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Current Affairs - 08 October 2017

General Affairs 

India A Powerful Country, No Nation Can Destabilise It: Rajnath Singh
  • Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said India is emerging as a powerful country on both economic and security fronts and no nation, including any neighbour, can destabilise its security.

    The remarks assume significance in view of recent standoff between India and China in Doklam region, where troops from both sides were locked in a face off for over two months.

    In his address yesterday at Diglipur of North Andaman Islands, Mr Singh said, "India is emerging as a powerful nation in terms of economy and security and is being recognised and respected by other countries."

    Mr Singh and Union Road and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari laid foundation stones for many development projects during their two-day visit to Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

    Lauding the untiring efforts of the armed forces in protecting the borders of the country, he said, "No nation, including any neighbouring country, can destabilise the security of the country as the government is strengthening the security at all fronts." 
    The infrastructure development in these islands, he said, will give a fillip to tourism and would also generate employment.

    Both Mr Rajnath and Mr Gadkari laid the foundation stone for rehabilitation and upgradation of NH-4 to a two-lane from Austin Creek to Kalara at Diglipur and Beodnabad-Ferrargunj Section of NH-4 at Bartang among others.

    On the occasion, Mr Gadkari said of the Rs. 15,000 crore the government plans to pump in for different developmental projects at Andaman and Nicobar Islands, projects worth Rs. 10,000 crore have already commenced.

    He also added that 12 expressways were under construction in the country and road construction work has gone up from 2 Km to 28 Km per day in the last three years.

Police Cannot Be A 'Brute Force' In 21st Century: Rajnath Singh
  • Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Saturday that police cannot be a "brute force" in 21st century and it will have to work like a "civilised force".

    The Home Minister also asked the forces to use less lethal ways to control mob and law and order situations and urged them to adopt technological and psychological solutions to deal with such circumstances.

    "Rapid Action Force in a very short span of time has emerged as an exemplary force for the state police. In 21st century, police can't be brute but it will have to be civilised," he said on silver jubilee celebration of Rapid Action Force (RAF) here.

    Mr Rajnath Singh said that he feels proud to see RAF personnel working as a responsible and alert force.

    "Be it police or any law enforcing agency, they should act sensibly and patiently while dealing with even tough and challenging situations. But sometimes they need to act tough to deal with the situation. In such circumstances, they should use their discretion before taking tough measures. They should use less lethal measures," he said.

    "To control the situation, the security forces should not only be dependent on use of force. It's an age of technology and it should be used. There can be even psychological ways to control the mob or to divert it. I hope the senior officials of our forces would consider to adopt these ways," he said.

    On the occasion, Mr Rajnath Singh announced an increase of five more battalions of the RAF which will also be operationalised by January 2018. The RAF, a specialized force, presently has ten battalions working in various parts of the country to deal with riots and riot like situations, to instil confidence amongst all sections of the society and also, to handle internal security duty.

Pay Rs. 3,000 Crore Yearly To Scrap Metro Hike: Centre To Arvind Kejriwal
  • The central government has informed Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal that it cannot put on hold the proposed Metro fare hike unless his government gives over Rs. 3,000 crore annually to DMRC.

    Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri has told Mr Kejriwal in a letter that the Metro Act does not allow the central government to put on hold the fare hike.

    The AAP government has opposed the fare hike proposed from October 10. It has locked horns with the Delhi Metro Rail Corp (DMRC) over the impending second hike this year, following the recommendation of the fourth Fare Fixation Committee (FFC).

    Mr Puri said setting up a fresh FFC could be considered if the Delhi government agrees to pay up over Rs. 3,000 crore annually to DMRC.

    The DMRC was formed in 1995 with equal equity participation of the central government and the government of National Capital Territory of Delhi.

    Mr Puri's letter dated October 6 was a response to a letter from Mr Kejriwal on September 29 asking the central government to put the hike on hold.

    "Your suggestion that this Ministry direct that the fare increase be kept on hold overlooks the fact the central government does not have any such authority. Tampering with the recommendations of FFC is legally untenable," Mr Puri said in his letter.

    Mr Puri noted that the alternative to fare hike was to provide DMRC yearly grants-in-aid for the next five years: Rs. 3,040 crore, Rs. 3,616 crore, Rs. 3,318 crore, Rs. 3,150 crore and Rs. 2,980 crore respectively.

    Rebutting the Delhi government's claim that FFC had recommended that the two fare hikes should have a gap of one year, Mr Puri said Mr Kejriwal's statements vis-a-vis the FFC were both "misleading and factually incorrect".

    Mr Puri said the people of Delhi wanted efficient, reliable and punctual Metro services and added that DMRC should be allowed to function as an autonomous company in the best interest of the citizens.

