urged government bodies as well as APNIC to alert potentially threatened organisations to be on the lookout for any signs of trouble. These bodies have also been asked to change their passwords and update security protocols for their servers and systems.

Vijay Mallya gets bail soon after arrest in money laundering case in London
  • Fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya was arrested on Tuesday in London in connection with a money laundering case, but was granted bail within few minutes. Today's arrest was part of a second money laundering case that the Enforcement Directorate (ED) filed in a London court. Former liquor baron is accused of transferring a huge chunk of Rs 6,027-crore loan he took for his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines to shell companies in seven countries.
    Mallya, who was taken to Westminster Magistrates' Court, was put under procedural arrest, but he did not stay behind bars for long. Mallya was granted bail soon after. More charges are expected to be added at Westminster Magistrates' Court today, UK's Crown Prosecution Service said.
    The 61-year-old former tycoon said 'no' to the chief magistrate's query on whether he agreed with his extradition to India. Vijay Mallya's lawyers said that an arrest in a case like this is not out of the ordinary. Hearing on the bail took place at Westminster court in London.
    The procedural arrest is expected to strengthen the extradition case against Mallya. Meanwhile, Enforcement Directorate (ED) has stated that they have a watertight case case against Mallya.
    Indian authorities have filed two separate charge-sheets in the UK over Mallya's alleged money laundering - one by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the other by the Enforcement Directorate. Mallya's April arrest was in connection with the CBI charge-sheet while today's arrest was in connection with the ED's application.  
    As the final hearing on Vijay Mallya's extradition is expected in December, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) will be pinning their hopes on the December 4 extradition hearing. The new evidence is likely to build up a stronger case for Mallya's extradition from the United Kingdom.
    This was Mallya's second arrest in the UK after he escaped from the country. Mallya owes Indian banks Rs 6,963 crore (Rs Rs 9,091 crore with interest) and is wanted in India for cases relating to foreign exchange violation, debt recovery and embezzlement.
    Mallya fled to Britain in March 2016 after being pursued for recovery of Rs 9,091 crore owed to a consortium of 17 Indian banks by his now defunct Kingfisher Airlines. Mallya was earlier arrested and granted bail in London on April 18 by the Scotland Yard on an extradition warrant.
    India has been pushing for Mallya's extradition, with even the Prime Minister's Office getting involved.  In November last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally explained to visiting British PM Theresa May why it was important that Mallya be returned to India

    MPC meet begins: Six reasons why the RBI should keep status quo on repo rate
    • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will unveil its fourth bi-monthly monetary policy statement on Wednesday. In the last policy in August, it cut the repo rate, the rate at which banks borrows from RBI, by 25 basis points to 6 per cent. Six reasons why RBI should keep a status quo in the current policy.
      i)    The Retail Inflation is up 
      The consumer price index (CPI), which the RBI tracks for adjusting its repo rate, has been hardening  after touching a low of 1.54 per cent in June this year. CPI moved up to 2.4 per cent in July  and 3.36 per cent in August this year. Clearly, the short term trend indicates some hardening in line with the RBI's projection of 3.5-4.5 per cent in the second half (October to March ) of 2017-18. The entire year target for CPI is 4 per cent with plus and minus 2 per cent in 2017-18. There are two more reviews left in December and February to adjust the rates.  
      ii)    Higher current account deficit 
      The current account deficit (CAD), which has been on the decline from 4.8 per cent of GDP in 2012-13 to a low of 0.7 per cent in 2016-17, is suddenly reversing. In the first quarter (April-June) of 2017-18, the CAD has widened to a high of 2.4 per cent of GDP, which is alarming. This is on the back of higher imports of gold and crude in value terms. Given the huge trade deficit  and the sudden outflow of portfolio investments from equity markets, there is every possibility of higher CAD in 2017-18.  This will have a direct impact on the rupee value against the US dollar. The market saw  how the rupee depreciated when the CAD was over 4 per cent between 2011/12 to 2012/13. And if the currency depreciates, there is a threat of imported inflation via  currency in the coming months.
      iii)    Likely stimulus to widen fiscal deficit 
      The fiscal deficit has been steadily declining over the last 5 years from a high of close to 6 per cent in 2012-13  to 3.2 per cent targeted in 2017-18.  The present BJP led NDA government has also adhered to  the road map of keeping a low fiscal deficit. The target for next year -- 2018/19 -- is 3 per cent. The sudden talk of fiscal stimulus to push the country's GDP, which has  crashed to 5.1 per cent  in the first quarter (April-June) of 2017-18, has the potential to impact the fiscal deficit numbers if the matching revenues through tax and non tax is not generated. The RBI would certainly wait and watch for the government moves in this direction before further easing the interest rates now.  
      iv)   US Fed rate to move up further 
      The US Fed rate , which kept is short term rates near zero level for almost seven years, started hiking the rates from 2016 onwards. In a short period of 18 months, the Fed rates have gone up from near zero to 1.25-1.50 per cent.  There is likelihood of another rate hike of 25 basis points before December this year.  The gradual hiking of rate by US Fed is narrowing the interest rates  differential  for investors.  The RBI  will  have to take into account the US Fed rates , which would surely move  up in the coming months.
      v)    Banks balance sheet issue still to be resolved 
      The banks clean up exercise has taken a heavy toll of banks especially the public sector banks, which control over 70 per cent of deposits and advances of the industry. The additional provisioning requirement  for stressed assets especially telecom etc, rising NPAs and also bankruptcy proceedings (where banks have to take major haircuts) has been impacting the profitability of banks. Half a dozen  PSU banks  are already under RBI  monitored  preventive corrective action (PCA) framework because of low capital and profitability issues. Most of the PSU banks  won't be in a position to transmit any rate cuts at this moment because they will tend to protect their margins.
      vi)    Over-leveraged corporate and low capacity utilization 
      The corporate sector itself is over-leveraged with many sectors sitting on over-capacity. The capacity utilization has to move up for further expansion or demand for credit. Similarly, there are many corporate houses that are on a de-leveraging mode, and don't require credit for new projects. These two issues have to settle before corporate would start borrowing from banks. As per available  statistics, the credit growth of banks have fallen to single digit in the last four years. In the first quarter, the credit growth was negative at 2 .22 per cent. So assuming the RBI cuts rates  and banks also transmit the same instantly, there is actually no demand from India Inc.