    Mr Puri said the Phase-IV of Delhi Metro was running behind schedule by two-and-a-half-years due to decisions taken by the Delhi government.

    Responding to Mr Puri's letter, a Delhi government spokesman said: "Why is the Centre not putting on hold DMRC fare hike? Because it is not the khakhra of poll-bound Gujarat!!"

    He added that Mr Puri's arguments meant that the people of Delhi should suffer as DMRC didn't rationalize its fares for eight long years.

    Last week, Mr Kejriwal asked Delhi Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot to find a way to stop the "anti-people" fare hike.

    The DMRC defended its decision by saying its input costs had gone up over the years and the increase was at par with Metro rails in other cities.

    The Delhi assembly will meet on Monday to discuss the proposed hike.

In Gujarat, PM Modi Takes A Swipe At Critics of Bullet Train
  • Back in Gujarat where he had laid the foundation stone for the bullet train last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday took a quick swipe at the many critics of the Ahmedabad-Mumbai high-speed train being built.

    Speaking at a function to formally dedicate the IIT Gandhinagar building to the nation, PM Modi recalled that he had, as Chief Minister of Gujarat, allotted 400 acres in the state capital for its campus in 2011.

    Had this decision to allot land been announced during elections, "some people would have gone all out to criticise me... the way they criticise bullet trains these days", PM Modi said, suggesting that much of the criticism that he had faced over the high-speed train was linked the Gujarat elections scheduled for last this year.

    "They would have said Modi, a primary school building in Gujarat is in a bad shape and you are spending money on building an IIT. They would have definitely criticised. But it was good there were no elections around then," he said, calling his decision to allot land for the IIT campus a visionary decision.

    PM Modi's jibe was aimed at the opposition. The Congress had been loudest critic of the bullet train when PM Modi, stood next to Japanese PM Shinzo Abe last month, to lay the foundation stone for the ambitious Rs. 1.10 lakh crore project.

    "This is nothing but an 'electoral (chunavi) bullet train'," Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge had told reporters.

    The stampede at Mumbai's Elphinstone railway station that killed 23 people on 29 September had put the spotlight back on the big-ticket project.

    The Congress had renewed its attack, calling it an example of the government's "misplaced priorities". The BJP's ally Shiv Sena had also taunted the government for being able to find crores of rupees for the bullet train to be used by the rich but couldn't fix a decades-old bridge that was to be used by poor people.

    Soon enough, Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackrey also weighed in, warning that he would not allow "a single brick" to be placed for the bullet train in Mumbai until the infrastructure of local railways was made better.

    Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar had also questioned the wisdom of the high-speed train between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, calling it "impractical".

Beijing Says Healthy Relationship Serves Interest Of Both India, China
  • China today said a healthy and stable relationship with India serves the fundamental interests of both the countries, as it downplayed the remarks by the Indian Air Force chief about a two-front war.

    China and India are important neighbours to each other and are the two largest developing countries and emerging markets, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.

    "A healthy and stable China-India relationship serves the fundamental interests of the two peoples and is also the common expectation of the region and the international community," it added. 
    The ministry made the remarks in response to India's Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa's comments that his forces are capable of effectively countering any threat from China while engaging in a two-front war also involving Pakistan.

    "We hope that relevant people of the Indian military will see the historical trend and say more conducive to the development of China-India relations," the ministry added.

Business Affairs

Domestic medical device makers accuse the govt of favouring MNCs
  • Indian medical device manufacturers  have accused the government of favouring foreign multinational medical technology companies by imposing restrictive conditions in procurement tenders. Association of Indian Medical Device Industry (AiMeD), a representative body of domestic medical device makers alleges that tenders recently floated by over 20 public institutions -- state medical corporations and hospitals -- which have stipulated discriminatory restrictive clauses for supply of wide-ranging devices like pacemakers, cardiac, laparoscopy and neuro instruments, intravenous therapeutic consumables, ventilators and even hospital beds are discriminative.
    These institutions include S N Medical College (Agra), Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences (Lucknow), All India Institute of Medical Sciences (Rishikesh) and Base Hospital (Delhi).
    "In a very recent case, one of the largest government hospitals in the Prime Minister's home state, U N Mehta Institute of Cardiology & Research Centre, Gujarat has a tender for supply of life-saving cardiac stents that stipulates the product should be certified by all three regulatory agencies - US Food and Drug Administration, European Medical Device Directives (CE marked) and India's drug controller general. The tender closed on October 3. By making these conditions mandatory the tender effectively debars Indian manufacturers to even bid for the tender", the AiMeD points out.