      Sensex, Nifty head for seventh straight losing session; rupee sinks
      • Shares fell nearly 1 percent on Wednesday, heading for a seventh straight session of losses which could be their longest losing streak in over nine months, as the rupee sunk to a more than six-month low on foreign fund outflows. Expectations of a rate hike by the U.S Federal Reserve and lingering North Korean worries also dented risk appetite.
        A lower close on Wednesday would mark the longest losing streak for the indexes after a seven-day fall that ended on December 22, 2016.
        Foreign investors have net sold $777 million worth of Indian shares so far this month. They sold nearly $2 billion worth of equities in August as stretched valuations and simmering North Korea tensions saw foreign investors pulling out. The U.S. Federal Reserve last week reiterated it would continue gradually raising interest rates, including once more this year.
        Foreign fund outflows have taken a toll on the rupee which on Wednesday fell to as low as 65.77 per dollar, its weakest since March 15.
        "One reason why the markets were being buoyant in the recent months was because the dollar was weakening and (on expectation) that the Fed would tone down its normalization process, but that seems to be reversing" said Dhananjay Sinha, Head of Research, Economy and Strategy at Emkay Global Financial Services.
        The Nifty was down 0.86 percent at 9,786.20 as of 0713 GMT, while the benchmark Sensex was trading 0.88 percent lower at 31,320.23. Blue chips were among the biggest losers, with Reliance Industries Ltd and Hindustan Unilever Ltd set for a second straight session of decline.
        Banking stocks continued to slide with Axis Bank Ltd and ICICI Bank Ltd falling as much as 2.4 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively. The Nifty Bank index, down 0.78 percent, was headed for its sixth straight session of losses.
        Private sector non-life insurer ICICI Lombard General Insurance Co Ltd fell as much as 3.4 percent in its market debut, after its initial public offering last week raised $871 million, amid worries about valuations. DEN Networks Ltd surged as much as 12.7 percent, following a local media report that Reliance Industries Ltd was looking to buy the cable television company.

      General Awareness

      India unveils third National Wildlife Action Plan for 2017-2031

      • On October 2, 2017, Union Environment Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan unveiled India’s third National Wildlife Action Plan for 2017-2031, which outlines the future road map for wildlife conservation across the country. The plan was unveiled on the inaugural day of the Global Wildlife Programme (GWP) conference in New Delhi, which is jointly hosted by India, World Bank and United Nations Development Programme. 
        Background Information about National Wildlife Action Plan for 2017-2031:
        This is the third National Wildlife Action Plan which comes after the first plan in 1983 and second plan from 2002 – 2016.
        • It was drafted by a 12-member committee chaired by JC Kala (former secretary to the ministry) and was initiated in February 2016 by Union Environment Ministry.
        Salient Features of National Wildlife Action Plan for 2017-2031:
        1. Approach: A “landscape approach” will be adopted to conserve all wildlife that have an ecological value to the ecosystem and to mankind, irrespective of its place of occurrence.
        2. Action for recovery of threatened species: The plan lays special emphasis on recovery of threatened species of wildlife while conserving their habitats.
        3. Addresses Concerns about Climate Change on Wildlife: For the first time, the action plan has recognised the concerns relating to climate change impact on wildlife. Besides, it has also stressed on integrating actions that are required to be taken for its mitigation and adaptation into wildlife management planning processes.
        4. Role of Private Sector: National Wildlife Action Plan for 2017-2031 has also enlisted measures aimed at increasing the role of private sector in wildlife conservation. Central Government would ensure that sufficient and sustained funding including funds allocated by companies under Corporate Social Responsibility are made available for the implementation of the action plan.
        About Global Wildlife Programme (GWP) conference:
        Global Wildlife Programme (GWP), also known as “Global Partnership on Wildlife Conservation and Crime Prevention for Sustainable Development” was launched in June 2015.
        • It is a World-Bank led partnership of 19 countries to promote the conservation and sustainable development by combating trafficking in wildlife.
        • 4-day GWP conference which begun on October 2, 2017, in New Delhi, will give India an opportunity to get familiar with best practices on the management of wildlife habitats and minimising human-wildlife conflict situations.

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