    "It's unfortunate when government-owned-and-financed hospitals discriminate against Indian manufacturers, instead of giving a preference to them. This is also in complete violation of the recent public purchase order by DIPP, and a circular from ministry of health, with tenders issued by public healthcare facilities run by Defence, AIIMS and even state governments (U N Mehta Hospital, Gujarat) continuing to specify compliance to both USFDA and CE certification. It's ironical that to access our own market, we need to seek third-country regulatory approvals or certifications. The government should not finance such discriminatory tenders." Rajiv Nath, Forum Coordinator, AiMeD says.

    "Government being the biggest buyer can accelerate domestic manufacturing and can adapt the Preferential Purchase Policy of DIPP with additionally considering Preferential Pricing (as per World Bank Terms) for Indian Medical Device for Indian Public Healthcare Tenders and considering the need to encourage quality and safety provide weightage of 5 per cent for ICMED Certification, 2 per cent for ISO 13485 Certification and similarly 3 per cent for Design India Certification for promoting indigenous product development." said Nath.

Repo rate cut: What's holding back RBI
  • In line with expectations, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) kept the policy rate unchanged and the policy stance neutral given the upside risks to inflation. The upside risks to inflation remain either elevated or have gone up given the loan waivers, the states' implementation of the Pay Commission allowances and the price revisions following the launch of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
    Moreover, the spatial distribution of monsoon poses a serious concern as far as inflationary expectation is concerned. Besides, insufficient rainfall in some regions has led to lower water levels in India's 91 main reservoirs, putting winter crop at risk. On the other hand, benefits of low commodity prices till last year may not be available this year.
    While the recent cut in retail prices of petrol and diesel is a welcome step from the inflation standpoint, it will take a few months before it shows in the inflation numbers. Both consumer price inflation and wholesale price inflation have gone up due to increasing food inflation, waning base effect and growing inflation in fuel and power sectors. The likelihood of lower output of rice, maize, soybean, groundnut, tur and moong dal, along with rising global crude oil prices, would keep inflationary expectations elevated.
    On the growth front, the back-to-back structural and disruptive reforms such as demonetisation and GST have impacted the economy. Both these reforms will have a long-term positive impact on the economy, but they have hit GDP in the short term and are causing uncertainty, particularly in the cash-dependent informal economy.
    RBI has already reduced the gross value added (GVA) growth projections from 7.3 per cent to 6.7 per cent, citing the adverse impact of GST, concerns around Kharif crop production, weak consumer confidence and delay in investment. Further, the triple balance sheet problems - the strain in the corporate balance sheet, stressed assets in the banking system and the pressure on public finances - have the potential to delay any investment activity in the economy.
    Moreover, lower capacity utilisation rate and subdued demand will put an additional burden on investment revival. While growth is unlikely to deteriorate further, the pain is expected to continue for the next few months. Although the implementation of the seventh Pay Commission award is likely to provide some respite to overall consumption, any contribution from investment is likely to be limited in the current year.

    On the monetary side, previous rate cuts are yet to be reflected in the lending rates proportionately. Upward risks to inflation due to expectations of lower farm output, likely rise in global crude oil prices, depreciating currency, implementation of the seventh Pay Commission award, expectations of Fed rate hike and the impact of GST on the overall pricing structure are expected to define the factors for RBI to consider any policy alteration in the future.
    However, it is unlikely that RBI will consider any rate cut during 2017. Given that rate cut is unlikely in the near future and investment demand could be delayed, the government and the RBI should work in tandem towards achieving some targeted goals to boost the growth momentum.

Post-GST, tax collection in Goa drops 22 per cent
  • The implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) has led to reduction in collection of taxes by 22 per cent in Goa so far as compared to the revenue collection during the corresponding period last year, a senior official said. State Commercial Taxes Department, which keeps a record of tax collection, said the drop is not expected to continue in the future.
    The state government expects the GST to stabilise from January 2018 onwards. "Since the implementation of the GST from July 1 this year, almost 30 per cent of the registered tax payers-cum- traders in Goa have not paid their taxes," a senior official from the department said. He said that of the total 21,000 tax payers-cum- traders registered with the department only 70 per cent have been paying the taxes.
    As per the data available from the department, from July 1 till date, the department has earned Rs 491.79 crore revenue through GST (including VAT on petroleum), which is 22 per cent less as compared to similar period- July-September 2016, wherein Rs 628.27 crore were deposited with the state government. "The total shortfall is of Rs 136.48 crore," the official said.
    He said the department is facing monthly shortfall of over Rs 40 crore as compared to the VAT collection and it (shortfall) will continue for another three months.
    Of the total Rs 491.79 crore collected by the state post-GST, Rs 208 crore are from the state GST, Rs 147 crore from the central GST, Rs 132.66 crore from VAT on petroleum and Rs 4.13 crore from cess. The official said that there is no need to worry about the shortfall as there is a provision that in the first five years, the Centre will compensate for the revenue loses.

Railway tickets may get cheaper for passengers booking online
  • Railway tickets are likely to get cheaper as the government is trying to do away with MDR or merchant discount rates levied on e-tickets. MDR charges are applied on tickets that passengers book online through the IRCTC website. The MDR charges are imposed by banks on the merchant for providing debit and credit card services. Railway Minister Piyush Goyal mentioned that talks are underway with banks to resolve this issue of MDR.
    In an interview to CNBC-TV18, Goyal said, "Railways used to charge a service charge. Post demonetisation they removed that service charge and we saw digital transactions really shoot up. Now the only charge that is charges is the merchant discount rate (MDR). I am now engaged with bankers to see what we can do about that MDR also."
    Once the MDR charges are done away with, ticket prices would automatically fall for passengers booking though the online portal.
    Goyal, who spoke at the India Economic Summit of the World Economic Forum on Thursday also mentioned that a million jobs can be created in the railways ecosystem in less than 12 months. He further added that if they use the amount of investment in the pipeline, they can create 2 to 2.5 lakh jobs in the existing projects alone.
    The minister further added that the government is trying to change the growth narrative by making it more technologically driven. Goyal further added that a change can only be brought about by empowering people and cutting through bureaucracy.

Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries sells US shale asset for USD 126 million
  • Indian oil-to-telecoms conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd has agreed to sell a shale oil and gas block in the United States for USD126 million, a third of the price it paid seven years ago, amid a downturn in global oil prices.
    BKV Chelsea LLC, an affiliate of energy investment firm Kalnin Ventures LLC, bought the asset, located in the Marcellus shale in northeastern and central Pennsylvania, from Reliance, the company said in a statement, adding it could further receive USD11.25 million based on changes in natural gas prices.
    Reliance bought the Marcellus asset in 2010 for USD392 million. The U.S. shale market has since become highly competitive and companies have cut costs to stay afloat after a slump in crude oil and gas prices. Houston-based Carrizo Oil & Gas Inc, the operator of the Marcellus asset, also exited its investment, Reliance said. The deal reduces the number of Reliance-owned U.S. shale assets to two.
    Reliance may look at selling its other U.S. shale assets, which have also been losing money, analysts said. It had invested just over USD2 billion in 2010 to purchase the three assets, which were operated by its joint-venture partners. "It is a smart move," said an analyst with an Indian brokerage, referring to the sale.
    "The shale oil and gas market is consolidating in the U.S. and shale gas particularly is not remunerative at current low prices," said the analyst, who did not want to be identified, citing his company's policy.
    The three shale assets accounted for less than 1 percent of the consolidated revenue of Reliance, which runs the world's biggest refinery complex in western India. It has also expanded into telecoms in recent years, investing USD30 billion in a new fourth-generation network named Jio.

General Awareness

Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari inaugurated sea route to Baratang & laid foundation stone for shipping projects in Andaman & Nicobar Islands

  • On October 5, 2017, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Union Minister for Shipping, Road Transport & Highways and Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Nitin Gadkari inaugurated an alternate sea route to Baratang Island in Andaman & Nicobar Islands. They also laid the foundation stone for extension of dry dock in Port Blair, extension of wharf in Hope Townand construction of an additional jetty along with extension of Berthing Jetty in Neil Island.
    Utility of Sea Route to Baratang and upcoming Shipping Projects:
    The new sea route to Baratang, which passes through the Jarawa Tribal Reservewill provide an alternative to the National Highways-4 route that linked Baratang to Port Blair. It will thereby promote tourism without disturbing the tribal areas.
    • The extension of Dry Dock –II at Port Blair, which is expected to be completed by September 2019, will help augment the available ship building and ship repair facilities. With this development, repairing ships will now be possible in Andaman & Nicobar Island itself rather than sending them to foreign places for repair.
    • Extension of wharf in Hope Town, which is expected to be completed by February 2018, will allow berthing of bigger vessels than is currently possible. It is to be noted that this wharf is being used for movement of petroleum products, and berthing of bigger vessels will thus increase the availability of products and bring down logistics cost.
    • Construction of additional approach jetty and extension of existing jetty at Neil Island, which is expected to be completed by March 2018, would help in accommodating more than one ship, which was not possible earlier. This will enable abundant supply of vegetables and other cargo to and from the island, which would fasten economic development of the area by promoting tourism.
    Quick Facts about Andaman & Nicobar Islands:
    • Capital – Port Blair
    • Lieutenant Governor – Devendra Kumar Joshi

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